Castle Roland

Trillion Dollar Family

by Rilbur

On Hold

Chapter 14

Posted: N/A

Jared clutched his children close as controlled chaos rampaged across the bridge. It was impossible, it didn't make sense! No one could know they were coming, so how could they have already fired missiles?

"CIC is still sorting out the data, updating tactical plot now," someone shouted.

"Battle stations, battle stations, all hands to battle stations! Point defense, engage those missiles!" Mathews roared. "What the hell is going on?"

"CIC reports that there is a fleet action underway," an officer reported. "The missile tracks are intercepting our track, but they aren't aimed at us."

"Activate engines, set a course perpendicular to the missile tracks and get us the hell out of here!" Mathews bellowed. "Update my tactical plot with fleet positions now!"

"CIC reports their systems are overwhelmed," an officer shouted. "There is just too much going on, they need a few minutes to sort it out."

"They don't have a few minutes!" Mathews shouted. "Sooner or later, one side is going to start targeting us, and I need to know who we should be ducking!"

"Sir, we're being hailed!" a com rating announced.

"On screen," Mathews ordered, taking a deep breath to calm himself.

"Audio signal only, on speakers now."

"Unidentified vessel, this is Earth Federation Admiral Johanson," a rather irate soprano blasted over the speakers. "Identify yourself and state your intentions, starting with how you simply appeared in the middle of a full-scale battle!"

"Can we tell which group that came from?" Jared asked. "And was there any encryption on that signal?"

"It was sent in the clear, and bounced off a few remote satellites to prevent us from tracking it to the flagship."

"Of course, why make it easy for me," Mathews griped.

"Sir, another signal, transmitted over com laser and in the clear," someone reported.

"Put it on," Mathews ordered.

"Unidentified vessel, cease maneuvering and stand by to be boarded after the battle is won," a man in a captain's uniform appeared on a forward view screen just long enough to order.

"You said that came in on a com laser?" Mathews asked.

"Yes sir, and CIC has already identified the ship it came from. They're updating the plot now."

Jared reminded himself to take a course in how to read the three dimensional imagery of the plot at some point. It was annoying to see it, and not be able to make any sense of it. "Damn," Mathews swore. "CIC," he punched a control on his chair, "can you confirm this plot?" Jared couldn't hear the answer. "Fine." Mathews leaned back in his chair, staring at the plot.

"Jared, I'm sorry," Mathews said after a moment. "I should probably jump out of here, drop you and your sons off at another facility. But if the US has managed to get a significant military force this far out in the solar system, I don't know what facilities are available."

Jared frowned. "You're going to fight."

Mathews nodded. "We don't have very many missiles in our tubes, but our energy batteries managed to pick up a number of accidental upgrades. Enough to even the odds here a little."

"Do what you have to do," Jared sighed. "We'll live," he hesitated, then shrugged, "or we won't. You'll do your best."

Mathews looked away. "Con, I need you to calculate a micro-jump. I want to come out in the middle of the American fleet, on the side away from friendly forces. Tactical, I want our weapons primed and ready. Open fire the second we complete the jump, and keep firing until we jump out," Mathews ordered rapidly. "We'll jump in, engage, and then jump out. Fleet standard is to engage a target from a cold start within fifteen seconds, so we'll remain in-theater for no more than ten seconds, then jump out. CIC, I need you ready to update the plots after each jump as fast as possible. It needs to be quicker than you managed this time!"

The tone of the bridge changed, taking on a keener, angrier tone that Jared recognized. He'd heard it before on more than one occasion, and made it himself. It was the angry, ragged sound of a wolf's snarl, ready for battle, ready to rend and maim and kill. Or, if the breaks went wrong, be killed.

"Anything I can do to help?" Jared asked.

"If something goes wrong, you can probably provide first aid," Mathews shrugged. "Other than that, just try to stay out of the way and let us do our jobs, sorry."

"Alright," Jared frowned and checked that he could get his hands on the helmets quickly.

"Jared," Mathews added, "put your helmets on, just in case."

"Do we have to?" Davey whined. "It's hot!"

"I know it's less than pleasant, but unlike standard crew suits, yours don't have quick-seal visors," Mathews shrugged. "If we loose atmosphere, my suit can be sealed in half a second, and will seal itself if the atmosphere drops low enough. Yours won't. Put them on."

"You heard the man," Jared sighed. It was hot and unpleasant with the helmet on, even if the design managed to avoid cutting peripheral vision.

"Alright people, time to dance," Mathews grinned. "All weapons, there won't be time for target acquisition by the book. Just lock onto a ship and open fire, they're all enemies where we're going. Con, Execute maneuver."

"Execute maneuver aye. Jump in three, two, one, jump!"

Jared didn't even feel the strange, twisting sensation of jump this time. One moment they were here, the next they were there. The visual screens blazed as explosions detonated all around them. First small ones, then as their weapons came to bear larger ones. Jared couldn't see their weapons fire going out, lasers were invisible in space, but where they hit they consumed. The enemies ships didn't melt, the transfer of energy was too sudden, too voracious for that. Their hulls exploded, the very armor of the ship becoming the weapon that ripped deep inside, shredding bulkheads, equipment, and personnel. Jared had walked the Nova Maria after her last battle, seen what such a beam could do when it lasted no more than an instant. These beams weren't quick stilettos punching their way deep into the ship, though. They were ravenous chainsaws, slicing their across the hull. Jared pulled his son's faces in towards his chest to hide the battle from them, even as he gazed across the bridge to a tactical station, where a rating was pulling up slow-motion video of an enemy ship's death. "Departure in three, two, one, jump!" The rating didn't even look away from his console as he analyzed the results of the hit, wireframe forming around the enemy ship and the ruinous, jagged section carved out of it.

"Con, start calculating another jump. They'll know we're coming this time, so I don't want to spend more than five seconds engaging them before we jump out," Mathews ordered. "CIC, tactical, I want a report on the effect of our attack."

"CIC reports the enemy formation has become disorganized, and is shedding ships. Estimates are that at least six enemy ships are unable to keep up, while another three are just confused and can be expected to rejoin shortly," an officer reported.

"Weapons performed exceptionally sir," the tactical officer reported. "Just as we expected, while the actual technology is the same, the change in materials allows us to put more energy through them, and our new power grid can support them."

"I thought there were inhibitors, to keep them from being charged past prior specifications?" Mathews asked, surprised.

"So did I," the tactical officer shrugged. "I think the inhibitors were all in the software, and our mount crews tweaked the variables a little."

"A little?" Mathews gestured to the screen where a technician was still analyzing the results of a hit. "That looks like more than a little to me!" Mathews shook his head. "Never mind. Con, I changed my mind. I want you to drop us alongside one of the ships that fell out of formation, the one I'm labeling bandit one-oh-eight. I want to stay alongside for no more than five seconds, and all weapons that can are to target that ship. I want to take it out of commission."

"Engage bandit one-oh-eight aye sir," the response was sure, and Jared grinned. Not a single damage report, and if there had been damage it would have been reported. They'd actually gotten away with their first attack scott free!"

"Sir, CIC reports that the disruption in the enemy formation has reduced the effectiveness of their point defense significantly," someone shouted. "Their formation broke up enough that their point defense is spread thin, and entire salvos are slipping home against individual ships."

"The enemy probably won't let us get away with that again," Mathews mused. "Let's go ahead and pick off some of the stragglers while we can, shall we? Do we have a jump solution?"

"Jump solution standing by, sir!"

"Jump!" Mathews ordered.

"Captain Mathews," Admiral Beech said thoughtfully. "Your ship was presumed lost after an encounter with an American Q-ship."

Mathews nodded at the image on the screen. "We took a hit to our drives, which triggered an overload and caused us to be thrown out of the solar system."

Admiral Beech nodded. "I'm with you so far. But how exactly did you manage to come back with such a..." Admiral Beech hesitated, shaking his head. "An incredible improvement in design?" he finished eventually.

"The exact details should probably be classified," Mathews temporized, "but let's just say we aren't alone."

Beech's eyes widened. "That would explain quite a bit," he nodded. "I've gone over the analysis of what your ship managed. If it hadn't been for you, the fleet would have been lost."

"Sir, I've been out of contact for weeks now," Mathews hinted. "Could I get a briefing?"

Beech frowned, then nodded curtly. "You saved the fleet, I guess we owe you that much. Alright. As you're probably aware, the American's have been focusing on establishing a stronger presence in space lately. We kept the usual eye on equipment being shipped from ground side to make sure no weapons slipped through. They managed to slip some of it out under the guise of 'mining technology', but for the most part they didn't ship the stuff. They made it in space, just like the ships. The military took over several of their asteroid mining and ship construction companies and quietly started making changes. We didn't catch it because it was gradual, and they never actually shipped anything incriminating where we could catch it. They transferred data on encrypted disks, but..." Admiral Beech shrugged.

Captain Mathews winced. "No one noticed the upswing in encrypted communications?"

Admiral Beech shook his head. "There wasn't an increase. Just about everyone encrypts their disks these days, and we don't bother with trying to crack the code on every single illicit porn disk. Hell, we don't even check the disks themselves most of the time! We wanted to keep an eye on the flow of materials and prevent the transfer of illegal materials, and data wasn't on our list of 'illegal materials'."

"Anyway," Admiral Beech continued, "they quietly increased the scale of their asteroid mining operations, slowly nudging the amount of material they were reporting downward. After several years, they had plenty of material just floating around, hidden in piles of scrag. First they started arming their damned Q-ships, carefully and slowly reducing the loads they could carry. That should have been noticed, but no one was paying attention. After all, we 'knew' they hadn't shipped arms up!"

"Once they had the Q-ships in place, they moved onto part two of their plans. We were lax, and it bit us in the ass. They simply build an entire fleet, hidden in the asteroid belt. Activating those ships took time, and gathering them up into useable fleets took longer. Unfortunately, our fleet was spread out, leaving it vulnerable to the damned Q-ships. After the initial wave of attacks, they focused on operating in squadrons of three or four and jumping individual ships, and they managed to wipe out half our fleet before we could concentrate into proper battle-squadrons."

"Once we had our line of battle sorted out, we were able to squash any Q-ship foolish enough to let itself be detected. Unfortunately, we got overconfident. They used the Q-ships to lead a few divisions into ambushes by their real war fleet. After that we fell back to the outer system, and concentrated our fleet there. They control the inner system, so it took forever for our fleet to concentrate. They took out Saturn's fleet station, and managed to damage the Uranus station so badly that the fleet there has become tied down defending it. If you hadn't shown up, they would have destroyed this fleet, and Pluto station. With Pluto station intact, we still have the resources to keep on fighting, for a while. It's a stalemate, for now."

Mathews frowned. "We destroyed their fleet, so why can't you move into the inner system?"

"Those damned star-fighters of theirs," Admiral Beech growled. "It's offensive!"

"Star fighters?" Mathews asked, blinking.

"Turns out those extra-orbital fighters of theirs don't just let them control the space around the Earth. They took the same concept and built star fighters. They've hidden dozens of small docking stations around the asteroid belt, just part of the background clutter except for the fact that they house squadrons of the damned things." Admiral Beech growled. "It's annoying! Still, at least they wasted a lot of resources on building carriers for the things."

Mathews shook his head. "That doesn't make sense. Fighters don't work in space!"

Beech laughed. "That's the one good bit of news about this whole thing. Not only did the US military have to hide what they were doing from us, evidence says they hid it from their own command structure. Black line items never discussed in Congress, funds misappropriated from other budgets, personnel acquisitions hidden by fatal 'accidents', that sort of thing. They relied, heavily, on Naval officers to run the program, and since the only Naval officers trained to think in three dimensional terms were their fighter pilots, they focused on carrier personnel."

Captain Mathews laughed, followed by everyone on the bridge. "Fighter jocks! In space!"

"I don't get it," Jared complained. "What's wrong with aircraft?"

Mathews brought his giggles under control. "Nothing, on Earth. Basically, fighters make sense on Earth because they move through a different medium than ships. A ship has to sail through the ocean, and it almost has to be big and ponderous to survive. Smaller, faster boats will sink during storms, and can't carry as much supplies as a larger boat could. Airplanes, launched on demand, could be made smaller, faster, and operate far away from their launch platform, thus allowing you the advantages of an aircraft without having to deal with the disadvantages. But in space, both ships are moving through the same medium. The only thing that effects speed is your acceleration, which is a function of thrust-to-mass and how long you can keep that thrust going. Battleships, cruisers, destroyers, all of them can travel just as fast as the others. About the only real difference is the size of the ship in question, and the fact that smaller ships can turn quicker. Our main engines can provide a lot of thrust, and scale really well, but the smaller maneuvering thrusters don't keep up quite as well." Mathews shrugged. "Doesn't really matter though. Maneuverability sounds nice, but it just doesn't help in a fight. Unlike humans, computers aren't bothered by their target zigging and zagging, and all targeting has to be done by computers. Humans just aren't precise enough to handle the actual aiming. We decide what to fire at, we decide whether or not to fire, but we don't actually aim the weapons."

Jared shook his head. "Nevermind. Fighters bad. Got it."

Mathews laughed. "Basically, fighters don't have the advantages they would have on Earth, and they're too small to mount enough weapons to be a significant threat. If they get into knife-range, their energy weapons might prove nasty, but most of the time you can see them coming and blow them up first."

Admiral Beech nodded. "The damned things are stealthy as hell, but not stealthy enough. We pick them up long before they're in missile range, and they simply can't survive a missile duel. The only reason they're a threat is their numbers, they can fire enough missiles to swamp our point defense if we try and close with them. They'd probably have wiped us out, except we managed to destroy all their nice, defenseless carriers pretty quickly, so they're stuck with their orbital launch platforms. They don't have the range to get to us from those."

Mathews grinned. "Admiral, how many of those defense platforms have you localized?"

Admiral Beech grinned back. "Let's just say that staff is already making plans for your ship. That ability to control your micro-jumps, especially if it's accurate as far out as you say it is, could prove in handy."

Jared got it. "You're going to use this ship to blow up their stations."

Admiral Beech nodded. "And then we'll be in a position to get to Earth, and find out what the hell is going on down there. Communications has been a bit scattered, and we simply haven't been able to get a good picture, but it doesn't sound good."

"In that case, the sooner we dock the better," Mathews nodded.

"I'm clearing a priority docking for you," Admiral Beech sighed. "If you aren't the real thing, I sure as hell can't tell."

"Why thank you, Admiral," Mathews joked. "It's always nice to be wanted. Setting course for Pluto station for emergency resupply." Mathews hesitated. "By preference, I'd prefer an air-dock. All our hatches are still in more-or-less the same places, but there have been a number of 'safety' improvements that may compromise standard docking procedures."

Admiral Beech winced. "We've got too many ships in critical condition. You'll have to tie off the zero-G portion of the station and use shuttles."

Mathews nodded. "That works. We'll be able to keep our ship at one standard gravity then."

One of Admiral Beech's eyebrows rose. "Artificial gravity?"

Mathews' lips quirked. "It's a benefit from having inertial compensation."

"Please tell me you have technical diagrams for that," Admiral Beech begged.

"We might not be able to build some of the stuff, but they gave us the technical data, design specifications, and everything else we'd need to try," Mathews smiled. "We're going to need to build the tools to build the tools to make the stuff, but they gave us an excellent guide on how to do that. Along with a machine shop fitted with specialty tools that will vastly accelerate the process."

Admiral Beech looked hungry. "I think you can safely assume we want those on hand ASAP."

"I should warn you that reproducing the upgrades to my ship isn't within the scope of the materials we were given," Mathews added. "Some of the upgrades they gave us were done as a repair, because they couldn't match our original specs. As an example, they simply didn't have the materials to build anything similar to our old electric power distribution system, so they replaced it with a system built using superconductors. We have enough spares to keep running for a while, but eventually we'll need to replace it with human tech."

Admiral Beech frowned. "We'll have to make the best use of it we can, while we can then." He shook his head. "Get to Pluto Station, best speed."

"Con, set course for Pluto Station at twenty-five gravities," Mathews ordered. Jared almost laughed at the expression of lust that crossed Admiral Beech's face.

"Set course for Pluto Station at two-five gravities aye sir," the con officer replied, then busied himself setting the course up.

"I imagine we'll be beating the fleet there," Mathews shrugged. "I could go faster, but as close as we are we'd run the risk of overshooting."

"How," Admiral Beech hesitated. "Wait, I don't want to talk about this even on an encrypted channel. I'm classifying the capabilities of your new ship Top Secret, as of now.. I want a full briefing on your ships capabilities the minute I come aboard, including a tour."

"Certainly sir," Mathews nodded. "Consider it done."

The admiral's picture vanished from the view screen, and Jared shook his head. "Just imagine how he's going to react when he finds out about me."

"He probably already knows about your augmentation," Mathews shrugged. "He'll probably help me get you over to the station, and off my ship."

Jared's eyebrow rose. "So eager to get rid of me?"

Mathews' lips twitched. "So eager to get you out of my chain of command," he answered succinctly, voice slightly hoarse.

Jared forced his face to a semblance of calm. "What do you know about Pluto Station? Especially the living quarters?" Hopefully, his kids wouldn't notice that his voice was slightly thicker than normal, as if this weren't an everyday conversation.

"Pluto Station is far enough off the beaten track to have a full-strength gravity wheel, complete with an entire wing for families," Mathews commented. "I imagine they'll give you a suite, so each of you will have rooms to yourselves."

"Hopefully the sound proofing is good enough that Davey won't keep us all up with his snoring," Jared commented.

"I do not snore!" Davey protested.

"Really?" Mathews said innocently. "I'll have to get the crew searching for the source of that terrible, terrible noise that comes from your quarters at night. It always sounds like someone is ripping metal in two!"

"I do not snore!" Davey repeated.

"Well, don't worry," Mathews answered him, eyes focused on Jared. "The sound proofing is quite, quite good. No one will be able to hear you 'not' snoring."

Jared knew that the bridge couldn't be as hot as it suddenly felt. Not only would his kids be complaining, but the equipment would be burning up.

Still, the molten fire was there, in Mathews' eyes, and he felt the same rise in his own.

Cody whispered something to Davey, who promptly started giggling and nodding. Jared started to blush, glad that he was the only person on the bridge who could hear the comment about how, "At least they're going to get a room first."

He'd ask how Cody knew what that meant, but he had a sinking suspicion that the answer was 'Davey'. "Do me a favor, Kode?" Jared asked.

"What?" Mathews frowned.

"Remind me to have 'The Talk' with Cody sooner, rather than later," Jared said wryly. "Judging from the comment he just made, he's picked up more than he should have."

Cody started giggling. "What is so funny about that?" Jared asked, eyes narrowing.

"Nothing!" Cody and Davey both protested.

"I see," Jared said slowly. "We'll have to talk about this 'nothing' later, and in great detail."

The kids looked at each other, clearly terrified as only kids caught with their hands in the cookie-jar could be.

Jared straightened his tie nervously. "How do I look?" he asked Davey.

"You look fine Dad," Davey reassured him. "Besides, you're just going out for dinner with Uncle Kode!"

Jared almost reprimanded his son, but decided in time that under the circumstances, calling Captain Mathews 'Uncle Kode' was reasonable enough. Even if Mathews hadn't approved the informality yet, some things moved at their own pace, and wise men didn't try to rush them. Or, as the case may be, hinder. "I want to look good tonight."

"You're worse than a girl!" Davey laughed, before his eyes grew distant. "Worse even than Shara."

"Shara?" Jared mouthed, filing the name away for later consideration. With less than five minutes before Mathews was supposed to pick him up, he didn't have time to really dig into the subject at hand, so he let it drop. "Are you sure I look alright?" Jared asked, checking in the mirror himself. The tie was centered, of course, but maybe he should have gone with-

Davey grabbed Jared's shoulders and pulled him around. Looking into his son's eyes, Jared couldn't help but smile. "You're fine, Dad. Your shoes are well polished, your tie is on straight, your hair is combed, you look good. You'll have to teach me how to look so good sometime!"

Jared's eyes narrowed. Five minutes -- four now -- wasn't that short a timeframe. Not when his son left him that opening. "OK, so who is this Shara girl? Not only do you go vacant eyed when you mention her, but you're actually willing to work on your personal grooming? Need I remind you who threw a fit when I tried to teach him how to polish his shoes right? Who doesn't use a comb unless I threaten-"

The three bedroom apartment they'd been assigned didn't have so much as a kitchenette installed, but it did have a living area complete with a state-of-the-art communications center better than most civilian homes on Earth. And it chose that moment to go off. "Receiving a call for 'Davey', from 'Shara'. Receiving a call for 'Davey' from 'Shara'," it repeated mindlessly, the automated computer voice using a recording of a young girl's voice for the names. Presumably Shara's voice.

"Be right back Dad!" Davey dived away from the confrontation, leaving Jared laughing. Saved by the bell!

Jared turned back to the mirror and checked his appearance one more time. Moving up close, he tilted his chin up and checked that he'd gotten all his facial hair shoved properly. Not that Mathews had ever objected to it before, in fact back when Jared's facial hair started changing from peach fuzz to stubble Mathews had absolutely loved having Jared run his chin all over, letting his stubble scratch him from head to toe. It had been something of a game, and one both of them enjoyed since it ended in-

Jared shook his head and forced his thoughts away from the pleasures of yesterday. Stepping back, he frowned at his reflection as he ran his gaze from his head all the way down to his- "Oh crap," Jared swore. "Davey, I am going to kill you!" he bellowed as he saw how prominently 'on display' the pants left him. Turning around, he saw that Davey had prudently closed the door all the way when he left, insuring that sound couldn't leave the bedroom. Jared's felt his mouth curl into an unwilling smile as he realized that his son probably wanted it the other way around -- to keep his call private from adult interference.

Jared glanced at the clock and swore again. "Next time I am not letting Davey help me shop for clothing!" It was far too late to try and find another pair of pants in his closet, assuming any of them actually managed to avoid the embarrassing problem of this pair. Next time he could get to the PX, Jared was damned well going to get a set of military-cut slacks, even if they weren't the most 'stylish' form of civilian dress. Sure, the clingy, stretchy material of the civilian clothes was flattering around his legs, but damnit his clothing should leave him with at least some privacy! He wasn't some rooster, strutting around and showing his 'wares' off to gain a mate! Or a woman, cutting her neckline as far down and her hemline as far up as society would let her! He was a sensible, reasonable sergeant -- OK, former sergeant -- of the US Marine Corps, not a teenage hick who had to show off every inch of his endowment -- even if it was an impressive endowment -- to help protect his pride.

Ding-Dong. "He's early!" Jared swore, grabbing his wallet from the nightstand before dashing out of the room.

"Uh, sure," Davey said to the com panel as Jared rushed past. "Hey Dad?" Davey asked as Jared opened the door.

"Hey Jared," Mathews smiled as Jared glanced over at Davey. "Bad time?"

"Dad, Shara's dad wants to talk to you," Davey whined.

"Always a bad time," Jared shook his head. "Come on in."

Mathews smiled. "This is one of those 'I'm glad I don't have kids' moments, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Jared nodded. "Cody's sitter hasn't even shown up yet, much to my annoyance."

"Davey isn't going to watch him?" Mathews asked.

"You're kidding?" Davey sneered. "I got plans!"

"Not without clearing them with me first you don't," Jared griped. "What plans?"

"Um... well... I kinda told Shara I'd come over for a while tonight," Davey hung his head. "I told her I had to get your permission first."

"And why is this the first I'm hearing of it?" Jared tapped his foot.

"I was waiting for a good time to ask?" Davey mumbled.

"Do you think right now is a good time to ask?" Jared gestured Mathews to sit on the couch. "Sorry, I'll be ready in a minute."

"Take your time," Mathews smiled, then graced Davey with a glare. "And if you need some help, I think I remember a few choice words Dad once had with me."

Jared laughed. "I think I can remember those words myself."

"You weren't there for all of them," Mathews frowned. "Most," he admitted, "not all."

Jared laughed again. It felt strange, after so long, to hear the rippling, musical sound of the laughter that Mathews could bring from him. No one else had ever succeeded in bringing it out. Mathews had named it, once, the sound of young love.

Of course, even as a young and foolish fifteen year old he'd never been stupid enough to say it again, and never in the presence of anyone else.

Jared knew he couldn't manage the proper expression of parental disapproval now. Not after Mathews had managed to make him smile so. "Well," he sighed, "I think you said Shara's parents want to talk to me?"

"Yeah," Davey nodded and pointed to the com screen. Jared walked over to stand in front of it, and then froze.

"Admiral," he managed to say, each syllable drawn out separately in surprise.

"I thought as much," Admiral Beech smiled. "I never actually met either of your children, but given that my daughter's new 'boy who is a friend but not a boyfriend' arrived on station recently, I assumed he had to be yours. And please, call me Jack."

"Jack, call me Jared," Jared laughed. "This is a complete surprise."

"Given that your son forgot to put me on hold, I know how true that statement is," Beech smiled. "My daughter has been nagging me all day to let him come over for dinner. If I don't make it happen, she is going to make my life a living hell. My wife will probably help her, and my son wants to invite his girlfriend over, so he'll kill me if I don't give him the excuse."

Jared turned his head to glare at Davey. "You really managed to put your foot in it, young man," he scowled. The effect was probably ruined by Jared's eyes, though. He could keep the smile off his face, but not out of his eyes. That was a trick he'd never learned.

"Well, Jack, I certainly can't help murder the admiral who did so much to help me!" Jared gestured to the suite he'd been assigned. "They were actually going to try and put me in a one room apartment before you intervened, despite this apartment lying empty. Something about me being a temporary resident."

Admiral Beech's eyebrow rose. "I helped you?"

Captain Mathews coughed. "I mentioned to the administrative assistant handling the case that you had taken a personal interested in Jared's situation," he said from the couch. "Given that you'd ordered me to report any issues he might have while settling in, it seemed apt enough."

"Well, Captain Mathews, given that the temporary quarters would have placed Davey on the opposite side of the station from my oh-so-impressionable daughter, I'll have to come up with some way to thank you for this situation," Admiral Beech drawled. "I'm sure I'll come up with something... pleasant."

"Please make certain that it doesn't happen soon, Jack," Jared's wasn't threatening. No way any sane person could call it that. "We have dinner plans. Him and me. Alone. And I wouldn't want to be the person who interfered. Capiche?" Well, no way any sane person would call his tone threatening to his face.

"I see," Admiral Beech answered after a moment. "There are regulations-"

"We waited until after I was off his ship to resume our previous relationship," Jared cut him off. "He was a perfect gentlemen until I got off the ship."

"I see," Admiral Beech said slowly. "As I recall, your ship is currently being restocked and studied by engineers, correct Captain?"

"Yes sir," Mathews nodded. "Given the severe stress of our journey, a brief break was reasonable, so I authorized rotating leave for the crew. Each crewman gets about a day and a half."

"And for yourself?" Admiral Beech asked.

"I am the captain," Mathews shrugged. "I'm on call twenty-four seven."

Admiral Beech shook his head. "No, that won't do. That won't do at all. Captain, your request for thirty-six hours leave was just approved."

"I'm sorry sir, I made no such request," Mathews shook his head. "They could need me at any-"

"Captain Mathews," Admiral Beech ordered, "you will, upon the completion of this call, contact station operations and inform them that I approved you thirty-six hours leave, and you are not to be disturbed for the duration of them. Do I make myself clear?"

"Aye aye sir!" Captain Mathews braced to attention and nodded. "Orders received and understood."

"Good," Admiral Beech laughed. "I think that may be the first time I had to actually order someone to take time off. Now, back to important matters. Is my daughter going to murder me for now getting her 'not-a-boyfriend' over for dinner?"

"Tell her that if she wants her boyfriend over for dinner, I have no objections to my son going to his girlfriend's for dinner," Jared smiled. "But if they're just friends..."

"Dad!" Davey complained, just as someone on the other end of the com link started complaining.

"I don't think they like that ultimatum much," Admiral Beech's eyes twinkled. "Do you think you might tone it down a bit?"

"Well, I don't know about you but I'm not too happy with my thirteen-almost-fourteen boy having a girlfriend and being to afraid to admit it," Jared complained. "After all, if it's a girlfriend, that's one thing, but if he's afraid to admit it, what is really going on?"

"Daaaad!" Davey moaned.

"True enough," Admiral Beech smiled. "But they are both at the age where perceptions shift, when they go from simply thinking that the opposite gender is kinda cool to actually wanting to form relationships with them. God forbid they should actually be doing something as un-cool as dating!"

Jared smiled. "So you think I should let them get away with this little deception?"

"Deception? What deception?" Admiral Beech asked disingenuously. "We know the truth, they know the truth, they just can't bear to admit it to themselves. And if they can't admit it to themselves, how can they admit it to us?"

"Still, I'd hate to let Davey get in the habit of self-deception..." Jared trailed off. "Oh what the hell. He's only young once."

"Yes!" Davey pumped his fist.

"I trust you won't mind having him over?" Jared asked. "He has a curfew at twenty-hundred, and while I may not be home, I'll make damned sure the sitter I hired for his brother is aware of the time he's supposed to be home."

Admiral Beech coughed. "I understand curfews, and wouldn't dream of encouraging you to allow him to violate it, but dinner isn't until nineteen thirty."

Jared frowned. "That's pretty late," he hesitated.

Admiral Beech took a breath, then hesitated. "I hate to be gauche about such things, but there is a certain degree of... cultural difference here. Given your relationship with the captain, I would have thought you'd have experience it before."

Jared shook his head. "You are right, I have encountered it. Captain Mathew's family had similar issues anytime they had to interact with my parents, who were the epitome of 'white trash'."

Admiral Beech winced. "Such a strong term, and not one I could get away with using myself, but aptly descriptive, I suppose."

"When will your dinner be over?" Jared asked.

"Probably twenty thirty," Admiral Beech shrugged. "Call it twenty-one hundred before I'd be walking your son home."

"Walking him home?" Jared asked, surprised.

Admiral Beech smiled. "I'd normally expect you to pick him up, but you have your own plans for tonight, and walking him home will give us a chance to talk about his intentions towards my daughter. Specifically, about what those intentions had better not include if he wants to keep the equipment involved." Jared winced.

"While I wouldn't normally appreciate threats, I can certainly agree with the sentiment," Jared nodded. "And if his intentions do lie-" Jared glanced behind him. "Cody is in his room?" he asked. Davey nodded. "If his intentions do involve anything remotely sexual, I certainly hope he'll be smart enough to keep his pants zipped. Do I make myself quite clear, young man?" Jared glared at his son.

"Yeah," Davey squeaked.

"So long as both parties remain clothed, I don't think there's too much trouble they can get into," Jared nodded. "Does that sound like a good limit to place on them to you, Jack?"

Beech coughed. "I hadn't meant to be quite that blunt in front of my child, Jared," he complained. "And there is lots of room for... inappropriate behavior in that limit."

"Would you object to talking privately for a minute?" Jared asked.

"No," Beech shook his head. "Shara, leave the room. I'll come get you in a minute."

"Davey, room," Jared ordered firmly.

"But Dad-" Davey began to complain.

"Now!" Jared snapped. Davey knew better than to argue further.

"Jack, we both know they're at the age where they are going to experiment. No one has ever been able to stop teens from doing so," Jared argued. "All we can do is set reasonable limits that they'll be willing to abide by, and then hold to them. Can they still do things we'd rather they didn't? Sure. But by being reasonable, we can at least exercise some degree of control over the process."

Admiral Beech frowned. "But still, she's my daughter!"

"I trust my son, as I'm sure you trust your daughter. So long as we set fair, reasonable limits, they'll abide by them," Jared insisted. "And there is no need to advertise that they can do things in those limits we'd rather they didn't. As they grow up, they'll figure it out and start to do them. Eventually, they'll chafe up against those limits, but so long as they have been fair, consistent, and reasonable, they won't actually fight against them. Well," Jared shrugged, "not any more than they fight against any other rules."

Admiral Beech shook his head. "Your argument is reasonable enough," he sighed. "She's my daughter. Do you understand me?"

"He's my son, and I fully intend to make damned sure that he knows to keep it in his pants," Jared said firmly. "Davey knows better to cross me when I make the limits clear."

"Still, giving them permission to do... things... anything..." Beech shook his head.

"Kode?" Jared glanced over his shoulder. "Some secrets don't belong to me alone."

Mathews sighed. "Admiral, Jared is right. His parents were absurd about their limits, so Jared just ignored them. My parents were reasonable, so no matter how much Jared pushed, I argued we should stay inside their limits. I wasn't happy about it, oh I was so pissed sometimes, but their trust mattered to me. They gave me a reasonable limit, and then simply trusted me to obey it. It worked, if not as well as it would have if both sides had been reasonable."

Admiral Beech sighed. "And I do trust her..."

Finally he looked up. "Clothes on. All the way on. No undoing of belt buckles or untucking of shirts, no unhooking of bras or unbuttoning of buttons, nothing untoward at all."

"Nothing they wouldn't be willing to be out in public like," Jared agreed. "And God help them if we ever find them an inch further than that."

"They'll make out," Admiral Beech growled. "Probably more."

Jared shrugged. "They're at the age where we can't stop that. But we can hold it to that."

"If he doesn't keep it in his pants, he won't be using it again. Ever," Beech threatened.

"Feel free to mention that when you walk him home," Jared nodded. "Shall we call them back in?"

"Fine," Beech growled. "Send your son on over, I'm sure he knows the way."

"Thanks," Jared nodded. "I'd walk him over, but..." he glanced over at Mathews.

"It's on the way to the restaurant," Mathews suggested.

Jared's emotions warred with each other. He wanted Mathews to himself tonight. He wanted to keep tabs on his son. He wanted to meet his son's new 'friend', and her family. He needed time with Mathews, or he'd explode.

Jared sighed. "Admiral, my son will be on his way over shortly -- alone."

"There are still marines stationed outside your hatch, correct?" Beech said thoughtfully.

"Two of them," Jared nodded. "We worked out a compromise."

Mathews coughed. "Four. Two of them are going to be shadowing us tonight."

Jared frowned. "What?"

"It's a security precaution," Admiral Beech said. "You don't go anywhere without at least two marines as escorts. Same should go for both of your sons. Captain, poke your head out and tell them to order up a few more guards. One will follow your son here, two will shadow your date. And the extra guards will bring both apartments up to the appropriate levels of security. Call it your last assignment before you go on leave."

"Aye-aye sir," Mathews laughed. "I'll let you explain things to your son, Jared."

"Thanks," Jared laughed, banging on the door to Davey's room. The door opened instantly.

"I can still go?" Davey asked, pleading. Jared laughed.

"Kode, tell them to order the new guards up on the move. We're leaving, now. So is Davey," Jared smiled.

"Yes!" Davey whooped.

"Well," Jared said softly as he watched the sitter he'd hired walk away, "here we are."

"Yup," Mathews agreed, staring at the door. The sitter had been so eager to go, she'd been standing outside the door waiting for them. "Times up."

"Doesn't have to be," Jared hinted, face angled down as he looked up at Mathews face as suggestively as he could manage.

"I believe a good night kiss is normal at this point in the proceedings," Mathews managed to say.

"No," Jared shook his head. "Kode, come in."

"Jared," Mathews face twisted. "I, I betrayed you," he stammered. "The way I treated you, I can't-" He shook his head. "The closer we come to going through that door, the harder it is for me. It's my fault."

"It's going to be plenty hard for you," Jared forced himself not to laugh at the double entendre, "but you need to do it. Come in. Stay."

"Stay?" Mathews asked. "Your sons..."

"Davey is old enough to understand, and Cody is picking up an education whether I like it or not," Jared shrugged. "He's either old enough to understand, or he isn't. I can't hide life from him forever, especially when his augmentation lets him listen in on conversations that normally get hidden from kids his age."

Mathews hesitated as Jared backed up to the door and opened it. "Come on," Jared begged.

"I can't-" Mathews began, then stumbled forward into Jared's arms.

"We have all night," the marine who pushed him joked, "but I don't think your boyfriend can wait that long."

"Jared-" Mathews tried to say, but Jared took the simple approach to interrupting him.

As Jared pulled him to the bedroom, a part of his mind mused on how easy that was. You can't use your mouth to argue when someone else is monopolizing the use of it for other, more important things. Even if both of them involved tongues. Lots and lots of tongue work.

And then all thought was lost.

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