Coming Home Again

By Cassandra Foxx

 

In Chapter Three, Cassi has discovered her new dorm-mate is feeling extremely homesick. Finding Dawnbright curled up behind her shocks her, but once she is reassured that Dawnbright was seeking company, not sex, Cassi is comforted and she makes friends with her first chakat. Settling in is rough, with getting equipped, peliminary classes, and learning to do things the military way. When her marks don't meet her requirements, Cassi is heartbroken, until Dawnbright points out that they are exactly the grades Cassi needs to transfer to StarFleet, the most coveted service in the galaxy. After getting her classes rearranged, Cassi finally feels her self-confidence rise, and she accepts the new name she gave herself whole-heartedly. She is now truly Cassie Whiteclaw...

 

Chapter Four

Doing Your Best Rarely Beats Being Prepared...

 

The alarm went off, seemingly right in Cassie's ear. A hand snaked out from under the covers and threw a pillow over the bedside clock as the door to her room opened. "Rise and shine, Cadet! It's now Five O'Clock, and we have parade in an hour." Dawnbright neatly sidestepped another flying pillow, and placed a cup of Cassie's favorite chocolate drink near to where Cassie could smell it. Shi realised that Cassie had 'denned' again, making a nice mound out of the bedclothes like she'd dug out a den for herself. As Dawnbright watched, a black nose, followed by a red-and-white-furred muzzle sniffed it's way out from under the covers. and a second hand slipped out and gripped the mug, which slowly disappeared under as well. Dawnbright grinned as a deep growl-purr came from underneath the mound of material, and she added "Breakfast will be in about twenty minutes. Catch a shower and I'll see you outside. OK?" Dawnbright giggled as a fox's tail slipped out and waved assent. Shi went out, closing the door behind hir.

Dawnbright was setting the table as Cassie walked slowly out of the bathroom, looking almost her usual self. Cassie sighed as she sniffed the lovely huge breakfast that Dawn had prepared that morning. "Thanks, Dawn." Cassie said to hir, hugging hir and nuzzling hir muzzle with hers, "You always know what I need, don't you?"

"Comes from having a Companion for a while" Dawnbright answered. "Wait till you find a mate. You'll understand after a year or so."

"I bet!" Cassie giggled, and they sat down and ate. Later, Cassie returned to her room and slipped on her new uniform top. This one, instead of having the mark and colours of the Star Corps, now bore the distinctive markings of the Star Fleet, setting her apart from most of the other cadets there. Today was her first classes, and she was going to make sure she was a lot more successful at these than her Tech classes had been. Cassie was sad inside that she and Dawnbright would be separated for some of their classes now, but at least there were many that the two friends would be together in, and that made the ones where Cassie would be alone bearable to her. Returning to the main room, Cassie and Dawnbright moved out together, walking at a steady march down the corridor together towards the parade grounds.

*               *               *

Cassie moved through the class buildings until she reached the Stellar Cartography classroom. Looking in, she saw an interesting cross-section of races, but few Taurs. Sighing, she moved in and sat down behind one of the hooded desks. She looked around while the huge hoods, which were display panels, were retracted. She counted ten humans of various races, four Voxxans, several members of various other races, but aside from herself, there were only three other Taurs: a foxtaur, a chakat, and a quange. The foxtaur was male; the quange, female; which was interesting to Cassie. Maybe she could make friends with all these new people, but the quange mare interested her the most. She'd love to get the chance to swap stories and other information with her.

The chakat was looking at her. Cassie gave hir a smile back, and shi grinned in return. The chakat then tilted hir head in the direction of the male foxtaur, who was giving Cassie the once-over. She returned his gaze, letting her eyes travel over his nicely-proportioned form, but in her mind, Garrek's strong, mature body was what she was grading him on, and although he was rather cute, he wasn't Garrek. Cassie sighed. She returned her attentions to the equipment in front of her, and didn't see the teacher come in.

"Class, take your places." She said. Cassie started, then looked up. Not really to her surprise, the teacher was also a chakat. Shi produced a rather commanding figure, and hir voice projected very well. "We have a new addition to the class. Cassandra Whiteclaw has joined us here. Make her feel welcome, when we are not working." A few snickers came from some humans, but they clammed up under the teacher's gaze. "Cassandra, I am Instructor Chakat Dewfall, and I shall be instructing you on this course. Now," turning hir attentions back to the rest of the class, "Can anyone enlighten Cassandra as to where we are at this point?"

"Shi has a lovely smile" , Cassie noted as they listened to Dewfall. Hir style of teaching was extremely easy to listen to, and Cassie found she retained everything she learned, as well. Astrogation proved to be her easiest subject as she progressed through the year, but Cassie never let herself fall below 80% in any of her classes. She had too much to prove.

*               *               *

After a hot, humid Christmas spent mostly on the beaches that formed one side of the Academy grounds, Cassie and Dawnbright compared notes as they relaxed. "Astrogation, 99%; Astrophysics, 96%; Helm Dynamics, 95%; Small Ship Piloting, 96%; goodness, Cassie, keep this up and you'll make the bridge for sure on your cadet cruise!" Dawnbright commented after she went through Cassie's end-of-year grades. "Not even Starshine has grades this good, and shi was practically reared in space!'

Yeah, well," Cassie retorted, "with Biosciences 97%; Xenobiology 96%, Planetary Geology 92% and Wilderness Survival 96%, I don't think that you'll have much trouble getting into Planetary Surveying as a career, Dawn. And your shuttlecraft piloting is a lot better as well. When you landed that shuttle and didn't even spill a drop out of those open carriers they attached to the sides, I was so proud of you! " Cassie hugged her friend close to her. "I told you you could do it, didn't I?"

"Aye, you did, and I must admit, it felt good to show up Starshine. Shi has such a superior air about her sometimes..." Dawn replied. "So, when's the big trip?"

"The cadet cruise? I think it'll be about August. They'll need the three months after the cruise to evaluate us all, you know how thorough they are grading us."

"Well, I hope you make lieutenant, Cassie. You don't deserve to be stuck as an ensign." Dawn said softly to hir best friend. Looking at Cassie, Dawnbright felt something stir in hir heart. Shi knew that shi didn't love Cassie enough to ask more of her than they were, but there were many ways for a chakat to show they loved someone. Shi decided to think it over, call hir parents for advice, and hir den-mate, and then decide what to do. "Those who hesitate are rarely lost" Shi thought, "as long as they spend it in constructive thought. And this needs thinking through."

Cassie went on, working hard as usual, doing her best in all her classes. But one thing she did discover. After coming back from a long, seven-day hike through the rainforests that surrounded the base, she realised just how unfit she had been. The pace had been gruelling, as the humans said, but she found it was a lovely way to spend time. What struck her was that, three years ago, before she'd set foot here, the same trek at that pace through the hills around her home village would have worn her out within four days, and even after seven long days walking through the dense rainforest, she was not really tired or even sore. Later, as she looked at herself in the large mirror she shared with Dawnbright, Cassie realised that her body had passed the threshold of maturity. She was now fully-grown, and looking very well-grown. No longer a grown cub, she was a full vixetaur now, adult and better-looking than even her mother had been, with muscles and curves in all the right places. "If only Ashka could see me now!" She thought to herself, "She would be so envious. I look a hell of a lot better than she does. She was always bragging to herself, how mature and sexy she looked, even though she was the same age as I. I bet she doesn't look as good as I do now!" Sighing, Cassie walked from the bathroom and into her bedroom, activating the terminal and beginning her lessons again. She was finding Warp Navigation to be more difficult than some subjects, but was working extra hard at it.

Three months went by and both Cassie and Dawnbright passed with top marks in their chosen fields. Now, only the biggest test of all remained for them both. For Cassie, it was a tour of duty aboard an actual Star Fleet vessel, where she would take her place doing what she had been trained for, on a ship where they would take the place of the regular crew, while under their watchful eyes. She would finally get further away from Earth than the edge of Sol's system, and after six months of real-life work, her performance would be graded, she would either graduate and earn her rank and assignment; or she would fail, and have to repeat the cruise again. The only question was: what grade of ship would they be given to crew? A scout, or a merchant trader were fine with her. Starbase work wasn't where she wanted to be, but she would accept it if she was given that assignment. She didn't dare to hope for one of Star Fleet's best: the cruisers that plied the spaceways, keeping them safe for those in the United Federation outside Star Fleet. But she hoped as she worked, that it might happen.

For Dawnbright, after staying two extra years and getting her doctorates in Xeno-biology and Xeno-geology, shi would ship out aboard that ship, which would carry them to a world where they would join teams of explorers who were scouting and mapping it. The planet would have already been rated as safe, and it would be their job to map it's features and explore it's terrain and environment. Shi hoped that it would suit hir form. "Water worlds are not really suitable for chakats!" Shi thought as shi giggled slightly while studying some of the notes on Tectonic Formations shi'd made during one of the lectures shi attended. Dawnbright knew shi could handle almost anything, as long as shi had ground under hir paws.

*               *               *

The cadets, looking fresh and trim in their uniforms, were transported up to the shipyards where the training ship waited to receive them. Cassie was very surprised to see a Yaeger-class starship waiting in the docking bay where they were to board their ship. The James Lovell was an older member of her class, but she was up-to-date enough to be used to familiarise near-graduation cadets with the workings and routine of a normal Star Fleet ship and it's crew. Onboard, Cassie moved quickly to her assigned quarters and skilfully unpacked. As she did so, she checked the roster, and saw that she would be at the helm when the Lovell departed spacedock. That sent a little thrill through Cassie. To think, she would be the one driving this huge mass for the first part of the trip! Then she sobered up as she realised that this was the time when most mistakes occurred. She'd have to be on her guard against doing anything wrong.

The bridge was as she remembered it from the info holos she had read the night before. Most Star Fleet vessels were pretty much standardised, anyway, but Cassie made sure she knew all about this class of ship before going on duty. She made the chair in front of the helm control area sink into it's niche and replaced it with a taur couch. After adjusting it and getting comfortable, she began to go through the controls, reconfiguring some of them to give her easier access to them. Once she had the boards the way she preferred them, she saved the configuration, then ran through some simulations using them. The James Lovell was, indeed, not as spry as she had been led to believe, and the control thrusters were a little sluggish. Cassie was glad now that she had checked them out. She knew now that they may have been down-graded on purpose to try and trick a new helmsman into doing something wrong. "In all possibility, they probably have." Cassie thought to herself. "I wonder what other surprises they have in store for us?"

The rest of the bridge crew, both experienced and novices, arrived not five minutes later and started making preparations for departure. "How are you finding things, Cadet?" Cassie heard a voice behind her ask.

She looked around to see a Voxxan with lieutenant-commander's rank on her uniform. Cassie returned her smile and replied "It's almost familiar, Sir. But I did notice that some of the thrusters are a little sluggish."

She chuckled. "So, you did a pre-flight check before we left. Good girl. The last helm operator we had here arrived late and nearly crunched the ship into the dock doors before they'd fully opened because he wasn't aware that the braking thrusters were a lot less powerful than he'd thought." She grinned at Cassie. "Somehow, I don't think you're going to crash us today."

Cassie returned her smile just as the Captain entered. Some of the crew, especially the older officers, stood and saluted, and the captain waved them back down. She sat in her seat and ran through the reports on one of the monitors in front of her. She turned to her first officer and asked "Are we ready to depart, Commander?"

"As ready as we'll ever be, Captain." She replied with a half-serious smile.

"Right then." She turned and looked at Cassie. "Cadet Whiteclaw, if you would be so kind..."

"Yes, sir." Cassie replied. Although the captain had been less than specific, Cassie knew the procedure for exiting spacedock in her sleep. She started powering up the flight systems, disconnecting the umbilicals and looked at the Caitian cadet on communications, who nodded and asked spacedock Control for permission to depart. By the time the positive answer returned, Cassie had the ship ready to go. Cassie looked up at the Captain and reported "All systems ready, Captain."

The captain just smiled and said "Then let's get under way. You know the way out, don't you, Cadet?" She asked.

Cassie took that to mean she should follow the standard exit protocols. "Yes, Ma'am." Cassie replied. She saw the gate that the ship had been designated to exit from, plotted a course to it and through it, then gave the engines just a little power. The James Lovell slowly began to move out of it's dock. Carefully watching the screens to see how close she was coming to the walls, Cassie fired the steering thrusters rather early, but in their weakened state, they barely started to turn the ship in time to slide into the normal transit path to the door. Cassie sighed when the ship settled almost perfectly into the groove. The next turn, out towards the doors, almost had Cassie in nervous tears, as some of the thrusters tried to operate at full efficiency, and some hardly at all. Finally, Cassie steered the ship not with the nose thrusters, but using the nominally-operating tail thrusters, and managed to steer the ship into the groove that led out the gate before it could get away on her. Once Cassie read that they were outside completely, she relaxed a little. She asked the Captain "Course, Sir?"

The captain, Cassie noticed, was grinning mischievously to herself. She looked at the lieutenant-commander that was standing behind Cassie all the time and said "I think you can return the thrusters to normal now, Mr Shhvrral. Helm, set course out of system, route six at half lightspeed, then plot for Warp insertion towards Balanaika. We'll be dropping off the Star Corps cadets there."

After Shhvrral had made a few adjustments, Cassie plotted the course out and sped the ship up to Half-lightspeed. As they moved past Jupiter, she switched to the course she had laid in to Balanaika, then brought the warp engines to power and the ship, plus everyone on board, were thrust to speeds that were once said to be impossible. Once they were on-course, Cassie glanced up at Shhvrral and asked quietly "So, you purposefully disabled some of the thrusters. Is that how the last helm cadet was tested too?"

Shhvrral grinned, but answered "Yes, he was. And you handled that like you'd been at a starship helm for ten years." She looked at Cassie. "Nicely done." And she moved back to her observation position.

Cassie was fairly relieved when, eight hours later, she was relieved from helm duty and was able to return to her quarters. She realised that the crew had been testing her right from the start, but she seemed to have passed the most difficult test they could throw at her. Or was it? Cassie shook herself all over and went for a sonic shower. She realised that she couldn't be worrying about what tests they might throw at her, but it would be better to take them as they came, and deal with them then. She had a meal, studied more about the ship, then went to sleep.

*               *               *

Cassie wasn't on duty when they arrived at Balanaika, so she was able to see Dawnbright off. She smiled at her friend as they waited for their turn at the shuttles. "Hope you enjoy roughing it down there, Dawn. I hear some of the local plants bite as hard as the animals do."

"Yeah, I heard that, too." Dawn replied. "If any try it, I'm gonna bite them right back!" The two women laughed. "But seriously, are you going to be all right? I heard about what they did to you when we were leaving spacedock."

Cassie nodded. "That was a toughie, but I prepared for it pretty well, so I'm hoping that that will carry me through. And I hope you make it through as well."

Dawn nodded. "I'll see you at graduation, then." And they hugged close. Cassie watched as Dawn moved into a landing shuttle and it slid out of the bay, then she returned to her room. Things were going to be a little lonelier without Dawn around.

*               *               *

The six months proved tedious, in one way, and fairly exciting in others. Once Cassie was even ordered to the outside of the ship to help repair a hull breach that she knew had to be fake, as soon as she saw the hole. But it did test her abilities in Zero-Gee, and she found that she liked the feeling of being outside. Seeing all the stars was something she knew she'd never forget. There were little things, like when the replicators down in the mess had begun to spew out this horrible-smelling gunk. Most of the other cadets ended up bathing in it when they tried to stop the replicator unit, but Cassie managed to maneuver to the side and, giving it a sharp slam with a chair, it ceased it's awful-smelling stream and settled down. When a few of the others started throwing the gunk around, she bid a hasty retreat, just in time to see a security squad headed that way. She walked up to the leader and said "It might be better if you stay outside. That stuff smells awful!"

The leader grinned at her. "I know. We're just here to make sure that it doesn't get outside the mess, and that anyone that went into the stuff has to clean it and themselves up before they leave." Cassie could see they were setting up decontamination stations either side of the doorway. She grinned. "Have fun." She replied as she trotted off, glad she hadn't gotten any of it on her.

Cassie was involved with battle simulations, docking and rescue situations, and just about everything she'd ever read about in the Manual. Finally, she had the ship headed for Spacedock when all the power onboard suddenly went out. By the increased activity and the messages being sent out, Cassie knew this wasn't a test. They were drifting quickly towards Spacedock. Thinking fast, she slid under the console and tried to bypass Life-support, shunting it's power into thrusters, and once that was done, she fired the brakes full-force. Everyone who wasn't a taur were knocked around a little, but the ship barely managed to come to a halt about 60 metres from the wall of Spacedock. Cassie sighed with relief. The last thing she wanted on her record was that she had not only pranged her ship, as the lingo went, but knocked a large hole in the side of Spacedock to boot. She restored the power to life-support as tugs moved to pull the James Lovell away from the side of Spacedock.

After the ship had been docked, all the cadets were called down to the main recreation area, where they were addressed by the Captain. "Cadets, you have now completed your assessment cruise. I won't say you were better than any other crew we've had, because you weren't. Nor were you worse than any other. Your time here is up, and hopefully some of you will actually have passed." There were chuckles from a lot of people there. "Now you face your biggest test: the rest of your lives. I hope you do as well as you did on this one, and if so, you might live to have cubs or children who will, no doubt, probably make as much a mess of things as you have done. I hope that those who do pass will go on to good careers in Star Fleet, and those that don't, well, I might see you back here next year. Dismissed!"

All the cadets came to attention, saluted, then turned and marched off the deck, relaxing as soon as they passed the door. Cassie went to her quarters and packed again, a little sad to leave her first ship, but she knew that she would be assigned to a real ship-of-the-line once she graduated. On the way out, she paused and signed the piece of ship hull plating that all the cadets were signing for posterity. "Class of 2318." Cassie thought. "I wonder if that's a lucky number for me?" She proceeded then to walk out along the gangway, more thoughts made their way through her brain as she contemplated what she was to do next.

*               *               *

Graduation was a big event at the Academy. Solemnity reigned for a while as the opening speeches were made and the diplomas were handed out and rank insignia pinned into place. Cassie watched as Dawnbright went up and received her diploma and rank. She knew her time would come late, as her name started with a 'W'. Finally, Cassie walked up, a little nervous, but she was totally surprised when the Commandant pinned not ensign's rank, but Lieutenant-JG pips on her collar. He smiled at her. Cassie returned it, shook his hand, then saluted and turned to walk down the ramp back into the crowd. The Commandant congratulated all those who had passed, then once the ceremony was over, the celebrations began. Cassie was dragged off by Dawnbright and several of the other taurs and, later that night, she found herself in a little karaoke club, singing rather bad songs rather well with Dawnbright. But Cassie did keep her head and drank little, knowing that someone had to be sober enough to get them all home for tomorrow, when the assignments were handed out and then they had their three weeks' leave.

Cassie and Dawnbright had decided to see more of Australia, and Dawn offered to show Cassie more about Chakats by introducing her to her family. Cassie was amenable to the idea, and by the time the second week was beginning, Cassie found herself in a chakat village near the old mining town of Broken Hill, where Dawnbright's family were involved with the restoration of the landscape and the old town. The houses were huge, Cassie found, but with chakats loving extended families, it made sense. She found that not only did Dawn's immediate family live here, but three families of cousins and her grand-parents as well. They seemed to take Cassie in as if she was one of the family readily, especially when Dawn vouched for her. In that week, Cassie learned more about chakats than she ever thought possible, as well as learning a fair bit about how chakats raised their cubs and picking up a lot of cooking and care tips from Topaz, Dawn's grandmother. Shi seemed to delight in how Cassie wanted to learn from hir. But, as all good things do, they finally had to leave and continue on their way. Cassie promised to come back and visit again someday.

The last week Cassie and Dawnbright spent walking around the huge Heritage Trail that wound it's way unobtrusively through the rainforested areas that covered most of Cape York. They saw the reconstruction project under way at Weipa, to restore the old bauxite open-cut mine to pristine rainforest again. Dawnbright was impressed. "Now, what does it say if those here on Earth can afford to spend time restoring such an eyesore back to it's original condition?" She asked.

Cassie grinned. "It either means we're really crazy or we care that much about the environment."

Dawnbright giggled. "Yep. Somehow, I think it's a bit of both." She looked over the site. "This place has to cover at least twenty square kilometres, and they're going to restore all of it." She shook her head. "But it's going to look great when it's finished."

"According to this," Cassie pointed to an information display at the observation platform, "they're projecting a finishing date of around 2420, just over a hundred years from now." She looked at Dawnbright. "Want to come back then and take a look?"

Dawnbright grinned. "That sounds like a great idea. Okay, we'll make it a date."

Cassie grinned as they slowly walked off.

*               *               *

Finally, the two friends made their way through the gates to the Academy, where they were to part company for a very long time. Both Cassie and Dawnbright were elated, and yet saddened by this parting. Cassie was to head up to Spacedock within two hours to present herself to her new assignment, but Dawnbright wasn't due to leave until three more days had passed. The two girls hugged close and nuzzled as Cassie waited for her shuttle to be readied. "I'm gonna miss you, Cass." Dawnbright said. "You've become as close as a companion to me over the last four years."

"As have you to me, Dawn." Cassie replied, a small stream of tears coming from her eyes. "I.. well... thought of you like a sister for ages, especially after I got used to you snuggling up in bed with me."

Dawnbright grinned through the tears. "That was a change, considering your reaction the first time!"

Cassie joined Dawn in giggling. "I know! But you've been the best of friends, Dawn. Take care, and I hope you and your chosen one live a long and very prosperous life." She kissed Dawn lovingly.

Dawn returned the embrace, then replied "And I hope you find what you're looking for, Cassie, even if it's not what you think it might be. Sometimes, Destiny makes things happen that you might think are bad at first, but you'll find out they generally work out for the best."

"I hope so, Dawn." Cassie smiled softly. Then, as she saw the techs were calling her over, she sighed. "Time to go."

Dawn nodded. "Take care, and may the Goddess steer you to your destiny."

Cassie hugged Dawn one more time, then picked up her luggage and headed for the shuttle. After thanking the technician and settling in behind the controls, Cassie became all business as she powered up the shuttle and asked for departure clearance. Then, as she waited, she looked out the window and saw Dawn waving. Smiling, she blinked the shuttle's running lights in response, then lifted off as clearance was granted.

Soaring out of the atmosphere, Cassie sighed, but felt really happy. As she approached Spacedock, she thought on what Dawn had said, and wondered what Destiny really had in mind for her...

*               *               *

To be continued in Chapter Five

 

Chakats, Garrek Redfox, Purteshka, the Mountain Glade community, and The Stellar Federation, Star Fleet and Star Corps (as related to this story) are copyright 2002 Bernard Doove, and used with his permission.

Voxxans are the creation of, and are copyright Brian Miller and are used with permission.

The Quange are the creation of, and are copyright Roy D. Pounds II and are used with his permission.

The Furrderation is the creation of, and is copyright Terry Knight and is used with permission.

All the rest of the story and names are copyright 2002 Cassandra Foxx.


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