Coming Home Again

By Cassandra Foxx

 

In Chapter Five, Cassie had survived her tour of duty aboard the Edward White, and for her actions during the pirate attack, had been promoted to Senior Lieutenant aboard the Gus Grissom, another Yeager-class cruiser. Very pleased with herself, Cassie now heads back to Earth after five years of service and a further promotion to Lieutenant-Commander, to take a new assignment after finishing aboard the Grissom. But the tide of fate may not treat her as kindly from now on...

 

Chapter Six

The Journey Home Is Often The Easiest Part

Cassie was feeling very good in herself as the Gus Grissom made it's way back to Earth Spacedock. The results of the course in xeno-biology she had taken had come in, and she had passed with excellent results. Being the helm officer of a ship like the Gus Grissom was good, but this way, she could eventually get involved with landing parties as well, and not be stuck upstairs when others were having fun on a planet.

Spacedock loomed ahead, huge and inviting. Cassie stuck to their assigned lane and, inside five minutes, the ship was nuzzling up to the docking clamps like a cub to it's mother's teat.

"Secure the ship. Station-keeping mode, Mr Whiteclaw." The captain ordered.

"Aye, Captain, Station-keeping mode engaged. All systems powering down to In-Station mode, and we are connected to Spacedock's systems." Cassie replied.

"Good." The captain acknowledged her reply, then spoke to all the crew. "This is the Captain. Since were are likely to be here for several weeks while the damaged sections are refitted, all non-essential personnel will have shore leave. But remember, keep your communicators with you at all times. I want you coming back here, not me trying to find you again." Everyone on the bridge chuckled or giggled as the captain smiled. "And as for those who are taking leave of us after their tour is up, you will be missed. Most of you anyway." More chuckles floated around the bridge. "Now, have a good rest, and come back ready to do your duty to your utmost. All hands, dismissed!"

Returning to her quarters, Cassie packed up the personal belongings she'd be taking with her. She had some idea of where she might go with her leave, now that her tour of duty on the Gus Grissom was over, but she had no set plans. As she emerged from her quarters, she bumped into someone. To her surprise, as she looked at the face, she saw it was the captain. She snapped to attention. "Sorry sir, I didn't see you."

He smiled back at her and replied "It's alright, Commander. So, you're off finally. I will miss you, you were one of the best helm officers I've ever had serve under me. Are you going to be taking some R&R before your next assignment?"

"Yes sir." Cassie answered him. "I'm going to go down to Earth for a while, I think."

"Ah." They walked down the corridor towards the lifts, and they talked on. "Have you any plans for your sojourn to Earth?"

"I'm not sure, sir," Cassie thought out-loud. "I had an idea about visiting my home, or finding my cousin, Garrek, if he's on Earth at the moment. Apart from that, I have no fixed plans." The captain nodded and wished her well as she boarded the lift.

*               *               *

Finding a shuttle heading down to the largest city near her village's reserve, she took the co-pilot's seat with ease and flew down with the fox-morph pilot. Entering the atmosphere still held a thrill for her as it was never the same trip twice. After taking a taxi to the rail station, she boarded a monorail that went right into the town nearest her village. Cassie looked at the scenery as it flitted by her. She really hadn't seen any of this landscape, as she had flown out the last time she had been here, the day she left for the academy, so the flowing hills and other features were fascinating to look at. "Has it been ten years since I was here last?" She thought to herself, "I wonder what changes have occurred in the village?" She knew that she herself had changed greatly from the young vixetaur who had sneaked away from her home. She was now fully-grown at twenty-six, self-confidant and highly educated, not to mention an experienced Star Fleet officer. No, she was not the same person anymore. Her name-change reflected that, too.

Soon, all too soon for Cassie, the monorail came to her stop. Disembarking, she made her way to the taxi ranks. One cab stood out. Much larger than the others, she knew it was designed for 'taurs. Opening the door, she looked in. The driver, a smaller quange, turned and smiled at her. "'Ello, missy. You need a ride?"

"Yes." Cassie replied as he popped the bootlid, got out and helped her haul her things on-board. Cassie then moved into the back section and buckled herself in. "I need to go to Mountain Glade Village." She said as the driver buckled himself in.

"No problem. All secure? Right then." The driver lifted off gently and soon, Cassie was travelling through familiar territory. She knew this road well, having travelled it much in her past, first with Marranos, then by herself. She sighed as memories flooded back even more. Then, the taxi came to a stop. "I can't go past here, Missy."

"I know. What do I owe you?" Cassie asked as she unbuckled herself. After retrieving her belongings and paying the driver, she looked down the trail leading to the village.

"Is this home, or not?" Cassie thought as she started walking down the trail. "What do I expect to find here? I don't really expect anyone to treat me like the person I was before, now that I'm grown-up, so why should I be coming here, then?" Cassie found no answer as she continued to walk on.

*               *               *

The village was then below her, as she surmounted a ridge in the trail. She saw it all. To her surprise it had grown and prospered, if the number of new dwellings were an indication. She moved on down. Then she heard a shout and was surrounded by young cubs playing. She laughed and held her hands up. "All right, you have me. What are you going to do to me?" she asked them.

She could see many looking at her uniform top and the communicator badge pinned upon it. "What's that?"

"Where are you from?"

"What are you doing here?"

"Who are you?" The questions came thick and fast from all of them.

"One at a time!" Cassie laughed. "My name is Cassandra Whiteclaw, I was born here, I'm coming home to visit my parents, and this is a Star Fleet communicator."

A round of "Oooooh"'s came from them as Cassie continued to walk on. Most went back to playing, but a few walked with her down to the village, asking questions which she answered as best she could. Soon, she found herself standing in the middle of her village, looking around. It was market day, and stalls were set up all through the square. Cassie bought herself some venison jerky and munched on it as she walked along. Then her family home appeared as she fronted the street that led past it and several others. The street was longer than she remembered it, with several new houses at the end. Cassie was surprised to see the amount of growth in her old home.

Cassie had also been surprised that her mother hadn't had her stall set up in the square. She walked up the small ramp to the verandah and knocked. "Coming!" She heard a voice say, then the door opened to reveal her mother. Cassie smiled. Her mother said "Yes? Can I help you?" Then a look of shocked recognition flowed over her face. "Cassiopeia? Is that you?" she asked in amazement.

Cassie grinned even more. "Yes Mother, it's me. I'm on leave, so I have come home for a while."

Her mother pulled her inside and hugged her warmly. "You've been gone for so long. We had wondered what you were doing. We kept getting your letters, but we never knew if any of ours ever got to you."

"I did get a few of them, but where I was most of the time, mail delivery was rather hard, Mama." Cassie explained. "How is everyone?"

"Oh, your brother Karnek is mated now, and they have two cubs. Where have you been all this time? That school couldn't have possibly taken you that long to graduate. And what's this?" She fingered Cassie's uniform top. "This looks like a uniform."

"It is, Mama." Cassie replied. "I won a scholarship to the Star Fleet Academy and I'm now an officer in Star Fleet." Cassie then saw something that worried her. Her mother's eyes had lost their happy twinkle, and were now as cold as stone.

"You went to that heathen place? After I told you you were NOT to do anything without my permission?! How could you do this to me?" Eillanna scolded her. "What about us? Don't we have any right to give our opinions anymore? What of your place here? Are you going to take your place with the family or not?"

Cassie started feeling her anger rise. "Mother, I am NOT a cub anymore! I am a fully-grown vixetaur, and I ask you treat me as such. Besides, I am a Star Fleet officer and a decorated one at that! I'm not going to give all that up, just to come back here and sew leathers all day! You may consider that a 'proper' vocation, along with making cubs, but I am not that sort of person! Where's Father?"

Eillanna looked shocked. "You don't know? Haven't you read our letters?"

Cassie became more worried. "Mother, I haven't seen a letter from you in two years! What's wrong with Father? Where is he?"

Eillanna seemed to fold into herself. "He's upstairs, in the guest bedroom." she murmured softly.

Cassie shrugged off her panniers and backpack, then raced up the corridor. The guest bedroom was at the end, and she quietly opened the door and looked in. There, a shocking sight awaited her. Her father, Tergar, was lying on the bed, the wheeze coming from him sounding like a damaged airpump to her. She moved forward and looked at him. She recognised a dialysis machine beside him, with tubes coming from his forelegs into it. There were also heart monitors hooked up to him as well. He looked old, Cassie though to herself, very old and weak. She lay down, so she was on eye level with him, and said softly "Father..."

After she'd called to him five times, his eyes stirred, then opened. He smiled, and in a voice that was weak and, to Cassie's ears, very old, he said "I know that face. I remember the young vixetaur who had a face like that, such a beautiful face." He stretched out his hand and gently stroked her face. "My lovely little Cassiopeia. Is it really you, or am I dreaming again?"

Cassie smiled. "It's me, Father, I've come home for a while."

Tergar smiled even wider. "Good girl. I knew you'd return one day. You've been busy, I see." He fingered the Lieutenant-Commander's insignia on her collar. "A Star Fleet officer! Well, well. You weren't really honest about where you were going, were you?"

"No, Father. But I needed to do this. The only thing I regret was I couldn't let you and Mother in on what choice I'd made from the beginning."

"Believe it or not, little one... Little one, I can't call you that anymore, can I?" he said, a huge grin cracking his muzzle. "Cassie, I knew what you had done." Cassie looked shocked. "I have my contacts, you know. A friend in Star Fleet called me when he thought he'd seen you there. I did some checking up, and found out what you'd done." Cassie was worried. Father could have her thrown out of Star Fleet if he revealed the deception she'd created. But he was still smiling that smile of loving affection. "I told them that I'd allowed you to go, and your name-change was to hide you from your mother. I am very, very proud of you, my girl. I'm just sorry that you had to see me like this, my Cassandra."

Cassie was crying, the tears slowly running through her face fur. "I didn't know... you felt like that, Father. I always thought you and Mother disapproved of me learning about technology, and as for Star Fleet..."

Tergar held her muzzle shut, his grip so weak it made Cassie shudder. "I am not like your mother, Cassandra. I always knew you'd follow your heart. I am pleased to see you have found your place, and never let your mother try and tell you otherwise." He burst into a coughing fit that racked his whole body. When it subsided, he continued, "You were always my favorite. I'm only sorry I am not well enough to give you the hug you deserve." Cassie smiled, then leaned into him, allowing him to hug her as best he could. "I've not got too long, Cassie. My hearts are close to failure, and I'm not too sad. The only thing I really wanted to do, before I go, I now have done. " Cassie then saw him sigh, and his heart monitors skipped a beat, triggering an alarm. "Cassie..., Go... get....your mother." He said very faintly.

Cassie raced to the door and called for Eillanna, who ran to the room. Standing side-by-side, they watched as Tergar opened his eyes one more time. "Eillanna, I have forgiven Cassandra for what she has done." Eillanna looked shocked, and looked at Cassie with a scowl. "I want no fighting or enmity between you two!" Tergar shouted, his voice fading, "This is my dying wish. You will need each other, at my funeral." Then he seemed to deflate, like a balloon with all it's air gone. "I love you...all."

With that, Tergar was gone. Both Cassie and Eillanna were crying as Cassie drew the blankets up and turned off the machines. Leaving Eillanna there alone, Cassie moved out to the lounge room. As she exited the corridor, a vixetaur loaded with bags and the medical symbol on her top burst in. Cassie stopped her. "I'm afraid there's nothing for you to do here."

The doctor relaxed, then sighed. "I thought as much," She said, "it was only a matter of time. I really don't know how he held on for so long." She removed a notepad and, jotting down the time, she walked down towards the bedroom.

Cassie watched her go, then said to herself, "I know why he did. He wanted to see me again." Cassie lay down and, for the first time in her life, cried herself out.

*               *               *

The funeral several days later was a sad and solemn occasion. Cassie stood there in her dress uniform, her family around her, her face rigid as they placed her father in the ground. "I am Fleet," she thought, "and Fleet is strong. So I will be strong." She pondered over what her father had said as he lay there. "So, he'd known what I had done, and yet he never once told Mother or demanded my return. I guess he really was proud of me, of what I've accomplished with my life." With that, Cassie smiled and shed a few tears. She knew she would mourn Tergar later, probably crying her heart out, but for this moment, the pride she felt in her father buoyed her, and she was proud of who she was.

Later, as she was comforted by others there, Cassie's brother and his mate approached her from where her sisters stood talking. Cassie smiled at him, as he hesitantly came close, then they hugged as if all the galaxy had been between them for those ten years. "Cassie, sis, damn you look good in that uniform. Found what you were after yet?" He winked at her.

"Mostly. I have found a place for myself, and I serve the Federation with pride."

"And have you found a mate yet?" His mate, Ailenna, asked.

"Not yet, but I'm still..." Cassie began to answer, but she was interrupted as Eillanna pushed her way through and stood right up to Cassie and forcefully said "So? What now? Are you going to follow tradition and stay here with us, now that your father is gone? Or are you going to return to the heathen world outside this village, where you can flaunt yourself to every male that walks by? Why haven't you a mate yet? Are you too busy having every male that looks at you as if they were in rut?"

Gasps ran through the assembled foxtaurs, but Cassie stood her ground. "I am a full-grown adult now, Mother. I control my own life. And I will choose a mate when the right male presents himself. As for my staying here, this may be my birthplace, but Star Fleet is my home. You cannot, and will not, make me do anything I don't want to, ever!" With that, Cassie turned and marched away from the crowd, fighting the influence to hit her mother for what she had said.

"Then go! You are no longer my daughter! Never will you be welcome in my house ever again, you or any heathen offspring of yours! You have betrayed your people." Eillanna cried out after her, but Cassie ignored her and walked with pride.

"I have betrayed no-one, Eillanna, but you have betrayed yourself to me. If I am your daughter no longer, then never again will I call you Mother!" Cassie said as she looked back over her shoulder. Then she continued to walk on. "If that is how you want it, Eillanna, then so be it! I am Fleet, and they are all the family I need." Cassie muttered to herself as she approached her once-home. But a single tear trickled down her face-fur.

As she was packing, Cassie heard someone coming up the rampway. She severely hoped it wasn't her mother, because Cassie was almost to the point where she could turn on Eillanna, something she really didn't want to do. But her brother, Karnek, entered instead. Cassie sighed with relief. "Boy, oh boy, Mother is really steamed up, Sis. She's trying to get the village council to ban you from entering the village ever again." Karnek said.

"I don't really care at this point, Karnek." Cassie replied. "If she wants to be rid of me, it's no more than I want to be rid of her and her rantings." Cassie stuffed some of her old belongings she'd found in her former room into her panniers. "She has made it clear I'm not welcome around her, so I am leaving before she can harangue me any more, or the Goddess so help me, I'll shut her mouth for her!" Cassie turned and faced Karnek. "Do I look like a twelve-year-old cub to you anymore, Karnek? I have seen more, done more and learned more in the last ten years than she could ever hope to in her entire lifetime, stuck here as she is by her own choice.. I am a Lieutenant-Commander in Star Fleet! I have had many persons under my command at any one time, and they have shown me more respect in one second than Eillanna has done in my entire life! I am never going to let her rule my life ever again! If she wants to disown me, then I will do the same to her. The only difference is, I won't do it publicly." Cassie gave her brother a soft, affectionate smile. "I love you, Karnek. Just don't let her overrule what you think is right. Only you can live your life, she can't live it for you."

"I know, Sis. I'll keep doing what I do best, and try to keep Mother from sending the troops after you." Cassie hugged him close, then hauled her panniers and backpack on, securing them. She walked to the door, looked back, then exited her former family home, perhaps for the last time.

On her way back to the closest town, Cassie heard running footsteps behind her. Taking cover, she pulled her phaser pistol out of it's holster, on the belt that was stored in her pannier, checked it was on stun and waited to see who it was. She breathed a sigh of relief when one of the two Justices of her village, Purteshka, ran into view, wearing her official collar. Stepping out into the open, strapping her belt on and putting the pistol away, Cassie waited for her to reach her.

Purteshka stopped at two metres away and said "Cassandra, I'm glad I caught you."

"What can I do for you, Justice?"

"Your mother has just demanded that we exile you and ban you from ever coming here again, on pain of death." Purteshka replied. "She seems almost insane with rage. We have decided to deny her request because it is totally unreasonable, but I would advise you not to come back here for a few years." Purteshka fell into step with Cassie, and they walked along. "I am having doubts about your mother's sanity at this moment. She is acting in a manner that could be considered irrational."

"No, Justice. Eillanna is just angry that she cannot control my life, as she feels is her Goddess-given right. She gives me no respect, so I have no reason to give her any. My father said he was proud of what I'd become, and I no longer care what Eillanna says, feels or does. I will not be back here until she is dead." Cassie sighed softly.

Purteshka nodded. "I know of your mother's feelings about Star Fleet and the rest of the outside world. Considering the amount of others from here who have gone into careers like yours, we certainly don't think the same way as she does." Purteshka looked concerned. "If you have any messages to your brother, send them to me via the Justices' drop-box. I will pass them on." She turned and looked at Cassie. "If your mother does not calm down, I may be forced to have her confined and sedated, something I sincerely hope I don't have to do."

"And I hope you don't have to, either. Farewell, Purteshka." Cassie replied, then she turned and walked on down the trail.

"Fare you well, too, Cassandra. And may you find the happiness you desire so much." Purteshka said softly as she watched Cassie go.

*               *               *

Cassie returned to Spacedock after several weeks of travelling all over Earth, and drowned her sorrows in the warm, familiar surroundings and conduct of Star Fleet. The Gus Grissom had left, as she'd known it would have by now, so she approached the Commodore for an assignment: a long-term assignment.

"Well, Commander," he replied, "there is a new deep exploration vessel leaving in five hours, to explore the rim of the Federation in the direction away from the Furrderation. I can assign you to that, if you wish. But it is a fifteen year mission, and a long time to be away from home."

"That will do fine, Commodore." Cassie replied. He nodded. She saluted him, then turned and left. Later, as she walked through the outer docking ring, Cassie saw the ship she was to serve on. It was huge. Twenty times bigger than the Gus Grissom, it could not fit inside Spacedock and so had to dock on the outside. The Darkstar was one of a handful of ships that had been built especially for long-range and long-term exploration missions. The product of the information exchange between the Stellar Federation and the Furrderation, she was more like a worldlet than a ship, and was almost eight kilometres long and three wide at her widest point. She had huge green areas inside her immense structure to serve as relaxation areas, as well as oxygen recycling. She carried two smaller support vessels recessed into her lower hull as well as hundreds of shuttles, fighters and auxiliary craft. She was also self-sufficient, and supported a complement of over 15,000 crew and specialists. No one-race vessel this, all races of the Federation were represented in her crew. Cassie was slightly awed to think she was to serve here.

Finding her way through the ship was an adventure in itself. Instead of one maglev railway, the Darkstar had twenty; she had over 2500 kilometres of corridors, and an open area in her hull equivalent to a cubic kilometre in volume, big enough to fit the Gus Grissom inside with plenty of space to spare. The Darkstar had five hundred decks distributed through her three hulls, and was capable of, in times of emergency, carrying nearly 100,000 persons in slightly cramped conditions. Cassie finally found her room and flopped, exhausted, onto the bed. Calling up the complement on the computer, she found she was one of 500 Lieutenant-Commanders on board, and the ship had twenty-five Commanders as well, who were overseen by the Executive Officer and the Captain. The Star Corps had their own allotment of decks here, not just single lab areas. The scale of the Darkstar threatened to overwhelm Cassie, but her training kicked in and she read and researched until she had it all in her mind. Cassie found there were two very large bridges in this ship, the standard one on the upper hull, and a bigger fighting bridge down in the bowels of the hull, safe from outside forces. While the Darkstar was not a warship, she had her defensive and offensive weaponry, as did any ship. After showering, grooming and changing into a new uniform top with the Darkstar insignia stripe crossing from her left shoulder down to her right hip, Cassie headed for the bridge to report to the Officer of the Deck.

Cassie soon settled into a routine, as the ship departed Terra and headed out along a well-known path. Their first, and last, port-of-call in known space would be Chakona, where extra crew consisting of chakats and skunktaurs would embark. Cassie soon got used to the responses of the controls that this great starship was equipped with and found it's size to be somewhat of a challenge, one she eagerly rose to. Once in orbit around Chakona, she helped in quartering all the new staff that came aboard. With four thousand new crew from all over the Stellar Federation gathering here to embark, it was an awesome sight. It took them nearly a week to get all the new crew installed in their quarters and orientated to what would become their new home for the next fifteen to twenty years. Finally, Cassie was on duty when the Captain gave the order to get under way.

"Mr Whiteclaw, take us out of system, standard course, then once we're out of system, change course to 153 by 246 by 96 and ahead at warp 6." The captain ordered.

"Aye, Captain. Standard course set and engaged. Outer course laid in, ready for activation." Cassie replied, as Chakona slowly shrank in one of the huge monitors that surrounded the upper bridge. Switching to forward view, Cassie watched as the Darkstar slipped out of Chakastra's system and into open space, then she activated the new course and engaged the warp engines. The normal cascade of rainbow lights surrounded the ship as it accelerated past lightspeed and into subspace.

"Now we'll see some space." The chakat operating the console beside her commented. "What we've done before is just training for this sort of mission. This, out here, is where the edge is. We'll be seeing things no Federation vessel has seen before. That's what exploration is all about, in my book."

"That's for sure." Cassie replied. "But I'm not sure if we're the first out this far in this direction. The records keep bringing up the old colonisation ships, you know, the ones that had really basic warp drive, and were usually sent out to find a world, colonise it, then apply for Federation membership if they struck it rich enough. I keep getting a note that one of them was sent out in this general direction."

"Who knows? We may be the first one to find them... or what's left of them." The chakat said ominously. Cassie nodded seriously, then returned her attention to the sensors before her.

*               *               *

To be continued in Chapter Seven

 

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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