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For those of you following the events in the CSU, Universe Alpha-7 refers to one of the seven universes that fell away from the main "Prime" universe during the fight with Axon.
For those of you who haven't been following... never mind. It doesn't matter.
From this point forward, NOTHING that happens in any other story or universe will have anything to do with this one. This is a totally alternate universe.
Universe Alpha-7 stands alone.
This story starts at chapter 30, following chapter 29 of Frontier. The two stories branch in different directions from that point and events in one story have absolutely nothing to do with the other one.
I hope that's not too confusing. Enjoy. -MM
There was a long moment of silence as the group of boys stared in disbelief.
"What does it mean?" Tyber finally whispered.
"Nothing." Oscar answered in an uncertain voice.
Vincent shook himself out of his stupor and glanced around the group as he said, "After all that build up, this was a real let down."
"But why would they bring us in here just to open an empty box?" Tyber asked in confusion.
"I really don't think they knew it was empty." Lehman said quietly.
"Well JonJon, I guess you called that one." Vincent said with a teasing smile at his friend.
"Android intuition." JonJon said with false bravado.
Vincent giggled at the statement, then said, "Let's go tell the Holy Ones that it was empty so maybe I can get back to the Yorktown in time to have some breakfast before I have to go to work."
"I'm hoping I can get some more sleep." Lehman said, honestly.
JonJon hugged Lehman to his side and guided him to start walking.
As the five boys approached the door, Vincent noticed a strange tingle coursing through his body.
He considered the feeling as he followed the rest of the group out into the hall.
As soon as they were through the door, the feeling seemed to go away.
* * * * *
As the boys walked into the hallway, they stopped as a group to stare at the nearly seven foot tall Gorn who appeared to be waiting for them.
"Where are the Holy Ones?" Oscar asked in his growling and hissing language.
The large reptilian guard growled something in response that none of the other boys understood.
Oscar nodded and asked, "Did they leave instructions on what we were to do next?"
The guard growled something as he looked over the collection of boys, then turned to lead them.
Oscar looked at the group behind him and said, "The Holy Ones are this way."
"Where are we going?" Vincent asked carefully.
As the group followed the guard, Oscar said, "The Lounging Hall. It is a place where our crew can come to relax while off duty."
"Oh, we have a recreation hall like that. Right now they show movies there." Vincent said with a smile.
"Movies? Oh, I understand. Video entertainment programs. We are able to watch such things in our private quarters. The Lounging Hall is a place of serenity and such a thing would be considered disruptive and inappropriate." Oscar said seriously.
"We have places on my ship like observation lounges and the hydroponics garden that are quiet places like that." Vincent said in thought.
"We are here." Oscar said as the guard stopped at double doors.
When the doors opened, Oscar stepped in with Vincent following a step behind.
* * * * *
Vincent looked around the brightly lit room and immediately noticed the higher humidity.
"The rest of the crew have vacated the area so we may speak." J'Laad said from on top of a large platform at the center of the room.
Oscar continued to lead the way to the platform, then around the side to reveal a ramp that led up to the Holy Ones.
It was warmer and the light was even brighter on top of the platform. Vincent felt like he was back in Florida in the summertime.
"What was in the box?" Tyce asked from J'Laad's side.
"Nothing." Tyber said frankly.
"Nothing at all?" Tyce asked with concern.
"That's right. It was just an empty box." Lehman said with a nod.
"Perhaps it was too soon." J'Laad said in a considering voice.
"I'm sorry Holy One. All the signs pointed to this being the right time and place." Tyce said quietly.
"I agree. That is why we needed the box. It is good to know that you are looking out for the signs." J'Laad said seriously.
"I suppose we should be on our way now." Tyce said absently.
"Yes. I will walk you to your shuttle. Perhaps on the journey to Okuda, we can share a meal and catch up on events and the situations of some of our mutual acquaintances." J'Laad said as he gestured toward the ramp leading off the platform.
"I would like that." Tyce said as he stood.
Lehman noticed that there was another black box sitting behind the Holy Ones and wondered what it might contain.
"Well, the trip wasn't a complete waste. Now we can say that we've actually been on a Gorn ship. I don't think I know anyone else who can say that." Vincent said, trying to sound cheerful.
"That is true young mammal. Few of those who have had the privilege have lived to tell of it." J'Laad said with a grin.
Vincent gulped and just began to realize what a dangerous situation they were in.
* * * * *
As the group walked down the hallway, Vincent turned to Oscar and said, "It was nice to meet you Oscar. If you're ever in Federation space, come and see me."
"It is highly unlikely that I will be in Federation space. But if by some chance I find myself in that circumstance, I will remember your offer." Oscar said formally.
"Your shuttle is over here." J'Laad said as they walked through the shuttle bay door.
"Thank you for your patience Holy One." Tyce said reverently.
"Do not be discouraged J'Layiah, watch for the signs and one day we will be rewarded." J'Laad said seriously.
"I pray that it will be so." Tyce said formally.
"I will contact you once we are underway so we may share a meal." J'Laad said in a more gentle voice.
"I will be sure to have my comm ready to accept a direct communication." Tyce said as he broke into a smile.
* * * * *
"That was quick. Is everything okay?" Commander M'Butu asked with concern.
"Everything is fine, Commander. Would you take Tyber and me to the Mangeon so we can continue our journey? The Gorn fleet and the Okudai ships should be ready to depart once we are aboard." Tyce said seriously.
"Is there anything I need to do as far as protocol before leaving the ship?" Commander M'Butu asked carefully.
"Just use their automated system. When you have cleared the ship, you will be in control of the shuttle. Do not contact them by voice or use sensors." Tyce said as he relaxed back into his chair.
Commander M'Butu nodded, then went to the front of the shuttle to get them underway.
* * * * *
"Do you think we'll see each other again?" Vincent asked with concern.
Tyce smiled and said, "Yes Vincent, you are my friend and I plan to keep in touch. When our governmental situation has stabilized, I will request that the Yorktown be our primary contact with the Federation."
"I'm going to miss you. Both of you... And Audge too." Lehman said quietly.
"I will miss you as well. But I will keep in contact with all of you. Perhaps the prohibitions against outside contact will be relaxed sometime soon so we may have frequent communication." Tyce said gently.
"Thank you Holy One. You and Tyber and Audge are all my friends now and I want to be sure that you're all okay." Lehman said as tears welled up in his eyes.
"We will keep each other up-to-date on events until we can all meet again face to face." Tyce said with a smile.
Commander M'Butu's voice on the intercom called, "We will be docking with the Mangeon in approximately one minute."
"What about your stuff? Don't you need to get your things off the Yorktown?" JonJon asked in a worried tone.
"No. Oluf would have taken care of that while we were aboard the Gorn ship. There's no putting off what has to be done. It's time." Tyce said, as the shuttle jarred slightly.
Commander M'Butu walked through the shuttle and pressed some controls at the back before opening the door.
Vincent realized that they didn't go into a shuttle bay but were docked at the side of the ship.
Lehman, JonJon and Vincent each took a turn hugging Tyber and wishing him well before allowing him to walk toward the back of the shuttle.
"Tyce." Vincent said as tears welled in his eyes.
"Come here." Tyce said and pulled Vincent into a hug.
After a moment of hugging, Vincent pulled back and looked into Tyce's eyes.
"Keep your eyes on the future Vincent. You're doing fine." Tyce said quietly.
"Thanks Tyce. If you ever need me for anything at all, I'm only a subspace call away."
Tyce smiled at the statement and said, "That is true for me as well. Call if there is anything I can do to be of assistance."
Vincent nodded that he heard.
"Ready?" Tyce asked Tyber who had been waiting for him.
Tyber glanced back into the shuttle where all his new friends were watching.
Reluctantly, Tyber nodded.
"Let's see what new adventures the universe has in store for us." Tyce said with a smile as he put an arm around Tyber and guided him off the shuttle.
* * * * *
Vincent was sitting silently, looking out the view port of the shuttle when all the Gorn and Okudai ships began to move in unison.
He watched as the entire fleet went into warp in one synchronized burst.
"I feel like I'm losing my family again." Lehman said as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Me too." JonJon whispered as he pulled Lehman into a hug.
Vincent absently nodded as he watched the empty space where the Okudai and Gorn ships had been just a moment before.
A sob drew Vincent's attention across the aisle. He turned to see JonJon holding Lehman tightly to his chest and both boys were crying.
After a moment, Vincent released his seat belt and moved across the aisle so he could hug Lehman and JonJon.
* * * * *
As Commander M'Butu walked through the shuttle, he noticed the group of boys huddled together.
He proceeded to the door at the side of the shuttle and quietly said, "Since we were aboard an alien vessel, we'll need to go to sickbay to be checked out."
"Why?" Lehman asked curiously as he pulled out of the three-way hug.
"We haven't had previous contact with the Gorn, there's a slight possibility that they carry some sort of disease that's unfamiliar to us." Commander M'Butu said, then gestured for the boys to precede him off the shuttle.
"It's just standard procedure in a first contact situation. It's nothing to worry about." Vincent said assuringly as he led the way down the aisle.
Commander M'Butu saw Lehman's expression of concern and said, "Crewman Winters is right. I've had to do this about a dozen times since I entered Starfleet and they've never found anything wrong. It only takes a few minutes and it would be foolish not to check."
Lehman considered the words, then gave a small smile to the commander that he understood.
* * * * *
"Gentlemen, I've been expecting you. Who wants to go first?" Dr. Perry asked with a cheery smile.
"Why don't we let Lehman and JonJon do it so they can get on with their day?" Commander M'Butu asked as he glanced at Vincent.
Vincent nodded his agreement.
"Very well, would you two get on the biobeds? This should just take a minute. In fact, I'm glad to have the chance to check you over again Lehman. How are you feeling this morning?" Dr. Perry asked as she moved to the head of his biobed.
"I'm fine except for feeling a little bit sleepy." Lehman said honestly.
"Well, to tell you the truth, I'm feeling a little bit sleepy myself. I normally wouldn't be on duty for another three hours. But there are certain duties I believe the Chief Medical Officer should attend to personally." Dr. Perry said in a conspiratorial whisper.
Lehman smiled and watched as she examined the scan results.
"Everything looks just fine here. I'm going to recommend that you go get something to eat, then get some more sleep." Dr. Perry said with a gentle smile.
Lehman broke into a big grin and said, "Well, if I have to."
Dr. Perry chuckled, then moved to JonJon's bed to check over his readings.
Lehman got down off the biobed and moved to Vincent's side.
Commander M'Butu put a hand on Vincent's shoulder to get his attention, then motioned toward the biobed that Lehman had just vacated.
"Well JonJon, you seem to be in excellent biological health and all your Android systems are functioning at or above specifications. But..." Dr. Perry trailed off ominously.
JonJon looked at her with sudden concern.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist that you also have a good meal." Dr. Perry said as she broke into a smile.
"Thank you Doctor." JonJon said with a relieved giggle as he got down off the biobed.
Dr. Perry turned to see Vincent in place on the other biobed, then glanced over at Lehman with a grin.
"It's really me." Vincent said when he noticed her speculative look.
"I believe you. But I'm just beginning to realize the potential for mischief having you two looking so identical." Dr. Perry said as she ran her scans.
"Really? We wouldn't ever do anything like that." Vincent said as he looked up at her with big, puppy dog eyes.
Dr. Perry broke into a laugh and said, "If Starfleet doesn't work out for you, you might consider selling used cars. That expression was almost believable."
Vincent feigned confusion at the statement, but finally gave it up and broke into a smile.
"Crewman Winters. I don't like what I'm seeing here at all." Dr. Perry said as her mood turned completely serious.
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked as his smile fell away.
"You're in pain right now aren't you?" Dr. Perry asked as she looked Vincent in the eyes.
"Well, yeah. But it's not too bad. My joints are just a little bit achy." Vincent said quietly.
Dr. Perry shook her head and said, "With work, school and now this growth spurt, you're under too much stress. You need to take some time off."
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "I can ask Daddy Joe... I mean, Lieutenant Bowers about getting a day or two off on the next schedule."
"You aren't understanding me Crewman. That wasn't a suggestion. That was an order. I'm declaring you unfit for duty. I want you to relax and get lots of rest. You are not to do any school work and I'm going to limit your computer access to no more than one hour per day." Dr. Perry said firmly.
"For how long?" Vincent asked with astonishment.
"Until further notice. When you come back in and your stress indicators have returned to an acceptable level, I'll let you return to duty." Dr. Perry said firmly.
"Okay. Thank you Doctor." Vincent said with resignation.
"This isn't a punishment Vincent. It's a break from work. Take the time to relax and do the things you enjoy. That will be the quickest way to get you back on duty." Dr. Perry said as she pressed a hypospray to Vincent's neck.
"Okay. I will." Vincent said quietly.
"Now just stay there for a few minutes while I run some detailed medical scans that have been requested in your personnel file." Dr. Perry said as she began to key instructions into the head of the biobed.
Vincent rested back and closed his eyes, knowing that there wasn't much more he could do.
"And now Commander, how are you doing today?" Dr. Perry asked as she turned to the other biobed.
* * * * *
"Vincent?" Lehman asked in a whisper.
Vincent opened his eyes and looked at Lehman with question.
"Would you like to go to breakfast with us?" Lehman asked hopefully.
Vincent smiled and said, "Sure. It looks like I have the time."
"If you'll wait here when you're finished, I'm going to go get Fizgig." JonJon said hesitantly.
"Yeah. That sounds great. This probably won't take too long. Dr. Perry doesn't have to go over these scans or anything, it's a test that another doctor ordered." Vincent said gently.
JonJon nodded that he heard, then hurried out of the room.
"Can I ask you something?" Lehman asked Vincent quietly.
"Sure, you can ask me anything." Vincent said as he looked into Lehman's worried eyes.
"I get the feeling that Tyce and Tyber leaving really hurt JonJon." Lehman said with concern.
"I know. I get that feeling too." Vincent said as he held Lehman's gaze.
"Do you know what's wrong with him?" Lehman asked more quietly.
"Well. I think it's because he just lost his family a few weeks ago. He's been trying to hide his feelings but I know it's been bothering him a lot. Even though Tyce and Tyber are just going back to their own planet, I think them leaving so suddenly reopened the wound that was just starting to heal." Vincent said in distant thought.
Lehman considered the words for a moment, then said, "Yeah. Even though it's been over a year since my parents died, it brought the feeling back to me a little bit."
"It did for me too. But everyone handles stuff differently and I think that it's a whole lot worse for JonJon." Vincent said quietly.
"So what can we do for him?" Lehman asked with concern.
Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "Nothing really. Until he's ready to talk about it, all we can do is be there and try to keep him from getting lost in it."
Lehman nodded and said, "Yeah. I really like JonJon. I just wish I could do more to help."
Vincent smiled and said, "Well, that's good because you're the one who can help him most."
Lehman looked at Vincent with surprise.
"Benny is in school all day and has homework and stuff to do, I have my work, school and T'Lani. You're the only one who can be there and take care of JonJon whenever he needs you." Vincent said frankly.
Lehman's expression slowly mirrored Vincent's as he said, "Yeah. I can do that. Thanks for talking with me."
"I'll always have time to talk with you." Vincent said, then turned to look at the sickbay doors opening.
* * * * *
"Report Commander." Captain Byrne said in a professional voice as he entered the room.
"I was asked to remain on the shuttle when we arrived. I believe Crewman Winters will have to file this report." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
Captain Byrne turned to Vincent and said, "Is there anything you would care to report Crewman?"
"I think there was some kind of prophecy or something so the Holy One asked us to go into this room and open a box. The box was empty so we came back." Vincent said seriously.
"Did you have any interaction with the Gorn? Is there anything you can tell me about them?" Captain Byrne asked curiously.
"No sir. Not really. We met their Holy One, his name was J'Laad and he introduced us to this Gorn kid who had a name that I couldn't pronounce. I called him Oscar. They didn't really say much to us." Vincent said as he considered all that had happened on the Gorn ship.
"I'll expect a detailed report of your time on their ship. We know almost nothing about the Gorn." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"If Dr. Perry will let me, I can get that report for you right away." Vincent said as he glanced at Dr. Perry with question.
"What do you say Doctor?" Captain Byrne asked curiously.
"I've declared Crewman Winters unfit for duty. If he can complete his report in a reasonable amount of time, I'll allow it." Dr. Perry said firmly.
"I really don't have much to tell. I could probably have it done in less than half an hour." Vincent said as he considered.
"After you've had your breakfast. You need to eat." Dr. Perry said firmly.
Vincent looked at Captain Byrne with question.
"I think that sounds like a reasonable arrangement. I'll look forward to your report Crewman." Captain Byrne said professionally.
"Yes sir." Vincent said in a formal tone, feeling distinctly unprofessional laying down in the captain's presence.
Captain Byrne nodded, then left the room.
Vincent looked around and noticed that JonJon had come into the room and was standing with Fizgig just inside the door.
"Your scan is complete Crewman Winters. You're free to go." Dr. Perry said as she glanced at the readings on the biobed.
* * * * *
After the boys had made their food selections and settled in at a table, Vincent asked, "So what are you and Cyril going to be working on today?"
"Well, the way I understand it, when the Yorktown started beaming us up from the Kimber colony, someone got all the safety deposit boxes together and had them beamed up to the cargo bay. Cyril and I are going through the boxes and identifying who they belong to, then finding out where those people are." JonJon said, then took a large bite of his scrambled eggs.
"Are you finding anything interesting?" Vincent asked casually between bites.
"No. We don't open them, we just find out who they belong to. It's really boring." JonJon said honestly.
"What are you planning to do Lehman?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I just want to go to bed and sleep until I can't sleep anymore. I think the doctor was right. All that healing made me really tired." Lehman said honestly.
"No one should be in the observation lounge at this time of day. If you want, I can take you up there before I go to work and you should be able to sleep as long as you want without anyone bothering you." JonJon said seriously.
"That sounds nice." Lehman said with a smile.
"Since I won't be working today, maybe I could stop by around lunch time and if you've slept enough, we could go do something." Vincent said before taking a bite of toast.
"Yeah. I should probably be rested by then." Lehman said, then took a sip of his hot chocolate.
"Maybe you could have lunch with us JonJon?" Vincent asked hopefully.
JonJon considered for a moment, then said, "I probably could. No one is waiting on us to get the safety deposit boxes sorted so I should be able to take a lunch whenever you stop by."
Vincent looked down at his plate and was surprised to find that he had already finished everything.
"Well, I guess I'd better go write my report for the captain. This one's going to be a real snore." Vincent said as he stood and gathered his empty dishes.
"We should go too so I can show Lehman around the Dorsal Lounge." JonJon said as he also stood.
"It sounds like a plan." Vincent said with a smile.
"Stay Fizgig. I'll be right back." JonJon said firmly.
Fizgig obediently sat down and watched as JonJon took his tray of dishes to the window.
Lehman divided his attention between gathering his dishes and watching Fizgig's alert eyes following JonJon's every move.
"I'll be right back too." Lehman said to Fizgig quietly, then started toward the drop-off window.
* * * * *
"How are you doing Vincent?" Joe asked with concern as Vincent walked into Deflector Control.
"I'm fine. Dr. Perry already told you, huh?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"That's right. So you can change out of that uniform and start relaxing. We're just about to go to breakfast if you'd like to join us." Joe said with a gentle smile.
"I just had breakfast with Lehman and JonJon. Besides, I have to do a report for the captain about what it was like on the Gorn ship." Vincent said as he signed on at auxiliary station two.
"What was it like?" Darin asked curiously as he stepped out of the supply room, fastening his uniform jacket.
"To be honest, it was like Florida in the summer. Bright and hot and humid." Vincent said as he retrieved Darin's report template from his personal file.
"Sounds nice." Joe said uncertainly.
"It was kinda scary over there, but I guess they were nice. Nothing really happened, we talked for a minute, opened a box, talked some more, then came back." Vincent said frankly.
"Vincent. As far as I know, no one in the Federation has made peaceful contact with the Gorn before. Wait for that to sink in. Even if you just talked for a few minutes, it's still a major thing." Darin said in an urging tone.
"That is correct Vincent. First steps are sometimes small, but they are necessary if the bigger steps are ever to follow." Thaelan said from the supply room doorway.
Vincent considered the words for a moment, then said in a voice of wonder, "We just did something that no one else has ever done."
* * * * *
After sending his report to the Captain, Vincent stopped to consider what he wanted to do with the rest of his morning.
He thought about writing messages to Lawrence and a few other people, but decided to save his limited computer time until later.
As he emerged from the Supply Room where he had changed into civilian attire, Joe, Darin and Thaelan were all back from breakfast, and appeared to be ready to take their stations.
"Darin?" Vincent asked quietly.
"Yeah?" Darin asked as he walked to Vincent's side.
"If I can't go to work or work on my school stuff... I don't know what to do." Vincent said helplessly.
"What did you used to do back on Earth when you had free time?" Darin asked in a considering voice.
"I mostly studied Starfleet stuff." Vincent said with a shrug.
"Oh. I see..." Darin said slowly, then continued, "Does this mean the other guys are all busy right now?"
"Yeah. Benny's in school, JonJon's at work and Lehman is asleep. I think everyone else I know is working right now." Vincent said quietly.
"Then I guess you need to go out and find something that you can do for fun on your own." Darin said in thought.
"Yeah. I thought maybe you might have an idea of what might be fun to do." Vincent said uncertainly.
After a moment of consideration, Darin asked, "Can you swim?"
"Um, yeah. Sure." Vincent said slowly.
"Why don't you go down to the pool deck and see what's going on down there? Rad and I always enjoy that." Darin said speculatively.
"That sounds like a good idea. I haven't even thought about going swimming since I came on the Yorktown." Vincent said with a smile.
Darin grinned at Vincent's sudden change in mood and said, "The pool deck seems to have such a casual and comfortable atmosphere that you can't help but enjoy yourself just by being there. I bet it would be the perfect place for you to relax."
"Thanks Darin. I'll go down right now and check it out." Vincent said happily as he stood.
"Do you have a swim suit?" Darin asked before Vincent could reach the door.
Vincent stopped in his tracks, then turned to face Darin with a sheepish smile at his oversight.
"Um, yeah. I guess I should get that, huh?" Vincent said shyly.
"It might make the whole pool experience a little more enjoyable." Darin said with a tender smile.
"Thanks Darin. I'll talk to you later." Vincent said in a rush as he ran into the supply room.
"Good call Darin." Joe said from beside Thaelan at the main where he had been looking busy and pretending not to listen.
"Thanks. I think he'll enjoy it." Darin said, then noticed movement out of the corner of his eye.
He turned in time to see Vincent rush from the supply room to the door, carrying his gym bag.
"I think I need to thank Dr. Perry for recognizing that Vincent needed a break. I'm so used to seeing him in Deflector Control that I didn't consider that he hasn't had a full day off since he came aboard. He should have said something..." Joe trailed off with concern.
"He's fine Joe. He loves working in Deflector Control and from what I've seen, he almost becomes consumed by his school lessons. He's never once said anything about being tired or wanting time off." Darin said honestly.
"I agree." Thaelan said from the main.
"Whatever Vincent does, he devotes himself to it fully and with a positive attitude. I believe it will be up to us to teach him to recognize the signs that he is focusing too much on one aspect of his life and neglecting the others." Thaelan said in a considering voice.
Joe nodded and said, "Thanks guys. I think both of you are right. The three of us together can work with Vincent so we can be sure that he doesn't reach this point again."
* * * * *
As Vincent walked into the pool area, he was surprised that it was calm and quiet.
There were more than a dozen people relaxing around the pool, but all of them seemed to be enjoying quiet conversation or just resting back under the artificial sunlight.
A few young children were gathered around a woman at the edge of the pool, but they were quiet and paying her their full attention.
Vincent went to the changing room off the pool and quickly changed into his swimming trunks.
When he came out of the changing room, he walked to the edge of the pool and slowly lowered himself into the water.
Normally, he would have jumped in, maybe even cannonballed, but it just seemed wrong to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere.
* * * * *
After swimming the length of the pool a few times, Vincent went to the edge of the pool to look at the gathering of people.
There were some familiar faces, mostly colonists, but no one that he could really say that he *knew*.
"Crewman Winters, right?" A man's voice asked from behind him.
Vincent turned and smiled when he saw who it was.
"Hi Roger. Please call me Vincent. I didn't see you come in." Vincent said happily.
"You were swimming when I got here. What's going on?" Roger asked casually.
"Dr. Perry says that I need to take a day off. How about you?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Cyril told me that I need to take a day or two for myself." Roger said as he lazily floated in the water.
"This is the first time that I've had time off without any of my friends to hang around with. I really don't know what to do." Vincent admitted shyly.
Roger chuckled and said, "Well, it's the same for me. I've been rushing around since we came on the ship trying to make sure all the colonists are taken care of. Now everyone is settled in on the Yorktown and Cyril suggested that I take a break before I start working on the housing plan for the new colony."
"Housing plan?" Vincent asked with interest.
"Yes. We're going to talk to the people going to the new colony and determine our minimum needs, the preferred number of dwellings and things like that. I'm a city planner by trade and once we know what's available to us at the new colony, I'll have my work cut out for me." Roger said casually.
"Wow. It sounds like you're going to be really busy."
"That's why Cyril wants me to take some time off now. I may not get another chance for quite a while." Roger said honestly.
"So is your job as a city planner how you met Cyril?" Vincent asked with interest.
"Yes. When we established the Kimber colony I had to do quite a bit of work with Cyril to get everyone settled. We would see each other several times a day and after a few weeks... we started talking." Roger said with a fond smile.
"So doing this is going to be kind of like it was when you first met." Vincent said speculatively.
"It will in a way. He's so passionate about his work that I can't help but admire him and enjoy his company when we work together." Roger said distantly.
"I think I know how you feel. I feel something like that when T'Lani and I talk about what happened at work each day. The big stuff just doesn't seem as big and scary when I've got T'Lani to share it with." Vincent said in a considering voice.
Roger chuckled and said, "That's so true. I would probably feel overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of what we're about to do if it weren't for Cyril. But knowing that he's going to be there when I need him makes the prospect of getting nearly a thousand people settled into a place we've never seen an adventure that I'm looking forward to."
"I hope the new colony is nice. Have you heard any more about it from the Soleen-Avalla since they offered you their colony?" Vincent asked curiously.
"The Federation has been in contact with them, but we haven't had any direct contact yet. According to what Cyril heard from his father, they are currently doing a detailed scan of the colony and will be sending us the information as soon as they're done. Apparently, they haven't visited the colony for decades." Roger said frankly.
"I wonder what it's going to be like."
"We're all wondering that Vincent. Are you ready to do some swimming?" Roger asked with a smile.
"Sure. But remember that I'm a lot smaller than you. Don't go too fast."
"It's a deal." Roger said as he pushed off from the side of the pool.
* * * * *
"Vincent?" A voice asked with surprise.
Vincent turned to see Benny standing at the edge of the pool.
"Hi Benny. What's going on?" Vincent asked as he swam closer to Benny.
"You know all that school work I was doing last night?" Benny asked as he squatted down.
"Right. A really big report on the Ottoman Empire. So anyway, when the teacher picked up our reports, I was the only one who did it right. Everyone else either didn't do it or did a really bad job. So Mrs. De Luca said that I could have the rest of the day off while everyone else worked on their reports." Benny said frankly.
"That's great. Since you've got time off do you want to swim with me?" Vincent asked hopefully.
Benny smiled and said, "Yeah. I just thought I'd stop by first to see what was going on before I went up to get my swim trunks."
"Kewl. Roger has been swimming with me for a while, but I think I wore him out." Vincent said as he glanced across the pool where Roger was sitting on the edge.
"I'll be back in a few minutes." Benny said happily and hurried away.
Vincent swam across the pool to Roger's side and asked, "Is it okay if Benny joins us when he gets back?"
"You two will have to go on without me. I didn't realize I was so out of shape." Roger said with a tired chuckle.
"What are you planning to do this afternoon?" Vincent asked curiously.
Roger considered for a moment, then shrugged and said, "Nothing."
"Well, I've got a kind of sneaky idea. And if you'd be willing to help me we might both be able to have some fun." Vincent said with a crafty smile.
"Go ahead. You've got my attention." Roger said as he leaned closer.
"Since Benny is out of school for the rest of the day, I was thinking it would be really nice if JonJon could have the rest of the day off too." Vincent said in a slow, considering voice.
"I'm sure Cyril would be happy to let JonJon have the afternoon off if he asked." Roger said speculatively.
"Probably. But JonJon wouldn't be happy taking time off while Cyril was still working. But if you were able to talk Cyril into taking the afternoon off so you two could spend some time together, then Benny and I could convince JonJon to take the afternoon off so he could hang around with us." Vincent finished with a smile.
Roger considered for a moment, then said, "I like the sound of it. And I think Cyril could use a break from the routine. I'll go up now and see if I can talk him into it."
"Great. Benny and I will be down here for a while. If you need me to do anything, just page me." Vincent said happily.
"I don't think it will take much to convince Cyril that this is a good idea. But if he gives me any trouble, I'll use JonJon as an excuse." Roger said with a grin as he stood.
"Sounds like a plan." Vincent said happily.
Roger nodded his agreement as he walked to the changing room.
* * * * *
As Benny walked toward the pool, Vincent blinked with surprise.
In the weeks that they had known each other, Vincent had seen Benny in various stages of undress, just for the fact that they both slept in the supply room of Deflector Control.
But Vincent never really paid attention to Benny's body before.
Watching Benny walk from the changing room, Vincent noticed just how lean and toned Benny's body was and how his natural coloring made him look like he had a healthy tan.
He looked away from Benny for a moment and considered what he was feeling.
After a moment to analyze the feelings, Vincent finally concluded that what he was feeling was a sort of admiration or appreciation.
It was something like what you would feel when looking at a beautiful painting.
"Is something wrong?" Benny asked with concern at Vincent's pensive expression.
Vincent slowly shook his head and said, "No. Not wrong."
"Then what is it?" Benny asked curiously as he swam to Vincent's side.
"If I told you, you'd probably think I was really weird." Vincent said honestly.
"Try me." Benny said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"I was just thinking that you look really good." Vincent said hesitantly.
Benny looked at Vincent cautiously, uncertain of how to respond.
"I told you you'd think I was weird." Vincent said more quietly.
"No... Well, yeah, but that's nothing new. What do you mean?" Benny asked cautiously.
"I see you all the time and I never really noticed that you're a good looking guy. But when you came out of the changing room... I noticed." Vincent finished uncomfortably.
"Oh. Okay, I get it. Thanks Vincent." Benny said with a smile.
"Is there some way I can tell you that you look good that doesn't sound totally gay?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Yeah. I think if you say something like 'looking good', it sounds more like a compliment than a come on." Benny said in thought.
"Okay. Thanks Benny, I'll remember that." Vincent said with a smile.
"I'm always glad to help. Now let's swim." Benny said happily as he turned to swim away.
Vincent pushed off from the side of the pool to keep up with him.
* * * * *
"Hey JonJon, are you about ready for lunch?" Vincent asked from the doorway with Benny at his side.
"Almost. We're only working half a day today... But I have a feeling that you already know that..." JonJon said as he looked up from his computer screen accusingly.
"Yeah. Well I bumped into Roger down at the pool and we got to talking about stuff..." Vincent said shyly.
JonJon giggled at Vincent's expression and said, "I think it'll be nice for us to have the afternoon off. But how did you get Benny out of school?"
"I didn't. Benny did his homework like he was supposed to so his teacher gave him the rest of the day off." Vincent said happily.
JonJon looked at Benny with question.
"I'm the only one that did it." Benny added shyly.
JonJon nodded, then looked back at his terminal.
"If you're going to be working on that for a couple more minutes, I could go get Lehman and see if he wants to go to lunch with us." Vincent said hesitantly.
"Sure. I just want to close out these files. I should be done before you get back." JonJon said seriously.
"I'll wait with JonJon." Benny said at Vincent's questioning look.
"Okay, I'll be right back."
* * * * *
Vincent walked into the Observation Lounge to find Lehman looking out the window at the stars passing them by.
"It's beautiful isn't it?" Vincent asked as he walked to Lehman's side.
"Yeah. When I was on Gartain's ship, I didn't think so. Every star that I saw passing by the window was just a sign of me getting further from my home." Lehman said distantly.
"Oh. I never thought of it like that." Vincent said quietly.
Lehman turned to face Vincent and smiled as he said, "Now each star we pass is taking me closer to my new home."
Vincent smiled in return and said, "Yeah. I just came down here to see if you felt like having lunch with us. Benny and JonJon are both going to be off for the rest of the day."
"Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. I'm starving." Lehman said with a smile.
"Did you bring any other clothes with you?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
"No. Why?" Lehman asked curiously.
"Because you look like you've been sleeping in those. If you wanted, we could go down to deflector control so you can change." Vincent said with a smile.
"Do you, um... have some clothes like the ones you're wearing?" Lehman asked cautiously.
Vincent looked down at what he was wearing, then said, "Yeah. I think so. Do you want us to have lunch as identical twins?"
"It's okay if you don't want to. I just thought it'd be like, you know, having a brother." Lehman said, barely hiding a tone of need in his voice.
"Come here." Vincent said as he walked to Lehman and took hold of his hand.
"What?" Lehman asked with surprise as he instinctively tried to pull away.
"Read me. I want you to go into my mind right now and feel *exactly* how I feel about you." Vincent said as he pulled Lehman's hand to the side of his face.
Lehman closed his eyes and concentrated on the information he was looking for.
Vincent could feel Lehman in his mind and, thanks to his frequent mind melds with T'Lani, knew how to guide Lehman to what he wanted him to see.
//This is what I feel for you.// Vincent said firmly as he indicated a hazy collection of swirling emotions.
Lehman moved closer to the emotions and began to recognize what they were.
Lehman withdrew from Vincent's mind and was silent for a moment.
Finally he whispered, "Thanks."
"No prob. Now let's go get changed so we can freak some people out." Vincent said happily.
* * * * *
After a quick visit in Deflector Control so Lehman could change, the two identical boys went to Cyril's where JonJon and Benny were waiting for them.
"Did we miss anything?" Vincent asked as he led the way into the room.
"No, but if you'd taken any longer you might have." Benny said with a teasing smile.
Vincent noticed that Cyril was unlocking a large metal box that was sitting in front of JonJon on the desk.
As Vincent was about to open his mouth, Lehman asked, "What's going on?"
"This was my father's safety deposit box. I found it this morning and Cyril is unlocking it for me." JonJon said as he looked at the box anxiously.
"It explicitly stated in Mr. Daniels' will that in the event of his death, the safety deposit box was to be given to JonJon." Cyril said informatively, then continued, "There you go, it's unlocked. I'll leave you alone to examine the contents."
"That's okay Cyril. I don't mind if you stay." JonJon said honestly.
"Well, since Roger is going to meet me here, I'll stay if you're sure you don't mind." Cyril said frankly.
"Of course I don't mind." JonJon said quietly as he reached for the lid.
Vincent and Lehman moved to either side of JonJon and gave him identical hugs.
"We sure do spend a lot of time opening boxes, don't we?" Lehman asked with a chuckle.
"Yeah. We do." Vincent said with a smile.
"Wish me luck." JonJon said with nervousness in his voice.
Vincent and Lehman both whispered, "Good luck." as JonJon opened the box.
* * * * *
"What is it?" Benny asked as he looked at the strange device in the safety deposit box.
"It's a memory storage module." JonJon said cautiously.
"It doesn't look like any kind of memory storage that I've seen before." Vincent said as he looked at the device curiously.
"It's for positronic memories. You see that cable? It plugs into my data port so I can access it." JonJon said as he uncoiled the cable from the back of the device.
"So what's in it?" Lehman asked quietly.
"I have no idea. I've never seen it before and my father never mentioned having it." JonJon said with a dark look.
"Do you want to plug it in now or save it for later?" Vincent asked cautiously.
JonJon thought for a moment, then said, "Waiting won't make it any easier. Besides, time moves a little differently inside my head. I could have a vision that lasts for days and it would only be a minute or two in real life."
"Do you need to be sitting down or anything?" Cyril asked with concern.
"It would probably be a good idea if I sat down since I don't know what this is. I might be disoriented when I come back." JonJon said carefully.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Lehman asked quietly as JonJon sat behind Cyril's desk.
"No. Just wait for a minute and I should be right back." JonJon said as he took the cord around to the back of his head to plug it in.
"You're sure this is safe?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Actually... no." JonJon said, then plugged it in.
* * * * *
JonJon looked around the black infinity that surrounded him and waited for the interactive memory to initiate.
"Hello Johnny, I'm sure you have many questions now. I'm here to help you." A voice said in the distance.
"Who are you?" JonJon asked as he turned and tried to determine where the voice was coming from.
"I'm a neural image of your first father." The man's voice said from just behind him.
JonJon turned quickly to see an elderly man with very kind eyes.
"I know you don't remember me, but I'm here to offer you some help. You can call me Jeffery."
"It's nice to meet you Jeffery." JonJon said uncertainly.
"If you're here with me, it means your loved one has recently passed away." Jeffery said sadly.
JonJon reluctantly nodded.
"I don't know how things are in the world now, but at the time I made this image of myself, androids were beginning to self terminate when their loved ones died." Jeffery said with a distant look in his gentle, soulful eyes.
JonJon whispered, "Yeah. There aren't many of us left. I haven't seen another M.A.R.C. in... at least five years."
"You are my beloved eternal child and I couldn't leave you to that fate. So I found an android designer who was willing to create this storage unit for me. It's my best attempt to create an alternative to suicide for you if you ever reach that point... I hope it can bring you some sort of peace. Come over here." Jeffery said as he hobbled over to a desk that hadn't been there a moment before.
"I'm sure you know that erasing long term memories from a positronic brain is nearly impossible. Something like that usually ends up being an all or nothing proposition. What I came up with is an alternative. I have a tapeworm program that can follow linking memories and block your access to them. It will be much like a human having amnesia, but the beautiful, wonderful person that you are won't be lost in the process." The elderly man said as he put his hand on two thick books laying on the desk.
"These are the memory files that are suppressed within you right now. If you open one of these books, those suppressed memories will be immediately restored." Jeffery said firmly, then he turned and put his hand on another book on the opposite side of the desk.
"This one is empty and waiting for you to fill it. If the pain of losing your loved one is too much for you to bear, leave your memories here with me where they'll be safe." Jeffery said quietly.
JonJon considered for a moment, then quietly asked, "You mean that if I open that book then I'll forget that my parents and my brother died?"
"That's right. But you'll also forget that they lived. Only use this if the painful memories are beyond your ability to endure. You will lose access to the good as well as the bad memories." Jeffery said with a melancholy smile.
"I can't do this now. I need to tell my friends about what's going to happen so they won't be worried." JonJon said in concentration.
"Then you are free to leave as you are and return whenever you wish. I will be here when you need me." Jeffery said somberly.
"Is it wrong to do this?" JonJon asked in a whisper.
"I can't answer that question. You are a creature of free will and you are the only one who can make that decision." Jeffery said gently.
"Thank you for doing this. I've tried to ignore the pain but... it's too much." JonJon said regretfully.
"You filled the last years of my life with so much love... I just want you to be happy." The elderly man said as he faded from sight.
JonJon made the conscious effort to open his physical eyes so he could come out of the computer generated dream.
* * * * *
"Is everything okay?" Lehman asked curiously as JonJon's eyes opened.
"You're probably not going to think so." JonJon said quietly.
"What's wrong?" Benny asked as he moved to JonJon's side and put a hand on his shoulder.
"The memory module... it contains a program..." JonJon said with difficulty.
"What kind of program?" Cyril asked hesitantly, concerned by JonJon's quiet tone.
"Basically, if I run the program it will hide my memories from me so I can start over without having to remember that my parents and my brother died." JonJon said as tears welled up in his eyes.
Silence fell over the room as everyone absorbed the statement.
Benny was the first to get past the shock and said, "You're not going to do it are you?"
JonJon looked up at him with regret and slowly nodded.
Benny leaned in to give JonJon a hug and said, "You don't have to do this. You've got me and Vincent and Lehman to help you."
"Benny, you don't understand. I'm an android. I was constructed to be a companion. It's my primary purpose. But my companion, my brother Jeremy, is dead. Nothing you or anyone else can do will take that pain away from me." JonJon said as tears freely fell down his face.
"You should have told me. I could have helped you deal with it." Benny said gently.
"You don't get it! There is no dealing with it! They're all dead and my reason to keep living died with them. I've been here with you going through the motions of living but I'm dying inside. If I were to continue on like I am, what would I do? How would I live? How long could I survive without a reason for being?" JonJon finished in an imploring whisper.
"You're talking about committing suicide. You're going to stop the pain by ending your life." Benny said as he backed away.
"I'll still be alive. I'll still be me. I just won't remember." JonJon said, not sounding entirely confident in his words.
"That's a lie and you know it! If you do this you'll be killing my best friend... and I'll never forgive you." Benny said firmly, then walked out the office door.
Everyone stood in shocked silence and thought about Benny's words.
Finally JonJon asked, "What about you Vincent? Will you hate me too?"
After a moment to consider his words, Vincent said, "I could never hate you JonJon. I would really rather you didn't do it. But if you do, I'll still be your friend."
"Thanks." JonJon whispered.
Cyril walked to JonJon's side and put a hand on his shoulder as he said, "If you decide that you need to do this, I'll stand with you."
"What's going on?" Roger asked as he walked into the open office door.
"I'll tell you in a minute." Cyril said quietly.
"I'm sorry Lehman. I know that I promised to be your family... I thought I could be strong like Vincent but..." JonJon trailed off as fresh tears began to fall.
"What will you be like after you do this?" Lehman asked quietly.
"I really don't know. I guess I'll still be me, I just won't remember any of you." JonJon said uncertainly.
"But what about your purpose? Your reason for being?" Lehman asked firmly.
"I really don't know how it works. I don't remember how it happened the last time I was activated. I woke up and I just... knew." JonJon said distantly.
"What are you planning to do?" Roger asked with concern.
"I'm going to run a program that will erase my memories so I won't remember my family dying." JonJon said as he looked up at Roger with watery eyes.
Roger stood silently for a moment, then absently said, "I know a few people who would gladly give up everything they own to be able to do that."
JonJon reluctantly nodded his agreement.
"I said that no matter what he decides, we'll stand with him to support him." Cyril said quietly.
Roger leaned in and gave Cyril a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Lehman, would you do something for me?" JonJon asked in a shaking voice.
"What?" Lehman asked as his own eyes started to fill with tears.
"Will you take care of Fizgig for me? I don't know if I'll remember what to do for him." JonJon said in a voice of despair.
"I will. I promise." Lehman said before losing the last of his self control and openly crying.
Vincent moved to Lehman's side and pulled him into a firm hug.
"I guess that's everything." JonJon said as he picked up the cable again.
"You're going to do it now?" Cyril asked with surprise.
"I'm pretty sure that waiting isn't going to make it easier." JonJon said as he reached around to attach the cable to his data port.
"I love you JonJon." Vincent said in a whisper.
As JonJon's eyes closed he whispered, "I love you too."