Frontier

© 2008 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 33

"Pool deck." JonJon called to the ceiling of the lift.

"Is Fizgig going to be okay?" Lehman asked with concern.

"He'll be fine. Everyone in Deflector Control is used to having him around and he always behaves himself." Vincent said with assurance.

"I just wish he could come with us." Lehman said quietly.

"I know. He'd probably have fun. But I don't think the other people at the pool would enjoy having him there. We'll just be sure to include him in whatever we do next." Vincent said seriously.

"I forgot my towel." Benny said with realization as the turbo lift doors opened.

"You can share mine." JonJon said without concern.

"Thanks JonJon." Benny said with a smile as he walked with the group into the pool area.

"Look at that. Chance and Channing are already in the pool." Lehman said as he pointed.

"You know how kids are, they just can't wait to play." Vincent said with a grin.

"Yeah, we'd better hurry and get in the pool to supervise them before they get into trouble." Lehman said with a chuckle.

* * * * *

"I'll be glad when this growth spurt is over, my feet are killing me." Vincent said as he pulled off his boots.

"Vincent, I think maybe your feet are growing. When I first assumed your shape your boots barely fit me." Lehman said frankly.

"Oh... I guess that makes sense. Maybe I'll stop by the quartermaster's office after we're done swimming and I can see if they have anything in my size." Vincent said as he started undressing.

"That might be tough. You are kinda small." Benny said reluctantly, not wanting to sound insulting.

"Yeah. Well, I'll have to do something. I think Lehman's right. My feet probably aren't hurting because I'm growing, they're just hurting because my shoes are too tight." Vincent said as he folded his pants and put them in a locker.

"I'll need some new shoes too. I just have the pair of boots that I borrowed from you and they don't fit me right either." Lehman said as he pulled down his underwear.

Vincent glanced at Lehman and froze as his eyes went wide.

Lehman picked up his swim trunks, then noticed that Vincent was staring at him.

"What?" Lehman asked hesitantly.

"Wow Lehman, you're really... um..." Vincent stammered.

"...Hung." Benny said cautiously.

Lehman looked down at himself, then smiled as he said, "Yeah. I didn't know how long I'd be stuck in this shape so I decided that I'd like to have an adult one... did I get it right?"

"Yeah. It just seems kinda strange because you're so small an it's so... big." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Too big?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Benny looked at Lehman critically for a moment, then said, "No. It's probably just right. It just seems big because the rest of you looks so young."

Lehman smiled at Benny's words, then pulled on his swim trunks.

Vincent reluctantly pulled down his underwear, feeling a little shy about it after seeing Lehman's more adult size.

"Well, from the look of it, It's not going to be too long before you catch up to Lehman." Benny said, then turned and closed his locker.

Vincent looked down at his naked body and said, "Whoa! When did that happen?"

"I guess your growth spurt didn't all go to your feet." Lehman said with a smile.

Vincent stared at himself in wonder. Even though his equipment was far from Lehman's 'adult' proportions, it had grown considerably since the last time he'd looked.

"That's just freaky." Vincent said absently.

"You really never noticed?" JonJon asked with surprise.

"No. I mean, I guess I just didn't think about checking." Vincent said as he hesitantly reached down to touch his penis.

"Would you like us to leave you alone so you can give it a test drive?" Benny asked with a teasing grin.

Vincent looked up at Benny with confusion, then realized what he was asking.

"No thanks. I was just surprised. Dr. Perry said that I'd be growing down there, I just didn't know it would be so quick." Vincent said as he hurried to pull on his swim trunks.

Benny considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah. Come to think of it, it was like that for me too. One day I was getting ready to take a shower and... Hello! I'm a big boy now."

Vincent chuckled as he put his underwear into his locker and grabbed his towel.

* * * * *

As the group was walking toward the pool, JonJon quietly? said, "Lehman, you said that you didn't know how long you'd be stuck in this shape. Does that mean that you may not grow up?"

The group stopped at the edge of the pool and put their towels on some vacant lounge chairs while they awaited Lehman's response.

"I don't know." Lehman finally said.

"So there's a chance that you'll be stuck looking like a nine year old boy for the rest of your life?" Benny asked with concern.

"Yeah." Lehman said frankly.

"We need to talk to Dr. Perry about this. She should be able to figure it out." Vincent said seriously.

"Guys. This has been the best day of my life so far and I really don't want to take a chance of messing it up with bad news. Can we please not worry about it today and just have fun?" Lehman asked hopefully.

"Sure Lehman, but when you're ready to talk to her, I want to be there with you." Benny said seriously.

"Me too." JonJon said as he put a hand on Lehman's shoulder.

"You're not leaving me out." Vincent said with a cheeky grin.

"Okay. I'll make sure you're all there with me when I talk to Dr. Perry." Lehman said uncomfortably.

"Right then. Let's swim." Benny said with cheer and jumped into the water.

Multiple splashes followed as the other boys joined him.

* * * * *

Lehman noticed that JonJon was staying separate from everyone else and watching him with concern.

"What's wrong JonJon?" Lehman asked as he swam to JonJon's side.

"I'm sorry Lehman, I'm trying not to think about it but it really bothers me that you might not grow up." JonJon said honestly.

Lehman moved closer so he could hug JonJon and said, "When I was on my home world, I never really got to be a kid. Every day was a fight just to survive. If it turns out that I'm really trapped in this form then... I think I'll be okay. I'll just enjoy my new life and be the kid that I never got to be before."

"I'll do whatever I can to make your childhood as good as it can be, even if it lasts a hundred years." JonJon said as he returned the hug.

"If I was gonna be stuck as a kid, is there anyone in the universe who would be a better dad for me? I mean, fifty years from now, you'll still look exactly the same won't you?" Lehman asked frankly.

"Yes." JonJon said quietly, then continued, "And for the first time I may have a reason to be happy about that."

* * * * *

The sound of an alert klaxon interrupted the atmosphere of light-hearted play in the pool.

"It's a yellow alert." Vincent said as he swam for the ladder to exit the pool.

"Everyone, may I have your attention. Please leave the pool area and return to your cabins or duty stations." A voice announced over the public address system.

There wasn't a large crowd at the pool, but there were enough people that everyone entering the changing room at once was a tight fit.

"Go on and get changed, we'll wait until the crew are all done." Benny said as he stopped outside the changing room door.

"I'll meet you guys up in deflector control." Vincent said, then hurried in to change.

"Yeah. We'll be up there in a few minutes." Benny said loudly to be heard.

* * * * *

As Vincent rushed to the turbo lift carrying his socks and boots, he noticed that Chance and Channing were almost at his side.

"Thanks for inviting me for the pool party guys. It was a lot of fun." Vincent said before being crowded into the lift.

"Deflector control!" Vincent called out, hoping the computer would register his request among the clamor of voices.

"Main engineering and deflector control." Chance called into the air next.

"Thanks Chance." Vincent said with a smile.

"No problem. We're all on the same team." Chance said as he put a hand on Vincent's shoulder.

* * * * *

As Vincent rushed into deflector control, he automatically looked over console three, then moved to console two and began to check the systems.

"I think you have time to put your shoes on." Joe said with a fond smile.

"I just wanted to be sure everything was running right before I did that." Vincent said seriously.

The doors of deflector control opened to admit Connie, Susan and Jimmy.

"Wouldn't you know it, just as soon as I'm about to start eating, an alert sounds." Connie grumbled.

"Yeah. I was in the pool when it went off." Vincent said frankly and pointed at his socks and shoes on the floor beside him.

Lou and Judy walked into the room next.

"This had better be good. I've had ten minutes of sleep." Lou said darkly.

"Ouch. You win Lou." Connie said cautiously.

"Does anyone know what's going on?" Jimmy asked curiously.

"No clue. We've changed course and increased speed." Joe said frankly.

"Engineering. All departments. Prepare teams for assessment of a damaged vessel and possible retrieval." Chief Morgan's voice said over the comm.

"Connie, you're up." Joe said frankly.

"Sure, when it's something exciting like rescuing a colony you go, but when it's working on a stinky old junk ship that's probably been drifting for a hundred years, you send me." Connie said playfully.

"I said that the next one was yours. But if you don't want to..." Joe trailed off with a smile.

"I didn't say that. I'll lead the mission." Connie said quickly.

"Good. Thaelan, you'll get the next one." Joe said with a smile.

"Thank you. I'll look forward to it." Thaelan said respectfully, then turned his attention back to the main console.

"Suck up." Connie said flatly.

"We're coming into sensor range." Thaelan said in a completely professional voice.

"Good. Let's see what we'll be dealing with. Put it on the big screen." Joe said seriously.

Thaelan pressed the keys to switch the main screen's view and everyone looked carefully.

"Soyuz class?" Jimmy asked cautiously.

"No. Look at the shape of the nacelles. It's definitely Miranda class." Joe said seriously.

"From the hull damage I'd say that she's been adrift for quite a few years." Connie said speculatively.

"But I don't see anything like weapons damage. If the hull plating held, she might still be space worthy." Susan said carefully.

"Any idea of which ship it is? I can't make out any markings." Jimmy asked curiously.

"Do you see the roll bar above the nacelle pylons? It's one of the older primary configuration Mirandas, but something about the design seems off..." Connie said carefully.

"The majority of the Miranda class are primary configuration vessels. It's the most versatile design." Joe said frankly.

"Wait. Right there, zoom in on that section of the nacelle, I can almost make out something." Connie said in a rush as he pointed.

Thaelan carefully worked to enlarge the image, then provided some computer enhancement to make the image clearer.

"N... I think that's an X? And the last two numbers are 83 or 33... I can't make it out." Jimmy said carefully.

"You don't need to." Joe said as he stared at the image.

"Do you know which ship it is?" Susan asked curiously.

"Yes. This isn't A Miranda, it's THE Miranda, NX 1833. This is the prototype." Joe said in a disbelieving voice.

"It can't be. The Miranda was destroyed about six years ago along with the Atlas." Susan said seriously.

"You're thinking of her successor, the USS Miranda, registry NCC 1833. This is the prototype ship that was destroyed 22 years ago." Connie said as he looked at the image on the screen carefully.

"Presumed destroyed. I've read all about the first Miranda." Vincent said in a small voice.

"What can you tell us about her?" Joe asked softly.

"The Miranda left Alpha Centauri to deliver supplies to Rigel VII. About three weeks out they sent a message saying that they were going to be delayed. They were going off course to investigate something weird happening to a star in the Corona Australis system. That's the last anyone heard of them. When they didn't call back, another ship was sent to check on them, but all they found was a brand new neutron star where two stars had been before." Vincent said in thought.

"I have accessed the computer records of the incident and Vincent's information is correct. But there is an unusual notation about the neutron star. It has been proposed that RX J1856.5-3754 is too small to be a neutron star, and may therefore, in fact, be a quark star. Conditions in the area are too unstable and hazardous to allow a conclusive investigation. The scientific community have not reached consensus on how to classify it." Thaelan said in concentration.

"Maybe we'll find out some answers when we get on the ship. Thaelan, can you bring up deck plans so we can see what the deflector control systems are like?" Joe asked curiously.

"Yes, of course. Here they are." Thaelan said as he put the deck plans on the main screen in a split view.

"It looks like deflector control is forward of main engineering. But it's awfully small. Where are the generators and field coils?" Joe said as he looked at the plans carefully.

"They're under the floor of deflector control." Vincent said as he studied the plans before them.

"Why would they put them there?" Joe asked cautiously.

"In the prototype design, they put the things that don't need to be accessed that much into a small crawlspace between decks, like a mini-deck. It turned out to be a real problem so they did away with the sub-floor in the next Miranda design." Vincent said frankly.

"It sounds like you know quite a bit about the prototype Miranda." Joe said speculatively.

"I mostly know about how the prototype is different from the first generation Miranda class ships. It's interesting to see the changes they made." Vincent said casually.

"Do you happen to have that information where you can retrieve it? I don't think any of us are well versed in the prototype Miranda's design." Joe asked seriously.

"Sure. It'll just take me a minute to find it." Vincent said and hurried to auxiliary station two.

* * * * *

Connie leaned in close to Joe and asked, "Do you mind if I take him?"

"It's your call. But if he gets hurt, you'll answer to me." Joe said seriously.

"Don't worry Joe. I'll keep him safe and It'll be a good experience for him." Connie said with assurance.

"Okay, I've got it." Vincent said, then hurried back across the room to stand with the rest of the crew.

"Thank you Vincent. If you'll upload your information to a padd, the repair team will be able to refer to it." Joe said seriously.

"Yes sir." Vincent said quickly, then hurried back to auxiliary station two.

* * * * *

"Lou and Judy, go get some sleep. Connie, It's time to get your team together. I'll stay here and hold down the fort." Joe said with a smile.

"Right." Connie said with a grin at Joe, then looked around the group and said, "Thaelan, Suze, Darin and Vincent will be coming with me."

Jimmy looked at Connie with a flash of hurt and disbelief.

"Jimmy, take a good look at those deck plans while we're gone because the plan is for you to relieve Vincent in about four hours. Got it?" Connie asked seriously.

"Got it. I'll be ready." Jimmy said professionally.

"Everyone grab your tool bag and a communicator and let's go." Connie said enthusiastically.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters. I'm glad to see that you're going to get an opportunity to do some field work." Chief Morgan said as he approached the Deflector Control team.

"Yes sir, I think I'm being included on the team because I've studied about the prototype Miranda, so I might be able to help." Vincent said cautiously.

"I'm glad to know that you have an interest in other ship designs." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"Well, I actually haven't studied many designs other than the Constitution class. The only reason I know about the Miranda is because it's different from any other ship in Starfleet. From everything I read, the Miranda was one big flying mistake. It's like everything that you don't want to do when you're designing a Starship all put together and shot out into space." Vincent said frankly.

"When she launched, some of the crew lovingly referred to her as the 'death trap'." Chief Morgan said quietly.

Vincent nodded and said, "She had no redundant systems. You had to dismantle the floor to get to almost anything you needed to repair. She only had one impulse engine. If one thing went wrong, even a little thing, she'd be hanging dead in space for days until it was fixed."

"The captain was a personal friend of mine. He once told me that the crew always kept their EV suits handy because the environmental control systems were as iffy as the rest of the ship. But even with all her faults, the captain and crew of the Miranda were devoted to proving that it was basically a good design. History has proven them right.? The Miranda class has turned out to be one of Starfleet's most versatile designs... after the Constitution class of course." Chief Morgan said with a smile, then noticed someone gesturing toward him, trying to get his attention.

"It looks like you're about to get a first hand look at the flying mistake." Chief Morgan said and hurried away.

"Do we have everything we're likely to need?" Connie asked his group.

"Vincent, did you remember to bring an extra wave modulator?" Susan asked seriously.

"I got it in my bag." Vincent said as he patted his tool bag gently.

"Everyone, may I have your attention." Chief Morgan called from the front of the hanger bay.

"The first team has just reported in. They've been able to activate the environmental control systems so we'll have light, heat, gravity and atmosphere. But they're suggesting that you should have your breather units on and ready to use at a moment's notice. I'm suggesting that having a flashlight and a communicator handy might also be a good idea." Chief Morgan said frankly.

"Now that that's been said, let's go over and see if we can wake up this grand old lady." Chief Morgan said with cheer, then walked to the first shuttle with purpose.

* * * * *

"Did they even have atmospheric shields back then?" Vincent asked as he waited for the shuttle to land on the Miranda.

"No. This is from back in the day when they had to close the doors and repressurize the entire hanger bay." Connie said with a smile.

"Talk about the stone age." Vincent said with a shake of his head.

Connie chuckled and said, "It's not quite the stone age, but we have learned a few tricks since back then."

"Are you nervous, Vincent? You seem to be fidgeting a lot." Darin asked with concern.

"No. I'm not nervous, my feet hurt and I'm trying not to think about it." Vincent said frankly.

"Oh, your growth spurt?" Darin asked quietly.

"Sort of. I need new boots. I feel like my toes are squished and jammed in my boots right now." Vincent said seriously.

Darin smiled and said, "I'll be sure to remind you about it when we get back to the Yorktown."

"If they keep hurting like this, you may need to carry me by the time we get back." Vincent said in an uncomfortable voice.

"We've landed. They're repressurizing the bay now." Connie said seriously.

"Does it take long?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Not long. Less than a minute, if everything is working right." Connie said in thought.

Vincent nodded, then remembered something and nudged Darin.

Darin looked at him with question.

"Remind me when we get back to the Yorktown that I've got something that I need to show you." Vincent said playfully.

"Something to show me? It's not a problem is it? Is it something big?" Darin asked with concern.

"Bigger than it used to be." Vincent said with a smile, then stood, as the door of the shuttle craft opened.

* * * * *

As Vincent stepped off the shuttle, he braced his tool bag with one hand and kept his other hand on the breather that was hanging around his neck.

"Team leaders, you have thirty minutes to assess the conditions of your departments, then report back to me in main engineering. We'll make a determination at that time if there's enough left of the old girl to salvage." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"Vincent, since you're most familiar with the deck plans, why don't you lead the way." Connie said and gestured ahead of him.

After a glance around the group, Vincent nodded and started walking.

* * * * *

As the? group entered the dimly lit hallway, they froze in place.

There were dead bodies laying in the hallway, looking as though they had just collapsed in an instant without any warning.

"Don't look at them. Keep going." Connie said in a whisper.

Vincent had already looked. The images of the frozen distant looks on the faces of the dead crew members were instantly burned into his memory.

They looked almost unreal, like wax figures. Yet at the same time they looked as if they might have been alive just a moment before.

"Vincent, we only have thirty minutes." Darin said as he placed a hand on Vincent's shoulder.

"Um, yeah. Sorry." Vincent said shyly, then began to walk.

Darin exchanged a concerned look with Thaelan before following Vincent down the hall.

* * * * *

"We'll need to go two decks down from here, then forward." Vincent said, then started climbing down a ladder.

As Darin followed Vincent down the ladder, Connie whispered to Thaelan and Susan, "Keep your eyes open. Something's wrong here. I mean, seriously wrong. I can feel it."

"You mean something besides the corpses lining the hallways?" Susan asked frankly.

"Yeah. I'm serious Suze, keep your eyes open and don't be afraid to call for a beam out if anything happens that worries you." Connie said seriously.

"Got it." Susan said quietly, then started climbing down the ladder.

"Human intuition?" Thaelan asked cautiously.

"Sure. If you want to call it that. Just stay alert." Connie said, then started climbing down the ladder.

Thaelan looked at the bodies in the still, silent hallway for a moment before climbing down.

* * * * *

"Here we are." Vincent said as he indicated a closed door.

"Please allow me." Thaelan said and opened an access panel beside the door.

He pulled the release lever to operate the door manually, then pulled out two magnetic handles.

Darin held out his hand and received one of the handles, then moved to the door and attached it.

Thaelan attached the other, then both men? pulled the doors apart.

* * * * *

"At least there aren't any bodies in here." Darin said quietly as he shined his flashlight around the dark room.

"Here it is. This is the deflector control main, there's no other console for it anywhere else on the ship." Vincent said as he patted the dead main console.

"Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket." Susan said as she moved her flashlight around, trying to get a sense of where everything was in the small room.

"This is like a storage closet." Connie said frankly.

Darin finally found the panel he was looking for just inside the door and a moment later dim emergency lights came on.

"That's better. Thanks Darin." Connie said, then surveyed the room with a critical eye.

"If you wanted to look at the field coil, I'll need someone to help me lift a floor panel." Vincent said seriously.

"I can get that if you like." Thaelan offered quietly.

"No. Thaelan, check out the condition of the main console. Susan, dive into the command systems and see what you can find. Darin, help Vincent with the field coil, then check out the field generator. I'm going to start on the power systems and see if we can even power this antique mess." Connie said seriously.

"Let's do it." Darin said and started undoing the latches on the floor panel.

"I'll be glad when I get bigger so this isn't so hard." Vincent said as he struggled to get one of the latches to release.

In the time it took Vincent to open one latch, Darin had released the other three.

"Ready?" Darin asked.

"Yeah." Vincent said and took hold of the latch at the top of the floor panel.

Together they lifted the heavy panel, then set it out of the way.

"That looks like it's going to be a tight fit even for you." Darin said with concern.

"I think everything I have to check out is right here so I won't have to get down in there." Vincent said as he pulled out his tester unit.

"Do you need me to hand you tools?" Darin asked with a smile.

"That's okay. I've got it. The field generator is right there if you want to start checking it out." Vincent said as he pointed.

"Thanks little brother." Darin said and moved to the other end of the open floor panel to start testing the equipment.

* * * * *

"Guys, pack it in. Our time is almost up." Connie said seriously.

"I'm done. The generator is fused solid. It might be useful as an anchor, but it's worthless as a generator." Darin said as he sat up.

After being in an uncomfortable position for too long, rolling his neck and shoulders brought much relief.

"The field coil is shot too. Something caused the coil to break up. There probably isn't an unbroken piece over a few centimeters long in the whole thing." Vincent said as he turned off his tricorder and put it in his tool bag.

"Come on Vincent. Help me drop this floor panel back into place." Darin said as he moved from a sitting to a kneeling position on the floor.

"Yeah." Vincent said and moved to the opposite side of the panel.

"How you doing Suze?" Connie asked, curiously.

"I'm doing a lot better than these circuits. This thing is fried." Susan said as she backed out of the small access panel.

"I believe the main console is also beyond any hope of repair. All the things that should be separate have become fused and all those things that should be fused have become separated." Thaelan said, as he put his tools back into his bag.

"I don't think it matters anyway. The only way you'll be getting any power in here is if you carry it in a bucket. The conduits are all shot. There's not enough conductivity to carry a spark. It's like what Vincent was saying, the entire length of the conduit seems to have become segmented." Connie said as he walked toward the door.

* * * * *

"Well, if all our stuff is this bad, then there probably isn't much hope to salvage the ship." Vincent said speculatively as he walked with the group out of deflector control.

"There's really no way to tell what Starfleet will decide to do. I just hope they don't want us to tow it back to Earth." Connie said as he led the group down the hallway.

"Why not?" Darin asked curiously.

"Using a tractor beam and extending our shields to protect the Miranda all the way back to Earth would be a nightmare. It would take months and we'd be working almost constantly to keep the shields going." Connie said frankly.

"Ensign Agropos. Please wait." Thaelan said as they approached the ladder.

"What's wrong?" Connie asked with immediate concern at Thaelan's worried tone.

"Where are the bodies?"

* * * * *

Vincent looked around the dimly lit hallway and felt a chill crawl up his spine.

Connie opened his communicator and quickly said, "Deflector control team to Chief Morgan."

A burst of static was the only response.

"Deflector control away team to Yorktown. Please come in." Connie said in a more urgent voice.

Another burst of static sounded before Connie closed his communicator.

"You try Thaelan." Connie said firmly.

Thaelan opened his communicator and calmly said, "Ensign Thaelan to Yorktown, are you receiving me?"

Static popped and fizzled until Thaelan finally closed his communicator.

"We'll need to make our way to engineering. I'll lead. Thaelan, cover our rear. Engineering is one level up and two sections aft. Let's move." Connie said firmly.

* * * * *

As Vincent followed Susan up the ladder, he tried to call to T'Lani in his mind.

He could feel her presence, but there was some sort of barrier preventing him from making any kind of conscious contact.

As Vincent emerged on the next deck, he looked around to find that this deck also had no bodies lining the halls.

When Thaelan was off the ladder, Connie firmly said, "This way. Stay alert."

As the group began to slowly walk, Vincent noticed that his feet weren't hurting.

He slowed his pace and experimentally curled the toes of his right foot inside his boot.

"Don't worry little brother, we'll be in engineering soon." Darin said with assurance.

Vincent reached out through his bond to T'Lani again and found the same barrier, but now it seemed to be even stronger.

"Vincent? Are you alright?" Thaelan asked with concern.

"Yeah." Vincent said, then screamed, "Look out!"

Thaelan whirled and crouched into a defensive posture.

A woman in an old style Starfleet uniform was approaching Thaelan with a distant, unseeing look in her eyes.

"I don't know who you are but I suggest that you back away." Thaelan said seriously as he shifted his weight and prepared himself for an attack.

"Vincent, get over here and let Thaelan cover our escape." Connie said in a commanding tone.

After a moment of hesitation, Vincent turned and ran to join the others.

"Come on, it's just one more section." Connie said as he picked up his pace to a full run.

* * * * *

As the group turned the corner to approach main engineering, they stopped suddenly at the sight of a mob of people pounding and clawing at the door.

"Oh shit." Darin said in a shaky voice.

"I'll second that." Connie said as he motioned for the group to go back.

After a moment to think, Connie said, "Let's back track and get Thaelan, then circle around and try the aft door."

"Under would be faster than around." Vincent said quietly.

Connie considered for a moment, then said, "Right. Let's move."

* * * * *

"Thaelan? How are you?" Connie asked as he ran ahead of the group to where Thaelan was propped against a wall, standing over the unmoving body of the female crewman.

"Do not let their appearance mislead you. They are quite strong and more agile than you would expect." Thaelan said past heavy breathing.

"I'm just glad to see that you were up to the challenge." Connie said as he patted Thaelan on the shoulder.

"Of course. I am Andorian." Thaelan said as he forced himself to stand up straight.

"The main door to engineering is blocked by... them." Connie said as he motioned toward the woman on the floor.

"Zombies." Vincent said seriously.

"This isn't a video game Vincent. We can't jump to that conclusion." Connie said frankly.

"Excuse me Ensign Agropos, but as I understand the common usage of the word, 'zombie' refers to a reanimated corpse. This..." Thaelan said as he gestured downward, "...is a corpse. And I assure you that she was quite animated up until one minute ago."

"Fine. But just don't assume that you know anything about how they're going to behave or what their motives are because we're calling them zombies. Let's move." Connie said, then started walking.

"I'll take the rear until you catch your breath Thaelan." Darin said seriously.

"Are you familiar with hand-to-hand combat?" Thaelan asked as he started to walk.

"I took hand-to-hand at the academy. I wasn't at the top of my class or anything, but then again, I wasn't quite as motivated as I am now." Darin said with a smile as he followed the group.

"Thank you for guarding our rear, and be assured that if we are attacked from behind, I will be by your side." Thaelan said seriously.

"I never doubted it." Darin said with a quick smile at Thaelan, then looked behind them.

* * * * *

"Guys, you'd better move because we're about to have company." Darin called out.

As soon as Vincent was within reach, Connie plucked him off the ladder and said, "Hurry Thaelan."

In one quick move, Ensign Thaelan changed his grip on the ladder from the rungs to the outside support bars.

In less than a second he slid down the remainder of the ladder.

"Just waiting on you, Darin." Connie called urgently.

"Well, I'd hate to keep you waiting." Darin said in a rush, as he scurried down the ladder.

"Now aft three sections, then up one deck... right Vincent?" Connie asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. I think that's right." Vincent said with an apologetic look.

"So you're not all-knowing?" Connie asked with a grin as he led the group away.

"Nope. I've looked at the deck plans for this ship a few times, so I know basically where things are. That's about it." Vincent said honestly.

"Glad to hear it. I wouldn't want a know-it-all on my team anyway."

* * * * *

"There's a bunch of zombies heading this way." Darin said as he rushed to the group.

"I'm going to go up first. Wait until I give the okay before you start up the ladder." Connie said as he approached the top.

A moment later Connie called out, "All clear."

Susan hurried up the ladder next, closely followed by Vincent.

As Vincent emerged on the next deck, he looked around curiously.

"This doesn't make sense." Vincent said seriously.

"What's that?" Susan asked as she watched the ladder apprehensively.

"Why would they swarm the main entrance and leave this one unguarded?" Vincent asked cautiously as he looked at the closed door.

"Well, they don't seem to be very high on the intelligence scale." Susan said speculatively.

"Maybe not, or maybe that's what they're wanting us to believe. I feel like we're being herded." Vincent said frankly.

Connie considered the statement for a moment, then said, "It's possible, but we really don't have a lot of options here."

"I guess not." Vincent said with concern.

Connie opened the hand actuator panel and found that the manual release lever had been completely broken off.

"Maybe this is why they aren't guarding this entrance, they know we can't use it." Connie said speculatively.

"Ensign Cooper to Chief Morgan." Darin said into his communicator.

After a burst of static, Darin closed his communicator and said, "I thought maybe it might work since we're closer. If we can let them know we're out here they could open it from the inside."

"Good idea. Let's use plan B." Connie said as he used his communicator to start tapping on the heavy blast door.

"There's no way they're going to be able to hear you through that thick of a door." Darin said seriously.

"Normally you would be right. But without any engines or any of the other background noise that we're accustomed to, they might actually be able to hear it." Connie said as he continued his tapping.

Thaelan fished in his tool bag as he said, "Although you are attempting to communicate, I believe this might actually be a better tool for the job."

A moment later he presented Connie with a hex-decoupler.

"Thank you Ensign Thaelan. I think you're right." Connie said as he clipped his communicator back onto his belt, then started tapping with the handle of the decoupler.

"Come over here Vincent. I want to see if we can figure out some kind of a 'work around' on this door mechanism in case the Morse code doesn't work." Darin said from the panel by the door.

* * * * *

Everyone jumped at the sound of the metal blast doors beginning to open.

"They must have heard us." Connie said with relief.

"No, we were able to bypass the circuit and power the door with the spare power cells." Darin said from his kneeling position beside the door.

"Oh? Good work." Connie said with surprise.

"Hit it again Vincent." Darin said firmly.

Vincent carefully closed the circuit and watched with satisfaction as the door began to raise.

"Hold it there guys. I can fit through. Wait here and I'll go check it out." Connie said seriously.

Vincent opened the circuit and watched with concern as Connie squeezed under the barely open door.

"Be right back." Darin said as he stood and hurried to the door.

"He told us to wait." Thaelan said with warning.

"Then he can chew me out when we're all safe. I'm not letting him go in there alone." Darin said as he scooted through the opening.

* * * * *

Vincent had the feeling that something just wasn't right and began entering calculations on his tricorder.

When the results displayed, he shook his head and stood.

"Guys. Something is really wrong here." Vincent said seriously.

"Where did Vincent go?" Susan asked with surprise as she looked around.

"He was at the door controls just a moment ago." Thaelan said with surprise.

Vincent raised his hand and noticed that he seemed to be transparent.

"Nice try. But I've figured it out." Vincent called into the air.

"What do you think you've figured out?" A disembodied voice called from all around him.

"We're not really here. We're on the shuttle asleep and we're all dreaming this." Vincent said seriously.

"An interesting conclusion, but how sure are you?" The voice asked with a touch of humor.

"I'm sure enough to be talking to you. Now why don't you just tell me what you want from us because I'm not going to play your games anymore." Vincent called into the air.

"That's a pity, but the others are still willing to play." the voice said in a happy tone.

"Tell me what you want." Vincent said firmly.

"Just to play one last game. Don't be concerned. I swear to you that none of your people will be harmed." The voice said in a low, raspy voice that was much more serious.

"But why are you doing this? What are you getting out of it?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Look around you. By creating this fantasy of danger, the best traits of your people are being brought to the surface. They are creative, heroic, and truly living an adventure. To see this, brings me pleasure." The voice said distantly.

"You said this is the last game. What are you going to do next?" Vincent asked cautiously, already having an idea of what the answer would be.

"At the conclusion of this game, your captain will give the order to destroy the ship that he believes he sees before him. When he gives the order to fire, I will bring my entire being into this dimension so I can be destroyed." The voice said quietly.

"But why do you want to die?" Vincent asked with concern.

"To end the loneliness." The voice said quietly.

"What's your name?" Vincent asked gently.

"When I was young, others of my kind called me Brakkii. But I haven't seen others of my kind for millennia... perhaps I don't have a name anymore." Brakkii said slowly.

"Listen Brakkii. You're not making any sense. You don't have to be lonely. The Yorktown is stuffed with people." Vincent said seriously.

"But they are not my kind." Brakkii said quietly.

"So what? You enjoy watching people being brave and having adventures. You could come with us and be brave and have adventures with us. Instead of dying, you could start living." Vincent said seriously.

"I could live?" Brakkii asked with astonishment.

"That's right. I don't know what you really look like, but I bet we could find a way to work it out. I have lots of friends who will help me if I ask them to." Vincent said seriously.

"It just can't be that simple. Just 'choose' to live." Brakkii said slowly.

"Sometimes things really are that simple." Vincent said honestly.

"From what I gathered from your minds, you are leaving to establish a new colony, then you will be returning to your home world." Brakkii said slowly.

"Yeah. That's the plan." Vincent said with a smile, knowing that Brakkii was considering it.

"I will take the time to think about what you have said and by the time you return to this part of space I will have made my decision." Brakkii said simply.

"That sounds fair enough. I really hope you'll decide to go with us. I know you'll have lots of fun if you'll just give it a chance." Vincent said happily.

A blur seemed to form in the air before Vincent, then resolved into the transparent shape of a young teenage boy.

Vincent smiled and said, "It's nice to meet you Brakkii."

"It's nice to meet you too Vincent. Will you help me end this dream so your companions may return to your ship without being aware of the truth?" Brakkii asked hopefully.

"Sure, just tell me what I have to do." Vincent said with a smile.

* * * * *

While Vincent and Brakkii were talking, Connie and Darin had returned from main engineering and were beginning to search.

"If you need me to alter events, just find a way to let me know of your wishes. I will be listening." Brakkii said simply.

"Okay, I will." Vincent said, then noticed that the rest of his team were beginning to wander away to search for him.

"There you are! Are you alright? Where did you wander off to?" Susan asked as she ran to Vincent and pulled him into a tight hug.

"I was right here, but I'll explain that in a minute. We need to go into engineering and talk to Chief Morgan right now. I think I understand what's going on and what's about to happen." Vincent said as he pulled out of the hug.

"We were just waiting on you." Connie said with a relieved smile.

Vincent gave a quick smile in return, then moved through the low opening into engineering.

* * * * *

"Oh, I'm so glad to see that all of you are well. That means that all of our teams have survived." Chief Morgan said with relief.

"Yes sir. Crewman Winters has something to report that he thinks you should be aware of." Connie said quickly.

"What do you have to report Crewman?" Chief Morgan asked with interest.

"I just phased out of existence for a minute. I was standing in the hallway outside of engineering and all of a sudden no one could see or hear me anymore." Vincent said carefully.

"How strange." Chief Morgan said with a furrowed brow.

"Yeah. Well, it got me to thinking about how the Miranda could have disappeared halfway across the galaxy and reappeared here now without anyone seeing her. I think that whatever happened to this ship twenty two years ago is still kind of happening. Time and space and dimensions are all jumbled up here. The crew aren't really alive or dead, but are sort of stuck in between. And if I'm right, this ship is probably going to disappear again really soon and if we're on her, we'll either disappear with her or we'll be left hanging in empty space when she disappears." Vincent said quickly.

"Neither sounds like a preferred outcome. I suppose it's as good an explanation for what's happening as anything else we've been able to come up with. But why were you phased when no one else was?" Chief Morgan asked seriously.

"I'm pretty sure it has something to do with my quantum resonance frequency being messed up. A phase shift would effect me differently from anyone else. Now we need to go, I don't think we have much time." Vincent said seriously.

"I'm going to need some help with Jared, he's been hurt." A man's voice said from the floor.

"What's wrong with him?" Vincent asked as he walked toward the man.

"I think his ankle is broken. We were attacked and he threw himself in front of me to protect me." The man said in a voice of admiration.

When Vincent looked into the man's eyes, he was surprised to find that it was someone he had met before.

"Can I look at it?" Vincent asked seriously as he looked into Crewman Hartman's eyes.

"Do you have medical training?" Crewman Hartman asked cautiously.

"Not really. But I know a little bit about ankles." Vincent said, hoping that Brakkii would help him.

"Go ahead." Crewman Hartman said cautiously as he watched Vincent's every move.

"Crewman Tidwell, is your first name Jared?" Vincent asked gently.

"Yes." Crewman Tidwell said in a pained voice.

"Jared, try to move your toes for me." Vincent said, then watched Jared's foot carefully.

"It hurts." Jared said through gritted teeth, but his toes moved.

"Good. Let me try something. If it works, it'll help and if it doesn't I don't think it will make it any worse." Vincent said as he moved down and placed his hands on Crewman Tidwell's foot and ankle.

"Is it going to hurt?" Jared asked in a timid voice.

"Maybe just for a second." Vincent said, then asked, "How did this happen anyway? Were you twisting your ankle when you were hit from the side?"

"Yea..." Jared began to answer when Vincent quickly twisted his foot.

"...eaaaaah!" Jared yelled, then suddenly stopped and looked down at his foot with wonder.

"Are you alright Jared?" Crewman Hartman asked with concern.

"Yeah. It doesn't hurt at all now." Jared said as he curled his toes and experimentally turned his ankle.

"You might need some help walking for a while. It'll probably be sore." Vincent said as he stood.

"What did you do?" Connie asked from behind Vincent with interest.

"His ankle was dislocated a little bit. It's happened to me twice so I know what it's like. I just moved it back to how it should be. As long as nothing broke and none of the ligaments are torn, he'll be fine." Vincent said, hoping that it was a good enough explanation.

"Well then, I suppose we should get moving." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"Come on Jared, I'll help you." Crewman Hartman said as he helped Crewman Tidwell to stand.

"You're just full of surprises Vincent." Darin said with a smile from his side.

"I got banged up a lot when I was on Earth and I watched what the doctors did to fix me." Vincent said, hoping that he would never be called upon to repeat the action outside of a dream.

"I'm just glad you're alright. I was really scared when I thought we'd lost you." Darin said as he put an arm around Vincent's shoulders.

"Don't worry big brother. I don't plan on leaving you." Vincent said with a smile.

* * * * *

"It looks like this deck is clear." A security lieutenant said from the access to the deck above them.

Vincent watched as Crewman Hartman held on to Jared while he slowly made his way up the ladder.

"How would you like to have a little fun?" A voice whispered from behind Vincent.

He turned to see the transparent image of Brakkii standing, smiling at him.

Vincent discretely nodded.

"When everyone is on the next deck, I'm going to give you a chance to show off... It's just my way of thanking you." Brakkii said a little bit timidly.

Vincent thought about refusing, but the hopeful look in Brakkii's eyes made him consider otherwise.

Finally Vincent nodded that he agreed to the arrangement.

* * * * *

Vincent was looking around cautiously as the group walked down the hallway toward the hanger bay.

As he passed by a darkened doorway, an arm suddenly reached out to grab him.

Vincent's training kicked in and he automatically grabbed the arm, then ducked under it, twisting it as he went.

While continuing to hold the arm he kicked the man in the stomach, then brought his foot down to forcefully stomp on the instep of the zombie's foot.

With the zombie doubled over and off balance, Vincent continued to hold the arm and twisted some more. Using all his strength and momentum he was able to flip the zombie into the middle of the hallway.

"Leave him Vincent, he's down." Darin said quickly.

"Right." Vincent said, then ran to rejoin the group as they entered the shuttle bay.

* * * * *

As soon as the shuttle cleared the bay doors of the Miranda, Vincent was aware of the aching in his feet.

Experimentally he reached out through his bond and found T'Lani's consciousness, fully aware of his presence.

"You've got some pretty good moves there little brother." Darin said with a smile.

"I wouldn't have any moves at all if it weren't for what Thaelan taught me." Vincent said seriously.

"Although you still have much to learn, it is satisfying to see that you can apply my teachings in a real life situation. It is not always the case." Thaelan said frankly.

Vincent looked into Thaelan's eyes and despite the coolness of his words, a fire of pride could easily be seen in his eyes.

"It looks like we made it out in the nick of time." Connie said as he looked out the view port.

Everyone turned their attention to the blurry transparent image of the Miranda.

In less than a minute, they were left staring at empty space.

* * * * *

"It sounds like you had some kind of an adventure." Joe said with a smile.

"I promise that I won't complain again about a salvage operation not being exciting enough for me." Connie said with a chuckle.

"Well, you all know the routine. Reports." Joe said casually.

A collective groan filled the room.

"Do I have to do one too since I'm officially off duty?" Vincent asked quietly.

Joe considered for a moment, then said, "That's up to Connie. If he thinks that the rest of the team can cover it without you, that's good enough for me."

Vincent looked at Connie hopefully.

"I think we've got it covered. But if anyone has any questions about the phase shift thing, you may be asked to submit a report later." Connie said frankly.

"Okay. I just really need to go to the quartermaster's office to get some new boots. I can barely walk." Vincent said in a pained voice.

"Go on, and enjoy the rest of your day off." Connie said warmly.

Vincent nodded, then hurried out of the room.

* * * * *

"Captain? Would you have time to talk to me for a minute?" Vincent asked cautiously from just inside the captain's office door.

"Yes. Of course Crewman Winters. Please come in and have a seat." Captain Byrne said politely.

"Thank you Sir." Vincent said hesitantly as he took his seat.

"From the preliminary report I've received from Chief Morgan, I would venture to guess that you're here to talk to me about your quantum resonance frequency and the phase shift." Captain Byrne said speculatively.

"Not exactly sir. None of that really happened." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Would you please explain that Crewman?" Captain Byrne asked with surprise.

"Yes Sir." Vincent said, then paused to consider how he would explain what had just happened.

"Everything you just saw with the Miranda was an illusion. She was never really there." Vincent said carefully.

Captain Byrne's eyes went wide at the statement.

"What we just met was a creature that lives in a bunch of dimensions at once. He's highly telepathic and really lonely. When he saw us entering this section of space, he searched our minds and created the Miranda from a few people's memories." Vincent said slowly.

"But our sensor readings verified that the vessel before us was the Miranda." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Yes sir. The creature, his name is Brakkii, can create illusions that will fool sensors as easily as he can fool our senses. But what he couldn't do was actually create the ship. That's why when our shuttle seemed to enter the Miranda's shuttle bay, he changed from illusion to dreams. Everyone on the away team was really asleep and dreaming while they thought they were on the ship." Vincent said frankly.

"I fail to see the purpose of luring a group of our people onto an illusionary ship. What did this creature hope to accomplish?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"He said it was because he wanted to have fun. It makes him happy to see people be brave and work as a team. He created the situation so he could watch us react. I suppose it's kind of like the same kind of charge I get from watching an action movie or playing an exciting video game." Vincent finished speculatively.

"I see. So this creature lured my people into a fantasy situation simply for his own gratification?" Captain Byrne asked darkly.

"Yeah. But he promised that no one was going to get hurt. He just wanted to play one last game before he died." Vincent said quietly.

"Died?" Captain Byrne asked as a prompt for more information.

"He's lonely. He hasn't seen any other creatures like him for thousands of years. When he saw us coming he decided to play one last game, then trick us into killing him." Vincent said seriously.

"Why did this creature choose to reveal himself to you?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"I don't think he really meant to, but I kind of figured out that something was wrong. My feet have been hurting for a couple days because my boots are too tight, but while I was dreaming they didn't hurt at all. When we couldn't contact the Yorktown, I tried to reach T'Lani through our bond, but she couldn't hear me. I could feel that she was there, but she wasn't aware that I was trying to contact her. What finally made me sure that it wasn't real was when Darin and I used our spare power cells to open the blast doors of engineering. After we did it and it worked, I realized that there's no way our batteries would be strong enough to power the motor to raise the blast doors. When I put the power equation into the tricorder, it said that it would work, but the numbers didn't add up. As soon as I knew for sure that it wasn't real, Brakkii pulled me out of everyone else's dream so I couldn't tell them." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"I would assume from the story that you've just told me that the creature, Brakkii, had second thoughts about ending his life." Captain Byrne said speculatively.

"Yes Sir. I talked to him and, I um... kind of invited him to come back to Earth with us." Vincent said reluctantly.

"You invited an alien being to accompany us back to Earth?" Captain Byrne asked cautiously.

"Yes Sir. It just didn't make any sense for him to kill himself when he could have everything he wanted just by coming with us." Vincent said imploringly.

"From his actions thus far, I would guess that this creature could pose quite a threat to this ship." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Yeah. I guess he could, but if he decided that he wanted to be one of us, he could probably help a lot of people. He isn't bad. If he was, he could have killed all of us anytime he wanted to. He could have made us destroy the Yorktown and we never would have even known about it. But instead of doing that he gave the away team the chance to be heroes and have an adventure that they will probably still be talking about twenty years from now." Vincent said frankly.

Captain Byrne considered for a moment, then asked, "Where is he now?"

"Right where we left him. He's going to think about what he really wants to do, and if he decides that he wants to join us, he'll let us know when we come back from the new colony." Vincent said quietly.

"If he should contact you, tell him that I would like to speak with him." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Yes Sir. I'm sorry if I didn't handle this exactly 'by the book'. I tried to do what I thought was right." Vincent said apprehensively.

"That, Crewman Winters, is the difference between a crewman and an officer. As a crewman, it is your duty to follow your orders and allow your commanding officers to make such decisions." Captain Byrne said firmly.

"Yes Sir." Vincent said quietly.

"However, this circumstance was a bit out of the ordinary and I believe that you behaved appropriately. Please compose a detailed report of your time in the company of the creature and deliver it to me personally." Captain Byrne finished professionally.

"Yes Sir." Vincent said in a more assured voice.

"Once I have received your report, I will contact Admiral Morrow on a secure channel and explain the true nature of today's events. I believe he will agree that there is no need for anyone else to know that the events today were anything other than what they appeared to be." Captain Byrne said thoughtfully.

"Yes sir. I'll write the report for you right away." Vincent said seriously.

"Before you bring the report to me, make sure you stop by the quartermaster's office to get some new boots. I may have some questions about the details of your report and I would prefer that you be comfortable." Captain Byrne said warmly.

"Yes Sir." Vincent said with a smile.

And The Adventure Continues...

Editor's Notes:

This is a very interesting chapter, and it is also quite a surprise in more ways than one. I won't say any more about that because that is something that MultiMapper deserves to tell you himself, if he wishes to do so. Let's just say that I had some extra fun editing this chapter. Poor Vincent, I hope he gets his new boots and that they fit him properly. Stay tuned for more wonderful adventures and have fun.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher


Author's Notes:

Okay Darryl, I'll tell them. I had chapter 33 all written, edited and ready to go. I sent out a couple advance copies to get people's opinions and then on the day before I was ready to post it... I changed it. Actually, I didn't just change it. I went back and wrote a completely different chapter 33 that is absolutely nothing like the chapter 33 that I had written before. I like this one better. I hope you do too.

MultiMapper

p.s. I hope Vincent gets new boots too. It makes my feet hurt just reading about it.