Universe Alpha 7:
Blue Alert!

Copyright © 2015 by MultiMapper and CSU Productions
All Rights Reserved

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Chapter 53 - Living Forward

Vincent's sleep had been restless.

Uncertainty about their mission, the absence of T'Lani and adjusting to a different sleep schedule all took their toll.

When his alarm went off, Vincent wasn't sure if he were more annoyed or relieved. Of course, he was annoyed by the fact that he didn't get restful sleep, but he was also relieved by the fact that he didn't feel the need to continue lying there, neither asleep nor awake.

It seemed equal parts strange and satisfying for Vincent to be back aboard the Yorktown and back to his former routine. In some ways it felt as though he had never left, but in others it felt almost surreal.

The fact of the matter was that he had changed. It wasn't just the growth of his physical body, but also the essence of who he was as a person. Trying to slip back into the old habits seemed wrong, like he was taking a step back.

Nonetheless, he woke and dressed for his workout. With gym bag in hand, he made his way down to the gymnasium.

* * * * *

"It appears that you have continued with your practice." Thaelan said as he carefully watched Vincent's movements as he performed the primary stance routine while mimicking his actions.

"Yeah. At least with the stances and stuff. There wasn't any way that I could spar. But I was mostly able to keep up with everything else. I only missed one or two days when other stuff happened." Vincent said easily.

"How have things been in regard to your emotional control?" Thaelan asked quietly.

"I got into one fight when I was back on Earth, but I think I did really good. I didn't lose it." Vincent said seriously.

"It is important only to apply as much force as the situation warrants. Of course, judging the degree of force required is usually the more difficult part of the exercise." Thaelan said sagely.

"Yeah. But that sounds like one of those things that you can only learn from experience." Vincent said honestly, then paused for a moment before automatically shifting into the counter-stance routine.

"Yes. I believe that is true." Thaelan said quietly as he watched Vincent's movements carefully and performed exactly the same movements in the same sequence.

"So, how was your shore leave?" Vincent asked curiously, not missing a beat as he shifted from one stance to the next.

"It went very well." Thaelan said in a considering tone. "I was reunited with my family after an extended absence and all my family seemed very happy with the recent changes in my life."

"Good. Since my parents died, I've realized how important it is to have your family. I mean, I have Lawrence, Darin, Lehman, and Xon. Then I have all my fathers in the Clan and all my brothers at Camp Little Eagle... It feels like a lot to live up to, sometimes. But it feels really good when I make them proud." Vincent finished with a distant smile.

"I traveled from Andor to Earth nearly a week ago. I spent five days in Greece with Ensign Agropos and his family." Thaelan said quietly.

"Really? I've always heard that it's beautiful there." Vincent said happily.

"Yes. And it was the beginning of their winter season, so it was especially inviting to me." Thaelan said distantly.

"So, did you have a good time?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yes. The Agropos family were all very nice and Connie's brother, Nick, was especially interesting. We spent many hours talking." Thaelan said with a smile.

In unison, Vincent and Thaelan moved into their primary defensive postures, then stepped back to disengage from the exercise.

Thaelan looked at the clock and was surprised to see that it was time for them to shower so they would be ready to join the others at breakfast.

"You appear to have adequately maintained your precision and control. Tomorrow, I believe that we will return our focus to action and reaction." Thaelan said simply.

Vincent smiled as he said, "Good. I know that doing the stances helps, but it's not nearly as good as sparring for training."

"Remember to also prepare yourself for the added distraction of spectators." Thaelan said seriously.

"That's okay. I've discovered that I've got a little bit of 'show-off' in me. I don't think it'll be a problem." Vincent said with a grin.

"A little bit?" Thaelan asked with a smile.

Vincent chuckled as he finished his last stretch, then got up to walk with Thaelan to the locker room.

* * * * *

As Vincent and Thaelan walked toward the Engineer's Mess Hall, Vincent noticed Valentine also approaching.

"Hey Val, I'm glad you made it. Are you going to join us for breakfast?" Vincent asked happily.

Valentine's gaze flicked to Thaelan for a moment, then he responded, "Yes. If I wouldn't be intruding."

Vincent noticed the apprehensive expression that Valentine was wearing then turned to Thaelan and asked, "You don't mind if Valentine joins us, do you?"

"He is a member of our team." Thaelan said calmly, but Vincent could detect a hint of hesitance in his voice.

Vincent stopped just outside the mess hall door and crossed his arms across his chest, before saying, "What is it?"

Thaelan and Valentine gave him matching looks of question.

"Come on, guys. I don't want us going in there and messing up everyone's breakfast because you two have a problem with each other. Spill it." Vincent said firmly.

"Your promotion seems to have emboldened you." Thaelan said to Vincent frankly.

"Yeah. As if I wasn't like this before." Vincent said with a roll of his eyes, then continued, "Quit stalling. What's the problem?"

"Vulcans and Andorians..." Thaelan began to say, but faltered.

"...typically don't get along." Valentine said, continuing the thought.

Vincent looked from one man to the other, then asked Valentine, "Do you hate Andorians?"

"No! Not at all! My best friend at the academy... actually, my best friend ever, is an Andorian." Valentine said quickly.

Vincent gave a single nod, then turned to Thaelan and asked, "Do you hate Vulcans?"

"If I did, I would not have adopted one as my son." Thaelan said frankly.

Vincent smiled at the comment, then said, "So that means that you two don't have any reason to act funny with each other and I don't have any reason to be standing out here instead of getting my coffee."

Thaelan grinned at Vincent as Valentine stared at him with surprise.

"Come on." Vincent said, then walked into the mess hall without looking to see if Thaelan and Valentine were going to follow.

"You have a Vulcan son?" Valentine asked Thaelan with interest.

"Yes. And unless you want him to come back out here to retrieve us, we'd better follow him." Thaelan said with a warm glance toward the doorway.

"Vincent is your son?" Valentine asked curiously as he fell into step at Thaelan's side.

"Yes. The funny thing is, that I don't recall ever actually making the decision to adopt him. One day I looked back on the relationship between us and realized that I had unthinkingly gone through all the steps, but one, required to officially make Vincent a member of my family. During my leave time, when I was on Andor, I completed the last step to make it official." Thaelan said as he finally stopped at the back of the serving line.

"Vincent has stated that legally, he is a Vulcan, but he is obviously biologically Human." Valentine said thoughtfully.

"True. He is that. But he is more. As you spend time with him, you'll see what I mean." Thaelan said confidently.

Valentine picked up a tray from the stack, then said, "I didn't realize it at first, but he's also 'The Hero of Kimber', isn't he?"

"Yes. But I'd advise you not to ask him about it. He'll answer your questions, but afterward... I don't know all of what happened. But I can tell that there are still things about the experience that haunt him." Thaelan said distantly.

Valentine nodded that he understood, then started making his selections from the hot foods.

By the time he had finished, Thaelan had moved on to the next line.

* * * * *

"Valentine, this is my brother, Darin. He works part time on the bridge and part time in Deflector Control." Vincent said seriously as they walked up to the table.

"Your brother?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"Well, not biologically or officially, but in every other way." Vincent said with a smile.

After a moment to consider, Valentine nodded his acceptance.

"Next, I'd like for you to meet Rad, he's Darin's boyfriend, he works in Transporter Control." Vincent said as Valentine took a step closer to the table.

"A pleasure to meet you." Valentine said timidly.

"Wow. You're tall!" Rad said with astonishment.

"And you're as tactful as ever." Joe said dryly.

Rad smiled at Joe, then said, "Sorry, man, I didn't mean any offense by it. Come on, sit down."

Valentine cautiously took a seat at the table, beside Vincent and across from Rad and Darin.

"So, Crewman Valentine, are you getting settled in alright?" Joe asked curiously.

"Yes, Sir. Everyone has been very kind and accommodating." Valentine said timidly.

"What about you, Vincent? Are you getting back into the swing of things?" Joe asked warmly.

"Well, it wasn't exactly the homecoming that I was expecting. But I think everything worked out alright." Vincent said honestly.

"I can't believe the captain threw you off the bridge." Darin said with a shake of his head.

"He what?!" Joe asked in surprise.

"By the way, what's the captain's name? All day yesterday I was expecting to hear an announcement from him about what happened to Captain Byrne or something about our mission, but I don't know anything more about what's going on now than when I came aboard." Vincent asked curiously.

"His name is Captain Coal. I can't really tell you much more than that other than the fact that he's a humorless tyrant." Darin said frankly.

"Hold on, what's this about the captain kicking you off the bridge?" Joe asked firmly.

"As soon as I'd transported aboard, I reported for duty and he told me to get off his bridge. That's really all there is to it." Vincent said simply.

"Be glad you're not up there. The tension's so thick you could cut it with a knife." Darin said frankly.

"Any word on what our mission is?" Vincent asked the group in general, in a not too subtle attempt to change the topic of discussion.

"I haven't heard anything, what about you, Rad?" Joe asked curiously.

"Well, I haven't heard anything officially..." Rad trailed off reluctantly.

Everyone waited anxiously for Rad to reveal the big mystery.

"When I was talking to Chief Morgan last night, he let it slip that we're going to be really busy for the next few days because we're going to be going through all the biofilters and biocontainment shields, double and triple checking them."

"Shit." Joe muttered.

Everyone watched as Joe seemed to be playing through a few dozen 'worst case' scenarios in his mind.

Finally Joe seemed to come back to himself and said, "Darin, I'm glad you're going to be working with us today. If they're going to be working on the biocontainment shields, then Deflector Control's going to be involved. When the call comes through, I'm going to want you working with me on the transporter systems. Thaelan and Kent can run the shift while Vincent and Valentine dig into the portable shield generators and test the quarantine fields."

Everyone was slowly nodding and thinking of what needed to be done.

"Vincent, make sure you also look at the Cooper Bridge and make sure the quarantine field is completely effective using multiple shield generators. After you're done, one of us will follow right behind you and check it again. When you're dealing with biocontainment, there are NO second chances." Joe said gravely.

"Then I guess it's good that we have the creator of the Cooper Bridge on our team." Vincent said with a proud look at Darin.

Valentine looked at Vincent with question.

Vincent noticed and said, "Crewman Valentine, meet Ensign Darin Cooper, the creator of the Cooper Bridge."

"I... I didn't realize." Valentine stammered as he stared at Darin in wonder. "I studied your design at the academy... it's brilliant."

"Thanks." Darin said with a blush, then added, "But it was Vincent who inspired me to build it, and the whole team helped."

"Now I understand what Commander DeGama was talking about." Valentine muttered absently.

"What was that?" Joe asked with interest.

"Oh, he said that his daughter told him that you were an excellent team." Valentine said quickly.

"Lou, on the Gamma shift, is his daughter. I don't think you've met her yet." Vincent said thoughtfully.

Valentine nodded, then said, "When he said that, I just didn't expect... I mean, here I am, having breakfast with The Hero of Kimber and the creator of the Cooper Bridge."

"Also the creator of the 'Winters Transporter Retrieval Method'." Darin said, then pointed at Rad with his thumb.

"I heard about that! The programming was beyond my understanding, but the methodology..." Valentine trailed off in wonder.

"I think that's enough ego stroking for one morning. All of us have things to do, and unless I miss my guess, things are about to get VERY intense." Joe said frankly.

"They always are when we have to deal with a biological pathogen." Rad said frankly as he started to gather his dishes.

"Wait! Before we go, there's one thing that I really need to know." Vincent said seriously.

Everyone stopped and waited for him to continue.

"Darin, what happened to your hair?" Vincent asked slowly.

A few chuckles went around the table as everyone listened with interest.

Finally, Darin blushed a little and said, "Well, let's just say that it's dangerous to tease one of Rad's brothers about his name."

Vincent looked at Darin with surprise, then turned to Rad for an explanation.

"Darin made the mistake of making a 'ninja turtle' comment about my brother MichaelAngelo's name. So the older kids held Darin down and let the younger kids cut his hair." Rad said as he tried to contain his laughter.

Vincent looked back at Darin's 'peach fuzz' hair and said, "Well, if that's how it happened, I guess it doesn't look too bad."

"That's what I told him. We took Darin to a hairdresser to get it evened out and I think it turned out pretty good." Rad said with a fond smile at Darin.

"Did MichaelAngelo get in trouble?" Vincent asked curiously.

Rad chuckled as Darin said, "No. All Rad's mother told him was, 'Good for you'."

* * * * *

"Liam?" Valentine asked in surprise as he was walking away from the table.

"Valentine? What are you doing here?" Liam asked in equal surprise.

"When I passed my test, I was called to Commander DeGama's office and assigned to the Yorktown." Valentine said quickly.

"Me, too." Liam said with a smile, then added, "I had originally been assigned to the Paladin, but at the last minute, I was told that the Yorktown was short of environmental control personnel and I was reassigned here."

"I'm guessing you guys know each other." Vincent said cautiously.

"Yes, we were at the academy together." Valentine explained, then said, "Liam, this is Ensign Winters, my new commanding officer."

"It's nice to meet you. I'd love to hang around but I have to get to work." Liam said regretfully.

"We need to go, too." Vincent said seriously.

"We can talk later." Valentine said with a smile at his friend.

"Yeah."

* * * * *

Once everyone had dropped off their dishes, they made their way to the nearest turbolift and Joe said, "Deflector Control."

"Environmental Control." Liam said a moment later.

"Maybe you guys can work it out so you can have breaks or lunches at the same time. Environmental Control is right next door to Deflector Control." Vincent suggested into the silence that had fallen over the group.

"I don't know about that. I don't think I want to ask Lieutenant Nyman for any favors until I've worked with her for a while. She seems kind of intense." Liam said hesitantly.

"Don't expect her to mellow out any time soon. She takes her work very seriously." Joe interjected.

Liam glanced at Joe and nodded, then his attention seemed to be drawn to Darin.

"I remember you. You're one of the cadets that was pranked by those jerks at the academy." Liam said suddenly.

"Yeah. Darin Cooper." Darin responded shyly.

Before anything more could be said, the lift doors opened.

"I'm sorry about what happened to you. Someone should have stopped them sooner." Liam said as they walked off the lift.

"It's okay. Everything turned out alright." Darin assured him.

"I've really got to go. Maybe we can catch up on things after our shifts?" Liam asked hopefully.

"I'd like that." Darin said with a smile.

* * * * *

When the group walked into Deflector Control, they found Kent already waiting for them.

"You should have joined us for breakfast, Kent." Joe said as he walked directly to the main.

"Yeah." Kent said uncomfortably as he kept most of his focus on the second console.

"Val, I'd like for you to meet Lou and Judy." Vincent said as he ushered Valentine more into the room.

"It's a pleasure to meet you." Valentine said timidly.

"Look at you! You're about a Vulcan and a half!" Lou said with astonishment as she looked up at Valentine from her seat at the main console.

Vincent laughed at her words, then noticed Valentine's look of uncertainty.

"That's just Lou's way of saying 'welcome to the team'." Vincent said reassuringly.

"I met your father at the academy. He spoke of you with great pride." Valentine said honestly as he looked Lou in the eyes.

For all the bravado that Lou usually employed, the sincere words seemed to leave her stupefied.

Vincent was delighted to see Lou left in such a speechless state.

After a moment of silence, Joe quietly asked, "Is there anything we need to know about?"

Lou snapped her attention back to her duties and quickly said, "No. Everything seems to be running fine and no one has given out any clues about our destination or our mission."

"We've heard a rumor that it's going to have something to do with biocontainment, but that's all that we've been able to discover so far." Joe told her frankly.

"That can't be good." Lou said thoughtfully, then smiled as she continued, "You guys have fun!"

"We'll do our best." Joe said to her warmly, then looked back toward the rest of his crew and said, "Let's do our system checks so Lou and Judy can get some rest."

"Val, go ahead and do the console status report on station three." Vincent said seriously.

"Would you like for me to take the main?" Thaelan asked Joe cautiously.

"Yes. As soon as the system checks are done, we're going to dig into the portable shield generators." Joe answered quietly.

"That's right, Val. As soon as all the indicators come up green, call it out so that whoever's running the main will know that all the consoles are working right. If any of the indicators comes up as something other than green, you call that out immediately." Vincent said seriously.

"What do I say?" Valentine asked uncertainly.

"It doesn't matter, just as long as they know what you're talking about." Vincent said seriously.

When the last indicator light turned green, Valentine turned toward the main and said, "All consoles at green status."

After a moment to consider, Vincent said, "Yeah. That works."

Valentine continued to watch the third console until Vincent quietly said, "I'll cover the other consoles with you some other time. Right now, we've got some other stuff to do."

* * * * *

When Kent and Darin had finished their system checks, Joe gathered the team and said, "Kent, since you're already an old hand at all of this, you're going to be Thaelan's second."

Kent glanced at Thaelan, who was manning the main, then seriously nodded.

"Darin, I need for you to get on the auxiliary station and do as much research on biocontainment as you can, before we're called."

"I'm on it." Darin said as he stepped away.

"Vincent and Valentine, I need for you to get the portable shield generators and start doing system checks. Once the standard tests are done, you'll need to do the full battery of biocontainment tests. If all the independent generators show as good, then I need for you to hook up the Cooper Bridge and test them as a unit." Joe said seriously.

"Am I going to need to go to sickbay to get a test sample or do you have something like that here?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Check the bin beside the power cells, in the supply room."

Vincent nodded once, then waited to see if there were going to be any more instructions.

After a look around at his team, Joe said, "That's it. Let's hit it."

"Who gets what tool bag?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Kent's will be the next past yours, then Valentine's." Joe said decisively.

Vincent nodded, then went to get his tool bag.

At Valentine's look of question, Vincent indicated where Valentine's tool bag was located.

"I've got seven, Val's got eight." Vincent said as he grabbed two communicators as he passed by the door and handed one to Val.

* * * * *

Once they were in the supply room, Vincent looked in the bin beside the power cells to find that it was empty.

He put a few extra power cells into his tool bag and instructed Val to do the same.

A smile came over his face as he spotted the container of extra couplers and made a point of putting a few in his pocket.

"We're going to have to stop by sickbay for a bio-sample. Ours must have been thrown out during the refit." Vincent said as he walked with Valentine to the door.

"I'll call ahead so they'll have it waiting for you." Joe said over his shoulder.

Vincent nodded that he had heard, then guided Valentine to walk with him out of the room.

* * * * *

As Vincent walked into the sickbay, he was surprised to find it empty.

"Maybe they're in the office." Vincent said quietly as he led the way through the main sickbay to the door leading to the back hallway.

Valentine followed along silently, unnerved by the silent sterile room.

After stepping into the hallway, the door from the convalescent ward opened and Vincent was happy to see a familiar face.

"It's good to see you Wade. How are you doing?" Vincent asked happily.

"You've grown." Wade said in astonishment.

"Yeah. I do that a lot." Vincent said timidly.

"Oh, um, I'm fine. Just a little rushed at the moment. Were you the one needing the bio-sample?" Wade asked curiously.

"Yes. I've got to do some biocontainment tests on the portable shield generators." Vincent said seriously.

"Here you go." Wade said as he handed over the small piece of equipment, then asked, "Did T'Lani get her medical degree?"

"The last time I talked to her was before her final test, so I don't know. I hope so." Vincent said honestly.

"Well, I guess we'll know pretty soon. From what I heard, we're on our way to pick up the Vulcan crew." Wade said frankly.

"I kind of thought that we would be, but since there haven't been any announcements I wasn't really one hundred percent sure." Vincent said honestly.

Wade leaned in close to quietly say, "They're not telling us anything either. And it's driving Dr. Perry crazy."

* * * * *

"This is where the portable shield generators are stored." Vincent said as he led Valentine across the hangar bay.

When Vincent opened the compartment, he was surprised to find it empty.

"Well, this is where they should be." Vincent said slowly as he thought about what he should do next.

"If we do not have the shield generators, is that going to be a problem?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"I don't know. I mean, there's a chance that we won't need them for anything. We were just going to check them out because it's something we can do to be prepared, just in case." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"What do we do now?" Valentine asked quietly.

"I guess the first thing we'll need to do is check the ship's manifest to see if there were any shield generators brought aboard. If there were, then the next thing we'll have to do is try to track down where they put them." Vincent said decisively as he walked to the small computer console by the door.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Valentine asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. Call Deflector Control and let them know what's going on." Vincent said as he signed in to the computer.

Valentine opened his communicator and quietly said, "Crewman Valentine to Deflector Control."

"This is Deflector Control. Go ahead." Thaelan answered.

"Ensign Winters wanted me to report that the shield generators aren't where they're supposed to be. He's looking in the computer now to try and find out if they were brought aboard the ship." Valentine said carefully.

"Tell him to check on the Cooper Bridge while he's at it." Joe's voice said over the communicator.

"I will tell him. Valentine, out." Valentine said carefully, then said to Vincent, "Lieutenant Bowers said..."

"I heard him." Vincent said absently as he navigated the computer screens.

Valentine nodded and watched.

"Crap. I don't have access to the manifest." Vincent said in frustration.

"What do we do now?" Valentine asked quietly.

"Let me try my diplomatic access. I should be able to get in there with a Major's rank." Vincent said as he tried a different login.

Valentine watched as Vincent navigated through different menus and finally arrived at the one he wanted.

"Good. This shows that the shield generators were stored in cargo bay three. The Cooper Bridge should be there, too." Vincent said with relief.

Valentine hefted his tool bag to go when he noticed that Vincent had stopped to compose a message.

"I'm letting Commander M'Butu know that I don't have access to the manifest. Even as a crewman, I had 'view-only' access. Without the right level of computer access, I won't be able to do my job." Vincent said seriously.

"Is there any way you can check my access to see that it is correct?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"Sure, scoot on in here and sign in. Let's see if you can access the manifest." Vincent said as he signed off.

Valentine logged in on the terminal and it took him a moment to find the correct menu.

"You see at the top, it says 'View-Only'. That's exactly what you should have." Vincent said seriously.

Valentine nodded.

"Go ahead and sign off. We need to get to cargo bay three so we can get started." Vincent said seriously.

"Yes, Sir."

* * * * *

"According to the manifest, they're supposed to be in bin 'CC-4'." Vincent said as he walked down the rows, trying to get a sense of their organization.

"I believe I have found the correct shelf." Valentine said from the next row.

Vincent hurried around the shelving to find Valentine standing back, looking toward one of the upper shelves.

"You don't happen to be certified to operate a lift?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. It never occurred to me to pursue certification while I was at the academy." Valentine said honestly.

"Yeah. I'm not either." Vincent said, then took the communicator off his belt and said, "Ensign Winters to Supply."

"Supply. This is Lieutenant Lakeland." A man answered.

"This is Ensign Winters from Deflector Control. Our emergency shield generators were put up in the racks instead of being put in the hangar bay where they belong. Could you get someone to relocate them for me?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"I can probably have someone down there in about twenty to thirty minutes." Lieutenant Lakeland said carefully.

"Thank you, sir. Winters, out." Vincent said as he fought to keep the irritation out of his voice.

"Would you like for me to notify Deflector Control of the delay?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Would you?" Vincent asked as he looked up at the top rack of shelving again.

* * * * *

Vincent was surprised to find that the Cooper Bridge was actually on the same shelf with the shield generators. The way his day had been going, he wouldn't have bet on that happening.

Once the shield generators were moved into the hangar bay, where they belonged, Vincent and Valentine were able to get down to the business of testing their functions.

Vincent watched as Valentine went through the testing procedure to verify that he understood the process.

Once he was assured that Valentine knew what he was doing, Vincent was finally able to get to work.

* * * * *

"Ensign Winters to Deflector Control." Vincent said into his communicator.

"Deflector Control. Go ahead." Thaelan said efficiently.

"We've just finished checking out all the shield generators. If it's okay, we're going to go to lunch and start checking the biocontainment when we get back." Vincent said professionally.

"Yes. I believe that will be fine. Be advised, Joe and Darin are currently in a meeting with Chief Morgan. Therefore, circumstances may change upon their return." Thaelan cautioned.

"Understood. I'll check in when we're back from lunch and you can call if you need us before that." Vincent said seriously.

"Acknowledged. Deflector Control, out."

Vincent closed his communicator, then asked Valentine, "Are you ready for lunch?"

"It seems remarkable to me that it is lunchtime already. I feel as though we only just started." Valentine said honestly.

"Yeah. I know what you mean. There's some days, like this, that fly by, then there's others that seem to drag on forever." Vincent said casually.

Valentine absently nodded and seemed to be lost in thought.

As they walked onto the turbolift, Vincent looked upward as he said, "Engineer's mess."

Valentine wore the classic 'million miles away' expression as he stared into the distance.

"Is something wrong?" Vincent asked curiously.

Valentine blinked at the question, then hurried to say, "No. I was just thinking that being here, working on a starship, it's nothing like what I thought it would be."

"Yeah. I think that happens a lot." Vincent chuckled, then asked, "What were you expecting?"

When the lift doors opened, Vincent stepped out first.

"I don't really know." Valentine said honestly.

"Well, try not to worry about it. You're here now and everyone in Deflector Control will help you learn your job." Vincent said with a smile as he led the way into the mess hall.

* * * * *

Once they had made their lunch selections, Vincent and Valentine looked around for a table.

"Let's sit by these guys." Vincent said cheerfully as he changed directions.

Valentine followed as they moved to an open table that was next to an occupied one.

"Val, I'd like for you to meet Reese, Marie and Barth, from sciences. Guys, this is Valentine, he just started working in Deflector Control." Vincent said seriously.

"You're an ensign, now? Look at you go!" Barth said with a grin.

"Yeah, well, the only reason I was allowed on the ship to begin with was because I was in the mentoring program. And the whole point of the mentoring program is for you to become an officer. It'd kinda suck if I'd done all that stuff as a crewman then failed my officer's exam." Vincent said frankly.

"I guess it seems funny because I've been a crewman for five years and I'm no closer to being an officer than the day that I started." Barth said cautiously.

"Are you trying to be an officer?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Well, no. I haven't really done anything..." Barth trailed off uncomfortably.

"And that didn't work... hmmm." Vincent said mock seriously, then broke into a grin.

Valentine had a slight smile as Reese and Marie were both laughing aloud at the exchange.

"If you ever decide that you do want to try, just let me know. I picked up a few study tricks along the way." Vincent said with a smile at Barth.

"Yeah. I'll think about it." Barth said more seriously than any of them would have expected.

Vincent's communicator beeped and he immediately took it off his belt.

"Ensign Winters." He quickly responded.

"This is Commander M'Butu. Would you please come to my office?" Commander M'Butu asked seriously.

"Yes, Sir. I'll be right there." Vincent said immediately.

"M'Butu out." Commander M'Butu said shortly, then ended the transmission.

As Vincent stood, he looked to Valentine and quietly said, "If I'm not done before you finish your lunch, go on back to Deflector Control and I'll meet up with you there."

"I could continue testing the shield generators." Valentine offered quietly.

"No. We're testing the biocontainment next. We need to do that together." Vincent said seriously, then carried his tray to the drop-off window.

* * * * *

"Ensign Winters, reporting as ordered, Sir." Vincent said from the doorway to Commander M'Butu's office.

"Come in, Ensign. Have a seat." Commander M'Butu said wearily.

As Vincent sat down, he noticed how exhausted Commander M'Butu looked.

"I've been told about an incident on the bridge yesterday afternoon when you attempted to report for duty and were ejected from the bridge. Since I wasn't present, I'd like to hear your side of it." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"Well, what you said is about all there is to it." Vincent said honestly, then continued, "When my Vulcan ship met up with the Yorktown, I transported aboard. Since I'm a bridge officer, I went directly to the bridge to report for duty. The captain said that he didn't have any use for glory grabbing, showboating celebrities... I think those were his exact words, then he told me to get off his bridge."

After a moment, Commander M'Butu quietly said, "I had hoped that they might have been exaggerating."

Vincent waited, worried about the commander's drawn appearance.

"Tell me, yesterday, you gave approval for a crewman to use subspace for a personal video call, didn't you?" Commander M'Butu asked slowly.

"Yes, sir. Crewman Valentine... excuse me, I mean, Crewman Valaan was assigned to the Yorktown directly from the academy. He didn't get a chance..." Vincent said before he was interrupted.

"I don't need to know the details. Captain Coal has suspended your computer access for misuse of authority." Commander M'Butu said bluntly.

"According to regulations, I was allowed to make that decision." Vincent said carefully.

"Yes. And according to regulations, the Captain can suspend your authorization if he feels that you were abusing your authority." Commander M'Butu said simply.

Although Vincent wanted to protest, he was able to hold himself back and simply respond with a polite, "Yes, Sir."

"The captain has felt the need to suspend the computer privileges of nearly thirty officers since he's been aboard, for various supposed reasons." Commander M'Butu said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

"Sir, I can't do my job without the right level of computer access. Right now Crewman Valentine, who is an E-1, straight out of the academy, has higher level computer access than I do." Vincent said seriously.

"I can't override the captain's lockout. I can reassign you to other duties that don't require computer access or, depending on how much leave time you have accrued, I could remove you from duty entirely. As I see it, those are my only options." Commander M'Butu said regretfully.

"When I couldn't get into the ship's manifest, I used my Vulcan diplomatic access. Is that going to be revoked, too?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. Revoking your diplomatic access would risk a diplomatic incident. I don't think the captain would do that. From what I've seen, he's been very careful to do everything just within the letter of the law... barely." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.

"So, how do I make this work? Do I have to 'officially' go on duty as a Vulcan officer and go back to wearing my Major's uniform?" Vincent asked carefully.

"In other circumstances, I'd say 'no'. But things being as they are, I think the best thing that we can do is to embrace your diplomatic status. That way, the captain will have to be very careful about any action he takes in regard to you." Commander M'Butu said slowly.

"Commander M'Butu, could you please arrange for another backup officer? The captain just removed Lieutenant Clark from the bridge." A man asked with concern.

"Who is this?" Commander M'Butu asked cautiously.

"Ensign O'Nail, Sir." The man answered.

"Where is Lieutenant Patterson?" Commander M'Butu asked slowly.

"She's on the helm. She asked me to call you." Ensign O'Nail said frankly.

"Thank you, Ensign. I'll get you someone." Commander M'Butu said wearily.

"Yes, Sir. Thank you." Ensign O'Nail said gratefully.

Commander M'Butu's gaze shifted to Vincent and he quietly said, "Dismissed, Ensign."

"Major." Vincent corrected with a halfhearted smile.

"Right. I'll update your personnel status to reflect that the Clan Short representative, 'Major Winters' is serving on detached duty with us." Commander M'Butu said, then gave a long sigh before continuing, "After I find someone to fill in as backup crew."

"I am fully trained..." Vincent said with a grin.

Commander M'Butu didn't even pause to think about it. "I don't even want to imagine what kind of trouble that would cause."

* * * * *

After stopping by his cabin to change into his Vulcan uniform, Vincent went to the engineer's mess hall.

Valentine wasn't there, so he continued on to Deflector Control.

"Is there anything new going on here?" Vincent asked curiously as he walked in.

Thaelan turned and blinked once before answering, "There have been no new developments. Joe and Darin have not yet returned."

"What's with the uniform?" Kent asked curiously.

"It's kind of a long story. Basically, the captain rescinded Ensign Winters' computer access, so Major Winters had to go on duty." Vincent said seriously.

"So, the captain threw you off the bridge, then locked you out of the computer?" Thaelan asked to verify.

"Yeah. But from what Commander M'Butu just said, I'm not the only one. I get the feeling that Captain Coal isn't making a lot of friends." Vincent said frankly, then thought to ask, "Are you guys ready for lunch?"

"Yes. There is no way to know how long Joe and Darin will be in their meeting." Thaelan said thoughtfully.

"Well, first, let me check to be sure that I have the access I need to do the job. With the captain screwing around with people's computer access, it wouldn't surprise me if it was messed up." Vincent said as he moved to the main.

Vincent signed on, then went through a standard series of checks to make sure everything was working.

"It looks good. I've got it." Vincent said seriously.

"I stand relieved." Thaelan said quietly from his side.

"When you get back from lunch, remind me to tell you about what happened with the particle overlays while I was on the Vulcan ship." Vincent said with a smile up at Thaelan.

"I will remind you." Thaelan said with a smile, then walked to the door where Kent was waiting for him.

* * * * *

Due to Valentine's lack of training, Vincent brought up consoles one and two on the main to keep an eye on them himself. If things suddenly got interesting, Vincent was fairly certain that he could manage until the rest of the team returned to Deflector control.

However, nothing even remotely interesting happened before Thaelan and Kent returned.

Once Thaelan had taken control of the main, Vincent and Valentine made their way back to the hangar bay.

* * * * *

"Okay, we've got to be really careful on this part. If they end up having to use the shield generators to enforce biocontainment, these things will have to be one hundred percent effective. There's no margin for error. We have to check, double check, then someone's going to go behind us and check it all again. It's that important." Vincent said firmly.

"I understand." Valentine said seriously.

"Good. Then you go ahead and fire it up and let me know when you're ready, then I'll trigger the bio-sample." Vincent said as he dug in his tool bag.

"Before you trigger the bio-sample, could you check to see that I have the settings configured correctly?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"Sure. Just let me know when you're ready." Vincent said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Sorry that took so long." Vincent said as he led the way into Deflector Control.

"Don't worry about it. We've had plenty to keep us entertained." Joe said grimly.

"They want us to find a way to reinforce biocontainment using shielding in the environmental suits." Darin interjected from auxiliary station one, where he had the specifications of the environmental suits displayed.

"And the transporters... and the shield generators... and the Cooper Bridge..." Joe said wearily.

"Well, the shield generators and the Cooper Bridge all checked out as fine, twice. Val and I just finished." Vincent said seriously.

"Good. Thank you, Vincent... or should I call you Major Winters?" Joe asked with a smile.

"Only when it's official business." Vincent answered reluctantly.

"What's going on?" Joe asked with concern.

"How much did Thaelan already tell you?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

"That after being thrown off the bridge, you've also been locked out of the computer." Joe answered seriously.

"Yeah, well, not totally locked out. But my access is so limited that I can't do much more than check my email. With the way it is now, there's no way I could do my job, especially if I'm supposed to run the main. Commander M'Butu said that if I use my Vulcan diplomatic access, I can still do my job, but for things to be right, I need to do the whole thing with the rank and the uniform." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Why does the captain have it in for you?" Joe asked cautiously.

"I don't know for sure if he does. From what I heard, he's cut a lot of people's computer access and I know of at least one other person he's thrown off the bridge." Vincent said honestly.

"We were going to be running short handed until the Vulcan crew are on board. If he's restricting people's access willy-nilly, we're going to run out of officers pretty quick." Joe said frankly.

"He did it to himself." Vincent said with a shrug, then said, "We finished our part on the shield generators, where do you want us now?"

"Vincent, why don't you take the main while I take Darin and Thaelan down to do a double check on those shield generators? You'll have Kent and Valentine to back you up." Joe said seriously.

After looking over the main to be sure that he was aware of all the settings, Vincent confidently said, "I have control."

"I stand relieved."

* * * * *

"Kent, do you have anything going on right this minute?" Vincent asked curiously.

"No, um, Sir." Kent stammered.

"It's fine to call me Vincent unless we're having to be formal for something." Vincent said with a smile.

"Okay, Vincent. Um, no. I don't have anything going on." Kent said as he looked around.

"Then, would you take Valentine through the first and second console and show him how to do the standard system checks and things? I was able to cover station three with him but we never got the chance to go through the rest." Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure. No problem." Kent said casually.

* * * * *

Vincent kept his focus on the deflector control main, but also kept tabs on what Kent and Valentine were doing in the background.

Even though there wasn't really anything for him to do but be aware and ready to react, he still had more to do than when he was in command on the T'Salanade.

An indicator on the deflector control main lit up as the ship dropped out of warp.

Vincent ran through his system checks, as was customary when leaving warp, then he checked the sensors to see why they had stopped.

There appeared to be an armada of small, long range shuttles approaching. Vincent broke into a smile when he could feel T'Lani in their bond.

He couldn't quite make full telepathic contact, but he could feel her presence and was soothed by it.

"Why did we stop?" Kent asked as he walked to the main.

"It looks like the Vulcan members of the crew met us halfway." Vincent said uncertainly.

"Wow. We must really be in a hurry for them to do that." Kent said in astonishment.

"Yeah. I've never heard of them doing something like that before." Vincent said cautiously as he noticed that the long range shuttles were maneuvering into a formation to land in the hangar bay.

"If we're taking them all aboard, the shuttle bay is going to be packed." Kent said seriously.

"Yeah. And from what I saw when I was down there this morning, they didn't know this was coming or they would have been clearing the deck to make room." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"So this docking could take a few minutes?" Kent asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I'm thinking so." Vincent confirmed, then added, "They're acting like they're so rushed to get us wherever we're going, but then they're wasting time like this when they really don't have to. I guess this is going to happen when you're keeping every detail of the mission a secret."

"Do you really think that's the Vulcan members of the crew?" Kent asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I know at least some of them are." Vincent said seriously, then realized that he could sense T'Lani more strongly.

Kent looked over the sensor readings and couldn't see how Vincent was drawing that conclusion.

"Would you guys do a quick round of the stations and make sure we're ready for when we have to go back to warp?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Sure. If we've got time, I'll let Val do the checks and I'll follow behind him." Kent suggested.

"From the holding pattern the shuttles are in, I think you'll probably have time to go through them twice, if you want to." Vincent frankly said as he focused on trying to make full telepathic contact with his wife.

* * * * *

"Well, how do you like that for a plan?" Joe asked sourly as he walked into Deflector Control, followed by Darin and Thaelan.

"What happened?" Vincent asked curiously.

"We're all gathered around, testing our shield generators when all of a sudden the alarm sounds and we're scrambling to clear the deck before a ship lands on top of us." Joe said frankly.

"They didn't warn you?" Vincent asked with a laugh.

"From the look of it, they didn't warn anyone. The people working in the shuttle bay were as surprised as we were." Joe said honestly.

"Any word on who was on the shuttles?" Kent asked curiously.

"No. As soon as we had all the shield generators stowed, we got out of there." Joe said seriously.

"It's the Vulcan members of our crew and a bunch of doctors and nurses from Vulcan." Vincent said carefully.

"How do you know that?" Kent asked curiously.

"I have a telepathic bond with my wife. She's on one of the shuttles." Vincent said simply.

"You're into the Vulcan thing a whole lot more than I thought." Kent said hesitantly.

Vincent nodded in simple agreement with Kent's words.

"Do they have any idea of what our mission is?" Joe asked cautiously.

"Not exactly. There's some kind of mutagenic virus they're being sent to investigate... that's about it. I guess the whole medical team that discovered it died before they could learn much of anything about it." Vincent said quietly.

"Do you know where?" Joe asked curiously.

"No. T'Lani doesn't know that." Vincent said seriously.

"So, now we know... actually, nothing more than we'd been able to deduce on our own." Joe said frankly.

"Sorry, that's all I've got." Vincent said regretfully.

"I wonder why we aren't moving." Joe said cautiously.

"Maybe they're still trying to squeeze one more shuttle in." Kent speculated.

"No. I think they should have fit them all in by now." Joe said as he stepped to Vincent's side to look over the main.

"T'Lani says that they've been told to wait inside their shuttles for a few more minutes. They've already landed, but they're just sitting there. To her, it looks like everyone in all the shuttles is doing the same." Vincent said cautiously.

"Attention all hands, this is Commander M'Butu. By order of Starfleet command, effective 14:30 hours on this date, Captain Coal has been relieved of command. I will serve as acting captain until Captain Byrne is able to join us."

"Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." Darin muttered.

"Shhh." Vincent said as he concentrated.

"What is it?" Joe asked with concern.

"Give me a second." Vincent said as he focused more intently.

Looks of question went around the room.

Vincent finally said, "Everyone is getting off one of the shuttles and it looks like they're unloading all the cargo from it."

"But everyone else is still waiting on the other shuttles?" Joe asked quietly.

"Yeah." Vincent said distantly as he fought to maintain his focus.

"Do you think they're going to unload them, one shuttle at a time, while we're sitting here, waiting?" Kent asked in confusion.

"That kind of defeats the whole point of us leaving ahead of schedule." Darin said frankly.

"Okay. Something's happening." Vincent said suddenly.

Everyone waited for Vincent to reveal what was going on.

"There's three men walking across the hangar bay... T'Lani's not sure, but she thinks that maybe security is escorting Captain Coal to the shuttle that they just emptied." Vincent said in concentration.

"You mean, they're putting him off the ship, right here, in the middle of nowhere?" Kent asked in surprise.

"Yeah. T'Lani said that when the three men reached the shuttle, one of them went aboard and the other two walked away." Vincent said carefully.

"I'm guessing that we're about halfway between Earth and Vulcan right now, so Captain Coal would be able to go either place, just as easily, from here." Joe said speculatively.

"T'Lani just said that the shuttle is being tractored out. It'll be clearing the hangar doors any minute." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"Good riddance." Darin said simply.

"Now that he's gone, everyone else is leaving the other shuttles. I think that's what they were waiting for. When the clock hit 14:30, they escorted Captain Coal to a shuttle to leave the ship." Vincent said seriously.

"Forget what I was saying about the waste of time. I think we'll all agree that this little delay was worth it." Joe said frankly.

A beeping from the main drew Vincent's attention.

"Here we go." Vincent said as he did a quick check of the main deflector.

"Have you got this?" Joe asked to be sure.

"Yeah. Got it." Vincent assured him, then called out, "Status checks?"

"Console one is good." Darin called out immediately.

"Two's all green." Kent called out next.

"Station three, consoles at green status." Valentine called next.

One last glance at the main was all Vincent needed to assure him that everything was as it should be.

* * * * *

"Well, now that the excitement is over, I suppose that we'd better regroup and get back to work." Joe said frankly.

Everyone paid Joe their full attention as they waited for their instructions.

"Thaelan, why don't you take Kent and get back to checking the bio-containment on the shield generators. While you're doing that, Darin and I are going to start making the rounds of the transporter rooms." Joe said thoughtfully.

"Do you need another bio-sample from sickbay?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yes. Thank you for thinking of that." Joe said with a smile at him.

"I'll let them know you're on your way." Vincent said seriously as he quickly composed a text message.

"It looks like you have things under control here. Call if you need us for anything. We're going to be tied up for the rest of the day." Joe said frankly.

"What about Environmental Control?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"They're just going to have to wait. If they contact you, tell them that they're first on my list for tomorrow. If that doesn't satisfy them, tell them to call me so I can tell them the same thing." Joe said frankly.

"I'll do that." Vincent said with a smile, then checked to see that Joe, Darin, Thaelan, and Kent all had communicators logged in.

"Let's do it!" Joe said, then led the way to the door.

* * * * *

Vincent automatically went through his status checks on the main, to verify that everything was running at optimum performance.

After a few minutes, Vincent realized that he hadn't heard Valentine say anything since the others had left.

"Is everything alright?" Vincent asked without looking away from his screens.

"I'm not sure." Valentine said quietly.

"What's up?" Vincent asked casually, trying to put Valentine at ease.

"I feel such a sense of responsibility. I am afraid that if you need something, that I will be unable to react appropriately." Valentine said honestly.

"Yeah. I know how that feels." Vincent said honestly, then added, "But you don't need to worry, I've got you covered. If something comes up, the two of us can hold it together until the rest of the team can get back here."

"When I was training for Starfleet service, I didn't realize just what it was that I was training for. I somehow thought that I would be following orders and doing a job, but it never occurred to me that what I was doing could potentially impact the safety of the entire crew." Valentine said anxiously.

"Yeah. That's kind of tough to deal with, at first. I don't really know what to tell you, except to do your best and try to remember that we're a team. If one of us falls down, the rest of us are here to help them back up." Vincent said frankly.

"I think I'm beginning to understand the emphasis that they place on teamwork at the academy." Valentine said thoughtfully.

* * * * *

Valentine went from station to station, doing the status checks that Kent had shown him earlier, but felt an escalating sense of disquiet at Vincent's continued silence.

"It's gotta be an outpost." Vincent finally said, startling Valentine.

"What was that?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"I've been trying to figure out our destination from our course. I'm not sure exactly where we're going, but the general area we're pointed at isn't the friendliest neighborhood in the Federation." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"How do you mean?" Valentine asked curiously.

"It doesn't matter. I could be way off." Vincent said dismissively.

"How bad do you think it will be?" Valentine asked with concern.

"Have you read the stories or watched the movies about heroic space captains who fight against evil aliens and go into incredible space battles and stuff like that?" Vincent asked carefully.

"Yes. Of course." Valentine said honestly.

"Where stuff like that actually happens... that's where we're headed." Vincent said frankly.

* * * * *

"What's going on?" Connie asked as he walked into Deflector Control.

"Valentine and I are here, watching the store. Everyone else is out taking care of other stuff." Vincent said simply.

"Actually, what I was asking is, what's up with the Vulcan uniform?" Connie asked slowly.

"Oh, some stuff happened earlier and I haven't had a chance to change back, yet." Vincent said dismissively, then looked at the time before saying, "I didn't realize it was so late."

"Yeah. Time flies. How are things in here, today?" Connie asked as he walked up behind Vincent to look at the readings on the main.

"So far, everything's been running fine." Vincent said simply.

The door opened a moment later to admit Susan and Jimmy.

"Any word on our mission, yet?" Connie asked curiously.

"Not really. T'Lani says that we're going to investigate a mutagenic virus outbreak, but we'd already figured out that it was a biological pathogen by that point. That's about all we know." Vincent said seriously.

"Great. That means that we're going to have to check out the bio-containment on... everything." Connie said wearily.

"Val and I have already done the portable shield generators and the Cooper Bridge. Thaelan and Kent are double checking them. Daddy Joe and Darin are doing the transporters right now." Vincent said frankly.

"Oh?' Well, I guess that's not too bad, then." Connie said with surprise.

"How are you settling in, Valentine?" Susan asked gently.

"I still have much to learn." Valentine said thoughtfully, then added, "But I believe that I have adequate understanding to perform my duties."

"Well, here's a little hint." Susan said with a smile, "When you think that you've learned everything that you need to know, you're missing something."

"You got that right." Jimmy chuckled.

"Are you about ready to call it a day?" Connie asked with a smile.

"Yeah. I guess. If you want to take the main, I'll check in with Daddy Joe and see if he needs us to do anything else before we go off duty." Vincent said as he looked to see that Valentine was listening.

"Sounds good. I've got it." Connie said seriously.

"I stand relieved." Vincent said as he signed off.

* * * * *

After a call to Joe, which confirmed that they weren't needed for anything else, Vincent and Valentine left Deflector Control.

"Are you going to have your dinner now?" Valentine asked as they walked up the catwalk.

"I need to stop in and talk to Commander M'Butu for a minute first, so I can figure out if I'm going to be a major or an ensign tomorrow." Vincent said frankly.

"Then shall I meet you in the messhall?" Valentine asked hesitantly.

"Why don't you come to Commander M'Butu's office with me? This should just take me a minute and I'm sure that he'd like to meet you." Vincent asked as they walked onto the lift.

"Perhaps now would not be the best time..." Valentine trailed off.

"Commander M'Butu's office." Vincent said toward the ceiling of the lift, then turned to Val and said, "There's never a best time, but Commander M'Butu understands that."

Valentine was silent as they continued the ride upward.

* * * * *

When the doors finally opened, Vincent stepped out, then gave Valentine an urging look.

After a deep breath to brace himself, Valentine stepped to Vincent's side.

* * * * *

"Excuse me, Sir. Do you have a minute?" Vincent asked from Commander M'Butu's office doorway.

"A full minute? We can try, but no promises." Commander M'Butu said wearily, then continued, "Come on in. What can I do for you?"

"Two things. First, I wanted to introduce you to Crewman Valentine. I know that you usually get to meet all the new people when they first come aboard." Vincent said as he coaxed Valentine to walk further into the office.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Crewman Valentine." Commander M'Butu said as he gave a smile for Valentine's benefit.

"The second thing is, I wanted to know if I should be an ensign or a major, now." Vincent said simply.

"Let me see, as a major you have everything you need to do your job, right?" Commander M'Butu asked slowly.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent confirmed.

"Let me be honest with you." Commander M'Butu said in prelude, then took a breath before continuing, "Even if Captain Coal had never set foot on this ship, we'd be in a terrible mess right now due to being scrambled a week ahead of schedule. But thanks to his... efforts, everything that was a mess to begin with has been tied into knots on top of it. I'm trying to prioritize what needs to be done first. So, if you wouldn't mind being a major for a bit longer, I'd like to put that off until I've been able to get some other matters sorted."

"Of course, I wouldn't mind at all. I just came up here to ask so I'd know what was easiest for you." Vincent said seriously.

"Thank you, Vincent." Commander M'Butu said sincerely.

"I know you probably have to do most of this stuff yourself. But if there's anything I can do to help you, I'd be happy to. I mean, since you already trained me on how to do some of your administrative stuff and since I've got the rank..." Vincent trailed off with a shrug.

"I hadn't considered that." Commander M'Butu said with surprise, then thought for a moment before continuing, "I'm not at a point where I can delegate just yet. But when I am, I'll consider your offer. Thank you."

"Commander, I have Admiral Kincaid for you on a secure channel." Sounded over the comm.

"If you'll excuse me." Commander M'Butu said with a weary smile at Vincent and Valentine before turning his attention to his terminal screen.

"C'mon." Vincent whispered, then guided Valentine out of the office and back toward the lift.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

That was quite an exciting experience, wasn't it?

I have a suspicion that Captain Cole's future in Starfleet will be much more mundane that he might have wished it would be, from now on.

To say he blew his best chance at advancement he would ever get is putting it very mildly. The way I see it, he had never commanded any ship more important than some cargo barge whose missions were far off the main line of travel, and that he might have been capable of handling that sort of task.

Whether he used the same tactics on his previous assignment as he did on the Yorktown, but at this point, I seriously doubt he will ever be trusted with another ship of any consequence.

He was obviously given an assignment which was way above his pay grade, so to speak. I doubt if anyone could have predicted how badly he could handle such a task.

Working within the rules is one thing, but under the circumstances they are working under, and being as shorthanded as they obviously were, relieving and revoking access to equipment that people needed access to so they can do their jobs makes no sense whatsoever.

It says even more that they not only relieved him of duty, but actually put him off the ship, not even putting him off on a nearby planet, just sent him off on a shuttle.

It is nice to see Val again.

If you haven't yet read Valentime, I highly recommend you do so. It is one of MultiMapper's best stories.

Oh, and I am quite ready for the next chapter, aren't you?

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher