Universe Alpha 7:
The Reflection of Home

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Chapter 49 - First Mission

Although Vincent went through his normal wake up and workout routine, he seemed to be functioning mostly on autopilot.

In fact, even sitting down to breakfast with Commander Dodds and his family flew past his notice, for the most part.

All Vincent could think about was leaving for his first real mission, without all the people he usually depended on.

As the time for him to leave approached, Vincent was given hugs and well wishes from everyone in attendance.

Vincent was surprised when Keith volunteered to drive him to the spaceport. Keith had said that since Ethan was in class at college, that he didn't have anything better to do and wouldn't mind making the drive.

As soon as they were alone in the car and out on the open road, Keith quietly said, "I need to know about the other universe."

"I really shouldn't talk about that." Vincent cautiously responded.

"Cut the crap, Vincent. I know what the rules are and I know what the big secret is. What I need to know from you is what happened in the other universe that's bothering my pop so much. Sometimes, usually when we're back on Earth, I can see it in his eyes. I need to know what that is." Keith said seriously.

"I only met Commander Dodds for the first time a few days before I left to join Starfleet. I really don't know that much about his personal life." Vincent carefully explained.

Keith thought for a moment, then quietly reasoned, "But you were there. You saw the differences. I just want to get an idea of what it was like."

"If you ask me some specific questions, there may be some things that I can tell you, but there's some things that I can't." Vincent said cautiously, feeling that he was getting himself onto a slippery slope.

"Do you remember what happened the weekend before you left?" Keith asked seriously.

"Yeah. Twice, in fact." Vincent said frankly.

"Twice?" Keith asked in confusion.

"Yeah, in Orlando. I remember the same weekend that you remember, at that big farmhouse but I also remember another place there that was kinda like your house here." Vincent explained.

"Do you remember me from the other reality? How was I?"

"Yeah. I met you, but I didn't get to know you all that well. It was only a couple days and it's not like we were really in the same place all that much. Plus, I was kinda focused on my testing and stuff." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"What was I like?"

"Pretty much the same. A little less happy, maybe. A little more serious all the time."

"What about Ethan?" Keith asked hesitantly.

"He's mostly quiet in both universes. I probably haven't heard him say a dozen words in either one. But from what I saw of him, he's about the same."

"Justy, too?" Keith asked cautiously.

"Again, I didn't get to know anyone that well and I had a lot of other stuff going on in my life right then. But I guess that Justy was probably the most different of anyone. He seemed to be a lot more serious. It's not like he was depressed or mean or anything like that, but he was just 'serious'. I can't think of a better way to describe it." Vincent finished with frustration.

Keith slowly nodded as he thought about Vincent's words.

"Also, while I was there, it didn't seem like you and Justy were as close to each other as you are here. It's not like you didn't get along or anything like that, but here you seem to have some sort of a bond that you didn't have there." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"What aren't you telling me?" Keith asked cautiously.

"I'm not telling you the things that I'm not allowed to tell you." Vincent said in frustration.

"I'm not going to let you weasel out of it. I need to know what's going on so I can help my pop deal with things. Something's hurting him and he doesn't need to be facing it all by himself." Keith said firmly.

"There's stuff I can't tell you, okay? I know you don't like it. Too bad. I still can't tell you." Vincent said firmly.

Keith looked at him with surprise.

After a moment for Vincent to calm down, he quietly continued, "But maybe if I tell you about how the time split went for me, it'll help you understand."

Keith waited anxiously for Vincent to continue.

"When I was first on the Yorktown, I was too small to wear regular uniforms, so I had to have the small uniforms cut down to my size. Ensign Collins found a crewman who knew about sewing and stuff and got her to help me. The crewman's name was Monahan. I never really got to know her that well, I mean, it's not like we talked and stuff, but she was nice and took my measurements and did a really good job making me uniforms that fit." Vincent said slowly.

Keith listened carefully, hoping to understand whatever it was that Vincent was trying to impart.

"After the split happened, Crewman Monahan wasn't there anymore. She had never been there. I'm not sure if she winked out of existence, or had just been assigned to another ship in this reality. But the freaky thing is that this person that I had known all of a sudden wasn't there anymore and no one else remembered that she had ever been there."

"That must have been weird." Keith muttered.

"Well, the other thing was that in this universe, there's a crewman named Brian Duckworth who's been fixing my uniforms. He knows me and remembers all the times that he helped me before, but I know that I never really met him."

"Are you saying that something like that's going on with my pop?" Keith asked anxiously.

"No. I'm just telling you about what happened to me so that maybe you can understand why there's stuff that I don't want to tell you." Vincent explained, then continued, "Back on New Hope I have a good friend named Benny. Him and his family were from the Kimber IV colony and they went through a lot of really horrible stuff. But the thing is, in this new reality, Benny has a younger sister named Hailey who was never born in the other timeline. She didn't exist."

"I can't even imagine how weird that must be." Keith said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. But the thing is, do you think it would do anyone any good for me to tell her or her brother that there's a whole other reality where there never was a girl named Hailey Summers?" Vincent asked seriously.

After a moment to consider, Keith quietly said, "No. I guess it'd be like telling someone that you wished they were dead or never born."

Vincent nodded, then said, "Your life here is great. It's better than your life over there, I promise. Just leave it at that. Nothing that happened there matters here. Don't go looking for pain and misery or you're probably going to find it."

"Is it really that bad, there?" Keith asked cautiously.

"No. It's not bad, it's just that some things are different. I can't say more. Just... don't go there. You'll regret it if you do." Vincent said seriously.

"But what about my pop?" Keith asked anxiously.

"You know better than I do that 'The Commander' can handle just about anything. Give him a little time. I think he'll be alright." Vincent said reassuringly.

Keith grudgingly nodded his acceptance.

Just then, Vincent realized where they were and quickly said, "I wish we had time for some tacos."

"Will you tell me what's wrong with my pop?" Keith asked in a wheedling tone.

"Are you trying to bribe me?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Maybe."

"No. I'm not going to tell you."

"Then we can't stop for tacos."

Vincent watched as they passed by the taco stand, then muttered, "Integrity sucks."

* * * * *

Vincent noticed a few strange looks directed at him as he walked through the spaceport. It took a moment for him to realize that people were reacting that way because he was a nine year old human dressed in a Vulcan major's uniform. He supposed that a sight like that probably justified a second look.

As he carried his backpack and duffel to the information desk, he noticed the curious expression on the man working behind the counter.

"May I help you?" He asked cautiously.

"I'm Major Winters, I'm scheduled to take a shuttle to TerraMain. Could you tell me where I need to go?" Vincent asked professionally.

"May I see your ID?" The man asked hesitantly.

Vincent took out his Starfleet ID and handed it to the man.

"You're the..." The man said in surprise before he could catch himself.

Vincent smiled at the reaction, glad that the man wasn't going to make a bigger deal out of it.

"Ensign... Major Winters, I have a notice here that you're to transport directly to the Vulcan ship, T'Salanade. The transporter station is down this concourse and to your left." The man at the desk said professionally.

"Thank you." Vincent said as he accepted his ID back from the man.

"It's an honor to meet you." The man said in a low voice.

"Thanks." Vincent said with a smile, then hefted his luggage.

Even though it was a little bit awkward to carry, it was nowhere near as bad as it used to be, back before his growth spurts. And he didn't even want to imagine how bad it would be if he were trying to carry all the 'civvies' that the Clan had bought for him. He was glad that Daddy Joe had offered to see that all his new belongings would be transported aboard the Yorktown, in case he wasn't back on Earth when the Yorktown refit was complete.

* * * * *

When he approached the transporter station, Vincent presented his ID and waited. It seemed as though the transporter tech didn't even notice his uniform, age or species.

When it was his turn to transport, he placed his luggage on a separate transporter pad, then stood straight on his own before nodding toward the transporter tech.

When the transporter beam cleared, Vincent looked around the room and immediately noticed that beside the Vulcan transporter tech, there was a Vulcan female officer waiting on him.

As he was about to speak, he caught sight of the rank insignia. He carefully schooled his expression before saying in formal Vulcan, "Major Winters, reporting as ordered."

"Welcome aboard, Major. I am Captain T'Sudun." The Vulcan woman said formally. "Leave your belongings and they will be taken to your quarters."

Vincent nodded once, then stepped down from the transporter chamber and waited.

"It is my understanding that you were given no information regarding this vessel or the mission we are about to embark upon. Is this correct?" The captain asked with full Vulcan formality.

"Yes. That's right." Vincent said carefully, trying his best to sound mature and respectful.

"Come with me to the bridge and I will brief you on our mission. We must be underway." The captain said simply.

As they walked out of the transporter room, the captain continued, "This is a science vessel. We are proceeding to the coordinates of an unstable micro-wormhole that we believe will soon begin to collapse. It is our mission to deploy a series of sophisticated probes to gather detailed information about this astronomical phenomenon."

After a pause, the captain continued, "You will be given command of the third standard shift, beginning at 23:00 Federation Standard Time."

Vincent carefully thought through his words before asking, "Are you saying that I'm going to be in command of the ship?"

"Yes. I have been told that you have the necessary training and experience." Captain T'Sudun said impassively.

"Yes. But I'm guessing that you already know that I just received my commission two days ago and that even though I've been in command, I've never been scheduled as the duty officer before." Vincent said carefully as he followed her onto the lift.

"Bridge." The Captain said once they were both aboard, then she turned to Vincent and continued, "For all things, there is a first time. The days of travel before we reach the micro-wormhole should provide adequate time for you to familiarize yourself with your duties."

"But what about when we get there? I'm not a scientist, I won't know what needs to be done." Vincent said cautiously.

"You will be provided a detailed outline of the deployment plan in your mission briefing materials. I am sure that with diligent study, you will attain the required understanding." The captain said impassively as the doors opened onto the bridge.

Vincent looked around and recognized the layout.

Even though he hadn't studied many other ship designs, he had a passing familiarity with the layout of a standard Vulcan vessel.

"This is Major Winters. For the duration of this mission, he will be my third." The captain announced to the bridge crew.

Several of the Vulcan officers glanced at Vincent, but none of them betrayed the slightest reaction to the announcement.

"Navigation, display projected course." The captain said as she sat in the command chair.

"On screen." The navigator said immediately as the star chart displayed on the forward screen.

"Communications, contact TerraMain and request departure trajectory." Captain T'Sudun said as she watched the screen switch back to the forward view.

A moment later, the communications officer announced, "Course for departure received."

"Helm, take us out at one quarter impulse, then increase to half impulse when we have passed Mars orbit." The captain said calmly.

Vincent could hear the impulse engines firing and watched the forward viewscreen as the ship began to move.

"Major Winters, the details of our mission and related materials will be available to you on your terminal. If you have no questions, Sublieutenant Soval will now show you to your quarters." The captain said, the last being directed to a younger looking Vulcan man at an auxiliary science station. As Vincent was beginning to turn, Captain T'Sudun added, "You are dismissed."

When the sublieutenant approached, Vincent gave him a single nod, then silently followed.

* * * * *

"I have not previously interacted with Humans. Please inform me if you have need of any special accommodations." Sublieutenant Soval said carefully.

"I will let you know." Vincent said in his 'mature' voice, trying to keep any emotion out of his tone.

"These will be your quarters." Sublieutenant Soval said as he opened the door.

Vincent preceded him into the room and found that his belongings had already been delivered. Although the room was spartan in its furnishings and not nearly as large as a senior officer's quarters on a Federation starship, it was still more spacious than the quarters that he shared with Darin. He actually felt a decadent little thrill at having a room all to himself.

"Before you leave, let me make sure I can access everything I need to on the computer." Vincent said as he took a seat at the terminal.

It took a moment for him to remember the correct sequence to switch the default settings to display Federation Standard, but once that was done, he confirmed that he had complete access to the mission briefing and all the accompanying materials.

Vincent then stood and turned before saying, "It appears that I have everything I need. Thank you for your assistance Sublieutenant Soval."

The sublieutenant seemed to be waiting for something else, then Vincent realized what it was.

"You are dismissed."

Sub Lieutenant Soval inclined his head slightly, then withdrew from the room.

* * * * *

Before anything else, Vincent accessed the environmental control system and adjusted the room temperature to be a few degrees cooler. The ship's temperature felt to him to be like Florida in the summertime. Although he had a lifetime of experience acclimating to higher temperatures, he still preferred to sleep in a room that was a bit cooler.

Vincent then went through the materials that the captain had provided and found that they weren't that difficult to understand. The outline that he had been given, basically gave a timetable of what needed to be done during each stage of the micro-wormhole's decay. Even if he didn't understand exactly what was being done, he knew when it had to be done and who was supposed to do it.

Although Vincent wanted to go through the related materials, so he could more fully understand what the scientific teams would be doing, he realized that he would at least need to take a nap before working what would be an overnight shift, at least in relation to his internal clock.

Fortunately, he understood that his job would essentially be, to be aware of the 'big picture' and to be a coordinator so that everyone would be where they needed to be... and perhaps, most importantly, that everyone was back where they should be when the micro-wormhole finally did collapse, just in case there were any unforeseen effects that might be dangerous.

Confident in the knowledge that he knew enough of the basics of what he needed to do, Vincent went into his bathroom to prepare for bed.

* * * * *

Food.

That was the thought that woke him nearly half an hour before his alarm would have gone off.

After hurrying through his morning routine, Vincent put on one of his Vulcan uniforms, then stopped at the terminal to look at the ship's deck plans to verify the location of the mess hall.

He took a moment to brace himself, to be sure that he was in the right frame of mind, before leaving his cabin to walk amongst the Vulcan crew.

* * * * *

As Vincent looked at the Vulcan food selections, the single crewman who was attending to the mess hall at the odd in-between hour walked up to Vincent and said, "If none of the provided selections are appealing, I could prepare something else."

"No. This is fine. Many of the selections are familiar to me. But I was wondering... do you have coffee?" Vincent asked reluctantly, knowing that it was highly unlikely that a Vulcan ship would have coffee in their food stores.

"Are you Major Winters?" The crewman asked dispassionately.

"Yeah." Vincent answered slowly, then asked, "Why?"

"A Starfleet Lieutenant made a point of having an adequate supply of coffee transported aboard when we arrived at Earth. It was designated to be for Major Winters. If you would make your food selections, I will prepare the beverage and bring it to you."

"Thank you." Vincent said with a smile, making an internal note to himself to remember to thank his Daddy Joe.

Even though Vincent wasn't familiar with all the Vulcan foods that were available, he recognized some of them from the Yorktown's mess hall and even one thing that he remembered having at breakfast with T'Lani's family.

When he turned with his tray of food, he saw that the cafeteria had many empty tables, and two that were occupied.

Even though he might be more comfortable if he chose to eat alone, there were times when the days that he used to sit on the back steps of his grade school and eat his lunch by himself, still haunted him.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Vincent asked as he approached the nearest table.

"Please do." A fairly young looking Vulcan man said as he gestured to an open chair.

"I'm Major Winters. I just arrived today." Vincent said pleasantly, then took a small bite of his food.

"I am Shivrak from the Vulcan Academy of Science. Accompanying me is my teammate, T'Sardin." The young man said simply.

"What do you do Shivrak? I mean, why are you on this mission?" Vincent asked curiously between bites of food.

"Your coffee, Major." The crewman said quietly as he placed a steaming mug of coffee beside Vincent.

"Thanks." Vincent said happily, then looked back at Shivrak with question.

"T'Sardin and I have been tasked with gathering readings of low-band frequency emissions in close proximity to the micro-wormhole as it collapses. It is our hope that the information will eventually provide another method to predict the decay pattern of unstable wormholes." Shivrak said seriously.

Vincent nodded slowly, then asked, "Are you going to gather your readings from the probes, or will you be gathering everything from the ship's communications array?"

"The level of sensitivity required necessitates the use of the probes." Shivrak said carefully.

"Yeah, and besides, I bet you'd have to recalibrate the communications array if you're looking at really low-band. With everything else that communications has to deal with, they probably couldn't afford for you to be in their way that much." Vincent said speculatively.

"I believe the science labs have their own dedicated array available, if needed." Shivrak said thoughtfully.

"Do you think they'd be sensitive enough to do the job if you needed them to?" Vincent asked curiously, then took a long, appreciative drink of his coffee.

"Excuse me, but what is the reasoning behind this line of questioning?" Shivrak asked cautiously.

"No reason, really. I was just thinking that if you're going out there to gather data, then another source of data might be a good thing. When it comes to stuff like that, too much is usually better than too little." Vincent said frankly.

"If we were to begin immediately, it would be possible to configure the array before our arrival." T'Sardin said carefully.

"The work on the probes is complete, so we have no other commitments until the probes are deployed." Shivrak said in a considering voice.

"To modify the array would require approval." T'Sardin said thoughtfully.

"And we do not know if another team is planning to make use of the array." Shivrak said distantly.

"Well, if you decide that you want to do it, you can call me on the bridge and I'll let you know if it's possible. I'll be up there in less than an hour." Vincent said seriously.

Shivrak and T'Sardin looked at Vincent with matching looks of question.

"I'm going to be in command of the next shift on the bridge." Vincent explained carefully.

"Excuse me Major, I had naturally assumed that you were included on this mission to perform some specialized scientific study. It had not occurred to me that you would be in command." Shivrak said slowly.

"About the only thing in sciences I have experience with is containment jars. But I've read enough about what's going on with this mission to understand what you're wanting to do. So if you two find out that no one else is planning to use the array, and if you think you have time to do it, I'll see what I can do about getting approval for you. Just call me on the bridge when you've decided." Vincent said seriously.

"We will do that." T'Sardin said firmly.

"We should go." Shivrak said quickly as he began to gather his dishes.

Vincent watched the pair hurry away, then settled in to finish his meal.

* * * * *

After eating his breakfast, Vincent returned to his cabin to do a little more reading about the mission before going to the bridge.

When he finally did arrive on the bridge, he found an officer in the command chair, another Major.

"I presume you are Major Winters." The officer said as he stood.

"Yes." Vincent said simply.

"I am Major Sunaak."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Major." Vincent said formally.

"Do you have any questions or concerns before I relinquish command?" Sunaak asked professionally.

"Actually, yes. I do." Vincent said seriously. "I was talking with some of the scientists earlier about possibly using the scientific array to monitor the collapsing micro-wormhole for low-band frequency emissions. I was just wondering how I would go about getting them permission to use the scientific array if they decide that they want to do it."

"You would have the authority to make such a decision, only the captain or I would have the authority to countermand your orders. However, in this circumstance, I believe it would be most proper to consult the head of sciences, T'Sunol, before making such a decision." Sunaak said thoughtfully.

"Okay. I'll do that." Vincent said immediately.

"I should mention that I was opposed to the placement of a Human Starfleet officer on this mission." Sunaak said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

But before Vincent could think of a way to respond, Sunaak continued, "However, within minutes of our meeting, you have already allayed my concerns. I withdraw my earlier objections."

"Thank you." Vincent said simply, then added, "But as you may have noticed, I'm kind of young. So if you think I'm handling something the wrong way, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know."

"If at some point my opinion on a matter should differ from yours, I will inform you." Sunaak said reasonably.

"That'll work." Vincent said with a grin.

"We are proceeding toward our destination on course at the recommended velocity. I have no variations to report. Are you willing to accept command?" Sunaak asked calmly.

"I accept command." Vincent said formally.

"I stand relieved."

* * * * *

Vincent walked to the command chair, and after a moment of hesitation, took his seat.

"Major, here are the duty reports from the previous shift." A young sublieutenant said as she approached with a Vulcan padd.

"What's your name?" Vincent asked as he glanced at the screen.

"Sublieutenant T'Amarak." She said formally.

"At ease, Sublieutenant." Vincent said with a grin at her, then went into a sub menu of the padd to convert the reports into Federation Standard.

After a moment of looking over the reports, which verified that the ship and crew were all functioning within prescribed specifications, Vincent initialed the padd and handed it back to her.

"If you have a moment, I think I'd like to look around the bridge and meet everyone. Would you like to give me the tour?" Vincent asked with a smile.

"Of course." T'Amarak said professionally then indicated for him to walk with her.

Vincent had noticed that when T'Amarak had gotten up from the communications console, that a young man had automatically taken her place.

"Who is this?" Vincent asked as he gestured toward the young man.

"Sublieutenant Sehlk is scheduled as relief personnel when a member of the bridge crew is called to other duties." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said seriously.

"It's nice to meet you Sublieutenant Sehlk. On a Federation ship, your position is informally called 'backup crew'. That's where I worked before I was assigned to full shifts on the bridge." Vincent said respectfully.

Sublieutenant Sehlk gave a single brief nod of acknowledgment before turning his full attention back to his duties.

"At the science station is Major Vyorin. As I understand the command structure, she is next in the chain of command, after you and is to serve as your second, should the need arise." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said as she guided Vincent to the next station.

"It's nice to meet you, Major Vyorin. I'm guessing that you've probably been a command officer for a while, now." Vincent said speculatively.

"That is correct." Major Vyorin said simply.

"Good. Please let me know if you see me doing something wrong. I was trained on a Federation starship, so things might not be done the same way on a Vulcan ship." Vincent said seriously.

"You are in command. It is within your authority to change the procedures if they do not conform to your standards." Major Vyorin said seriously.

Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "If something comes up, I'll look at how you usually do it and how I'm used to doing it, then I'll decide if it's something that needs changing."

"That would be acceptable." Major Vyorin said impassively.

Vincent turned to Sublieutenant T'Amarak and asked, "Who's next?"

"I believe our next most senior officer would be Lieutenant Satok at navigation." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said formally.

"Please forgive me in advance if I don't remember everyone's names, right at first. It's a Human thing." Vincent said with a smile.

The Vulcan officer looked at Vincent for a moment, then his gaze shifted to the patch on Vincent's sleeve.

"I, too, am of the House of Surak." Lieutenant Satok said very precisely. Vincent got the sense that Lieutenant Satok wasn't entirely comfortable with the English language, or at least the pronunciation.

As a courtesy, he responded in Vulcan, "As a member of the House of Surak, you are my family, my blood. Should you have need, your need is mine as well."

"As yours is mine." Lieutenant Satok responded, also in Vulcan.

A glance from Vincent prompted T'Amarak to say, "Lieutenant Tolek operates the helm."

"Lieutenant Tolek, the people I know both on my ship and back on Earth all hold helmsmen in the highest regard. It has been said that to be given the honor of running the helm proves that you are the best of the best in your profession." Vincent said respectfully.

"Such things are not said on Vulcan." Lieutenant Tolek said simply.

"That's probably because everybody already knows it." Vincent finished with a grin.

A curious look crossed Tolek's face before he turned his attention back to his duties.

"I guess that's everyone. Thanks for the tour, Sublieutenant T'Amarak." Vincent said gratefully.

"A pleasure." Sublieutenant T'Amarak responded, then returned to her comm station.

* * * * *

Soon after taking his seat, Vincent realized that he actually had nothing to do. Until some situation presented itself that demanded his attention, all that he really had to do was be present and stay awake.

After a few minutes of considering how he should phrase his message to T'Sunol, he finally gave up and sent a message that asked her to contact him at her convenience.

Before long, he was drawn back to the study materials that the captain had given him. Vincent didn't normally devote much time outside his studies to science. But the combination of being responsible for the success of the mission and the fact that it was possible that he might be present to personally witness the collapse of a micro-wormhole was enough to inspire him to want to know more.

As he was reading through the material the captain had provided, T'Amarak announced, "Major, we have an incoming transmission from Vulcan."

"Put it on the main screen." Vincent said as he stood from the command chair and tried to affect his professional persona.

When the starfield on the viewscreen gave way to the incoming transmission, Vincent relaxed and smiled.

"Husband, I received notice of your promotion and assignment and wish to congratulate you and to express my pride in your achievement." T'Lani said in a formal tone of voice, but Vincent could see the sparkle of delight in her eyes.

"Thank you, my wife. I wanted to call you instead of sending a message, but I know how busy you are and I didn't want to take the chance of interrupting you. How are your classes going? Are you going to be a doctor soon?" Vincent asked respectfully.

"The result is not yet assured, but there is reason to be optimistic. I can see that you are on duty, so I will return to my studies." T'Lani said simply.

"My thoughts will be with you, my wife." Vincent said gently.

"As mine will be with you, husband." T'Lani said and betrayed the slightest hint of a smile.

Vincent raised his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute to his wife and she responded in kind.

The action looked strangely formal, but to Vincent and T'Lani, it was like a way of saying what they felt without saying the words aloud.

Ever since they had parted company when the Yorktown left Vulcan, the gesture had come to mean 'I love you', 'I miss you' and so much more. It was a gesture that held all the things that they wanted to say but couldn't when others were present.

When the screen went back to displaying the starfield, Vincent walked back to the command chair to continue his reading.

"That was your wife?" T'Amarak asked quietly.

"Yes. She's on Vulcan studying to be a healer. When she completes her training she's going to be a doctor, serving on the USS Yorktown." Vincent said proudly.

"But you are Human." T'Amarak said slowly.

"I am biologically a Human. But in every other way, I am a Vulcan. I have completed the Khas'Wan and have been acknowledged by my grandfather, Ambassador Sarek, as an adult. I have gone through Pon'Farr and been bonded with my wife in accordance with the ancient ways." Vincent said proudly.

"I was not aware of these facts. I was only told that a Human who held a Vulcan military rank would be in command during this mission and that I should provide aid, if needed." T'Amarak said carefully from her station.

Vincent smiled at the statement, then said, "Well, I guess those are the most important facts. I also hold the rank of ensign in Starfleet and since I'm not really very familiar with Vulcan ships, I may be needing some help."

T'Amarak gave Vincent a respectful nod, indicating that she would be willing to help him if he needed it.

* * * * *

A Vulcan woman in a lab coat walked onto the bridge and directly to the command chair.

"I received a message that Major Winters wished to speak with me."

"Are you T'Sunol?" Vincent asked as he stood.

The Vulcan woman nodded once.

"I spoke with a scientist named Shivrak and we discussed the possibility of him using the science array to collect additional low-band readings. I'm not sure if he's going to want to use it, but I wanted to know if it's available if he does." Vincent said professionally.

"Thus far, the array is scheduled to be used to collect general readings to provide a frame of reference for the more detailed data. To configure the array to take detailed low-band readings would not diminish the effectiveness in gathering our other data." T'Sunol said thoughtfully.

"Good, then if he decides that he'd like to use the array, I'll give him my approval." Vincent said seriously.

"I will be available if you have any other concerns." T'Sunol said formally.

"As will I, if you have any concerns that I may address." Vincent said respectfully.

T'Sunol gave a single nod of her head to acknowledge his offer.

"If there is nothing else, you are dismissed." Vincent said seriously.

T'Sunol nodded again, then withdrew.

Vincent looked around the bridge to see that everything was operating normally, then went back to reading his mission briefing.

* * * * *

The door to the bridge opened, but Vincent was too involved in his reading to look away.

When he had finished reading the passage of text, he looked up and found Shivrak patiently waiting for him.

"How can I help you, Shivrak?" Vincent asked pleasantly.

"When we were in the mess hall you had indicated that you might be able to secure permission for us to use the scientific array to gather low-band emissions from the micro-wormhole." Shivrak said carefully.

"Yes. Have you decided if you want to use the array?" Vincent asked simply.

"After studying the anticipated outputs from a micro-wormhole's collapse and the level of sensitivity of the scientific array, we have determined that an additional source of data might be advantageous." Shivrak said professionally.

"Good." Vincent said seriously, then pressed a control on the arm of the command chair before saying, "Ship's log. Note that Shivrak has been given permission to configure and use the scientific array to collect low-band emission readings in relation to the collapse of the micro-wormhole."

After turning off the log, Vincent looked back at Shivrak and said, "I've talked with T'Sunol and verified that the scientific array is available for your use."

"Thank you, Major Winters." Shivrak said with an expression of calm that could almost be construed as happiness.

"If there is nothing else, you are dismissed." Vincent said simply.

Shivrak gave a single nod of acknowledgement, then withdrew from the bridge.

Once he was gone, Vincent turned to Sublieutenant T'Amarak and said, "Please make a note for Captain T'Sudun and Major Sunaak notifying them that I've given permission for Shivrak to use the scientific array."

"Yes, Major." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said efficiently.

Vincent decided that since his attention had been diverted from his studies, that he would take the opportunity to walk the bridge and reconfirm his awareness of what was going on at each station.

Everything appeared to be normal, just as he expected. When he arrived at the science station, he found Major Vyorin watching him carefully.

"Do you have any observations about my command style that you'd like to share with me?" Vincent asked simply.

"You do not behave as a Vulcan officer." Major Vyorin said seriously.

"True. I'm not biologically a Vulcan and I'm not trying to achieve kolinahr. But even though I don't act like a Vulcan, I still try to do my job reasonably and logically." Vincent said calmly.

"I can see no reason why such an approach should decrease efficiency, however your casual emotionalism evokes a sense of disquiet within me." Major Vyorin said thoughtfully.

Vincent was surprised by the statement, but realized that it was simply a response to the question that he had asked.

"Automatic actions and reactions eliminate the need for thought. My acting differently causes you to have to think about what I mean and what my reasoning is. Although it may not always be comfortable, I don't think it's bad." Vincent said honestly.

"I believe that preconceived notions and expectations serve a purpose, they allow conformity and uniformity, which increases efficiency. However, an argument could be made that challenging the established norms of behavior may expose inefficiencies that have infiltrated the system, since the norms are, by definition, accepted without examination." Major Vyorin said introspectively.

"Glad to help." Vincent said with a grin, then added, "But let me know if I'm doing anything that's too different. I'm not trying to disrupt the way the bridge operates, I'm just trying to do my job the best way I know how."

"I will continue to observe and report to you if your actions appear to disrupt operations or seem to be illogical." Major Vyorin said seriously.

"Thanks. I'm doing my best, but it's good to know that I've got someone to let me know if I'm screwing up." Vincent said gratefully, then walked back to the command chair.

Major Vyorin watched him go. One eyebrow raised, ever so slightly as she considered their conversation.

* * * * *

After another hour of studying the mission materials, an automated message appeared on Vincent's screen, telling him that it was time for him to take his lunch.

He had been so focused on his studying, that he had lost all awareness of the passage of time.

"Major Vyorin, I will go to lunch now, if you have time to relieve me." Vincent said as he walked to her station.

"Yes. Of course." Major Vyorin responded immediately.

It took a moment for Vincent to remember the wording of how Major Sunaak had transferred command to him at the beginning of his shift, but he finally said, "We are proceeding on the recommended course and at the recommended velocity. There are no variations to report. Will you accept command?"

"I accept command." Major Vyorin said calmly.

"I stand relieved." Vincent said simply, then walked to the command chair to log off.

When he was done, Major Vyorin immediately sat in the command chair and logged in.

Vincent looked over the bridge, one last time, before leaving for the mess hall.

* * * * *

His lunch was mostly uneventful. It wasn't a surprise that there weren't many people in the mess hall at what was essentially the wee hours of the morning.

When he made his lunch selections, he decided to try something that was unfamiliar, but visually appealing. The dish turned out to be mostly inedible, but it did have the side effect of clearing his sinuses.

After his lunch, he returned to the bridge to find that it was just as he had left it.

Vincent's excitement about his first solo mission and being given his own shift to command was beginning to wane as the hours dragged on.

When one thinks of being in command of a starship, scenes of intense negotiations and space battles automatically come to mind. No one ever considers the sheer boredom of sitting in the command chair for hours at a time with absolutely nothing to do.

Studying the mission briefing had been interesting and he wanted to continue it, but he could only maintain his focus for so many hours before he needed to do something else.

He ended up bringing up the ship's layout on the chair console and studying the design of the ship. He reasoned that if he were in command, he needed to know where everything was. And, truth be told, he had always had an interest in comparative ship's design.

In the periphery, Vincent was aware of the crew taking their breaks and lunches as the time slowly passed.

When the first of the morning crew arrived, Vincent was feeling the culmination of a very long day. Although he wasn't fighting to stay awake, he could feel a heaviness in his eyes that was his body's way of telling him that he was tired and should have gone to bed hours ago.

When the captain walked onto the bridge, Vincent immediately logged off and stood from the command chair, then stepped aside.

"Report?" Captain T'Sudun said as she sat and logged in.

"We have maintained course and speed. No variances." Vincent said smartly as Captain T'Sudun signed in on her console.

Captain T'Sudun looked at her console for a moment, then said, "You have given permission for the scientific array to be used for an unscheduled project?"

"Yes. I checked with Major T'Sunol to be sure it was available, before giving permission." Vincent said efficiently.

After another moment of looking over the reports on the chair console, Captain T'Sudun said, "I have command."

"I stand relieved." Vincent said simply, then left the bridge.

* * * * *

Even though Vincent very much wanted to go to his cabin and crawl directly into bed, his stomach had other ideas.

Walking into the mess hall, he was surprised to find that it was nearly filled to capacity.

As he was selecting his food, he was tempted to request coffee. It sounded really good, just at that moment. But his logical mind warned him that there might be consequences if he were to drink coffee right before bedtime.

Once his food selections were made, Vincent turned from the serving line to find a place to sit. Much to his surprise, he saw a group of Humans, three men, sitting at one of the tables.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Vincent asked as he approached.

"Go ahead." One of the men at the table said as he looked at Vincent curiously.

"Thanks." Vincent said as he sat down.

"You somebody's kid?" One of the men asked curiously.

"Aren't we all?" Vincent asked with a smile before taking his first bite of food.

The man puzzled over that for a moment, then asked, "Are your parents here for the Science ride, like the rest of us?"

"Science ride?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Yeah. The free trip to the galactic outback to watch a wormhole die." The man explained.

"Oh, um, no. I'm not here with anyone. I'm a member of the crew." Vincent said as he tried to identify just what it was about the man that he instantly didn't like.

"I didn't know that Vulcans had cabin boys. I guess maybe they aren't as high and mighty as they pretend to be." Another of the men chuckled.

"Excuse me." Vincent said as he stood and picked up his tray.

"Did I hurt your feelings, little boy?" One of the men asked in a mocking tone.

Vincent looked back at him with a frozen expression and said, "I wouldn't want for the other members of my crew to see us together and believe that I'm anything like you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" One of the men asked in offense.

Vincent stopped, holding his tray, as he calmly said, "It means that I'm embarrassed to be seen with you. It means that I think you give humans a bad name. It means that I don't want to have anything to do with you. Now, if there are no other questions, I'm going to have my dinner."

The men were apparently speechless as Vincent walked away, although he didn't spare them a glance to confirm it. As he walked across the mess hall, he spotted Sublieutenant T'Amarak and Sublieutenant Sehlk sitting together at a table.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Vincent asked as he approached.

"If you wish. Although, typically, officers tend to sit with others of their same rank." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said seriously.

"Yeah. I'm not good at being typical." Vincent said as he sat down.

Sublieutenant Sehlk glanced at Vincent and very nearly revealed a smile at the statement.

"So, do you guys think I did okay tonight?" Vincent asked casually.

Sublieutenant Sehlk looked to Sublieutenant T'Amarak to answer.

"I believe we are of insufficient rank to make assessments of your performance." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said carefully.

"Well, I'm not talking about an official evaluation, I was just wondering if either of you noticed anything that I could do differently that might make things easier for everyone." Vincent said frankly.

"I find your method of command acceptable." Sublieutenant Sehlk said very carefully.

It was then that Vincent realized that what he had taken for shyness might, in fact, be Sublieutenant Sehlk's reluctance to use a language that he wasn't altogether comfortable with.

Vincent automatically switched over to speaking in Vulcan and said, "As part of my training to become an officer, I was briefly given command of the USS Yorktown. Most of the members of the bridge crew were Human, in fact, all the members of the bridge crew on my shift were. So the command style that I learned was based on Human interaction. I just want to be sure that I'm not accidentally behaving disrespectfully or illogically because I learned my command style differently."

"Your style appears to be... unique, but not disrespectful or illogical." Sublieutenant Sehlk said thoughtfully, then added, "May I compliment you on your command of the Vulcan language. You are far more fluent than I am in your English."

Vincent chuckled, then said, "Thanks, but I can't take any credit for that. My Clan taught me the Vulcan language telepathically. The only thing I had to do was figure out the pronunciation."

"The acquisition of language skills by way of telepathy is a very high level skill that few possess." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said carefully.

"There's a guy in my Clan named Xain who has that skill. That's really all I know about it." Vincent said simply.

"You are fortunate." Sublieutenant Sehlk said quietly.

"Well, I can't do the telepathic thing, but if you ever want to practice your English with someone, I wouldn't mind at all." Vincent said honestly.

"It would seem improper, given your rank." Sublieutenant Sehlk stated seriously.

"Well, if it bothers you, try thinking about it this way. Here, on a Vulcan ship, I'm a Major, but on a Federation ship, I'm an Ensign, which is basically the same rank as a Sublieutenant." Vincent said frankly.

"It is inconceivable that one of my rank would be given command." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said seriously.

"Well, I wouldn't go around letting just any sublieutenant take command, but if I saw someone that had the right skills and the right attitude, I'd want to do for them what was done for me and let them actually feel what it's like to be in command for a little while. Because, once you've felt that, you can understand what your lessons are talking about and why you need to know some of the things that they're trying to teach you." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"When I attained the rank of Sublieutenant, I felt that I had achieved a significant goal that was the first step in advancing in rank. But now, it seems that achieving the rank of Lieutenant is a nearly impossible ambition." Sublieutenant T'Amarak said thoughtfully.

"Yes. If you look at it in more human terms, it's survival of the fittest, all the sublieutenants are competing for a limited few lieutenant positions. While one or two may succeed, the rest will fail. So you not only have to learn what is necessary to do your job, you also have to outperform all the other candidates." Vincent said seriously.

"You really talk that Vulcan jibber-jabber?" A man's voice said from behind Vincent.

"Excuse me." Vincent said in Vulcan, then turned to the Human and said, "Please go away."

"Yeah. In a minute. Just, first, who are you?" The man asked curiously.

Vincent glanced at his companions, then gave a weary sigh before saying, "Well, since you asked, I'm Major Vincent Winters, son of Clan Short, of the family of Sarek, of the House of Surak, of Vulcan. I'm also the thirty-seventh heir in succession of the Family Euchamaut of Greater Andoria. Throughout the Federation, I'm known as 'The Hero of Kimber' and among Klingons I've been called 'Nemesis of Pirates'. More importantly, at this moment, I'm third in command of this ship."

Vincent paused for a moment to let that sink in, then asked, "Who are you?"

"Dr. Peavey from the University of Oklahoma." The man said weakly.

"Well, doctor, if you or any of your team require any assistance from the command staff of this ship to carry out your scientific study, you may contact me on the bridge during the third shift." Vincent said seriously.

"Yeah. Thanks." The doctor said quietly, then walked away.

After a long silence, Sublieutenant Sehlk quietly said in Vulcan, "I fear that I will never understand Humans."

"You and me, both." Vincent agreed.

* * * * *

When Vincent returned to his cabin, he tried to continue his study of his mission briefing materials, but found that he was too tired to be able to maintain his focus.

So, instead, he went to his personal account and checked his email. He was surprised to find a message from Commander Sturgill and opened it immediately.

Her message was brief, but basically told that Price's funeral had been a tasteful event that had been well attended and that an appropriate marker had been selected for his final resting place.

Vincent looked at the attached image and agreed that Commander Sturgill had selected a simple, yet respectful, memorial. It made him feel slightly better to know that the teenage friend of Tracey's, whom he'd never met, was laid to rest in a dignified manner and wouldn't be relegated to an unmarked grave.

Once that was done, Vincent decided that he wanted to write a few emails, to let people know what was going on in his life.

First, and foremost, he sent a message to Daddy Joe, thanking him for the coffee.

After that, he sent a message to T'Lani, assessing her of the events of his first day.

While he was in the email program, he decided to write messages to Chip and Keith, thanking them for their hospitality and telling about how things were different on a Vulcan ship.

That led him to write a message to Loi and RJ. Since RJ had an interest in Starfleet, Vincent wanted to share some of his experiences, so RJ would get a taste of what it was like to actually be on a mission.

Vincent was about to get up and go to bed when it occurred to him that there were other people that he hadn't written to in far too long.

Since he had the time, and no shortage of news to share, he wrote a message to Tracey and Sung, to let them know where he was and what he was doing.

After that, he composed a long letter to Lehman, Benny and JonJon, to share an overview of what had been going on in his life since the last time he had seen them.

Although he didn't know if his message would ever be delivered, he nonetheless wrote a letter to Tyce and asked him to pass it along to Tyber, if he should get it.

He thought that he was finished, when he suddenly realized that he had forgotten someone and wrote a long letter to Lawrence and Deacon.

By the time he finished with all his letters, Vincent was well and truly tired.

As he was preparing for bed, he realized not only that he had forgotten to take his pain medication since he had been aboard, but also that he wasn't feeling any joint pain.

As he reflected on the day, he also realized that the meals that he had eaten had been of a standard size and that he hadn't felt like he was starving between meals.

He didn't need for a doctor to tell him what that meant. He was relieved to know that his most recent growth spurt was finally over and that, with any luck, he wouldn't need to get new uniforms before the end of his mission.

As Vincent took his sonic shower, he briefly missed the luxury of a real water shower, at Chip's house.

He made a point of setting the alarm to wake him since he felt so tired and his body was accustomed to an entirely different sleep schedule.

When he crawled between the sheets, his mind immediately returned to his video transmission from earlier in the day. He focused on T'Lani's image in his mind's eye and recalled the sound of her voice.

The warmth, both physical and emotional, wrapped around him until he drifted into a well deserved and much needed sleep.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Ah, the end of a long day/night.

Humans can be so condescending when they think they are more important than the person to whom they are speaking.

I am pleased that Vincent told that 'human' just who he was and that he wasn't the least bit impressed by the jerk.

I believe it will be quite interesting to see just how Vincent will do once he becomes more comfortable with his status and begins to see how his command methods are being received, and he is able to do his job in a satisfactory manner.

I also bet he will make friends with quite a few people on board the ship and that people he works with will benefit from working with and even conversing with him. I am not really making any snap judgments here... That just seems to happen when and where Vincent is present.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher