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As they walked, Hart would steal occasional glances at Benny and JonJon, trying to understand what was going on. Hailey had blurted out that they had kissed, but Hart didn't know enough about their history to know for sure why that was an issue.
He was surprised when Lehman put a hand on his arm and encouraged him to lag behind the others. The gesture seemed to be casual, but Hart was unaccustomed enough to being touched casually that he had to think how to react.
"Benny and JonJon are really good friends, and they've almost been boyfriends since we got here, but JonJon's got another friend, named Jenn, that he likes, too." Lehman quietly explained. Hart could tell from the look in his eyes that there was probably a whole lot more to the story, layers and layers, that he probably didn't really want to know.
"So, JonJon finally chose Benny?" Hart guessed. It seemed like a safe enough question, likely not to trigger a full-on history lesson.
Lehman thought for a moment, then said, "It'd be nice if it worked out that way. But knowing JonJon, he's probably going to be feeling guilty now and try to take it back or give Jenn equal time or something dramatic like that."
"I can hear you." JonJon called out from ahead of them.
"You know it's true." Lehman called back.
Hart couldn't restrain a laugh. It had been one thing when Lehman had been trying to explain what was going on between Benny and JonJon, but he hadn't realized that Lehman was saying all of that just as much to let his older brother know that he was tired of the indecision and the drama.
"I love JonJon and Benny and I really want for them to work this out so that they can be happy. But all I can really do is stand back and watch it all happen." Lehman said frankly. Hart quickly restrained his laughter when he realized how serious Lehman was.
"You said that you like JonJon and Benny, but what about Jenn?" Hart asked curiously. Somehow, he didn't get the impression when Lehman said her name that he held any sort of negative emotion toward her.
"I like her, too. But she doesn't live here, so I don't know her as well." Lehman said honestly.
That made perfect sense to Hart. It would be natural for a person to want two people, that he knew well, to get together. It would be a way of helping two people that you care about at once. Of course, from what he had observed, love usually wasn't logical or practical in the way it caused things to work out. Love was messy.
Hart nodded, then said, "I don't know anything about love, but I think it's probably easier to just pay for sex. You get what you want, pay the check, then get on with your business."
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he wanted to take them back. He had only known Lehman a few hours and here he was talking like... a member of his mom's crew. He had grown up around people for whom drunkenness and whoring were facts of everyday life. He suddenly realized that he didn't really have any concept of how to behave around 'decent' people.
"Have you ever done that?" Lehman asked cautiously.
Hart laughed at the suggestion, relieved that Lehman hadn't just called him a pervert and walked away.
"No. But I've been around a lot of people who do, and it just seems to make sense. The people who think that they're in love... they have all kinds of drama... and not really all that much sex, from what I hear." Hart finished with a smile.
"I don't know anything about that. I guess I'll figure it out when I find someone that I'm interested in." Lehman said frankly.
That piqued Hart's curiosity. In many cases, Hart could tell from a person's behaviour where their interest might lie. But in Lehman's case, he hadn't received any signals in either direction.
"A guy or a girl?" Hart finally asked.
"Probably, yeah." Lehman said thoughtfully.
Hart nearly broke into laughter at the response. It took him a moment to finally ask, "I mean, are you looking for a guy or a girl to be interested in?"
"Oh, um. You know, it's different for me. Being raised as a Chameloid, everyone I knew could look male or female whenever they wanted, so I never really got too hung up on gender. It was more about the person." Lehman said with a smile, then asked, "What about you?"
"I think about girls when I wank, if that counts for anything." Hart said frankly. Again, as soon as the words had left his mouth, he regretted them. However, this time, he didn't regret them quite as much. Lehman hadn't reacted badly the last time he'd acted in a less than gentlemanly manner. And, if that were the case, maybe he could take a chance and not try to censor himself all the time. It was tiring and he wasn't very good at it.
Lehman blushed slightly, then said, "I guess being around so many humans has made me shy. But we usually don't talk about wanking."
"Really? Why not? Everyone does it, don't they?" Hart asked curiously. Although he could tell that Lehman was embarrassed, he didn't seem to be too bothered by it.
"No one talks about it, so I don't know if everyone does it or not." Lehman said honestly.
"Well, no one had any problem talking about it on the ships where I lived. It was mostly guys and the ones who didn't get with the other guys, took care of it themselves." Hart said simply. He was finally to the point where he believed that Lehman would just tell him if he were being too familiar or rude.
Before Lehman could formulate any response, the first of their larger group had arrived at the transportal station.
Benny loaded the coordinates for all of them, then they all stepped onto the transportal platform.
* * * * *
As they walked toward the New Hope Inn, Benny suddenly veered off in another direction.
"Are you needing some help?" Benny asked some strangers cautiously.
When Hart looked at the strangers, he was taken aback at their appearance. One of them was what appeared to be reptilian, but also humanoid. Hart had never in his life seen the species before. The other one was covered with feathers and appeared to be of the same species as Cheh, what Hart had been told was 'Avalla'.
"The city AI in our hometown, back on Soleena, told us that if we wished to be married, that we could come here. But now we don't know where to go." The reptilian one said in a voice that came from a pendant, like the ones that Lehman and JonJon had.
"I think I heard my dads say that they're doing something about weddings at the New Hope Inn." Lehman said frankly, then quickly added, "We're going there, now. You can come with us."
"You're not bothered by the fact that we wish to be married?" The Avalla asked with surprise.
"Unless you're wanting to marry me, there's no reason I should have a problem." Lehman said with a grin.
"It's right here. Korrigon will take good care of you." Benny said as they walked to the front door.
* * * * *
"Hello, boys. Hello, Hailey. It looks like you've made some new friends." Korrigon said pleasantly.
"They said that they want to get married. Is this where they're supposed to go?" Benny asked curiously.
"Sure. If you'll excuse me for just a minute." Korrigon said as he walked behind the check-in desk, then asked the couple, "What are your names?"
"Grahm'k." The Soleen said in a voice that was unusually soft for being such a harsh sounding name.
"And you?" Korrigon asked as he looked to the Avalla.
"Tesh." The Avalla chirped.
"Let me fill you in on what's going to happen. Right now, I'm going to get someone to take you up to your room, so that you can put your things away and have a few minutes to yourselves. Then, whenever you're ready, you can come down here and have a nice dinner. After you've eaten, I'll sit down with you and go through what wedding options are available." Korrigon said pleasantly, then rang a little bell on his desk.
He then looked at the couple with a smile and continued, "If you need anything, our AI's name is Mycien, and he'll be happy to help you. If you don't have any questions, Tyzo will show you to your room."
"I'm not sure... How do we pay?" Tesh asked cautiously.
"Mycien can accept Soleen-Avalla credits. If you need another method of payment, just ask Mycien and he'll let you know what's possible." Korrigon said frankly.
"Thank you... this is like a dream." Grahm'k said in amazement.
"We'll do our best to make your dream a reality." Korrigon said, then motioned for Tyzo to lead the couple away.
"Sorry about that. If you'll follow me." Korrigon said to Benny and company as he walked around the check-in desk.
* * * * *
It was strange for Hart to see his father being a restaurant manager and innkeeper. But it was good, too. He knew that his dad was a gentle person with a good heart. Yes, he could be a ruthless bastard when the situation called for it. But, as far as Hart could tell, his father didn't get any thrill out of causing people pain and grief. He simply did what he had to do.
"It's good to see all of you. Why don't you go into the private dining room? No one's reserved it, so you can have it all to yourselves." Korrigon said happily as he led the way. For a moment, Hart wasn't sure if he should go with the others, or if his dad expected for him to help out somehow.
Before Hart could think better of it, or think about it at all, he stopped in front of his father and asked, "Have you figured out what you're going to do about Mom?"
"We have some ideas. But there are still a few details to work out." Korrigon said evasively.
Hart could tell that his father wasn't going to divulge any more information, so he asked, "Is Uncle Garath still here?"
"He decided to get back to work. He's not making any money while his ship's orbiting this planet and it's going to take some time for him to get to the next inhabited system." Korrigon said frankly.
"I just wanted to tell him 'Thanks' for bringing me here." Hart said honestly. Although he had just been worried about getting back to his father, at the time, the fact of the matter was that Garath had well and truly gone out of his way to help.
"Don't worry. I thanked him." Korrigon said assuringly, then added under his breath, "I even received a confirmation of the transfer of funds."
"I'm going to have a sister." Hailey told Korrigon proudly.
Hart smiled at the interruption. He didn't know Hailey that well, but he couldn't help but be drawn in by her excitement.
Korrigon's eyes went wide in surprise, then he looked at Benny with question.
"We found an Avalla girl named Cheh. She's in the hospital right now. But when she gets out, she's going to live with us." Benny hurriedly explained.
"I think that's a very nice thing, that you're doing. Be sure to bring her by here to meet me, once she's gotten settled." Korrigon said pleasantly.
Hart wasn't always sure if his dad were a genuinely good person or a consummate con artist. There were times when he got the idea that his dad was being nice to set up a mark so he could take them down later. When Hart bothered to think about it, he always decided that his dad was a nice guy. But there were still times when he seemed too good to be true.
"Yeah. We will when we have the credits." Benny said timidly.
"The first meal's on me. In fact, if you'll let me know in advance, we can reserve the dining room for you and make it kind of a welcoming celebration." Korrigon said happily. As soon as the words were out of his father's mouth, Hart had the 'con man' feeling again.
"Thanks. As soon as Cheh's up to going out, we'll stop by." Benny promised. Hart decided, once again, that it was a case of his father being a good guy, but resolved himself to pay closer attention, in the future.
"You look like Vincent, when you do that." Hailey said as she looked at Lehman.
"I always look like Vincent." Lehman retorted.
"Nuh uh. You look like you. But when you do that 'thinking about stuff' face, you look just like Vincent." Hailey said firmly.
Lehman couldn't help but grin at the statement.
"If you've got a twin brother, why isn't he living here, too?" Hart asked curiously. Once again, his mouth had taken off and asked the question that was uppermost in his mind, without any restraint.
"It's kind of complicated." Lehman said honestly.
Hart looked around the private dining room, then back at Lehman with question. They obviously had the time, if that's what Lehman were worried about.
"Okay. Yeah. You already know that I'm a Chameloid. Because of some stuff that happened a while back, I changed myself to look just like Vincent. Then I got sick and ended up stuck looking like him. So, we say that we're twin brothers, because it's a lot less complicated than the truth." Lehman said carefully.
"But the way you talk about him, it's like he really is your brother." Hart said cautiously.
"Yeah. We wouldn't be closer if we really had been born into the same family. But the thing is, Vincent's in Starfleet..."
"But he's your age, right?" Hart interrupted.
"Yeah. He's in the Starfleet Mentoring Program. If you'll remind me about it, I'll show you the video, sometime." Lehman said happily.
"Make sure you tell him when you're sick of seeing it because, if you don't, he'll keep playing it over and over again." Benny said with a grin from further down the table.
"Are you sick of seeing it?" Lehman asked with surprise.
"Not yet. But I think I have the whole thing memorized, by now." Benny said honestly.
Lehman turned his attention back to Hart and explained, "Vincent was accepted into the Starfleet Mentoring Program, so that he could learn how to be a Starfleet officer while he was on a starship, actually doing the job. The thing is, he's done such a good job that he's been featured on the Federation News."
A half-remembered news story crept into Hart's mind and he cautiously asked, "The Hero of Kimber?"
"That's my brother." Lehman said proudly.
"Most of the people here, at New Hope, are from the old Kimber IV colony." Benny added.
"I heard about 'The Hero of Kimber', but I didn't really pay that much attention to it." Hart reluctantly admitted. He got the sense that saying so was akin to blasphemy around these people, especially his very proud, adoptive brother.
"Vincent went into a reactor and saved hundreds of people's lives. Then, later on, he also stopped some pirates, near Coffelt." Lehman said proudly.
"Coffelt? Where's that?" Hart asked cautiously, knowing that it sounded familiar.
"Sector A-13. There's a Federation base, there." Lehman said simply.
"Yeah. I think I know where that is." Hart said thoughtfully.
"So, anyway, Vincent spotted the pirates and they all got caught, then the Federation News did this big story on him." Lehman said happily.
"Wow. That's really something, someone our age being in Starfleet." Hart said in wonder.
"You know how some kids are really good at music or art or something like that?" Lehman asked seriously.
"Vincent's something like that, but with his Starfleet stuff. He's really good at it and he gets things done. Him being a kid is kind of a big thing, but once you get past that, he's good at his job. Even if he wasn't a kid, he'd still be the 'Hero of Kimber' and the 'Nemesis of Pirates'." Lehman said proudly.
"Nemesis of Pirates?" Hart asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Vincent wrote me and told me that a Klingon called him that and that he really liked the sound of it." Lehman said with a smile.
"I'm sorry this took so long. It's our dinner rush." Korrigon explained as he led a procession of waiters into the room.
"Your dad's food is the best." Lehman told Hart seriously.
Although Hart knew intellectually that he didn't have any reason to be proud for someone else's achievement, he unaccountably was.
* * * * *
Before the others had finished their meals, Hart slipped away from the gathering and sought out his father. As luck would have it, he found his father alone in the office just off the reception desk.
"What are you going to do about Mom?" Hart asked seriously.
"Don't worry about it. I've talked to a few people and we're working on it. When your mother gets here, we'll make sure that she understands that you want to stay." Korrigon told his son assuringly. Once again, Hart was certain that his father wasn't going to tell him anything about what he was planning.
Before Hart could respond, Korrigon continued, "I've just received word that the supply ship that we've been waiting on is due to arrive tomorrow. Since I've got the only Inn at the New Hope colony, I need to be ready for any short term passengers they might have or members of the ship's crew who might like to take a few days of shore leave while they're here."
Although Hart really wanted to grill his father about his intended plans, he could tell that it would be a wasted effort. So, instead, he cautiously asked, "Is it okay if I go over to Lehman's house for a while?"
Korrigon looked up from his work, then stood and walked to Hart before pulling him into a firm hug. "Please don't ever doubt that I want for you to be here, with me. If you want to go over to Lehman's house, that's fine. As long as you know that I'm here if you need me for anything at all."
"Thanks, Dad." Hart said as he returned the hug.
"Just, right this minute, I have about a thousand and one things to do so that I can prepare for what might be my only real chance to make money for the next few months." Korrigon said as he reluctantly released his son.
"It's okay, Dad. I understand." Hart assured him.
"I love you, Hart. You know that, right?" Korrigon asked his son as he looked him in the eyes.
"Yeah. I've always known." Hart said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Do you want to go with Benny and Hailey to the hospital or come over to my place?" Lehman asked curiously.
"Your place, I guess." Hart answered distractedly, as they walked out of the New Hope Inn.
"What's wrong?" Lehman asked curiously.
"My mom's probably going to show up soon, wanting me to go with her." Hart quietly admitted.
"Can you just tell her that you don't want to go?" Lehman asked seriously.
"I can tell her, but I can't make her listen." Hart said resignedly.
"Yeah. That's the tough part." Lehman said with a nod.
"The thing is, I can't get my dad to listen, either. He's making plans for what to do when my mom gets here, but he isn't telling me anything or asking me what I want to do." Hart said anxiously.
"Lehman Byrne." Lehman said to the control panel at the transportal station.
After pressing his selection, he led Hart onto the transportal platform.
* * * * *
"I wish Vincent were here, he'd know what to do." Lehman said as they walked away from the transportal station at their destination.
"What would he do?" Hart asked curiously.
"I don't know how he does it, but Vincent can usually look at a problem and see past all the crap that doesn't matter." Lehman said frankly.
"Maybe we can do that." Hart said thoughtfully.
"We can try. I guess the first thing we should do is figure out how you want for things to turn out. You want to stay here, don't you?" Lehman asked curiously.
"I don't know, yet. I've never really lived on a planet before. I don't know if I can get used to it." Hart said honestly.
"Well, I think that before we do anything else, you really need to figure out what it is that you want." Lehman said as he directed Hart to walk with him through the yard of one of the houses.
At Hart's curious look, Lehman explained, "This is one of my houses, but the one I use is on the other side of the back garden."
Hart nodded and followed along, surprised by how beautiful the garden was.
* * * * *
"Do you remember what I was telling you about Vincent?" Lehman asked as they approached the back of the house.
"Yeah." Hart said as Lehman started to lead him around the side.
"I want to show you that video about him. Maybe that'll help us come up with some ideas about what you want to do." Lehman suggested hopefully.
Hart reluctantly smiled, knowing that Lehman was proud of his twin and was just wanting to share the video with him.
* * * * *
When Hart started watching the video, he was fairly impressed that Vincent had been credited with saving so many lives. But he was surprised when the video went on to chronicle one achievement after another, ending with him helping to apprehend a band of pirates.
"How could your brother do all of that?" Hart asked in wonder.
"If you asked Vincent, he'd probably say that he was just in the right place at the right time." Lehman said frankly.
Hart thought about the response for a moment.
What had seemed like a casual statement suddenly seemed to have a more profound meaning to him.
Finally, Hart carefully asked, "But, that's true, isn't it?"
"What?" Lehman asked in confusion.
"Each time, he was in the right place at the right time to help someone when they needed it." Hart said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. I guess." Lehman said slowly, sure that he wasn't completely understanding what Hart was talking about.
After long, silent minutes, Hart finally said, "I think that's what I want."
"Huh?" Lehman asked, and was tempted to touch Hart and do a telepathic flash imprint so he would have some clue of what was going on in Hart's mind.
"Here, now... This isn't the right place or time to do... anything." Hart said with difficulty.
"This colony is just starting out. It can be whatever we make it." Lehman said cautiously.
Hart looked at Lehman with frustration at his own inability to convey what he was thinking.
"Listen. When I was on my mom's ship, there wasn't really much I could do to help anyone. Sometimes she'd ask me to carry something or clean something, but none of that really made any difference. I think that, living here with my dad, it would probably be more of the same. I might end up helping him in his restaurant or his inn, but I wouldn't ever be in the right place at the right time to do anything that matters." Hart said carefully.
"I guess so." Lehman reluctantly agreed, since he couldn't see where Hart's thought process was leading him.
"If anything's going to change, it's up to me to change it." Hart said thoughtfully.
"Change what?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"How hard do you think it would be for someone like me to get into that mentoring program that Vincent's in?" Hart asked thoughtfully.
"Um, I have no idea. Mycien?" Lehman asked as he glanced toward the ceiling.
"Are you inquiring regarding the qualifications for the Starfleet Mentoring Program?" Mycien asked to verify.
"Yeah. What would Hart have to do to get in?" Lehman asked seriously.
"The process for admission at the Starfleet Academy is well documented. A list of requirements is provided that is easy to follow. The Starfleet Mentoring Program has no such process in place. You submit a request and after investigation, they respond with a notification telling you if you will be considered or not." Mycien said carefully.
"So, all you really have to do is ask them and they'll tell you 'yes' or 'no'?" Hart asked cautiously.
"I can find no consistent documentation regarding their criteria. The aforementioned investigation sometimes includes background checks, interviews, or requests for supplemental information. Other times, it does not." Mycien said seriously.
"But, if I'm getting this right, you just have to apply. You'll either get in or they'll tell you why you didn't make it in, right?" Hart asked to confirm.
"That appears to be the case."
"Then the next thing I need to know is, what do I have to do to apply?" Hart asked seriously.
"Aren't you going to talk to your dad about this, first?" Lehman asked quickly.
"He didn't ask me about any of the decisions that he's been making. Besides, the mentoring program people will probably just say 'No', anyway. All I'm doing right now is taking a shot in the dark." Hart said frankly.
"Yeah. I guess it won't hurt to apply." Lehman said uncertainly.
* * * * *
"Lehman, are you here?" JonJon asked from the central room.
"We're in the living room." Lehman called out in return.
"Nurse Willingham finally threw Benny and Hailey out of the hospital, so Cheh could get some sleep." JonJon said as he walked into the room and automatically took a seat on the couch.
"How are things with you and Benny?" Lehman asked with a smile.
JonJon thought for a moment before quietly responding, "I need to talk to Jenn before I do anything else."
"Do you know what you're going to tell her?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"No. But you're right. I've let this go on too long. Still, I need to understand her feelings before I can make any decisions." JonJon said honestly.
"But you are going to make a decision... and stick to it?" Lehman asked to confirm.
"Yes. I've spent too much time looking for the 'right' answer. It turns out, they were all right answers, I just had to pick one." JonJon said with an air of acceptance.
"It's about time you figured that out!" Lehman said with relief, then moved over to the couch to give his brother a hug.
JonJon returned the hug and felt reassured that Lehman believed that he was doing the right thing.
"So, what are you two doing?" JonJon asked as the hug released.
"Hart's putting in his application for the Starfleet Mentoring Program." Lehman said frankly.
"But he just arrived here." JonJon said with a questioning look at Hart.
"It's probably not going to lead to anything, but if they tell me why I was rejected, then I'll have a list to follow so I can get myself ready to apply again, later." Hart said seriously.
JonJon thought about that for a moment, then said, "That is a very reasonable way to proceed. And I doubt that many other people thought of that. You may be giving yourself a big advantage over the other candidates when you apply for the second time."
"That's the plan." Hart said with a self-satisfied grin, but then the expression fell away, overtaken by worry.
"What's bothering you?" Lehman asked when he noticed.
"I just wish I knew what my dad was doing about my mom." Hart said honestly.
At JonJon's look of question, Lehman explained, "His mom is probably on the way here and she's going to try to get him to go with her."
"Yeah. Whether I want to or not." Hart added, then continued, "My dad has some kind of a plan, but I don't know what it is. He won't talk to me about it. It really bugs me because I know that he loves me, but he doesn't trust me, even with the basics."
"Mycien? Can you tell us what Hart's father is planning?" JonJon asked into the air.
"No. I could not divulge that information without David's permission." Mycien said regretfully.
"I didn't think so, but it doesn't hurt to ask." JonJon said frankly.
"However, since you work in Cyril's office, I believe that there are some documents that you have the security clearance to access, that might shed some light on the questions you have." Mycien said carefully.
"Sneaky, sneaky." Lehman said with a grin.
"If they wanted inflexible security, then they should have used a virtual intelligence system. I am sentient, therefore I can choose for myself what needs to be protected and what needs to be shared." Mycien said firmly.
"Would you give me a console interface?" JonJon asked casually.
"As you like."
* * * * *
The colonists had been awaiting the first supply ship almost from their first day inhabiting the colony.
Many of them didn't realize that since they had arrived on a constitution class starship, they had traveled well beyond the cruising speed of a supply vessel. As a consequence, most of the colonists had expected their supplies to arrive much sooner.
Not only had they been waiting on supplies, but also essential personnel, most notably, a medical staff to see to the health and well-being of the New Hope colonists. Nurse Willingham had done an admirable job, but quite frankly, she wasn't qualified to provide the level of care that the colonists needed. It was fortunate that no catastrophic illness or injury had befallen anyone during the time that she had been the only medical professional in the colony.
The atmosphere at New Hope was almost one of a festival when the supply ship finally landed.
The process of unloading the cargo was going to be long and painstaking, but everyone in the colony was simply overjoyed that the long wait was finally over.
There was much relief when the long awaited supplies began making their way to the different local distribution centers. However, there was also one unfortunate discovery. Somehow, when the requests for supplies were being written, a mistake had been made. It wasn't until the cargo was being unloaded that anyone learned that they had only received thirty-six "German-washout" Earth toilets. The request had supposedly been written for over five hundred, since the Soleen-Avalla facilities had turned out to be a bit tricky to use.
In an effort to minimize the impact among the colonists, the governing council decided to ask anyone who wanted an Earth toilet to submit an explanation as to 'why' their need was greater than someone else's.
Lehman, Hart and JonJon all helped Benny with his request, explaining that Benny's father, and possibly the rest of his family, would need the more convenient facilities when they arrived at the colony, due to their anticipated medical conditions.
The New Hope Inn was seeing stellar business with the influx of new colonists who needed a place to stay while their houses were being customized to their liking. Beyond that, several members of the crew of the supply ship chose to take their shore leave while the ship was on the planet.
* * * * *
"Do you really want to do this?" Lehman asked Hart uncertainly.
"Yeah. Actually, I do. Is everyone else coming?" Hart asked as he followed Lehman to the transportal station.
"They're going to meet us there. In fact, they're probably there already." Lehman said as he increased his pace.
"Is it far from the teleportal station?" Hart asked as he was almost running to keep up.
"Not far." Lehman said as he rushed up to the control panel and quickly said, "Lehman Byrne."
* * * * *
Just as Lehman and Hart arrived in the park, the wedding ceremony was beginning.
At the front of the gathering, Torbjørn was officiating.
"Thank you all for coming to join us on this special occasion. We are here today to witness the marriage of Tesh and Grahm'k." Torbjørn said in a booming voice.
"In this atmosphere of peace and joy, please share with us your vows so that we may take part in this special moment with you."
The Soleen stepped forward and took the Avalla's taloned hand then quietly said, "This is my vow to you. That I will love you. I will cherish you. I will support you in whatever dreams you wish to pursue. For so long as I draw breath. I am yours."
There was a long, silent moment, then the Avalla looked at their joined hands before saying, "In warmth and cold. In light and dark. In the prosperous days of bounty and in the long lean days that come between. Love, I have, for you. Cherish, I hold, in you. Support, I give, to you. Forever, I vow."
"With these vows spoken and witnessed, I declare before those gathered, by the power vested in me by the New Hope colony and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you joined in marriage." Torbjørn declared joyfully.
The assembled crowd let out a collective whoop in celebration.
"I've never seen a wedding before. That was really cool." Lehman said with a grin.
"Me either. That was nice." Hart agreed.
* * * * *
"Approaching ship, this is New Hope control. You have entered the designated space of the Federation colony, New Hope. Please identify your ship and captain and transmit your Federation authorization code." Mycien hailed.
"This is the independent ship, Trafalgar, Captain Estelle Korrigon. I'm not planning on landing or conducting any business. I'm here searching for my son."
"Captain Korrigon, I can confirm that your son, Hart, is here. He is with his father. Would you like to be connected with him?" Mycien asked carefully.
"No. This is kind of a sticky custody issue. Is there anyone I can talk to about something like that, first?"
"Yes. Of course. When you achieve orbit, I will give you transport coordinates so that you may speak with the Council of Governors. They have ultimate authority in such matters and should be able to resolve any issues that you may have in a timely manner."
"Yeah. That sounds good. We'll be there in about twenty minutes."
"New Hope, out."
* * * * *
"What do we have here?"
Benny turned and looked at the unfamiliar man with question.
"I'm Doctor Rudy. I was told that I have a patient in here." The man said pleasantly.
"Yeah. This is Cheh." Benny said cautiously, put off by the man's conciliatory demeanor.
"Oh, my. Aren't you a little beauty." Dr. Rudy gushed as he approached the bed.
"Hailey says that I am." Cheh chirped, by way of her translator pendant.
"Tell me, Cheh. How are you feeling, today?" Dr. Rudy asked as he looked at the strange readouts on the alien version of a biobed. Although all the words and numbers were in Federation Standard, the shape and layout was unconventional enough to make him have to search for the information that he most needed.
"My belly feels better." Cheh responded happily, but it was obvious that the child was still weak.
"She's still recovering from dehydration, but according to what we have in the database about Avalla physiology, all her readings are slowly returning to what would be considered normal." Nurse Willingham said seriously.
"Once I get settled in, I would appreciate it if you showed me how to use this equipment. From the look of it, this should make the diagnostics go a lot more smoothly." Dr. Rudy said as he did his best to make sense of what he was seeing.
"When do you think that Cheh can come home?" Benny asked cautiously.
"If I'm understanding these readings right, I would say that Cheh is still a bit weak and undernourished. It would probably be best if we kept her here until day after tomorrow, to give her a chance to get stronger." Dr. Rudy finished with a smile.
"Thank you, Doctor." Benny said gratefully.
"Cheh's going to be my sister." Hailey said proudly.
"Really? When is that going to be?" Dr. Rudy asked with interest.
Hailey thought for a moment, then looked at Benny inquisitively.
"I don't even know if that's possible." Benny said honestly, then looked upward and asked, "Mycien? Is there a way that we can adopt Cheh into our family and make her Hailey's sister?"
"Under Federation law, no. Your parents would have to make that decision for themselves." Mycien said frankly.
"Yeah. I guess that makes sense." Benny reluctantly agreed.
"While an official adoption is not possible at this time, it is possible to emulate several of the functions of adoption without an adoption, proper." Mycien offered.
"What... Oh, I get it. So you're saying that Cheh can live with us and stuff, just the same as if we officially adopted her."
"Yes. Together we will see that Cheh has everything that she needs." Mycien said confidently.
"I want Cheh to be my sister." Hailey said firmly.
"She's going to be living with us and I'm going to be responsible for taking care of her. What more do you want?" Benny asked frankly.
"If she's my sister, we need to have the same last name." Hailey said firmly.
"Mycien? Is there any way we can do that?" Benny asked curiously.
"The governing council hasn't made a ruling on Cheh's official status, as yet. So, if you like, I could just revise the original document so that when they make their ruling, stating that Cheh is a citizen of New Hope, that her name will automatically be logged as Cheh Summers." Mycien said frankly.
"Yeah. Do that." Benny said, then looked at his sister with question.
Hailey seemed to be processing what had just happened. Once she figured it out, she smiled and said, "Thanks, Benny."
* * * * *
"Are you sure about this?" Lehman asked Hart quietly.
"If I don't do this, right now, then whatever happens next is my fault. But if I do, then no matter how wrong things end up going, at least I'll know that it was me that caused them to go that way." Hart said firmly.
"However things turn out, remember that I'll be here, ready to help you, however I can." Lehman said frankly.
"Thanks." Hart said sincerely, then added, "If things end up that I stay here, maybe we could... you know... try some stuff."
"Like sex?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"Yeah. As long as you don't care if I'm thinking about girls when I do it." Hart said frankly.
"Go ahead and take care of your parents, first. Let's see how that works out before we worry too much about the rest." Lehman said with a grin.
"I never had a friend before. I didn't know I was missing out on something so great." Hart said honestly.
Before Lehman could respond, Hart looked upward and said, "Mycien, I'm ready."
* * * * *
As the doors opened, Hart looked carefully around the room.
The 'Council of Governors' appeared to be comprised of nearly a dozen different humanoid species. He recognized one of them as being Avalla, and there was another that appeared to be reptilian, like Grahm'k.
His father and mother were the only other humans present in the room.
Since his father and mother were engaged in a rather heated discussion, they didn't immediately notice Hart's presence. He listened, and it sounded to him as though they were each pleading their case before the council.
There was a break in the conversation, then Korrigon quickly said, "Hart, what are you doing here? You need to go back to the inn. We'll let you know when we've got everything settled."
"Neither one of you were even going to ask me what I wanted?" Hart asked disbelievingly.
"Don't worry about it, baby. We'll take care of everything." Estie assured him.
"We're conducting an official meeting here, to determine your legal status. You'll be notified when our decision is made." One of the governors said with some supposed authority.
"Mycien, would you please show me what's real, in here?" Hart asked firmly.
In a massive flash of light, everyone except Korrigon, Estelle and Hart dissolved into nothingness.
"What the hell..." Estie asked as she looked around.
"Dad was just trying to fake you out." Hart said with a disapproving glare at his father.
"How dare you!" Estelle said dramatically.
"Yeah. And what's been going on outside while you've been in here, playing nice?" Hart asked his mother dryly.
Estelle put on a fairly credible look of surprise and offense at the question.
"Mycien? Where are they now?" Hart asked simply.
As soon as Hart asked the question, a large image, like a viewscreen appeared on the wall.
"Isn't that Dobby and Halk? I wonder what they're doing, trying to break into that building." Hart said, only half seriously.
"I don't have any control over what they do when I'm not on the ship." Estelle said defensively.
Hart laughed aloud at the statement, then said, "Come on, Mom. You have control of EVERYTHING. All the time. The only reason Dad got away is because you thought you were done with him."
Before Estelle could formulate a response to that, Hart continued, "Mycien, would you put Dobby and Halk somewhere so that they can't get into any trouble?"
"I suspect that they may have the capacity to cause trouble that I cannot anticipate, but I will do my best." Mycien said frankly.
As everyone watched the projection, both men were encompassed in showers of sparkles, then they were gone.
"Mom, I love you. But it's time for me to start living my own life and making my own decisions. I'm not a baby anymore." Hart said firmly.
"You may think that you're ready to be out on your own, but you're not. The universe is a big, cruel place and there's no way that you're ready to face that by yourself." Estie urged him to understand.
"Yeah. Um, I'm not talking about running away to live on my own. I'm talking about being allowed to make decisions about things that have to do with me... or at least to be included in the decision making. If I hadn't done some snooping, you two would have decided everything without ever asking me what I wanted." Hart said as anger boiled within him.
"No, Mom. I'm not a baby. Not for a while now." Hart interrupted.
"Estie, he's right. If he chooses to stay here, with me, can't you just let him? You'll be able to come and visit with him whenever you want and I won't interfere." Korrigon said sincerely.
"You're not listening to me, Dad. You're still trying to decide for me and you never even asked me what I wanted." Hart said with frustration.
"You said that you wanted to stay here with me, when you arrived." Korrigon said frankly.
"Yeah. So I wouldn't have to live on the street. But I wasn't really thinking about the whole rest of my life, right then." Hart explained.
There was a long moment of silence, then Korrigon cautiously asked, "What do you want, Son?"
"Mycien, would you invite Lieutenant Lister to join us?" Hart asked toward the ceiling.
The projection activated again, this time showing a Starfleet Lieutenant sitting at a desk.
"Just so that all of you are aware, Hart has been transmitting the events that have transpired, so I am fully aware of all that's been said up to now." Lieutenant Lister said calmly.
"Who the hell are you?" Estelle asked belligerently.
"I am Lieutenant Lister from the Starfleet Mentoring Program. Hart submitted an application to us and has been selected for further testing. However, he was concerned about the legality of his petition, given the likely reaction of his parents. To that end, he requested to be granted emancipation, so that he would be free to make decisions for himself..."
"Beam us up!" Estelle said into her communicator as she lunged toward Hart, intent on grabbing him.
However, instead of grabbing onto his body, she passed right through.
"I'm not here, Mom. I thought you'd try that, so I'm on a Soleen-Avalla ship, that's outside your ship's scanning range." Hart said frankly.
"And your communications and transporters have been blocked, so that we may resolve this situation in short order." Mycien added.
"Hart Korrigon has been selected as a potential candidate for the Starfleet Mentoring Program..." Lieutenant Lister tried to continue.
"I'm his father! You had no right to enroll him in anything!" Korrigon interrupted angrily.
"Dad, I know that you want to protect me, but this is my life. There's a good chance that I won't be accepted into the mentoring program. And, if that happens, I'll come back here to live with you, if you still want me to." Hart said frankly.
"Mr. Korrigon, as things stand, right at this moment, you still retain sole legal custody and are responsible for making decisions regarding the wellbeing of your son. I urge you to consider what he's being offered. This could well be the chance of a lifetime for him. An opportunity such as this has never been offered before and may not be offered again." Lieutenant Lister urged him to understand.
"Dad, Mom, think about it. If I'm accepted, think about what kind of future I can have. I could become a Starfleet officer. Do you really want to keep me from that? Do you really want me living my life on a ship, or on a colony world, always knowing that I missed a chance like this?" Hart asked imploringly.
"What do you say, Estie? Can we really stand in his way? He may be right. This might be his only shot at doing something great." Korrigon asked his estranged wife.
"Is this what you really want?" Estelle asked the hologram of her son quietly.
"Thanks for asking." Hart said petulantly, then calmed himself before continuing, "Yeah, Mom. I'll be going up against thirty or forty other people for a spot in the program, so there's a good chance that I won't make it. But if you'll let me, I'm going to try."
"Actually, we've currently received over seventy applications, and they just keep rolling in." Lieutenant Lister said frankly.
"Remember that, if you don't make it, you can call on me and I'll come and get you." Estelle said quietly.
"I'll remember." Hart assured her.
"And you'll always have a home here, with me." Korrigon added.
"I know, Dad." Hart said with a smile at his father.
"Just so we're all clear on the matter, have both of you decided to allow Hart to be considered for the Starfleet Mentoring Program?" Lieutenant Lister asked carefully.
"Yes." Korrigon said seriously, then looked at Estelle with question.
"Yeah. Let him have his chance." Estelle reluctantly agreed.
"Then just let me say, congratulations Hart Korrigon. You've been accepted for testing. Please take the next available transport back to Earth and report to the Starfleet Academy upon arrival. Packets of study materials to prepare you for testing will be forthcoming." Lieutenant Lister said seriously, then added, "Feel free to call upon me if you have any questions or concerns before your arrival."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. I will." Hart assured him.
The projection faded into nothingness, leaving Hart, Estelle and Korrigon alone in the conference room, looking at each other.
"Estie, I'll understand if you'd like to spend some time with Hart before he has to leave." Korrigon said cautiously.
Estelle flashed an amused grin at her estranged husband, then said, "I put off a job to be here. I really need to go and do it."
"I understand. Take care of yourself, Estie." Korrigon said in a tone of voice that held no animosity.
"Hart. You know how to get in contact with me. Let me know if you need anything, or just to tell me how you're doing." Estelle said as she looked at the hologram of her son.
"I will, Mom." Hart assured her.
As Estelle made a move to key her communicator, she stopped and asked, "Can you stop blocking my signal?"
"If you would like, I can transport you, and your fellow crewmembers onto your ship." Mycien offered kindly.
"You can't. My ship will be cloaked and have their shields up." Estelle said seriously.
"Your cloaking and shields are no inconvenience for me. Are you ready to transport?" Mycien asked with a slightly smug tone.
"Yeah." Estelle said uncertainly.
Korrigon and Hart watched as Estelle disappeared in a fountain of rainbow sparkles.
* * * * *
Hart and his father stood, looking at each other for a moment.
"I'm sorry." Korrigon finally said.
"I'm not mad. But when you make decisions for me, will you at least ask me what I want before you decide?" Hart asked hopefully.
"I'll try. It's hard for me to think of you as grown up." Korrigon said honestly.
"It's hard for me, too."
"I wish you were here, so I could give you a hug." Korrigon said quietly.
Hart's hologram faded, then a rainbow fountain of sparkles erupted in the room, revealing Lehman and Hart, standing side by side.
"Come here." Korrigon said, then pulled his son into a firm hug.
Lehman stood by and smiled as he watched.
* * * * *
The next day, Hart had just finished his breakfast and was reading the first packet of study materials from the Starfleet Mentoring Program. From the look of it, he was being given the same training materials that Starfleet Cadets received before their entry into the academy.
Korrigon had gone into the kitchen to talk to Chef Vera about something, so when the newly married Soleen-Avalla couple stopped at the desk, Hart decided to see what they needed. He could easily summon his father if they had a problem.
"Hello. I'm Hart Korrigon, my father owns this place. How can I help you?" Hart asked in his best attempt at professionalism.
"We just wanted to stop by and say thank you for the most wonderful, incredible day of our lives." Tesh clucked happily.
"I know that my dad will be glad that you had a good time." Hart said honestly.
"It was better than that. The whole time that we've been here, not one person has looked at us with disapproval or said an unkind word. The beauty of our wedding location was incredible, but to have the governor of the entire colony officiate... We couldn't have asked for more." Grahm'k growled and hissed in an almost melodic voice.
"Maybe that's why they call this place New Hope." Hart speculated.
"It is that." Tesh clucked warmly, then continued, "There are others among our friends and acquaintances that may also wish to be married. If they approach us about it, we will be sure to let them know to speak to your father."
"He'll be very happy to hear that. He's worked really hard to make this into a place that people want to visit." Hart said frankly.
Tesh looked past Hart and quietly chirped, "Mr. Korrigon, I'm so glad that we got to see you again before we left. Thank you for the incredible arrangements you made for us. Our wedding truly was perfect."
Korrigon put a hand on Hart's shoulder as he said, "I am honored that you allowed me to make the arrangements for you. And please come back anytime, and we'll do our best to make as many perfect days as we can for you."
As Tesh and Grahm'k walked out the front door, Korrigon quietly told his son, "Maybe someday, when I'm too old to be doing this, you could take over for me."
Hart smiled at the thought, then said, "I can think of worse things."
* * * * *
In the days that followed, Hart divided his time. He did quite a bit of studying to prepare for his upcoming entry exam, but he also made a point to spend time with Lehman, Benny, and JonJon. Although all of them were aware that Hart would soon be leaving, none of them seemed to want to speak about it.
Instead, everyone focused on the task of getting Cheh settled into her new home.
Dr. Rudy's decision to keep Cheh in the hospital gave Hailey and the boys the chance to make a bedroom for Cheh that was suitable for a princess.
The process of unloading all the cargo that had been shipped to the New Hope colony was slow and arduous, but eventually was completed.
"You're going to be in space for over a month, getting to Earth. Do you think that you'll be alright?" Lehman asked with concern as they walked.
"Yeah. I've lived all my life on ships. I'm sure I'll be fine. I'll probably be more comfortable than I am here. It's so freaking quiet all the time! I can't sleep right without the hum of engines!" Hart said playfully, but was warmed to the depths of his soul that he had people who cared.
"Thanks for all your help with Cheh." Benny said sincerely.
"If there's ever anything I can do to help you with her, just let me know." Hart said with a smile up at his older friend as they turned the corner.
"You be sure to write to us. We're going to want to know every detail about what it's like at the academy." JonJon said seriously.
"I'll see what I can do." Hart said with a restrained smile.
"When do you have to leave?" Lehman asked hesitantly.
"In about an hour. All my stuff's already been transported aboard. Mycien's going to tell me when it's time for me to go. But right now I need to spend a little time with my dad, first. I need to be sure that he knows that I love him and that I'm not doing this just to try and get away from him." Hart said frankly.
"I'm sure that he knows... Well, maybe not down deep in his heart, but if you keep after him, I'm sure he'll get there." Lehman said thoughtfully.
"Yeah." Hart quietly agreed.
"Write to us." Lehman said firmly.
"I will." Hart promised, then said, "I've got to go."
"I know." Lehman said regretfully, then watched as Hart stepped onto the transportal platform.
"New Hope Inn." Lehman said to the control panel, then watched as Hart disappeared in a rainbow fountain of sparkles.
Well, I am officially impressed on several levels.
Hart gets to try out for the Mentoring program. I bet he will be accepted and I bet he will do an excellent job when he gets there.