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As soon as Vincent and Valentine were aboard the turbolift, Vincent said, "Engineer's mess hall."
There was a long moment of silence which was becoming uncomfortable for Valentine. As he looked down toward Vincent, ready to say something regarding their brief meeting with Commander M'Butu, he noticed that Vincent was in the middle of a long, sustained yawn.
"Perhaps, after we have dinner, you should take a nap." Valentine suggested quietly.
It took a moment for Vincent to finish his yawn, then he quietly said, "I bet a nap would feel really good, right now. But I've been working third shift for over a month, so I need to get back onto a day shift sleep schedule. If I sleep now, it's just going to take me longer to get used to sleeping at night."
"Please let me know if there's anything I can do to make the transition easier for you." Valentine sincerely offered.
"Just understand if I'm a little sleepy or if I'm easily distracted. Right this minute, I feel like I'm running on an empty tank." Vincent said frankly, then added with a smile, "But I'm sure I'll forget all about that when I get to see my wife."
The doors of the lift opened before Valentine could formulate any response.
* * * * *
"If you want to, when we're done eating, you could come up to sickbay with me and I could introduce you to my wife." Vincent said as they took their places in the serving line.
"I wouldn't want to intrude on your personal time." Valentine said cautiously.
Vincent slightly chuckled, then said, "We're going to be in the middle of sickbay and she's on duty. I can't think of a less personal time. There's really no logical reason for me to go there, now, except that I feel like I won't be able to really relax until I've been able to see her with my own eyes."
"Logic or no, I believe I can understand what you are feeling. If I were aware that Terry were on the ship and I hadn't seen him, I would also seek to verify his presence with my own senses before fully accepting it." Valentine said frankly.
"I guess you do understand." Vincent said with a smile before moving to the next serving line.
* * * * *
Once they had reached a table, Vincent casually asked, "After sickbay, how would you feel about stopping by the phaser range for some target practice?"
"I'm afraid that I only received the phaser safety courses and most rudimentary training. I would not be a worthy opponent." Valentine said apologetically.
"I won't be competing against you, I'll be trying to beat my best score. And, to tell you the truth, I'm not very good with phasers, either. I mean, at least not compared to the security people." Vincent said honestly.
"Is there often occasion for deflector control personnel to need to be proficient with phasers?" Valentine asked cautiously.
"Actually, for me, it's come up a lot more than I would have expected. But, I think for the average deflector control person, it's probably just something that's good to know. For right now, it's something that we can do to kill some time."
"So you are engaging in phaser training as a recreational activity." Valentine asked cautiously.
"Yeah, I guess." Vincent said simply.
"Then, if you will not be ashamed of my performance, I will accompany you." Valentine finally relented.
"I won't be ashamed. And besides, the only way to improve is to practice." Vincent finished with a smile.
* * * * *
"Liam, would you like to join us?" Vincent asked when he saw Liam walking away from the serving line, carrying a tray of food.
"Yes. Thank you." Liam said with a smile.
"How was your day?" Valentine asked curiously.
"There's so much to learn in Environmental Control, I'm scared to death that I'm going to do something wrong and someone's going to get hurt because of it." Liam said honestly.
"Yes. I feel the same way." Valentine quietly admitted.
"It makes me feel a lot better to hear you say that." Vincent said seriously, drawing both their attention.
At their combined curious looks, Vincent explained, "I'd rather have two guys who are scared of screwing up than two guys who think that they already know it all. This way I know that you guys are going to go back and double check, or you'll have someone follow behind you to verify that what you're doing is right."
"One of the crewmen in deflector control said that if you believe that you know it all, then you're missing something." Valentine said thoughtfully.
"Yeah. That was Susan. She's right. And besides, I can give you lots of examples where we've had to think things through and figure them out ourselves. If we thought that we already knew it all, then we would have just said, 'You can't do that!' and moved on." Vincent said seriously.
From the expressions that Liam and Valentine were wearing, Vincent got the sense that even though they were obviously listening, that they didn't really understand.
"At Kimber IV, anyone who knew it all would have said that there was no way to shut down the reactor and save all the colonists... or, most of them, anyway." Vincent finished in a low, disturbed tone, then continued, "Also, anyone who knew it all would have said that there wasn't any way to interconnect the portable shield generators and a lot more people at Kimber IV would have died. And, even after that, anyone who knew it all would have said that someone lost in the transporter couldn't possibly be saved, and I wouldn't be here right now."
"You're the hero of Kimber?" Liam asked with astonishment.
"As far as I'm concerned, every person on the Yorktown that day was one of the heroes of Kimber. I'm just the one who got talked about." Vincent said seriously, then added, "It was Darin who came up with the 'Cooper Bridge' and Rad who came up with the 'Winters Transporter Retrieval Method'. There were lots of heroes that day."
"Darin? The one from this morning? I didn't realize that he was the one who developed the Cooper Bridge." Liam said in amazement, then added, "I went to the academy with him, and he's already achieved recognition throughout the Federation."
"The thing is, Darin doesn't know it all. He'll be the first to tell you. But, if he doesn't know something, that won't stop him from trying to figure it out." Vincent said frankly.
"When I went into the academy, it was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life. Now, being here, it's like looking back at the first day of the first standard course of study." Valentine said distantly.
"Just remember that we've all been where you two are right now. We've all had our first days and wondered if we were good enough. Before you have to figure it out for yourselves, I'll go ahead and tell you... you're not." Vincent said firmly.
Both Valentine and Liam looked at him with surprise.
"But you've got everything you need so that you can be good enough. Your commanding officers can't make you one bit better than you are right now. You have to work and try and fight to be better. Then, one day, probably when you least expect it, something will happen. You'll be facing something impossible and because you've learned not to accept that, you'll find a way to overcome it. Then, you'll be good enough."
"Yeah. That's my little brother, the inspirational speaker." A voice intruded.
Vincent turned and smiled when he saw Darin and Rad placing their trays on the next table.
"Isn't this what officers are supposed to do with the new guys?" Vincent asked innocently.
"I don't know about that, but they probably should." Rad said with a smile.
"How was your day?" Vincent asked curiously, then took another bite of his briefly forgotten food.
"I'm good." Rad said simply, then looked at Darin with concern.
"The environmental suit project is really bothering me." Darin said honestly.
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I seem to just be spinning my wheels, and I don't want to disappoint Joe. That's all." Darin said quietly.
"You've only just started." Rad reminded him.
A spark of recognition out of the corner of his eye caused Vincent to turn. "Excuse me." Vincent said before hurrying to the food line.
* * * * *
"Kent, we're sitting right over there, if you want to join us." Vincent said as he approached.
"What?" Kent asked with surprise, then looked away as he quietly said, "Thanks, but I really can't. I just need some time. Okay?"
"Yeah. I get that. But when you're done thinking about stuff, remember that you're invited to sit over there with us. Even if we stop asking, you're still invited." Vincent said seriously.
"Yeah. Thanks." Kent said, then stepped away as the line moved forward.
* * * * *
As Vincent returned to the table, he heard Darin telling Liam about what had happened to him at the academy and what had gone on since.
Liam then told Darin about what had happened, from his point of view, to the cadets who had orchestrated the plot against Darin and his classmates.
Vincent had finished his meal, but was content to remain and listen, for a bit.
When Darin seemed to have run out of story to tell, Vincent asked, "So, Darin, did you visit with your parents while you were on shore leave?"
"Thanks, Little Brother, I've been trying to blot out that memory." Darin said with a playful scowl at Vincent, then he continued, "I suppose it could have been worse... I just can't imagine how."
"What did they do?" Vincent asked, prompting him to continue.
"Well, my parents are fairly toxic people to begin with, so it's not like there was any chance that it was going to be a 'fun' visit. So, I made it clear before I got there that I would only be staying for dinner." Darin carefully explained.
"I can relate." Vincent said with a nod.
"So, I get there, and my dad was all quiet and brooding at first... which was nice. Before it was all over, I was wishing that he'd go back to that just so he'd shut up." Darin said miserably.
"So, did he tell you all about what was going on because of the control circuits?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Yeah. But in his warped little version of reality, none of it was his fault. The board of directors is under indictment, they lost their Federation contract and the company is nearly in bankruptcy. But the only thing he could go on about is how he fired the entire PR department for failing to keep it out of the press." Darin finished with a shake of his head.
"If he doesn't think he's responsible for any of it, how does he explain that they tried to kidnap you?" Vincent asked seriously.
"Oh! When I mentioned that, he acted like I was being a big drama queen and making it all up." Darin chuckled.
"Of course. How else could he make it all your fault?" Vincent asked with a smile.
"And then, while I'm telling him about what I went through, my mom starts getting upset and he yells at her for it. She runs out of the room, crying..." Darin said wearily, then conspiratorially added, "That's one of our holiday traditions, by the way."
"Ours, too. We really could be brothers." Vincent said with a grin.
"So, when it was finally over, and I was about to leave, my mom asks me if I'm going to be stopping back by for Christmas." Darin finished with a chuckle.
"I'm guessing you said 'no'." Vincent said speculatively.
"That's right. And since it's all about her, and Dad can do no wrong, I am entirely responsible for ruining their Christmas, this year." Darin stated with a grim smile.
"Good work. I'd probably have to at least show up for Christmas to do that." Vincent said with a grin.
"But then we went to see my mom and everything got a whole lot better." Rad said with a smile at Darin.
"Yeah. I can tell by the haircut." Vincent chuckled.
"It seems that my sisters approve of my taste in men, because they're all in love with Darin." Rad said with a grin, he was obviously tickled by the whole situation.
"I wasn't really sure about how I felt about spending two weeks at a cabin with Rad's dad AND his step-father. But by the time we were ready to leave his mom's house, I would have agreed to just about anything." Darin said with a note of tenderness, which proved that he wasn't really bothered by the experience.
"I think everyone had a great time up at the cabin. I mean, I think it turned out to be as much of a family counselling session as it was a vacation, but I'm pretty sure that everyone came away from it feeling a whole lot better about the family dynamic." Rad said thoughtfully.
"I think Drake gave Brad some really good advice about being a father and a husband. And I'm pretty sure that it was good for all the boys to witness that." Darin said thoughtfully.
"It sounds that way. All I ever got to see was how to do it wrong." Vincent said frankly.
"By the way, how did your shore leave go, Major Winters?" Darin asked with a grin.
"There was a Clan party. Then I went with Daddy Joe to visit his family, in Georgia. After that I went to the Starfleet Academy and took my officer's exam, then I was assigned to duty on a Vulcan science ship, as third in command." Vincent said simply.
"Oh? Is that all?" Darin chuckled.
"Well, between the Starfleet Academy and the Vulcan science ship, I did spend a couple days at Commander Dodds' house, in Texas, and went horseback riding. That was kinda nice." Vincent said with a smile.
"Did you have barbeque?" Rad asked quickly.
"Yeah, there was a cookout my last day there." Vincent said with a smile at the memory.
"Commander Dodds' barbeque is a Starfleet legend!" Rad said seriously.
"I've had it twice. So I can tell you, the legend is true." Vincent said with a grin.
"On that note, I think we'd better be going. Being scrambled, the way we were, we both have a few things to do that we had planned on doing before we left Earth." Rad said honestly.
"I'd probably better go, too. I need to write an email. My girlfriend isn't too happy with me, right now. She didn't expect for me to be deployed this soon." Liam said regretfully.
"You're in Starfleet. She's just going to have to accept it." Rad said frankly.
"Rosella doesn't really accept things. She bends them to her will." Liam said cautiously.
"She sounds lovely." Rad said with a teasing grimace.
"She's really beautiful and interesting. We've only been together for less than a month and I've never actually met her in person, only by video chat. But still, I hope that I can get the chance to get to know her better. She's really incredible... just scary assertive." Liam finished anxiously.
"It sounds like you have all the ingredients for an epic love affair... or an epic tragedy. Good luck." Rad said sincerely.
"Thanks." Liam said as he gathered his dishes.
"Are you ready to go meet my wife?" Vincent asked Valentine with a smile.
"Yes. I believe that I would like that, very much." Valentine said as he stood.
* * * * *
When Vincent walked into sickbay, he was surprised by how many people were present.
"Vincent? Look at how you've grown! Why don't you get up on a biobed so I can evaluate your progress?" Dr. Perry asked pleasantly.
Although he felt a little funny doing so, in front of a group of so many strangers, Vincent knew that as the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Perry's casual request was nothing short of an order.
"Is T'Lani here?" Vincent asked as he went to the nearest biobed and was surprised at how easily he could climb on. It hadn't been all that long ago that it had been a chore to get onto the bed that seemed to be too tall for him.
"She's in my office. She'll be out in a moment." Dr. Perry said as she went to the head of the biobed to activate it.
"This'll just take a minute." Vincent said to Valentine, who was standing just inside the sickbay door.
Valentine remained still and silent as he looked around the room at the bustle of activity.
"Tell me, have you been having any issues with joint pain?" Dr. Perry asked curiously.
"Not for about a month, now. The only problem I've really had is getting used to my body being different. When I thought about growing up, I guess I didn't think about having to adjust to getting taller and heavier." Vincent said honestly.
"Well, to tell you the truth, most people your age grow up over a period of years, not months. They have enough time to adjust to the changes gradually and most times aren't even aware of them." Dr. Perry said honestly, then pressed a few buttons on the biobed to initiate a more intensive scan.
"Just about everyone I've talked to in the last month or so thinks that I'm around thirteen years old." Vincent said honestly.
"I'd estimate your developmental age to be about fourteen. But since you're actually nine years old, you need to be aware that your psychological development may not be nearly as advanced." Dr. Perry cautioned.
"Between my Starfleet training and T'Lani helping me to be more logical, I think I can pass." Vincent said frankly.
"You may be able to pass, but you're still nine years old. I know that you have duties to perform, but be sure to set aside time for fun, relaxation and sleep. Everyone needs those things in their lives, but due to your age, you need more than most." Dr. Perry said seriously.
"Does going to the phaser range count as fun?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"I think you can answer that better than I can." Dr. Perry said with a smile, then looked at his reading again.
"It counts." Vincent said decisively.
"I'm showing elevated stress indicators, here. My guess is that it's from a lack of sleep." Dr. Perry said grimly.
"Yeah. I was working third shift on my last assignment. I'm working on getting switched back to first shift." Vincent said honestly.
"If that's the case, then your readings are perfectly reasonable. Stop by if you have trouble adjusting to the different shift and we'll give you a sleep aid." Dr. Perry said professionally.
"Thank you, Doctor. I will." Vincent said with a smile, relieved that she wasn't going to make a bigger deal out of it.
"Valaan? I was not aware that you had joined Starfleet."
Vincent turned and saw T'Lani a few feet away, looking at Valentine curiously.
"I joined Starfleet without the knowledge or support of my family." Valentine said seriously.
"Have you two met?" Vincent asked as he looked from Valentine to T'Lani.
"Valaan is my cousin." T'Lani said simply.
"Oh, really?" Vincent asked with surprise, then added, "Small universe, huh?"
"Is T'Lani your wife?" Valentine asked cautiously.
"Yeah." Vincent confirmed, then turned to T'Lani and said, "And Valentine is in Deflector Control. I'm his commanding officer."
"Valentine?" T'Lani asked cautiously, directing her question mostly to her cousin.
"While I was at the academy, I adopted a more 'human' name. It seemed to make my classmates more comfortable with me." Valentine said seriously.
"Are you two alright? I mean, your families aren't feuding or anything like that, are they?" Vincent asked cautiously, sensing the tension between them.
"We are Vulcans." T'Lani said simply.
"Right." Vincent said slowly as he got off the biobed.
"Excuse me, Vincent, but we're about to start a meeting and we're going to need Dr. T'Lani." Dr. Perry interrupted.
"Yeah." Vincent acknowledged, then turned to T'Lani and continued, "I'll see you when you go off shift."
T'Lani raised her hand in a Vulcan salute, and Vincent responded in kind. There were too many people present and T'Lani was too busy for them to do more.
Vincent felt calmness and reassurance in their bond, then turned and walked for the door.
* * * * *
"You okay?" Vincent asked Valentine with concern as they walked.
"Seeing T'Lani has awakened memories that I would have preferred remained forgotten." Valentine said cautiously.
"Are you mad at her, or something?" Vincent asked curiously.
"No. But she is of my family, and I have been separated from them for many years. For a time, I was able to forget." Valentine said honestly.
"You don't learn anything by forgetting." Vincent said as they stepped onto the turbolift.
Valentine didn't respond to the statement, so Vincent said, "Recreation deck."
"Due to my... condition, my family forbade me the kahs'wan. To them, I am not a member of their house, I am the responsibility of their house." Valentine said carefully.
"Condition? Is there something wrong with you?" Vincent asked with concern.
"I have been called a 'throwback'. I suppose it would be like a neanderthal child being born to a modern human couple, on Earth." Valentine said carefully.
The turbolift doors opened, and Vincent led the way toward the phaser range.
"So, let me see if I'm getting this. Since you're not like other Vulcans, they didn't let you try to accomplish things, because you might fail?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Essentially, yes. Although I am sure that they would have some logical reasons for it." Valentine said regretfully.
"Well, screw them! You're here and you're doing things and achieving things without their permission or their help. You don't need them, and you've already proved it." Vincent said firmly as they entered the phaser range.
"Yes. I believe that you are right." Valentine said quietly.
"Let's go blow the crap out of some little blips of light. I bet that'll make you feel better." Vincent said as he selected a pistol style phaser.
"Perhaps it will." Valentine said with the beginning of a smile.
* * * * *
There was little conversation while they were on the phaser range, but both enjoyed the experience.
When they had finished their fifth round, Valentine reluctantly said, "I don't know if you have other plans, but I would like to send an email to Terry while it's early enough that I can receive a response."
"I didn't really have a plan or anything. I thought about doing a little school work until T'Lani get's off work, but I think I'll just go to sickbay, instead. If they don't mind me hanging around, I'll wait around there until she's done." Vincent said honestly.
"Thank you again for all your help today, Vincent. I'll see you at 07:00 in the Engineer's mess hall." Valentine said as he put his phaser away.
"Yeah. I'll see you then." Vincent said warmly, then watched as Valentine left.
He couldn't imagine what Valentine's life must have been like, always being looked upon as a disappointment and always being told not to try because it was certain that he would fail.
* * * * *
When Vincent walked into the sickbay, it was even busier and more crowded than before.
He didn't know most of the people and assumed that they were the doctors and nurses that had arrived with T'Lani on the shuttles from Vulcan.
When he finally spotted a familiar face, he quickly asked, "What's going on, Vlad?"
"Dr. Perry has us doing a complete physical inventory of sickbay." Vlad responded seriously.
"Is there something wrong?" Vincent asked with concern.
"No. She just wants to be sure that we have everything ready to respond to a medical emergency, and this will also help our guests become familiar with where everything has been stored." Vlad said frankly.
"I guess I'd just be in the way if I hung around here, then." Vincent said cautiously.
"Yes. You would." Vlad said simply, then added, "We'd love to have you stop by and visit with us any time... except right now."
"Got it. I'll see you later." Vincent said with a smile, appreciating Vlad's candor.
* * * * *
When Vincent got back to his cabin, he decided that he couldn't justify not working on his school work.
It took him a moment to get everything in place, but finally he was settled and ready to begin.
Before he had finished reading two sentences, a female voice on the intercom said, "Major Winters, please contact Commander M'Butu."
Vincent set his data padd aside, then went to the comm and said, "This is Major Winters."
"I remembered what you said earlier about helping, and if you were serious, I've just reached the point where I can use some assistance." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"Yeah. I was serious. Are we going to be working in your office or the conference room?" Vincent asked carefully.
"I think we'll move down to conference room one, so we'll have room to move around." Commander M'Butu said decisively.
"I'll be up in just a minute." Vincent said happily.
"Thank you for doing this, Vincent. M'Butu, out." Commander M'Butu said sincerely.
* * * * *
"Lieutenant Clark?" Vincent asked with surprise when he walked into the conference room.
"Are you here to help, too?" Lieutenant Clark asked curiously.
"Yeah. Do you know what we're doing?" Vincent asked as he walked to the conference room table.
"No. Commander M'Butu called me and said that he could use some help." Lieutenant Clark said frankly, then cautiously asked, "Are you a Major, now?"
Vincent smiled at the question, then explained, "Yeah. At least, I am when I'm on a Vulcan ship. But since Captain Coal revoked my computer access as an Ensign, I have to be a Major to do my job."
"I saw how he welcomed you aboard. Regardless of what happened to his son, he had no right to do that." Lieutenant Clark said frankly.
"What happened to his son?" Vincent asked curiously.
"From the story I heard from those who've been around for a while, I guess Captain Coal's son was on an away team and they were attacked. He was killed, and from what I heard, the 'celebrity' that they were there to protect, used his dying body as a shield so that he could escape unharmed." Lieutenant Clark said honestly.
"Okay. That really sucks. I guess I'll give him a pass for that. I'm still not forgiving him for screwing around with my computer access, but I can understand that he didn't want me on his bridge." Vincent said honestly.
"Well, even if he didn't do that, he probably would have found another reason to kick you off the bridge. He seemed to be determined to throw everything into chaos." Lieutenant Clark said frankly.
"What got you kicked off?" Vincent asked curiously.
"He told me to change course and gave me the new heading. He didn't tell us our destination or have navigation project the course. When I asked for him to repeat the course, he threw me off the bridge because he thought that I was defying his authority." Lieutenant Clark said seriously.
"He told you the new heading? He didn't even transmit it to you?" Vincent asked disbelievingly.
"Yes. For all I know, he could have been pointing us directly into a planet or a star. The man was a disaster waiting to happen." Lieutenant Clark said gravely.
The turbolift doors opened, and before Vincent and Lieutenant Clark could turn, Commander M'Butu quickly said, "Sorry. Just as I was getting things in order, everyone needed something."
"That's fine. We were just trading stories about Captain Coal." Vincent said with a smile, then asked, "What do you have for us to do?"
"The captain seemed to think that the personnel files were his own personal playground and completely corrupted the flagging system, which means that we don't have any easy way of knowing which personnel files need to be updated. So, if you two are up to the challenge, we need to go through the ship's personnel files and verify that their information is up-to-date and that anything that is missing is being addressed." Commander M'Butu said as he took his place at the head of the table.
"All of them?" Vincent asked hesitantly.
"Every last one." Commander M'Butu said wearily, then thought to ask, "Vincent, do you think you'll be comfortable working with personnel files?"
"Sure. You trained me." Vincent said simply, then thought to add, "Besides that, I got to do a little work with personnel files while I was on the T'Salanade, too."
"What are we looking for?" Lieutenant Clark asked cautiously.
"I'll put the checklist up on the viewscreen. But what it boils down to is that we need to see if each member of the crew made it aboard, has been assigned quarters, has all the up-to-date certifications to perform their duties, that they're medically certified as fit for duty and that they've got the security clearance and computer access to do their jobs. As soon as you've cleared each file, reset the flags so that they're shown as being cleared and on 'active duty'."
"What do we do if we find someone that doesn't have everything?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Send those files to me and I'll take care of them. I already have a dozen or so of them to sort out." Commander M'Butu said tiredly.
"Where do we start?" Vincent asked simply.
"Turn on your terminals and go to the administrative options. I've already given both of you the clearance you'll need to update the personnel files." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
Vincent watched as Lieutenant Clark pressed something on the edge or under the lip of the conference room table, then a computer screen raised up in front of him, revealing a standard keyboard.
"I didn't know that was there." Vincent said in surprise.
"We don't use the individual terminals often, but every now and then they come in handy." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.
Vincent found the button under the edge of the table and activated his computer. After a moment to sign in, he easily found his way to the 'Administrative Options' menu.
* * * * *
"Crewman Ledo." Lieutenant Clark said as he looked through a file.
"What about him?" Commander M'Butu asked cautiously.
"That's what I want to know. What about him? It looks like his personnel file has been completely rewritten. Do you want for me to send it to you or to request an archive copy from Starfleet?" Lieutenant Clark asked seriously.
"There's more of these than I thought there would be. Go ahead and put in the request and let me know if I need to authorize it." Commander M'Butu said without looking up from his computer screen.
"Is it okay if I set it aside? That way, if I have more, I can just put in the request for all of them at once." Lieutenant Clark asked cautiously.
"Good idea." Commander M'Butu said with a nod.
"How did you know it was rewritten?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Right at the top, there's a 'Revision Date'. If you click on that, it will show you everything that was changed on that date. It doesn't tell you what it was changed from, but it shows every field that's been altered. On this one, just about everything's been changed." Lieutenant Clark said frankly.
"I never noticed that being there before. I need to go back through the ones that I've already cleared and see if any of them have been changed." Vincent said as he began retrieving the files.
"Just because a change was made doesn't mean that there's a problem. I'm just worried about this one because almost everything was changed. I mean, why would you ever need to change someone's date-of-birth?" Lieutenant Clark asked seriously.
"Maybe to create a parallel identity." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.
"You mean like a fake ID?" Vincent asked curiously.
"A Starfleet ID is accepted as valid identification throughout the Federation. If a captain were to make a parallel identity for someone, then the previous and the current IDs would both be seen as being valid unless someone had reason to pull the base documents and investigate it." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.
"Look at the security clearance that this crewman was given." Lieutenant Clark said as he changed the viewscreen in the room to display what was on his computer.
"Do either of you actually know Crewman Ledo?" Commander M'Butu asked as he looked carefully at the file being displayed.
"I don't get to the lower decks very often, but I don't recall hearing the name before." Lieutenant Clark said thoughtfully.
"I haven't either. But with a crew this size, I'm always meeting new people." Vincent said honestly.
"Let's dig in and see if we can find any more falsified crew reports, so we can get an idea of the scope of the problem, before we take any further action. Captain Coal was only on the ship just over a day, so this could be the only one that he had time to alter." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"Yeah, with cutting computer access and kicking people off the bridge, it's a wonder that he had time to do even this much." Lieutenant Clark said frankly.
"Computer access..." Commander M'Butu muttered thoughtfully.
"That's part of what he was doing, too, isn't it?" Vincent asked suddenly.
"Indiscriminately revoking or limiting people's computer access, creating false identities and removing trusted officers from their posts... I don't think we have enough pieces to assemble this puzzle, but it's looking more and more like this all might be part of some master plan rather than a tyrannical monster captain on a power trip." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.
"I think we need Lieutenant Simms in here." Vincent said seriously.
"We should probably see how big this problem really is, first." Lieutenant Clark said slowly.
"Figuring things like this out is what Lieutenant Simms is good at. In fact, it's what he's paid to do. Every minute that we leave him out, we might be missing something important or some bad guy who was working with Captain Coal might be doing something even worse to screw with us." Vincent said firmly.
After a moment to consider, Commander M'Butu keyed the comm and said, "Would you please have Lieutenant Simms report to Conference Room One?"
* * * * *
"Yes, Sir?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he stopped just inside the conference room door.
"If you'll sign in, Lieutenant Clark is going to give you access to a suspicious personnel file that we've encountered. We've only just started, so there may be more as we go on." Commander M'Butu said simply.
Lieutenant Simms took a seat at the conference table and activated a terminal.
"What am I looking for?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he accepted the file that was waiting for him.
"Check out the revisions." Lieutenant Clark said simply.
After a moment of looking over the file, Lieutenant Simms asked, "Have you polled Starfleet for an archived copy of the personnel file?"
"We thought we'd wait to see if there are any more before we take that step." Commander M'Butu answered for him.
"I'm going to go ahead and request the file now, so I can see what was done to it." Lieutenant Simms said decisively.
"Commander M'Butu, there's an incoming message from Admiral Kincaid." A female voice said over the intercom.
"I've got it. Thank you." Commander M'Butu said as he brought the incoming message up on the viewscreen.
"Good evening, Admiral. Before we begin, I need to inform you that Lieutenant Simms, Lieutenant Clark and Major Winters are present. Do I need to ask them to leave before we have our conversation?" Commander M'Butu asked politely, fighting valiantly to hide his tiredness.
"No. This news will be common knowledge among your crew in a short time." Admiral Kincaid said seriously, then continued, "After careful consideration, we've decided to forego the series of tests that we had originally scheduled and authorize you to engage the transwarp drive. As soon as you've made your final rendezvous and taken on your last contingent of doctors, you are ordered to proceed to Starbase 157 at best possible speed."
"May I have permission to divulge this information to the bridge crew? I feel it would be best if they had time to prepare for what's to come." Commander M'Butu asked seriously.
"Starfleet would prefer to restrict information about transwarp technology for the time being. So, to that end, you are ordered to strictly regulate communications for the duration of this mission. Once your communications have been locked down, you may divulge the information to those of your crew that you feel need to be involved." Admiral Kincaid said firmly.
"Yes, Sir." Commander M'Butu said respectfully.
"Major Winters, it looks like you've done some growing since I last saw you." Admiral Kincaid said with a smile.
"Yes, Sir." Vincent said with a barely restrained grin.
"Well, stop it. You're making me feel old." Admiral Kincaid said with playful gruffness.
"Yes, Sir." Vincent said as he schooled his expression.
"Starfleet, out." Admiral Kincaid said before the screen changed to the Starfleet logo.
* * * * *
"They've really perfected transwarp?" Vincent asked in amazement.
"Theoretically, yes. In reality, I guess we're all going to find out together." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"What have they done about the dilithium degradation? I thought that that was why transwarp wouldn't work." Vincent asked thoughtfully.
"The drive that we're going to be testing isn't strictly a transwarp drive as much as it is a drive that tangentially uses transwarp. As I understand the process, ultra high-band tachyon bursts are emitted through the deflector shield to basically open a subspace conduit, which we enter at normal warp speed. Rather than constantly taxing the dilithium crystals, they're only being subjected to brief, periodic discharges. As soon as we've 'fallen out' of subspace, there will be another burst to jump us right back in." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.
"So, we're not going to be travelling through subspace as much as we'll be skipping across it, like a flat rock." Vincent said slowly.
"Yes. While we haven't been able to overcome the problem with dilithium degradation, we've sort of been able to work around it... in theory." Commander M'Butu finished reluctantly.
"Does Lieutenant Bowers know about this?" Vincent asked carefully.
"No. The original plan was for the transwarp drive to be tested in stages before we tried to actually use it. Only people essential to the current phase of the project would be given full information about it." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"It sounds like he's going to need to know, now. I mean, if they're going to be projecting ultra high-band tachyon bursts into the deflector shield... he's gonna freak." Vincent finished with a wide eyed look at Commander M'Butu.
"I'll call a meeting tomorrow, at the beginning of the alpha shift." Commander M'Butu said decisively, then turned and asked, "Lieutenant Simms, would you mind seeing to locking down the communications?"
"What security level do you want to approve external communications?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.
"Level six or above. I know that it's going to be an inconvenience for many, but Starfleet wants to restrict this information until they've decided if their new tech is a success or a failure, and I suppose, more importantly, if there are any unforeseen effects from using it."
"Oh Jeeze! We're not going to end up rock-skipping across dimensions, are we? Because I hate that." Vincent asked in a playful whine.
"At this point, I can't make any promises." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.
* * * * *
"I've got another one." Vincent said into the silence that had fallen over the room.
"What was that?" Commander M'Butu asked as he looked up from his terminal.
"Ensign Haverston has had nearly every field in his personnel file changed." Vincent said frankly.
"What department?" Commander M'Butu asked curiously.
"Sciences." Vincent said simply, then added, "At least, that's what it says here, but that's one of the fields that was changed."
"Is this ensign a transfer from another ship?" Commander M'Butu asked thoughtfully.
"Not according to this but I can't really trust anything that it says." Vincent said frankly.
"Does it show that he's checked in? Does he have a cabin assignment?" Lieutenant Simms asked curiously.
"Yeah. It says that he's got everything he needs. And, on top of that, he even has a level six security clearance." Vincent said anxiously.
"Sciences report directly to me, and I've never heard of an Ensign Haverston, before." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"Do you want me to bring him in for questioning?" Lieutenant Simms asked carefully.
"No. Not yet. I don't want to take the chance of tipping our hand before we've figured out what's going on." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"I'm friends with some of the crewmen in Sciences. If you want, I can talk to one of them and find out what they know about the new ensign." Vincent said simply.
"If you did that, you'd run the risk of revealing that we're on to them." Lieutenant Simms said frankly.
"Let's keep going and see if we can find any more." Commander M'Butu said decisively.
"I'm sending the file to you, Lieutenant Simms." Vincent said seriously.
* * * * *
"That was the last one." Lieutenant Clark said as he looked up from his terminal.
"What have we come up with?" Commander M'Butu asked cautiously.
"So far, I've got six 'significantly altered' personnel files. Four of them are transfers and the other two show as being returning crewmembers, but none of us has ever heard of them before." Lieutenant Simms said frankly.
"What departments?" Commander M'Butu asked thoughtfully.
"Sciences, Ship's services, Three in Engineering, and one in Environmental Control." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.
"What was the name of the one in Environmental Control?" Vincent asked quickly.
"Crewman Morrison." Lieutenant Clark said slowly.
"What's his first name?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.
"Her first name is Kimberly." Lieutenant Clark answered slowly, then asked, "Why?"
"Because I met someone from Environmental Control and I wanted to make sure that it wasn't him. But he's not a crewman, he's a new Ensign, fresh from the Academy, so I guess it doesn't matter." Vincent said seriously.
"Does anyone have any idea of what they might be up to?" Commander M'Butu asked carefully.
"Well, the three engineering people are in key positions where they could sabotage or try to take over the ship. Ship's services can gain access to nearly any area of the ship. Environmental control would have access to the means to incapacitate or exterminate the entire crew. Which leaves Sciences. I suppose they have access to some potentially hazardous items, although it would probably take quite a bit of effort to weaponize any of them." Lieutenant Simms said speculatively.
"And we don't know if they might already have someone else on the ship who was planted here, before." Vincent interjected.
"Or some of the new transfers might already have the established skills and security clearances so that they wouldn't need to have their personnel files altered." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.
"What do you think we should do?" Lieutenant Simms asked quietly.
Commander M'Butu thought about it for a moment, then said, "Lieutenant Simms, I want you to gather the security personnel that you implicitly trust and put them to work on investigating the suspect crewmembers. Until we have a better idea of the scope of the matter, I don't want you to use any shipboard communications. All reports are to be made directly to me, in person."
"Yes, Sir." Lieutenant Simms said immediately.
"I'm not going to micro-manage your efforts. Begin your investigation and follow it to its conclusion. Take whatever steps you deem necessary. However, I'm going to want a status report tomorrow morning at 07:30 at the morning briefing, in front of the command staff." Commander M'Butu said firmly.
"Yes, Sir." Lieutenant Simms repeated.
"Lieutenant Clark, tonight I'd like for you to talk to each of the command staff privately, in person, and fill them in on what we've discovered, here. Again, they're not to discuss this using shipboard communications until we've been able to conclusively determine that our shipboard communications aren't being monitored. Ask Lieutenant Patterson to get to work on that, when you talk to her." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"Yes, Sir." Lieutenant Clark said solemnly.
"Major Winters, while we haven't established that the transwarp drive is in any way involved in this matter, I think it's best that we assume that discrediting or stealing the new technology may be one of their objectives. Keep your eyes open for any sign of trouble." Commander M'Butu said firmly.
"I can do a real job, if you'll trust me to." Vincent said frankly.
"Vincent. The rest of us would be conspicuous if we tried to closely monitor events below decks. I need for you to watch and listen to what's going on in Deflector Control and Engineering. Until we've had a chance to investigate and sort things out, I think that this is the best course of action." Commander M'Butu said gravely.
"Yes, Sir." Vincent quietly responded, then thought to ask, "While you're resetting the messed up personnel files, are you going to fix my computer access, too?"
"Yes. I've already reset it. But I'd like for you to continue using your diplomatic rank for a bit longer. There's no advantage to you having a lower rank and with things being as they are, there might be a situation where you need to take charge." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"Yes, Sir." Vincent said more strongly.
"I think we've done enough for tonight. Vincent, I'll expect you at the morning briefing. Dismissed." Commander M'Butu said as he closed down his terminal.
Vincent signed off his terminal, then hit the button so that it would retract into the table.
As Vincent got up from the conference table, Commander M'Butu said, "In case I forgot to say it before, welcome back, Vincent."
"Thank you, Sir." Vincent said sincerely, then walked to the turbolift.
* * * * *
Vincent's mind was a whirl as he boarded the turbolift.
As he was about to tell the lift to take him to Sickbay, a sudden thought occurred to him and he looked upward as he asked, "Computer. Please open a channel to Ensign Thaelan." Vincent said seriously.
While he was aware that he was standing in a turbolift, not moving, he felt that it was more important for him to pursue his current thought.
"This is Ensign Thaelan." Sounded over the turbolift's speakers.
"Thaelan, this is Vincent. Do you have a few minutes? I need to talk to you about something... in person." Vincent asked seriously.
"Yes. Of course. Would the Engineer's messhall be convenient?" Thaelan asked carefully.
"No. Would you meet me in the deck J dorsal observation lounge?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Yes. I will meet you there shortly. May I ask what this is regarding?" Thaelan asked with concern.
"I'll tell you when you get there." Vincent said seriously, then added, "Winters, out."
A moment later, Vincent quickly said, "Deck J, dorsal."
The computer responded by setting the turbolift into motion.
* * * * *
Vincent walked into the Dorsal Observation Lounge and was happy to find that it was empty.
He automatically walked to the viewport and watched silently as the stars passed by outside.
When the door opened, he turned and smiled when he saw Thaelan entering the room.
"May I assume from your tone of voice and your rather unorthodox request to meet privately that there is some sort of a problem?" Thaelan asked cautiously as he walked to Vincent's side.
"There might be. I need your help to find out, for sure." Vincent said seriously.
"What can I do for you, Major Winters?" Thaelan asked as he turned to look out the viewport.
"There's some stuff going on. I can't really talk about that. But I need some help keeping an eye on things." Vincent said carefully.
"Of course. I'll be happy to do whatever I can." Thaelan said frankly.
"No. You probably won't be. At least, I know that I'm not happy about it." Vincent muttered thoughtfully.
"Please, tell me what you were wanting me to do." Thaelan said simply.
"Okay. I guess what it boils down to is that I need you to keep an eye on Kent for me. I mean, I know that you already keep close watch on us to make sure that we're not making any mistakes. But what I need for you to do is watch Kent to be sure that he's not intentionally screwing something up." Vincent said reluctantly.
"Are you speaking of sabotage?" Thaelan asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Maybe." Vincent admitted, then continued, "Like I said, there's some stuff going on. Since you're Kent's immediate commanding officer, I thought that you'd be best to watch him. And while you're doing that, I'm going to be watching Valentine."
"You suspect that Crewman Valentine might also try to sabotage the ship?" Thaelan asked with a slight degree of surprise.
"Actually, no. I don't. But if I'm wrong, it's not going to hurt anything for me to keep an eye on him." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"But you do suspect that Crewman Simmons may attempt to covertly sabotage our systems?" Thaelan asked to verify.
"Yeah... no... I don't know." Vincent said anxiously, then explained, "Kent's been acting weird, you know, kind of staying to himself and like he's really torn up about something. I get that it might be because of being back here after screwing up real bad. But if he was here, doing stuff that he really didn't want to do, then he'd probably act the same way."
"I will understand if you cannot answer this question, but does this in some way relate to the events surrounding the presence and subsequent removal of the new captain?" Thaelan asked carefully.
"It might." Vincent confirmed, then added, "But there's a chance that we're seeing something that isn't really there. That's why all we can really do is keep our eyes open and try to figure out if there really is something going on."
After a moment of thought, Thaelan carefully said, "In essence, all you are asking is that I be vigilant. I will do so."
"Good. But just in case something goes wrong because of this, I want you to understand that I'm not asking you this as a coworker or a friend. I'm asking you this as a Major." Vincent said seriously.
"Am I to infer that you won't be discussing this matter with Lieutenant Bowers?" Thaelan asked carefully.
"No. At least, not until I have something to show him so that he'll know that I'm not making this up." Vincent said honestly.
"Joe trusts you." Thaelan said quietly, then added, "Please don't do anything to abuse that trust."
"Yeah. I hate doing it like this. But until we know if there really is something going on, I don't want to involve him. With all the portable shield generators and the environmental suit and everything else he's got going on right now, he really doesn't need this, too. Besides that, Commander M'Butu's going to call a meeting in the morning and Daddy Joe's going to find out that he has even more to worry about." Vincent said honestly.
Thaelan looked at Vincent curiously, but didn't ask.
"I won't be able to work out, tomorrow. Commander M'Butu wants me at the morning briefing." Vincent said regretfully.
Thaelan was quiet for a moment, then slowly asked, "How are you doing, Vincent?"
Although he was surprised by the question, Vincent was able to answer, "I'm okay."
Thaelan fixed his gaze on Vincent, waiting for more of an answer.
Vincent squirmed under the stare for a moment, then smiled before saying, "Just a couple days ago, I was wanting to be back on the Yorktown, because being on the T'Salanade was so boring. I guess I should watch out what I ask for, huh?"
"Yes. Given that chaos seems to be inordinately fond of you, it would probably be best if you refrained from doing so." Thaelan said with a barely suppressed grin.
Vincent chuckled, then went silent as his attention seemed to be drawn by the movement of the stars outside the viewport.
After a few minutes of watching, Thaelan quietly asked, "Will I see you at breakfast?"
"Yeah. I'll have to leave early to go to the morning briefing, but I should be there when you get there." Vincent said absently as he continued to watch the starfield passing by.
"I'll see you then." Thaelan said quietly, then turned to leave.
"Thanks, Thaelan." Vincent said as he continued to stare at the stars.
* * * * *
Vincent stood there for a while longer, but finally walked to the turbolift and made his way to sickbay.
As he walked in, he could see that the medical staff were all hard at work, performing various tasks. From what little he knew of such things, it appeared that they were doing level three diagnostics on just about every system in sickbay.
"Husband, it is fortuitous that you are here. My duties should be concluded momentarily." T'Lani said seriously.
Vincent smiled at the announcement, then looked around the sickbay again.
None of the other medical professionals in the room seemed to be slowing down or anywhere near a point where they could stop.
"If you need to do some more work, I can wait for you in our cabin." Vincent told her frankly.
"No, husband. Dr. Perry has asked me to be the physician on-duty, tomorrow. So that I may remain here, to be on hand in case of a medical emergency while my colleagues perform other tasks."
"Okay. I just didn't want to take you away from your work while everyone else was staying." Vincent said shyly.
"Not to worry, Husband. I will not neglect my duties." T'Lani said seriously.
Vincent smiled and said, "Yeah. I knew that."
T'Lani gave a single nod, then returned to her assigned duties.
* * * * *
Vincent only had to wait a matter of minutes before T'Lani returned to his side.
As they walked out of sickbay, Vincent quietly asked, "How does it feel to be a doctor?"
"The only feeling that I can comment on regarding my new title is your feeling of pride for my achievement. I will say that I find that to be satisfying." T'Lani said as they walked at a casual pace.
"Did you have anything else that you need to do before we go to our cabin?" Vincent asked curiously.
"No, Husband." T'Lani answered simply.
As soon as they stepped aboard the turbolift, Vincent said, "Deck G, section D7."
"I notice that you have a significant portion of your short term thoughts shielded. Is this a matter of concern?" T'Lani asked curiously.
"It could be. Right now it's all suspicions and speculations. As soon as I know anything 'for real' I'll let you know." Vincent said seriously.
"How did you find your time on the Vulcan ship?"
"I was bored sometimes, it's a whole lot different from being on the Yorktown. But I think it was really good that I got to do it. I learned a lot about being a command officer and about how a starship works, looking at it from the top down." Vincent said thoughtfully.
When the lift doors opened, T'Lani led the way to their cabin.
Once they were inside, Vincent looked at the bed, then at T'Lani with question.
"I can sense your need for physical intimacy. Share with me, Husband, how would you like to satiate that need." T'Lani said slowly.
"Well, I can think of a few things." Vincent said frankly, then quietly added, "But I think that tonight, I'd just like to fall asleep holding you."
"I believe that would be satisfying." T'Lani said with a slight smile.
"And kissing. I've got about two months of kisses that I've been saving up." Vincent quickly added.
"If that is the case, then we should begin." T'Lani said in a tone that sounded to be perfectly logical.
"I need to shower first. It's been a really long day and I probably smell like a sweaty foot, right now." Vincent finished with a crinkled nose.
T'Lani seemed to be on the verge of a smile as she said, "Proceed."
I am very excited at seeing a new chapter of this story. I am glad to finally see how Valentine is coping with his new assignment.
Vincent is finally in a position to put some of the things he has learned while serving on the Vulcan ship to good use.
I am sure that to the authorities who know him best, see his progress and are willing to extend him more leeway in pursuing his assignment without undue monitoring his methods.
I believe his skills are such that if there is any way to resolve the situation in the most efficient way possible, he will.
I would almost consider this ending a cliffhanger. I will be waiting for the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher