WOLVES OF ARCANUS
(Arc Two - Beginnings)
CHAPTER 16: The Missteps and Triumphs to Becoming Full Fledged Crew Members
Captain Ing leaned back in his seat in his private office and listened attentively to Star.
"I'm pleased to report our three new crew members have reached a first milestone in their efforts to become a cohesive team."
Ing's right eyebrow rose in question.
"After a gentle reproof of his less than stellar behavior toward Ulysses in a recent training session, Jake took the dressing down to heart and ran with it. I learned from Tara that he went and spoke with Ulysses immediately. The honest and heart felt conversation finally settled many of their past issues, arriving at a mutual vow of respect and cooperation between them. Leaving Ulysses, Jake carried that new resolve to his friend, Chance who in turn met with Ulysses and also achieved some kind of peaceful end to their former antagonistic relationship. The first test of their new resolve will be Ulysses solving his magical problem and Chance finally grasping Interspecies Ethics and First Contact." Star look well pleased and much relieved.
"That is excellent news. Your 'hunch' was spot on. I share your hope that the rest of their difficulties may be solved as easily. Please keep me informed." Ing grinned broadly. One more worry out of the way, he sighed mentally.
"Of course, sir."
The next day during their magical training session, Jake did as promised, tried to find out why Ulysses was having so much difficulty in the first place. The two stood before a work table littered with several gadgets Jake had made with his magic. All they needed was Ulysses' energy to make them work.
"Before we start answer me this … your problem is trying to give your fire some kind of face or image, right?" Jake asked.
"Yes," Feral sighed, waiting to see what Jake had in mind to help him.
"I've finally realized that's going about it the wrong way for you. Your thought processes simply don't work that way. So what I want you to do is think of this as a piece of armory or troop deployment you need in a certain place. It's what you do in any battle situation...you come up with a strategy then send what you need to handle it. You automatically run through scenarios and strategies in your head to find the best use of what you have on paw. This is no different. Treat your fire as one of those pieces you have to use to win the battle," Jake suggested, certain he was on the right path here.
Ulysses blinked at the smaller tom in surprise. Well, hell is that all the problem is? A different way of thinking. It can't be that easy, but ... "We've tried everything else so why not. Let me think about it for a moment..."
"Certainly...take all the time you need."
Lytol and Jake watched the tom keenly. Lytol was pleased Jake had finally thought through the problem without all the former baggage he'd been carrying blocking it. It was sheer brilliance that he used his observation of Ulysses from their past interactions to come up with a possible solution. Here's hoping it worked.
He was truly grateful the pair had finally found their way to mutual cooperation, managing to include Chance as well. Already, harmony was being felt within the Sept.
He wasn't ashamed to admit that he feared the three would have to be forced to cooperate and that wouldn't have worked with such strong willed individuals. Worse … such an action could have backfired and increased the stress on the crew and caused a possible catastrophe to befall them all. But faith and the stars had told him to be patient that all would come out right.
By the looks of things, perhaps their patience would finally bear fruit. If Ulysses solved his problem with magic then he could conceivably become a most formidable crew member.
"Okay, let me give this another try," Ulysses said suddenly interrupting Lytol's thoughts.
Facing the devices, Ulysses relaxed his body while focusing his attention on bringing forward those thought processes he used as a commander. Once more he attempted to send his magical energy toward Jake's devices.
To his surprise, this time things were vastly different. He felt rather than saw exactly where the power needed to go because he could feel Jake's magic directing him toward the right spots to send his energy. In quick succession, he sent just enough into each device and was immediately rewarded with every device beeping, bouncing, and flashing.
Jake gaped in shocked disbelief. "Wow! I was hoping for at least one to be working but you managed all of them in your first try. Did using that mind set to all that?"
"It got me on the right path but this time something different happened," Ulysses said, a mixture of triumph and uncertainty warring in his expression.
"Oh, what might that have been?" Lytol asked before Jake could. He had a suspicion he hoped was true.
"Once I focused on the devices and really looked at them with my magic, I was able to sense Jake's energy waiting like a beacon showing me where to put my own magic which is what I did. It felt like putting a battery into x-marked the spot. Weird!"
Lytol sighed with relief and smiled. "Not so weird, Ulysses. It is exactly what we hoped you two would achieve. It isn't a common ability but since you two were so significantly heavy with magical energy, we felt there was a chance your energies would be compatible. You just proved they are."
"You act like this is a good thing." Ulysses said, not certain it was.
"Oh it is, believe me. It means you two are the perfect team and practice will ensure you can function as one seamlessly," Lytol assured him. Then when he saw the look of dismay and fear on Feral and a not so happy look on Jake, he added ... "This isn't something you two will be called upon often but it is another weapon in our arsenal that keeps the crew and the Wotan safe. Plus think of how it can help so many others in need throughout the Alliance. But that is much later, now it is more important that you continue your training to hone this skill until it is second nature to you. So, if there are no other questions …
Both toms still looked rather shell-shocked and uncertain but shook their heads indicating they had nothing to ask.
"Excellent, then shall we begin ..." Lytol gestured to the work table once more. He hid his amusement when he saw their dismay.
Rolling their eyes and sighing, Jake and Ulysses prepared for another grueling few hours of training. By the end of the session, Ulysses was able to control his energy flow and send it wherever he needed it to go within seconds of Jake making a device for him to power.
"That is enough for today …." Lytol started to say when he noticed the tight look of pain on Ulysses' face and the milder one on Jake's. Shaking his head, he said sternly, "It is extremely important that you monitor your body's warnings and not push it past it limits. You are a serious detriment to everyone's safety if you become totally incapacitated especially during battle. I'm afraid my herbal remedy will not be enough for you Ulysses but it should help you Jake."
"I'm sorry, sir. I should have been paying closer attention as I know he would go too far, just as I did when I succeeded in using my magic, if you remember," Jake said shamefaced.
"As long as you learned your lesson and don't repeat this mistake ..." Lytol warned. Both toms nodded their compliance.
Satisfied, Lytol ordered a gurney and soon Ulysses was being carried to the medical center despite his protest he could walk there. Jake couldn't blame him, he wouldn't want to be carted off like that either. To keep the big tom company, he decided to follow along, a mug of herbal tea in his paw.
Still despite his aching head, Ulysses felt happy and triumphant. Finally figuring out how to use his magic meant he could now move onto his other training requirements that had been put on hold till he had mastered this annoying gift.
"No, it can't work that way, Chance," Ulysses repeated, fast losing patience.
A day after his own success, he now sat with the tabby (as promised) in the tom's quarters staring at the troubling lesson on the computer screen. Unlike other times with Chance, in the spirit of their new relationship, Ulysses kept firm rein on his temper. The tom was unable or unwilling to understand why his way of thinking on the subject of Interspecies Ethics and First Contact was so wrong.
Telling himself to just be patient, he'll come around wasn't making it any easier staying patient but he reminded himself that he just had to find the key, like Jake had for him, to help Chance accept what he couldn't change.
"Why not?" Chance demanded mulishly. He sat back in his chair, eyes flashing with anger, arms crossed over his chest tightly. The picture of a stubborn kitten.
Ulysses sighed and rolled his eyes. He actually could sympathize with the tabby. He too wasn't so happy with the subject matter either even though he had managed to pass the course enough to satisfy the requirements. The instructors commiserated with his feelings but told him only time and experience would help him get over his last remaining objections.
"Look, Chance. I agree some of this bends me the wrong way too, but the real problem we're both having is we can't grasp the world view here. The Galactic Alliance must view problems on a much broader scale than you and I have ever had to manage. What works for one world won't on another because of their wildly differing views and species."
"I know that..." Chance cut the tom off with a huff.
"Not really which is why we have so much trouble accepting the Alliance allowing some planet to falter and perhaps fail while helping another with apparently the same problem. The three of us Kats simply don't have a wide enough experience pool of knowledge to make those kinds of decisions nor the morals to do it," Ulysses tried to explain.
"Kam has told me, it's because of those incredibly wide differences that the decision makers at the Alliance rely on history so much. Those well documented and well kept records are how they come to make the decisions they do. That and their seers help decide which world can be helped and which would only suffer needlessly if the same help was applied." He held his paws up to ward off another explosion from the tabby.
"Before you say anything, I have to say I agree with what you're thinking but that's why we aren't the ones making those decisions and won't be allowed to for some time. The reason is that our present world view is still planet-bound and single specied. So we aren't able to fathom the needs of so many worlds. That comprehension will only come with experience and time. And Kam says that won't happen until we actually do First Contact missions. Until then, we have to learn what we can through study, classroom, our fellow crew members, and asking tons of questions. Hopefully, what they are trying to tell us will finally sink in and we'll understand why the Alliance makes the decisions they do and how they manage all the worlds under its purview."
Chance could only shake his head. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to alter my thinking enough to allow me to readily decide a whole world of creatures must die so another may live. It just doesn't sit well with me."
"Believe me, I feel very much the same way. But that's because we have been trained by society that no one is expendable. If we can help we do it but on a planetary scale that just doesn't work. However, unlike you and Jake, I've had to make life and death decisions every time the omegas attacked. Should I save a squad of Enforcers or that very large and defenseless group of civilians?"
Chance frowned. "But we were defenders. We were expected to lay down our lives to safe others."
"Yes, but I had to do it on a much broader scale. Remember Chance, you and Jake took care of the heavy hitters but you never came down to the street and saw the devastation that both you and the omegas wrought. And yes, I have also created some of that chaos too. However, in my position as leader I had to decide which of the lesser evils would save the most people (not property as you seemed to think) and how many Enforcers I was willing to lose in the process. So many died from my orders but I would do it over and over again if it was necessary. That is what makes a leader … being able to make the truly awful decisions and still keep on going. If I didn't do that then I would be useless. It's not a comfortable mind set but it is necessary for a leader to function and do what must be done," Ulysses said, speaking from long experience as Chief Enforcer.
Chance dropped his head and lowered his arms until his paws hung between his thighs. A picture of defeat and resignation. In this, Ulysses was right. He didn't have that personal experience of losing lives as he and his partner never was a part of that...choosing to leave the scene of every battle, leaving the clean up to the Enforcers. Callously ignoring the death toll or simply staying deliberately blind to it.
Suddenly, he felt a tremendous amount of shame for having thought that way the whole time he was a SWAT Kat. It was the Enforcers who had taught him how to fight and how important his duty was to keep the katizens safe. But as a vigilante, he ignored the cost of fighting the omegas because he wasn't forced to deal with the aftermath the way Ulysses had too.
And this was exactly why he was having so much trouble with this ethics business and Ulysses wasn't as much. That was because Ulysses had learned to compartmentalize the mounting death toll or he'd never be willing to fight any longer.
Sighing, he muttered bitterly, "I can hear what you're saying and I feel ashamed I never once thought about what you had to deal with after every altercation with the omegas. I can see now how that had to be rather humbling and maybe a little soul destroying to fill out all those death certificates and notes to families as well as notifications to loved ones for the civilians. I'm not sure I could have done that."
"Actually, I'm sure you could … eventually. Thinking back and overlooking your arrogance, you already possessed the needed skills to become a good leader. Don't short change yourself, Chance. Those qualities just needed to be honed and tempered with experience. You never got the opportunity on Aristal but here on the ship I have no doubt you'll be a leader like Kam on insertion teams someday.
"I...that's nice of you to say so..." Chance stuttered, completely taken aback by Ulysses assessment of him.
"I'm not saying it to be nice, I mean every word." Ulysses leaned close and tapped a finger against the brawny chest. "You have it in you but you tend to rule by your heart rather than your head."
"Yeah, I guess, but I couldn't be some heartless leader."
Ulysses sighed and shook his head. "Leaders aren't heartless, Chance. They just have to push their feelings aside and not wear them on their sleeve so they can do what they must using every resource at paw to do it. People are going to get hurt or killed...it happens and it hurts every time...but they still have to do it if they want to be a good leader. And that's what you have to learn to do. Keep your emotions under control and you'll be an excellent leader."
Chance raised his head and stared at Ulysses candidly. "Like you."
The big tom blinked in surprise. "I never thought you would say something like that to me."
"Yeah, I know. I spent too much time spitting in your face and belittling your efforts but you were a leader and I never was. In that, I truly was only a hot shot pilot. Good at flying, good at fighting, and good at trying to be the hero. But I was never a leader who had to deal with the ugly side of a battle and its aftermath. You dealt with that and never flinched or shirked your duty. So my hats off to you. You were the leader Megakat City needed and I'm glad.
"Well...that means a lot to me, Chance," Ulysses said, a little choked up. He was stunned and pleased to finally get the recognition from one who had heaped so much disdain on him for years. It felt rather nice.
Chance gave him a shy smile.
After that rather harsh and difficult beginning, the rest of the three Kats orientation went more smoothly and swiftly. Before they knew it a year had past and plenty of experiences to go with it. The Wotan had stopped at a few worlds along the way with very little incidences and no battles as they headed toward the Galactic Core. Everyone was looking forward to some R&R on the Alliance home world.
After only six months aboard, the Kats proved to be fast learners, finishing the required year long training in half the time. Captain Ing was pleased and grateful he was able to assign his three new crew members to their first duty positions so quickly. But he knew part of the reason they trained up so quickly was the fact they were seasoned warriors not green recruits which was why keeping them from becoming actual working members of the crew was becoming difficult for them to handle. They were too used to working, not sitting on the sidelines.
Though it was his decision to make as Captain, the Kats were allowed some latitude as to what positions they wanted to work in due, in part, to their past abilities and inclinations. Ulysses had chosen operations, Chance had taken Tactical and Jake was working two areas, Engineering and Tactical.
As they settled into their new jobs, they didn't realize their first anniversary aboard the Wotan was fast approaching. Captain Ing, as was his custom, planned a small soiree in his ready room on the bridge for that occasion, keeping it secret from the three Kats.
Ulysses sighed as he entered his quarters and began to strip off his uniform. It had been an exhausting day due to the results of an insertion team's mission having gone terribly wrong.
The Wotan had paused at a world with a fading Tibican bio-signature of less than two years past. What the team found wasn't recovery but utter chaos. Unlike Ulysses' own world, this one had not fared so well. Despite surviving the encounter and killing the Tibican, this world was so traumatized it's reaction was to turn on itself rather than cooperate to fix things. The team had been lucky to escape with their lives. Suffering injuries, equipment damage, and a barely space worthy shuttle, the team had limped their way back to the Wotan, disheartened.
As the one in charge of this ops shift, it had been Ulysses' responsibility to insure the team was carried off to the medical center for treatment, the shuttle was gone over from stem to stern to insure no unwelcome passengers had latched on or boarded, and that damages were noted and the report sent to the repair crew. Thankfully, the damage wasn't beyond repair. One of the most important lessons he and his fellow Kats had learned was the need to be self sufficient. Which meant reusing and re-purposing everything since a repair facility was usually years away. It was fortunate this time that the Wotan was heading for a repair facility where a major overhaul was planned.
He, Chance, and Jake planned on seeing the sights with Genus and Kam, and learning about the Galactic Alliance. But the most important item on their list was contacting home. That excited them more than any alien world.
He reined in his wayward thoughts. Duty first, he reminded himself. He looked down at his checklist that was displayed on a cool electronic pad that was more like a mini computer that fit in one's palm...much better than pen and paper.
Let's see what's next ...ah yes, the little 'black box'. He turned his attention to the cockpit, avoiding the medical team that was working on the crew before carrying them out, and saw a repair crewman already removing it. With it in paw, the crewman slipped out of the shuttle and handed it to Feral. He nodded acceptance, signed it off and put it in his pocket for delivery to First Officer Shegar.
Of course, it wasn't a little black box like the ones aboard his jets and choppers back home. Here it was a small computer chip. A much more efficient method than Aristal's equipment but he couldn't help calling it by his more familiar name.
A roar caught his attention. Glancing to the far left, he watched a three mini fighter ships landed across the hangar from him. They landed smoothly and moments later the engines shut down. Deplaning from one of them was Chance, who saw him and headed toward the insertion team shuttle.
The tabby and his fellow fighters had been providing covering fire for the crippled shuttle so it could lift off and return to the ship. Chance's skills as a pilot and vigilante had found him the perfect job and he did it well, being called upon more than the others to fly these kinds of missions. Ulysses was sure Chance would make team leader soon. Though the tabby still had some lingering doubts at his skills as a leader, Ulysses had none. The tom was definitely in his element.
Except for those missions that caused one problem Chance still had trouble dealing with. It seems today was one of those missions by the look of anger and unhappiness on the tabby's face as he stalked toward Feral. He couldn't keep the sigh from escaping. He wished Chance could accept what he couldn't change. It was the one thing holding the tom back in his acceptance of this new life.
"That bad, eh?" Ulysses asked, solicitously as Chance came to stand by him. His own attention had returned to monitoring the safe extraction of the insertion team by the medical staff.
Chance grimaced, staring as a very bloody wolf was carried by them on a gravity stretcher. "Yeah, really nasty. People were killing each other for food or just because someone was in their way. Females and little ones were screaming, attempting to hide, and mostly dying in the thousands from the males who seemed to have gone mad. There were no signs anyone was trying to take charge … not the government or even the military … I'm not sure I want to even read the insertion teams report after what I saw. I can't believe an entire society could be reduced to pure anarchy in such a short amount of time with no effort to try and save themselves. From what I saw it was more like an 'every one for themselves' mindset. It was sickening to witness." Anguish and disgust shone from those emerald eyes.
"Not everybody are as sensible as our world and so many others we've encountered were, Chance. It would be a very homogenized universe if that were true," Ulysses commented, lightly.
Though the main part of his attention was on his work, he didn't miss how unhappy Chance was. He was sad for what was happening below but he'd learned and accepted much quicker than the tabby that some things just couldn't be corrected and some species just couldn't be saved.
Chance however, still had trouble letting go of his idealism. He couldn't shake the firm conviction that there should be some kind of happy resolution to these events. He still felt strongly that with all the Wotan's might and resources, they should be able to help instead of standing by and allowing a species to be reduced to total anarchy like the one below them.
He couldn't accept that some worlds just couldn't be saved because its inhabitants didn't have the right survival instincts to set their world to rights and move on. They just seemed to lack the fortitude and strength that other races possessed to survive and rebuild. He always wondered how such worlds survived as long as they did with such a handicap but then they didn't know until disaster struck them.
Kam told him that was just how the universe worked and they'd long since stopped trying to make sense of it. Personally, he thought they were failed experiments from those supreme beings they were told watched over them all. That idea just made Ulysses sick at heart. To think whole species were sowed on a world only to have it destroy itself not too many centuries later. Some managed to go along peacefully until something like the Tibican came along and ruined their perfect world. That's what happened below them.
He hated these kinds of calls but Chance took them much more to heart and suffered right along with the dying race. That wasn't to say he wasn't affected nor Jake. The two of them though had mates to lean on, as well as Star and their therapists. But Chance was alone, he and Tara having broken up some months ago.
Ulysses sighed. He was coming to accept that they simply couldn't fix every world and, sometimes, had no right to. So, if a species didn't want help, it was not their right to force them to accept it. But Chance had yet to accept that important lesson.
Sighing, he turned from his pad and clapped the unhappy tom on the shoulder a moment in sympathy. He murmured close to his companion's ear and said, "Free will … free choice … we can't violate that … ever."
Chance turned his head and stared into those earnest gold eyes and let his guard down for just a moment. "But it's so wrong, Ulysses..." he whispered, heartbrokenly.
"I know Chance, believe me I know," the big tom whispered back, giving Chance a quick, strong hug of sympathy and understanding. Then he gently shoved the tabby away to spare the tom any further embarrassment at the quick show of warmth and comfort he obviously needed but didn't want anyone else to know.
To his mortification, Ulysses had discovered, since becoming mated, he was more prone to emotional outbursts and displays. Which shocked him and totally disarmed his two fellow Kats at times. They weren't certain how to deal with his changed behavior having been used to his normally stoic manner and stone face. However, they were slowly coming around to accepting it, especially Chance who seemed to need that warmth more than Jake.
Certain something must be wrong with him, Ulysses had hurriedly checked with Dr. Tennar, but that worthy had quickly assured the tom that his behavior was normal for a mated female/male hybrid. Emotions were part of the package and he would have to learn how to deal with them. Not the answer Ulysses wanted to hear but there was nothing he could do about it but accept it was who he was now and get some training from his therapists on how to control his sudden outbursts and channel the need into a more constructive form.
Which was how, like now, when Chance's spirit was bruised and battered, Ulysses found it easier now to be able to react automatically with what ever was needed, in this case, a quick display of what Kam liked to call, mothering behavior.
Giving Ulysses a weak smile of appreciation, Chance trudged off to report and get cleaned up.
As he stepped into a nice hot shower, the way he liked it, Ulysses shook his head in sadness. Days like this always made him feel a bit down.
His thoughts drifted to Chance again. He felt bad that Chance's relationship with Tara had fallen apart because the tabby so needed the steadying influence of someone who cared for him alone. That concern made him realize he hadn't been paying the tabby enough attention lately.
Did the tabby still see his therapist? How was his relationships with the rest of the female crew? Was he spending any time with his partner? He realized he needed answers.
Though the mental and physical welfare of the crew was Dr. Tennar's purview, Ulysses found himself monitoring his fellow Kats emotional stability. After all, they were the same species and he knew the two more intimately than Tennar ever would.
Tennar had no problem with that when Ulysses had told him what he was up to. He told the Kat that many other species aboard the Wotan did the same for their fellows. It was what made it possible for the crew to handle being thrown together with so many other species. Ulysses felt more comfortable after that with his role as emotional caretaker and Jake and Chance allowed him to though they admittedly still found it strange to trust the dark tom that way.
Shaking his head, Ulysses pushed aside his concern for the tabby for the moment and asked for the dryer. Minutes later, he was stepping into the bedroom and preparing to put something comfortable on. He had no plans to leave his quarters.
Before he could put one leg into a comfortable pair of old sweats, his mate came dashing into their quarters.
"Oh no, you can't wear that...get you a spare uniform and hurry up..." Kam said hurriedly, rushing past his mate without a kiss and making for the bathroom. The shower came on moments later.
Frowning in confusion, Ulysses did as asked, though he was a bit put out. He was tired and didn't want to do anything else.
By the time he was dressed, his mate was already out of the shower and dragging a clean uniform on himself.
"What the heck is going on and what is the hurry?" Ulysses demanded, now fully dressed and standing with his arms folded across his chest, feet apart.
"Can't tell you. It's a surprise," Kam said smirking. He was swiftly dressed and grabbing his mate by the arm. "Come on. We can't be late."
Ulysses rolled his eyes but allowed his mate to drag him from their quarters and down the hall to a nearby elevator. When Kam gave the bridge as their destination, his eyes widened with surprise.
The trip was quick and the doors were opening before Ulysses could demand some answers. Kam walked quickly by the work stations on the upper deck, nodding at people he knew but not stopping.
Ulysses could tell immediately where they were going and it worried him a bit. The doors to the Captain's ready room snapped open and before him was a table filled with food, party favors, and a desert similar to a cake with words written on it that he couldn't make out from where he was standing. There were things floating in the air that resembled (sort of) balloons but there were of odd shapes and even odder material.
Glancing around in bewilderment, Ulysses spotted Jake and Chance looking at him with identical expressions of confusion to match his own. They stood across from him on the other side of the Captain who was standing at the head of the table. Around the room were people they had grown close to and knew well.
His mate took a stance behind him, placing a paw of comfort on the broad shoulder while across from them Genus was doing the same with Jake. Chance stood alone beside his partner looking distinctly uncomfortable making Ulysses want to move to his side but was held tight by Kam.
Around the room other members of the insertion team they knew personally stood at the far end of the table. Tara and Donar grinned wickedly, each holding a glass of some kind of spirit. Between them and the ones from Aristal were Star, Dr. Tennar, Lt. Hooftor, First Officer Shegar, Commander Tagler, Major Weigland, Lt. Fatar, Lt Lytol, Counselors Ssslan and Rrrluh.
"Now that our new members have arrived, I want to congratulate Ulysses, Jake, and Chance on making it to your first anniversary aboard the Wotan," Captain Ing announced jovially, a huge smile on his face. "This party is for you. Please enjoy yourself."
"Wow! Thanks sir," Chance managed to spit out while Ulysses was still trying to absorb it all.
"Uhm, thank you sir," The dark tom finally managed to say, blushing a bit at all the attention.
"This is cool and totally unexpected, thanks all," Jake said more at ease than his companions, a big grin split his face from ear to ear. Genus gave him a hard hug.
"Let's eat! I'm starved!" Kam announced, loudly. Everyone laughed and began to serve themselves.
"This is rather embarrassing. I'm not used to this kind of hoopla," Ulysses muttered to his mate. However, he was starving and the food looked wonderful. He didn't hesitate to fill up a plate then plop down in one of the many seats along the walls, Kam joining him seconds later.
Giving his mate an understanding smile and a peck on the cheek, Kam said close to his ear, "I know love. It was a truly rotten day but this is needed. All newcomers are greeted this way to celebrate this most important milestone, no others will be noted like this, promise. The fact the day wasn't so hot matters not in the scheme of things aboard ship. Life just moves on to the next thing," he said wisely, then chomped down on something that resembled a bird of some kind.
Ulysses had learned not to question too much what his mate ate, mostly because he didn't want to know and because he hadn't a clue even when Kam told him. Mollified to learn this was a one time deal, Ulysses dug into his meal with more appetite.
Next to him, Jake was enjoying being fed small morsels of something red and yellow from Genus' plate. The tom was the most adventuresome of the three of them.
That was funny actually, as back home, Ulysses had been the one to try a lot of unusual things but ever since Kam had given him something that looked like bacon but was definitely not and had burned his mouth enough to drink a whole gallon of milk, he'd been more cautious.
Chance looked a little lost. Tara had come to his side briefly but they both looked so uncomfortable that she moved away again to keep Donar company. Before he could say anything to Kam about it, Star drifted over with a full plate and took a seat next to the tabby, immediately beginning a quiet conversation with the Kat.
"Worried about Chance?" Kam murmured close to his ear.
"A little. It was hard when he broke up with Tara and he feels a little detached right now, especially since Jake is always so busy they never have time together much lately and today's mess certainly didn't help," Ulysses murmured back, not surprised his mate had seen his concern.
Kam looked over at the smaller tom. "I've heard from Genus that Jake drives himself too hard. He gets so wrapped up in all the cool things he's able to invent, weapon's systems he's revamped, and new power systems that are making the ship run better than it had when it left dry dock that it's hard to make him pull back. He has a brilliant and restless mind and it always has to be doing. Genus is worried about him."
Feral frowned. He should have been aware that Jake was, yet again, becoming too work driven to make time for himself and his mate. That Genus was complaining enough that Kam was hearing it meant he needed to make time to speak with Jake and soon. It was great that Jake loved what he did and was exceptional at it but doing it 24/7 and not making time for his mate or friend was not a good thing.
"Oh, oh...I know that look … a queen is lurking and plotting," Kam said, a little tongue in cheek.
"What?" Ulysses turned his head to stare at his mate in confusion. "What does that mean?"
"Nothing more than your mothering side coming out more and more. That turns me on and makes me wish we had some cubs of our own now," the wolf murmured seductively.
Ulysses felt his face grow hot. He turned away blushing. He didn't know what to think about being a mother. Now wasn't the time for cubs but later … he'd not thought about it at all. Did he even want cubs? He shook his head.
"It's nice you think so but you know that's far into the future and I'm not so certain I'll ever be ready for that responsibility," he retorted.
Kam just grinned knowingly. "I know that isn't something to concern us right now but accidents do happen and we should be prepared for it. Anyway, I only mentioned it because you show distinct mothering behavior right now about Chance and Jake. That's only natural as you are the oldest and feel a need to protect them as much as they will let you. Like right now when you realized you hadn't noticed Jake's overworking and Chance's growing loneliness."
Ulysses turned to stare into his mate's eyes. "Do you resent that? My involvement with them over you at times?"
"Of course not!" Kam said firmly. "You're doing what comes natural, even though you never dreamed you had that in you." He grinned swiftly then became more serious. "As Dr. Tennar told you, you perform a vital service in monitoring your fellow Kat's emotional and mental health. It benefits the crew overall and that's a good thing. Besides, love, you don't ignore me. I know you love me and that's good enough for me."
Ulysses felt his face heat again. Kam always knew the right thing to say. It's what made him so loveable. Giving his mate a brief peck on the mouth, he turned away to regain his composure.
Some minutes later, he glanced back at his mate who was cleaning his plate and preparing to get up for some of the dessert. He tugged at Kam's sleeve.
"I am being rather protective and I don't feel guilty about it at all," Ulysses declared.
Kam grinned widely. "And you shouldn't! I think its adorable!" He gave his mate another kiss then rose to get his desert.
Smiling to himself, Ulysses shook his head and dug into his food. Though tired, he cocked his ears to take in all the conversations going on around him. He hoped this party ended soon so he could curl up with Kam and get some sleep.
His ears caught a bit of talk about Chance's first space walk.
"He was doing really well, actually, until that small meteorite whizzed by and startled him and there he was spinning like a cartwheel into free space," the voice said, which, when Ulysses turned his head, turned out to be Donar. Everyone chuckled, some remembering their first space walk.
"I had to jet out to catch him but dang if he didn't manage to stop his spin with his jets and get himself sent back toward me. I asked him how he had known what to do and he said their ejector seats in their jet had the same capabilities. It was designed so they could maneuver instead of just plummeting to the ground by way of a parachute and was armed so they could fight as well. I was amazed yet again at how inventive Jake is. If he had been given a chance, he could have sent their species into space by now," Donar said admiringly.
"Aye, he is very bright and his mind never stops thinking of ways to do things or improve the way things are being done already," Chief Taglar said. "My only concern is he may be heading for burn out as the feline never takes much in the way of breaks. I've seen him crawling around some section of the engines when all others have since left for the day and the next shift has arrived." The Chief shook his head in some dismay at this behavior.
"So I've heard," Captain Ing rumbled, suddenly coming up behind the two, concern in his voice.
Before anyone could respond, Ulysses got up and stepped close, interjecting, "I'll speak with him, sir." All heads turned his way.
"That would be appreciated, Ulysses. Mind you, we do admire the lad's efforts, but we have no desire to see him work past sensible limits. Brilliant minds have a tendency to do that and must be watched closely and coaxed to rest...whether it be a fierce workout with friends or use the holodeck. He must be gently but firmly forced to do what will keep him healthy," the Captain warned.
"Yes sir, I understand."
"And how are you doing, Ulysses? Adjusting well?" The captain asked, smiling warmly.
"It was tough at first, sir, especially learning to put the past baggage the three of us carried firmly behind us and learn to work together. I think we've managed to succeed very well there. Magic is never going to be something I like doing but I've accepted its necessity and am coming along well according to Star..." he paused to give that worthy a questioning look.
"You needn't be concerned on that front, Ulysses. You know you are very good and have complete control. All you require is some field work with it to feel confident. When your training is through, I have no doubt you will be the strongest among us in the Sept," Star told him firmly.
"Yeah, well I'll reserve judgment on that, sir, when I do get that chance. Meanwhile, my therapist says I'm much calmer which does help me concentrate better and stay in control more effectively. I attribute that to being mated and very, very busy," Ulysses added, smirking a little.
Ing chuckled. "I'm very glad you've finally found your footing and are happy. Change was apparently good for you."
"Indeed it was," Kam chimed in, giving his mate a hug. Everyone nearby laughed and smiled, pleased to see such a happy couple.
The Captain drifted off to speak with Chance who was talking animatedly with Shegar about changing some procedure concerning the fighter units.
Ulysses grabbed a little of the cake made for them. It had an odd but not unpleasant taste. He finished his food and stood up. Disposing of his plate, he began to meander around the room working his way to Jake's side. Genus had moved off to fill his plate with the cake concoction so he was able to speak to the tom alone.
"Quite a surprise, wasn't it?"
Jake smiled and waved a cookie in the air. "Yeah, it was and what weird balloons. Genus told me Tara had seen them and had wanted to do something like them but the replicator couldn't make sense of the request so she made these herself from stuff she found in stores."
"Well, they're certainly different," Ulysses chuckled, giving the odd inflated things a more closer look. Even that didn't help him figure out what they were made of. Returning his attention to Jake, he asked politely, "Tried the cake?"
"Naw...not much of a cake eater but Chance sure liked it," Jake snorted, finishing his cookie. "These are great though but I won't ask what's in them."
"Good idea. I've found I enjoy my food more if I don't inquire too closely as to where it came from," Ulysses said tongue firmly in cheek. Jake laughed as he'd intended. "Listen, rumor has it you are working a bit too many hours..."
Jake sighed. "I'm being tattled on?"
"The Captain is concerned," the dark tom warned.
"Oh...I just thought it might be Genus or Tagler..." Jake muttered, worried the Captain was involved.
"They are simply concerned that you might risk burn out from the excessive hours you keep is all. Since none of us want that to happen to such a bright mind, promise me you'll try to keep more reasonable hours? Perhaps set a timer to help you out...hmm?"
Jake eyed Ulysses thoughtfully. "You're really worried aren't you? I don't know if I like this new you. It creeps me out sometimes," smiling to take the sting out of the statement, then sighed. "... I promise I'll try. It's just so hard to leave something that has my attention gripped firmly to take a break. I just have this drive to see whatever it is to the end, however, long it takes."
"Yes, I know and we do understand but that drive has to be balanced with common sense, Jake," Ulysses reminded the smaller tom.
Jake sighed again and nodded. "Yeah, I know it and I promise to try."
"There's something else I need to talk to you about..."
"What?" Jake asked warily.
Both of them glanced across the room where Chance was animatedly speaking with the Captain, Shegar listening intently nearby.
"Something in particular has you worried?" Jake murmured, still eyeing his friend.
"More like two things. One is his continuing inability to accept that some worlds can't be saved. That they must be allowed to follow their own path, no matter how destructive that might be. He desperately wants to ride to the rescue as he did when a SWAT Kat. Swallowing the valid reason for not doing that is what is making him unhappy and rather rebellious. It hurts to see him so bent out of shape about it."
"And the mess we just left below brought that more to home, eh..." Feral nodded. Jake sighed. "You talked to him about it, I guess."
"Only briefly. He'd walked up to me, while I was processing the shuttle, wanting some kind of reassurance that would salve his conscious. I did my best, repeating the Alliance's beliefs, then giving him as much comfort as I could but, emotionally, he's still struggling. You are aware this failure to accept the Alliance's stance could jeopardize his chances of ever becoming a contact team member or leader?" Jake winced but nodded. "I feel he needs someone to talk these feelings out with besides his counselor and me. It's you he needs … his long time friend. You need to step up or his attitude will cause difficulties with crew morale. And the second thing that has me concerned is his sense of isolation. He hasn't been with anyone for some time. That's not healthy."
Shifting his attention away from his partner, Jake met Ulysses' eyes with a shamed expression on his face. "Honestly, I haven't been paying him much attention of late. I've been just as busy as he is. I don't even know if he's tried to contact me..."
"He has..." Genus interrupted softly from behind Jake. Neither Kat had noticed him come near.
Jake's brown eyes flashed with anger. "You didn't tell me?"
An anguished and ashamed expression spread over the red tom's face. "Ohhh...I'm so sorry. I...I'll talk to him tonight, promise," he said, turning to Ulysses. "And I'll let you know if he needs more."
"Thank you. I didn't want to make you feel bad, but you're the only one left that might get through to him. Also, you might remember you too need to make time for yourself and your mate. We all get too busy but for our overall mental health, we need to stop and make time for our personal relationships too," Ulysses warned him gently. "If you need help, I'm available and please ... keep me in the loop."
"I will, I promise. And thanks, Ulysses ... for caring." It felt truly weird saying that.
Ulysses just smiled. Feeling he'd done all he could, he gave Jake a gentle pat to the back, nodded at Genus then returned to his own mate.