Frontier

© 2006 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 11

Darin stepped off the turbo lift and could hear Commander M'Butu talking to someone in the office before him.

After a moment to collect his courage, Darin turned and walked down the short hallway into Captain Byrne's office.

"Ensign Cooper reporting as ordered sir." Darin said and was proud of the fact that he kept his voice calm and steady.

"At ease Ensign. Please have a seat." Captain Byrne said as he looked at Darin's black eye.

Darin carefully took a seat before the desk and waited.

"Ensign Cooper, by the order of Starfleet Command you are to return to Earth as soon as possible to face a Judicial Board of Inquiry." Captain Byrne said as he looked Darin in the eyes.

Darin was stunned by the statement, but quickly overcame his shock and asked, "May I know why?"

"You were promoted to the rank of Ensign for fraudulent reasons. It will be the purpose of the Judicial Board of Inquiry to investigate the events that lead you to your assignment to the Yorktown and to your promotion. If they find that your promotion was not justified, you will be stripped of your rank and summarily discharged from service in Starfleet." Captain Byrne said seriously.

Darin's mind raced over the statement, then something seemed to stand out over all the rest.

"You said that they will be reviewing what happened before I was promoted, does that mean that nothing I've done since my promotion will be taken into account?" Darin asked carefully.

"That is my understanding of the process." Captain Byrne said gravely.

"Then there is no reason for the review. I've never disputed the fact that my promotion was a mistake... a cruel joke that someone played on me." Darin drifted off darkly.

"Not just you Ensign Cooper. Six of your classmates were also targets of this ill-conceived scheme. I have been told that five of them have already returned to Earth to face the review board. The remaining one, a Miss Sayat-Ali, has resigned her commission so that she may remain at the Utopia Planetia shipyards as a consultant." Captain Byrne said carefully.

Darin thought for a moment, then said, "So my choices are to quit or be fired."

"Please understand that you aren't being accused of any wrongdoing. But Starfleet cannot allow you to continue with a rank that you have not rightfully earned." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"I do understand sir. Would it be possible for me to make a formal statement for the record?" Darin asked quietly.

Captain Byrne started the recording, then said, "You may proceed."

"This is the statement of Ensign Darin Cooper. I understand that I have been called to a Judicial Board of Inquiry to investigate the allegation that I received my rank by improper and fraudulent means. I would like to state for the record, that I had no prior knowledge of the events that lead to my promotion and was in no way responsible for what happened. But I also understand that I do not deserve to wear the rank that I have been assigned. So to correct that situation, I hereby resign my commission effective immediately. It is my hope that this will resolve the situation in regard to me. If there is any further need for inquiry into the matter, I will be available and cooperative. This ends my statement." Darin said carefully, then removed the rank insignia from his uniform and sat it gently on Captain Byrne's desk.

Captain Byrne stopped the recording and said, "Well said Mr. Cooper."

"Thank you Captain. May I have your permission to stay on the Yorktown for the trip to the new colony?" Darin asked apprehensively.

"Yes, of course. And I'll send this statement to Starfleet straight away so we can get a reply before the Enterprise leaves." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Thank you sir. It was an honor serving on your ship... for the day that it lasted." Darin finished with a pained smile.

"I have the feeling that you've made a few friends in your brief time on my ship." Captain Byrne said speculatively.

"Yes sir. In one day I feel closer to the people in deflector control than I do my own family." Darin said with an expression of worry.

"Then, if I may offer a suggestion..." Captain Byrne trailed off, waiting for a reaction.

Darin nodded his acceptance.

"...Talk to your friends about what has happened, especially those who have been in Starfleet for a while." Captain Byrne said seriously.

Darin looked at Captain Byrne inquisitively for a moment, then began to ask, "Does that mean..."

"Mr. Cooper. I have said all that I can on the matter. Please be assured that this matter may yet turn to your advantage. Now if you will excuse me..."

"Yes sir. Thank you." Darin said in deep thought as he stood.

Captain Byrne gave a serious nod, then turned his attention to the latest reports on his terminal.

Darin walked down the hallway, as he puzzled over what Captain Byrne might have meant.

* * * * *

"I have time now, will the hallway be private enough?" Joe asked with concern.

"Yes, that's fine." Rory said seriously.

Everyone watched as Joe and Rory left the room.

"Wow, I didn't know a little kid in a wheelchair could be so intimidating." Connie said as he looked at the closed door.

"Rory is here to decide if I can stay on the Yorktown or if I have to go back to Earth." Vincent said as he took a seat at the second auxiliary station.

"He can do that?" Connie asked cautiously.

"Yeah. He's my guardian... well, one of them. I guess the way it works is that all of Clan Short are my guardians. Clan Short decided that Daddy Joe could be my mentor and watch out for me while we're on the Yorktown. But since I got hurt, they may decide that it's too dangerous for me here and make me go back to Earth where I'll be safe."

"You mean Rory might make you go away?" JonJon asked with a tone of anger creeping into his voice.

"Please don't be mad at Rory. He's just going to do what he thinks is best to keep me safe." Vincent said quietly.

"Do you think he's going to send you away?" Susan asked gently.

"I don't know. I hope not. I really like it here." Vincent said as tears started welling up in his eyes.

"We like having you here too. Not only do you do a good job, but you make Joe happier than I've seen him in a long time." Connie said frankly.

Vincent felt a hand on his shoulder and slowly looked up.

Benny was standing beside him, offering his support.

A moment later JonJon was on his other side, gripping his other shoulder.

"I think that if Rory decides that it isn't safe here for me, I may not go back to Earth anyway." Vincent said quietly.

"The new colony?" Jimmy asked carefully.

Vincent turned and gave him a nod.

* * * * *

"What did you want to know?" Joe asked Rory cautiously.

"First I need to tell you that I'm here because Cory asked me to check on Vincent and find out why he was hurt. It's going to be up to me to decide if Vincent gets to stay here or has to go back to Earth." Rory said seriously.

"Okay. I guess I can understand that." Joe said in thought.

"I talked with Vincent and I understand why he was chosen to shut down the reactor. So I guess my biggest question for you is why you would even consider taking a nine year old kid with you on a starship. You know how dangerous it is out here. How could you do that to him?" Rory asked firmly.

Joe thought about the question for a moment, then responded, "Vincent is at a crossroads. He has to choose a path, and once he's on it, he will probably continue to follow that path into his adult life. If you look carefully at Vincent's life story so far, you'll see that he has every excuse to become a rebellious delinquent teenager. His father was abusive and trained him for years in how to hate, then in a final act of violence, Mr. Winters killed his wife and took away the only person who Vincent had ever been allowed to love. So with his parents both dead, Vincent was left alone, feeling isolated and confused. Not even considering the publicity about his father, I can't see any way that Vincent could have anything close to a happy life on Earth. A lot of kids have cracked under a lot less pressure than Vincent's had to face."

"Rory, I honestly can't think of a better place for him to be than here on the Yorktown with me. He's gaining self-confidence, he's learning a useful skill, he's forming good healthy relationships with a variety of people, and while he's doing all that, he's contributing to his community... the ship. He has a variety of strong role models to choose from here and he's learning discipline and respect." Joe said passionately.

"But what about the danger?" Rory asked quietly.

"There's danger no matter where you are. Something might happen to you when you leave your house to go to the grocery store. There are drive by shootings and hit and run accidents every day. That doesn't mean that you should never leave your house, it just means that you should look around you and be as safe as you can within reason." Joe said thoughtfully.

"Okay. Thank you Joe. I hadn't considered that thing about Vincent's past but I understand what you're saying." Rory said carefully.

"So does that mean Vincent can stay?" Joe asked quietly.

Rory shook his head and said, "I still have to talk to a few more people. Would you tell Vincent that I'll be back in a little while? I need to see if I can talk to Commander M'Butu right now."

"I'll tell him. Good luck with your talk." Joe said with a gentle smile.

Rory nodded, then turned his wheelchair and headed down the catwalk toward the turbo lifts.

* * * * *

As Rory approached the turbo lift, the door opened to reveal a man with short brown hair and a black eye that could officially be classified as a 'shiner'. Rory remembered that he was the one who had been called to talk to the Captain. Concern welled up in Rory as he noticed that the man seemed to be fighting back tears.

"Are you okay?" Rory asked hesitantly.

"Been better." Darin whispered as he fought to regain his emotional control.

"Is there anything I can do?" Rory offered weakly, not having any clue as to what the problem might be.

Darin gave a defeated chuckle before saying, "Not unless you know a senior Starfleet officer who would be willing to give me some career advice."

Rory thought about the statement and was about to answer when Darin continued, "Don't worry about it. I'll figure it out."

"No. Wait. Were you serious about needing to talk to a senior officer?" Rory asked quickly.

"Well, Captain Byrne hinted that someone who had been in Starfleet for a while might be able to... do something. I just resigned my commission and... I don't know what to do next." Darin said and felt another wave of emotion welling within him at the statement.

"Come with me." Rory said firmly.

"I need to change out of this uniform..." Darin said hesitantly.

"You can change later. I need for you to come with me to the Enterprise. I think I can help you." Rory said firmly.

Darin recognized something in Rory's voice and said, "You sounded just like Vincent when you said that. You're a friend of his, aren't you?"

Rory chuckled as he said, "Yeah, I'm also one of his legal guardians. Come on, we don't have a lot of time."

Darin nodded hesitantly and turned to follow Rory into the turbo lift.

"Transporter Room Two." Rory said to the ceiling of the lift, then turned to Darin and said, "My name is Rory."

"I'm Darin."

"Are? you a friend of Vincent's?" Rory asked casually.

"Friend, co-worker, roommate, big brother... take your pick." Darin said with a stab of pain at the thought that he might have to leave his new family so soon after finding them.

Rory glanced at Darin and hesitantly asked, "Did you just say brother?"

Darin chuckled and said, "Yeah. Vincent and I have started calling each other 'big brother' and 'little brother'."

Rory shook his head and absently said, "I'll need to talk to grandfather about this."

"Is something wrong?" Darin asked with concern at Rory's contemplative expression.

After a moment of thought, Rory said, "No. It's nothing bad, I promise."

The lift stopped, and the pair exited as Darin asked, "Then what has you worried?"

Rory looked up at Darin and said, "I'm not worried, it's just... you'd just have to hear the Clan Short history to understand. When one of us claims someone as a brother it means something to the whole clan."

"Oh, we weren't trying to do anything like that. We were... I guess we were trying to put how we feel about each other into words... to kind of set the ground rules about how we're supposed to act... Does that make any sense?" Darin asked as he stopped by the transporter room door.

"Perfect sense. Come on. We have some people to talk to." Rory said as he led the way into the transporter room.

* * * * *

"What happened? Are you okay?" Rad asked with immediate concern when he saw Darin's black eye.

Darin looked at Rad curiously for a moment, then realized why he was asking, "Oh. It's nothing. Don't worry about it."

Rad walked to stand before Darin and gently reached up to trace the edge of the bruise with his fingertip.

Darin shuddered under the sensation of the gentle touch.

"You should still see a doctor about it, they can give you something for the swelling and the pain." Rad said quietly as he examined the black eye carefully.

Darin looked into Rad's eyes and quietly said, "I will, just as soon as I get back."

Rad reluctantly pulled his hand away and said, "Good, I'd hate to think of you in pain."

"Thanks." Darin whispered.

"Um, excuse me. But we really need to get to the Enterprise." Rory said reluctantly, not really wanting to interrupt the tender scene before him.

Rad looked down at Rory, then said, "Oh, I'm sorry. Sure. Let me help you up on the pad."

Darin automatically moved to Rory's other side and helped to lift him up the single step into the transport chamber.

"I'm going to beam you over to the cargo transporter instead of the personnel transporter if that's okay with you. There aren't any steps there." Rad said as he walked back to his console.

"Yeah, thanks. That'll help." Rory said as he prepared himself for transport.

Darin made eye contact with Rad and gave him a small smile just before the transporter energized.

* * * * *

The cargo transporter operator looked up in surprise when Rory and Darin appeared on his transporter pad.

Rory noticed his expression and said, "It's easier for me to beam in here with the wheelchair."

The transporter technician nodded that he understood, then quickly turned his attention back to his work.

"Come on Darin. We don't have a lot of time." Rory said as he led the way to the turbo lift.

Darin hurried to keep up.

* * * * *

"Main bridge." Rory said as they got on the lift.

"Who are we going to talk to?" Darin asked cautiously.

"I don't know yet. We'll see who's available." Rory said seriously.

A moment later the doors opened to reveal the main bridge of the Enterprise.

Darin looked around in wonder, not able to make himself believe that it was real. Being on the bridge of the Enterprise had always been a secret dream of his.

"Captain Kirk, is Commander Dodds or Captain Spock available to talk with me for a few minutes? It's a family matter." Rory asked seriously.

"As far as I know, both of them can spare a few minutes. Uhura, would you call Spock to the conference room?" Captain Kirk asked professionally.

"Yes sir." Uhura answered efficiently.

Chip stood as a lieutenant came over to take his place at the helm.

Darin glanced over at the communications console and was surprised to see a familiar face. One of his classmates from the academy was sitting at the secondary communications console.

"Would you also request that Ambassador Sarek join us if he is available." Rory asked seriously.

Uhura nodded at Rory and gave him a gentle smile.

Rory's serious mood gave way to Uhura's smile and he couldn't help but smile at her in return.

The young Lieutenant at the second communications console was looking at Darin with concern.

Darin noticed, then ducked his head and looked away. He felt a stab of humiliation and loss at the fact that he had just resigned his commission.

"Come on, we don't want to keep them waiting." Rory said firmly.

Darin broke out of his dark thoughts, and followed Rory back to the turbo lift where they were joined by Chip.

* * * * *

Chip walked with Rory and a young man with a black eye off the turbo lift, then automatically cleared a place for Rory's wheelchair by the conference table.

A moment later Sarek and Spock entered the room and took their seats.

"So what's going on Rory?" Chip asked curiously.

"This is Darin... um, Cooper?" Rory strained to remember, having only heard it once.

Darin nodded.

"He needs to talk to a senior officer to get some advice." Rory said frankly.

Chip nodded, then asked, "I'll be glad to help however I can, but why did you request that father be present?"

"Because Vincent and Darin have claimed each other as brothers. I don't know for sure if that changes anything, but I thought Grandfather Sarek should be here in case it does." Rory said seriously.

Chip nodded that he understood.

"Okay Darin, we're here. The rest is up to you." Rory said and turned his full attention to Darin.

After a long moment of silence, Darin said, "I guess what it boils down to is that someone at the academy thought it would be really funny if some of us were promoted and assigned to jobs that we weren't capable of doing. When Starfleet found out what happened, they ordered all of us to Earth for a Judicial Board of Inquiry so they can decommission us and throw us out, because we didn't earn our rank honestly. Rather than go through all that, I decided to resign my commission. I mean, even though it wasn't my fault, I didn't deserve the promotion so there's no reason that I should try to hold on to my rank."

Chip nodded in thought.

"Logical." Sarek said without inflection.

"Could you explain how you became a brother to my nephew?" Spock asked calmly.

Darin looked at Spock in confusion.

"Vincent." Rory said in clarification.

Darin was surprised by the question, mainly because it seemed so far off topic, but quickly answered, "Vincent and I were assigned to share quarters... no, wait, that's not it. It started when we were welcomed aboard the ship, Vincent was the first one to talk to me like a person. He talked to me and really listened to what I was saying. I guess after that, I started to think of him as a friend and somewhere along the way I began to think of him as my little brother."

"Does Vincent also claim you as a brother?" Ambassador Sarek asked calmly.

"Yes. Just a little while ago after I transported up from the planet, he called me his big brother." Darin said in thought.

Chip looked at Sarek curiously and received a nod.

"Darin, can you tell me how you would like this to work out?" Chip asked seriously.

Darin looked at him blankly for a moment, then said, "I don't know. I guess since I resigned my commission... I'll either go to the new colony or back to Earth."

"No. You're not understanding my question. Ignore the commission and all of that for a minute and just tell me how you would like things to end up when everything else is resolved." Chip said firmly.

Darin thought for a moment, then carefully said, "Well, I think I'd like for things to be like they were before this whole mess about the academy blew up. I mean, I thought I was doing a pretty good job as an Ensign. I was really happy rooming with Vincent, and I love working in Deflector Control with Joe. For twenty-four hours, I was happier than I've been in my entire life."

"Mr. Cooper, may we have your permission to discuss this matter with others, including Starfleet Command and your former commanding officers on the Yorktown?" Spock asked seriously.

"Yes. If there's something you can do, that would be great." Darin said with hope.

"We won't know what's possible until we've talked to a few people, but I think we have enough to start with. Would you go down to the officer's lounge and wait while we discuss this?" Chip asked seriously.

"Yes, of course. Thank you for ? helping me." Darin said quickly as he stood.

"It is logical to aid one's family." Ambassador Sarek said calmly.

Darin glanced at Ambassador Sarek with question for a moment, then turned and left the room.

* * * * *

"Do you mind if I join you?" Someone asked, breaking Darin out of his thoughts.

Darin looked up to see his former classmate from the academy.

"Sure, have a seat." Darin said and offered a small smile.

"You're Darin Cooper aren't you?" The young Lieutenant asked cautiously.

"That's right, and you're Keith Wilson." Darin said carefully.

Keith nodded.

"How are you enjoying your first assignment?" Darin asked quietly.

"Are you kidding? It's the Enterprise!" Keith said with a glow of happiness.

Darin smiled and said, "I see what you mean. But I'd be just as happy with the Yorktown."

"I heard about what happened with the fake promotion." Keith said quietly.

Darin nodded.

"I'm sorry we never got to know each other back at the academy. I guess we traveled in different circles." Keith said weakly.

Darin chuckled and said, "I guess we did. You hung around with the other straight A students while I was on the fringes trying to find somewhere to fit in."

"Your eye looks pretty bad. Do you want to go to sickbay to have that looked at?" Keith asked as much with concern for Darin as a desire to change the subject.

"No, after the day I've had, it's the least of my worries." Darin said honestly.

"Is there anything I can do?" Keith asked quietly.

"You're doing it. It's good to have someone to talk to while I'm waiting to find out what's going to happen to me." Darin said quietly.

"Commander Dodds asked me to come down and sit with you. He didn't want you to have to wait by yourself." Keith admitted shyly.

Darin looked at Keith with surprise.

"I would have come down and talked to you anyway if I knew you were here, but I was on duty at my comm station." Keith said quickly.

Darin nodded and said, "I'll have to thank Commander Dodds for that. It's good to have someone to talk to."

"Darin, I know Commander Dodds well enough to tell you that he'll do whatever he can to help you." Keith said with assurance.

"So you knew him before you came on the Enterprise?" Darin asked with interest.

Keith looked around the room, then whispered, "If I tell you something, can you keep it a secret?"

Darin nodded seriously.

"Commander Dodds is my father." Keith whispered in a barely audible voice.

"Really? It must be great to have a Commander for a father." Darin said in wonder.

Keith shook his head.

"It isn't?" Darin asked cautiously.

"I'm afraid that no matter what I do, I'll always be compared to him and never be able to measure up. Besides that, people will think I have an unfair advantage and that he's helping me with my Starfleet career." Keith said quietly.

Darin thought for a moment, then said, "I guess I can understand that. But I saw how hard you worked at the academy. If anyone deserved to be assigned to the Enterprise straight out of the academy, it's you."

"Thanks for saying so. I worked hard to get here. But I'm still afraid that if it gets out that Commander Dodds is my father there will be people who will be sure that I'm here because he arranged things for me." Keith said frankly.

"Thanks for telling me, I won't spread it around." Darin said quietly.

"Dad told me that you're part of the family. So I know I can trust you." Keith said with a small smile.

"I am? How?" Darin asked cautiously.

"He said that Vincent has claimed you as a brother. Vincent is my nephew, so that makes you a part of the family too... it's a Vulcan thing, just go with it." Keith finished with a smile.

Darin shook his head and said, "The Vulcan thing again. So let me see if I got this straight, Commander Dodds sons, your brothers, are members of the Vulcan Clan who adopted Vincent. So that makes all of them like his fathers and you like his uncle."

"Right, and now that you've claimed Vincent as a brother, I'm your uncle too." Keith said with a playful grin.

Darin thought about the statement for a moment, then smiled.

"I think I like the sound of that." Darin said happily.

Keith nodded that he did too.

After a moment of silence, Keith hesitantly asked, "What happened to your eye?"

"Someone hit me." Darin said automatically.

"Come on, I told you my big whopper of a secret. What happened?" Keith asked with concern.

"Okay, but you've got to promise not to tell anyone." Darin said reluctantly.

"I swear. What happened?" Keith said impatiently.

"Well, I was down on the pool deck looking for Vincent and couldn't find him anywhere." Darin said quietly.

"Yeah." Keith said in an urging tone.

"Then I called Deflector Control and found out that Vincent was up there." Darin said, even more slowly.

"And..." Keith prompted.

"And I accidentally stepped on someone's sore foot and they punched me in the eye." Darin said shyly.

"Okay, so what's the big secret?" Keith asked hesitantly.

Darin looked around to see that no one else was listening and whispered, "I think she was about thirteen years old."

Keith fought to control his laughter and whispered, "I'll never tell."

"Thanks." Darin said with a blush.

The sound of Uhura's voice interrupted any further conversation.

"Lieutenant Wilson, Mr. Cooper, report to conference room one."

"I guess it's time to find out what the future holds for me." Darin said with resignation as he stood.

"Whatever it is, I'll be there to help you." Keith said with assurance.

"Thanks Uncle Keith." Darin said with a smile then walked toward the turbo lift.

* * * * *

"I feel really gross." Vincent said as he scratched an itchy spot under his arm.

"You can go up and shower if you want. You're still officially off duty until Dr. Perry clears you as fit for duty." Joe said seriously.

"I'll go when Darin gets back. I want to find out what's wrong." Vincent said with concern.

"Do you have any idea what the problem might be?" Connie asked curiously.

"Yeah. But I'd rather not say in case I'm wrong." Vincent said in deep thought.

"Well, whatever it is, I'm sure it will be fine. He's one of the better people we've had assigned to Deflector Control. He seems to have a natural talent." Susan said carefully.

"I think we're all agreed that whatever his problem is, we'll work together to resolve it." Joe said seriously.

"That's right. Darin is one of us, so we need to act like it." Jimmy said firmly.

Vincent smiled as he looked around the room and saw that everyone was in agreement.

* * * * *

"Are you ready for this?" Rory asked as soon as the transporter beam cleared.

"I guess so... what?" Darin said as he noticed that the entire cargo bay was filled with livestock.

"Try not to step in anything before you go to talk with the Captain." Rory said with a chuckle as he moved his wheelchair off the transporter pad.

"Yeah. That's all I'd need." Darin said as he followed closely behind Rory.

"While you're in talking to the captain, I need to talk to Commander M'Butu." Rory said as they waited for the turbo lift to arrive.

"Why do you need to speak to Commander M'Butu... I mean, if you don't mind me asking." Darin asked quietly.

"I've been asked by our Clan's patriarch to find out why Vincent was hurt. I'm talking to the people who were in charge of Vincent's well being to try and understand their reasons for letting him go into that reactor today." Rory said seriously.

"It's good that your Clan is watching out for Vincent like that. I mean, investigating why it happened instead of giving a knee-jerk reaction and automatically pulling him out of here." Darin said as the lift doors opened.

"Commander M'Butu's office." Rory said to the ceiling of the lift, then glanced at Darin and said, "Thanks for saying that Darin. I was starting to feel like the villain in all this."

Darin chuckled and said, "After what you just did for me, I couldn't think of you as anything but a hero."

* * * * *

"Commander M'Butu, do you have a few minutes to talk with me?" Rory asked hesitantly from the doorway to Commander M'Butu's office.

"Yes, of course. Please come in." Commander M'Butu said with a friendly smile.

Rory carefully guided his wheelchair in front of Commander M'Butu's desk and thought about what he was going to say.

"I'm Commander Oliver M'Butu." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"Oh, excuse me. It's nice to meet you, I'm Rory Teeter of Clan Short of Vulcan." Rory said shyly.

Commander M'Butu stood and leaned across his desk so he could shake Rory's hand.

"Since you're from Clan Short, can I assume that you're here about what happened to Crewman Winters today?" Commander M'Butu asked as he took his seat again.

"Yes. I'm talking to everyone involved in the decision to send him into the reactor to find out why it happened." Rory said seriously.

Commander M'Butu nodded and said, "You don't need to talk to anyone else. It was my decision to ask him to go into the reactor and I accept full responsibility for everything that happened as a result."

Rory looked at Commander M'Butu appraisingly for a moment, and noticed the pain in his eyes.

"I wish there had been another way..." Commander M'Butu added in almost a whisper.

"Will you tell me about it?" Rory asked in a more gentle voice.

"It was like the Kobiashi Maru scenario... that is to say, a no win situation. I had hundreds of colonists stranded on a planet being terrorized by killer storms. There was solar radiation so intense that it nearly made our transporters inoperative. Then to top it off, there was a damaged reactor leaking radiation and quickly approaching the critical level. I was searching through every possible solution to the problem, I was even contemplating vaporizing the reactor from space with the Yorktown's phasers when I remembered Vincent." Commander M'Butu said distantly.

"At first I didn't even want to consider it, but... there just wasn't any other way. Even though he came through it safely, the sight of him with red blotchy skin and blisters on his face will haunt me until my dying day." Commander M'Butu said quietly.

"If you had to face the same decision again, would you do the same thing?" Rory asked quietly.

Commander M'Butu sat silently for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.

"Thank you for talking with me Commander." Rory said carefully.

"He faced death as bravely as anyone I've ever seen." Commander M'Butu said as he looked into Rory's eyes.

Rory nodded at the statement, then asked, "Do you think Vincent should be allowed to stay on the Yorktown?"

Commander M'Butu gave an ironic chuckle and said, "I don't know about that, but I can't think of anyplace else in the universe where he'll have so many people who respect and admire him. There are five hundred people on this ship who would fight to defend him with their lives... and that's not including the colonists."

"Thank you Commander." Rory said as he reversed his wheelchair.

"There's going to be a celebration in about ten minutes in the Recreation Hall. If you're about to give Vincent some bad news, could you hold it until after the ceremony? I think he's earned a little happiness after everything he's done." Commander M'Butu said honestly.

Rory nodded, then quietly asked, "May I use your comm to make a call?"

* * * * *

"Captain, may I speak with you for a moment?" Darin asked from the doorway.

"Yes. Of course Mr. Cooper." Captain Byrne said as he looked up from his desk.

"The Starfleet JAG office has accepted my resignation and confirmed that my part in the incident is closed, so now I'm officially a civilian." Darin said carefully.

"Yes, I had a discussion with Captain Spock and Commander Dodds about the matter. Please continue." Captain Byrne said calmly.

"Sir, as a civilian, I'd like to formally request permission to join the crew of the Yorktown as a crewman and be assigned to Deflector Control." Darin said respectfully.

"I will take your request under advisement and get back to you shortly." Captain Byrne said formally.

"Thank you sir." Darin said as he stood a little straighter.

"Are you aware of the celebration that is being planned on both ships?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"No sir. I've been otherwise occupied." Darin said carefully.

"No matter. The Enterprise and the Yorktown will be having a celebration for the colonists and both crews before we part company. When the celebration begins, the Deflector Control team will be called to the stage. I believe it would be appropriate if you stood with them."

"Thank you sir, I'd like that." Darin said quietly.

"Then shall we go? It won't hurt to be a minute or two early." Captain Byrne asked as he stood.

"Yes sir." Darin said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Can I borrow Vincent for a few minutes?" Rory asked from the doorway.

"As long as you give him back when you're finished." Joe said, only half jokingly.

Vincent reluctantly stood and walked to join Rory at the door.

As the door closed, Joe quietly said, "I guess this is it."

"What do you think he's going to do?" Jimmy asked quietly.

"I don't know. Anyone with a drop of common sense would tell you that a starship is no place for a child... So I guess I'm praying that Rory doesn't have even one drop of common sense because I want Vincent to stay." Joe said quietly.

Connie chuckled as he said, "I never thought there would be a day when I'd pray for a child to be ignorant. But I'm with you Joe."

* * * * *

"Does this mean you've decided?" Vincent asked in a small voice.

Rory nodded.

"Well tell me! I'm about to go nuts!" Vincent exploded in frustration.

Rory chuckled at Vincent's expression and said, "You're cute when you're angry."

Vincent froze at the statement, then began to chuckle.

"That's better." Rory said with a smile, then whispered, "You can stay."

Vincent froze and quietly said, "Can you say that again? I want to be sure I heard it right."

"I said that you can stay. Even though I don't like that they put you in danger, I understand that they risked one life to save hundreds and that every person that I talked to would have taken your place if they could." Rory said seriously.

Vincent giggled as he said, "That's what it means to be in Starfleet. Check around when you get back to the Enterprise if you don't believe me. Everyone there would have done the same thing too. It's just what we do."

"I'm beginning to see what you mean." Rory said with a small smile.

Vincent hugged Rory tightly and said, "Thank you, I'll never be able to repay you for this."

Rory chuckled and said, "You don't need to thank me. I only did what was logical. I needed to be sure that this was the best place for you to be... and it is. Oh yeah, and I have a message for you."

"What's that?" Vincent asked as he released Rory from the hug.

"Uncle Chip wanted to know when I made a decision, so I called to tell him and Grandfather Sarek was there." Rory said with a smile.

Vincent fought to be still, nearly vibrating with anticipation.

"Grandfather told me to tell you that your ordeal met the conditions of the kahs'wan and your successful completion has already been recorded back on Vulcan." Rory said with a smile, already knowing what was going to happen next.

As expected, Vincent swooped in and pulled Rory into another joyful hug.

"I need to be leaving now, but I bet there's some people through that door who would be very interested to hear your news." Rory said with a smile.

"Don't you want to come in with me? I bet they'll want to thank you too." Vincent asked hopefully.

"That's alright. I really need to be going. Remember to keep in touch." Rory said as he started away.

"I will, and make sure you write to me and tell me how you like Vulcan. I want to hear all about it." Vincent said with excitement.

"I'll do that. Go on, I bet they're worried." Rory said as he continued down the catwalk.

Vincent watched Rory for a moment longer, then hurried back to deflector control.

* * * * *

Vincent stepped through the door and was confronted by everyone's expectant gazes.

He toyed with the idea of teasing them for a second, but when he saw the concern in Joe's eyes, he quietly said, "I can stay."

Everyone gave a cheer of joy at the news, and Joe ran to pull Vincent into a tight hug.

Benny and JonJon couldn't wait for their turns and hugged Joe and Vincent from each side.

Vincent and Joe automatically reached back and pulled Benny and JonJon in to make it a four-way hug.

"Did he tell you why he decided to let you stay here?" Connie asked with a smile at the scene.

"Yeah. He figured out that I'll be safe here." Vincent said happily as he enjoyed the four-way hug.

"What happened? Did I miss something?" Rad asked as he walked into the room.

"Vincent gets to stay." Joe said happily.

"Good. I'd hate to think I went through all that trouble to pull him out of the transporter just to have someone come along and take him away from us." Rad said with a teasing smile.

"Come over here, there's room for one more." Vincent said as he opened the hug to include Rad.

"Wait, what time is it?" Joe asked as he looked at the nearest terminal.

"Just a few minutes before 18:00, why?" Rad asked cautiously.

"Because Lou and Judy should be here..." Joe said when the door opened.

"...now." He finished with a smile.

* * * * *

"Where are we going?" Vincent asked in confusion as everyone in Deflector Control except Lou and Judy funneled out of the room.

"To the turbo lift." Joe said seriously.

Vincent glanced up at Joe with aggravation.

Joe smiled at the expression, but said nothing more.

"Recreation Deck." Connie said when the last of the group were finally on the lift.

"Do you know what's going on?" Vincent asked Benny in a whisper.

Benny shook his head.

Vincent glanced at JonJon and received another negative response.

"You're just too curious for your own good." Joe said with a chuckle.

"I bet you'd say the same thing to the cattle in the chute being led into the slaughterhouse." Vincent said firmly.

Joe chuckled at the statement and said, "I promise that we won't be going anywhere near a slaughterhouse."

The doors opened to reveal the entire recreation deck of the Yorktown packed with people.

"Right over here." Joe said and led his group to the stage at the front of the room.

Vincent noticed that there was a large view screen over the stage, and what appeared to be the Enterprise's rec hall was showing on it, and it was just as crowded with people.

When Vincent realized that they were going up on the stage he slowed down and said, "No. I'm not going to get up in front of people. I haven't even had a chance to shower today."

"Neither has anyone else. Now come on." Joe said insistently.

"No. I was just doing my job. I don't want this." Vincent said firmly as he planted his feet and refused to walk any further.

Joe glanced around at the rest of the Deflector Control crew, then knelt before Vincent to look him in the eyes.

"You did something very brave and special today. It's important for the colonists to be able to express their appreciation so they can focus on what's ahead of them rather than what they've lost. All you need to do is get up there and smile for a few minutes while we say nice things about you. After that you can be as timid and anti-social as you want and I won't say a single word about it. Vincent, it comes with the job. Sometimes you have to do things like this." Joe said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

"Okay. I guess I'll do it... But you should have told me first so I could get cleaned up. I feel nasty." Vincent said darkly.

Joe smiled and gave Vincent a quick hug as he said, "I didn't want to take the chance of spoiling the surprise."

Reluctantly, Vincent walked with the Deflector Control crew, Rad, Benny and JonJon onto the stage.

Vincent was happy to see that Darin was there too, he had been worried when Darin didn't return to Deflector Control after his meeting with the Captain.

"Everyone, may I have your attention." Captain Byrne called out to the crowded room as he stood behind a podium.

"It has been a tradition on the Yorktown for many years to have a mixer whenever the Yorktown leaves Earth to welcome the new members to the crew. This mixer will be unique by the fact that we will be able to include the members of the Kimber colony and the crew of the Enterprise in our celebration."

"It is also our tradition to grant promotions only when we are in dock so that the families of those being promoted may witness the ceremony. But I feel that it is appropriate to break with that tradition this once so all of you can be a part of this. Crewman Winters, please step forward." Captain Byrne said in a booming voice.

Vincent forced himself to take a single step forward on shaking legs.

"Cyril, I believe you had something to say?" Captain Byrne said, then stepped away from the podium.

Cyril walked forward and said, "Vincent, on behalf of the entire Kimber colony, I'd like to express our heartfelt appreciation for saving so many lives at the risk of your own. When we reach the new colony, you will be listed as our first citizen and you will always have a home with us."

A round of applause spread over the room, and Vincent could hear an equal amount of applause over the speakers, coming from the colonists aboard the Enterprise.

When the applause died down, Cyril turned to look at Vincent and said, "Thank you Vincent."

Vincent shyly nodded.

When Cyril had stepped away from the microphone, Captain Byrne stepped forward and said, "Commander Dodds, I believe you had something to say?"

Chip walked to the podium and said, "I was the one who had the honor of sponsoring Vincent in the mentoring program. I just wanted to come up here and say that I'm very proud of you Vincent, and if Captain Byrne ever gives you any trouble, we'll have a place for you on the Enterprise."

Captain Byrne gave Chip a severe look, but he couldn't maintain it for very long and broke into a smile.

"Now Crewman Winters, after careful consideration of your contribution to the well being of the Kimber colony, I have come to the following decision. In recognition of your heroic act of shutting down the damaged reactor, I am honored to grant you a field promotion to enlisted rank 2, Able Seaman." Captain Byrne said seriously.

Applause began to swell, but Captain Byrne raised his hands to quiet everyone.

After a moment for the crowd to settle, Captain Byrne said, "In recognition of your part in detecting a plot that threatened the safety of ships and star bases throughout the Federation as well as your part in saving a crewman's life in Engineering, I am further advancing your rank to that of enlisted rank 3, Petty Officer 2nd class. Step forward Petty Officer Winters and receive your rank insignia."

Vincent took another step forward and lifted his arm to allow Captain Byrne to attach the octagonal pin to the forearm of his uniform.

Applause swelled out of control on both ships as Vincent stood, not knowing what he was supposed to do next.

After a full minute of clapping, the sound started to die down.

"Thank you Crewman Winters. Crewman Walker, please step forward." Captain Byrne said and turned to see her surprised expression.

Susan hesitantly stepped forward, not having a clue as to why she was being singled out.

"Crewman Susan Walker, it has been brought to my attention that Crewman Winters would not have been able to achieve the things he did without your instruction and encouragement. So in recognition of your demonstration of leadership and training skills I am honored to grant you a field promotion to enlisted rank 4, Petty Officer 1st class. Please step forward Petty Officer Walker and receive your new rank insignia." Captain Byrne said with a smile at her shocked expression.

Susan stepped forward and watched as Captain Byrne removed her plain octagonal rank insignia and replaced it with an octagon with four braided sides .

After a moment of applause, Captain Byrne said, "Thank you Crewman Walker, and now to one final matter. Mr. Cooper, please step forward."

Darin hesitantly walked to stand before the captain.

"Due to a series of actions that were committed without Mr. Cooper's knowledge or consent, he was assigned to the Yorktown and promoted to the rank of Ensign for fraudulent reasons. When the facts came to light, Mr. Cooper resigned the rank that he had mistakenly received and expressed a desire to be allowed to remain on the Yorktown as a member of the crew. While investigating the matter, some interesting facts came to my attention. So without further adieu, Mr. Cooper, in recognition of the ingenuity you displayed in your creation of the 'Cooper Bridge' that saved many hundreds of lives today, I am honored to welcome you as a member of my crew. Further, in recognition of the display of leadership that you demonstrated in an incident involving Crewman Hartman and Crewman Tidwell in Engineering earlier today, I am restoring you to the rank of Ensign. A rank which I feel that you truly deserve. Please step forward Ensign Cooper and receive your rank insignia."

Darin took another step forward and watched as the captain pinned the triangular rank insignia on his uniform.

Applause rose up through both ships.

"Everyone, thank you for your attention. Please enjoy the celebration." Captain Byrne said happily.

A swell of cheering and applause rose up as music started playing.

* * * * *

Vincent stood in silence as he looked down at the rank insignia on his forearm.

"Petty Officer Winters. That sounds pretty cool." Benny said with a smile.

Vincent looked at Benny blankly, completely overwhelmed by what had just happened.

"That means he's the same rank as me now. Way to go Vincent." Jimmy said cheerfully.

Vincent looked at Jimmy with question, then a huge smile broke out on his face.

"Come on, lets get some food before all the good stuff is gone." JonJon said as he petted Fizgig in his arms.

"You go on. I want to talk to Daddy Joe for a minute." Vincent said absently.

Benny and JonJon hurried down off the stage and to the food tables where a wide variety of snack foods were laid out for everyone to enjoy.

"How are you doing Vincent?" Joe asked with a smile.

"It's... I can't believe it." Vincent said in wonder.

"Don't try. Just enjoy it. The reality will set in later." Joe said with a proud smile.

"I've never been this happy. I just wish my momma could have been here to see this." Vincent said quietly.

Joe pulled him into a gentle hug and said, "I know for a fact that your mother is watching out for you and is very proud of everything that you've achieved."

Vincent snuggled into the warm hug and decided not to question what Joe was saying. Joe had never lied to him about anything, so just this once he would accept that Joe knew what he was talking about and believe that his mother was here to see the proudest moment of his life.

AND THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES . . .