* Nine *
David Jackson walked down the stone inlaid pathways that led to Round Forest River Galley with his new woman, Tiffany. James Jackson and his wife Darla, along with their daughter, Summer Dawn, followed them. Amber and Eric Jackson followed close behind them. Candy Jackson Simmons followed after them with her children. Far behind them, there came someone that Robert Jackson hadn't expected, though however, the Consortium of Inhabited Worlds had called upon her as well. Rhea Warner walked along side Candy Simmons and was conversing with her, while she pointed to the flowers, shrubbery, trees, and one of the three mono trams, passing by overhead, their towers connecting to the central core way up above them. They all continued along the pathways to the vine covered bridge and galley, while Donald April tagged along behind them with Marsha, and her two sons, Andrew and Ben, who brought up the rear.
"Shall we take ourselves inside?" Robert asked, grabbing his transcribe and entering the galley to take a seat at the head of the officer's table.
A while later, after the galley had filled to capacity, Robert Jackson pressed a touch control pad on the tabletop activating the ship wide vid-com address system before he stood up.
"Silence every one." he said as his voice rang out all over the ship.
Davadra, Sathrana nor Davrina, had expected what was to come next.
"Welcome aboard the Consortium star ship Orion." he yawned and waited a few seconds before continuing.
"For those of you that are here for the first time, you are now, as we were then, bewildered, scared out of your wits, and ah, ticked off." he said with a grin on his face.
"But then again, so are our families, neighbors, friends, and co-workers back at home on Earth. Not to forget, the major authorities and world leaders as well." Jackson said, getting a few laughs from those that were here for the second time.
"Just be thankful that you have an appointed counselor with you now, as we did not have one then, that we knew of on our first voyage, until much later."
"As we have all now been informed, our liberties and the freedom to move to and fro on this star ship will be earned, or as they are granted, once we have been fully brought up to par, as to our duties, and or, our responsibilities, for which we have been brought aboard." he further explained.
"I hope, that I've recited our welcome aboard speech as correctly as it was given to us upon our arrival, just a short while ago." Jackson said as he stopped speaking long enough to take a drink of what he had hoped was water.
"Not bad." he said, licking his lips before continuing on.
"I also hope, that my sister Candice, got her coffee." he added, getting a laugh or two.
"Whatever we do, let's not lose our hearing aid language translators, or our video communications watches." he said, pointing to his left ear and his left wrist with his right index finger.
"Also, let us remember to keep order here, and order will be kept, in an orderly fashion, because my brother, Commander David Jackson, will probably be seeing to that." Jackson said, as everyone halfway listened while placing their orders on the menu screens that arose from the tabletops in front of them.
"A Zaleen battle cruiser destroyer has just crossed the Uorexuan neutral zone and is en-route to the planet Glammadren as we prepare to journey there shortly ourselves." he explained while watching as every ones eyes finally gazed towards him.
"Its commander, Commodora Valakadria Tawn, along with a third or more of the Zaleen fleet, has led some, if not all of us, to believe that she may be defecting to the Consortium of Inhabited Worlds, to help us battle a newly arising Zaleen imperial government. It will be our mission to find out if this is true, or not, and take the appropriate actions from that point onward." Jackson said, having gained everyone's undivided attention.
"Just a short while ago, after having left our shuttles, we were greeted personally, and or visually, by Admiral Davadra Adriakar, Captain Sathrana Celane, and Counselor Davrina Adriakar. Having been informed that we should not take it upon ourselves, to seek out and explore any portion of this ship, unaided and uninformed, it is only right for those of you that are newcomers here, on your first space voyage, or tour of duty, to abide by those rules." he rambled on.
"And now, that I have everyone's undivided attention, I want to take it upon myself, as this ship's former captain, to inform you all, that after having met with the three aforementioned officers, I stand before my family and my friends, of the past voyages of the Orion, our present voyage, and if it should be, whatever future voyages we may, and or may not, share together, and do hereby, at this time, accept the vacated position, and grade promotion, to an admiral of the galactic fleet. However, though I shall only retain the admiralty of the fleet for as long as the Zaleens pose a threat to us, and to the free and inhabited worlds of the consortium." he told everyone that cared to hear, or to whoever was still listening, to his speech.
"Admiral of the galactic fleet!" David Jackson thundered as expectedly, as usual.
"David, Commodora Tawn is expecting the admiral of the galactic fleet to meet with her in the orbit of the planet Glammadren," Robert Jackson explained to his brother. "I now intend to, as an admiral, to know myself, beyond the shadow of any doubts whatsoever, whether or not the past thirteen years has changed Valakadria back into her old destructive, and domineering self."
"It might very well be, that she's coming to join forces with us, should the Zaleen empire decide to attack the consortium, or Earth." he told not only his brother, but the others gathered there as well.
"If you're going to replace Admiral Driakar over there, then who's going to be my commanding officer on this one way trip to hell?" David asked.
"Is it Donald April?" he inquired before Tiffany pulled him back down and into his chair.
"Not this time David." Donald informed him and David very quickly, stood back up.
"If not you, or my brother, or Admiral Driakar, then who?" David asked as Tiffany poked him hard in the leg to make him sit down, while everyone awaited the answer as well.
"Would you happen to know, Donald?" Robert Jackson asked before anyone else could ask, or even answer for that matter.
"I hadn't given it much thought until now," Donald answered as he scratched his head.
"Heck, I'm just as much in the dark about this as everyone else." he said, a little teed off at not having been informed himself.
"You've been here far longer than the rest of us, and you don't even know yourself?" David Jackson uttered.
"Nope, I haven't been informed, one way or the other."April answered
"Will the real commanding officer of the Starship Orion, please stand up, and let his, or hers, or its, presence, be made known, in our dire time of need." Robert Jackson ordered, and as Sathrana Celane stood up, David Jackson passed out, and fell back down into his chair, while at the same time, Donald April, fell completely out of his.
"Now, I know I'm having a nightmare." Donald said as Marsha helped him to retake his seat and Tiffany took it upon herself to revive David.
"Yes, now we all know." Robert Jackson said as others who had paid close attention either laughed or cried, as food was being carried to their tables.
"Oh, and one last thing, before I sit down to order my meal," "Our now former admiral, Davadra Adriakar has been recently elected to the position of the president of the United Galactic Consortium of Inhabited Worlds." Jackson informed everyone as he turned to notice the icy stare coming from Davadra just before he sat back down to press the touch control pad that would stop the vid-com recording of his soon to be released transmission.
Most, if not all the passengers and crew, gave her a standing ovation which lasted for almost five earthen minutes before they retook their seats to eat their late evening meal. Jackson finally pressed the touch pad once more, to deactivate the com system.
"Admiral Jackson, I wanted the personal privilege of telling the crew, myself!" Davadra growled as she smacked him on the arm.
"In a way, it feels great to be back aboard the Orion, and in another way, it hurts to the core." he told everyone at Captain Sathrana Celane's table this time, while rubbing his sore arm.
"How soon before we get under way, Captain?" he asked, pressing the touch pad once again to raise the menu screen and order his food.
"Tomorrow morning, Admiral, after everyone's had sufficient rest." Captain Celane answered as Jackson looked across the table at Rhea Warner who held her chin in her right hand and gazed at Robert Andrew Jackson as if she had never met him before.
"Sathrana, she's your ship now." Jackson told her as he turned his gaze away from Rhea.
"I know Admiral, sir," Sathrana replied as she noticed how he had looked at Rhea.
"Your ship, and your crew," he began. "Take care of them both and they'll take care of you."
"If not, you'll be smacked on the arm, with or without a choice of which one." April said, gazing over at his friend.
"I'll try to do my very best, Admiral." she said as her eyes gazed about the table, at the faces she wanted to burn into her memory, for as long as she would live and serve with them.
"I'm hungry." Amber said as she looked at her father.
"Are we there yet?" Eric asked as he looked at his sister, putting everyone back in stitches with laughter.
"Valakadria, as others of us have a greater reason to believe, may still want to wipe us out of existence." Donald April said, voicing his opinion while at the same time noticing David Jackson giving him the thumbs up.
"You know," Jackson said, just to change the subject. "At first I declined the admiralty of the fleet, and very heatedly so. I thought that the mission of playing hero to the destroyed worlds had been completed. We've all experienced some very great . . . and painful . . . losses in our lives to the Zaleens. Some of us may recall, that a devastating virus, brought aboard the Orion, from her sister ship, the Daneka Amoria, about ended our last voyage. It all but took the lives of our Uorexuan and Zanarian crew mates."
"That's something that none of us will ever forget," Donald April said with a solemn look on his face.
"Until a cure can be found for them, they'll have to remain in suspended animation, on the ice planet Kristonia, for the rest of their lives." he added sadly, and more or less, to himself.
"I played Valakadria's hero, by saving her life, and thus, preventing her death. I think she owes me the same service in return for my mercy upon her." Jackson continued on, having heard clearly, what his best friend had said as their food arrived.
While eating, he gazed about the galley in all directions to see Alex Scott, Laura Andrews, Steven Davis, Tekorr Tharashaen, Bohemeah Javreen, Josette Sanchez, Khaba Satria, Lektan Tholari, Mardaui Lumada and the countless others that were here, perhaps on their last voyage together. He thought back to the time that he went against his own better judgment to save the Zaleen princess, Valakadria Tawn. He had entered her littered cell where she lay naked in the filth. The only thing that had, for some unknown reason, managed to stay clean and shiny on the girl, was her golden neckband or birth collar. Valakadria was completely covered in the muck and the mire from head to toe. He remembered the stink that the ventilator mask was unable to filter out. She had cringed and hidden her face from him as he made his way into the corner of her cell where she lay drawn up into a tight ball on the cell floor. She cried weakly and was nothing but skin and bones from the lack of nourishment. They had broken her down both body, soul, and mind and he found out that she was unable to walk. They had degraded her to the point of eating the flesh of the dead Zaleen's thrown into her cell. Yes, he had saved her after she had him hunted down on his own ship, and having him shot in the back, taking six month's of his life away from him as he lay in a coma in med bay. And now, thirteen years later, the memory of his Uorexuan and Zanarian shipmates, left behind, perhaps forever, on the subfreezing and barren planet of solid ice, had came back to haunt him.
"You haven't heard a word that I've said, have you Dad?" Amber asked, very loudly this time, knowing that her father may have been thinking about her mother.
"No, I've been in deep thought for the past few minutes. I'm sorry, but I haven't been totally here with you." Jackson told his daughter as he rose up from his seat, yawning.
"I'm going to bed. It's getting late. We'll be leaving our solar system tomorrow. Pray that we're all prepared for what's to come." he told everyone before leaving the table.
"Amber, follow me." Davrina said, getting up and excusing herself as well, making a grab for Robert Jackson's forgotten transcribe.
"You wouldn't mind if I tagged along too, would you?" Rhea Warner asked as she pushed back her chair.
"She can come, Davrina." Amber replied.
"Sure, why not." Davrina said as Amber and Rhea walked beside one another, yet lagging further behind the counselor as she sought to catch up with Robert Jackson.
"I'm going to let your counselors know that you're all with me." she said as she stopped for a moment beside a vine covered vid-com tower to send word to their counselors.
"Robert ... Admiral Jackson, wait up!" she yelled, almost out of breath, after having crossed the bridge at a run with Rea, Amber, and Eric, now hot on her heals.
"Davrina, Amber, Rhea, what is it that you want?" Jackson asked as they finally caught up with him while Eric stopped to tie a shoe lace that had loosened.
"Amber," Davrina said, as she handed the transcribe back to him. "Tell him."
"Tell me what, Amber?" her father asked as he stood there trying to shake the sleep from his head.
"What I wanted to know earlier, while you were further out there in deep space than we are right now is, are Eric and I going to get to spend any time with you while we're here? Or, is it going to be pretty much like it was seventeen years ago? I mean, we no longer have mom with us any more, and even though we're older we---
"Amber, as long as we're not in a meeting with the staff or in another war with the Zaleens, you, Eric, and I, can spend as much time together as you'd like." Jackson told his daughter as Eric walked up to meet them.
"And what about me?" Rhea asked as she stood there with them.
"You too. That is, if you want to." he told her, as he tucked the transcribe under his left arm.
"Listen up, I'm hoping that this trip to Glammadren will be short and sweet and that we don't have to battle with the Zaleens. I'm also hoping that when we are all able to return to Earth, we may also be able to continue on with our regular, and sometimes boring lives." Jackson said as everyone listened.
"Our exodus from Earth was anything but regular and boring."Eric Jackson said. "Getting chased in the police car was---
"What if it's not so short and sweet? What if we do just happen to go to war with the Zaleens? What if we can't return to Earth for any reason, whatever that reason might be?" Rhea asked, very much afraid but doing her best not to let it show as she interrupted Eric.
Robert Jackson stood there, thinking about his answer.
"Dad, answer her please." Amber said, awaiting his answer for herself as well.
"That's a lot of what if's to answer. We'll work this out together, somehow." he answered as he gazed passed Rhea Warner to give Eric and Amber an icy stare.
"Do you need me for anything right now?" Rhea asked point blank and it made Robert Jackson think once again before he answered.
"We need each other." he answered.
"Robert Jackson, do you need me to help you with Eric and Amber or not?" Rhea asked, somewhat irritated this time.
Robert Jackson hung his head as if he had just been defeated in a battle all ready.
"I would deeply appreciate your help, Rhea. And so would they." he answered as Rhea's daughters and her son crept slowly up behind her.
"Hello mom." they all said together, making her jump.
"Rhea, we all are here because of a need to be, rather than a want to be. And I need to be in bed and want to be asleep right now." Jackson told them all, but their attention had turned elsewhere for the moment.
"We've been looking all over for you, Mom." Sabrina said as she grabbed her mother by the left arm to keep her from falling while placing a video com watch on her wrist at the same time.
"I must have dropped it while running in the jungle." Rhea said as she let Sabrina help her fasten her watch band.
"Oh my, it's Sabrina Warner." Amber Jackson said before she passed out on the grassy round forest floor.
"She's a big fan of yours Sabrina." Robert told her as Davrina revived Amber.
"And big faller, or I mean follower too." Eric said as he laughed at his sister.
"I'm going to go find a bed and get some sleep," Robert said as he stepped into the mono tram elevator tower that stood nearby.
"I would suggest that the rest of you do the same." he told them as Davrina managed to squeeze in before the oval shaped doors slid shut leaving Eric, Amber, Rhea, and her family, outside.
"I'm your counselor, you know. I'm coming along too, Admiral." Davrina told him.
"You'll have to find your own bed, Davrina." Jackson told her as the elevator ascended to the top of the vine-covered tower.
"Very funny." she replied, glancing over to find Robert Jackson leaning against the elevator wall, asleep.
She too was very tired all of the sudden, and about fell into a trance like state. Memories of the past and the present came crashing together. Robert had lost Patricia a few years back on Delindria by the hands of her very own father. Robert had never pursued her sister Davadra after wards and neither she nor Davadra ever pressed the issue after Patricia's death. Davadra never told Robert Jackson as of yet about the daughter he had left behind. He would find out soon enough though about Valdara Adriakar Jackson.