Jeremy leaned on the railing, looking at his ship. From where he was, he could see the three aft decks that had been destroyed, two sections deep and twenty long, six guns. Fortunately, the casualties had been minimal, but that didn't make him feel any better.
He hadn't wanted to look at the damage while being on Paradise, he knew it would have ruined his stay there, and he had dearly needed a respite. The two months there, helping the settlers buildup their infrastructure had been a balm on his aches. He had been tempted to stay there longer, just so he wouldn't have to see this sight, but he had a duty to his crew, who had taken that time to make as many repairs as they could. Still the two months trip back to Kelser took them eight.
And now his ship was at dock, to be repaired and refitted. No one knew just how long that would take, so he was grounded until then. If he still had his ship by then.
He could just imagine how those who wanted to take it away from him would use this incident to justify it.
"You don't have to be so gloom," Toom said, as he stopped next to him.
Toom was the only one of the crew left on the station, as far as Jeremy knew. Korfas had been the first to request permission to leave, which Jeremy had granted. There were no reasons to keep anyone on the ship once docked.
"We only retrieved twenty of the twenty-eight dead," Jeremy said.
"The families understand."
"I know, but how can they be properly mourned, if they aren't burned? Are the Gods going to honor them, if their bodies are floating in space, somewhere?"
"Of course, the Gods are going to honor them," Toom said with a chuckle, "you'll see."
"Will I?" Jeremy let out a long sigh. "Will the Gods honor me?"
"Why wouldn't they?"
"Look at me Toom, I'm human. I hate it, but I am human."
Toom did look at him. "You're not human. You body might be, but you have Gralgiranselhelrarvnir's Heart, that makes you kelsirian, and that is what the Gods will see." He put an arms around Jeremy's shoulders, and pulled him close. "I think we should head out, staying here is making you morose, and they should be arriving to get us soon.
Jeremy let Toom lead him away, and he did start to feel better, once he could no longer see the sorry state of his ship.
As soon as they got to the shuttle docks, someone yelled his name. Jeremy looked in the direction the yell had come from, and Toom stepped away from him just in time for Roumalger to hug Jeremy and spin him around.
"I'm so glad you're back," He whispered, while nuzzling him.
"I'm glad to see you too," Jeremy replied, as he was put down. "Are you finally mated?"
"Ah! No, I'm not."
"When are you going to finally settle down?"
"As soon as you agree to be my mate."
Jeremy's smile cracked a little. "You do know that's never going to happen, right? I like you, but I can't be your mate."
"You're just being stubborn," Roumalger said, going to hug Toom. "It's good to see you too." He nibbles his neck. "Do me a favor and talk some sense into that mate of yours."
"Why are you so damn interested in me anyway?" Jeremy asked, before Toom could say anything.
"Because you're exotic, and a the most fantastic lover I've ever had."
"He does have a point," Toom said.
"You don't get to say that," Jeremy said, pointing at his mate. "You've had sex with Xenial, so you know I'm not the best out there." He put an arm around each of them. "You know Roumalger, if it's exotic you like, you should take a trip to Paradise, there are a lot of humans there."
"Really? Maybe I will, that way I'll be able to find out if it's humans who are such great lovers, or just you."
Jeremy rolled his eyes. "Let's go join our parents, I see them, and I'm pretty sure they are getting impatient."
"No, they just didn't want to follow me and be witness to all the embarrassment I put you through."
"At least they are considerate," Toom commented.
Parkiler and Marsef hugged and nuzzled both of them.
"Welcome home," Marsef said, ushering them inside the shuttle. "I'm sorry it was under such circumstances, but we're happy to have you over. Do you know how long you'll be staying?"
"No," Jeremy replied, "but we won't be spending all our time with you, we'll be visiting Toom's family also."
"That's good," Parkiler said. "I don't remember seeing them at the cremation."
"My father couldn't make it. He couldn't afford to close his shop, and my brothers didn't come, they don't agree with me becoming a spacer, they believe I should have stayed and help father with the shop, just like they did."
"But you're father is fine with you being in space?"
"Yes, he's happy for me. He knows I couldn't stay limited by the atmosphere."
"Where is your family from?" she asked, turning to look at them, in the back. "Roumalger! What have I told you about having sex in the shuttle?"
Roumalger had been nuzzling Jeremy, with hands roaming all over his body, and he had turned toward him so he could grind against him. Roumalger let out a sigh, and seated himself properly, but he didn't do anything to hide the tent in his pants.
"Don't you have any self control?" she asked him
"Not around Jeremy, I don't."
"I'm sorry," Jeremy said.
"Don't be," Marsef replied. "It's isn't your fault. It's that son of mine. He has sex with anyone willing. Although in you case I can understand his lack of restraint."
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know you were interested."
"Who wouldn't be?" he replied with a chuckle.
"Why haven't you initiated anything then?"
"I'm forty years older than you. I couldn't see you being interested."
Jeremy smiled. "You won't know unless you try it."
Parkiler slapped her mate's lap. "See, I told you he wouldn't mind."
"Mom, Dad. If you want me to keep my mind off sex, could you not talk about dad getting it on with Jeremy, that isn't helping."
"What's in the crate?" Toom asked, to change the subject.
"Oh, that's just something Marsef picked up while we were waiting for you," Parkiler said.
"Yeah," Roumalger added, "I think it was delivered by someone from your crew."
"My crew?" Jeremy asked, and then realized something. "Okay, no one say anything about the crate. As a captain, I'm required to report any contraband."
"Except," Toom said, "that technically, you aren't currently a captain, you sort of need a working ship for that."
Jeremy thought it over. "You know, you're right. So, Marsef. You finally got your hands on some coffee plants?"
"Yes, the contact you gave me all those years ago finally came through. There's a one year old plant, six seedling, seeds, and also some coffee grains. He said I could use those to bribe your silence."
* * * * *
Jeremy was standing before the council table. He and the four members seated behind it were waiting for the fifth person to arrive. He wondered if she was doing this on purpose, making him wait.
At least, they had had the courtesy to tell him a month ahead of time when the meeting would be. He didn't have to stress every day, wondering when he was going to be called. It also gave Toom time to look into who would be there.
He knew the two on the right, Turkamilrir and Snifurnolkah. The general and politician who had been present at the last meeting. Both were looking to take the ship away from him. The two on the left were new. An admiral Tirak, just that. He had the shortest name Jeremy had ever come across among kelsirians, And a general Lancasgirakil. Toom couldn't find any indications that they had any sort of agendas toward the ship.
So it was two against him, and two who might see reason, plus her. This wasn't going to go well, but if she was expecting him to just give up the fight, she had another thing coming. He was going to fight her as hard as he could.
The door at the back finally opened, and admiral Oturslgirnal entered, to Jeremy, Turkamilri and Snifurnolkah's surprise.
"Please forgive my tardiness, there was a last minute change. I came as quickly as I could." He put his datapad on the table and sat in the center seat. "This meeting is to go over Captain Jeremy's initial two year, well, almost three now, as captain of the Viper's Bane, to find out if he will remain captain. Who wants to start?"
"Why don't we just retire the ship?" Snifurnolkah asked.
"Why would we do that?" Tirak countered.
"Have you seen the list of repairs it needs? It might be best to just give him a new ship."
Jeremy kept his mouth shut, but the moment he was allowed to speak he was going to argue against that. He wasn't going to captain a different ship, this was his last tie to Gral, he wasn't going to lose it.
"Really? I don't remember you saying that when the Revenge came in for repairs. I remember you there, you were awake, weren't you?"
"Of course I was."
"It's damage was more extensive, and you let it be repaired. The Bane is about the same age, a little younger actually," he corrected after checking his pad, "Is there something I don't know about it that makes it unsuitable for repairs?"
"I'm just not sure continuing to spend money on repairs is wise, that's all."
"That's what the military budget is for," Lancasgirakil said. "Maybe you need to stop trying to tell us how to manage our fleet. And focus on keeping your promises, that station is still waiting for you to approve those expansions you promised them."
Snifurnolkah didn't reply.
"I don't particularly care about the state of the ship," Turkamilri said. "I'm more concerned about the deaths."
"Really?" Lancasgirakil asked. "Why?"
"Twenty eight deaths, of which . . ." Turkamilri checked his pad.
"Twenty seven hunters and one crew," Jeremy provided.
"Ahh, yes, and I see there was a human death."
"That was the crew member. He was a structure tech, and chose to continue the repairs he was doing, instead of evacuating, as ordered."
"You had a human as part of the crew?"
"I have forty six."
"That is unacceptable, we can't have humans getting access to our technology. What's to stop them from sending the information back to Earth?"
"Those are my humans, not part of the passengers we carried to Paradise." He didn't mention Alix's Heart, that was none of their businesses.
"I don't care. You don't have the authority to make a decision like that. You should have contacted us."
"Jeremy did contact the council," Oturslgirnal said. "He spoke with," he glanced at his pad, "Councilor Querikdarfingalse, who approved his decision."
"How can he have approved such a thing?"
"You'll have to take that up with him. All that matters right now, is that Jeremy proceeded as expected."
"Fine. There's still the matter of the deaths.
"I don't get what you problem is with that," Tirak said. "They are hunters."
"We die, so our people live," Jeremy said, by reflex.
Tirak looked at him. "I didn't know anyone still knew the creed."
Jeremy just nodded.
"So?" Turkamilri asked. "It isn't because they are hunters that their lives should be thrown away."
"Thrown away?" Tirak eyed Turkamilri. "Exactly how do you define throwing away a life? Captain, how did your people die?"
Jeremy took a deep breath. "Nineteen gunners died when we took fire during the pursuit, after the ambush. Eight hunters died in the aft breach."
"Where the gunners needed?"
"Yes, we were firing on the pursuing ships, trying to disable them enough to make it to kelsirian space alive."
"The hunters were keeping fires under control. Those fires occurred when a missile breached a section, early in the pursuit. The electrical system overloaded, and the fire suppression system didn't respond. If I hadn't sent them there, fire would have spread along the power conduits, without any way to know how extensive the damage would have been."
"And you said the tech had been ordered to leave."
Tirak looked at Turkamilri again. "You call that throwing lives away?"
"You find twenty-eight deaths acceptable?"
"Are you serious? Are you telling me you didn't have any deaths during your career? Never mind. I don't want to know how you went up in ranks. Lancasgirakil, you read the report about the ambush, and pursuit. How many deaths would normally be expected in such a situation?"
"Considering the opposing force the Bane was up against, and the sabotage they had been subjected to," he paused for a moment, "at the very least, I would have expected a third of everyone one on board to have died, and if I was running this as an evaluation scenario, up to half would still be acceptable."
"So, how would you judge twenty-eight deaths, all crew, no civilians."
Lancasgirakil chuckled dryly. "We don't have enough medals to show just how amazing that was. And to address general Turkamilri, no, that does not constitute throwing away lives. That is exactly the opposite. Now shut up, you're making the rest of us look bad."
Turkamilri glared at Lancasgirakil, who ignored him.
"What does concern me," Lancasgirakil continued, "is this human hunter squad you formed. Twenty-two humans, who were trained in our hunting ways. I understand they are trusted, but they aren't kelsirians, would they really do our ways proud?"
"The squad was formed for the purpose of infiltrating the passengers. By that time it was obvious we were the subject of sabotage, but we couldn't get those humans to trust us, they would only open up to other humans. They didn't get full training, and I made them hunters so they would receive the protection accorded to us, should things escalate. I didn't want them to be abandoned, if it came down to that.
"Before you bring them up, six of them were cubs. We chose them, because they were old enough to be responsible, but looked young enough for other humans to feel protective of them, humans have a tendency to open up more to cubs than to adults. The cubs volunteered, and their parents gave their permission. Also, everyone was under strict orders to keep them away from the worse of the dangers. The use of the human hunter squad led to the capture of four of the six saboteurs."
"What happened to the other two?"
"They chose suicide over capture."
"And the squad?"
"I disbanded it once the mission was accomplished."
Lancasgirakil nodded. "I still question the use of cubs, but none of them were hurt, and only six of the human hunters were hurt. They can't be considered civilians at the time of the mission."
"Do we know that Jeremy didn't force them to join the squad?" Snifurnolkah asked.
Lancasgirakil sighed. "Did you actually bother to read the reports? Or are you too busy repeating what you're handlers tell you?"
Snifurnolkah opened and closed his mouth, trying to say somethign, but failing.
"Each human on the squad wrote a report describing what happened. While the translation makes for something of a funny read, there is no indication they were under duress at any time." He looked at Jeremy. "Thank you for answering my questions. I'm satisfied you showed good judgment in your decision."
There was a moment of silents. "Does anyone have anything to add?" Oturslgirnal asked. Lancasgirakil and Tirak shook their heads. Snifurnolkah and Turkamilri remained silent. "Then, I'm happy to say that they ship is yours, Captain. As soon as it's fit to fly, you're free to go back where you belong."
"Thank you admiral." He nodded to each of them, in turn, left, and almost walked into someone as the door closed behind him. "Kosfas, I wasn't expecting you here."
"I wanted to make sure things went well."
"It did, your mother wasn't there."
"I take it you had something to do with that?"
"I told her to stop meddling in my life. She not the Gods, so she doesn't have the right to do so. I'm happy she listened."
"No, I'm the one who needs to thank you. Until you took me in, I had no idea that I wanted this. I was just doing what mother told me. I'm actually terrified to think what would have happened if she had succeeded in getting me a captainship." He surprised Jeremy by giving him a tight hug. In all the time he'd trained him, they had never hugged. "I won't be returning to the ship. I've been accepted the to Command Academy. So this is goodbye."
"Congratulation. I'm certain you'll excel."
"Thank you." Korfas turned and left.
Before Jeremy could also leave, the door opened and admiral Oturslgirnal stepped out. "Captain, I'm glad I caught you before you left."
"Korfas was just informing me he was accepted in the Academy."
"Yes, I saw his application, and pushed it through. I also saw that your daughter applied. Do you want me to push hers through?"
Jeremy shook his head. "No. I appreciate the thought, but she will be accepted by her own merits."
"Very well. What will you be doing while your ship is being repaired?"
"I have no idea. I've never been groundside this long. At this point I'm counting on Toom to keep me from going stir crazy."
Oturslgirnal put a hand on his shoulder. "If you get too bored, you can always consider spending some time at the academy, teaching."
Jeremy looked at him in horror.