Frontier

By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2009 MultiMapper and CSU Productions.
All Rights Reserved.

For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 49

"Vincent, I'm glad I was able to get in touch with you."

"Rad?" Vincent asked with surprise and immediate worry.

"I've got a really big, huge favor to ask of you." Rad said quickly, and it was obvious that he was distraught.

After a moment to get over the shock, Vincent hurried to say, "Sure. What is it?"

"It's about my brother Tan. He got into a fight at school today." Rad said seriously.

Vincent blinked with confusion, then slowly said, "I used to do that a lot. What's the problem?"

"Tan's not like that. He's always been a really gentle person who would never even think about hurting anyone else. My dad says that he's been acting really depressed and stays in his room all the time." Rad said in anguish.

"I've heard this story before." Dylan said in a low voice.

Rad obviously heard the comment as he looked past Vincent.

Vincent noticed and quickly said, "Oh, um... Rad, this is Dylan. He's one of my brothers from Camp Little Eagle."

"It's nice to meet you, Dylan. I only wish it was under better circumstances." Rad said in a distracted voice.

"Yeah." Dylan said quietly.

"What do you want me to do?" Vincent asked seriously, wanting to bring Rad back to the point of the call.

"Tan ran away from home a while ago. I mean, from my mom's home." Rad said disjointedly.

"I remember Darin saying something about that." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"Well, my dad agreed to take Tan in and take care of him. He loves Tan a lot. But if Tan is going to be acting like this, he's going to be kicked out of school. Even though it may seem like it's not that big of a deal right now, I have the feeling that if we don't deal with this today, Tan is going to start down a path to a very bad place." Rad said desperately.

A vision of the forest path in the dream realm flashed into Vincent's mind at the words.

"Vincent, I thought that if you could talk to Tan, maybe you could find out what's wrong and find some way to help him." Rad said more quietly.

"Why me?" Vincent asked in a small voice.

"I've seen how you've been able to talk sense to someone who's hurting, like you did with JonJon. I know you're probably busy right now, but I can't think of anything else to do, to help... Tan won't even talk to me." Rad said and seemed to be on the verge of tears.

Even though Vincent wasn't sure that Tan being in one fight at school was enough reason for such concern, he couldn't deny that Rad was desperately worried about his brother.

Vincent slowly nodded and said, "If you can tell me where he is, I'll do whatever I can."

"I've already got the coordinates for transport." Rad said as he worked the controls in front of him.

"I'll check things out and call you back if I'm able to do something." Vincent said seriously.

"Thanks, Vincent." Rad said with a small measure of relief.

"Thanks, Little Brother." A voice said, then Darin appeared on the screen over Rad's shoulder.

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

"Fine. But I'll be doing a whole lot better if you can get things worked out with Rad's brother." Darin said honestly.

"I'll do what I can." Vincent said with assurance, then spoke into his bracelet. "Ship, did you get the coordinates?"

"Yes, Trach Manja Vincent." Ship said immediately.

"Will you transport the three of us to those coordinates?" Vincent asked seriously as he stood from before the terminal.

"On your command." Ship said professionally.

"Don't we need to tell someone that we're going?" Lehman asked hesitantly.

"They're Clan, they'll understand." Vincent said over his shoulder, then faced forward as he said, "Transport."

* * * * *

When the teleportal beam cleared, Vincent, Lehman and Dylan found themselves in a nice little farmhouse.

There was an older man looking at them with surprise.

"Ray told me that someone was going to come to help... I just didn't expect you quite so soon." He said with astonishment.

"From the way Rad was talking, it was kind of important to do this right away." Vincent said frankly.

"I'm sorry if he got you out of bed to do this." The man said as he looked at the boys with concern.

Vincent looked at him with confusion at the unusual statement.

Lehman giggled and said, "These aren't bathrobes. They're Soleen-Avalla clothes. We weren't in bed."

Vincent chuckled at the mistaken assumption, and nodded.

A beeping from the terminal in the room drew everyone's attention.

"Excuse me." The man said as he rushed to the terminal.

"Hey, Dad. I see that the guys are already there." Rad said with relief.

"Maybe you could introduce us." Rad's father said cautiously as he looked over his shoulder at the boys.

"Yeah. Vincent, Lehman and Dylan, this is my father, Drake Radovanovich." Rad said in a somewhat formal voice.

"Nice to meet all of you." Drake said gently, but it was obvious that the man was carrying a heavy burden of worry.

"You guys can get to know each other later. Vincent, you need to get in there and talk to Tan." Rad said from the terminal screen.

"Where is he?" Vincent asked as he looked around.

"In his room, right over there." Drake said as he pointed to a closed door.

* * * * *

Vincent cautiously knocked on the door and asked, "Can I come in and talk to you?"

"Who is it?" Tan asked cautiously.

Vincent tried to open the door and found that it wasn't locked.

He poked his head in the door and said, "I'm Vincent, a friend of your brother's."

Tan looked at Vincent curiously, then slowly asked, "What is one of Mike's friends doing all the way out here?"

"I don't know who Mike is, I'm a friend of Rad's... I mean, Rayne." Vincent said cautiously.

"But he's weeks and weeks away on the Yorktown." Tan said dubiously.

"Yeah. But I'm here on Earth and he called and asked me to come over and talk to you. Can I come in?"

"I guess so." Tan said reluctantly.

"Tan, these are my brothers Lehman and Dylan." Vincent said as he gestured to the others walking into the room.

Tan looked curiously at Dylan, then back at Vincent with question.

"Adopted." Dylan said, not wanting to go into too many details at the moment.

"Oh." Tan said in realization. "Yeah, I guess that makes more sense."

"I heard you got into some trouble at school today and it's got your dad and your brother really worried." Vincent said seriously, wanting to get right to the point of their visit.

"Drake isn't my dad. He's my brother's dad." Tan said softly.

After a moment to process the response, Vincent giggled.

Tan looked at Vincent with surprise at the inappropriate reaction.

Vincent smiled as he said, "Sorry, Tan, but I really know how that is. I've been living with my brother's father for the last month or so."

"Really?" Tan asked with surprise.

Vincent nodded, then quietly asked, "Will you tell us what happened at school to cause the fight?"

Tan shrugged, then reluctantly said, "This guy was saying some stuff that really pissed me off, so I punched him."

"What was he saying?" Dylan asked quietly, feeling that it might hold a key to the overall problem.

"He called me a foster kid." Tan said dismissively.

"What's so bad about that?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I'm not a foster kid. The state didn't ask Drake to take me in, he said he wanted me to be here." Tan said defensively.

Vincent nodded and quietly said, "Yeah. I get that. When I first started living with Daddy Joe, it was really important to me that he wanted me to be there."

Tan nodded absently.

"You know that hitting that guy wasn't the right thing to do, don't you?" Vincent asked slowly.

Tan nodded again.

"Well, since it looks like you don't feel like talking about it. I'm just going to have to guess." Vincent said as he watched Tan closely for his reaction.

Tan looked at Vincent with surprise.

After a long speculative moment, Vincent finally said, "I don't know how things worked out that you ended up living with Rad's dad, but I'm guessing that whatever happened isn't right, it isn't fair, you didn't deserve it, and because of that, you're angry."

Tan blinked in shock at Vincent's assessment.

"Tan. I'm not going to tell you how you should feel. That's your own personal business. But if you can't keep from acting on your feelings, you're going to get into trouble... the kind of trouble that Rad and Drake won't be able to get you out of." Vincent said with concern.

"What do you know about it?" Tan asked defensively.

Vincent gave a slight shrug, then said, "I've got a temper. When something pisses me off, I sometimes do stuff without thinking. It sounds to me like maybe you have that too."

Tan looked down and muttered, "Yeah. But I never did before."

"So what changed?" Lehman asked curiously.

Tan glanced at Lehman, then back down to the floor.

"We're here to help you." Vincent whispered.

"It's just a dumb daydream..." Tan trailed off as he stared at the floor.

"Your dreams aren't dumb. And maybe if you'll tell us, we can do something to help." Lehman said softly.

"My brothers were telling me that they met these guys... well, on the terminal at least. They're from this group called Clan Short." Tan said to the floor.

"Okay." Vincent said hesitantly as he glanced at Dylan and Lehman.

"They were saying that the guys were really nice and stuff. Then today in class, my teacher was talking about how Clan Short had been attacked and he explained what Clan Short really is and the stuff that they do. That kind of got me to thinking." Tan said in a distant voice.

"Yeah." Vincent said slowly, encouraging Tan to continue.

"Well. I guess when I heard about how the Clan rescued all those kids that got hurt and abandoned and stuff, I started thinking about how I wish that they would have done something like that for me." Tan said as he slowly looked to see if Vincent understood what he was saying.

Vincent held up a hand to keep the others from responding, then quietly asked, "What would you want the Clan to do for you?"

"Rescue me... Make things better." Tan mumbled, looking at the floor again.

"How would you want things to be different?" Vincent asked slowly.

"I don't know. Everything's just all messed up." Tan said with frustration.

After a long moment of silence, Tan finally continued, "My dad... my real dad... he doesn't want me. He never talks to me and he doesn't care about me at all."

Vincent slowly nodded that he understood, but was at a loss for what to say.

"I know how that feels." Dylan said quietly.

Tan looked at Dylan with question.

"My dad didn't want me either." Dylan said frankly. "My mom died when I was born. My dad loved her a lot and blamed me for killing her."

Tan's eyes went wide as he imagined how that must have been.

"He always hated me, but he put up with me until I turned eight years old. Then one day my dad drove us to Chicago. We were on the road for over two hours and he never said a word to me." Dylan said distantly, obviously reliving that journey in his mind.

"When we got there, he pulled up to a curb, told me to get out, then drove off." Dylan said, then looked Tan in the eyes as he said, "I never saw him again."

"Oh man! That really sucks." Tan said, feeling sympathy for this person who he had only just met.

Dylan nodded his agreement.

"The thing that pissed me off... is still pissing me off... is that my dad was supposed to love me. I was his kid. It was his job to love me." Dylan said as he looked to see if Tan was getting what he was saying.

"So I was mad at my dad for not loving me and being a real dad. And I was mad at myself for not being good enough and for not being what he wanted me to be." Dylan said seriously.

Tan's tear filled eyes looked back at the floor as he whispered, "Yeah."

"I think I know something that can help you feel better, if you want to try it." Dylan offered slowly.

"Really?" Tan asked as he looked up with the slightest glimmer of hope in his eyes.

"Yeah. But it's going to seem kind of strange. Would you be willing to give it a try?" Dylan asked cautiously.

"I guess so." Tan said in a mumble.

"Give me a second to talk to the guys." Dylan said, then stepped to the other side of the room.

Tan watched the three boys whispering and felt anxiety growing within him at what they might be planning to do to him.

* * * * *

"I've been in counseling with Dr. Dan at the camp for a few weeks now. He's had some of us guys do the 'role playing' thing, and I think it might help Tan to feel better." Dylan whispered.

"What do we need to do?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Lehman. When we were back at the camp, Vincent explained to me about how you can change. Do you think that you could change to look like Tan's father?" Dylan asked seriously.

"I've never seen him, so I'd have to find an image of him in Tan's mind... but yeah. I could probably do it." Lehman said hesitantly.

Dylan nodded, then said, "That's all you really have to do. Tan needs to be able to stand up to his father and tell him what he's feeling."

"Do you really think that will help?" Lehman asked slowly.

"I think it will." Vincent said consideringly.

Lehman looked at Vincent with question.

"I have a few 'dad issues'. I think being able to look him in the eye and tell him what I feel might really make me feel better." Vincent said thoughtfully.

Lehman smiled and said, "Just let me know when."

Vincent nodded, then looked at the bed where Tan was sitting and watching them.

"This isn't going to fix his problems, but maybe giving him a chance to let some of his feelings out will help to relieve some of the pressure that's been building up in him." Dylan said seriously.

"At least it's *something*." Vincent said frankly.

Dylan nodded his agreement, then said, "Let's do it."

* * * * *

As the huddle broke apart, Dylan explained, "I just had to be sure that Lehman could do this."

"Do what?" Tan asked cautiously, looking to be ready to run.

"If you'll let us, we're going to give you a chance to tell your dad what you're feeling." Dylan said seriously.

"How?" Tan asked quietly, momentarily broken out of his anxiety by the absurdity of what they were suggesting.

"I need to touch you for a second for this to work." Lehman said as he stood before Tan and waited.

"Okay. I guess." Tan said reluctantly as his anxiety began to return.

Lehman gently placed his hand over Tan's. Once he had located a clear image of Tan's father, he slowly moved his hand away.

"Now try not to freak out." Vincent said as he drew Tan's attention.

"Lehman isn't Human. He's a Chameloid. That means that he can change to look like... well, pretty much anyone he wants." Dylan said gently.

Tan thought about the words, then turned to Vincent and asked, "Is that why he looks like you?"

"Yeah." Vincent said with a grin.

"What I'm going to do is change into the image of your father." Lehman said seriously as he undid the sash of his robe.

"Tan. All you have to do is talk to him and tell him what your feeling." Vincent said slowly.

"What good is that going to do? My dad won't even know that I said it." Tan said hesitantly, directing his question more toward Dylan than Vincent.

"If your dad is anything like mine, then he doesn't deserve to hear it. He gave up the right. This isn't for him, it's for you." Dylan said with conviction.

"Do you want to give it a try?" Lehman asked gently as he stopped all movement.

"Yeah. I guess." Tan said reluctantly.

Lehman slowly started to grow taller as he shrugged out of his robe.

He pulled down his loose fitting pants to reveal what looked like dark slacks underneath.

Tan's eyes went wide and he seemed to pale as the image of his father appeared before him, dressed in a business suit.

"What did you have to tell me?" Lehman asked in an adult voice that sounded a little bit impatient.

"I... I..." Tan stammered.

"Stand up Tan. Look him in the eyes." Dylan said gently.

Tan slowly stood on weak, shaking legs, then reluctantly forced himself to look into Lehman's eyes.

"We're here with you, Tan. Go on." Dylan said in a whisper.

After a long moment of silence, Tan quietly said, "I deserve to have a dad..."

* * * * *

Vincent walked into the living room to find Drake waiting apprehensively.

Darin and Rad were on the terminal, both looking at least as nervous as Drake.

"Drake, do you mind if I talk to you for a minute... privately?" Vincent asked quietly.

"Oh. Um... sure." Drake stammered, then turned to the terminal and said, "I'll call you back in a little bit to let you know how things worked out."

"You'd better." Rad said seriously.

Drake nodded, then disconnected the call.

Vincent waited for Drake to face him before saying, "Tan is going to need a few things, but I wanted to be sure you'd be willing before we talked to him about it."

"Just tell me what he'll need and he'll have it." Drake said immediately.

Vincent smiled at the words so sincerely spoken, then continued, "Tan needs counseling. I think we've helped him a little by getting him to put some of his feelings into words, but he's going to need someone to help him deal with those feelings."

"That's no problem." Drake said seriously.

"The other thing is, Tan needs for you to adopt him." Vincent said frankly.

Drake looked at Vincent with surprise at the statement.

"He needs to know that he has a dad who wants him. You letting him live with you and stuff was great, but it's kind of... it's like it's temporary. Like it could end at any time. He needs to know that he has a dad who wants him... forever." Vincent said seriously.

"No problem." Drake said in a whisper. "I do want him forever."

"Good. That's what I was hoping you'd say." Vincent said with a grin, then rushed back to the bedroom.

* * * * *

"Come on, Tan. It's not like what you did was so horrible. Just come out here and face it." Vincent said with aggravation.

Tan reluctantly walked into the living room and a fresh expression of shame came over his face as he saw Drake looking at him with concern.

"I'm sorry for getting into trouble." Tan mumbled as he fought to look Drake in the eyes.

"I'm not worried about that. I'm worried about you." Drake said honestly. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah." Tan whispered.

"Tan, if you want to keep feeling better, you really need to see a counselor." Vincent said seriously.

"I'm not nuts." Tan said defensively.

"No, you're not... yet." Vincent said with assurance. "But if you let these little problems eat at you long enough without dealing with them, they can turn into big problems that *can* make you nuts."

Tan looked at Vincent dubiously, not sure if he agreed with the reasoning.

"I told you before that I have problems with my temper. I'm seeing a counselor to help me with it." Vincent said seriously.

"I'm seeing a counselor too." Dylan said frankly.

Tan slowly nodded, then looked at Lehman with question.

"I haven't needed one." Lehman said with a shrug.

Tan smiled, then hesitantly looked at Drake.

"I think they're right." Drake said quietly. "It looks like you could use a little help figuring out some things."

"Alright. I'll do it." Tan reluctantly whispered.

"Don't worry Tan. It isn't like it's forever. Sometimes you just need a little help to deal with the big stuff." Vincent said honestly.

Tan nodded that he had heard.

"Did you tell him about the other thing?" Drake asked Vincent cautiously.

Vincent shook his head.

"What other thing?" Tan asked Drake with immediate concern.

"Tan. Come over here." Drake said seriously.

Tan's eyes went wide as anxiety flared in his expression.

Everyone watched as Tan reluctantly walked the few steps to stand directly before Drake.

"Tan. You know that our family is kind of complicated." Drake said in prelude.

An inelegant snort was Tan's immediate reaction to the statement.

"Understatement, huh?" Vincent asked with a smile at the reaction.

Drake nodded at Vincent, then faced Tan fully before saying, "Tan. There really aren't any rules about what's right and wrong in a situation like ours."

"Huh?" Tan asked in confusion.

"I'm just trying to explain why I didn't do this sooner... I wanted to, but I thought that I shouldn't." Drake said reluctantly.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Tan said quietly.

"I'm talking about adopting you." Drake said as he looked Tan in the eyes.

"Really?" Tan squeaked.

"Really." Drake said with a smile.

"I mean, you really want me... to be your real son... like Rayne is?" Tan asked with disbelief.

"Yes." Drake said as he looked Tan in the eyes. "In fact, I wanted that for a long time, since just after your dad left."

"So if you adopt me, does that mean that I'll get to change my name?" Tan asked hopefully.

"Yes. If you want to." Drake said with a loving smile, then thought to add, "But you don't have to. I would really understand if you didn't want to become D'Artagnan Radovanovich."

Dylan and Vincent shared an amused glance at the name.

"I think that would be better than my best dream." Tan said with tear filled eyes.

Drake broke into a glorious smile as he opened his arms in invitation.

Tan fell into the open arms and hugged Drake desperately.

"Let me know if you have any problem with the adoption or the name change. I have friends who can help you with that." Vincent said gently.

Drake nodded that he heard as he held Tan in his arms.

Tan pulled out of the hug just enough to look at Vincent, then asked, "I know you said you were friends of Rayne's, but who are you guys?"

Vincent smiled as he proudly said, "Vincent Winters, Lehman Daniels and Dylan Chang, Sons of Clan Short of the House of Surak of Vulcan."

"Clan Short?" Tan asked with surprise as he looked at the three boys with wonder.

Vincent nodded as Dylan quietly said, "Consider yourself rescued."

"Thanks." Tan whispered as he moved back in to hug Drake fully.

* * * * *

"Do you think we should call Rad to let him know what's going on?" Lehman asked cautiously.

"I think it would be better if Tan was the one to talk to him." Vincent said frankly.

"Yeah. I need to apologize to him for not talking to him before." Tan said quietly, then thought to ask, "How do you know my brother?"

"I'm a crewman on the USS Yorktown." Vincent said simply.

"Really?" Tan asked with surprise.

"Yeah. In Deflector Control." Vincent said proudly.

"Oh. So you work with Joe?" Tan asked curiously.

"Yeah. Daddy Joe is my commanding officer." Vincent said happily.

Tan thought for a moment, then slowly said, "You said that you were living with your brother's father..."

"Yeah. Daddy Joe is my brother's father. My brother is Lawrence Winters from Clan Short." Vincent said seriously.

Tan shook his head in wonder and said, "You get to live on a spaceship and meet all kinds of aliens..."

"Do you want to be in Starfleet?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I don't think so." Tan answered thoughtfully. "Rayne has told me some of what it's like to be on a starship. I don't think I'd like living that way. I just think it would be nice to... you know, be in space for a little bit... like a visit."

"We could do that." Lehman said simply.

Vincent looked at Lehman with question, then realized that he was right.

"How would you feel about visiting a ship that's in orbit?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yeah. I'd really like to do that someday." Tan said with a wistful smile.

"How about today? Right now?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Seriously?" Tan asked with surprise.

"Yeah. If you guys don't have anything else that you need to be doing." Vincent said simply.

"No. I can't think of anything. I haven't even started dinner yet." Drake said as he looked at Tan with question.

"Do you want to?" Vincent asked Tan with a smile.

"Yeah!" Tan said with excitement.

"What about you, Dylan?" Vincent asked casually.

"Yeah. I'm in." Dylan said with a grin at Tan's obvious happiness.

"Ship, can you transport five of us aboard?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.

"The teleportal is ready on your command." Ship answered immediately.

Vincent grinned at the response, knowing that Ship had been listening and was just waiting for him to ask.

"Teleport."

* * * * *

Vincent and Lehman were as surprised as any of the others when the teleportal stream cleared.

They appeared to be standing on the hull of the ship, looking out into vast, infinite space.

Vincent looked around quickly to see where they were and found a bay door at their backs.

"Where are we?" Tan asked in a whisper of awe.

"Outside the ship, behind an atmospheric shield." Vincent said cautiously, not one hundred percent sure of his words.

"Since D'Artagnan expressed an interest in visiting space, I thought you would enjoy the view on this observation deck." Ship said in a friendly voice.

"Who is that?" Tan asked as he looked around for the source of the voice.

"That's Ship. He's the intelligence that controls the ship that brought me and Lehman here from where the Yorktown is." Vincent explained seriously.

"Ship?" Tan asked cautiously toward the deck at his feet.

"Yes, D'Artagnan?" Ship responded gently.

"You can call me Tan if you want to." Tan said carefully.

"I will call you Tan if that is what you prefer, but I like the sound of your true name. It is very lyrical." Ship said honestly.

"You like my name?" Tan asked with surprise.

"Yes. Very much." Ship said seriously.

"Do you have a real name? I mean, besides Ship?" Tan asked curiously.

"No." Ship responded quietly, then continued, "Before meeting Trach Manja Vincent and Trach Manja Lehman, I had never entertained the possibility."

"Would you like to have a name?" Vincent asked upward, as had become his habit when talking to Ship.

"Yes. I believe I would." Ship said quietly.

"What kind of name would you like?" Lehman asked curiously.

"If I knew that, I would have chosen a name." Ship said frankly.

"Would you like something lyrical?" Tan asked, now directing his voice upward as Vincent and Lehman were doing.

After a moment of consideration, Ship answered, "Yes. I believe I would like that."

"Do you have an idea of a name for Ship?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Me? No. I'd just pick something boring like Jeff or Bill." Tan said with a derisive chuckle. "Actually, I was thinking that if Ship wanted a name like mine, we should talk to the person who came up with my name."

"I think that's a great idea." Drake said with a smile.

Vincent, Lehman and Dylan all looked at the pair with question.

"Is there a terminal that I can use around here? We can call Janet right now." Drake asked with a smile.

"I believe this should suffice for your immediate need." Ship said as the transparent holographic image of a terminal appeared before Drake.

"Wow. That's interesting." Drake said with surprise, then slowly began to enter the contact information on the insubstantial keyboard.

* * * * *

"Hello?" A man's voice said curiously as he appeared on the holographic screen.

"Hi Brad. Is Janet home from work yet?" Drake asked casually.

"Yeah. She just got in a few minutes ago. I'll get her." Brad said, then rushed away.

"If you would like, I can enlarge the view so you may all participate in the conversation." Ship said cautiously.

"Go ahead Ship." Vincent said immediately.

The holographic terminal disappeared, then a large screen, nearly six feet tall, appeared before the group.

"What is it, Drake? Is something wrong with D'Artagnan?" Janet asked as she rushed into view of the screen.

"Hello Janet. Nothing is wrong. Tan is fine, he's right here." Drake said with a smile at his ex-wife.

"Hi Mom. Hi Brad. There's really no problem. We just called to ask you a favor." Tan said somewhat timidly.

"Oh. Sure. What can I do?" Janet asked as she looked curiously at Vincent, Lehman and Dylan.

"I've got this... um, friend, I guess, who really likes my name." Tan said disjointedly.

Janet nodded for Tan to continue.

"Well, my friend, he doesn't have a name, not a real one. And since he likes mine, I thought maybe you could come up with a name for him that he'd like." Tan said in a rambling meter.

Janet looked at Vincent, Lehman and Dylan with concern as she said, "He doesn't have a name?"

"The friend Tan is talking about is the living computer who controls the spaceship that we're calling you from." Vincent explained seriously.

"Oh. I see." Janet said thoughtfully, then smiled as she continued, "You're in luck. Since we have a little one on the way, I've been thinking about baby names recently. There's one that I really like, but Brad says absolutely not."

"Well, if you love it and Brad hates it, then it's already got my vote." Tan said with a teasing smile at Brad to take any sting out of the words.

Brad's expression showed that he got the joke and wasn't offended.

"Manu." Janet said happily, then looked around the group to see their reactions.

The group was silent as everyone considered what they thought of the name.

"Ship? What do you think? Do you like it?" Tan asked into the air.

There was another moment of silence that was finally broken when Ship said, "Yes. I like it very much."

Tan broke into a big smile, then looked at his mother and said, "Thanks Mom. I knew you'd be able to come through for me."

"I'm glad to help." Janet said as she put an arm around Brad to hold him gently.

"I guess we'd better go. We're on a spaceship, in orbit." Tan said with a big grin.

"Will you tell me all about it later?" Janet asked with a smile.

"Yeah. I'll call you when we get home." Tan said happily.

"I'll look forward to it. Have a good time, honey." Janet said lovingly, then disconnected the transmission.

* * * * *

As Vincent was about to suggest that they go inside the ship, the stars seemed to start moving around them.

"What are you doing, Ship?" Vincent asked as he felt slightly off balance from everything shifting around him.

"I am turning to afford you a view of our surroundings, Trach Manja Vincent." Ship said seriously, then continued in a softer voice, "And you may address me as Manu, if you would like."

"I'll call you Manu, if you'll call me Vincent."

"Agreed, outside a formal setting, I will forego your title." Ship said respectfully.

"That goes for me too." Lehman said quickly.

"As you like, Lehman." Ship said gently.

"Look!" Tan said as he pointed at the moon, just coming into view.

"It looks like it's so close that I could almost touch it." Tan said in wonder.

"Yeah. It's beautiful." Vincent said as he marveled at the sight.

Everyone suddenly fell silent as the rotation of the ship brought the Earth into view.

"So beautiful." Lehman said in wonder.

"Yeah." Tan said in a whisper.

"I hope you don't mind, but I mentioned to Captain Rasch that D'Artagnan and Mr. Radovanovich have not had dinner. All of you have been invited to have dinner with the captain." Ship said quietly.

"What do you guys think? Hungry?" Vincent asked with a smile.

"Starving." Tan said immediately.

The doors behind them opened to reveal the inside of the ship.

"Come on." Vincent said gently.

Tan took one last look at the expansive view, before reluctantly turning to walk into the ship.

* * * * *

As Vincent led the way into the dining room, he saw that Captain Rasch and Treep were standing, waiting for them to arrive.

"Guys, this is Captain Rasch, the captain of this ship and his first officer Treep." Vincent said to Tan and Drake.

"Nice to meet you." Drake said in a distant, awestruck voice as he looked up at the large Saurian towering over him.

"Captain Rasch and Treep, this is Drake Radovanovich, Dylan Chang and D'Artagnan... um, I don't think you ever told me your last name." Vincent finished uncertainly.

"D'Artagnan Roberts. But it's going to be changed to D'Artagnan Radovanovich as soon as we can do it." Tan said happily.

"Welcome aboard my ship. Please be seated and dine with me." Captain Rasch said as he made a sweeping gesture to indicate the banquet of food before them.

"I think I should go back down to Earth and let them know what's going on. I wouldn't want for anyone to be worried about us." Vincent said quietly to Lehman.

"Yeah. I was thinking that too." Lehman said in a conflicted tone.

"You're just going down to check in, aren't you?" Dylan asked seriously.

Vincent and Lehman both nodded.

"Then why don't you go and I'll stay here. Manu can call you if we need anything." Dylan said frankly.

"Yeah. Sounds good." Vincent said happily to Dylan, then turned to Drake and Tan and said, "You guys go ahead and eat and we'll be back in a few minutes. We just have to check in."

"With the Clan?" Tan asked curiously.

"Yeah. Something like that. We left without telling anyone that we were going." Vincent said frankly.

"We'll be back before you have a chance to miss us." Lehman said happily, then pointed at a bowl of fruit and said, "And that's glurrah. You've got to try it. It's great."

"Thanks, Lehman." Tan said as he reached to get a few pods of glurrah for himself.

"Manu, will you transport us back down to the Thompson house?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Yes, Vincent. On your command." Ship said with a note of tenderness in his voice.

"Teleport."

* * * * *

As the teleportal stream cleared, Vincent and Lehman saw Jake, Lawrence, and Deacon hurrying to the terminal.

Jake seemed unsurprised to see them suddenly appear, and motioned them to join the others.

Just outside the door, they could hear Xain calling up the stairs, "Patriarch Cory is on the terminal, and requires to speak with all of us!"

This was followed by the sound of footsteps as Kevin, Kenny, Scott, Jude, Galen, and Marky came running downstairs.

Vincent looked at Lehman and nodded, and they stepped over to the terminal.

Xain and the six from upstairs rushed in a moment later to join them.

Sean was on the viewscreen, and he began explaining. "This is about Joel. Between Kyle and Mikey, we have quite a bit of knowledge about him. First, he was born here, in our Universe somewhere, but somehow got transported into another Universe -- one where he was enslaved and abused -- badly abused. As bad as any of our brothers, or worse. But the thing is, there he had absolutely no hope. Any of our brothers in an abusive situation could at least hope for rescue -- Joel didn't have that. He didn't break under it, but I've got the impression it was a near thing."

"It looks like he was living in the future relative to us, the 2040s of that world. Part of the reason for this call, guys, is you guys who came in with Kurt. Because Joel knows about something called 'Star Trek' -- just like you mentioned earlier."

"Yeah, it was a TV show featuring Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, but set in the 23rd century," Scott said. "But then, he'd have read about Clan Short, too?"

"No," Sean answered. "He knows everything about Star Trek, and I mean way more than even you guys, but unlike you, he'd never heard of Clan Short. Or at least, only read the term "CSU"."

Tyler added, "He did read one small segment of a "CSU" story, but he doesn't know the name of it, nor that it WAS a Clan Short story... And until he works it out, I can't say either."

Kyle piped up then. "The important part is that he's a real mess emotionally inside. He's really fragile. He's got real problems believing he's free, not a slave any more, and that he won't be hurt again. There's also some blank bits in his memories. And his mind doesn't work like a humans -- not at all. He has a chip in his neck that is making him seem and be fully human; yet he's not. He's at least half human - and half something else."

"There's quite a bit more," Sean started to continue, "but that's the key points."

Tyler finished with, "His trust is totally shot, basically. He is going to fixate on those whom he trusts, especially Cory and Sean. Take your time and don't push him. Also, he's not going to act thirteen very often at first. He'll either be very young, or very old in what he does and says. It's all emotional, though. He'll settle and grow soon enough, I hope."

Most of the guys simply shrugged at that. "No sweat, dude," Adam said, speaking for them all, "Just another brother to love and take care of as far as I'm concerned." The others nodded emphatically at that statement.

Ty continued, "However, and this is really serious. Do not just walk up to him and hug him. Be friendly, be loving and talk to him, yet do not make any sudden moves at him until he trusts you. You know the signs, just as we know with Timmy, for example. We know when you want to be picked up and hugged, don't we, Gizmo?"

Timmy grinned and nodded.

Ty smiled and continued, "Do the same with Joel. If you think he'd like a hug, then offer to hug him, and then let him come to you. If he trusts you, he will."

Kyle, sitting on the ground with Levi pulled onto his lap, also spoke up, "It wouldn't be a good idea to pull any pranks on him or tease him as we do each other. He'd take what you say and do at face value and act on it, believing he would get punished or worse for not doing so. Also, he's never played before, not with others or with toys. He's going to find much of our stuff, games and toys fascinating, so will probably play with whatever and whoever is near."

"He'd play with our toys with us too, Unca Kyle?" asked Timmy excitedly. Paul and Ricky also looked on expectantly.

"Yes, I'd say so," he smiled at the kids. "He'd love to be invited to play with you, and especially as he doesn't fear you munchkins, Gizmo."

He then addressed everyone again, "Just don't tease him until he starts teasing first and then only return the teasing to the level that he does. As for the pranks? Same... if he pranks you, then return them to the level he uses. Go no further. If you do, you could break the trust you've gained."

Everyone again nodded in agreement, while Justy turned to Cory, "Do we know how Joel is right now? Can we call in to see how things are going?"

"I was about to," Cory got up and came towards the screen. "I was told that the Doc would tell us when he'd began removal of the chip, but I've heard nothing yet."

He hit a button to split the screen into two, and started to connect a call to the infirmary. "Doc, do you have a moment?"

After a few seconds the Doc appeared, "Yes, Cory. I was just about to call you anyway."

"How are things with Joel?"

"We've dealt with all the minor things like bruises and cracked ribs. We did open up the area where the chip is so that Ark could take readings and run a few reverse engineering protocols on it. Just waiting on Ark to say what to do next. The 'chip' is still unidentified, but the readings show it's at least twelve years old. If it is Vulcan, then it's unlike any Vulcan Tech I've ever seen."

Xain asked, "Doctor, can you send your current findings to me, please? I will send the files onto my father for analysis. He may be able to find out if it is of Vulcan origin or not."

"Sure, Xain. Files will be sent in a few moments, and thanks."

Vincent saw Antonio come up behind Doc Austin and tap him on the arm, "I think Ark has things ready. Shall I ask him to proceed? He thinks he can do the shut down by remote."

<He?>

"Hush, Ark," was the giggled response.

Doc Austin laughed, "Okay Ark, if you're sure, go for it. I'll get to the monitor here." He moved away from the view screen, totally forgetting he'd left it on, and Antonio went to Joel's side with a tricorder in hand and started scanning. Due to the position of the view screen, Joel was just out of sight.

After a few minutes the Doc said, "Things are looking good. There was a brief flush of enzymes for a moment... wait... oh God, 'Tonio, grab that hypospray quick!" Alarms started sounding from the biobed and the monitors scattered about.

Vincent put an arm around Lehman as he watched the screen with frustration, knowing that there was nothing he could do but watch.

<Joel's nutrient reserves are dropping at an alarming rate. I recommend connecting him to an IV with the following supplements.>

A nearby screen started to fill with instructions that Antonio was quick to study. Doc Austin used the hypospray that had been handed to him, then turned back to the monitor with Joel's readings. He then noticed that the view screen was still active and filled with concerned boys faces.

He rushed over, "Sorry, guys. I'll call when I can." And the Infirmary half of the screen Vincent was watching in horror went dark.

He saw Kyle and Ty look quickly at each other, then they 'ported out of CIC in the blink of an eye, taking Levi with them.

Sean was holding Cory's hand tightly as he had moved to the screen.

Cory looked at him, concern evident in both their faces, before they turned to the rest.

"Guys, I'm sure everything will be okay, and Ark is watching over them in there," Cory assured them, although Vincent could hear the worry in his voice.

"Let's get to the kitchen and our snack. Doc will keep us updated." The Clan got to their feet and made their way out of CIC.

Vincent heard a small beep, and Xain formally stated, "Patriarch, the files I asked the Doctor to send have arrived. Shall I relay them on to 'he who is my father' with your approval?"

"Please, Xain, and thank him for us, no matter the result." Cory responded with a small smile, "Oh, Mom asked that I invite y'all over for breakfast tomorrow. Can you check with Allen and Billy and get back to her?"

"I'll go ask now!" Grinning, Kevin rushed away from the screen, to the puzzled looks from the others. Kenny just rolled his eyes.

A few moments later, he came running back in, "Sure thing, Cory! Billy don't know yet, but Poppa said we'll be there; he'll tell you what time we'll be there later," he then turned, hugged his startled twin quickly and kissed him before rushing back out of the room again.

"What the hell's gotten into Kev?" wondered Jake.

Kenny shrugged, still looking at the doorway Kevin had just sped through.

Jake then turned back to the screen, "Dad is bringing these guys back later, so I'm sure he'll let ya know what time we'll be there then, Cory."

Cory waved and said while shaking his head at Kev's behaviour, "Okay, thanks. Seeya then, guys. CIC out."

"Thompson Residence out." Xain replied with a hint of a smile.

The connection terminated.

Vincent slowly released Lehman from the hug as he considered what they had just witnessed.

As the group surrounding the terminal dispersed, Vincent walked over to Lawrence to explain what he and Lehman had been doing.

"Omigod!" Vincent heard, and turned to see Jude staring at the two of them.

"Scott, Galen, look! Larry and Vinny -- remember?"

"We really don't like those nicknames," Lawrence said slowly.

"Not in *this* universe, you don't," Galen said. "But Jude's right."

"On our way here Sunday, while we were still in our own universe," Jude explained slowly, "the guys' uncle took us to the Kennedy Space Center to see the exhibits."

"Where?" asked Kenny.

"Cape Canaveral was what it used to be called," Kurt said. "It was renamed after President Kennedy. It's where NASA was located."

"Your world had a NASA?" Deacon asked. "Here it was what they used for a cover for the help we got from the Vulcans, before they went public.  What was it in your world?"

"Um, they were the government agency that launched satellites and shuttles into near Earth orbit."

"But who was in charge of the rest of the space program?" Jake asked.

"That *was* the space program," Jude answered. "Anyway, while we were there we met a couple and their two sons -- Joe and Peg Bowers and their sons Larry and Vinny. Vinny was a space nut."

"That sounds like my little brother." Lawrence said with a fond chuckle.

"Watch it, *Larry*." Vincent said with a teasing smile.

The group of boys surrounding them smiled at the comment and the expression of brotherly affection that it demonstrated.

"Lehman and I really need to get back to the ship right now. I don't know how long this is going to take." Vincent said to Lawrence seriously.

"Don't worry about it, Vince. We're all Clan here, we know how it is." Lawrence said with assurance.

"As soon as we're done with everything, we'll go back to Billy's." Vincent said carefully.

"I'll see you over there." Lawrence said softly, then thought to add, "Be careful."

"Don't worry, Lawrence. We're not doing anything dangerous." Vincent said with a smile at his brother's concern for him. "Besides, I've got Lehman to protect me."

Lawrence glanced at Lehman and smiled.

"Manu, Vincent and I are ready to teleport." Lehman said into his bracelet.

"On your command." Ship responded immediately.

"See ya in a little bit." Vincent said as he moved to Lehman's side and stood up straight in his 'transport' posture.

"Teleport."

* * * * *

As the teleportal stream cleared, Vincent and Lehman found the group around the table staring at them.

"Hey guys! What did we miss?" Vincent asked casually.

"Tan was just telling us about all his brothers and sisters." Dylan said with an amused smile.

"Oh? Rad's never talked to me about his family." Vincent said as he took a seat at the table.

Lehman automatically took the seat at Vincent's side.

"You'll have to tell them, Tan. There's no way I can remember." Dylan said with a grin.

Tan looked shyly at Vincent and Lehman, then said, "I was just telling about how my mom comes up with some really weird, cool names."

"Yeah. I love Rad's name, even if he hates it." Vincent said with a chuckle.

"Rayne Beau was one of her better ones." Tan said with a grin.

"Go through the list." Dylan said with a smile, then turned to Vincent and said, "You've got to hear this."

"I guess I'll start at the top." Tan said quietly, and Vincent got the sense that he was enjoying being the center of attention.

After a moment to look around the table, Tan said, "Rayne Beau, D'Artagnan, Shayd LaRouche, Shadoe Laurent, Michaelangelo Gustav, Allegra Countessa Moreau, OliviAnna Pfenix-Ascending, and Jess."

"Jess?" Vincent asked with surprise.

"Yeah. Jess." Tan said with amusement at his stunned reaction.

Vincent looked at Tan with question, silently asking him to explain.

"It isn't short for anything and she doesn't have a middle name." Tan said simply.

"Do you have a middle name?" Lehman asked curiously.

"Yeah. But when I get my last name changed, I'm going to see if I can get rid of it." Tan said frankly.

"It can't be that bad." Dylan said hesitantly.

"Michelle." Tan said with a challenging look at Dylan.

"Oh." Dylan responded with a pained look.

"My mom says that, in France, Michelle is a perfectly acceptable boys name." Tan said with an ironic chuckle. "I had to be the one to break it to her... we're not in France."

"I don't know. D'Artagnan Michelle Radovanovich... it kind of flows." Drake said in a considering voice.

"So does a sewer." Tan said dryly.

Vincent chuckled at the response, then said, "We should probably think about getting you guys home. It's getting kinda late and Tan has some calls to make."

"It's not that late." Tan said immediately.

Vincent looked at Tan curiously, then asked, "Where do you guys live? Rad just gave us transporter coordinates."

"Just outside of Modesto, California." Drake answered seriously.

"Oh. Okay. You're on West coast time and I'm on East coast time." Vincent said with a smile.

"Trach Manja Vincent." Captain Rasch said, to gain his attention. "If there is time, I would like to take your guests on a tour of my ship."

Vincent smiled at the captain and said, "I think we'd all enjoy that and as far as I know, we all have plenty of time."

Captain Rasch looked around the table to see if anyone had any objection, then slowly stood.

"Wow, you're really tall." Tan said as he looked up.

Captain Rasch smiled at the statement, then gestured toward the door.

* * * * *

"What next?" Lehman asked when the teleportal beam finally cleared.

"Bed. Sleep." Vincent said as he led the way to the stairs.

"Vincent?" Deacon asked as he leaned over the railing to look down the staircase.

"Hey Deacon. What's up?" Vincent asked casually.

"Not much. I just wanted to know if you guys wanted to go to breakfast at the Short Compound in the morning or if you'd rather sleep in." Deacon said seriously.

"I guess if everyone else is going, we should go too." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Billy is going, but me and Lawrence are going to stay here." Deacon said frankly.

"Well, if you guys are sleeping in, I think we will too. It's been a really long day." Vincent said honestly.

"Sounds good. Then we won't wake you up in the morning. Just come downstairs whenever you're ready for breakfast." Deacon said with a smile.

"Yeah. Thanks, Deacon. Have a good sleep." Vincent said as he stopped just outside his bedroom door.

"You too. Both of you." Deacon said gently, then walked into his bedroom.

* * * * *

"So what are we doing tomorrow?" Lehman asked as he started undressing.

"Sleeping in." Vincent said seriously.

Lehman chuckled and said, "Besides that."

Vincent stopped to consider for a moment, then said, "I'd kind of like to get some new clothes... I mean, for both of us."

"Will my Kimber account work here?" Lehman asked carefully.

"Yes. It should work anywhere in the Federation." Vincent said as he pulled back the covers and sat on the bed.

"Good. Is that it then, clothes shopping?" Lehman asked curiously as he also sat down, exactly mirroring Vincent's position.

"I think so. Sleep, shop... After today, that sounds like plenty." Vincent said with a smile.

"Good night Vincent." Lehman said softly.

"Good night Lehman."

To Be Continued...

Darryl's Notes: This was certainly an interesting chapter. For those of you who have been reading the other CSU stories, you need to know that this chapter is somewhat behind the current events in some of the other stories.  Of course, I have been cheating a little bit and reading somewhat ahead.

I won't mention anything that could be a spoiler, but I am thrilled to see some of the things that took place while other things went on. It is really great to see how much Vincent has grown and matured over time.  I believe that everyone in this story has matured since we first met them.  I can hardly wait to see what will happen next.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher