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“Wake up, chucklehead,” Aran heard Hot Rod say as he shook Aran quite roughly.
Aran open his eyes and saw Hot Rod looking down at him with that crooked smile of his. He glanced around to help gather his bearings and then yawned as he stretched his arms.
“What’s up?” He asked.
“Ramie wanted me to see how you were doing,” Hot Rod replied. He looked at Aran curiously. “Are you doing okay?”
Aran nodded. “Being on the go without a reliable hour chart can be a drag.”
“So,” he began hesitantly. “Have you gotten over it?”
Aran gave him a quizzical look. “Over what?” He asked.
“You know, the issue you and Danyelle had a few years ago.”
Aran rolled his eyes. “Oh that.” He paused for a second. “Sort of, I guess, though it still upsets me a somewhat. Why?”
“Just curious, pal” Hot Rod said, grinning. “Though I don’t see why you got your britches in an uproar.”
“She got mad at me because she thought I was flirting with Princess Ashlynn,” Aran replied back annoyingly. “She got a bit jealous and it kind of got a little bit out of hand.”
“Yeah, well, when Danyelle holds a grudge, it lasts a very long time,” Hot Rod said with a sly grin. He then got to his feet, patted Aran on the shoulder and left.
Hot Rod was right, when Danyelle holds a grudge, she did carry it for a long while. This particular grudge began during one of Princess Ashlynn’s usual visits with her father to Moon Base. She had become a little infatuated with him, though Aran wasn’t sure why. At a social gathering before they were sent to the Centratta-Thermottian border, Danyelle saw Princess Ashlynn kissing him. That effectively destroyed their relationship. Later, after the Raf incident, Danyelle was given a security detail that included Princess Ashlynn. Aran had requested it but was turned down by Ramon. Aran was pretty sure it was one of Ramon’s usual tactics. He later learned that Princess Ashlynn and Danyelle became good friends, in which Princess Ashlynn admitted that she came on to Aran and not vice versa. It still didn’t matter, though they did sort of make up when he resigned. He smiled at that memory.
Though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, he still had feelings for her and was sure most of them were nostalgic, but every once in awhile he felt something more. One of those moments was just a few hours ago when she showed up in that bar. It had been a long time since he had seen her and was sure that’s why it popped up on him.
After two and a half days of travel, the star cruiser slowly eased its way into the docking bay at Moon Base. Aran was glad of it. Being shut in the star cruiser with a jumped-up Danyelle (he still didn’t know what her problem was) and an antagonizing Hot Rod had severely pushed him over the line. As he disembarked from the off-ramp, he noticed that Ramon was standing not too far away, apparently waiting for them. He sighed, then slung his gear over his back and headed toward the Admiral.
Ramon looked much greyer than the last time Aran had seen him. His once black, piercing eyes looked more tired and subdued. Aran noticed a more hollowness in the way Ramon held himself. He figured it had to be the stress.
“Lieutenant,” Ramon said to him, holding out his hand for Aran to take. “I see you’re in good health. Any luck with Klaw Zarden?”
“No, Sir, “ Aran replied, taking Ramon’s hand and shaking it. “I’ve come close a few times.”
“I see,” Ramon said rubbing the grey stubble on his chin. “He always was an elusive individual. But I’m sure we will overcome that eventually.”
From the corner of his left eye, Aran noticed and heard Danyelle and Hot Rod squabbling with each other as they walked down the ramp. They both abruptly became quiet when they saw Ramon talking to Aran. Aran was sure Ramon had heard them but was indifferent to their argument.
“We have received some vital information regarding the kidnapped Princess,” Ramon continued. “There was also something about Klaw and what he was up to that I’m sure you might find useful. I will explain later. I’ll need you, Lieutenant Holdman and Lieutenant Hawkins to meet me tomorrow morning in my office.”
He nodded curtly at Aran, turned and walked away back toward the lift doors. Aran stood and watched him, wondering what happened to have made him this way.
Av peered out of the starcruiser as Ramon walked away. “Is the old codger gone?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Aran replied. “What’s up with you?”
“Nothing, mate,” he replied as he walked nearer. “Just don’t like him. He threatened to kick me arse out of Starfleet for coughing at Admiral Mattingly’s funeral.”
“You coughed when Admiral Mattingly was given a moment of silence,” Danyelle said as she walked up to them. She turned to Aran. “What did he say?”
“We’re to meet him in his office tomorrow morning. I never expected this version of him.”
“He’s changed recently,” she told him in a softer tone. “It has something to do with what happened on the border recently.”
“What happened on the border?” Aran asked her.
“The Starfleet personnel that had been stationed on a base near there were beheaded,” She told him. “Their heads were then placed on poles and left to rot. The rest of their bodies were never found. One of Ramon’s closest friends was among the dead.”
She gave him a weak smile and headed for the lift herself, to presumably straiten up. They all looked a mess. Several days of nonstop space travel would do that to a person.
“She still likes you,” Hot Rod said to him. “I can tell by the way she looks at you. That‘s why she‘s been so fussy.”
Aran said nothing as he watched her enter the lift doors and exited the docking bay. He sighed as the three of them headed for the lift themselves.
“Lets go get cleaned up and have ourselves a drink. You won’t believe who runs a bar here,” Hot Rod said to him. “It’ll get your mind off of things.”
Aran took the lift to where his assigned quarters were located. He quickly cleaned up and met both Hot Rod and Av back at the lift, which they then took to the Promenade. As they walked in, Aran realized he hadn’t been here in a long while. It all looked the same but felt quite different. He didn’t know why and was sure he didn’t want to. Hot Rod, noticing that Aran had that lost look on his face again, nudged him and pointed toward the bar. At the sight of the bartender, Aran doubled over in laughter. After a few seconds of this, he straitened up and wiped the speckle of tears in his eyes that had formed from his laughing and hurried on over to the bar.
“Hey Collins, I don’t care if you’re getting a promotion or not, you’re still paying for that damn drink!” The bartender yelled at someone. “And if you show me that finger again, I’ll break it off!”
“Some things never change,” Aran said as the bartender whipped around at him at his voice. “Still threatening officers, huh, Comet?”
Comet first looked at him incredulously in disbelief and then grinned. “Well if it ain’t lil boy black and blue,” he replied sarcastically. “How ya doing, amigo?”
Aran and Comet shook hands and then poured the three of them a drink. Comet had also been in the same class at the Academy. When Aran was sent to the Montigo, Comet had been sent to Mars Base upon graduation. He was a great pilot and a whiz with mechanical engineering, but he had a penchant for being an arrogant pain in the ass. About a year ago, he had gotten into some trouble for getting into a scuffle with a higher-ranking officer.
“I’m doing fine, Comet,” Aran replied taking a drink. “How did this come about?”
“Funny you should ask,” Comet replied. “It seems my little argument with Commander Dozier ended with me getting kicked out of Starfleet. That prat, Admiral Romero was the one who ordered it. I swear Dozier is so far up Romero’s rear end his nose is brown.”
“I thought you were just suspended,” Aran said taking another drink.
Comet just snorted. “Yeah right,” he said looking disgruntled. “He kicked me out. Without an inquiry or anything. Anyway, me Uncle passed a few months ago and left me with some dough. I found out the previous owner was scared of being invaded for some odd reason and wanted out. So I bought the place. It rankles ole Romero that I’m still out here on this hunk of space rock.”
They spent the next few hours laughing, drinking, and swapping stories from their Academy days. Before Aran realized it, most of the evening was gone. Knowing they had an early meeting with Ramon, Aran dragged a very inebriated Hot Rod out of the Promenade and back to their quarters. As he drifted off to sleep, images of a young woman with light brown hair filled his mind, beckoning him into the unknown.