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Benny looked at Connie cautiously for a moment, then said, "Yeah, he's an android. But please don't treat him like he's a thing because of it. His dad made a big deal when we moved to the Kimber colony to be sure that JonJon would be treated like everyone else. I don't know what JonJon's going to do without him."
Connie turned back to his console and looked it over as he said, "Back in the village where I grew up there was a rich old man on the outside of town who had an android like JonJon, the same model I think. Some of the old folks in town thought it was wrong or unnatural or something, but all us kids treated him like he was one of us."
Connie slowly turned in his chair to look at Benny before saying, "No one saw Leander for over a week. Um, that was his name. Anyway, we went up to the house to see if he was okay and we found them both dead."
Benny felt a chill run up his spine at the words.
"The coroner said that Mr. Tselios died in his sleep. All we could think is that after Leander found Mr. Tselios, he must have torn the cord off the toaster and hooked it into his data port... then plugged it in." Connie said slowly.
"Stop it." Vincent said firmly as he felt beside him to find Benny and take his hand.
"Vincent, I'm not trying to be mean. I'm trying to make you realize that JonJon might decide to do something like that now that his father is gone." Connie said with sympathy.
"Not just his father." Benny said quietly.
Connie looked at Benny with question, silently asking him to continue.
"JonJon lost both his parents and his brother." Benny fought to say past the lump in his throat.
"Guys, I don't know how an android thinks or feels, but I know without a doubt that they can love." Connie said seriously, then turned back to his console when a beeping drew his attention.
* * * * *
"What's our shield status Joe?" Commander M'Butu asked as he hurried into the main room of the town hall.
"Stable for the most part. A few microwave bursts have gotten through. I keep readjusting the electro-magnetic properties of the field generators to block the worst of the radiation... I just wish there was something I could do about the diminishing atmosphere." Joe said as he looked at Commander M'Butu with concern.
"It'll have to be enough. There are less than fifty people on the surface now. Get ready to pack it in." Commander M'Butu said firmly.
"We're not going to be able to save the equipment. I don't know if you realize how bad it is out there right now. The instant the shields go down, everything here is going to go up in a burst of flame." Joe said and pointed to the scanner readings that were focused outside the shield.
Commander M'Butu looked at the read-out and his eyes went wide. The conditions outside the shield were far worse than he expected. The upper level of the atmosphere had completely broken down and was offering no protection from the solar radiation.
"It's a miracle that we're still alive with that hanging over us." Commander M'Butu said in amazement.
"I give it ten more minutes before the radiation overpowers the shields. Not that it matters since the oxygen level will drop below minimum safe levels in less than seven minutes." Joe said seriously.
"Everyone will be out in less than five. Do a detailed scan of the 'Cooper bridge', then call for a beam out. You've done everything that can be done here." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"I'd really like to stay until everyone else is out, just in case there's something I can do to buy them one or two more seconds." Joe said frankly.
"It's your decision Joe. I'll call you when the last person is beaming up. But don't wait any longer than you have to. I don't want to have to face Vincent if anything happens to you." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"Yes sir." Joe said with a smile.
"Oh, and Joe?"
"Don't forget to turn out the lights when you leave." Commander M'Butu said with a smile, then walked for the door.
Joe chuckled at the statement, then said, "I'll do that."
* * * * *
"Deflector Control." Connie answered cautiously as he glanced at Benny.
"Connie, do you have any idea where Vincent might be? I've got a diplomatic transmission for him and he's not answering the page in the pool area." Debbie said in frustration.
"He's here with me Debs. Put it through to Deflector Control Auxiliary two." Connie said with a gentle smile.
"Will do. Thanks Connie." Debbie said, sounding much relieved.
Vincent turned his chair and grasped the edge of the console to orient himself.
"Do you want me to leave you alone?" Benny asked quietly as the screen came to life.
"No. Would you mind staying here? I can't see and might need some help." Vincent said shyly.
"Vincent?" A voice asked in nearly a squeak.
"Yeah. Who is this?" Vincent asked carefully.
"OH MY GOD!!!! What happened to you?" Lawrence wailed.
"It's my brother." Vincent said quietly in Benny's general direction.
"How did this happen? Does it hurt? How... how..." Lawrence screamed, then broke down into hysterical crying.
"He's freaking out." Benny said hesitantly as he watched the blond boy crying on the screen.
"I noticed." Vincent whispered to his side, then in a stronger voice directed at the console, Vincent said, "Lawrence."
"You shouldn't have gone. You're just a little kid. You should have stayed here with me where you'd be safe. I know you can't stand me, but I should have found a way to make it work." Lawrence said in anguish.
"Lawrence!" Vincent barked.
"Why did this have to happen to you? It's my fault. I should have tried harder to get you to stay. Cory said you were hurt but he never said..." Lawrence cried, then let out a heart wrenching sob.
"LAWRENCE!" Vincent screamed at the crying voice.
"Um... he's gone." Benny said hesitantly.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Deacon, are you there?"
"Right here." Deacon said with distraction as he fought the urge to run to Lawrence and comfort him.
"Good. Will you tell Lawrence that I'm really okay? I've just got this crust of dead skin on me. As soon as they have time to peel me, I'll be fine." Vincent said seriously.
"Are you really okay?" Deacon asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I really am, I promise. Can you try to calm him down? I need to tell him something important." Vincent asked hopefully.
"I'll try... I'm glad you're alright." Deacon finished quietly.
"Thanks Deacon." Vincent said shyly.
"Now he's gone too." Benny said from Vincent's side.
"That was my brother's um... boyfriend." Vincent said reluctantly.
"Oh." Benny said quietly, sensing that Vincent wouldn't want to talk about it now.
There was a moment of silence, then Benny whispered, "I can see them on the other side of the room. They're kissing."
"Yeah. They do that a lot." Vincent said in a tone of long suffering.
"No. You don't get it. I mean, they're REALLY kissing. I think maybe they're gonna do it." Benny said in shock as he watched the two boys kissing passionately.
Vincent shook his head, then said in a loud firm voice, "Guys. We're on subspace."
Benny chuckled at Lawrence and Deacon's surprised expressions as they realized that they weren't alone in the room.
A moment later Lawrence took his seat before the terminal and shyly said, "I'm sorry Vince. When I saw you I just kind of..."
"...screamed like a girl. I heard you. Lawrence, can you just listen to me for one minute? Then you can get back to your freaking out or making out or whatever." Vincent said sternly.
Lawrence nodded that he would listen.
"He's nodding." Benny whispered.
"Lawrence, when I was down on the planet, I thought I was going to die." Vincent said seriously.
Lawrence let out a little 'eep', but did a reasonable job of keeping calm and quiet.
"I was alone down there and had time to think about a lot of stuff." Vincent said carefully.
Lawrence calmed down and focused his attention on what Vincent was saying.
"I'm sorry for the way I treated you Lawrence. I know that I was just doing what Dad did but... well, that's no excuse. I promise that I'll never make fun of you or call you names again." Vincent said firmly.
"It's okay Vince. You were just a kid, you really didn't know any better." Lawrence said quietly.
Vincent nodded and said, "Maybe not, but I do know better now and I feel bad about all that stuff. I love you Lawrence and from now on I'll try to be the kind of brother you deserve."
"I love you too. And you're just perfect the way you are." Lawrence said, and it was obvious that he was crying again.
Vincent chuckled and said, "I'm a long way from perfect, but I'm really trying to be better. Can I talk to Deacon for a second?"
"Oh. Um... sure." Lawrence said with surprise.
A moment later Deacon took Lawrence's place in front of the terminal and said, "I'm here."
Vincent ducked his head shyly and said, "I'm sorry I wasn't nice to you when I was on Earth."
"That's okay. I wasn't that nice to you either." Deacon said honestly.
"If you'll tell me what I can do to make it up to you, I'll do whatever I can." Vincent said quietly.
There was a long moment of silence, then Deacon said, "I know it's going to sound silly, but there's something you could do that would really mean a lot to me."
"What's that?" Vincent asked carefully.
In a whisper Deacon said, "Sometime when you send Lawrence a letter or card or something, I don't know... just kind of include me, I guess."
"I don't understand." Vincent said slowly.
"I hate feeling left out and ignored. When I met you the first time, that's kind of how I felt. I just thought that if you were sending Lawrence a message and you thought about it, maybe you could say 'hi' or something to me too." Deacon said hopefully.
"I will Deacon. I promise." Vincent said peacefully.
"Lawrence has something else he wants to say." Deacon said quickly.
"Okay. I'll talk to you later Deacon." Vincent said with a gentle smile.
"I just wanted you to tell my dad that I love him and miss him." Lawrence said quickly.
"I'll tell him, I promise." Vincent said with a smile.
"I'd better get going now. I'm glad you're okay. I love you Vince." Lawrence said as tears began to well up in his eyes.
"I love you too." Vincent said with a gentle smile.
When the terminal went dark, Benny whispered, "He's gone."
Vincent nodded a little bit sadly, then said, "Thanks for helping me Benny."
"No problem." Benny said cheerfully.
"Would you mind helping me with something else? I need to get changed. I smell like dog pee." Vincent finished quietly.
"Sure, let's go." Benny said as he stood and guided Vincent's hand to his arm.
* * * * *
Joe smiled as his scan of the 'Cooper Bridge' completed.
He glanced at the readings on the shield generator and noticed that the microwave radiation was increasing faster than expected and as a result, the entire system was on the verge of overload.
After a split second of consideration, Joe shook his head and grabbed the communicator off his belt, then heard a sound from above him.
Before he could dodge completely out of the way, a large chunk of plaster and a wooden beam had fallen on top of him, pinning him to the floor.
As he strained to work his left arm free, he heard a beeping from his communicator.
Joe looked around the room quickly and finally spotted his communicator in the floor, nearly four feet away.
An alarm sounded from the field generators and Joe could only speculate on which of many horrible scenarios was about to play out.
His vision seemed to narrow into a long white tunnel as he felt himself fighting for breath.
* * * * *
It took a few minutes for Benny to find where Rad had stored Vincent's suitcase.
While Vincent was changing into a uniform, Benny looked around the supply room.
There were two women he didn't know sleeping snuggled together at the far end of the room. A few sleeping bags down from them Channing was fast asleep.
A sound drew Benny's attention and he watched with amusement as Susan and JonJon were feeding Fizgig.
"I'm ready." Vincent said as he pulled on his boots.
Benny hurried to Vincent's side and helped him to stand.
As Vincent and Benny walked back into the main room of Deflector Control, a general announcement sounded over the comm.
"Attention all hands, please stand by for an announcement from the captain."
There was a long moment of silence as Vincent heard the murmur of voices outside Deflector Control begin to quiet.
"This is Captain Leland Byrne, may I please have your attention." The Captain said firmly.
"Please accept my apologies for the current conditions, circumstances didn't allow us much choice in the matter. If you will listen carefully, we can begin to take steps to make everyone more comfortable."
"We will rendezvous with the Enterprise in approximately ten minutes. At that time the cargo and personnel being transported to the Alpha Centauri station will be transferred to the Enterprise."
"Likewise, we will transport the critically injured and those who wish to return to Earth."
"When the Enterprise departs, the Yorktown will be traveling to a distant star system listed on the charts as SA-14."
"The Soleen-Avalla are a rather... isolated race. In point of fact, no Federation representative has ever been allowed in their area of space. We have only ever had contact with them via subspace."
"Be that as it may, Starfleet Command made a general announcement of the recent events and the Soleen-Avalla offered our displaced colonists a new home."
A moment of silence fell over the ship as everyone absorbed the statement.
"I don't have many details to share with you about your new home. I only know that the outpost is located in a solar system that borders the Soleen-Avalla system and that it has stood unmanned for over one hundred years."
"The Yorktown will transport you to your new home and remain in orbit until we are certain that you will be able to sustain yourselves."
"Now on to our current situation."
"Those who will be transferring to the Enterprise, please contact Commander M'Butu's office to receive shuttle assignments. Those guests who will be remaining on the Yorktown, please gather yourselves into groups or families, then find one of the security officers that will be circulating all decks. They will assign you quarters."
"If everyone will be patient for just a bit longer, we will get this sorted and be on our way as quickly as possible."
"There is one other thing. Would the person or persons responsible for the livestock on the northern edge of the colony please report to cargo bay two immediately. Your animals didn't react well to being transported."
"I will make further announcements as information becomes available. Thank you for your attention."
* * * * *
Joe noticed that music had started playing in the distance, it was an unfamiliar tune, but it was pleasant.
He looked around cautiously and recognized where he was. It was the gymnasium of his old high school. It was decorated in the school colors with crepe paper and hand made signs announcing homecoming.
As he looked around, he didn't recognize any of the couples dancing around him, then he looked down at himself and noticed that he was wearing his Starfleet dress uniform.
"It's good to see you again Joe." A delighted feminine voice said from behind him.
Joe turned and looked at the vaguely familiar woman curiously.
"Well, how's that for a kick in the ego. I go to all the trouble of setting the perfect scene, and my favorite ex-husband doesn't even recognize me." She said dramatically.
"Peggy?" Joe asked with shock.
She nodded and gave him a gentle smile.
"How are you?" Joe asked in wonder.
"Dead." She said frankly.
"Oh yeah. I'm sorry. Does that mean I'm dead too?" Joe asked hesitantly.
"Maybe, but I don't think so. I was just checking on Vincent and noticed your um... situation. You were so close to the veil, that I just couldn't miss the opportunity to talk to you again. How about a dance for your dearly departed ex-wife?" Peggy asked peacefully.
Joe reluctantly nodded and took her into his arms.
"You're just as gentle as I remember." She said with a smile as she began to move to the music.
Joe looked into her eyes and smiled at the peace and love that shined there.
"I really loved you. Did you know that?" She said quietly.
Joe hesitantly shook his head.
She giggled and said, "Well, admittedly, not while we were married, but years later, after I married Victor... Oh, did I love you. When I was at my lowest points, I'd remember back to some of the silly, sweet things you used to do for me and I'd know that at least once in my life, someone really loved me for me."
"I loved you too Peggy. I'm sorry things worked out the way they did." Joe said sadly as he continued to glide her around the dance floor.
"I'm not. Well, I have my regrets of course. But I had two beautiful, wonderful children who made the rest of my life worth it. And thanks to you I know that they're both going to have wonderful futures. Thank you for taking care of Vincent. I can't think of anyone else in the world... or the universe for that matter, who could have put him on the right path." Peggy said peacefully.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do now." Joe said as he looked around the room in confusion.
"What do you want to do?" Peggy asked gently.
"I want to go back and take care of Vincent." Joe said hopefully.
"Well, I'm not sure, but I think you need to go through that door." Peggy said and stopped dancing long enough to point to a doorway.
"I've got to go now. Vincent needs me." Joe said with regret.
Peggy smiled peacefully and said, "And you need him too. Go on."
Joe nodded and released her.
"Let the boys know that I love them." Peggy whispered, then gave Joe a gentle kiss on the cheek.
"I'll never let them forget." Joe said as he walked toward the door.
Peggy gave a joyful smile and a small wave as Joe walked through the door and into the light.
* * * * *
"Wow. They really found us a new colony." Benny said in wonder.
"The Captain said that no one's been there for a hundred years. I hope it's still in good enough shape for you to live there." Vincent said speculatively.
"We don't need much. You should have seen what we started with at Kimber." Benny said frankly.
A beeping comm signal drew everyone's attention.
"Deflector control." Connie answered hesitantly.
"This is Nurse Young from Sickbay. I need to speak with Benny."
"I'm here. What happened? How are they?" Benny asked in panic as he ran across the room to Connie's side.
"Your father regained consciousness during the captain's announcement and is asking for you." The young man said carefully.
"I'll be right there." Benny said quickly.
"Ask for Nurse Young when you get here or they might not let you in."
"I will. Thank you." Benny said as he rushed toward the door, then froze in his tracks as he saw Vincent sitting blind and alone.
"I'll take care of him, go see your father." Jimmy said assuringly.
Benny glanced at Jimmy, then back at Vincent with indecision.
"I'll be fine. Go." Vincent said sternly.
"But JonJon..." Benny began to say.
"We'll take care of him. Go!" Vincent said firmly.
Benny nodded and nearly walked face first into the door.
"I've got to release it from here." Connie said and pressed the door release.
When the door opened, Benny quickly rushed out.
Before the door could close, someone else slipped in.
* * * * *
Joe walked down the tunnel and could see vague images of people all around him.
He recognized his third grade teacher, then the old doctor that he used to go to when he was a kid.
Each of the people invoked a different memory as he passed them.
Finally at the end of the tunnel, he saw a vague shape standing before him.
"Am I dead?" Joe asked the shape cautiously.
A very familiar grin was the only answer.
* * * * *
As Benny stepped out the door, he noticed a complete difference in the mood.
When he had entered Deflector Control, he had felt hopelessness and despair in the hallway. Now there was a buzz of excitement and happiness flowing through the room.
"Benny, did you hear it? They found us a home." A woman asked Benny as he walked down the catwalk.
"Yes. I heard." Benny responded and couldn't help but smile at her joy.
"I was so afraid that we were all going to get shipped off to Earth and split up and never see each other again." She said with a radiant, peaceful smile.
"Please excuse me. My father is waiting on me. I'll talk to you later Mrs. De Luca." Benny said quickly.
"Yes you will. We'll be having our regular class as soon as we have a school to conduct it in... And you still owe me a book report." Mrs. De Luca said firmly.
Benny stopped and looked at her with disbelief.
She chuckled and said, "Just kidding, go on."
Benny smiled at the joke, then hurried down the catwalk toward the turbo lift.
* * * * *
As the haze cleared from Joe's vision, the grin remained before him.
"Do you think I'd let you die?" Rad asked with a huge grin as he walked to the transporter pad to help Joe to stand.
"Ow. My shoulder." Joe said with effort as he stood.
"I've been watching your life signs for the past ten minutes. As soon as they started to flicker, I beamed you out of there." Rad said seriously.
"Thanks. The ceiling caved in on me and I dropped my communicator." Joe said semi coherently.
"Now I see where Vincent gets it." Rad said with a chuckle.
"Do you know where he is? I need to see him." Joe said with effort.
"Hold on Joe. The last thing he needs is to see you like this. Go to the sickbay and get your shoulder taken care of, then get cleaned up. You'll just worry the hell out of him if you go to him now." Rad said seriously.
"Do I really look that bad?" Joe asked cautiously.
"You're all bloody, your hair is singed and... wait, why do you have lipstick on your cheek?" Rad finished with a wide eyed expression.
Joe looked Rad in the eyes and gave a shy smile.
"You go now. I'll stop by Deflector Control after my shift and you can tell me all about it." Rad said as he stopped at the door.
"I'll do that. Thank you Rad." Joe said seriously.
"Anytime my friend." Rad said with a smile.
* * * * *
"I didn't think I was going to make it." Darin said past his panting breaths.
"What happened to you?" Connie asked with concern and noticed that Darin's right eye was swollen and blackening.
"Someone hit me, it's nothing. Where's Vincent?" Darin asked in a rush.
"I'm right here." Vincent said from his seat.
Darin stared at Vincent in horror.
Vincent waited and tried to imagine Darin's expression.
"Does it hurt much?" Darin finally asked in a whisper.
Vincent smiled and said, "No. It doesn't hurt at all. I'm fine."
Darin looked at Vincent carefully, then cautiously said, "I know it isn't kid time, but if you'd let me, I'd really like to give you a hug right now."
Vincent chuckled and said, "Okay. Just this once."
Darin walked to Vincent and guided him to stand, then pulled him into a tight hug of relief.
Vincent smiled and returned the hug.
* * * * *
Benny finally got off the catwalk and worked his way through the groups of happily chattering people, toward the turbo lift. As he got closer to the turbo lift he noticed that there were four security officers, each one talking to a group of people.
After a few more seconds of squeezing past people, Benny stepped toward the turbo lift and one of the security officers held up a hand to caution him to stop.
After the officer excused himself from the group he was talking to, he took a small step to stand before Benny and said, "I'm sorry, but you'll need to get in line and wait to be assigned quarters."
"I'm not here for that, I need to go to sickbay." Benny said hesitantly.
"Oh? Are you feeling sick?" The security officer asked as he looked Benny over for signs of illness or injury.
"No. I just got a call that my father is awake in sickbay and asking for me." Benny said urgently, hoping that the security officer wasn't going to give him too much trouble.
"I see." The officer said and stopped to consider what he should do.
"He's hurt really bad and... I don't know if this might be my last chance to talk to him." Benny choked out as his eyes filled with tears.
The security officer took hold of Benny's arm.
Benny looked down at his arm, then at the officer with question.
No one in line made any protest as they watched Benny being guided past the other security officers and toward the turbo lift.
"Go take care of your dad. I hope everything works out for you."
"Thanks." Benny whispered.
The officer nodded, then released Benny's arm as the turbo lift door opened.
* * * * *
As Benny stepped off the turbo lift, he was surprised to see people laying, lined along the walls leaving a walking path open down the middle of the hallway.
Medical teams were efficiently working their way up and down the corridor and checking on the condition of each patient.
Benny looked down at the people as he slowly passed them and recognized almost every one of them.
There was a security officer standing by the sickbay door watching Benny approach.
"My dad's in there and Nurse Young called me and said that he's asking for me." Benny said seriously.
"If your father is well enough to speak then you'll need to go into the room down there. We only have critical care patients in here."
Benny realized that the other door was the door to the convalescent ward and nodded.
"Good luck kid." The security officer said as he watched Benny walk away.
* * * * *
Benny cautiously stepped into the Sickbay door and looked around.
What had seemed like such a large and sterile room earlier in the day was now crowded and almost claustrophobic.
Every bed had been filled and so had the cots that had been placed between the beds.
"I'm sorry, only patients are allowed in here." Dr. Perry said quickly as she ran her medical tricorder over a young girl.
"Nurse Young told me to come up here. He said that my dad was asking for me." Benny offered quietly.
"Oh. You're Benny?" Dr. Perry asked carefully as she looked up from the tricorder.
Benny nodded cautiously.
"Nurse Young had to go to Deck T. Come with me, your father is right over here. He's been very insistent about talking to you. Please try not to keep him awake too long." Dr. Perry said as she led him across the room.
"Okay. Thank you doctor." Benny said, then rushed to his father's side.
"Benny?" His father asked as he looked around.
"Yeah Dad, I'm right here." Benny said and looked closely at his father who seemed to look small and frail in the bed.
"How are you doing Benny-boy?" His dad asked as he squinted and strained to see his son.
"I'm fine Dad. I'm not hurt at all." Benny said as he noticed that his father's eyes were nearly swollen shut.
"Did you hear what the Captain said?"
"Yeah Dad, I heard it." Benny said past the lump in his throat as his eyes filled with tears.
"You need to go to the new colony and get us a place set up."
"But I want to go with you and mom and Callie and make sure you're all okay." Benny said quietly.
"Listen son. I know the doctors will do everything they can to fix us up. But if you come with us, we won't have anyplace to go when we're better. I need you to go to the new colony and make a place for us."
"Okay Dad, I'll go." Benny said quietly as he fought back his tears.
"If you can send us pictures and tell us all about our new home, it will give us something to look forward to."
"Dad, JonJon's family was killed in the storm. I was wondering if it'd be okay if he came to live with us." Benny asked quietly.
"Son, I've been watching you struggle to try and discover who you are. Some days you're my little boy, and others you're an independent young man."
"I wish I could give you a little more time to be a child, but we don't have that luxury anymore. I'm going to have to depend on you to take charge of things at the new colony and be the man of the family for a while. You decide what you think is the right thing to do and I'll stand by your decisions."
"Okay Dad. I'll make you proud." Benny said with tears in his eyes.
Benny felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Dr. Perry looking at him sympathetically.
"Your father needs his rest." She said quietly.
"I'll send you a picture of the new place as soon as I get there. I love you Dad." Benny said in a whisper.
"I love you too Benny-boy, now go and make our future." His father said as his eyes drifted shut.
Benny stood for a moment and watched his father drift into sleep, then started silently crying.
* * * * *
"Vincent, your little friend needs you." Susan said as she hurried out of the back room.
"Can you take me to him?" Vincent asked as he stood.
Susan took hold of Vincent's arm and guided him into the supply room.
"I don't know what happened, he was petting his dog, then he just started crying and won't stop." Susan said quietly.
"I don't know if he'll listen to me, but I'll try to help him until Benny gets back." Vincent said as he took unsteady steps across the sleeping bags in the floor.
"Sit down, you're right beside him." Susan said gently.
Vincent heard JonJon's whimpering and carefully sat down.
"Do you want me to stay with you?" Susan asked with concern.
Vincent felt beside him and found JonJon curled into a ball, crying quietly.
"No. I think I'll be okay. I'll call you if I need help." Vincent said seriously.
After a moment to be sure that Susan had left the room, Vincent laid down beside JonJon and did his best to hug the boy.
"You're not alone." Vincent whispered as he laid his head against JonJon's back and hugged him tightly.
"Yes I am." The boy whispered in return.
"JonJon, you've got people who love you and care about you or you wouldn't be here right now." Vincent said carefully.
JonJon thought about the words, then turned himself around and hugged Vincent in return.
"It's going to be okay JonJon." Vincent said quietly.
"How can it be?" JonJon asked desperately.
"I don't know yet, but I've got lots of friends who can help me make sure that you'll be okay." Vincent said quietly.
"You're nice. I think I like you." JonJon said as he snuggled into Vincent's chest.
"I think you're nice too. Now try to get some rest. I'm sure you'll feel better after you've had some sleep." Vincent said as he gently smoothed JonJon's hair with one hand.
Vincent thought he felt something wet on his fingertips and wished for the thousandth time that day that he could see.
* * * * *
Benny felt an arm come around him and looked up in surprise.
"How are you doing Benny?" Joe asked in a gentle voice.
Benny turned and hugged Joe tightly.
Joe held Benny gently, then looked up as Dr. Perry approached.
"Come back tomorrow and I'll check out that shoulder again. And try to take it easy Joe." Dr. Perry said gently.
"I'll do my best." Joe said in a quiet voice as he held Benny carefully.
"You two should get out of here now." Dr. Perry said quietly.
"We will." Joe said in nearly a whisper as he tried to guide Benny to walk with him.
"How are my mom and my sister?" Benny asked suddenly.
Dr. Perry looked at Benny with concern and said, "I think your mother will probably recover just fine, in fact, she has a better chance of a complete recovery than your father."
"What's wrong with my dad?" Benny asked desperately.
"His spinal cord was severely injured. It's a real mess and there's no way to tell just how bad it is until the swelling has gone down... there's a chance that he may not walk again." Dr. Perry said seriously.
Joe held Benny more tightly to offer whatever comfort he could.
"What about my mom and Callie?" Benny asked in a small voice.
"Your mom's injuries are severe and it will take several months and quite a few surgeries to get her put back to right. But I've seen people fully recover from worse." Dr. Perry said seriously.
"And Callie?" Benny asked, even more quietly.
"I just don't know Benny. I wish I could say that she's going to be fine, but the truth is that she could go either way right now. We're doing everything we can." Dr. Perry said quietly.
"Can I see them?" Benny asked hopefully.
"No, I'm sorry. It just isn't possible. They're both in the critical care ward and... you just can't ." Dr. Perry said with regret.
"Will you call us if there's any change?" Joe asked quietly.
"I promise that I'll call you right away if anything at all happens." Dr. Perry said seriously.
"Come on Benny, let's get out of here." Joe said as he urged Benny to walk with him.
* * * * *
Vincent heard a whirring noise in the supply room with him and turned to face it, even though he couldn't see.
"Vincent?" A small shaky voice asked.
"Yeah." Vincent said hesitantly, not sure of who was in the room with him.
After a long moment of silence, Vincent hesitantly said, "Can you tell me who it is? I can't see you."
Vincent turned slightly to be more comfortable and continued to hold JonJon who had fallen asleep against his chest.
"Hi Rory." Vincent said quietly, not sure about what he should do.
"I'm sorry that I'm the one who has to do this Vincent. Cory called me and told me that since I'm the only Clan member out here, that I need to check this out." Rory rambled.
Vincent smiled peacefully and said, "You don't have to worry about that. I know you're just doing what needs to be done and I'm not mad at you at all."
"Oh good. Thanks Vincent. I really wasn't wanting to upset my only friend in this part of the galaxy." Rory said with relief.
Vincent smiled at being called Rory's friend, then said, "I don't know exactly what you're going to do, but I'll help you however I can."
"I just need to figure out why this happened to you. Maybe if you tell me what happened, it will help." Rory said seriously.
"Um. Okay, I guess it's really pretty simple. There was this damaged reactor that was going to explode and kill a few hundred people if someone didn't shut it down. They couldn't transport anyone in there because of the radiation and none of the adults could fit through the underground pipe to get into the control room."
"They asked me if I would go in and shut it down, so I did. I got some radiation, but I really don't know if I would have got sick or died from it. This thing with my skin is what happened to me in the transporter. It was kind of an accident and there wasn't any way anyone could know that it was going to happen." Vincent said carefully.
Rory thought about the words, then asked, "If the adults couldn't go into the control room and shut it down, couldn't they send some other kid?"
Vincent shook his head and said, "The main control panel was dead and I had to reroute power from the emergency systems to the main before I could shut it down. You could tell a kid how to shut down the reactor, but there's no way some other kid would have known how to shunt the power into a new power configuration. I bet there's some crewmen on the Yorktown right now who don't know how to do that."
"Okay, so you were the only person small enough who knew how to do the job." Rory said slowly.
"Yeah. It sounds really simple when you say it that way." Vincent said distantly.
"What do you mean?" Rory asked carefully.
"Think about it Rory. Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu had to decide what to do. I had the easy part, all I had to do was go in there and risk my own life. Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu had to ask someone else to risk their life while they were safe... Can you imagine how that must have felt I don't know if I'd have the guts to make a decision like that."
"I never even thought about that." Rory said quietly.
JonJon snuffled against Vincent's chest for a moment, then came to rest.
Vincent started stroking JonJon's hair gently, then quietly said, "Rory, this is JonJon. He'd probably be dead right now if I hadn't gone down there and shut down the reactor. Him and a few hundred other people are still alive right now because Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu had the guts to ask me to go in there. They did what was right and if we ever end up facing the same kind of problem again, I would want them to do exactly the same thing."
"No. Even if you stay, they're going to have to promise that they won't put you in danger like that again." Rory said firmly.
"Then I might as well go back to Earth with the Enterprise. Captain Byrne doesn't need another passenger on his ship. He needs a crewman to do a job; A real job that's sometimes dangerous." Vincent said firmly.
"But Vincent, you weren't even on board for a full day." Rory said in an imploring tone.
"It happened when we got the distress call. It doesn't matter if that was my first day or fiftieth day or five hundredth day on the ship." Vincent said firmly.
"You really want to stay here, don't you." Rory asked quietly.
"I belong here. The people I work with don't treat me like a kid. They depend on me to do my job. Instead of sitting in school and studying so I can dream about 'someday' doing 'something' I'm out here actually doing stuff that matters." Vincent said seriously.
Rory nodded in thought, then asked, "They really don't treat you like a kid?"
"If you need proof, just look at what happened today. If they thought I was just a kid, there's no way they would have even let me transport down to the surface. But instead they looked at me as a crewman who could do what needed to be done... I just hope that they'll keep looking at me that way after all this." Vincent finished quietly.
"I don't think you need to be worried about that Crewman Winters." A firm voice said.
"Captain Byrne?" Vincent asked in confusion, then tried to gently shift JonJon off his chest.
"At ease Crewman. That young man looks like he needs the rest." Captain Byrne said in a more gentle tone.
"Grandfather Sarek and Uncle Chip came over here with me, Captain Byrne met us in the shuttle bay and came down here with us." Rory said quietly.
"I'm sorry Captain, I didn't know you were here." Vincent said shyly.
"Crewman Winters, when you came aboard the Yorktown I tried to explain what it means to be a member of the crew. I wasn't sure if you understood what I was saying, but now I have no doubt. Even if circumstances force you to leave us for a time, I will be proud to claim you as a member of my crew." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"Thank you sir." Vincent said in his 'mature' voice.
"Captain Byrne. With your permission I'd like to take Crewman Winters to the Enterprise so Doctor McCoy can help him with his condition." Chip said firmly.
"It's okay Commander Dodds. I'm not hurting and I can wait until the people from the colony are taken care of." Vincent said as he tried to determine where Chip was in the room.
"From the look of things, it still may be some time before Dr. Perry can attend to you. Since the most seriously injured patients will be transferred to the Enterprise when Dr. McCoy is prepared to receive them, I believe the doctors should have time to take care of you if you go now." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"Can JonJon come with me? He doesn't need to be alone, and I promised Benny that I'd take care of him." Vincent asked hopefully.
"I don't see any problem with that. Just hold still for a second and I'll get him." Chip said quietly.
Vincent laid back and let Chip pick JonJon up from his chest.
After a moment, Vincent stood then said, "I'm going to need someone to help me. I can't see."
"Come Grandson. I will guide you." Sarek said peacefully.
"Thank you Grandfather."
* * * * *
"Where is Vincent?" Joe asked as he walked into Deflector Control with Benny at his side.
"You just missed him." Connie said frankly.
"Where did he go?" Joe asked with concern.
"I'm guessing he went to the Enterprise. He left with Captain Byrne, Commander Dodds from the Enterprise, someone who I'm pretty sure was Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan and a red headed kid in a wheelchair." Connie said seriously.
"Rory." Joe said absently.
Benny walked into the supply room, then back into the main room and looked around before asking, "Did JonJon go with Vincent?"
"Yeah. Commander Dodds was carrying him." Jimmy said from across the room.
Joe glanced at Darin and found him looking back with concern.
"I'm okay." Joe said before Darin could ask.
"What happened?" Darin asked quietly.
"Not much. I just stayed with the shield generators until the building started coming down around me. I was hit in the shoulder by... something. A piece of the ceiling I guess. The next thing I knew I was laying in transporter room two with Rad grinning at me." Joe said with a smile.
"You look like you got singed." Susan said from her station.
"A little bit. I needed a haircut anyway." Joe said with a shrug, then winced at the movement of his shoulder.
"Should we go make sure Vincent's okay?" Benny asked with concern.
"Don't worry about Vincent. There are almost as many people on the Enterprise who care about Vincent as there are on the Yorktown." Joe said seriously.
Benny nodded his acceptance, but didn't look convinced.
The comm alerted everyone to an incoming message.
Connie reluctantly pressed the button and said, "Deflector Control."
"Yorktown Deflector Control, this is the shuttlecraft Galileo..."