Welcome to my website, detailing the adventures of Captain Esek Hrelle, his family, and the crew and cadets of his starship, the USS Surefoot. These stories are set in the 2360-70s, the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager Era.

When I wrote the first story, The Universe Had Other Plans, in the far off distant year of 2016, I never intended it to be a "first" story of anything. It was meant to be a one-off, a means of helping me fight writer's block on another project. I am amazed and delighted that it has taken on a life of its own, with an extended family of characters, places, ships and events.

The column on the left hand side groups the stories by significant events in Captain Hrelle's life (such as the birth of his son Misha, and the command of a new Surefoot), as well as major events in the Star Trek timeline. The column on the right hand side lists all the stories in reverse chronological posts.

The universe of Star Trek belongs to CBS/Paramount; all of the original characters here belong to me. There is no explicit sexual content, but there are instances of profanity, violence and discussions of adult subject matters and emotional themes; I will try to offer warnings on some of the stories, but sometimes I forget.

I love comments (I don't get paid for this, sadly), so feel free to write and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Big Star, Little Star

(This is a slight change to the scheduled story, for various reasons too mundane to go into now. It’s a stand-alone tale, set some months after the current storyline on the frontlines of the Dominion War, and set on Cait. It’s a little light-hearted tale, because I really feel the need for it, so I hope you’ll indulge me...)


Planet Cait, Mnara Provinces, Shall Clanlands
Terran Calender Date 11 June 2374:
The huge, honey- and ash-furred Caitian male in the green kilt and vest moved with uncharacteristic caution, reining in his normal bombast as he cradled the tiny, sepia-furred treasure in his huge paws, holding her up to the glass cabinets filled with polished gold and silver statues.
The male’s voice was a gentle baritone as he described each in turn. “Now, that one was my first S’Ralcha Award for Best Actor, for A Caitian Alone. I was particularly brilliant in that vivid. Such pathos; that role was what brought the name of Mi’Tree Maro to everyone’s attention.”
The infant in his arms, Sreen Hrelle, gurgled.
Mmm? Oh, that was my surname long before I married Bneea, and before I met your grandmother and took her name,” he explained, pointing to another award. “And that one was for Season for Your Purr, a musical comedy. I certainly surprised the critics, who never expected someone of my size to sing and dance so well.” He leaned in and confided. “My co-star in that one was particularly attractive. Enticing musk, gorgeous rear end... as adept off his feet as on them.”
The infant cooed.
Don’t tease, I was younger then, and on a constant Season, or so it seemed. Oh, and this one was for Doctor Shivago. The premiere was attended by the Dohlman of Elas, visiting Cait at the time. She was wildly infatuated with me, of course, but by then I was engaged to your other grandfather, I didn’t want him to get jealous, so I had to let her down as easily as I could, the poor woman-”
“Funny, that’s not how I remember it.”
Mi’Tree ignored the new arrival to the study, drawing the infant closer to purr against her. “Don’t listen to the old cat who’s just walked into the room; extreme age and constipation has driven him senile.”
Bneea Shall peered at his partner and their grandcub over his spectacles as he stepped into the study, carrying a PADD. “That evening remains indelible in my mind, since it was all everyone in the industry was talking about for the following two weeks.”
Sreen isn’t interested in the details-”
Bneea drew up to them, reaching out and tickling under the infant’s stubby muzzle, making her giggle as he informed her, “As I recall, your other grandfather was egregiously drunk that night, and threw up on the Dohlman’s cloak. She was getting ready to cut off his tail - among other parts - before I stepped in to smooth things over. As per usual.”
Mi’Tree harrumphed. “We’ll agree to disagree.”
You can disagree on what goes best with grilled shuris fillets, not on something that actually happened. Or should we include a recording of the event on this tour of the Mi’Tree Shall Ego Stroke Museum?” He sniffed, his greying muzzle wrinkling. “She needs changing.”
Mi’Tree grunted, having scented his granddaughter contribute to the conversation in her own inimitable way seconds before. He started handing her over. “Well, I’ve been most greedy with having time with her, you should-”
Bneea held up his PADD. “I have an imminent appointment with our clan’s investment firm to discuss plans for the next quarter. You promised to mind her for the rest of the afternoon. That includes taking care of personal hygiene.”
Sreen looked up at Mi’Tree expectantly.
Mmm, yes, well, let’s go find your Mama and Papa-”
Bneea was sitting down now at the desk, readying the communicator. “Kami has taken Misha and his little Roylan friend Naida to the local school so they can play with cubs their own age. Esek and Sasha have left for the Temple of the Kaetini, and they won’t be back until late this evening.”
Well, then, their nanny-”
Jhess has already left for Shanos Minor, to visit his son and ex-wife.” Bneea looked up now, frowning. “What’s wrong with you, Mi’Tree? You’ve cleaned up cubs before! And our granddaughter’s little diaper bundles can’t be any more toxic than her mother’s were!”
I know, I know. It’s...” Mi’Tree hesitated, resting the cub against his broad shoulder, idly playing with the tiny curled tail sticking out of the slit in the back of her clothes. “I… I don’t want to… hurt her.”
His husband leaned back in the chair, folding his hands onto his stomach as he regarded the other male with some sympathy. “Neurodystraxia hasn’t left her made of porcelain; you won’t hurt her. You just have to learn to deal with her special needs. Remember what Kami and Jhess showed us.”
Sreen mewled, smacking her grandfather on the shoulder.
Bneea grunted. “She’s getting uncomfortable. And if you keep her crying like that and Ma’Sala wakes up and hears her, she’ll show you a new place to store all those awards of yours.”
Mi’Tree harrumphed again. “Fine. I’ll deal with this. And I’m still taking her to the studio with me for the broadcast this afternoon!”
Bneea returned to his work. “Fine. Just don’t leave her behind somewhere while you’re signing autographs.”
How dare you! I wouldn’t do something as outrageous as that!”
Bneea looked up again, glaring.
Again,” Mi’Tree clarified under his breath, hurrying out of the room.
*
Sreen lay on the table mat, staring up impatiently as Mi’Tree undressed her, cooing, “Don’t you fret, Little Cub. Your other grandfather is quite right; I took care of your mother like this on many an occasion. I know what I’m doing.”
But the more he revealed Sreen – and the miniature metallic exoframe that covered almost half her body while she wore it, from her head and neck to her limbs and extremities – the more he became self-conscious about it. It made her look a little like one of those Borg things he’d read about. Unlike those monstrosities, however, this allowed her to overcome the Neurodystraxia she had been born with, and help her move about, at least as much as any cub her age.
Finally he stopped, feeling the tears well up in her eyes. “Oh, Little Cub...” It had been one thing, to know through long-distance communications from his children about Sreen’s genetic condition. But to have her here in the fur, to see the additional effort she and her family had to invest, the struggles she would have for the rest of her life, to keep up with other cubs. She was so helpless, so vulnerable-
He was rudely pulled out of his pity by Sreen reaching out, grabbing his finger, drawing it to her mouth and biting him with her pin teeth, before hissing up at him demandingly.
Sorry, Dear Cub! Sorry!” He ignored the pain in his fingertip and disconnected the portion of her exoframe that ran over her diaper, in order to remove the diaper entirely and clean her up. Damn it, Little Cub, you’re as hot-tempered and impatient as your mother and grandmother!
And then he felt supremely foolish for his lingering feeling of commiseration. Kami had been right, the night they had all returned from space for shore leave, when she had observed something in his expression on his seeing the exoframe on Sreen.
And as she had informed him at the time, “Your granddaughter will always be different from other cubs… but she will never be less than them. She has far more ability than disability. And I know she’s going to knock our world onto its furry ass.”
Mi’Tree smiled as he dried and powdered the cub’s nethers. “I have an appointment in the city to have the grey in my fur dyed and some of these wrinkles under the eyes tightened, and then maybe we’ll get you some ice cream and visit the First Landing Memorial before we go to the studio. I know, I know, your mother said I’m not to spoil you.” He leaned in, smiling. “But there’s an old Caitian saying: ‘It’s the divine duty of parents to be responsible… and the divine right of grandparents to be irresponsible.’”
Then he began singing as he prepared the fresh diaper. “Big Star, Little Star, racing through the sky / Big Star, Little Star, flying oh so high / Big Star, Little Star, shining far and bright / Big Star, Little Star, shining through the night!” He reached up and touched the tip of her snout. “Boop!”
Sreen giggled… and peed some more over the mat.
Mi’Tree quickly caught what he could in the fresh diaper he was about to place on her. “Yes, well, I’ll not take that as a criticism of my singing.”
*
Crerr’s was one of the more stylish salons in the heart of the city, and Mi’Tree one of their more prominent celebrity customers, always fawned over... until today, when the female staff in the store put their attentions on Sreen, sitting in her hoverchair while she was fussed and cooed over.
Mi’Tree smiled proudly from his own treatment chair near the salon window as Crerr himself continued dyeing Mi’Tree’s patches of grey fur into a colour indistinguishable from his natural one. The old male chuckled. “Oh yes, my little Princess here will do wonders when she grows up.”
The black-furred male who’d groomed Mi’Tree for years grunted as he worked on the actor’s arms. “She’s already doing that, having diverted my staff from talking about the latest David Meowie concert. I didn’t think such a thing were possible.”
She comes from excellent stock, of course; her parents helped save hundreds of Starfleet lives at the Battle of Khavak two months ago on their amazing ship the Surefoot. And her sister is a Kaetini warrior! The first non-Caitian to join that prestigious organisation! Not to mention my own achievements-”
Not to mention,” Crerr quipped. “But I bet you’ll mention them again anyway.”
Four Vlathi snake assassins!” Mi’Tree declared. “I faced them with nothing but my claws and fangs and my righteous fury!”
It was two the last time you told this story; did they breed since then?”
Before Mi’Tree could respond, the salon doors opened, and a female adult entered with a young cub, a male about five or six, the female looking at Mi’Tree with an expression the old actor was well-accustomed to by now. “Excuse me, but are you-”
He sat up, beaming and bowing slightly. “Yes, Madame, I am indeed Mi’Tree Shall, the Taleteller himself!” He looked down at the wide-eyed cub with the excited tail. “And who is this?”
The female smiled and placed a steady hand on the cub’s shoulder. “This is M’Turan. He never misses a story from you, is always at the Cynet screen an hour before it begins. When he saw you from outside, he recognised you right away. I’m sorry if we’re bothering you-”
No bother at all, Madame!” Mi’Tree dropped to one knee in front of the cub and offered a hug. A year ago, when he had taken on the Taleteller program, he had remained unsure of this change in career. After a lifetime making popular vivids, the work had dried up, and even his agent seemed to have forgotten him.
But once he took on this role, reading stories that were broadcast to the cubs of Cait and the colonies, offering advice and life lessons and inspiration and comfort along the way… well, he embraced it with a passion. He drew back and grinned at the cub, reaching into his vest and producing one of his pre-signed autograph cards, handing it to him. “A pleasure to meet you, M’Turan! Tell me, have you got a favourite story?”
The cub drew back, holding the card like it was a bar of gold-pressed latinum, clearly overwhelmed at meeting his hero in the fur. “The Crooked Tailed Cub and the Sky Pirates!”
Mi’Tree crooned, eyes opening. “Ooh, that’s a favourite of mine, too! I loved the ending, when the Cub fought the Pirate King on the airship! It gave me chills just reading it aloud!” He chuckled. “Next week, I’ll be reading The Crooked Tailed Cub and the Dragon Caves. That’ll be fun, won’t it?”
Nearby, Sreen mewled for her grandfather.
Ooh, someone’s getting jealous of the attention! P’Nurs, bring her over, would you, please?” He chuckled as he accepted the infant, adjusting her on his knee. “This is my granddaughter Sreen. Her father is Captain Hrelle, the famous Starfleet hero! Say Hello!”
M’Turan smiled and waved. “Hiya!”
Sreen laughed and made a similar sound back.
The other cub looked curious now, and he reached out and touched her exoframe. “What’s this? Is it a spacesuit?”
Spacesuit? No, it’s an exoframe to help her move. She has Neurodystraxia-”
But on seeing Sreen, M’Turan’s mother’s expression turned cold as winter on Andor, and quickly she reached out and tugged her cub back. “Don’t touch it! You might catch something!” She scowled with outrage at Mi’Tree. “You have no business bringing that thing out in public without warning people!”
Eh?” Mi’Tree breathed, confused by the sudden outburst. “What’s wrong?”
Get out of my establishment!” Crerr demanded angrily, pointing to the door.
The mother made an indignant sound, dragging her protesting cub out, ignoring his pleas about his dropping Mi’Tree’s autograph card on the salon floor.
Sreen began crying at the change in mood, and her grandfather comforted drew her close and sang to her. “Big Star, Little Star, racing through the sky… Big Star, Little Star, flying oh so high...” He continued until she calmed down again, and he looked up at the adults. “What in the Seven Hells was that about?”
Bigoted kussik,” Crerr growled.
Eh? You mean... she was directing that bile towards Sreen?”
Of course she was,” P’Nurs confirmed, her tail twitching with irritation. “My brother is an ND, too. I’ve heard people talk about him the same way. I’m surprised she made it out without dropping the L-Bomb.”
Mi’Tree flinched, as much from guilt as outrage, knowing exactly what the young female was talking about. Neurodystraxics on Cait – often referred to by the offensive term ‘Lagger’ – as well as others with similar disabilities, were a source of fear and discrimination, in large part a historical instinctive reaction to the Ferasans, racial cousins who had genetically augmented themselves and terrorised the Caitians on and off for centuries since the Exodus.
It was an unfortunate side to their people, that ingrained defensive fear of those that were like them, but still different, and ironically the medical advances of the last few centuries, which had eliminated many physical and mental problems, only seemed to accentuate those remaining conditions that weren’t treatable. They provoked fear, provoked condescension, provoked ignorance and hostility, and all for no other reason that they were different from the rest… even the very idea of them.
That’s disgraceful,” Mi’Tree muttered. “And she thought the condition was infectious? Ignorant woman!”
Most people won’t even have actually known anyone with ND,” P’Nurs continued. “They’re certainly not gonna see any in the Vivids or on the Cynet channels. Just beautiful, perfect people, as always.” She nodded to Mi’Tree. “Isn’t that right, Taleteller? That’s your business, after all.”
That’s not fair, girl,” Crerr defended. “Mi’Tree doesn’t control the media.”
No, he just hosts a show that’s seen by hundreds of millions all over the world and on the colonies.” She stared straight and unflinchingly at the old male. “My brother never sees anyone like him in the media. Visibility matters. Representation matters. You have an ND grandcub. What have you done to change that?”
That’s enough!” Crerr snapped.
But Mi’Tree raised a conciliatory hand. “No, no, she has a point.” He shifted to have Sreen face him, stroking her muzzle until she began purring, her tiny hands reaching up to grasp his fingers.
The fact was, he’d done nothing to enlighten others about people with disabilities. Indeed, he can recall a few of his earlier vivids at the start of his fame, the popular action ones, the comedies, where the scripts included Lagger jokes. It shamed him now. He was as guilty of ignorance as everyone else he knew. Ignorance, and apathy.
Do you want me to finish your other arm now, Mi’Tree?” Crerr offered.
The old male sighed. “Thank you, my friend, but no. I have to go shopping for my little one here. I want to get her a brand new outfit. Something fabulous.” He looked up at P’Nurs. “After all, she’s going to be seen today by hundreds of millions all over the world and on the colonies.”
*
The studio was blessedly cool and dark, and Mi’Tree breathed it all in welcomingly… along with the buzz of the production team as they prepared for the live broadcast.
In the hoverchair he pushed ahead of him, Sreen, clad in an expensive orange-red dress of Tholian silk that her mother was no doubt going to rip him a new one for buying, made a tiny roar of excitement.
Mi’Tree laughed. “Yes, Grandcub of Mine, it is invigorating, isn’t it? There’s an immediate stimulation to a live Cynet broadcast, something akin to the theatre, a stimulation that one doesn’t experience when making a Vivid. Some of my contemporaries are rather snobbish about Cynet work; clearly they don’t know what they’re missing-”
Mi’Tree!” The young Personal Assistant Stori, a petite, snow-furred male, rushed up. “You’re late, you need to get to Makeup!”
Forgive me, Dear Cub, but it was my granddaughter’s first time in the Big City, she demanded to see the First Landing Memorial, and I couldn’t possibly refuse her.”
Is this her?” Stori stopped, knelt and grinned with genuine delight, suppressing his urgency as he reached out and stroked under her muzzle, making her purr. “Of course it is. The holos of her you’ve brought in didn’t do her justice, Mi’Tree.” Then he looked up at the older male. “But you should get moving; Horash is running around like he’s caught his tail in a door. I’ll find someone to mind Sreen.”
Mi’Tree grunted – their Production Manager always ran around like he’d caught his tail in a door – but nodded. “No need; Sreen will need makeup, too. She’s accompanying me onscreen.”
Sorry?”
The older male nodded, beaming proudly. “She’ll be appearing with me before the cameras. I’ll be introducing her to our audience, and talking about her, before the story.”
Stori’s smile dropped. “Does Horash know?”
Not yet. But it shouldn’t be a problem, I’ve had young guests on the show before.” He reached down and patted the P.A. reassuringly on the shoulder. “Come now, my granddaughter needs to get accustomed to the burdens required by the talented and famous.”
*
It took some effort on Mi’Tree’s part to stop smiling at the fuss the Wardrobe and Makeup crew were giving to Sreen, and he was grateful that none of them showed any of the dismay that he had seen on the mother in the salon earlier.
And then Horash entered, the ash-furred male in the well-tailored suit stopping and swallowing, his tail twitching as he made a visible effort to focus on him. “Mi’Tree, about time you showed up.”
I wasn’t that late, Horash-”
Now, what’s this I hear about you wanting to have your grandcub with you on the broadcast?”
Mi’Tree glanced down at the makeup assistant trimming the fur on his paws. “Yes, it’ll be such a treat! Ooh, that reminds me: Stori, send a message to my husband, make sure he and the family are watching-”
You haven’t cleared this with me first,” Horash reminded him.
Mi’Tree looked up now, offering a charming smile. “I know, I know, but it’s a small indulgence, I ask for so little, and I think it’d be a most informative experience.”
You can’t have her on.”
Mi’Tree blinked; he had half-expected an objection from him, though given their prior contentions, he suspected that it was more about his need to be seen as First Male around here than any issue with Sreen. “Why not?”
There's legal and administrative issues to face before we can have people appear on the show. Especially minors. There are releases to be signed by their guardian-”
Already taken care of,” Mi’Tree assured him, nodding to Stori. “As I am Sreen’s legal guardian in the absence of her parents.”
Stori offered his manager the PADD. “Signed and forwarded to Legal, Sir, who’ve approved. See?”
Horash ignored the PADD and the P.A., creasing his muzzle in an increasingly frustrated manner. “Then what about the Health and Safety issues? What if your grandcub has a fit or something during the broadcast? Do you want that seen by all the cubs who’ll be watching?”
A ‘fit’? She’s not going to have a fit! Do you know anything about Neurodystraxia, Horash?”
The Production Manager ignored the indignant question. “Mi’Tree, every minute of the show is carefully planned over the coming days, weeks, months! Every word is scripted, we won’t have time to have new material written for you!”
Mi’Tree continued to watch him, noting how much he avoided even looking at the cub in the chair facing him. “I was scheduled to speak about the changing seasons on Cait before reading today’s story, but I think this is a far more important lesson.
And this is my grandcub; I don’t need any of our very talented writers to prepare anything for me about her, thank you.”
But a change at the last minute now will reflect badly on the syndicated packaging-”
Horash,” Mi’Tree interrupted gently but firmly, rising to his feet, deliberately bringing to the fore his slight advantage in height over the other male. “Let’s stop wasting each other’s time, and cut to the pounce, for the benefit of all here.”
Horash bristled, aware of the attention of everyone – the Makeup and Costume crew, the writers, the camera crew, even the support crew in the rafters overhead – listening in on the argument. “You want it spelled out for you, for all of them? Fine: the Board won’t allow someone like your grandcub to be seen on the Taleteller show.”
Mi’Tree’s tail went still, and his hackles rose as his voice went taut, even as he tried to remain calm. “They have no reason to not allow her to join me.”
They have many reasons, actually. For one thing, it’s their damn show! They can do what they want with it, have who they want on it, or not on it! And have you considered what will happen when your audience sees it-”
Sreen,” Mi’Tree growled. “Her name is Sreen. And you can look at her, you know; you won’t catch Neurodystraxia through visual contact.
And yes, I have considered it. That is precisely why I want her seen.”
But the cubs out there will ask questions!” Horash accused.
Of course they will! That’s what cubs are supposed to do! How they learn!”
And what if they’re questions their parents might not want to answer?”
There should be no questions a parent doesn’t want to answer!”
Horash was growing increasingly agitated… especially when the mood of the crowd around them seemed to be on Mi’Tree’s side. “The sponsors provide an immense amount of revenue to us, and they naturally don’t want to have their products and services associated with Lag-”
He stopped himself as Mi’Tree bared his claws and raised himself up.
With disabilities,” Horash continued, “Mi’Tree, the Federation is at War! Every day, the News is terrifying all of us! Cubs, parents, families, they watch us to escape from the horrors of life, not to be reminded of them!”
Mi’Tree bared his teeth as he drew closer, practically in the other male’s muzzle. “Let me make myself perfectly clear to you: my grandcub is not a horror. And the Taleteller is here for her, for all cubs like her, not just a select few, or for the Board, or the sponsors.
The Taleteller has never just been some escape, some opiate for the masses. The Taleteller brings truth. And the truth is that there are Caitians out there who are different from the rest. Different… but not less.
Not monsters.
Not figures of pity or revulsion.
Not horrors we should pretend don’t exist.
People.
And cubs, people, will listen to the Taleteller, the way they might not to anyone else. That’s what this show is about.”
Horash scowled as he took a step back. “Don’t presume to tell me about what this show is about, Mi’Tree! I’ve been running it for sixteen years! You’ve been here for just over a year!”
In her chair, Sreen hissed up at the male raising his voice to her grandfather.
Horash… my granddaughter will be with me on today’s broadcast.”
The Production Manager glared back. “Then there will be no live broadcast. I’ll make sure we have a repeat ready to show instead.”
You do that and I’ll quit!”
Horash took a step back, eyes wide, pointed ears twitching on top of his head as he raised his voice, for the benefit of everyone around them as much as Mi’Tree. “You know... the sheer hubris that you old farts display when you take on this role never ceases to astound me. Never.
This program has been running for generations! It’s bigger than you! Bigger than any of you! We’ve had dozens of Taletellers before you! Dozens of pathetic has-beens! Mangy old cats well past their prime but still desperate to suckle once more at the teat of fame and recognition! And there’ll be dozens more like you, after you curl up in some forgotten corner and die in your sleep in a pool of your own piss!”
In her chair, Sreen gave a tiny roar and swiped her stubby clawed fingers in the direction of Horash.
The male ignored her, focusing on Mi’Tree. “Unless, of course, you want to prove me wrong, give all this up, hit me and walk away, to support your high and mighty principles? If so, now’s the time...” He paused challengingly. “Well?”
Mi’Tree stood there.
Horash smirked. “I didn’t think so. Now quit your mewling and do your job.” He turned and walked away, shouting around him, “And the same goes for the rest of you! Remember, you’re all as replaceable as the ceiling lights!”
Sreen roared again at the male’s departure.
People resumed their duties, or made a show of doing so.
Mi’Tree stood there, swaddled in humiliation.
There was a horrible silence around him, as Stori drew up to him tentatively. “Um… Mi’Tree… I’ll be happy to mind Sreen while you, ah...”
I need a moment with my granddaughter, Stori, if you don’t mind.”
Oh… ah, yeah, of course...”
Mi’Tree knelt down, removed Sreen from her chair and lifted her up, carrying her away, unable to look at anyone until he found an unoccupied wardrobe room. The smell of costumes and fur grooming products filled his nostrils as he sat down, feeling supremely old.
Supremely ashamed.
He held her up, facing the infant, the tears welling in hie eyes, his voice fragile. “I’m so sorry, Little Cub. I should have done what he said. I should have hit him and walked away with you, after those horrible things he said.
And... I can’t pretend that I didn’t because I need the work. Or because the work needs me. I- I hesitated... because he was right. This is my last grasp at being famous. Famous, and admired.
But there’s nothing to admire about me. I’m a weak, pathetic, ego-driven wretch.
Forgive me, Little Cub. Please...”
Sreen looked up at him with her big bronze eyes… and reached out, grasping the sides of his snout, as she began singing to her grandfather.
Mi’Tree froze, listening with astonishment. She wasn’t saying any specific words, just babbles, but the tune was an impressively recognisable rendition of Big Star, Little Star.
She even booped his nose at the end.
The tears flowed freely now from him as he hugged her. “I don’t deserve you. I truly don’t.”
*
They left the room minutes later, returning to Stori. “We’re leaving. You have been a remarkable, resourceful young male, and should you ever need any references or connections to anyone I know in the industry, you have but to ask.”
The P.A. gasped. “You’re going?”
He set Sreen back in her hoverchair. “Yes, and my only regret is that I didn’t take that kussik up on his offer to let me strike him. Farewell...”
No, wait!”
Mi’Tree turned. “Stori, normally I would love the attention of a Big Goodbye, but under the circumstances-”
You can’t just go like that!” the young male pleaded, and Mi’Tree noted he was joined by a few others on the crew. “If you do, then nothing changes!”
Mi’Tree looked to him, appreciating the support he and the others were showing, but still facing reality. “What can I do? He’s right. I’m replaceable.”
Stori smiled. “Then give him a good reason to replace you.”
*
Readying for transmission,” said the voice from the booth, as everyone moved into position. “Thirty seconds. Final audio check, Mi’Tree?”
Mi’Tree made himself comfortable in his chair, tugging at the sleeves of his jacket. “Sounds good, Nremma. And if I don’t get a chance to tell you later: thank you, for all your hard work in making this old cat look good.”
It’s… been an honour working with you, Sir. Ten seconds… nine… eight...”
Mi’Tree readied himself. He had been half-tempted to call home, to have a word with Bneea, or maybe even Ma’Sala, and make sure that he was doing the right thing, but decided against it. Ah well, what did they use to say in the theatre? ‘Know your lines, enunciate for the people in the cheap seats, and give yourself a beautiful finale...’
He smiled for the cameras. “Good evening, Cubs of all Ages! Welcome to the Taleteller! Have you done your homework, your chores? Told your family and friends you love them? Good, good! We have a wonderful story for today, from an old Terran writer called Cyrano Jones, a story titled Too Many Tribbles! I think we’re going to have a lot of fun with it!”
He paused, breathing in, his pulse racing. Here goes everything… “But first, I want to introduce you to a very special guest on today’s broadcast.” He looked off-camera, where Stori had appeared, holding Sreen. “My granddaughter, Sreen Hrelle.”
*
In the control booth, Horash had been on the communicator with the restaurant he was trying to book a reservation with for later, when his ears twitched. “What was that?”
Everyone present pretended to be too busy to hear him.
*
On the stage, Mi’Tree chuckled as he reached out, and Stori drew in just enough to safely hand over the infant, resting her comfortably on his lap. “Yes, this is my granddaughter, Sreen. Her parents are very brave heroes in Starfleet, as is her sister and big brother.” He stroked her, ensuring her exoframe wasn’t pinching her anywhere… and that it remained visible. He looked up at the cameras again. “Now, as I’m sure you can see, Sreen is wearing something very special. It’s called an exoframe. It’s a medical device that helps her move about.
You see, Sreen has a condition called Neurodystraxia...”
*
Seven Hells,” Horash cursed, leaning forward to peer through the window, his tail slapping angrily against the flanking chairs. “That senile old cat! He’s finished! When I’m done with him he’ll be lucky to get a job selling mange cream on the late-night Cynet Shopping Channels!” He looked to the Director. “Nremma! Shut down the transmission!”
The ash-furred male kept his hands on the controls, but made no moves. “It’s too late for that, Sir, the transmission links are already up. This is going out live to the three Zones, is locked in for the rest of the planet for their local broadcast times, and is being beamed out now to the colonies.”
Horash gasped, looking around. “Do something! Substitute a repeat show!”
Sir, this broadcast has already started. If we start a repeat now, it’ll overrun past our scheduled time. There’ll be legal repercussions.”
I don’t give a damn about that! This is an emergency! Now load up a repeat, one of last week’s standalone episodes! Now!
Nremma’s paws moved over his controls. “Sorry, Sir, the database has malfunctioned.”
What?”
The director looked up at him. “Probably needs replacing.”
*
Mi’Tree drew out a pacifier from his pocket and fitted into the infant’s snout, watching her chew greedily on it as he looked up again into the cameras. “She was born with it, it’s not something that you can catch, like Kasaba Fever or Malague. And it affects people in different ways, and they may need different things to help them move around or talk or learn, like exoframes and chairs and implants. But even with this aids, they still might not be able to move or talk or respond as quickly or as easily as the rest of us.
Now, I know that it’s natural to be a little afraid when you see someone like Sreen, because she seems different. But once you get to know her, to see that she eats and sleeps and cries and laughs and sings like any other infant, you’ll see that there’s more alike about her than different.
And maybe there’s cubs in your family, or on your street or in your school, who are like Sreen here. They may not be able to run or climb or pounce like you can… but they still want to have fun. They still want to be your friend.
And I say, Why Not? We can never have too many friends! And there’s many ways to have fun, and include those who might not be able to do everything that you can. And maybe there’s also grown-ups who have special needs. They’re people too. Don’t treat them like they’re not there. Say Hello. Visit. Call them or send them a message that you’re thinking of them. The Great Mother Herself said, ‘No one is worth more or less than anyone else because of how they look’.”
He smiled and reached for the book, settling Sreen into a more comfortable position in the crook of his other arm. “Now, I don’t know about all of you out there, but I’m desperate to find out more about all these silly tribbles!”
*
Damn it!” He moved to the door, but it refused to open despite his banging on it. “What in the Seven Hells is wrong with this now?”
The door mechanism jams,” one of technicians informed him. “It needs replacing.”
Frustration and disbelief welled up in him, and he turned back to the control booth communicator. “Get me Security- Hello? Hello? Operations! Maintenance! Hello? Anyone?” He slammed the receiver down.
Internal network is down,” another technician noted. “Needs replacing.”
Horash stopped and stared suspiciously at the control booth crew, their backs to him. “Nremma! Somebody! Do something! Get that little Lagger off my show!”
Nremma bolted to his feet, knocking his chair back with such force that it almost hit Horash, before turning and facing the Production Manager, his tail twitching furiously behind him as he drew up to the other male and snarled, “Replace me.”
The other members of the crew locked their stations and rose, all facing Horash, surrounding him, preventing him from taking any action.
Replace me.”
Replace me.”
Replace me.”
Replace me...”
*
In the Shall Clanlands house, Misha and Naida were sprawled on the couch eating Claw Flakes and watching the Taleteller, when Misha called out, “Mama! Gramma! Grandpa! Come! Baby Sreen’s on Grumpy’s show!”
The adults appeared at the doorway individually, curiously, Kami entering and perching on the arm of the couch, watching the screen with fascination as Mi’Tree continued to read from the book, while Sreen lay in his arm, eyes closed. “She is, isn’t she? Look at her! And is that a new dress on her?”
Beside Misha, his Roylan friend’s eyestalks fixed on the Cynet screen image. “She looks like a pretty Princess!”
She’s still a stinky cub,” Misha assured her, stuffing his face with Claw Flakes.
Bneea stared at the screen with less zeal. “He put our grandcub onto his show without asking permission first? I’ll finish what the Dohlman started on him!”
Ma’Sala shook her head and moved to the drinks cabinet. “At least he didn’t leave her in the autocar again.”
Hush, you two!” Kami chided, grinning as she stared. “That’s my daughter up there. She’s beautiful. Hundreds of millions are seeing her right now!”
On the screen, Mi’Tree continued to read: “And then the Angry Captain opened the overhead compartment... and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of tribbles poured down on him! Covering him from head to toe! ‘It’s Too Many Tribbles!’ he cried-”
Then he paused and looked down at Sreen, whose pacifier had dropped out of her muzzle, and she was now snoring quite deeply. Mi’Tree chuckled and reached for the pacifier, looking up at the cameras again and smiling. “Her mother used to snore like this at her age!”
Kami’s grin dropped. “No I didn’t.” As Misha and Naida guffawed at the revelation, she insisted, “I didn’t!”
Papa says you snore too!” Misha countered. “Papa says they’re mouth farts!”
The two children rolled about on the couch laughing at the notion, Kami scowling as Bneea snickered as well. “Your Papa and I are going to have words.” She looked to two of her parents. “I never snored, right?”
Bneea and Ma’Sala glanced at each other hesitantly, before Bneea replied, “Any sounds you might have made were dainty, almost delicate-”
Ma’Sala, however, finished her whiskey and said, “You sounded like two shurises rutting.”
Mama!”
The children laughed again.
*
The camera crew signalled the final seconds of the broadcast. Mi’Tree set aside the storybook and adjusted Sreen in his arms as she awoke and looked around curiously. “That was a lovely story! And I had a wonderful time sharing it with my granddaughter, and with all of you.
And I want all of you to know that my time as your Taleteller has been the most amazing and rewarding part of my long career… and worth far more to me than all the awards I have ever won. It fills me with such joy to meet all of you cubs out there, to read your messages and to hear of all your awe-inspiring achievements.
And I know that when you grow up, and become adults yourselves and take on the custody of our Motherworld, she will be in good hands. So long as you love yourselves, and love each other.” He raised a hand to the camera. “Good Night.”
Sreen raised her own hand and made a noise.
And that’s a wrap,” came the announcement, prompting the crew to gather, applauding and cheering.
Mi’Tree was both overcome by the response, and relieved that it was all finally over, and he hugged Sreen as he rose and left the set for what he guessed would be the last time, humbly accepting their compliments and backslapping.
But the enthusiasm dwindled and the crowd parted as Horash approached, sneering. “I hope you enjoyed that, Shall! I really do!”
Mi’Tree looked to him and beamed, replying genuinely, “Yes. Yes, I did, actually, thank you.”
Horash frowned now, as if confused by the response, and by the support received from those around them. “You have no idea how many cubs you’ll have psychologically damaged with your selfish, impulsive act today!”
Sreen hissed at him, making him stop and take a step back.
Mi’Tree raised his muzzle. “You underestimate the strength and understanding of cubs, Mr Horash. And maybe their parents, too.”
We’ll see, after you’re gone and we’re dealing with the fallout of complaints.” He looked to Stori, who was examining his PADD. “Well?”
The P.A. was frowning as he read the incoming stats. “There have been complaints… about 100-120-”
I knew it!”
-Which actually represents less than 2% of the total responses we’ve received so far,” Stori continued, beaming now. “Which have been overwhelmingly positive. It’s actually the highest response we’ve received from an initial broadcast in the last five years, and it’s projected to continue with the local broadcasts in the rest of the zones across the planet.”
Horash’s expression shifted. “What?”
Stori nodded, reading more. “We have families of Neurodystraxics thanking us for including Sreen, and for explaining what the condition means and how others should respond to them. There are teachers asking for educational aids on it, people asking where they can donate money for research for a cure. A fanbase has even been created for Sreen, with requests for images and to know when she’ll be back on the show with her Grandpa-”
Enough!” Horash felt distinctly uncomfortable in the face of the changed situation. He looked to Mi’Tree again, raising his snout… but looking more defeated, more humble than before. “Well… it seems I was in the wrong. I’m sorry to have to admit that even after all this time, I… I still have something to learn.” He held out his hand to Mi’Tree.
Mi’Tree had been ready to tell him to stick his apology, his bigotry, and then walk away from it all with his grandcub and go home. But none of that remained within him. He accepted the hand. “Never be sorry for that. The day we stop being capable of learning something, is the day we really start getting old...”


THE ADVENTURES OF THE SUREFOOT WILL CONTINUE...

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