"That was awesome!" Robert Chard joined Chekov in looking back at the beautiful frigate they had just left. After the alphabet had made them roommates for the Academy entrance tests, they had become friends. Even so, Chard had still not expected to find himself a guest of the Russian Sail Training Academy for the first part of his summer vacation. "When you invited me to go sailing, you should have gone into details. I thought you meant a sailing boat, not a ship Nelson might have had with him at Trafalgar!"
"He wouldnt. They didnt have frigates in the line of battle. They were tshe eyes of the fleet."
"You know what I mean. I dont think a ranch in Texas is going to compare. Youre sure you wouldnt rather stay? I wouldnt mind."
Chekov gave a final wave to his friends. Part of him, he knew, would always hurt at turning his back on this but it would not be enough; the call of the stars was far stronger. "But Ive never stayed on a ranch in Texas."
"Robert, isnt that Anne Clarke?" Chekov pointed to a weeping girl standing in a corner of the busy shuttle port, someone they had met during the Academy testing. There were several women around her, offering handkerchiefs and sympathy. He went over. "Anne?"
She turned. "Pavel!"
"About time you got here, young man!"
"Leaving your poor girlfriend to think youd stood her up!"
"Show a little more consideration!"
"You should be ashamed of yourself!"
"But I didnt, I wouldnt." Chekov had not bargained for an armful of crying girl, let alone her defenders. Chard watched, even more unnerved.
Clarke managed a watery chuckle. "No, Pavels just a friend. Ill be all right."
"Sure, dear?" one of the women asked.
"Ill be fine. Thank you for being so kind."
"But I will look after her," Chekov stated firmly. He saw the women depart with some relief as he ventured on a tentative hug.
Chard joined them. "Pavel, how is it you cant even catch a shuttle without starting a riot?"
Chekov ignored him. "Whats wrong, Anne? I hope nothings happened to your father? I remember you saying hes an admiral."
"Only what often happens to Starfleet families." Clarke began to recover her composure. "Daddy was supposed to be posted to Earth and I was so looking forward to spending the summer with my parents. I havent seen them in two years." She sniffed again. "But the admiral commanding Starbase Nine was killed and so Daddy was sent there instead."
She straightened. "Oh, I do feel a fool. Here I am, about to go to the Academy, and Im crying all over you. Ive been touring Europe and I was enjoying myself but then I saw all the people greeting each other when the last shuttle came in and it just got to me for a moment. Im sorry you got involved."
"Dont worry about it. I wish I could say come and stay with my family but they arent what youd call pleased about me entering the Academy," Chekov told her. After Chards invitation, it had hurt to know he could not reciprocate but he had known how his father would react. It was why he had appealed to the admiral commanding the Russian Sail Training Academy.
"But mine are." Chard felt less uncomfortable now that Anne had stopped crying. "Pavel was going to come and stay with me until the term starts. Why dont you come too?"
"Your parents wont mind?"
"My dad likes a house full and as for my mom, believe me, with a husband and three sons, shed be only too delighted to have another woman in the house."
The trio found their communicators were all signaling at the same time. As they read the messages, they eyed each other in consternation.
"Its nothing to worry about but were requested to report to Admiral von Steuben as soon as possible." Chekov looked at his friends. "I wish hed told us why!"
Chard shook his curly head. "I put it down entirely to associating with you."
Erich von Steuben introduced Admiral Laura Newbury, before he smiled at the anxious faces. "I did say it was nothing to worry about. There are two, I wont call them problems as Im hoping you can prevent them becoming problems, but two matters concerning your class with which I hope you can help, though it will pre-empt any plans you had for the next few weeks.
"Mister Chekov, Mister Chard, one of your classmates will be the first Salixa ever to enter the Academy. Without giving any preferential treatment, we are anxious that it settles in. It knows little of Humans and Id like to get it a little acclimatized before the term begins."
"Which is why I came along," Laura Newbury added. "I made the first contact with Salixa IV and so I though I could answer any questions you might have. For example, Lethende is neuter at this stage of its life so it has chosen to use the designation mister."
"If you would befriend it and share a room with it at the Academy," von Steuben continued, "Mister Lethende could enter the Academy already feeling it was welcome on Earth and had some friends. I am sure that would at least get things off to a good start."
"Id be only too pleased, sir," Chekov assured him.
"So would I, sir," Chard added.
Von Steuben saw that Chekov seemed uneasy, or uncomfortable. "Mister Chekov, you have a question?"
"I dont understand why youre asking us, sir, and not ordering us?" One of the arguments his family had used was that joining Starfleet would mean obeying orders for the rest of his life. Chekov had retorted that at least Starfleet would be ordering him to do what he wanted to do.
"Sometimes a situation needs more than an order. I need people who are genuinely willing to comply," the admiral explained. "I could also point out I cant actually give you any orders yet. Now, we were thinking of finding you accommodation on the Academy campus as I dont think Mister Lethende is quite ready to meet too many people as yet."
"Sir," Chard blushed furiously at speaking up. "Id invited my friends to stay at my home. Its a ranch in Texas, kilometers from anywhere else."
"If thats agreeable to your parents, Mister Chard, that would be ideal." von Steuben did not want to spoil the plans his prospective cadets had made. "Now, I hope it wont prove too unnerving, but the next step is lunch with Ambassador Sarek and his wife. Apparently, Vulcan has some concerns over their cadets as well, with which I hope you can help, Miss Clarke."
"If I can, sir."
Von Steuben smiled. It was easy to deduce from their expressions the three teenagers would have found eating lunch with two admirals taxing enough, without adding Sarek to the mix. "Lady Amanda?"
After hearing that three Vulcan cadets intended to train on Earth, Amanda had swiftly come to the conclusion she was the only person on either planet prepared for one complication. Sarek had merely been amused when she explained and Amanda was all in favor of more Vulcans serving on ships with mixed crews; it might end the comments on her adopted world over Spocks decision to do so.
"Its your help for which Im going to ask, Anne. Ive warned Admiral von Steuben of a problem we dont want to arise. TKou is going to attract a great deal of male attention and she simply wont understand why, as she isnt sexually mature yet. She will be able to deal with simple requests for dates." Amandas eyes held laughter. "Its the other methods some young Human males might employ to attract her attention which will baffle her!"
"My wife gained considerable experience in dealing with such practices," Sarek observed. "I gather she considered using a club on one persistent young man."
"My favorite is when I was up at Oxford. A boy dressed up as Romeo, climbed up to my window and started reciting Shakespeare." Amanda smiled reminiscently, before she looked at the boys. "One or two words of advice, though I dont think youll need such tactics. Firstly, make sure the girl is in her room. I wasnt. I was in the quad watching with everyone else. Secondly, when youre standing on a ladder, dont try and draw your rapier for added dramatic effect!"
Clarke laughed. "What happened? I hope he didnt break his neck?"
"Im not sure he wouldnt have preferred that. He landed in the lily pool, split his tights in a very embarrassing place and vanished from my life."
"Perhaps fortunately for my ambassadorial dignity, you responded to my more conventional approach," Sarek added. "Such tactics would have been difficult to justify on the grounds of logic."
"Im sure youd have thought of something." Amanda smiled at her husband, before she turned to Clarke. "So I thought a girlfriend who could give TKou some advice would be a good idea."
"So would you be prepared to room with Miss TKou, Miss Clarke?" von Steuben asked.
"Of course, sir. I liked TKou, when we met during the testing. What about Sener and Sanok?"
"I have other cadets in mind for them," von Steuben answered.
"When is TKou due to arrive, sir?" Clarke asked.
"Not until the start of term."
"They might also benefit from a little acclimatization, Admiral," Sarek pointed out.
"I agree." Amanda nodded. "And, as Sarek is heading for an extremely boring conference, Ill take care of that."
"Would you and the Vulcans like to come and stay on our ranch in Texas too, maam?" Chard offered shyly. "When I contacted my parents to ask about Mister Lethende, they told me I could bring anyone else who needed to adjust to Earth."
"Now that definitely sounds more interesting than Sareks conference. Its a long time since Ive the opportunity to ride."
Chekov watched the activity in Centroplex. A light cruiser was moving gracefully out through the great open doors. "Just think, in a few months well be going on midshipman cruises."
"And summer expeditions," Clarke added. She was just as excited as her friends; the last few weeks were stretching unbearably. "But weve already learned something, havent we?"
"That associating with Pavel is dangerous?"
"That Vulcans make jokes."
"Very dry jokes but Ambassador Sarek enjoyed Lady Amanda teasing us. I hadnt expected that," Chekov agreed thoughtfully. "But then, I think she has a good sense of humor. I like her."
"So do I. Look out! Admirals approaching," Clarke warned.
"Wow!" Chard gazed at the tall column of writhing, rose-colored tentacles. The computer image had not done the Salixa justice.
Erich von Steuben smiled at the three young people. Their test scores had all been exceptional; if they lived up to them, as his inner voice assured him, they would become exactly the sort of officers Starfleet needed. "Mister Lethende, this is Mister Pavel Chekov, Miss Anne Clarke and Mister Robert Chard."
"Greetings." A voice came from somewhere within the writhing column but it was impossible to tell from where.
"Greetings," the trio responded.
"Being two males and one female?" Lethende continued. "Still learning about Humans."
"Thats correct," Chekov assured the being. "Mister Chard and I are males. Miss Clarke is female."
"They are going to be three of your classmates and Mister Chards parents will be your hosts until the beginning of term, as I explained, Mister Lethende," von Steuben continued. "So if youd come this way, Ive arranged for a shuttle to take you to Texas." He led the quartet to the transporter room.
"Waiting please, Admiral. Wishing to purchase sexual organs of Earth vegetation," Lethende requested, as the transporter released them into the Headquarters building.
The commandant gazed at it. "You want to do what?"
"After admiral telling Mr. and Mrs. Chard being kind and offering home to poor, lonely Salixa, reading up on Human social customs. Being polite taking sexual organs of Earth vegetation," the Salixa explained. "Telling if interpreting Human customs correctly and being acceptable?"
"Very acceptable," Newbury assured it. "If you go out of the main doors and head towards the bay, you will find a florist a few meters away from Headquarters. Why dont the three of you take Mister Lethende?"
"Of course, maam." Chekov was not up to deciding if that was an order or not. "Come this way, Lethende. The sexual organs of Earth vegetation are called flowers and you have interpreted the custom correctly. As a general rule it is correct to take flowers to a female Human but not to a male. It is also correct to take flowers to a female when paired Humans have invited you."
"My mother would be delighted by a gift of flowers," Chard confirmed. "My father will not expect any."
Minor tentacles patted them. "Being grateful." As the doors opened, the tentacles promptly curled around the three Humans. "Thinking being good idea not getting lost!"
Even in the Headquarters building the Salixa had attracted attention but not as much as when it reappeared with three decidedly harassed young Humans and bearing the largest bunch of flowers anyone had ever seen.
Newbury suppressed a very un-admiral-like urge to giggle at the expressions of its companions. "Im sure Mrs. Chard will be most impressed, Mister Lethende!"
"New friends saying not needing to buy so many but thinking it being best way of calming down Human female in shop," Lethende explained. "Getting upset when clumsy Salixa knocking over all vases. Not realizing stand not being meant for climbing on and when waving tentacles for balance, knocking over rest of shop. New friends being kind and putting everything back together while female in shop making strange noises!"
"Ill just see you onto the shuttle and then Ill go along and see if Starfleet need to meet a bill for damages." Newbury visualized the devastation the Salixa had innocently caused. "Dont worry about it."
"What being?" Lethende waved a tentacle in the direction of a corral containing some of Matthew Chards cherished quarter horses.
"Horses," Chard explained. "Centuries ago, they were one of the main forms of transport Humans used. Now, theyre mostly ridden for pleasure or sport."
"Being interested. Trying?" Lethende glided over to the corral, as every horse inside it decided there was only one thing to do when a Salixa appeared and that was to have hysterics.
Chard drew a horrified breath. "I think we may have a problem."
"Calming down the horses or explaining to Lethende it wont be able to ride one?" Chekov moved forward with Chard as Clarke tugged the bewildered Salixa away. "Lets divert it."
"How?" Chard made soothing noises to the horses, who knew him well. Now that Anne had the Salixa out of sight, they were already calming down.
"The Vulcans arrive tomorrow. Im sure theyll agree that it would be logical to spend some of the time acquiring a skill that will come in useful at the Academy."
"Assuming none of them know how already, lets teach everyone to swim!"
Chard exchanged a grin with Clarke. With Chekov around, they were not going to be bored.
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