Universe Alpha-7:
The New Frontier

© 2007-2011 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by: RadioRancher

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Chapter 33

Vincent woke with a smile on his face.

The first thought on his mind was that he was being included on the initial team to survey the colony. He was almost giddy with excitement.

No matter the reason for the decision, it was a great honor and a sign of trust and respect for him to be included.

It was sort of an unwritten Starfleet law that 'first contact' and initial survey situations were limited to only the senior officers and most essential support personnel.

Vincent knew that he was neither, and yet, he had still been included in the 'first contact' meeting with Jenn and now he was going to be on the very first team to visit the new colony. He could hardly believe it.

He didn't have words to describe the emotions that he was feeling, but he couldn't imagine any other circumstances where he would feel anything that would compare.

* * * * *

Vincent slipped on his uniform and picked up his gym bag before quietly tip-toeing out of the supply room.

"Good morning Vincent, you're up awfully early." Lou said pleasantly.

"Yeah. It's going to be kind of a big day for me, so I was too excited to sleep much." Vincent said happily.

"Big day? I know we're going to arrive at the colony, but that actually has very little to do with our department. Did you have something else planned?" Judy asked as she approached Lou's side.

"Sort of, I'm going on the away mission to explore the colony as soon as we arrive." Vincent said, and it was obvious that he was bubbling over with excitement.

"Really? How did that happen?" Lou asked with surprise.

"Cyril said that since I was named 'first citizen', that it would be good if I could be one of the first people to visit the colony." Vincent said frankly.

"Well, it sounds like you do have an exciting day planned. I guess from that gym bag you're carrying, that you're going to go down to try and work off some of that excitement before we reach the colony." Lou said with an entertained smile.

"Yeah. If Thaelan wakes up before I get back, would you let him know where I am?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Of course. Go on," Lou said with a chuckle at Vincent's mounting excitement.

* * * * *

Thaelan walked into the gymnasium to find exactly what he had expected.

Vincent was diligently working his way through the stances, totally oblivious to Thaelan's presence in the room.

Thaelan opened his mouth, ready to utter his standard greeting, but then he decided to stop for a moment longer and just watch as Vincent continued to practice.

They had been working together for a relatively short time, and the stances that Thaelan had given Vincent to practice were the foundation to all that he would eventually learn.

But as Thaelan watched Vincent move from one stance to each of the others, it became clear to him that through shear tenacity and dedication, Vincent had mastered the fundamental routines.

Every one of Vincent's movements were precise and he was maintaining the proper rhythm throughout.

Fluid.

Controlled.

No movement was wasted.

Finally Thaelan decided that he had seen enough and said, "Good morning Vincent."

Vincent moved fluidly into his next pose and held it before responding, "Good morning Thaelan."

"You seem to be doing well in your practice. Would you like to try something a bit different today?" Thaelan asked carefully.

Vincent smiled with amusement at the question and said, "Of course. I'm always ready to learn something new."

"Good. That is a very productive attitude." Thaelan said seriously as he moved closer.

Vincent broke out of his stance and waited for Thaelan's instruction.

"When I introduced you to each of the fighting stances, I told you of the associated counter stances. Today I will demonstrate those counter-stances and we will move through the sequence together." Thaelan said seriously.

"So we'll be fighting?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. Not precisely." Thaelan said slowly, then continued, "You will move through your stances as you have been, but at the same time, I will be moving through the counter-stances. In the beginning we will go slowly so you can adjust to the rhythm."

"So it will be like dancing?" Vincent asked speculatively.

Thaelan considered for a moment, then said, "Yes. Our moves are choreographed and, if all goes well, we will be moving in synchronization. The only difference is the absence of music."

"What's the purpose of this exercise?" Vincent asked seriously.

Thaelan smiled at the question, happy to know that Vincent wasn't willing to blindly accept what he was being told.

"If all goes as it should, this will prepare you for the next step, which is to recognize and use the proper counter moves when in actual combat." Thaelan said professionally.

Vincent nodded thoughtfully, then asked, "What do I need to do?"

"Begin your stance routine as you normally would. As you progress through the routine, I will go through the counter-stances. Work to become familiar and comfortable with the symmetry of our combined movements." Thaelan said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

"Okay. I think I'm ready." Vincent said slowly.

"Then begin."

* * * * *

Vincent raised his hands and began to move into his first stance.

Thaelan automatically moved into the counter-stance which would effectively block Vincent's attack if they were actually fighting.

Even though Vincent intellectually expected the move, encountering resistance as Thaelan's wrist blocked his own made the familiar movement feel different.

"Disregard what I am doing for now and concentrate on your stances." Thaelan said as he slowly moved into his next counter-stance.

Vincent continued his movements, trying to focus only on what he was doing.

"Keep the rhythm." Thaelan said, even more quietly.

Vincent's mind focused on keeping the movements fluid and regular despite the unfamiliar sensations of Thaelan blocking him.

After a few minutes of going through the stances, Thaelan said, "Yes. Very good. Now increase to your normal speed."

Vincent hadn't realized that he was moving slower than usual, but at Thaelan's prompting, began to increase his speed.

"Maintain control." Thaelan said as he matched Vincent's pace.

Suddenly, the familiar movements and pace that Vincent had been practicing for weeks began to flow effortlessly.

Thaelan matched him move for move as their pace increased to a speed that was comfortable for both of them.

"Good. Very good." Thaelan said in a low voice as he watched Vincent's movements carefully.

Time became nonexistent to Vincent as he fell into 'the zone' and became consumed by the experience of the graceful repetition.

Thaelan admired how quickly Vincent was able to be at ease with this stage of their training.

He remembered that it took his father many weeks of patient instruction to finally get him to become comfortable and accept the inclusion of the counter-stances.

Vincent was lost in the experience as his mind seemed to be set free.

He achieved a level of peace and clarity in his mind that made him feel like he could do anything.

No problem was too big, no question was too complex.

In this place and time, everything made sense.

* * * * *

"It is time for us to finish." Thaelan said as he continued to counter Vincent's moves.

After a moment, Vincent reluctantly asked, "Already?"

Thaelan smiled and said, "We have been training for nearly an hour and a half. If you wish to have breakfast before our shift, we need to stop now."

Vincent moved into his next stance, then took one step back, falling into his primary defensive posture.

Thaelan looked with surprise at the move, then said, "Very good. That is the proper way to disengage from this exercise... though I don't recall demonstrating that move to you."

Vincent moved out of his defensive posture and started his cool down stretches before saying, "I've done some research on the basic forms of Andorian free fighting. I just wanted to be ready for when you wanted to teach me something new."

"I am pleased to see that you are taking this training so seriously. If you are as diligent in your school studies, you must be doing quite well." Thaelan said as he also began to cool down.

"Well, I'm not at the same level as most Vulcan kids my age, but I got a late start. I think I'm doing pretty good. My last assessment was 'acceptable'." Vincent said casually.

"As I understand it, that is high praise from the Vulcan Academy of Science." Thaelan said frankly.

"I guess it is by Human standards. From a Vulcan point of view, it's just what's expected. There's no reason to get all puffed up about it." Vincent said as he stood, indicating that he was done cooling down.

"I believe some amount of pride in your achievements would be appropriate in this circumstance." Thaelan said as he stood and walked to Vincent's side.

As they began to walk toward the locker room, Vincent said, "Okay, but not until I've finished the third standard course of study. Once I've done that, I'll feel like I really accomplished something."

Thaelan smiled at the response as they went their separate ways to shower.

* * * * *

"You were up awfully early this morning." Joe said as Vincent and Thaelan carried their trays from the serving line.

"Yeah. I was really excited about getting to go on an away mission this morning and I just couldn't sleep any longer." Vincent said happily.

"Your orders were waiting for me when I woke up. How did you manage to get invited on a survey mission?" Joe asked casually.

Vincent thought about it as he took a sip of his coffee, then said, "Cyril asked if I could be included... but I think maybe I was just in the right place at the right time. If I hadn't been at the dinner last night, I probably wouldn't have been invited."

"I was there too and I wasn't invited." Lehman said from the next table where he and Benny were having breakfast with Crewman Channing.

Vincent smiled and said, "Maybe not, but from the way Jenn was talking, you'll probably be able to go down to check it out really soon."

"What did she say?" Darin asked curiously.

"Jenn was telling us that there's this AI that has been taking care of the colony for the past hundred years. And from the way she said it, it sounds like the place is just about ready to move into." Vincent said frankly.

"Really? When I heard that the colony had been standing unmanned for over one hundred years, I thought we would probably end up repairing one half of the colony and replacing the other half before we could even think about moving anyone in." Joe said thoughtfully.

"We haven't seen it yet, so it still might be something like that. I guess we'll know more in a little while." Vincent said before taking a large bite of his breakfast.

"How long will it be before we arrive?" Channing asked curiously.

"Anytime now. Probably just after 08:00." Joe said speculatively.

"Did my orders say if I was supposed to go to the transporter room or the conference room?" Vincent asked curiously.

"No. I was just informed that you would be called for the away detail when we arrived. I'm sure they'll tell you where you need to go. But don't get in too much of a rush, they'll probably need to do quite a few things before they'll be ready for you to go down to the planet." Joe said seriously.

Vincent nodded, then noticed that Lehman, Benny and Channing were whispering.

Lehman glanced over in time to see Vincent's speculative gaze.

"We were just talking about, when we're allowed to go down to the colony, maybe Channing could kind of go with me and Benny. I don't think they'll let us go by ourselves and Dad and Other Dad and JonJon probably won't have time to be with us." Lehman said shyly.

"That sounds like a good idea. I hope it works out that you can do that." Vincent said with a smile.

"Well, I hate to break this up. But we'd better get to work. It won't hurt to be early and we should be arriving any minute." Joe said as he stood.

Vincent quickly drained the last of his coffee, then gathered his dishes onto his tray.

"Did you get to do your phaser training thing last night?" Lehman asked as he fell into step at Vincent's side.

"Yeah. Lieutenant Simms took me through the whole basic training course. I'm thinking that when everything is settled down, I'm going to try to put in some time on the phaser range." Vincent said happily.

"Are you thinking of branching out into security?" Joe asked curiously.

Vincent giggled as he sat his food tray in the drop off window and said, "No. I don't think there's any chance of that. But I just thought that it might be fun to do some target practice. Besides, you never know when it might come in handy."

"I enjoyed it back at the academy. Maybe we could go together?" Darin asked casually.

"Yeah. Let's plan on doing that. I bet it'd be a lot more fun together." Vincent said happily.

"Where is Rad this morning?" Joe asked, just noticing that Darin was having breakfast on his own.

"Transporter control is preparing for a big day, so their Alpha shift went in early to do a complete systems diagnostic." Darin said unenthusiastically.

"How was the date?" Vincent asked with a waggle of his eyebrows.

As they stepped onto the lift, Darin smiled and said, "Perfect."

* * * * *

As the group walked into Deflector Control, both Lou and Judy looked at them curiously, knowing that they were more than a little early for their shift.

Joe noticed their curious looks and smiled at them.

"We should arrive at the colony any minute now. Since most of you are new to the Yorktown, you probably don't know what to expect. The standard procedure for our department in this situation is to do a full systems check, then maintain a skeleton crew while we are in orbit. I was thinking that Thaelan and I could split the shift, each taking four hours. Darin and Vincent would take communicators and be 'on call' for their regular duty shifts. Of course, today Vincent has other plans, so Darin will be our backup coverage." Joe said frankly.

"Why?" Darin asked in a puzzled tone.

"Because while the ship is in orbit of a peaceful planet, someone just has to be here manning the station, in case something unexpected comes up. The rest of the team is on call if they're needed for anything, but realistically, after the systems have all been checked, there's nothing left for us to do. We'd be stuck staring at each other, shift after shift, until we're ready to leave orbit." Joe said to the group.

"And we will likely be in orbit of the new colony for weeks." Thaelan added with a nod of approval at the plan.

"Right. There's still the possibility that we might be needed to do something to help get the colony settled, but realistically, we can't predict if and when our services will be needed. We just have to wait until someone calls on us." Joe said frankly.

"It sounds like you've been through a situation like this before." Darin said speculatively.

Joe smiled as he said, "Rarely is there a mission that requires the services of every department on the ship. It would be a colossal waste of man power to have everyone on every shift sitting around with nothing to do. So when we have some down time like this, we take the opportunity to enjoy a little time off."

"That being said, let's take our stations, do our system checks, then if nothing needs to be done, Darin will be on call for the rest of the day and Vincent will be free to prepare for his away mission." Joe said with a smile.

Everyone seemed to be happy with the arrangement and moved to their stations.

"Lou and Judy, why don't you go get some rest. Once we have some idea of what's going on with the colony, I'll arrange for you two to get a few days of shore leave." Joe said gently.

"Thanks Joe. You guys have a good day." Lou said as she relinquished the main to Thaelan.

After a quick glance at station three, Vincent moved to station two to do a full systems diagnostic.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters, please report to transporter room one." Debbie's voice said over the intercom.

"I guess it's time." Vincent said as he checked to see that he had spare couplers in his pocket.

"If you want to grab a communicator now, I'll log it in." Joe said quietly.

"Okay. I've got number seven," Vincent said as he walked to the rack by the door.

Joe smiled at the fact that Vincent had sort of adopted his 'own' communicator as he logged it under Vincent's name.

"Let me know how it went when you get back." Joe said quietly, smiling broadly.

"Yeah. I promise." Vincent said then checked himself over one last time to see that everything was in order before leaving deflector control.

* * * * *

Vincent walked briskly into the transporter room and stood at attention.

"At ease Crewman. Get your side arm and let's be on our way." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

Vincent nodded and walked over to join Lieutenant Simms by the phaser storage cabinet that was in every transporter room.

"Here you go Crewman." Lieutenant Simms said as he handed the holstered weapon to Vincent.

"Thank you sir." Vincent said with a barely restrained smile, then put the holster onto his belt.

Lieutenant Simms had let Vincent try a smaller hand phaser, in deference to Vincent's smaller size, but it turned out that he was actually more comfortable with the standard pistol style unit.

The door opened again to admit Cyril, Roger and Jenn.

"I believe that's all of us. Are we ready to go?" Commander M'Butu asked from the step up to the transporter chamber. Everyone nodded their assent.

"Then let's be on our way." Commander M'Butu said and moved to one of the forward transporter pads.

Vincent quickly looked around the group and tried to determine where in the 'pecking order' he would fit.

Although the captain and crew of the Yorktown didn't follow the more subtle nuances of etiquette in their day to day operations, Vincent still thought it was important to know his proper place, so he could behave correctly when it was necessary to do so.

As Vincent stood on the transporter pad beside Roger at the back of the group, he heard Commander M'Butu say, "Energize." then felt the slight electrical tickle of the transporter wash over him.

* * * * *

Once the materialization was complete, Vincent looked around curiously.

"Magnificent." Roger gasped as he looked down the city street.

While Vincent didn't have the same enthusiasm that Roger did for architectural design, he could appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the buildings.

But Vincent's appreciation slowly gave way to caution as he looked around with concern.

He felt a chill run up his spine as he became aware of the absolute silence surrounding them.

"Before we begin, I would like to see the central complex you were telling us about." Cyril said, apparently unbothered by being in this 'ghost town'.

"It's right this way." Jenn replied as she gestured toward one of the buildings.

"If you want to investigate the central complex, Crewman Winters and I will explore some of these buildings and assess their suitability as homes for the colonists." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"The buildings in this area are primarily designed for the distribution of goods and services. If you follow this street, you will find standard dwellings after three intersections." Jenn said professionally, as she pointed in the appropriate direction.

"Thank you Jenn." Commander M'Butu said as he looked down the long, empty street.

Lieutenant Simms took two steps to join Cyril and Roger's loosely formed group.

"Let's get moving. We have a whole ship full of people waiting on our report." Commander M'Butu said as he started walking.

* * * * *

Vincent looked at the odd construction of the buildings, noticing that they all seemed to be hexagonal and that the sides of every building seemed to be open to the elements.

"What's your first impression?" Commander M'Butu asked Vincent as they walked.

"It's creepy." Vincent said, before he could think better of it.

Commander M'Butu chuckled and said, "I would have to agree, but I was thinking more along the lines of it's usefulness for the colonists."

Vincent looked around again, then said, "It looks like it could be a great place to live.� All the buildings look like they're almost new. If they look as good on the inside, I don't see any reason that the colonists couldn't move in right away."

"We'll need to check out a few more things before we can recommend that step. That looks like one of the individual family homes up ahead, let's go check it out and see if our people could be comfortable there." Commander M'Butu said as he pointed ahead of them to a different style building, barely visible in the distance.

After another moment of walking, Vincent quietly said, "Thank you for bringing me along with you."

"Actually, I've been trying to find an opportunity where we could talk. But what with the colonists, and then the Okudai... there always seemed to be something else demanding my attention." Commander M'Butu said as they walked at a casual pace.

"What were you wanting to talk to me about?" Vincent asked curiously, not at all intimidated by the commander.

"I just wanted to ask how things are going with you. You know, find out how you're adjusting to life on a starship. How your studies are going... things like that." Commander M'Butu said honestly.

"It took me a while to figure out just how I was going to handle work, school and everything else without getting stressed out. But once I got into a routine, everything is fine." Vincent said frankly.

"I'm very glad to hear it." Commander M'Butu said seriously, then continued, "The Captain and I talked for a bit after the dinner last night and together we came up with an idea."

Vincent glanced up at Commander M'Butu with question.

"Once the colonists are settled in and we can be on our way back to Earth, the Captain and I were thinking that together, we might be able to contribute to your officer's training." Commander M'Butu said seriously as he stopped to look Vincent in the eyes.

"You and the captain?" Vincent asked with surprise.

"Yes, and by the time we reach Earth, it may also end up being most, if not all, of the command staff." Commander M'Butu said frankly, then in a lower voice he continued, "Starfleet sent you to us as part of the mentoring program. Now that we've seen that you can handle the responsibility and do the work that's been asked of you, we're ready to make a commitment to you. If you're willing to accept our instruction, we would like to give you every advantage that we possibly can."

Vincent was about to bark a response, but somewhere deep inside, a spark of memory ignited. Just in time, he recognized the sudden swell of emotions for what it was and remembered not to allow himself to be overwhelmed by it.

After a moment to calm himself and seriously consider what the Commander was offering, Vincent carefully said, "Thank you very much, Commander M'Butu. If the command staff are willing to take the time to teach me, I would really like to learn as much as I can."

Commander M'Butu smiled at the thoughtful response and said, "Very well. Once we're on our way back to Earth, I'll see to it that everything is arranged and get back to you with the details."

"Thank you sir." Vincent said respectfully.

"Right then. I suppose we'd better get back to the matter at hand, hadn't we?" Commander M'Butu said as he gestured toward the house just ahead of them.

Vincent smiled and started looking around curiously.

"I'm glad you're getting the opportunity to get some 'hands on' training, Crewman. This is another one of the advantages of being in the mentoring program." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"Yes sir. I just know that there are a lot of people on the Yorktown who are better qualified to be on this mission than I am. I really appreciate that I'm being given this chance." Vincent said seriously.

Commander M'Butu smiled and said, "The best way to show your appreciation will be for you to take full advantage of the opportunities being presented to you."

"I'll do my best sir." Vincent said as he followed Commander M'Butu to the front of the house.

* * * * *

"Look at this." Commander M'Butu said as he approached what appeared to be the entrance.

Vincent walked to his side and looked curiously at the strange lattice on both sides of the door.

Some of the honeycombs were empty while others housed figurines and other small objects.

"What do you suppose that's for?" Commander M'Butu asked curiously.

"If it was built in squares instead of hexagons, I'd say that it's like a bookcase. You know, like in the living room or entry hall of your home." Vincent said, as he carefully looked at the various items.

Commander M'Butu considered the statement, then noticed something a few feet away.

Vincent followed along and looked curiously at the strange way the next side of the house was built.

"You know, it looks sort of like a kitchen." Commander M'Butu said speculatively.

Vincent looked over the layout with Commander M'Butu's words in mind, then walked to a panel in the wall and pulled on it experimentally.

"What have you found there?" Commander M'Butu asked carefully.

"It's a stasis freezer." Vincent said as he reached inside the cold drawer and took out a wrapped package.

"With food still inside." Commander M'Butu said cautiously.

Vincent dropped the package back into the drawer and closed it firmly.

"Come on, let's look inside." Commander M'Butu said in a low voice as he led the way around the corner to the front of the house again.

Vincent followed as yet another chill ran up his spine.

* * * * *

After a moment for their eyes to adjust to the dimmer light inside, Vincent and Commander M'Butu began to look around.

"This is wrong." Vincent said in a whisper.

"I know." Commander M'Butu said as he walked to a chair which had a blanket draped over the back and two more in a crumpled heap just in front.

"It looks like whoever lived here might have just left a few minutes ago, maybe to go check the mailbox." Vincent said as he walked to a door at the far end of the room.

"Jenn never did say why the former colony failed." Commander M'Butu said as he followed.

Vincent found himself in a small central room that had six doors.

He looked into one of the open doors and found what could only be described as a bedroom.

It was perfectly clean and in other circumstances, might even be seen as cheerful.

He turned at the sound of one of the doors being opened.

Commander M'Butu pulled the accordion style door aside and cautiously walked into the room.

Vincent stopped in the doorway as he saw a bed at the far end of the room. The main difference between this room and the other one was that this bed was piled with rumpled blankets and appeared to have been slept in the previous night.

One of the walls of the room contained a honeycomb like the one outside the front door, and in some of the cells of the honeycomb, there were clothes.

"Come on. We need to talk to Jenn." Commander M'Butu said firmly as he turned to walk out of the room.

Vincent couldn't think of anything to say as he followed, frowning slightly.

* * * * *

"What do you think happened?" Vincent finally asked as they walked back toward the center of town.

"I don't know Crewman, but I can't imagine it being something good." Commander M'Butu said as he increased his pace.

Vincent remained silent as their pace became even faster and he was on the verge of running to keep up with the Commander.

* * * * *

"Uncle Oliver? What's wrong?" Cyril asked with concern.

"Jenn, what happened here?" Commander M'Butu asked firmly as he looked her in the eyes.

"My people would rather not discuss that if you don't mind." Jenn said carefully.

"I'm afraid I do mind." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

Jenn looked at the commander with surprise.

After a moment to calm himself, Commander M'Butu said, "Crewman Winters and I visited one of the houses and it looks as if the previous occupant might have left it this morning. I need to know what would make them leave so suddenly that they would leave food in their kitchens and not even take the time to pack their clothes."

Jenn closed her eyes and took in a slow inhale of breath.

After a long, silent moment, she said, "Commander, What I am going to tell you is a very personal and guarded secret of the Soleen-Avalla empire. Please respect the information and try not to make it public."

Commander M'Butu watched her carefully, not entirely sure if he would be able to determine her truthfulness from her expression.

"We have every intention of giving you this colony with a minimum number of conditions or restrictions, but the release of this information would bring shame to the Soleen-Avalla, it could conceivably damage relations between our people if it were revealed."

"I wouldn't want your people to be embarrassed, but I need to be sure that I won't be putting the colonists in danger by letting them take control of the colony without knowing the full history." Commander M'Butu said seriously, then glanced around the group before saying, "We can speak privately if you like."

"No. I understand your concerns and I agree that you should know how things came to be as they are." Jenn said seriously. "If the situation were reversed, I would want to know what had happened."

The group gathered closer to hear the history that Jenn was so reluctant to reveal.

"The Haventauk colony was designed to be a home for the Avalla people. The Soleen forcefully relocated them from our world to this place to be rid of them." Jenn said in a low voice.

Looks of surprise and shock went around the group at the statement.

"Every effort was made by the Soleen, to make this place hospitable to the Avalla... but it wasn't their home and it wasn't suited to their needs." Jenn continued with regret.

"So this was like a prison?" Vincent finally ventured.

"Yes." Jenn reluctantly admitted.

After a long silent moment, Commander M'Butu asked, "So at some point, the Soleen realized that this was wrong and invited the Avalla back to your world?"

Jenn took a long slow breath, then whispered, "Yes."

"And when the Avalla were finally welcomed back, they just abandoned their homes?" Commander M'Butu asked cautiously.

Jenn nodded, then said, "The spirits of the Avalla people had been broken by enduring the climate here, that was too cold and too dry for their comfort. Many believed that they were being taken away from here to face mass execution... and they actually welcomed it."

"What happened to the Avalla?" Vincent asked with concern.

"They were welcomed back to their home world. The Soleen made every effort to prove to the Avalla that they were accepted." Jenn said quietly.

"That couldn't have been easy." Cyril said distantly.

"No, it wasn't. The Avalla were understandably suspicious and couldn't accept that the Soleen were sincere. Some fled into the hill country of Soleena to hide, not trusting that the Soleen's motives were benevolent. Those that remained in the cities were cautious and reluctant to trust, as of course might be expected." Jenn said with regret.

"But now your people are known as the Soleen-Avalla. They are seen as equals?" Cyril asked cautiously.

"Yes. The elders of our people are of both Soleen and Avalla. The children are educated together and taught that all sentient beings have the same fundamental rights. It has been a struggle, but our people are finally united." Jenn said confidently.

"Perhaps you could tell us now, are you Soleen or Avalla?" Roger asked with interest.

Jenn smiled at the question and said, "I prefer to think of myself as Soleen-Avalla. Although it was the Soleen who created me, both Soleen and Avalla scientists worked to make me who I am."

Looks of surprise went around the room at her unusual statement.

"I am an Android." Jenn said quietly, apparently unsure of what their reactions would be.

The rest of the group stood in silence as they absorbed the new information.

"I was created for the sole purpose of representing our people among the people of the Federation."

"An Android?" Vincent finally asked, just wanting to confirm that he had heard right.

"Yes. When the Soleen became aware of the Federation and recognized that the member worlds were primarily mammals, I was constructed to be an intermediary that they could relate to. It was believed that the Soleen and Avalla would be seen as significantly 'alien' to the Federation to breed suspicion and distrust." Jenn said frankly.

"Judging by the style of your ship, I would guess that the Soleen are Gorn." Commander M'Butu said as he looked Jenn in the eyes.

"Yes. That is correct.� Long ago, the Soleen were part of the Gorn Empire. The Avalla were the indigenous people of the world we now know as Soleena." Jenn said quietly.

After a long moment of silence, Commander M'Butu reluctantly said, "When the Federation encountered the Gorn at Cestus III, it did not go well at all. I can't say that their being Saurian contributed to that, but I do think that the Federation might have been reluctant to establish relations with the Soleen-Avalla and accept this colony if it weren't for you acting as intermediary."

Jenn smiled and said, "Thank you Commander. It pleases me very much to know that you approve of my purpose."

Commander M'Butu looked around the group and said, "Now that we know why the colony was abandoned, the way it was, I can't see any reason that we shouldn't proceed as planned. Does everyone agree?"

"I do have a concern." Cyril said immediately.

At Commander M'Butu's questioning look, Cyril continued, "Why would the Soleen-Avalla agree to allow a Federation colony on their border when they continue to keep themselves hidden within their own space and use you as a buffer between our people?"

Jenn smiled at the blunt question, obviously expecting it.

"The people of Soleena have been monitoring Federation broadcasts for some time, and have come to admire the people of the Federation. Although the Soleen-Avalla have no desire to join the Federation, our ultimate goal would be to exist along side the Federation in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The unfortunate incident at the Kimber IV colony seemed to be the perfect opportunity for my people to promote good will between us." Jenn said carefully.

Commander M'Butu slowly nodded his acceptance of the words, then said, "Jenn, it may be necessary for me to reveal some of what you have told me to my superiors in Starfleet, simply to ease their concerns."

"Yes. I can see that." Jenn said quietly.

"However, I will be sure to let my superiors know that the subject is extremely sensitive and that your people do not want the details of their history to become common knowledge." Commander M'Butu assured her.

"Thank you Commander. That is all that we ask." Jenn said gently.

"Well, if there are no other concerns, what do you say we get back to evaluating the colony so we can get started?" Commander M'Butu asked as he looked around the group.

After a moment to see if anyone else had any questions, Cyril said, "I believe that I have seen enough to address some of our primary concerns."

"What have you seen?" Commander M'Butu asked with interest.

"According to the AI assessment, the power, water, and sewage treatment systems are in perfect working order. Although there may be some minor issues with individual dwellings, the colony as a whole seems to be perfectly habitable." Cyril said frankly.

"What do you think Roger?" Commander M'Butu asked as he considered Cyril's words.

"The colony design is as good as any I've seen. This central city is designed to be a seat of commerce, yet isn't so large that overcrowding would be a concern for at least three generations. As you move out from the central city, there are smaller town centers that are designed for the distribution of goods and services to smaller, local communities. With a minimal amount of organization, we should be able to settle our people evenly throughout the colony." Roger said professionally.

"What concerns do we have to address?" Commander M'Butu asked as he looked around the group.

"Food." Roger said frankly.

Commander M'Butu nodded, obviously expecting the answer.

"As Jenn mentioned at the dinner last night, the farm lands at the perimeter of the colony have returned to the wild. It will take time for us to make them ready for use." Roger said seriously.

"Commander, my people have anticipated this and are prepared to offer food to sustain the colonists and a supply of seeds and starter plants for when the fields are ready to plant. We only await your acceptance of our offer." Jenn said quietly.

"Please don't think me ungrateful for asking, but what would your people want in exchange for this food?" Commander M'Butu asked carefully.

"We ask for nothing more than we asked previously." Jenn said as she looked Commander M'Butu in the eyes.

"Which is?" Commander M'Butu prompted.

"Which is that the Federation respect our sovereignty and our borders." Jenn said seriously.

"Of course." Commander M'Butu said respectfully.

"Then please accept the offer of supplies as a token of our wish that we become 'good neighbors'." Jenn said diplomatically.

Commander M'Butu smiled and said, "I'm sure the Federation would like that very much. You can let your people know that we will gratefully accept their offer."

Jenn slowly nodded, then said, "You can expect the first delivery of supplies in approximately eleven hours."

Commander M'Butu's eyes went wide with surprise.

Jenn smiled at his reaction then shyly said, "I am in constant contact with my people."

"I wasn't aware of that, but I suppose it is convenient." Commander M'Butu finished consideringly.

Jenn giggled, then said, "It just allows me to fulfill my purpose as efficiently as possible."

"I can't imagine how you could have done it any better." Cyril said frankly.

Commander M'Butu nodded his agreement, then looked around the group and said, "Well, the supplies are on their way. We had better finish our survey so we can get on with the business of settling this place."

"I want to take a look at the transit system." Roger said immediately.

"Yes, while you're doing that, Jenn and I can go to one of the farms to see firsthand what has to be done." Cyril said seriously.

Before Lieutenant Simms could ask, Commander M'Butu looked at him and said, "Go with Roger. Until we're more familiar with the colony, I don't want anyone going off on their own."

"Yes sir." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Crewman Winters, let's go back and take another look at that house with this new information in mind." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.

"Yes sir." Vincent said automatically as he walked to Commander M'Butu's side.

* * * * *

Commander M'Butu and Vincent walked quietly down the street, each thinking their own thoughts until Vincent finally asked, "Do you believe her?"

"Yes, I think I do." Commander M'Butu said slowly, then continued, "But the fact of the matter is that it doesn't really matter what I believe."

"Why not?" Vincent asked curiously.

"From a diplomatic standpoint, we've been invited to establish relations with a previously uncooperative civilization. Refusing their generous offer would make us seem ungrateful and might be seen as an insult." Commander M'Butu said professionally.

"From a political standpoint, establishing this colony provides the Federation a physical presence in an area of space that, up to now, we've only charted from a distance. In essence, this one colony establishes our claim to this area of space all the way to the border of the Soleen-Avalla system."

"From a security standpoint, this action doesn't compromise us to any appreciable degree. And if the Soleen-Avalla are as friendly as they appear, we might even be able to depend on them to defend the colony, should the need arise."

"But what if the Soleen-Avalla attack the colony?" Vincent asked with concern.

"What could they possibly gain by doing that?" Commander M'Butu asked seriously.

"I don't know." Vincent said in a mumble.

"No. I wasn't dismissing your question, I was asking your opinion. What could the Soleen-Avalla possibly gain by luring us out here and tricking us into taking over their colony?" Commander M'Butu asked as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

"Um, I don't know. Maybe they would want to use the colonists as slaves?" Vincent asked reluctantly.

"Alright, that is a reasonable postulate. Let's think that through. We've seen that their warp technology is superior to ours. This colony has an AI unit in place, and Jenn has told us that she's an Android. I think that it would be reasonable to assume that the Soleen-Avalla are technologically advanced to the point where they could accomplish their goals by the use of computers and robotics, which would seem to negate any need for slaves." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

Vincent nodded his agreement to the reasoning.

"We could go on with other examples, but I think you understand what I was trying to say. Starfleet has gone to great lengths to analyze as many of the possibilities as they can and they have determined that this is a worthy undertaking. Of course there is an element of risk, but if we weren't willing to take risks, we never would have left Earth." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"Thank you Commander. I understand what you're saying. But I don't know if I'd be able to think like that, analyzing all the different angles and possibilities." Vincent said slowly.

"It takes practice, it's an entire system of thought. But it can be of great help in some situations," Commander M'Butu said casually.

"Do you think you could teach me how to do it?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Remind me when we're on our way back to Earth and I'll find all the study materials that you'll need." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.

Vincent looked around and suddenly realized that they had been standing in front of the house for a few minutes.

"Let's go in and investigate."

* * * * *

"I think I understand the design." Vincent said, as they stepped up to the front door.

"What is that, Crewman?" Commander M'Butu asked curiously.

"This, where we're standing now, this is like an entry hall, except that it's outside. Over there is the kitchen. I bet if we walk around the house, we'll find more rooms that we'd find inside the house if we were on Earth." Vincent said as he looked around.

"Let's go check it out." Commander M'Butu said as they walked toward the kitchen area.

* * * * *

The kitchen was just as they had left it.

Next they found what was obviously a dining room.

As they turned the corner to the next side of the house, both Vincent and Commander M'Butu froze in wonder at the lush well kept garden and beautiful pond of water in the back yard.

"This is incredible." Commander M'Butu said as he walked closer to the foliage and began to scan it with his tricorder.

"Shouldn't it be overgrown? I mean, the walking path is completely clear and the pond isn't scummy or anything. It looks like someone's been taking very good care of the place." Vincent said cautiously.

"Jenn said that the AI system has been taking care of things, but I didn't consider that would include gardening." Commander M'Butu said, as he looked around.

"Maintenance Bots were adapted to attend to the private garden areas of the homes." A voice said, seemingly from all around them.

"Are you the AI?" Commander M'Butu asked into the air.

"That is correct, I am Mycien, the guardian of this place." The voice said reasonably.

"Then why didn't you take care of the farm lands outside of town?" Vincent asked, before he could think better of it.

"To what purpose? Without inhabitants here, to eat the food, what would be the purpose of maintaining the farms?" Mycien asked reasonably.

"What's the purpose of keeping up this garden without people to use it?" Vincent asked in return.

"The maintenance and care of the colony is among my primary purposes. Maintaining this garden falls into that purview. The farmlands outside the colony, however, do not." Mycien said flatly.

"Thank you Mycien, that makes perfect sense to me." Commander M'Butu said with a nod.

Vincent looked at the Commander with question since it sounded like a matter of interpretation to him.

"Even though Mycien is sentient, he is, at his core, a computer. As such, he follows his programming. In this instance it makes perfect sense for him to maintain the homes and their associated gardens because they are within the boundaries of the colony that is his responsibility. The farmlands are outside that boundary, and while he *could* choose to maintain those farmlands, without people inhabiting the colony, it would be wasted effort to maintain something that isn't even part of his job."

"Thank you Commander. It pleases me to know that you understand my purpose and agree with my reasoning. If the colonists can also achieve such understanding, we should be able to work together in harmony." Mycien said thoughtfully.

"You and I can work together, Mycien, to be sure that you and the leaders of the colony understand each other." Commander M'Butu said into the air.

"I have no doubt that, with your assistance, we will achieve mutual understanding." Mycien said in a respectful tone.

"Mycien, can I ask you a question?" Vincent called into the air.

"You just did." Mycien said frankly.

Vincent puzzled over the response for a moment, then broke into a smile.

"Why didn't you talk to us when we were here before?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I had nothing to contribute to your conversation. I would not have revealed the history of the former colony without direct authorization from the Counsel of Elders." Mycien said simply.

"Wait. So you're, like, everywhere in the colony? Watching everything?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.

"That is essentially correct." Mycien said slowly.

"And you report everything you see and hear back to the Counsel of Elders?" Vincent ventured cautiously.

"No. I relay those questions and concerns that I feel are worthy of their notice." Mycien said carefully.

Vincent looked at Commander M'Butu with concern, silently asking him to take over the questioning.

"Mycien, do you understand that the colonists might be uncomfortable knowing that everything they say and do is being observed and possibly relayed back to the Elders?" Commander M'Butu asked quietly.

"Yes, I understand how that might cause some mistrust, however, once the former Kimber IV colonists have formally taken control of this colony, I will cease relaying any information to Soleena. At that time we can discuss any privacy needs and my interactions with the citizens of the colony, to find a balance that will be both comfortable and productive." Mycien said confidently.

Commander M'Butu nodded and smiled, then said, "Thank you Mycien. I think that sounds like a reasonable arrangement."

"Can we go look at one of the other houses?" Vincent asked as he pointed at one of the two other houses that faced the garden.

"Yes. Mycien, do you know if any of these plants are poisonous to mammals?" Commander M'Butu asked as he led the way down the walking path through the garden.

"None of the plant varieties in the home gardens are poisonous to any known species. Many of the plants have edible fruits, leaves or roots. They were planted in these home gardens to provide a constant source of fresh food, which the Avalla believe to be the most nutritionally beneficial." Mycien said carefully.

As they approached the pond, Vincent noticed that there was a walkway that seemed to end halfway across the water.

It seemed so strange that he asked his question without thinking, "Didn't they have time to finish the bridge?"

Commander M'Butu stopped at Vincent's side and looked at the seeming path to nowhere with question.

"That is a platform for sunning oneself. It is a feature favored by the Soleen, but some Avalla accepted it because the humidity of the water of the pool and the warmth of the sun made the climate seem more bearable." Mycien said and sounded like he felt regret for their situation.

"Do I have time to try it?" Vincent asked as he looked at Commander M'Butu with question.

"Just don't go to sleep out there. I'm not going to hold the report to the captain so you can lounge around." Commander M'Butu said playfully.

Vincent smiled, then walked out to the end of the platform.

After giving Vincent a minute to lie down and get comfortable, Commander M'Butu asked, "Do you think the colonists will like it?"

"Oh yeah. It's a little bit warm in this uniform, but if I had my swim trunks on, I think this would feel great." Vincent said as he slowly stood.

Commander M'Butu nodded, then asked into the air, "Mycien, are there any fish in the pond?"

"No Commander. The Avalla do not eat fish, therefore we saw no reason to stock the ponds with animal life. Each pond has a cultivated moss colony which oxygenates and decontaminates the water. So the water is quite suitable for drinking and perfectly safe for bathing." Mycien said professionally.

Commander M'Butu knelt down and put his fingertips in the water.

"It's nice and warm." Commander M'Butu said with surprise.

"Yes. The water of the pond is also used in the, as you might call it, 'solar collection process' that powers the colony, therefore it is kept at a constant temperature." Mycien said informatively.

"An elegant system." Commander M'Butu said as he stood.

Vincent walked to Commander M'Butu's side and waited for him to be ready to go explore the next house.

A glittering of multi-colored sparkles erupted a few feet away, drawing Vincent and Commander M'Butu's attention.

Before the materialization was complete, both Vincent and Commander M'Butu had their phaser's raised and leveled at the unexpected arrivals.

"Surprise." Roger said weakly, then slowly raised his hands in surrender.

Commander M'Butu smiled, then holstered his weapon and asked, "What are you doing, Roger?"

"We were at one of the transit stations and asked the AI if it could take us to wherever you are. Rather than give us a verbal answer, here we are." Roger said timidly.

"I misunderstood the nature of the question. In future, I will require verification before initiating the transportal stream." Mycien said from all around them.

"That's probably a good idea. I'm sure misunderstandings like that are going to happen for a while." Commander M'Butu said without concern.

"They have a public transporter system that will take you instantly to whatever part of the colony you want to visit." Roger said with excitement.

"Normally, transportal traffic is from one station to another, as it is more efficient. But the transportal system is fully capable of transferring personnel to or from any site on the planet." Mycien said informatively.

"Do you happen to know if your transporter system can interface with the transporters on the Yorktown?" Commander M'Butu asked curiously.

"Yes. I am capable of that function." Mycien answered immediately.

Commander M'Butu nodded, then said to the group, "That could make settling the colony even easier. If transporter control can coordinate with Mycien to receive transport coordinates, then we should be able to get people moving directly to where they need to go with little effort."

"Yes. And by using JonJon's list, we should only need the names of those transporting. Everything else could be automated." Roger said in thought.

"Have you heard from Cyril and Jenn?" Commander M'Butu asked seriously.

"No. But from the way it sounds, they probably have quite a bit to survey." Roger said honestly.

"Crewman Winters, do you think we've seen enough to be reasonably sure that the colonists could live here comfortably?" Commander M'Butu asked as he turned his attention to Vincent.

"Yes sir. Now that I understand more about how things are set up, I think this would be a wonderful place to live." Vincent said as he looked around the lush garden.

"I agree. Let's go find Cyril and Jenn and see what they've discovered." Commander M'Butu said happily.

"Commander, I can teleport your group to their location if you would like." Mycien offered politely.

"Yes. Thank you Mycien. We would appreciate that," Commander M'Butu said, and before the words were completely out of his mouth, the group were enveloped in a fountain of sparkles.

* * * * *

"Uncle Oliver? Is something wrong?" Cyril asked as he stepped out of a field of dense underbrush.

"No. In fact, things are actually better than we could have anticipated." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"How so?" Cyril asked with interest.

"The colony's AI, Mycien, has been kind enough to answer some questions for us. Based on his answers and our observations, it looks like this place is perfectly habitable. Unless any of you have any concerns that I should be aware of, I'm going to recommend that we send down the second survey team to begin the technical survey." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

At Vincent's confused look, Lieutenant Simms leaned down and whispered, "They'll test the quality of the air and water and check for the presence of harmful substances in the environment like lead or mercury."

Vincent nodded that he understood, then devoted his full attention to Commander M'Butu again.

"My only concern is the farm lands. Over a hundred years of unrestrained growth has occurred. It will take over a month to receive the equipment that we would need to clear the land and I can't imagine us completing the job in less than another month, more likely two." Cyril said with regret.

"So we're looking at sustaining about six hundred people for a minimum of two months." Commander M'Butu said slowly.

"More realistically, five to six months. Once the fields are cleared, we will need to plant them and wait for them to begin to produce a quantity of food sufficient to sustain us. Of course, we will be receiving supply ships in the interim, but given our distance from Earth, these first few months could be quite a concern." Cyril said honestly.

"I believe we can significantly reduce the time required." Jenn said thoughtfully.

"How is that?" Cyril asked with interest.

"Mycien could reconfigure his maintenance bots to clear the fields. You would not have to wait for equipment to arrive and the bots can work tirelessly until the job is complete. They should be able to clear the fields relatively quickly, although they are not well suited to the more intricate task of planting." Jenn said distantly.

"Well then, as Mycien finishes clearing each field, we colonists could go to work planting them. I'm sure all of us would enjoy getting our hands dirty for such a worthwhile cause." Cyril said frankly.

"It sounds like we've got a plan then. If no one has any other concerns, let's return to the ship and make our report." Commander M'Butu said as he looked around.

* * * * *

"Hey Champ, did you just get back?" Joe asked happily as Vincent walked into the room.

"Not exactly. We had to go to sickbay to get checked out, then we made our report to the captain. So I've been back on the ship for a little while." Vincent said as he walked to stand beside Joe at the main.

"So what do you think of the colony? Did the captain say how many weeks he thinks it will be before the colonists can start settling?" Joe asked curiously.

"Well, if the second survey team finishes all their checks and says that everything is good, the first colonists might be able to go down to the planet tonight." Vincent said cautiously.

"Tonight? It took nearly a month before they were allowed to go down to Kimber IV. The colony must be in perfect condition." Joe said with wide eyed wonder.

"Pretty much. The AI has maintenance robots that have been repairing anything that broke for the last hundred years. The air is clean, the water is clean, everything works the way it's supposed to. The only big problem is feeding everyone, and I think we've just about got that worked out." Vincent said frankly.

"I can hardly wait to go down and see it for myself." Joe said as he glanced at the main again.

"I know you'll love it." Vincent said confidently.

"So are you here to work on your report?" Joe asked curiously.

"Yeah. You know the drill. Anytime we get to do something exciting, we have to tell Starfleet all about it." Vincent said as he walked to the auxiliary station to sign in.

"You'd better get used to it, Son. It's part of the life that you've chosen." Joe said with a grin as he turned his full attention back to the main console.

"Crewman Winters. Please report to conference room one." Sounded over the intercom.

"I just came from there." Vincent said, as he signed back off the workstation.

"Maybe they forgot to tell you something. It's probably nothing." Joe said as he turned in his chair.

"If it was nothing, they would have told me on the comm."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:
I'm afraid I have to agree with Vincent,� there is probably more to it than just forgetting something if they actually need him to report back to the conference room.

Let's see, they found out that Jenn is an android, and they have met the resident AI. Mycien seems to be quite friendly. Things seemed to be moving pretty smoothly on the planet's surface. I hope nothing bad is happening that will cause problems. I really want this colony to succeed. Actually I have the feeling that things will work out alright if people can just trust in one another, Let's hope so.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher