Universe Alpha 7:

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Chapter 3 - Defying Reality

"How are you doing, Lexi?" Tracey asked with concern.

"You talk to Captain Gravf all the time. Do you think you could ask him if we could use the conference room or something? Your cabin is nice and big and everything, but I'd like to be able to sit at a table or desk or something to do my school work." Lexi said frankly as she readjusted her sitting position so she could rest her data padd on her folded legs, for a better viewing angle.

"I'll see what I can do. But how's the school work going?" Tracey asked seriously.

"So far, it's not bad. It's more reading than I'm used to, but it's not too hard." Lexi said honestly.

Tracey accepted the answer with a nod, then turned and asked, "Hart?"

"Fine." Hart responded without looking up from his padd.

Tracey had learned not to delve any deeper when given that particular response.



"How about you, RJ?" Tracey asked seriously.

"I was worried about what kind of lessons I'd have to do, you know, with it being the Vulcan Academy of Science. But this is okay." RJ said as he glanced at Tracey with a brief smile.

"If I understood it right, some of that testing we did while we were at the academy was to see what our education level was." Tracey said thoughtfully.

"It seems that they must feel that I need to learn more about the other species in the Federation. I have a formidable amount of lessons on the subject." Rocky said honestly.

"My mom always kept close track of what I was studying in school. I remember, one time, when she noticed that I was being taught 'Earth-centric' lessons, she had a fit. She hauled me into the principal's office and told them that if they didn't start teaching us about different cultures, she was going to see to it that every Starfleet brat at the base would be pulled out of classes and that she'd bring in a whole teaching staff to see that we were being taught things that we'd actually be able to use. She was so angry, she actually scared me a little bit." Tracey finished with a chuckle.

"It's good that she did that. I wish someone would have done that at my school, back home. I think they had a lesson plan that they must have made back in the 1950's and they haven't added anything to it since." RJ said frankly.

"Excuse me, but if you feel that 'somebody' should do 'something', perhaps you should endeavor to correct the situation, yourself." Xon said seriously.

"Yeah. Be 'somebody'." Lexi said with a grin.

"I wouldn't know what to do." RJ said helplessly.

"Define the problem. Then formulate possible solutions. Select one, then initiate it." Rocky said simply.

"Do you think I really could?" RJ asked cautiously.

"If you do not, then who will? If this deficiency in your local educational system has indeed been in place since the 1950's, then I believe that it is safe to assume that no one else is prepared to take action." Xon said seriously.

"How can I do something like that when I'm all the way out here, in space?" RJ asked thoughtfully.

"Define the problem. Then formulate possible solutions. Select one, then initiate it." Rocky repeated, then continued, "It may be necessary to enlist the aid of others to carry it out, but if the situation is as dire as you indicate, then bringing the matter to people's attention and presenting them a plan of action may be all that is needed to facilitate change."

RJ sat silently for a moment, then quietly said, "I need to get my school stuff finished first."

"Then?" Rocky asked impatiently.

"Then I'll start working on it. I may need you guys' help. I've never done anything like this before." RJ said thoughtfully.

"You've got our help whenever you need it." Tracey assured him.

"I just thought of something." Lexi said suddenly.

Everyone turned their attention to her and waited.

"If it was Vincent who realized that there was a problem like RJ's, what do you think he would do?" Lexi asked as she looked around.

"He'd find a way to fix it." Tracey said with a smile.

RJ slowly nodded, then looked around and said, "Okay, yeah. I'm going to do it."

* * * * *

"Breaktime!" Tracey said suddenly.

"One more minute." RJ said as he continued to read.

"Everyone, get to a good stopping point, then head down to the mess hall. I've got something to do right now, but I'll meet you there." Tracey said as he stood.

No one answered verbally, but from the distracted nods that he received, he felt assured that his message had been received.

* * * * *

Tracey walked onto the bridge and directly to the command chair.

He had to wait for a moment for the officer on duty to acknowledge him.

"What can I do for you, Lieutenant?" The Lieutenant Commander asked as she turned her attention to him.

"I'm Acting Lieutenant Sturgill, Ma'am. I'm in charge of the cadets and I was wondering if there's any way we can use the conference room after our shift, so that we can do our school work." Tracey said professionally.

"At ease, Lieutenant. I'm Lieutenant Commander Neiman... you're Cassaundra's son, aren't you?"

"Yes, Ma'am." Tracey said seriously.

"The last time I saw you, you must have been about five years old." Lieutenant Commander Neiman chuckled, then schooled her expression before continuing, "As I understand it, Admiral Hanson has taken possession of Captain Gravf's office while she's aboard, so the captain has been temporarily relocated to conference room one. Give me just a moment."

Tracey watched as Lieutenant Commander Neiman made an inquiry on her chair console.

"This vessel was originally outfitted with a number of conference rooms. Some of them have been repurposed over the years, but I have one that's currently listed as being unused. If it's suitable for your purposes, we can assign it to be exclusively for the use of the cadets." Lieutenant Commander Neiman said seriously.

"Thank you, Commander. That would be very helpful." Tracey said respectfully.

"Conference room seven is now reserved. If it turns out to be unsuitable for some reason, let me know and we'll find something else for you."

"Yes, Ma'am. Thank you, again."

* * * * *

When Tracey walked into the mess hall, he found the group of cadets seated at a table.

He walked to the serving line and picked up something to snack on before joining them.

"Are you guys going to start on your mentor assignments, now?" Lexi asked as Tracey approached.

"I think everyone should decide that for themselves. I know, for me, I'm at a good spot with my school work where I can pick it back up tomorrow and continue where I left off. So it's the perfect time for me to switch over." Tracey said honestly.

"Whether or not I'm at a good stopping point, I need to start on my communications stuff. There's a lot of it." RJ said frankly.

"Let me know if you need any help." Tracey said seriously.

RJ smiled at him and nodded.

"Lieutenant Fister!" Lexi said suddenly and hopped up out of her chair.

The others watched as Lexi hurried to the serving line.

"Remember, be nice. Be respectful. Don't react negatively if he says or does something to upset you. Calmly and patiently suggest alternative behaviors to him." Tracey cautioned.

"If that doesn't work, can I rip his face off?" Hart asked hopefully.

Tracey fought down a smile, then calmly said, "We'll consider that our backup plan."

* * * * *

"Rocky doesn't need a chair, so there's an empty seat." Lexi said as she guided, almost dragged, Lieutenant Fister to the table.

"Lieutenant Fister, please join us." Tracey said graciously.

"Lieutenants usually sit with other lieutenants." Lieutenant Fister stated seriously, as though that were justification for him to sit elsewhere.

"Tracey's a lieutenant, and he's sitting with us, so that makes it okay." Lexi said reasonably.

Although the man was clearly reluctant, he eventually took a seat.

There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence until RJ finally asked, "Since we're all off duty, is it okay if we call you by your first name?"

"I guess." Lieutenant Fister said cautiously.

Everyone waited.

Finally, RJ asked, "What's your first name, Lieutenant?"


"Great! Thanks, Armand." Lexi said with a smile of accomplishment.

Tracey decided that, before anyone could take the conversation in another direction, that he wanted to clearly state their intentions. "Armand, we overheard what the captain said to you about keeping your rank and staying in Starfleet, and if you'd let us, we'd like to help you."

"I don't need any help." Lieutenant Fister said abruptly.

"The evidence at hand would seem to indicate otherwise." Xon said seriously.

"Some of us had to learn how to behave in a situation that is completely foreign to us. We understand what it feels like to be completely removed from what is familiar and unable to decipher the expectations of others using verbal and visual cues that we were never taught." Rocky stated reasonably.

"I spent my whole life living on mercenary ships. Do you think I'm comfortable here?" Hart asked simply.

"I grew up in a trailer park in Georgia, being dirt poor. If it weren't for being able to watch what the others are doing, I'd be screwing up all the time." RJ said honestly.

"See? We get it." Tracey said as he tried to get Lieutenant Fister to look him in the eyes.

"And all we want to do is, if you say something wrong, we'll tell you a way that might be better." Lexi explained, then puzzled back over her words, trying to determine if they made any sense at all.

"And we won't do it in front of other people, I promise." Tracey quickly added.

"Why?" Lieutenant Fister asked suspiciously.

"Because it's the right thing to do." Xon said, as though it were the most obviously logical thing in the universe.

"Yeah. And you're a really great helmsman and I want to keep you as my mentor. If you end up getting kicked out, the next mentor I get might be someone who knows how to say 'Yes, Sir' without sounding like a dick, but that doesn't mean that they'll know more about running the helm than I already do." Lexi said bluntly.

"What is it that you're asking me to do?" Lieutenant Fister asked cautiously.

"Just listen when we tell you a better way to say what you're saying and don't get all mean and hateful with us." RJ said seriously.

Lieutenant Fister thought for a moment, then quietly said, "I may have a problem with that. Although I'm not always aware of it at the time, I tend to react badly when people criticize me."

"You'll just have to get over it." Lexi said firmly.

"Armand, we were already expecting you to react negatively to being corrected. We'll make you a deal. If you'll try to keep your reaction from being too nasty, we'll do our best to overlook your attitude, as much as we can." Tracey said as he finally got Lieutenant Fister to look him in the eyes.

"Nothing I've tried so far has seemed to work. And I'm one step away from being drummed out of Starfleet. I guess I've got nothing to lose." Lieutenant Fister said quietly.

"Just try to keep in mind that we're doing this to help you. We're on your side." Tracey said seriously.

Lieutenant Fister got a curious look for a moment, then said, "You know, I don't think anyone's ever been on my side before."

"I'm the one who can help you with that." RJ said frankly.

Lieutenant Fister's look of question wasn't the only one directed at RJ.

"Let's just say, I sort of know how that feels. Making a change takes some getting used to, but it's worth it." RJ said honestly.

"We've got some studying that we need to get back to, right now. Enjoy your dinner." Tracey said as he stood and started collecting his dishes.

"Yeah, some of the mean mentors gave their cadets extra work to do when they're off duty." Lexi said with a smile.

"I'm not counted as one of the mean mentors?" Lieutenant Fister asked with surprise.

"No. I don't think so." Lexi said, then stopped to think about it.

Finally, she continued, "But I could be wrong."

Lieutenant Fister watched as the cadets left the mess hall, then turned his attention to his forgotten dinner.

* * * * *

Once everyone was aboard, Tracey looked upward and said, "Conference room seven."

"Seven?" Lexi asked curiously.

"Yeah. I talked to the duty officer on the bridge, Commander Neiman, and she said that if it will work for us, we can use conference room seven as a classroom." Tracey said seriously.

"That's going to be kind of a pain." Hart said sourly.

"Why's that?" Tracey asked with surprise.

"I mean, having to carry all our stuff up and down every time we want to study." Hart said simply.

The lift door opened and Tracey led the way as he explained, "If we decide that we want to use it, it's going to be ours. We can leave our study stuff down here and no one will mess with it."

As they walked up to the door, it opened and the lights turned on.

"It's dusty." Rocky said as they entered.

"Yeah. I guess that if they have at least six other conference rooms, they must not have used this one for a while." Tracey said thoughtfully as he looked around.

"A little cleaner and a few rags will fix it right up." RJ said as he watched Hart open a cabinet at the side of the room to peek inside.

"We can probably get that from ship's services." Tracey agreed.

"If you can step out for a few minutes, I can clean the floor." Rocky said seriously.

A few glances were exchanged among the others, but no one seemed to be inclined to ask about it.

"Look at this." Hart said as he took a book, made out of extremely large sheets of paper, out of the cabinet.

"What's that?" RJ asked with interest.

"Blueprints." Hart said as he placed the book on the table.

"On paper? How old do you think these are?" Tracey asked quietly as he stepped closer to see.

"I don't know, but from the look of these, I'd bet that they're original, from when the ship was built." Hart said distantly.

"Fascinating." Xon said with a slight smile.

"Look at this. It's got a diagram of all the service crawl ways and maintenance shafts." Hart said eagerly.

"You know, with this, we might be able to do some exploring." RJ said with a grin.

After a moment to consider, Tracey said, "If we compare this to the diagram in the computer, we might be able to find some places that have been forgotten over the years."

"RJ, do you need any help with the cleaner and rags?" Lexi asked seriously.

"What?" RJ asked as he tore his gaze away from the blueprints.

"We're keeping this place, aren't we? Let's get started cleaning it up." Lexi said frankly.

"Um, yeah. Let's go." RJ agreed.

"I'll get your padd from the cabin." Tracey said after him.

"Thanks." RJ said before he and Lexi walked through the door.

"Rocky, do you need anything from upstairs?" Tracey asked as he finally was able to get his mind back on task.

"No. I have all the information that I need to study downloaded to my interface. If you will go and get what you need, I'll take care of the floor, now."

"C'mon, guys." Tracey said decisively.

Hart was nearly to the door before Xon could tear his fascinated gaze away from the blueprints.

* * * * *

When Tracey, Xon and Hart returned to conference room seven, they found RJ and Lexi hard at work, carefully cleaning every surface in the room.

"Do you guys need any help?" Tracey asked cautiously.

After a glance at Tracey, RJ said, "No. We're just about done. We're done with the table if you want to put that stuff down."

"Okay." Tracey said as he walked more fully into the room.

"Wow, Rocky! This floor is spotless!" Hart said with surprise.

"Yeah. How'd you do that?" Tracey said as he noticed that Hart was right.

"I believe that you will sleep better at night if I do not answer that question." Rocky said simply.

"Um, okay. I'll just have to trust you on that." Tracey said slowly.

"Would anyone mind if I were to use the viewscreen for one of my mentor assignments?" Xon asked curiously.

Tracey looked around to see if anyone were going to object, then said, "Go ahead."

Xon keyed something on the padd he had been working on, then something else on the keypad built into the conference room table.

The viewscreen came on and displayed a series of complicated equations.

Tracey stepped forward and carefully looked over the complex formulae before asking, "Why are you doing astrophysics calculations the long way instead of letting the computer do it?"

"Commander Pell believes it to be necessary." Xon said frankly.

"Good luck." Tracey said before stepping back to the table.

"The only thing I understand on the whole first line is the number three." RJ said honestly as he stared at what, to him, was incomprehensible gibberish.

Xon looked at the first line and said, "I believe that to which you are referring is the greek letter 'sigma' which, in this context, represents the concept of sum total."

"Right." RJ said weakly.

* * * * *

"I need a break." Lexi said as she put her padd down on the table.

"Yeah. I think I read the same sentence three times just now." RJ said tiredly.

"Do you want to quit for the night?" Hart asked cautiously.

Tracey looked at his padd to verify the time before answering, "You guys can do what you want, but I'd like to get a little bit more accomplished, first."

Lexi gave a sigh of resignation before saying, "Yeah. Me, too. But I need to get away for a few minutes and do something else before I can study any more."

"Good idea." Tracey said as he stood and gave a dramatic stretch.

RJ watched him stretch for a moment, then absently said, "I need to write to Loi."

"What's your boyfriend like?" Lexi asked as the group started toward the door.

"He's fifteen, like me. He's a really good student, you know, good grades, studies all the time. He's kind of quiet." RJ finished with a smile.

"Mess hall." Tracey said to the ceiling of the lift, then turned to RJ and said, "I bet he's really proud of you."

"Yeah." RJ said simply, then quietly added, "I can't believe how much I miss him."

"From the look of the mission briefing, we should be back to Earth in about two weeks. So you'll be able to see him soon." Tracey assured him.

"I know. It's just, I've never felt like I needed to be with someone like this before.� Even though I always had my little brother around, I never felt like I wanted to be around someone." RJ said frankly.

"Is that what it's like to be in love?" Lexi asked curiously.

The turbolift door opened and the group walked out before Tracey quietly said, "That's what it's like for RJ. I don't know for sure, but I think it's different for different people."

"Have you ever been in love?" Lexi asked seriously.

Tracey smiled at the question, then said, "No. Not seriously. I've had a few friends that I loved, but it wasn't like what RJ's talking about. When I was in love, it was about right then and there. It was fun and wonderful for a while, and then, when it stopped being fun, it was over. We were still friends, maybe even closer friends than we were before, but that's all."

All of them automatically got into the serving line and selected some things to snack on before continuing on to a table.

"What about you, Hart?" Lexi asked casually.

He gave her a suspicious look before answering, "I haven't really had the chance. Let's just say that the people I grew up around weren't the type of people that you fall in love with, they're the type of people you don't turn your back on."

"Is New Hope really that bad?" Tracey asked with concern.

"No. That was before New Hope. The only girls I really got to know at New Hope were Cheh, who is five, and Hailey, who is nine."

"Cheh and Hailey... Summers?" Xon asked curiously.

"Yeah. That's right." Hart confirmed.

"I am acquainted with their sister, Callie." Xon said carefully.

"I've heard about Callie. I've even seen pictures of her... whether I wanted to, or not." Hart chuckled to himself, then added, "Hailey is crushing on Lehman really bad. He tries to be nice to her, but not too nice, because her big brother is trying to protect her... not from Lehman, but from herself. If Lehman wasn't such a good guy..."

"Her big brother is Benny." Xon said, more than asked.

"Yeah. Him and Lehman and JonJon kind of work together to take care of Cheh and Hailey until their parents get out of the hospitals." Hart said frankly.

"Yes. I met Callie in the hospital on Vulcan. She explained what had happened to her family. I went to visit her at my brother's request." Xon said seriously.

"Is that where you learned to be around Humans?" Tracey asked curiously.

"Why do you suppose that I needed to learn how to be around Humans?" Xon asked curiously.

"I noticed it at Coffelt. Humans say and do things that, when you think about them, don't make any sense at all. After a while, Vulcans get used to it. I could tell when I talked to you for a few minutes that you were already past that point." Tracey said frankly.

"I would not say that we 'get used to it', I believe that it is more the case that we resign ourselves to the fact that Humans are hopelessly illogical." Xon said seriously.

Tracey shrugged, then responded, "Six of one, half a dozen of the other."

Xon's upper lip slightly twitched as he fought to quell the urge to respond.

* * * * *

"So, RJ, are you ready to start working on what you can do to fix your school, back home?" Lexi asked as the group of cadets left the mess hall.

"I can't, yet. I've still got too much communications stuff to study. But I should probably be able to work on it after our next break." RJ said thoughtfully.

Once they were all aboard the lift, Tracey looked upward and said, "Conference room seven."

Lexi looked around the group, then said, "My mom would freak if she found out that I was spending so much time with a group of guys."

"Are you saying that she doesn't know." Xon asked curiously.

"No. My parents divorced and we don't have any contact with my mom." Lexi explained, then continued, "But what I was saying is, when she still lived with us, she was always trying to make me be a little princess with pigtails and playing with dollies and crap like that. She'd freak if I wanted to play with the boys and do 'boy things'."

"What are boy things?" Rocky asked curiously.

As the group stepped off the lift, Lexi explained, "I guess it depends on who you ask. My mom had this whole list of things that boys and girls were supposed to do. But my dad said that if I find something that I enjoy doing and I have a talent for, that automatically makes it a 'girl thing' and I should do it."

"I think your dad's right." RJ said simply.

As the group walked into the conference room, Lexi said, "Yeah. Well, my mom's always had a problem with reality. She got this stupid idea that if she 'believes' hard enough, that she can make reality do what she wants... or something like that. My dad tried to explain it, but he was being really careful not to say the wrong thing and ended up not saying much of anything."

"Dads sometimes do that." Hart said with weary acceptance.

RJ nodded his agreement.

"My dad died when I was really young. I never knew him." Tracey said distantly, then quietly added, "I was about eleven or twelve when my mom married my step-dad. He's nice, and I love him and everything, but he's not my real dad."

"Some real dads are great, some aren't. It's the luck of the draw." Hart said frankly.

"What about yours?" Tracey asked him curiously.

"Mine's great. I'm just saying that I've seen other dads who weren't." Hart said seriously.

"I don't have a father." Rocky stated simply.

After a moment, Hart cautiously asked, "How does that work?"

"The physiology of the Horta isn't quite the same as that of humanoids. My mother was the last of her kind. So she repopulated our world." Rocky said carefully.

After a long moment of silence, Tracey looked around and asked, "Are we ready to get back to work?"

"Yeah." RJ said before picking up his data padd.

* * * * *

"Five minute warning." Tracey said suddenly, breaking the long silence.

"For what?" Lexi asked curiously.

"I think I'm going to call it a night, at least for the studying. If you're close to a good stopping point and you don't have anything that has to be done tonight, now would be a good time to shut it down." Tracey explained.

"Although I could continue further, I have no desire to do so." Xon said simply, then turned off the viewscreen that he had been using.

"Do you guys still want to help me with my 'school project'?" RJ asked cautiously.

"Sure. We can do that in my cabin, if no one objects." Tracey said with a smile at him.

"Sounds good. I like our little study room, but I think I've had enough of it for one day." Hart said as he turned off his data padd.

"How about you, Rocky? Are you ready for a break?" Tracey asked curiously.

"I will need a moment. I am having difficulty with one equation." Rocky said seriously.

"What is it? Maybe we can help." Tracey asked simply.

"When compensating for scalable gravitational vectors in close proximity to binary pulsars, how does one mathematically demonstrate the inertial coefficient?" Rocky asked carefully.

"Um, yeah. You might need to ask Ensign Lord about that one." Tracey said cautiously.

"When you have completed the equation, I would be interested to see your findings. It is an intriguing problem." Xon said seriously.

As everyone was getting up from their chairs, Lexi slowly said, "If it was me, I'd just call that part x for now and do the rest of the equation, then come back to it, after. Usually, when I do that, I've got enough information to figure it out."

Everyone stared at her with surprise for a moment. Finally, Rocky quietly said, "Thank you, Lexi. I will try that."

Lexi happily bounced up, out of her chair, then started toward the door as the others shared looks of surprise.

"Are we going to break, now?" Lexi asked from the doorway.

"Yeah. Right behind you." Tracey finally said.

* * * * *

"Alonzo!" Lexi called out from the serving line in the mess hall.

When the crewman looked up from his meal at the sound of his name, he smiled and waved at Lexi.

"When we get our food, can we sit with you?" Lexi called across the room.

Crewman August glanced around to see if people were staring at him, then nodded his agreement to her.

* * * * *

"Hi, Alonzo. How are you doing?" Lexi asked as she led the procession to the table.

"Very well. After my shift, I did some work on a writing project and lost track of time. I stopped for dinner when my stomach could no longer be denied." Crewman August said with a smile.

"We're just taking a break from studying." Lexi said simply.

"Oh? What are you studying?" Alonzo asked curiously.

"Some of us are studying for school and some of us are studying stuff for our mentors." Lexi said simply.

"I was wanting to ask you, if you're allowed to say, why are you on this ship?" Alonzo asked curiously.

"I thought they already told you, since you were sent to get us at the dock." Lexi said honestly.

"No. They just told me to bring you aboard and take you to the admiral, then later, the captain told me to take you to your quarters." Alonzo said honestly.

"We're all in the Starfleet Mentoring Program. Out of more than a hundred people who applied, we're the ones that actually made it." Lexi said proudly.

At Crewman August's look of confusion, Tracey explained, "We've been chosen to learn how to be Starfleet officers out here, on actual missions, by doing the job."

"I don't understand why they wouldn't just enroll you at the academy, like everyone else." Crewman August said slowly.

"I think it's because different people learn things different ways. Doing it this way is probably a whole lot more trouble than just sending everyone to the academy, so they only do it for the people they think might be worth the effort." Tracey said seriously.

"So, all of you are here, learning how to be Starfleet officers, by actually doing the job?" Crewman August asked to confirm.

"That's it." Tracey said simply.

"I'm being trained to be a helm officer." Lexi said proudly.

"Helm?" Crewman August asked with surprise.

"Yep. There were a few times today when I was actually the one steering the ship." Lexi said seriously.

"Rocky is on navigation." Tracey said as he pointed downward.

Crewman August looked under the table at Rocky, then quietly asked, "How is that even possible?"

"Certain adjustments had to be made for me to interface with the bridge controls, but I promise you that the ship's safety is everyone's primary concern." Rocky said reassuringly.

Crewman August didn't seem to be certain, but finally looked around the table and cautiously asked, "What about the rest of you?"

"I'm on communications." RJ said with a proud smile.

"Security." Hart said simply.

"Hold on. Wait. You're in charge of security?" Crewman August asked disbelievingly.

"Why is it so easy for you to accept that RJ's on communications but you can't believe that I can run security?" Hart asked challengingly.

"You're just so... young." Crewman August tried to explain.

"I may not be big and muscled, but neither is Lieutenant Okawa, and no one, anywhere, has a problem with her being in charge of security. At least, they'd better not, if they know what's good for them." Hart said passionately.

"Before we came here, Starfleet tested all of us to see what we might be good at. We're the best. If Starfleet believes that Hart is good enough, then I'm willing to give him a chance." Tracey said firmly.

"You're the best..." Alonzo said thoughtfully as he looked around the table.

"Is that really such a difficult concept for you to accept?" Xon asked cautiously.

"No. I was just thinking... you know that I told you that I was doing a writing project, earlier." Crewman August began.

Xon nodded for him to continue.

"Well, that's what I do in my spare time. I write. I was just thinking that what you're doing might make a really interesting story." Crewman August said with growing enthusiasm.

"You want to write about us?" RJ asked cautiously.

"No. Not about you specifically. I only write fiction. But I think it would be really interesting to write a fictionalized account of your story." Crewman August said with a smile.

"So you'd write a story about us, but not about us." RJ asked cautiously.

"It would be about a group of kids who were gathered together because they had incredible potential. Then they would be given a chance to fulfill that potential to the best of their abilities. I wouldn't use your names and none of the characters would be anything like any of you. But the situation would be basically the same." Crewman August explained.

"It's okay with me, but you have to have at least one girl... and she can't be a sissy." Lexi said firmly.

"I should be able to handle that." Alonzo said with a smile.

"I think, for much the same reason, a non-humanoid should also be included." Rocky added.

"Non-humanoid. Got it." Crewman August said fondly.

"Should you happen to include a Vulcan character, I would ask that you characterize him in a manner that demonstrates that he is reasonable and logical." Xon said calmly.

"No Vulcan jokes, got it."

"Even if you're not really going to be writing about us, could you still make one of your characters be poor and from a trailer park in Georgia? I'd really like for other people like me to get the idea that it's not impossible for them to get out of there." RJ said honestly.

"Okay, yeah. I think that's a good message to include." Crewman August said thoughtfully.

"While you're at it, having one of them being from a colony world would be a way of letting them know that they're included in all this." Tracey added seriously.

Alonzo nodded, then looked to Hart and asked, "Anything for you?"

"If you write a guy who's anything like me, there's just one thing I want you to be sure to include. That's that, back home, he's got people who love him. He's not here because he doesn't have anything good in his life." Hart said firmly.

"I'll be sure to include that." Alonzo said in a stunned whisper.

"Our snack's done. Some of us still have more work to do." Tracey said as he looked around the table.

Lexi got up and as she passed Crewman August, she whispered, "Remember that the one from Coffelt likes to boss people around."

* * * * *

"So, are we ready to get up to the cabins?" Tracey asked as they walked out of the mess hall.

"Before we do that, would you guys help me figure out what to do about my old school?" RJ asked seriously.

"You should have thought of that before you made other arrangements." A voice said from behind the group.

They turned to find Mr. Whipple glaring back at them.

"We weren't talking to you or about you." RJ said firmly.

"I bet you're regretting not taking Federation classes, now, aren't you." Mr. Whipple said with satisfaction.

"You lose." RJ said coldly, then continued, "None of us have taken your classes, so we don't know what they're like. We just know what you're like, and that was enough to tell us that we want to take classes with someone else."

Tracey looked at RJ with surprise. Timid, uncertain RJ all of a sudden had a voice.

"I'm sure that's..." Mr. Whipple began to say, but was interrupted.

"Whatever." RJ said shortly, then continued, "We're not your students. You don't have any reason to talk to us. An old man harassing a bunch of kids is creepy."

"I'm not..."

"Yes you are... whatever you were about to say, you are, trust me." RJ said seriously.

"I'm going to talk to the captain about this!" Mr. Whipple finally erupted.

RJ smiled as the man stormed away, then quietly said, "I'm sure he's going to be real happy to see you."

"That was awesome!" Hart said with an uncharacteristic big grin.

"Yeah. Well, I'm in communications. Remember that not all communication is nice." RJ said, obviously very pleased with himself.

"Do you think the captain's going to be mad?" Lexi asked anxiously.

"Yeah. But not at us." Tracey said thoughtfully, then seemed to snap out of it and continued, "Don't worry about it. I think the captain will handle it himself. He's probably itching to let his inner Tellarite out to play. But if he does want to ask us about it, just leave it to me. I'm in charge, so it's my responsibility."

"But that's not fair to you, is it?" Lexi asked with concern.

"It's my job, Lexi. When I was put in charge, this is what I agreed to do. When you guys screw up, it's my fault. But when you do something really great, it's my fault, too. I'm betting that you guys are going to keep me in the plus column." Tracey said as they stepped onto the lift.

"Are you guys going to help me with my school thing?" RJ asked hopefully.

"Conference Room Seven." Tracey said, in lieu of a response.

* * * * *

"This is it, right? We're going to go to bed, next?" Lexi asked hopefully.

"You can go to bed whenever you want. As soon as you're off duty, you're on your own time." Tracey said frankly.

Lexi rolled her eyes, then in a tone of long suffering, she asked, "Does anyone have anymore stuff that they need to do after we're done with RJ's stuff?"

"Yes." RJ said simply.

When she looked at him impatiently, he said, "I need to go through some communication scenarios. But I don't need the whole group to do that."

"RJ, when you've got all of us to help you, it'd be stupid to limit yourself." Hart said frankly.

"Lexi, you were right." Rocky said suddenly.

"I was right about what?" Lexi asked cautiously.

"I did as you suggested and substituted a placeholder for the unknown formula in the equation. Thank you, Lexi. That was incredibly helpful." Rocky said seriously.

"See, that's what I'm talking about. Let's do your school thing, then we'll all help you with your scenarios." Hart said seriously.

"And if that doesn't work, you can always ask Mr. Whipple for help, since he doesn't appear to have anything better to do." Tracey said with a playful grin.

"Yeah. Let's do that." RJ said flatly, but couldn't hold his expression and ended up breaking into a smile.

* * * * *

After a small amount of research and discussion, the group came up with a list of demands to present to the administrators, teachers and parents in RJ's school district. In the modern, information age, distribution of the 'manifesto' was the easiest part of the process, and when it was done, RJ was surprised to find that it hadn't even taken a full thirty minutes.

"When you guys said that I should do something, I kinda thought that it would be more." RJ said honestly.

"I suppose that we could have organized sit-ins or riots or protests... And I guess we still can, if you really want to. But let's see how this goes first. A list, in clear language, of what's wrong and how to fix it... it's just crazy enough to work." Tracey said honestly.

RJ sat for a moment, then smiled as he said, "But, it was so easy... why didn't someone do this sooner?!"

"They needed 'somebody' to stand up and tell them what's wrong and how to make it right. You're 'somebody'." Lexi said seriously.

"We'll have to wait and see how it turns out. Next up, we have RJ's communications scenarios." Tracey said to the group.

"Okay, if you don't mind, I'll just go ahead and put it on the big screen so everyone can see what I'm doing." RJ said as he moved to the screen controls.

"Go ahead. You do your exercise and when you're done, we'll offer suggestions." Tracey said as he turned his chair to view the screen more comfortably.

"This is the USS Haverston requesting immediate aid. We've lost main power and are functioning on emergency systems. We estimate that our life support will fail in twenty-one minutes." A woman's voice said frantically.

RJ pressed a button on the keypad, then carefully said, "Notify captain about the distress call."

"Look at the transponder frequency." Xon said quietly.

"Yeah, that carrier wave doesn't look right, either." Lexi said seriously.

"Does your program have the ability to show long range scans?" Tracey asked carefully.

RJ quickly pressed the button again, then said, "Tell Captain that the transponder frequency isn't Federation and suggest that sciences do long range scans."

A scanning image filled the screen, which revealed nothing, then the text message, "Captain's order: Contact Starfleet requesting status and location of USS Haverston... Scenario Complete."

"So, someone was trying to lure us into a trap." Tracey said speculatively.

"It would have worked, if it wasn't for you guys." RJ said honestly.

"That's why we're doing this, so you'll learn. Do another one." Lexi said firmly.

"Are you sure you aren't too tired?" RJ asked her with a grin.

"Just shut up and load it." Lexi growled.

* * * * *

Going through the communications scenarios turned out to be reminiscent of playing the Starfleet Sim although, many times, with considerably darker themes.

Working as a group, they were able to solve most of the problems on the first try, but there were a few scenarios that challenged the entire group.

When they reached a good stopping point, Tracey looked around the group and asked, "Is everyone ready for bed, now?"

"No. But I'm ready to be done studying." Hart said frankly.

"Me, too. My brain is fried." RJ agreed.

"What else is there to do, besides eat?" Lexi asked curiously.

"We could check out the recreation deck." Tracey said frankly.

"We have a recreation deck? What are we waiting for?" Hart asked immediately.

"Anybody too tired?" Tracey asked with a glance at Lexi.

"Don't make me have to hurt you." Lexi said sternly.

"Come on." Tracey chuckled.

* * * * *

When the group stepped off the turbolift they were greeted by what appeared to be a small indoor mall. The various 'shops' each had a different type of entertainment for the crew to enjoy.

One was something like a small movie theater. Another was filled with various games, computerized and otherwise.

In the central 'mall', there were several conversation areas where members of the crew could congregate during their off duty hours.

As the cadets were walking, RJ spotted something of interest to him.

"Can we stop here for a minute?" He asked hopefully as he walked closer to the gym.

"Do you feel like working out?" Tracey asked with a smile.

"Not at the moment, but maybe sometime." RJ said honestly.

"Yeah. Me, too." Hart added.

"Actually, maybe we could come down here together. It might be good for all of us to work off some energy." Tracey said thoughtfully.

"Sounds good to me. I've been wanting to bulk up." Rocky casually added.

"Yeah. Swimsuit season's just around the corner." Tracey said with a smile.

* * * * *

They spent a few minutes looking around the gym. Although it was small, it was outfitted with all the essential equipment that they might need.

When the cadets were finally assured that they had seen all that there was to see, they walked back into the central courtyard and spotted Lieutenant Fister in one of the conversation areas, sitting by himself.

"Armand! How are you doing this evening?" Tracey asked as he approached.

"Oh. It's you." Lieutenant Fister grumbled.

"The correct way to greet people is, 'Hello, it's nice to see you. How are you doing?'." Tracey said patiently.

"Whatever." Lieutenant Fister said as he looked away.

"Say it." Lexi said firmly.

"What?" Lieutenant Fister asked in confusion.

"What Tracey just said to you. Say it. At least say, "Hello. How are you?"

"Hello how are you." Lieutenant Fister said grudgingly.

After a moment of thought, Tracey said, "Later on, we'll probably work on getting you to say it like you mean it, but for now, that'll do."

"Do you not have anything better to do than harass me?" Lieutenant Fister asked tiredly.

"Actually, yes. We do have better things to do. But instead of doing those 'better' things, we're trying to help you. Lexi wants to keep you as her mentor and none of us wants to see you leave." Tracey said frankly.

"Except me." Hart said immediately.

"Except Hart, but I think if we do this right, you'll win him over at some point." Tracey conceded.

"I'm no good at this." Lieutenant Fister said honestly.

"We've noticed. I doubt that we'll ever make you 'good' at it. We're shooting for 'passable'." Tracey said honestly.

Xon slowly nodded his agreement with Tracey's plan.

Lieutenant Fister was silent for a long moment, then he grudgingly said, "Thanks."

"You're very welcome. Now, if you will excuse us, I think it's just about our bedtime. We hope that you have a nice evening." Tracey said carefully.

"Except Hart." Lieutenant Fister interjected.

"Actually, I really do want you to have a nice evening. Because, if you have a bad evening, you might be crabby in the morning. And I don't want to have to put up with what that will cause to happen." Hart said frankly.

Lieutenant Fister thought for a moment, then said, "I hope you have a nice evening, too, including you, Hart."

"That was GREAT! If you can keep doing stuff like that, then the captain won't ever want to get rid of you." Lexi said happily.

Lieutenant Fister glanced at her and gave a very brief, very slight, smile.

"Goodnight, Armand. We'll see you in the morning." Tracey said sincerely.

"Goodnight." Lieutenant Fister said, then watched the cadets go.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Alexandra Lorraine Gelt - 20050411-21:15:22

I don't think I mentioned it last time, but Tracey, he was a Cadet Lieutenant, was made an Acting Lieutenant and put in charge of the rest of the cadets.

That's not a bad thing, Tracey's a really good guy and I like him.

He's fixed things so that we have a study room of our own, which is really nice. But he also helped us to figure out what things we need to work on and then kind of scheduled things so that we'd work on them and not forget anything.

Writing it down, it doesn't really sound like that much, but when you've got a hundred things swirling around in your head all wanting you to work on them at once, it really helps to have someone say, "Homework time".

Anyway, there's other stuff I want to talk about, but if I've got to be doing log entries all the time, I need to save some stuff to tell you later.

Remember, wishing and dreaming is great. But nothing's going to happen if you don't do something. Make it happen!

Lexi, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Hart Korrigon - 20050411-21:20:20

I'm still in security.

I still can't talk about it.

Hart, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Robert Anthony Parker Jr - 20050411-21:24:03

It's weird. When I started this whole thing, trying to get into Starfleet, I thought I'd have to work really hard to change myself to be what I was supposed to be.

But a few things happened today to make me see that who I already am is part of why they chose me.

I had the feeling that communications officers were all nice and polite all the time and all they ever did was answer calls and 'play nice'.

But I've figured out that we're actually the first line of defense in a lot of ways. Sure, there are times when we have to be nice. But sometimes we have to ask questions and give answers that people don't like and tell people 'no'.

I have a lifetime of experience doing that!

Even though I really didn't know what I was getting into, I think I ended up right where I needed to be.

I can't wait for tomorrow!

Loi, I miss you.

RJ, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Rock - 20050411-21:26:09

We are six.

Together, we are somehow more.

Each brings experience.

Each brings knowledge.

Combined, our potential is augmented.

I cannot quantify.

But it is true.

Rocky, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Xon s/o Sufaal h/o Sukaan - 20050411-21:30:44

Observations regarding the Cadet Crew.

My perspective:

Acting Lieutenant Sturgill - Command

Cadet Ensign Korrigon - Security

Cadet Ensign Rock - Navigation

Cadet Ensign Parker - Communications

Cadet Ensign Gelt - Helm

Based on my observations, I believe the selection process for the Federation Mentoring Program to be adequate. The selected individuals demonstrate the capacity to function well as individuals and more so as a team.

Callie, Be well. My thoughts are with you.

Xon, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Acting Lieutenant Tracey Ephram Sturgill - 20050411-21:36:52

I was able to arrange a conference room where we could study together.

It seemed to me that it would be a good way for us to motivate each other so that no one would fall behind in their studies.

What I didn't expect was the way that everyone worked to help each other.

RJ had some training scenarios for communications, and the whole team worked together to help him recognize every element of the exercises.

Even though what we did seemed to be for RJ's benefit, I think we all learned a lot about group problem solving. As we were going through the different scenarios, we listened to each other and considered each other's points of view.

I think we learned more than most of us realized. And I think that the things we learned are things that we're going to be using and developing for a very long time.

Does every commanding officer feel like this? Because I can't imagine any other team that I'd want to be in charge of.

Denny, Price, I miss you. You're not forgotten.

Tracey, out.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

When MM informed me he had a chapter for me, he said he hoped I would enjoy it.

Well, I certainly did enjoy it.

As often happens when I read a chapter from MM, I found myself having to wipe tears from my eyes, several times, in fact.

This team is becoming closer and closer every day.

each team member has skills that benefit the entire team, not to mention others with whom the come into contact.

I believe that Starfleet Academy and their staff members have the tools at hand and the skills to use them to their full potential, and the willingness to work to further the lives and potential of the Cadets in a way that benefits not only the students themselves, but also gives the opportunity to foster change and improvements in others.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher