Frontier

© 2006 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 17

"Vincent, would you go in there and see if Ensign Radovanovich is waiting for us?" Lieutenant Simms asked quickly as he ran to the first unconscious security officer.

After trying unsuccessfully to open the door, Vincent said, "It's locked."

"Medical team to Main Security." Lieutenant Simms said quickly into the comm, then ran to Vincent's side.

"Only one of my security people would know this locking code." Lieutenant Simms said as he quickly unlocked the door.

"What happened?" Rad asked as soon as the door opened.

Vincent quickly hugged Rad and quietly asked, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I was just waiting to talk with Lieutenant Simms and someone locked me in." Rad said as he enjoyed the hug.

"How long have you been here?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

"Maybe fifteen minutes. I thought I heard you guys in here a few minutes ago, but no one came in to talk to me. Then I thought I heard weapons fire, but when I tried to look, the door was locked." Rad said uneasily.

"Someone took Darin." Vincent said as he continued to hold Rad tightly.

"Just a second." Lieutenant Simms said firmly and started keying in commands on the main console.

After a moment of carefully watching the display, he said, "There. I got him."

Vincent and Rad ran to Lieutenant Simms side.

"Captain Byrne, we've discovered the identity of our kidnapper." Lieutenant Simms said quickly into the comm.

"Proceed." The captain said with interest.

"It is Security Ensign Matthew Gianni. When I ordered a Bravo protocol, all the surveillance cameras were activated. I have video evidence of Ensign Gianni stunning the security guards on duty and abducting Ensign Cooper." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Do you have any idea where they might have gone?" Captain Byrne asked slowly.

"No sir. But since the abduction of Ensign Cooper seems to have been his primary goal, my guess would be that his next move will be to try and get off the ship." Lieutenant Simms said firmly.

"Agreed. Get to work on it. I want Ensign Cooper found. This has gone too far." Captain Byrne said with a tone of menace.

"I agree captain. Consider it done." Lieutenant Simms said as a vow.

Vincent looked up at the sound of a ship wide announcement, "All hands. Security Ensign Matthew Gianni is to be considered armed and dangerous. Please remain in your quarters or at your duty stations and report any contact immediately."

"If I can go back to the transporter room, I can scan the ship and I may be able to locate Ensign Cooper that way." Rad said hopefully.

"You  painted him?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

"Yes sir, while he was down at the Kimber colony. He's new and I didn't want to take the chance that if something happened unexpectedly that he would be stuck there." Rad said in a pained voice.

"Did anyone else know that you painted him?" Lieutenant Simms asked carefully.

"I think I mentioned it when I was having dinner in the engineering mess... oh my God. Matt was there." Rad said in realization.

"He has the skills, he had the opportunity, now if we only had a motive we might be able to do something to get ahead of him." Lieutenant Simms said in frustration.

"Go see if you can find anything with your transporter scanners. I'm going to start coordinating a deck by deck search." Lieutenant Simms said as the med team came into the room.

"Do you need me to do anything?" Vincent asked seriously as he watched Rad hurry out of the room.

"The best thing you could do right now to help me is to go to the bridge and keep yourself safe. Hold on..." He said before running out of the room.

Less than a minute later Lieutenant Simms came back in followed by a stout woman with a look of ferocity in her eyes.

"Ensign Barnhill will be your personal escort until everything is resolved. Now you should stay with her until we have this all sorted out." Lieutenant Simms said firmly.

"Yes sir." Vincent said seriously.

* * * * *

"Ensign Barnhill, can I go tell my friends that I'm okay? If they heard the intruder alert then they'll be worried about me." Vincent asked hopefully.

"Where are your friends?" Ensign Barnhill asked firmly.

"They're on deck J in the dorsal observation lounge." Vincent said quickly.

"Let's go." Ensign Barnhill said and stepped into the lift.

"Deck J, Dorsal." She said firmly into the air.

"Do you really need to have your phaser out like that?" Vincent asked quietly.

"Yes. I do." She said without looking at Vincent.

* * * * *

As the doors to the lift opened, Vincent hurried out and said, "I'm just going to let the guys know what's going on. You can wait here if you want."

"No. I'm your escort." Ensign Barnhill said as she walked to his side.

"IT'S A TRAP!" sounded from the observation lounge, just before the sound of a weapon firing.

Vincent recognized the voice as Benny's then could hear JonJon crying.

Ensign Barnhill opened her communicator and said, "Deck J, Dorsal Lounge. Weapon's fire."

"Who's out there?" Ensign Gianni called hesitantly from just inside the doorway.

"Get behind me." Ensign Barnhill said in an angry whisper as she trained her phaser on the door.

"No. He'll get us like this. I'll distract him. You get ready to shoot him." Vincent whispered as he walked on shaking legs toward the door.

"Come back here!" Ensign Barnhill whispered loudly and tried to grab hold of Vincent before he got away.

Vincent took a deep breath, then let out the loudest, shrillest scream that he could possibly manage as he ran into the observation lounge.

"WHERE IS MY BROTHER!?" Vincent screamed in his most childish voice.

"I'm here. I'm fine." Darin said quietly from the other side of the observation lounge.

"Yeah, calm down kid, he's fine. Is anyone with you?" Ensign Gianni asked absently as he kept his disruptor pointed at the door.

Vincent saw Channing holding Benny's unconscious body and Darin trying to comfort JonJon who was sobbing uncontrollably.

"YOU HURT MY BEST FRIEND YOU BIG MEANIE!" Vincent screamed and gave Ensign Gianni the hardest kick in the shin that he could manage.

"Ouch! You little..." Ensign Gianni said as he automatically raised his injured leg and reached down to soothe it.

Vincent balled up his fist and put every bit of his nine year old strength behind the uppercut to the security officer's jaw.

The punch was hard enough to throw Ensign Gianni the rest of the way off balance and he fell over and landed on his butt.

"Hold it right there Matt. Drop your weapon." Ensign Barnhill said as she walked into the room.

Matt dropped his disruptor and reached up to caress his jaw.

"Good work Ensign Barnhill." Lieutenant Simms said as he hurried into the room, leading two other security officers.

"You can thank Crewman Winters. He's the one who distracted Matt long enough for me to get in here." Ensign Barnhill said with a small smile at Vincent.

"I should have known." Lieutenant Simms said with a chuckle as he watched his men taking Matt into custody.

Vincent walked to the comm panel and quickly said, "Sickbay, can you send someone to Deck J in the dorsal section? My friend Benny was hit by a disruptor blast."

"Your wife heard you and is on her way... By the way, congratulations."

Vincent considered the voice for a moment, then asked, "Dr. Perry?"

"That's right. And you need to come to sickbay as soon as possible. There is a Lieutenant who won't be able to get proper rest until he can see for himself that you're not hurt." Dr. Perry said in a gentle voice.

"If Lieutenant Simms doesn't need me to do anything right now, I'll go down with Benny." Vincent said seriously.

"I'm just going to need you to write a report." Lieutenant Simms said as he waited for Vincent to finish.

"You and everyone else." Vincent said with exasperation.

Just as the security officers were leading Matt out of the room, he stumbled and landed flat on his face.

"Watch out, it may be a trick." Lieutenant Simms warned as he trained his phaser on the fallen man.

Ensign Barnhill cautiously placed her fingers on his throat and said, "I don't think so. He's dead."

"How?" Lieutenant Simms said in confusion, then suddenly said, "Get him to sickbay immediately. He's probably poisoned himself to keep from being questioned."

The lift door opened to reveal T'Lani and two medical assistants with a gurney.

"Help him. I think he may have poisoned himself." Lieutenant Simms said quickly.

T'Lani opened her tricorder and scanned Matt carefully, then said, "There is nothing to be done. He has ingested a lethal dose of cyanide."

"So much for getting some answers about why all this happened." Lieutenant Simms said with regret.

"Perhaps there is a way that I may be of assistance." T'Lani said as she placed a hand on the side of Ensign Gianni's face.

"What can you... a mind meld?" Lieutenant Simms asked with astonishment.

"His body has failed, but there is still a flicker of activity in his mind... it may be possible for me to retrieve some useful information..." T'Lani said in concentration.

After a moment, she quietly said, "...He is gone." as she slowly withdrew her hand.

"Were you able to get anything useful?" Lieutenant Simms asked hopefully.

"I have retrieved some fragments. I believe what I have retrieved should be disclosed in a more secure environment." T'Lani said seriously.

"I'll go with you to sickbay. As soon as your duties permit I'd like to discuss it with you" Lieutenant Simms said thoughtfully.

"Did you see anything bad?" Vincent asked from T'Lani's side.

T'Lani looked down at Vincent, then put a hand on the side of his face as she said, "Nothing of consequence Husband."

Vincent put his hand over hers and snuggled against it for a moment, then said, "I don't think I'll be able to have dinner with you tonight. I just have too many reports to write."

"I too will have additional duties. Perhaps tomorrow." T'Lani said softly.

"Yeah. Just let me know when." Vincent said with a gentle smile.

"We're ready." One of the medical assistants said as he began to pull the gurney out of the room.

"Before you go, will you look at Benny to see if he's going to be okay? He got stunned." Vincent asked quickly.

T'Lani took out her medical tricorder again and ran a quick scan.

After a moment of looking over the readings she said, "I will return shortly for your friend. Do not be concerned, he is simply in a mild state of neural shock and will recover in a short time."

"Thanks T'Lani. I'll wait here for you to come back." Vincent said with a small smile.

* * * * *

"Is Benny going to be okay?" JonJon asked from Darin's lap with tears streaking down his cheeks.

"Yeah. T'Lani said that he just needs a little bit of rest to get better." Vincent said with assurance.

"You did a good job taking that guy down. I thought that punch was going to knock him out." Darin said quietly as he continued to hug JonJon.

Vincent smiled at the praise and said, "If I didn't do something, we were going to be stuck outside the room until that guy came out and shot us both."

"You have a pretty good screaming voice. It made the hair on my neck stand on end." Channing said as he held Benny gently.

"That guy said he was going to take Darin away. He said that his friends would be here any minute." JonJon said with a tremble of fear.

"Did he say who his friends were?" Vincent asked suddenly.

"N... no. He just said that they'd be here any minute and that they'd take him and Darin back to Earth." JonJon said fearfully.

Vincent hopped up and ran to the comm station.

"Crewman Winters to the Captain." Vincent said in a rush.

"Go ahead Crewman." Captain Byrne answered immediately.

"JonJon says that Ensign Gianni was waiting on another ship to pick him up and that they should be here any minute."

"Understood. Anything else?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"No sir. But if I find out any more I'll let you know."

"Good work Crewman. Do you have security there?"

Vincent glanced around the room, then looked outside the observation bay before answering, "No sir. I think they all went to sickbay."

"Crewman, I want you to escort Ensign Cooper to security and get him inside the containment cell."

"Yes sir." Vincent said in his most military voice.

"Now Crewman!" Captain Byrne said abruptly, then disconnected the transmission.

"Come on Darin. We've got to hurry." Vincent said quickly.

"Where?" Darin asked as he shifted JonJon off  his lap.

"To security. I'll tell you about it on the way." Vincent said as he ran for the turbo lift.

"Hold on, I'm coming." Darin said quickly.

* * * * *

"So what's this all about?" Darin asked as the lift took them to main security.

"I don't know all of it, but someone is still after you and if Ensign Gianni sent them that painting thing of you, then they might be able to beam you off the ship." Vincent said impatiently as he waited for the lift doors to open.

"The shields should be able to prevent anything like that." Darin said in thought.

"Yeah, and the internal sensors should be able to detect a disruptor being fired." Vincent said firmly as the doors opened.

Darin thought about the words as he followed Vincent.

"Come on!" Vincent said as he hurried into main security.

"Vinc...." Could  be heard as Darin was enveloped in shimmering sparkles.

Vincent ran to the nearest comm station and screamed, "Captain! Someone's got Darin! They're transporting him now!"

"Hold on Crewman Winters, Ensign Radovanovich has a transporter lock on him as well. They won't get him that easily." Captain Byrne said firmly.

Darin seemed to be struggling inside the transporter beam as the two transporters played tug-of-war with his molecules.

A column of shimmering light appeared about two feet away from Darin.

Vincent  looked around and spotted a phaser laying on one of the desks.

He checked to see what power level the phaser was set to, then  fired a long, sustained blast of phased energy into the second transporter beam.

The beam abruptly stopped and left an unconscious person laying in the floor.

Darin's transporter beam also abruptly stopped and he fell to his knees.

"Come on Darin. You're too big for me to carry. You've got to get to the holding cell before they can try to transport you again."

"Help me." Darin whispered as he held an arm out to Vincent.

Darin forced himself to crawl as Vincent pulled him by the arm.

As soon as they were inside the containment cell, Vincent quickly said, "That's good enough. I'll turn it on."

"What's going on here?" Ensign Barnhill asked as she rushed into the room.

"They tried to beam Darin out. Can you turn on the thing that stops transporters? I can't find it here." Vincent asked franticly.

"Yes, this is it." Ensign Barnhill said as she activated the transport inhibitor.

"And whoever that is, tried to transport in here while the transporters were fighting over Darin." Vincent said and pointed to the motionless person in the floor.

Ensign Barnhill ran to the body and turned it over carefully.

"I used high stun. I didn't kill him, did I?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. No, you didn't kill him." Ensign Barnhill said as she rushed to the main console and pressed the comm.

"Lieutenant Simms to Main Security immediately." Ensign Barnhill said firmly.

"Did I do something wrong?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Hardly." Ensign Barnhill said with a chuckle.

"Then what is it?" Vincent asked with confusion.

"What is it Ensign?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he rushed into the room.

"It seems that Crewman Winters subdued an intruder who was trying to beam aboard the ship." Ensign Barnhill said frankly as she gestured toward the intruder with her phaser.

Lieutenant Simms looked down at the intruder, then up at Vincent with question.

"He tried to beam in while they were fighting over Darin. I shot the phaser into the transporter beam then both transporters stopped... Um, then I helped Darin into the holding cell so he wouldn't get transported again." Vincent said in a diminishing voice.

"Good work Crewman. Ensign Barnhill, call for a med team, then get our uninvited guest into a holding cell." Lieutenant Simms said firmly, then went to the comm station.

"Lieutenant Simms to Captain Byrne." Lieutenant Simms said professionally.

"Report Lieutenant." Captain Byrne said shortly.

"Ensign Cooper is in the holding cell where he is safe from any further transport attempts. And apparently during the struggle for Ensign Cooper, an intruder tried to board the ship by transporting in close proximity to the excessive transporter activity to mask his signal. He was subdued by Crewman Winters."

"Crewman Winters subdued an intruder single handed?" Captain Byrne asked in confirmation.

"It's not that hard when you have a phaser on high stun and the intruder is still in the transporter beam." Vincent interjected.

"I see. However you did it, good work Crewman." Captain Byrne said firmly.

"We will begin interrogation as soon as the prisoner becomes conscious." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Perhaps we can finally get some answers." Captain Byrne said in a considering voice.

"We can hope." Lieutenant Simms said as he watched the intruder carefully.

* * * * *

"Please have a seat everyone." Captain Byrne said firmly.

Vincent quietly took his seat between Darin and T'Lani.

"Lieutenant Simms, you are aware that we have a ship in the area that can evade our sensors and penetrate our shields. Are you certain that Ensign Cooper won't be transported out of this meeting?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"Yes sir. Ensign Cooper has been outfitted with a portable transport inhibitor. He's perfectly safe." Lieutenant Simms said with assurance.

"Ensign DeGama and Crewman Wills found the transmitter that was broadcasting our shield frequency. They can't penetrate our shields anymore." Chief Morgan said seriously.

Vincent took hold of Darin's arm and gave it a quick squeeze to convey his happiness that Darin was safe.

"Does anyone here have any clue as to a motive for the attempted abduction of Ensign Cooper?" Captain Byrne asked frankly.

"I have information that may lead us to discover the motive." T'Lani said without inflection.

"I asked Ensign T'Lani to join us since she was able to mind meld with Ensign Gianni as he was dying." Lieutenant Simms said quickly.

"Which would probably invalidate the use of this information as evidence." Captain Byrne said with a questioning look at T'Lani.

"That is correct sir. There was insufficient time to cross reference and verify the information. It would be inadmissible in a court of law." T'Lani said calmly.

"Everyone, please keep that in mind. What information did you find?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"Ensign Gianni had an allegiance with an old Earth crime family long before he entered Starfleet or came aboard the Yorktown. Earlier today he received a message instructing him to kidnap Ensign Cooper then call for a ship to transport him to Earth." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.

"I see. Do you know if the stealth ship belongs to the crime family?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

"Unknown. But Ensign Gianni sent them the information to allow them to penetrate our shields and locate Ensign Cooper." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.

"Do you know why the crime family wanted Ensign Cooper?" Captain Byrne asked carefully.

"No sir. Ensign Gianni was simply following his orders. He was given no explanation."

"So, what was Ensign Gianni doing on this ship in the first place? He's been here for nearly two years." Lieutenant Simms asked in thought.

"He was a sleeper. He was to function normally until there was a need for his service. Had his initial plan succeeded, he would have entered Deflector Control while all the personnel were unconscious, then called the stealth ship to transport Ensign Cooper out before anyone was aware of a problem." Ensign T'Lani said carefully.

"Why would anyone go to such lengths to abduct a Deflector Control ensign?" Captain Byrne asked as he looked around the table.

"For ransom?" Dr. Perry asked speculatively.

"Hargrove." Lieutenant Simms said in realization.

Everyone looked at him with question.

"Ensign Cooper, you said that your father's last name was Hargrove, would you be any relation to someone in Hargrove Industries?" Lieutenant Simms asked carefully.

"Yes. Hargrove Industries is my dad's company." Darin said in a small voice.

"They're also the company implicated in the recent control circuit mess. The majority of the upper management of Hargrove industries is under indictment, however, Mr. Hargrove himself seems to have evaded any legal problems thus far." Chief Morgan offered in slow thought.

"He may not be in trouble with the law, but perhaps he has business partners who aren't very happy with him at the moment." Captain Byrne said speculatively.

"So they could be trying to kidnap his son to get him to make good on some deal that they made." Lieutenant Simms said as he glanced at Darin.

"I guess it could be that, but I doubt that Dad would give two dollars to get me back." Darin said weakly.

"Don't be so sure Ensign Cooper. Parents don't always express their emotions obviously, but that doesn't mean that they don't have them." Captain Byrne said, saying with his tone that he had some personal experience with that situation.

Darin nodded uncertainly.

"Dr. Perry, what is the status of our guest?" Captain Byrne asked, obviously wanting to change the subject.

"He's suffering a moderate phaser burn to much of his upper body, it's more uncomfortable than anything. Besides that, he's just a bit subdued and not altogether cooperative. I also removed a neural toxin packet that was hidden under his skin before he had a chance to commit suicide." Dr. Perry said frankly.

"Lieutenant Simms, I assume that you haven't had an opportunity to speak with our guest." The Captain asked seriously.

"No sir. Dr. Perry finished with him right before the meeting." Lieutenant Simms said reluctantly.

"Then would you bring him in so we may speak?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"Sir?" Lieutenant Simms responded in surprise.

"Perhaps we can get the remainder of the information we require by simply asking." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"Yes sir." Lieutenant Simms said quickly.

Vincent reached beside him and placed his hand over T'Lani's on the conference table.

Captain Byrne noticed the gesture and smiled.

"I suppose now is as good a time as any to offer my congratulations on your marriage." Captain Byrne said with a smile.

"Thank you sir." Both Vincent and T'Lani said in matching respectful tones.

"I realize that by Vulcan tradition that the official ceremony won't occur for many years, but if you would like to mark the occasion in some way, you would find me receptive to the idea." Captain Byrne said seriously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "There's just one thing I would like."

"If it is something within my ability to provide, you will have it." Captain Byrne said with a fond smile at the couple.

Vincent turned to T'Lani and took her hand into his.

"T'Lani, it's kind of an old Earth custom that when two people get married, one of them, usually the wife, changes her name so that they'll both have the same last name. Since you don't really have a last name, I'd like for you to have mine if you want it." Vincent said hopefully.

T'Lani looked at Vincent for a moment as she thought about what he was asking.

"I mean, you don't have to. I'll still love you and want to be your husband and I won't even be mad if you don't want to... But I just figured that when we have kids, it'll be good if their parents both have the same last name..." Vincent finished shyly.

"I would be honored to accept your family name, my husband. However, I would like to continue to be addressed as Ensign T'Lani while on duty if that is acceptable." T'Lani said seriously.

"That's great. That way when I become an Ensign too, people won't get all confused by us having the same name." Vincent said happily.

"If you would like, I can make those arrangements after the meeting." Captain Byrne said with a tender smile.

"Yes. Thank you Captain." T'Lani said peacefully.

* * * * *

The door opened to reveal Lieutenant Simms and two other security officers escorting the prisoner.

"Please remove the restraints so he may sit comfortably." Captain Byrne said in a firm, neutral tone.

Lieutenant Simms looked at Captain Byrne with question for a moment, then reluctantly removed the restraints from the prisoner's hands.

"Please sit down so we may begin." Captain Byrne said frankly.

The man looked around the table and his gaze stopped on T'Lani for a moment, then fixed on Darin.

"Please have a seat. We have much to discuss." Captain Byrne said in a more urging tone.

"What if I don't want to discuss whatever you're wanting to talk about?" The man asked coldly.

"That is your choice of course, but I have a feeling that you will want to hear what I have to say." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"And what is that?" The prisoner asked suspiciously.

"It seems to me that your superiors are very interested in obtaining Ensign Cooper. Of course the welfare of all my crewmembers is of the utmost importance to me and I would never allow that to happen. But perhaps if I were to speak to your superiors we could come to some sort of an arrangement that would be mutually satisfying." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Me and my ship don't work directly for the people you'd want to talk to. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and decided to take up this contract. We're just supposed to pick up and drop off. That's the only stake we have in all this." The prisoner said cautiously.

"I see. So what seemed on the surface to be a simple way to make some easy money ended up getting you captured and your ship at odds with a Federation starship." Captain Byrne said carefully.

"Yeah. The only reason we didn't cut and run earlier is because we accepted the contract and felt honor bound to deliver the goods." The prisoner said as he sat straighter in his chair.

"That being the case, perhaps if I were to speak with the captain of your vessel, we could resolve this entire situation peacefully and you could be on your way.

"You would let me go?" The prisoner asked cautiously.

"Regardless of your intention when you transported aboard, the fact is that you didn't have an opportunity to commit any crime. I suppose we might have grounds to prosecute you under Federation law for trespassing, but I see no purpose in pursuing that avenue." Captain Byrne said honestly.

"Thank you." The prisoner said reluctantly.

"Your welcome. If you would be so kind as to contact your captain, perhaps we can also come to terms and have you on your way?" Captain Byrne said with a smile.

The man considered the words and reluctantly nodded his agreement.

"There is a comm panel by your left hand. You can make the call from there." Captain Byrne said as he looked the man in the eyes.

After keying in the frequency of his ship, he quietly said, "This is Korrigon, the captain of the Yorktown has a proposition to make that may interest you."

"I have nothing to say to you. You failed in your mission and then betrayed us to your captors." A vague shadowed female shape said with disgust from the view screen.

"I was attacked during transport and my poison was taken away." Korrigon tried to explain.

"Captain, I believe you had something to say?" The woman said casually, dutifully ignoring Korrigon's words.

"Yes. As I understand your situation, you have nothing to gain by pursuing this matter any further. We've disabled the transmitter that revealed our shield frequencies and we've adjusted our sensors to compensate for your stealth technology. There is no way for  you to complete your contract, so you should be on your way." Captain Byrne said reasonably.

"It appears that you're correct. And just so you know, I thought this was a bad idea from the beginning. Kidnapping is a cowardly way of doing business." The woman said coldly.

"I agree. If you will give us the coordinates, we will return your man to you so you can be on your way." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Don't bother. Getting rid of him is the only good thing to come out of this whole mess." The woman said coldly, then cut off the transmission.

"Your captain seems to be less than sympathetic to your situation." Captain Byrne said to his stunned prisoner.

"That was... my wife." Korrigon said quietly.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that." Captain Byrne said with a note of sympathy.

The sound of an incoming message stopped further conversation.

"Captain, the stealth ship has left the system at maximum impulse." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"Understood, continue sensor sweeps in case they decide to change their minds." Captain Byrne said firmly.

"Aye sir." Commander M'Butu said and ended the transmission.

"Captain, if you will return my poison to me, I will relieve you of the burden of my presence." Korrigon said bravely as he assumed a straighter posture.

"Nonsense. Allow me to make some inquiries on your behalf and If all goes as I expect, you will be welcomed to start a new home in a new colony that we will be establishing in a few short weeks. You'll be able to start a fresh life and perhaps even be able to find a new wife." Captain Byrne said with a smile.

Korrigon looked around the room with confusion.

"I have a lot of friends who are starting new lives. If you need any help, just ask." Vincent said with a smile.

"I feel as if I know you." Korrigon said as he looked carefully at Vincent.

"Um... I'm the one who shot you when you tried to transport in. But if you'll promise to not try to hurt my brother or take him away, I'll help you however I can." Vincent finished with a smile.

"Your brother?" Korrigon asked cautiously, then saw that Vincent was indicating Darin.

"Well, I guess you all just saw that I'm not wanted back on my ship. I have no reason to want to harm you or your family." Korrigon said, then winced with pain.

"Come with me Korrigon and I'll get you something to soothe that burn." Dr. Perry said as she stood.

"Just a moment." Captain Byrne said forcefully.

Dr. Perry and Korrigon turned to look at the Captain with question.

"Korrigon, for the time being I am going to require you to have a security escort. I hope this won't be a problem for you." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"No, not at all Captain. You are being more than generous." Korrigon said quietly.

"Good. Now go and get that phaser burn taken care of. And remember to drink a lot of fluids, that helps with the soreness." Captain Byrne finished with a friendly smile.

"Thank you sir. I will." Korrigon said shyly, then walked to Dr. Perry's side.

"If there's nothing else, the meeting is dismissed." Captain Byrne said as he stood.

"Hang on Dr. Perry. I want to go down to sickbay with you to check on Daddy Joe and Benny." Vincent said quickly.

"I'll go too." Darin said quietly as he walked to Vincent's side.

* * * * *

As Vincent walked into sickbay, he noticed that nearly every bed in the convalescent ward was filled.

Vincent finally spotted Joe and ran to him. As  he pulled him into a tight hug, he said, "I'm glad you're alright."

"I'm glad that you're okay too Vincent. You too Darin." Joe said tiredly.

"I had my doubts for a few minutes, but Vincent rescued me." Darin said gently.

"That's my boy." Joe said with a tender smile and rubbed Vincent's 'peach fuzz' hair.

"Benny is the one who really saved Darin. If it wasn't for him, I would have walked right into the observation lounge and been shot." Vincent said seriously.

"Yeah, that was one of the bravest things I've ever seen." Darin agreed as he glanced over to the next bed to see Benny sleeping peacefully with Channing and JonJon watching over him.

"Crewman Winters, may I have a moment of your time?" Dr. Perry asked seriously as she walked to his side.

"Um, yeah. Sure." Vincent said uncertainly.

Dr. Perry motioned for Vincent to follow her into the next room.

"Are you really going to be okay? You look awfully tired." Darin asked with concern.

"I'm going to be fine, but it may take me a while to sleep this one off. I don't remember the last time I felt this drained." Joe said honestly.

"Don't worry about a thing. We'll make sure that everything is taken care of." Darin said with assurance.

"Connie is in charge until I'm fit for duty." Joe said seriously.

Darin looked two beds over at Connie who was sleeping.

"I don't think he's in any shape to be in charge at the moment." Darin said honestly.

"Maybe not at the moment, but I have a feeling that he'll be back on his feet before I am." Joe said quietly.

"How bad is it?" Darin asked with renewed concern.

"I've been pushing myself since we left Earth. When the ceiling caved in on me at the Kimber colony I suffered some mild radiation burns and was banged up quite a bit. I've been in pain, but I've just tried to ignore it. If I had started off at full strength, I could probably recover from this inside a day, but Dr. Perry thinks that it may take three to five days before I'm ready to go on duty again. And considering the way I'm feeling right now, I agree with her." Joe said quietly.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" Darin asked gently.

"Just take care of Vincent. As long as I know that you're watching out for him, I'll be able to relax and concentrate on healing." Joe said with a contented smile.

"I will Joe, I promise." Darin said as a vow.

"You're supposed to be laying down." JonJon said firmly.

Darin and Joe both turned to see JonJon looking disapprovingly at Channing.

"You'd better do what he says Channing. He's got a Shih-Tzu and he knows how to use it." Joe said with a teasing smile.

Channing laughed at the statement and walked to the nearest unoccupied bed to lay down.

Dr. Perry walked back into the room then stopped to look at Channing with question.

"I'm feeling fine. I just wanted to be here to see that Benny is going to be alright and JonJon reminded me that I should be laying down." Channing rushed to explain.

Dr. Perry considered for a moment, then said, "I'll consider this proof that he's taking good care of you."

JonJon smiled with pride at the statement.

"Ensign Cooper, could I have a few minutes of your time?" Dr. Perry asked seriously.

"Is something wrong?" Darin asked cautiously.

"No, just go into my office with Crewman Winters and wait for me. I'll be there in just a minute." Dr. Perry said seriously.

Darin gave Joe a questioning look before hesitantly walking away.

* * * * *

Vincent looked up as Darin walked into Dr. Perry's office.

"What's going on?" Darin asked curiously.

"I don't know. Dr. Perry had me get on a biobed and took a lot of readings, then asked me to come in here." Vincent said apprehensively.

"Don't worry little brother. Whatever it is, we'll get through it together." Darin said as he sat beside Vincent and gave him a gentle hug.

"She seemed worried when she scanned me last night. I think maybe there's something really wrong with me." Vincent said from the hug.

"She'll tell us in just a minute. Just hang on for a little bit longer." Darin said in a soothing voice as his worry increased.

Vincent nodded into Darin's chest and continued to hug him tightly.

* * * * *

"Ensign Thaelan, I'm happy to say that you are fit for duty." Dr. Raul said with a smile.

"Thank you. The medication you administered seems to have counteracted all the effects of the foreign substance I inhaled." Ensign Thaelan said as he sat on the edge of his bed.

"Yes. Anesthezine has an unfortunate effect on Andorian physiology, but the effect is easily countered. The effect isn't as severe in Humans, but the treatment isn't as effective." Dr. Raul said as he indicated Jimmy and Connie still fast asleep.

"How long will it be until they recover?" Ensign Thaelan asked with concern.

"A few hours. I could wake them up now, but their thought processes and coordination would be impaired to the point that they wouldn't be fit for duty. It's best to let them sleep it off." Dr. Raul said seriously.

"Thank you Doctor. May I have my uniform?" Ensign Thaelan asked as he looked around.

"Oh yes. I'll get it for you." Dr. Raul said quickly and walked away.

Thaelan walked to Joe's bedside and said, "Lieutenant Bowers, I've been declared fit for duty."

Joe smiled and said, "I'm really glad to hear that. If you'll  hold on for a few minutes, we'll wait for Darin and Vincent to finish their meeting with Dr. Perry, then the three of you can relieve Lou and Judy."

"Yes sir." Ensign Thaelan said formally, then in a quieter tone he asked, "Are you going to be well?"

"Eventually. But I may be down for a few days." Joe said in a tired voice.

"Please let me know if there is anything I can do to aid your recovery." Ensign Thaelan said quietly.

"Just watch out for Vincent and Darin. They're both new and need someone with experience to guide them." Joe said gently.

"I am honored that you trust me with that responsibility." Thaelan said honestly.

"I do Thaelan. But if you need any advice about anything at all, I'll be here." Joe said seriously.

"I have come to respect your opinion and value your advice. If I have any questions, I promise that I will come to you." Thaelan said as he looked Joe in the eyes.

"Then I won't worry." Joe said with a smile, then glanced at the door that Vincent and Darin had walked through.

Thaelan followed his gaze and said, "Don't worry about them Joe. I'm sure they'll be fine."

Joe looked at Thaelan with surprise and cautiously said, "You called me Joe."

Thaelan thought for a moment, then slowly nodded.

* * * * *

"I'm sorry to keep you waiting gentlemen, I just wanted to see that everyone was being attended to before I sat down with you." Dr. Perry said as she walked to her desk.

"What's wrong with me?" Vincent blurted out.

"Not a thing Crewman Winters." Dr. Perry said with assurance, then noticed the nearly panicked expression on Vincent's face.

After a moment to consider, Dr. Perry continued, "I suppose I can see how you could come to the conclusion that there is a serious problem from the way I asked you to come in here. But please believe me when I say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you and you have no reason to be concerned."

Vincent wanted to believe her, but felt the tension coiled within him, waiting to deal with whatever she was about to tell him.

"I suppose I'll get right to it then. In over thirty years of medical practice, I've never had the opportunity to say this to a crewman before. Congratulations Crewman Winters, you are entering puberty." Dr. Perry said with a tender smile.

"Do what?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I became concerned yesterday evening when I saw the variation in your readings from when I first examined you. I had planned to wait a week to give your blood chemistry a chance to stabilize before coming to any conclusions, but the readings I took of you just now confirmed that you are definitely in the first stages of puberty." Dr. Perry said seriously.

"Why did you bring us in here to tell us that?" Darin asked curiously.

"I brought Crewman Winters in here because he might not want the status of his sexual development to be common knowledge among his coworkers. I brought you in, Ensign Cooper, because when I asked Crewman Winters who he would like to be here with him for this discussion, he chose you." Dr. Perry said frankly.

"Oh." Darin said quietly, then looked at Vincent with question.

Vincent nodded and said, "Daddy Joe looks like he needs his rest. I thought that my big brother could handle this one."

Darin smiled and gave Vincent a quick one armed hug.

"Good. Now Crewman Winters, you are beginning some very drastic hormonal changes in your body. It's important for you to know what to expect so you understand that what you are going through is normal." Dr. Perry said firmly.

"Isn't he a little young to be starting... this?" Darin asked with difficulty.

"That was my initial reaction, but I did some investigation and found that the normal age for a boy to start puberty is between nine and a half and eleven years of age. And studies indicate that a sudden increase of stress can 'jumpstart' puberty in a child who is on the threshold." Dr. Perry said seriously.

"I think Vincent qualifies on all counts." Darin said frankly.

"Crewman Winters... Vincent, the main reason I wanted you to have someone here when I told you this is because I'm going to ask Ensign Cooper to help you through the changes you're about to face." Dr. Perry said carefully.

"Can you just tell me what's going to happen?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Well, first your testes will begin to increase in size and begin to descend." Dr. Perry said clinically.

"My wha...  Oh jeeze." Vincent said and buried his face into Darin's shoulder as he blushed all the way down to his toes.

Dr. Perry smiled at the reaction and continued, "At the same time or soon thereafter, your penis will begin to lengthen and increase in size."

Vincent continued to hold Darin tightly and kept his face buried.

"The second stage..." Dr. Perry began to say.

"Do you think we could just deal with the first stage for now? I think Vincent needs a little time to deal with this before he's ready for more." Darin said honestly as he rubbed Vincent's back.

Dr. Perry considered for a moment, then said, "I suppose that we can postpone the next part of the talk for a bit if Vincent will make me a promise."

After a long silent moment, Vincent hesitantly pulled back from Darin's chest and glanced at Dr. Perry.

"Vincent, Ensign Cooper has gone through these very same changes not too long ago. If you'll promise to go to him about any concern you have, no matter how small it may seem, then I'll save the rest of our talk for a later time." Dr. Perry said firmly.

"What kind of changes?" Vincent asked hesitantly, pretty sure that he didn't want to know.

"Let's see, you may start having unusually vivid dreams that make you feel strange. Or perhaps you'll have a question about how to deal with body odor..."

"I'm going to stink?" Vincent interrupted.

"It's possible. Strange things can happen when you have a drastic change in your hormonal balance or body chemistry. That's why you need to talk to Ensign Cooper about these things. If it's something he also faced when he went through puberty, then he can tell you how to get through it. If it's something he didn't experience, either he or you can come to me and ask for my advice." Dr. Perry finished with accomplishment.

There was a long moment of silence, then Vincent hesitantly said, "There was one thing I kind of wanted to know."

"What would that be?" Dr. Perry asked professionally.

"I was just kind of wondering when I'm, uh, gonna get... you know, hair... um, down there." Vincent finished in a mumble.

"You're entering stage one now, there's no specific timetable for such things, but the beginning of stage two is characterized by a change of texture and coloration of the scrotum and a sparse amount of pubic hair at the base of the penis. A matter of months most likely." Dr. Perry finished consideringly.

"Oh, um... thanks." Vincent said as he felt his face redden and fought the urge to hide in Darin's shoulder again.

"Don't worry little brother. If you'll just keep me posted, I'll let you know if the stuff that's happening is normal and what to expect next." Darin said quietly.

"That's what I had hoped. Then, unless you have any other questions, I believe that we're done here." Dr. Perry said with a warm smile.

"Um, no. No more questions. Thanks for,  you know, not telling me in front of everyone." Vincent said shyly.

"I wouldn't do that to you Vincent. I know that this is a very personal thing and I would never embarrass you like that. I wouldn't have asked that you invite Ensign Cooper to be here, except that I feel that he will be able to give you more valuable insights into what you are about to experience than I can." Dr. Perry said as she stood and walked to the door.

Vincent stood with Darin at his side and said, "Daddy Joe is gonna flip when I tell him."

"Just make sure I'm close by when you do, in case the shock is too much for him." Dr. Perry said with a smile as she led the way out of the door.

To Be Continued . . .