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Chapter 4

"Are you too tired for your 'kid time'? We can save it for tomorrow if you would like." Joe said quietly as he held Vincent and Darin gently.

"I'm tired, but I think I really need a little bit of kid time before I go back to our cabin." Vincent said in thought.

"Then let's go to my cabin for a little while. You haven't seen it yet, have you?" Joe asked with a gentle smile.

Darin pulled out of the hug and hesitantly said, "That sounds like something private. I should go back to my cabin now."

Vincent pulled away from Joe and said, "I don't mind if you come with us Darin. 'Kid time' is just a time for me to act like a normal kid for a while instead of a crewman. Maybe if you wanted, you could have some kid time too."

Darin looked at Vincent and Joe curiously, not sure what he should do.

"You really are welcomed to join us. I promise that it's not half as strange as it sounds. Besides, I think it would be a good chance for us to sit and talk for a while. We really haven't had the time to get to know each other." Joe said carefully.

"Okay Lieu... Joe. That sounds good." Darin said in thought.

The trio approached the turbo lift and waited for it to arrive.

When the doors opened, Vincent happily said, "Okay Daddy Joe, you get to drive."

Joe looked at Vincent cautiously, then turned to Darin and said, "I think kid time has already started."

Vincent giggled at the statement as they walked into the turbo lift.

"Deck E, Section C2." Joe said into the air.

As the lift started moving, Joe looked down at Vincent to find him looking up at him with a happy expression that was almost glowing.

Joe couldn't help but smile at the expression and gave Vincent a quick one armed hug.

"Please excuse me for asking, but there's something I don't understand." Darin said slowly.

The lift doors opened and Joe stepped out into the corridor.

"It's right here." Joe said and walked the five steps to his cabin door.

After keying in his entry code, Joe stepped aside to allow his guests to enter.

* * * * *

Darin looked around Joe's cabin and was frankly impressed.

It was definitely bigger than the room he was sharing with Vincent.

The double bed in the room was bigger than the bunk bed he had slept in the night before. Also, Joe had a small desk work area with a built in terminal which gave the room a feeling of being something more than a place to sleep.

The built in furniture in this room had a decorative look, appearing to be the regular furniture in a person's home rather than the military style cabinets that he and Vincent shared.

The net result was a cabin that looked comfortable and inviting... a home.

"Come on in and have a seat. You had a question Darin?" Joe asked pleasantly as he walked over and took a seat on the edge of the bed.

Vincent immediately walked over to sit beside Joe and snuggled in under his arm.

Darin smiled at the move, then said, "I just... I don't want to upset you or anything, but I don't understand... Are you Vincent's father?"

Joe chuckled and said, "There's not a simple yes or no answer to that one. Come over and have a seat and we'll tell you the story."

Hesitantly, Daren sat on the bed beside Joe and Vincent, leaving about a foot of space between them.

"Do you want to tell Daren the story?" Joe asked Vincent as he hugged him gently.

"No. I want to hear you tell it. It makes me feel good when I hear you say that you want me to be here." Vincent said happily.

"You got it Champ." Joe said with a smile.

"I guess the story starts when I was a little bit younger than you are Darin. I met a beautiful girl and fell in love." Joe said in a voice of distant memory.

"That was my momma." Vincent interjected.

"Peggy and I had a son, his name is Lawrence... Vincent, would you mind getting Lawrence's picture out of my flight bag over there? It's in the side pouch." Joe asked casually.

"Okay." Vincent said quickly, then hopped off the bed and ran to the piece of luggage.

"Anyway, things didn't work out between me and Peggy and she finally divorced me." Joe said quietly.

"Is this it?" Vincent asked as he held up something that looked like a leather bound notebook.

"Open it and find out." Joe said with a chuckle.

Vincent opened the photo album, then looked at Joe with question.

"Billy snapped that when you weren't looking." Joe said with a smile.

Vincent carried the book over and handed it to Darin.

Darin was surprised when he opened the book to find that there were no pages in it; Just two pictures, one on the inside of the front cover and one on the inside of the back.

The first picture was of Vincent with his hands on his hips and looking like he was about to scream at someone. The other was of a slender boy with the same light blond hair and blue eyes as Joe.

"That's Lawrence, Vincent's half-brother." Joe said as he pointed.

"Half-brother." Darin said in confirmation.

"That's right. I'm Lawrence's father and Peggy was his mother. Peggy was also Vincent's mother but his father was the man Peggy married after she divorced me." Joe said quietly.

"My dad killed my momma then killed himself last week." Vincent said seriously.

Darin looked at Vincent in thought for a moment, then suddenly said, "Wait a minute... Winters... the postal worker that went on a killing spree in Florida and ended up killing two people and shooting a police detective. Then he died trying to attack the home of the Director of Federation Youth Services..."

Vincent nodded sadly.

"THAT was your father?" Daren asked in disbelief.

Vincent nodded again.

"I'm sorry Vincent. It's just that it was all over the news... I'm sorry. I shouldn't talk about it." Darin finished quickly.

"It's okay Darin. If it was gonna bother me, I wouldn't tell you." Vincent said quietly.

"Okay. But I won't tell anyone else." Darin said seriously.

"Thanks." Vincent said, then moved back to Joe's side and was pulled into a warm hug.

"Let's see... I met Vincent on... Wednesday. And before anything happened with his parents, I had already told him that I was his step-father because I used to be married to his mother." Joe said in thought.

Vincent smiled at the memory and turned so he could put his arms completely around Joe and give him a proper hug.

"Then after we got the news about his parents, several people got involved and worked together to help Vincent." Joe said carefully.

"I wanna tell this part. Can I?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Go ahead son." Joe said with a smile.

"So I'm sitting there trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do since I don't have any parents or home or anything at all no more. Then Daddy Joe comes up to me with David... Um... that's David Gallagher from the Richie Rich Christmas movie..." Vincent added in thought.

"You mean David Gallagher from Seventh Heaven?" Daren asked with wide eyes.

"Yeah, that too." Vincent said with a smile.

Daren turned to face Vincent more fully, devoting his complete attention.

"It was Daddy Joe, David, Commander Dodds and um... Aunt Teri." Vincent said in concentration.

"Teri Short, Director of Federation Youth Services." Joe added for clarification.

Vincent nodded, then continued, "Then David said this big long thing that meant that him and Clan Short were adopting me."

Joe considered the statement and finally said, "Something like that."

"So now David and Aaron Carter and Commander Dodds' sons and a whole bunch of other people are my guardians." Vincent said happily.

"When Vincent told Teri that he wanted to be in Starfleet, she remembered the Starfleet mentoring program. So she talked to a few people, Commander Dodds talked to a few people, Patriarch Short talked to a few people and... well, here's Vincent." Joe finished with a smile and a big hug for Vincent.

"Wow. That's really amazing. But I don't really understand about Vincent being a Vulcan." Darin said carefully.

"Oh, that's easy. I was adopted by a Vulcan Clan, so that makes me a Vulcan citizen." Vincent said happily.

Darin thought about it, then slowly said, "Vincent Winters... son of Clan Short... of the house of Surak of Vulcan."

"That's me." Vincent said happily.

"I guess that's about it." Joe said in a considering voice.

"No it isn't. You didn't say it." Vincent said with a tone of warning.

"What? Oh... I'm sorry Vincent." Joe said quietly, then turned to Darin and said in a serious voice, "When Teri told me about her plan to get Vincent into the mentoring program, I told her that I wanted to be his mentor and be like a father to him so he could come and live with me on the Yorktown."

"Thanks Daddy Joe." Vincent said happily and hugged Joe gently.

"I'm glad you did. Without Vincent's advice and help today, I'd probably be sitting in my cabin waiting to go back to Earth and wondering what I should do next." Darin said quietly.

"I just did what Cory would have done." Vincent said dismissively.

"You've mentioned him before. Who is Cory? He must be a really great person from the sound of it." Darin said in thought.

"He is. His name is Cory Short. Clan Short is named after him, he's the Patriarch. He's saved a lot of kids' lives and started a camp for kids who don't have any homes and even stopped a bunch of bad people who were using little kids for porno stuff." Vincent said in a rush.

"And he's fourteen." Joe interjected.

Darin looked at Joe with disbelief.

"And he's adopted five kids." Vincent added.

"Do you mean like the way he adopted you?" Darin asked carefully.

"No. The whole Clan adopted me. Cory really adopted them. They had their names changed to Short and they live with him and he's their real dad." Vincent said happily.

Darin thought about what Vincent said, then quietly asked, "Would you like to be adopted like that?"

Vincent tilted his head as he thought about it for a few seconds, then said, "No. If I was adopted like that then I couldn't be a crewman or live on the Yorktown. Kid time is nice for a while, but that would be like having kid time all the time and I don't think I'd like that."

"Guys. It's getting late. I think it's about time to call it a night." Joe said with regret.

Vincent gave Joe a tight hug, then said, "Okay, I'm done."

"If you would like, I could stop by your cabin at 07:00 and go to breakfast with you." Joe said to Vincent with a smile, then turned to Darin and added, "Both of you."

"We'll be ready at 07:00. We're on Deck G, Section D7, cabin 4." Vincent said as he straightened his posture and made his voice more mature.

"I'll see you then. You two have a good night." Joe said, sounding just a bit more professional and detached.

"You too Joe. Thank you for... everything." Darin said haltingly.

"It was my pleasure Darin. I'm really glad that Vincent found a good person to share a cabin with. And I was serious about considering you to be one of my sons. If you have any problems or just want to talk or anything like that, I'll be here for you." Joe said sincerely.

"Thank you Joe. I don't think I was really ready for this, I mean leaving Earth. I guess I always had the feeling that if I blew it in Starfleet, I was just a phone call away from my parents. Having you guys as my family on the Yorktown will make it a lot easier for me to get used to things... and I was serious about wanting to be like you." Darin finished in a quieter tone.

"I know Darin, and I was serious about it being the best compliment you could have given me. Now you guys had better get going. We've got work in the morning." Joe said gently.

"We'll see you at 07:00." Vincent said with a smile as he walked toward the door.

"Deck G, section D7, room 4." Joe said as he walked to the door and watched them walk to the turbo lift.

* * * * *

When the doors of the turbo lift closed, Darin quietly said, "Thanks for telling me all that Vincent."

"Deck G, Section D7." Vincent said to the ceiling of the lift, then he turned to look up into Darin's eyes and said, "Most of the people on the Yorktown will only get to know Crewman Winters. I wanted you to know the rest of me."

"Well, just so you know. I like all of who you are." Darin said with a smile.

"You're not going to hug me are you?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. I distinctly remember you saying that kid time was over." Darin said, trying to sound serious.

"I'm glad you understand." Vincent said as he turned his gaze toward the front of the lift.

The doors of the lift opened and the pair made their way back to the cabin.

"We'll need to put entry codes on the door... tomorrow. I'm too tired now." Vincent said as he pressed the entry button.

"I'm with you. Maybe we'll feel like it in the morning." Darin said as he started to undo the shoulder strap of his uniform jacket.

"Yeah, right." Vincent said with full sarcasm.

Darin smiled at the response as he took off his jacket.

Vincent took a pair of pajama pants out of his cabinet and looked at Darin with question.

"What is it?" Darin asked casually.

"I never thought about it before, but are we supposed to go in the bathroom to change or do we do it in here?" Vincent asked in thought.

"Honestly, with four of us sharing a bathroom, I doubt that it will be very long before none of us have anything the others haven't seen. Just do whatever makes you most comfortable." Darin said frankly.

"Okay, I just didn't want to do something wrong and make you think I was perving on you." Vincent said with a mischievous grin.

Darin chuckled and said, "Go ahead and get ready for bed. I'm dead on my feet."

Vincent started to get out of his crewman's jumpsuit uniform while Darin pulled off his shirt.

"I never thought about this part of being in Starfleet. I didn't even think about sharing quarters." Vincent said casually as he worked the jumpsuit off his legs.

"Well, we roomed together at the academy, so I'm kind of used to it now. But I'm really glad that I ended up sharing quarters with you. My roommate in the academy was a real jerk." Darin said as he pulled down his pants.

Vincent pulled on his light gray sleep pants then looked at Darin and asked, "How was he a jerk?"

Darin walked to his cabinet and pulled out a pair of sleep pants exactly the same color as Vincent's, then said, "He was loud, forceful and insulting. He seemed to enjoy making my life miserable."

Vincent looked at Darin with wide eyes and said, "So he did stuff to make you feel bad on purpose?"

Darin nodded and said, "Yeah. Everything Skippy said was a filthy joke or some kind of put down. He was a disgusting pig of a roommate and I have no idea how any woman could have been attracted to him, but for some reason they were... He was just nasty."

"Wow. I really got lucky getting you as a roommate." Vincent said with relief.

Darin smiled as he pulled back his covers and said, "Me too."

Vincent stood on the edge of Darin's bed, then hoisted himself up into his bunk.

Darin couldn't help but giggle at the maneuver.

"Don't forget to set your alarm." Vincent said as he set the wake-up alarm built into the wall at the head of his bed.

"Who's the adult here?" Darin asked in a playful voice as he also set his alarm.

"I'm not sure yet. I'll let you know." Vincent said with a smile as he laid back and got comfortable.

"Good night Vincent, sweet dreams." Darin said as he hit the switch by his bed that turned off the lights.

"Good night Darin. Sweet dreams to you too." Vincent said in a sleepy voice.

Before a minute had passed, both were fast asleep.

* * * * *

A soft beeping intruded on Vincent's peaceful sleep.

He reluctantly opened his eyes and looked around in confusion until he focused on the soft light of the alarm button blinking at the head of his bed.

Vincent pressed the button, then the room's light control beside it to bring the lights in the room up slightly.

He smiled as he remembered that he was on the Yorktown as a member of her crew.

After a glance at the ship's time, he took a moment to straighten the spread on his bed, then slowly climbed down, careful not to wake Darin.

Vincent noticed that the uniform he had worn the day before was laying crumpled in the floor.

Somehow it seemed wrong to have the symbol of his membership in the crew being treated so disrespectfully.

Vincent picked up the uniform and draped it over his arm, then proceeded to the bathroom.

* * * * *

Vincent scuffed into the bathroom and dropped his uniform into the laundry fresher unit just inside the door.

He stepped into one of the two bathroom stalls and relieved himself.

Next, he crossed the room and stripped out of his sleep pants and underwear and stepped into the sonic shower.

He had heard the sensation of a sonic shower described before, but the reality of it wasn't what he expected.

From the way people had talked about it, he thought it would be a 'crawly' feeling on his skin.

All he noticed was a hum and he could feel a sensation like brushing or a whispery breeze.

It didn't exactly feel 'good' but it wasn't the unpleasant experience he had been expecting.

As he was finishing, he heard the door of the bathroom open.

Cautiously, Vincent reached out of the shower unit and picked up his sleep pants.

After pulling on the sleep pants, he stepped out of the shower and looked around.

A tall dark haired man wearing only sleep pants was standing there and looking at him with surprise.

"Hi." Vincent said hesitantly.

The man seemed to snap out of whatever trance he had been in, then his eyes widened in an expression of panic.

Before Vincent could utter another word, the man ran to the door that led into Vincent's quarters and looked at the bed where Darin was still sleeping.

"What..." Vincent began to say when the man turned back toward Vincent with an expression of horror.

"I need to call security, stay right here." The man said quickly as he turned toward the opposite bathroom door to enter the other quarters.

"What for? Is something wrong?" Vincent asked in confusion.

The man stopped suddenly, then turned and asked, "Are you okay? I mean, do you need to see a doctor or anything?"

Vincent blinked in confusion at the question then stammered, "I'm fine. What's wrong?"

The man knelt down to be closer to Vincent's eye level, then said in a more gentle voice, "My name is Rad. Everything is going to be fine. I'm just going to call security and they're going to ask you a few questions, then we'll get you back to your parents. Don't worry about anything, it's going to be fine."

Vincent squinted his eyes in thought, then opened them wide as he realized what Rad was thinking.

"Now if you'll just stay here for a few seconds, I'll call security. Okay?" Rad asked gently.

"Will you let me do one thing before you call security?" Vincent asked carefully, not wanting to do anything to cause Rad to react.

"What's that?" Rad asked with concern.

"Will you give me one minute so I can get dressed?" Vincent asked seriously.

"You're not going to leave are you?" Rad asked cautiously.

"No. I won't, I promise. You can even watch me from the door if you want." Vincent said carefully.

"Okay. Go get dressed, I'll be right here." Rad said quietly.

Vincent hurried into his room and noticed that Rad was standing in the doorway, watching Darin intently, making sure that he wasn't waking up.

Vincent quickly grabbed a clean uniform from the closet, then moved where Rad could see that he wasn't going to try to leave.

Reluctantly, Vincent slipped off his sleep pants, very aware that his bare butt was exposed to Rad.

Quickly, he stepped into his uniform and pulled it up in one fluid move.

Vincent was grateful that his uniform was a one piece jumpsuit so he wouldn't have to deal with a shirt and uniform jacket.

He hurried to Rad's side and said, "Okay. If you want to call security now, I'm ready."

Rad looked down at Vincent, then took a step back in astonishment.

"I'm Crewman Vincent Winters, you can call me Vincent if you want to. It's nice to meet you." Vincent said with a mischievous smile.

"You... I thought..." Rad stammered.

Vincent giggled at Rad's expression and said, "I think I know what you thought, but it's okay. I live here. I was assigned to these quarters."

Rad smiled, then broke into relieved laughter.

Vincent giggled and asked, "Is your name really Rad?"

After a moment for the chuckles to subside, Rad said, "My real name is Ensign Rayne Radovanovich, but most people call me Rad."

"Why don't they call you Rayne?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Mainly because I don't like it. I guess it wouldn't be so bad if my middle name weren't Beau." Rad said with a sour look.

"Rayne Beau?" Vincent asked incredulously.

Rad nodded with a pained expression.

Vincent forced down his smile and said, "I understand."

Rad gave Vincent a smile of gratitude.

"Um, Rad. I'm on alpha shift so I need to get ready." Vincent said seriously.

Rad looked down at himself wearing only sleep pants and said, "Me too."

"Oh, and that guy in my room is named Darin, he's an Ensign like you. We're going to breakfast at 07:00. Would you like to have breakfast with us?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure. That sounds like a good idea." Rad said with a smile.

The sound of Darin's alarm drew both their attention.

"I'd better get dressed. I'll be over at 07:00." Rad said casually.

"Okay." Vincent said happily.

Rad retreated into the bathroom as Vincent went to finish getting ready for his day.

* * * * *

Darin had turned off his alarm, but showed no sign of getting up.

"Darin, you need to wake up." Vincent said quietly.

"I don't have class until 09:00." Darin muttered into his pillow.

Vincent smiled at the response, then said in a firmer voice, "Ensign Cooper, you have to be on duty in Deflector Control at 08:00."

Darin's eyes snapped open and he sat up abruptly.

"Good morning." Vincent said with a smile.

Darin looked around, then said, "Yeah. Good morning. What time is it?"

"06:45. Daddy Joe will be here in fifteen minutes to go to breakfast with us." Vincent said as he went to his cabinet.

"Oh, yeah. I'd better get ready." Darin said in a daze.

Vincent smiled, then thought to say, "I met our neighbor in the bathroom. His name is Rad. He seems like a nice guy."

"Um... yeah. That's right. We share a bathroom." Darin said hazily as he forced himself to get out of bed.

Vincent tossed his clean underwear and socks onto the edge of his bunk and looked over in time to see Darin stand up.

Darin glanced at Vincent, then down at himself and turned away quickly to hide his morning erection which was making a decent sized tent in his sleep pants.

Vincent giggled and said, "Too late. I saw it."

"I'm sorry about that Vincent." Darin said quietly.

Vincent rolled his eyes and said, "You don't need to be sorry, you just need to get ready before Daddy Joe gets here."

Darin smiled with relief as he went to his cabinet and gathered his things

"I think it's going to be great having you as a roommate." Darin said casually.

"Yeah. I think so too. Go on." Vincent said, then started taking off his uniform so he could put something on underneath it.

Darin took his clothes into the bathroom as Vincent finished getting ready.

* * * * *

"Am I too early?" Joe asked when the door opened.

"Nope. Right on time." Vincent said with a big smile.

Joe gave Vincent a quick hug, then looked over and said, "Good morning Darin. How are you today?"

Darin smiled at the warm greeting and said, "I'm fine. Vincent has been keeping after me so you won't have to wait."

Joe smiled, then said, "Well then, I guess we're ready to go."

"Wait a second. I invited our neighbor to eat with us... that's okay, isn't it?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Of course." Joe said with a gentle smile at Vincent.

The door to the bathroom opened as Rad called out, "Are you guys ready to go?"

"Rad?" Joe asked in surprise.

"Joe." Rad said in astonishment.

"Oh, I guess you already know Rad. He lives right next door." Vincent said happily.

"Yeah. How have you been Joe?" Rad asked cautiously.

"Fine... I wasn't sure you were still on the ship. I haven't seen you around for a while." Joe said quietly.

"I've been keeping to the lower decks..." Rad said, then gave a helpless shrug.

"It looks like you changed cabins." Joe said, at a loss for what else to say.

"Yeah, about a month ago." Rad said uncomfortably.

Vincent looked at Darin with question to find the same expression looking back at him.

"Rad and I are old... friends." Joe said, not sounding at all certain of it.

"What's wrong?" Vincent asked as he looked back and forth between the two men.

"I just did something a while back..." Rad trailed off with a pained expression.

"...And I overreacted." Joe said, finishing Rad's statement.

"Rad, are you sorry you did whatever it was you did?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Yeah. I really am." Rad said as he reluctantly looked at Joe.

Vincent turned to Joe and asked, "Do you forgive him?"

"It wasn't really his fault..." Joe began to say.

"He feels bad and needs to hear you say it. Do you forgive him?" Vincent asked firmly.

"Yeah. I forgive him." Joe said to Vincent, then glanced at Rad.

"Good. Now, are you sorry you let your mouth get away from you and said stupid things like a big jerk?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Hey! You don't even know what I said." Joe said with a surprised look at Vincent.

Vincent said nothing as he looked Joe in the eyes, waiting for an answer.

Joe thought about it for a second, then said, "You're right. I was a big jerk. I'm sorry Rad."

Vincent turned to Rad and asked, "Do you forgive him?"

Rad opened his mouth to begin to explain, but stopped at Vincent's determined gaze.

"Yeah. He's forgiven." Rad said quietly.

"Good. Now let's go eat." Vincent said firmly.

Joe and Rad both looked at Vincent and broke into laughter.

"This crewman seems to like ordering officers around." Joe said in a teasing voice.

"Only when you're in my cabin and keeping me from my food. Now come on. I'm starving." Vincent said seriously.

"Let's not keep the crewman waiting." Rad said with a smile at Vincent.

* * * * *

The group made their way to the Engineering Mess Hall and made their selections.

As they sat down, Rad cautiously asked, "How have things been going Joe?"

"Okay. Mostly the same old routine." Joe said in thought.

"Yeah. Me too." Rad said carefully.

"Are you seeing anyone?" Joe asked cautiously.

"No. I'm taking a little time off from dating." Rad said as he looked at his plate.

"I met someone." Joe said quietly.

"Really? What's she like? It is a 'she' isn't it?" Rad asked, sounding really interested.

"Yeah. Her name is Mona, she's... amazing. She's strong, independent and beautiful." Joe said in a distant voice.

"Good. I'm happy for you." Rad said with a contented smile.

"Really?" Joe asked, before he could think better of it.

"Yes really. Ever since I've known you, you've always seemed so lonely. I'm really glad you found someone." Rad said, sounding a little bit offended.

"Oh. Well, thanks Rad. I just thought..." Joe trailed off.

"You thought that because I was interested in you that I wouldn't want you to find someone? Just how shallow do you think I am?" Rad asked in an increasing voice.

Before Joe could answer, Vincent said, "Sometimes Daddy Joe's mouth likes to talk before his brain can tell him it's a bad idea."

Rad looked at Vincent with question for an instant, then broke into a smile as he said, "That really explains a lot. Thank you Vincent."

Joe smiled at Vincent and said, "My life would have been a lot easier up to now if I'd had Vincent around to let people know that about me."

"Well, you've got me now Daddy Joe." Vincent said with a smile.

Rad looked at Joe with question.

"Vincent, do you want to tell it?" Joe asked casually, then took a bite of his breakfast.

"Um... Okay... I'm his kid." Vincent said to Rad simply, then looked at Joe and asked, "Is that good enough?"

Joe smiled and said, "That's fine."

At Rad's surprised look of question, Joe said, "There's a whole long story that goes with it, but that's the important part. Vincent is my son... well, at least in my way of thinking if not legally."

"I'll look forward to hearing the whole story sometime." Rad said seriously.

"Maybe after our shift? Do you have any plans at 18:00?" Joe asked with a smile.

"Not a thing. Do you want to meet here?" Rad asked happily.

"Sounds great. What about you guys?" Joe asked Darin and Vincent casually.

"Okay with me, what about you Darin?" Vincent asked in a friendly tone.

"Sure, 18:00." Darin said with a smile.

"Okay, now that that's settled. What do you guys know about the big control circuit mess from yesterday? Do you have any idea what's going on?" Rad asked as he leaned forward with interest.

Before Vincent or Darin could answer, Joe quickly said, "We know something about that. But I think we'd better not spread it around until security has finished their investigation."

"Oh, an ongoing security investigation... and I've already heard that CPO Marks has been detained. I have a feeling that this puzzle doesn't have too many more pieces." Rad said with a smile.

"I wouldn't count on it. I have a sneaking suspicion that what happened yesterday didn't just happen on the Yorktown." Joe said carefully.

Rad froze in thought at the statement.

"I tell you what Rad. I'll talk to security today to make sure it's okay to talk about it, then I'll tell you whatever I can at dinner." Joe said seriously.

"Okay. Thanks Joe." Rad said in thought.

"I need some more juice. Would anyone like some more coffee?" Vincent asked as he stood.

"Sure. Thanks Vincent." Rad said in surprise, then handed Vincent his cup.

Joe nodded and also handed his cup to Vincent.

"I'll help you." Darin said and picked up his own cup and Vincent's juice glass.

"Be right back." Vincent said happily as he led Darin away from the table.

* * * * *

Joe and Rad watched as Vincent and Darin walked away.

"He's something else." Joe said with a tender smile.

"I remember you telling me that you had been married and had a son..." Rad trailed off and looked at Joe with question.

"My son's name is Lawrence, he's Vincent's half-brother." Joe said quietly.

Rad fell silent as he thought about that.

Joe looked over to see that Vincent was at the coffee station before quietly saying, "Both Vincent's parents died last week. I was there when he found out. Apparently he has had an interest in Starfleet for years and he turned out to be a good candidate for the mentoring program."

"But I thought the mentoring program was for gifted fifteen or sixteen year olds." Rad said carefully.

"I think that's what they had in mind when they developed it, but due to the differences in childhood development among the different species of the Federation, they didn't specify a cut-off age in the criteria." Joe said carefully.

"So he really is a crewman?" Rad asked cautiously.

"Yes. And after what I saw yesterday, I think he's doing better than quite a few new crewmen fresh from the academy." Joe said frankly.

Joe looked up as a cup of coffee was placed before him.

"Thank you." Joe said gently.

Vincent smiled, then placed a cup before Rad.

"Thanks." Rad said with a smile then noticed Darin out of the corner of his eye.

Deciding to take the initiative, Rad turned to Darin and asked, "So how are you liking the Yorktown?"

Darin nearly choked on his coffee and sat the cup down quickly before saying, "Fine. Everyone's been really great."

Rad smiled at Darin's flustered state and said, "I'm glad. I'm guessing that you're fresh out of the academy. A lot of people find the transition to starship life to be a real culture shock."

Darin thought about it, then said, "I guess it would be for me too if it weren't for Joe and Vincent. They've really made me feel like I fit in here."

"You *do* fit in here Darin." Vincent said firmly.

"See what I mean?" Darin said with a teasing smile.

Rad smiled and nodded his agreement.

"Well, it's time for us to finish up. We've got to be on duty in a few minutes." Joe said reluctantly.

"I'd better go now. I'll see you guys at 18:00." Rad said as he stood.

"I'll see you then." Joe said as he also stood.

They stood facing each other for an instant, neither sure about what they should do.

"Hug." Vincent said firmly as he started gathering the breakfast dishes from around the table.

Both men looked at Vincent with surprise, then started laughing.

Joe put an arm around Rad and pulled him into a friendly hug.

"I'm really glad that's over. I've missed you." Joe said quietly, so only Rad could hear.

"Me too. It's been lonely as hell without my best friend." Rad said in a whisper.

The hug broke and both men smiled at each other before Rad reluctantly turned and left.

Vincent and Darin quickly took care of the breakfast dishes, then joined Joe who was still standing, watching the door that Rad had walked through.

"What's wrong?" Vincent asked.

Joe shook himself out of his wandering thoughts and said, "If I were gay, that's the kind of guy I'd want to end up with."

Darin looked at Joe with surprise.

"Come on. It's time." Joe said and led the group out the doors toward the nearest turbo lift.

* * * * *

The trio walked into Deflector Control to find Lou engrossed in her work on the main console.

"How are things this morning Lou?" Joe asked as he walked to her side.

"Pretty good. The Beta crew stayed about an hour over to get some of the worst of it done and Judy has been working all night on the one man jobs... You'll want to look at this." Lou said, then brought up a report on the console.

Joe read for a moment, then said, "Vincent, I think you'd better see this."

Vincent stepped away from the third console and walked to Joe's side.

"It looks like you've made the big time." Joe said as he pointed to a passage of text.

"...Crewman Susan Walker and Crewman Vincent Winters of the USS Yorktown have been credited with uncovering a plot to defraud Starfleet of millions of dollars at the cost of the safety of the crews of several ships and star bases throughout the Federation..."

"Later on in the report, it says that nearly fifty people have been taken into custody. Four other starships and three star bases have reported finding the modified control circuits. They're reopening investigations into a few recent 'incidents' in which equipment failures have caused significant damage or a loss of life." Lou said seriously.

"Wow. All I did was ask one little question." Vincent said in wonder.

Lou looked at Vincent and chuckled as she said, "I'm scared to think of what will happen if you ask a big question."

Joe smiled and nodded at Lou with agreement.

"Joe, if you want, I can take the main in Engineering for a few minutes so you guys can make a few repairs on the main in here. It's all minor stuff, but I'd feel better if we got it done now." Lou said seriously.

"Sounds good. Vincent, get your tool kit. Darin, check station three and get a list of what repairs are needed and upload it to a padd." Joe said as Lou walked for the door.

Vincent went to the lockers and grabbed Susan's tool kit.

"That's Susan's. Your tool kit is two lockers down." Joe said with a grin.

Vincent put Susan's tool kit away, then walked two lockers down and took another tool kit out.

"Do we have to go to supply to get all these parts?" Darin asked as he looked at the list.

"You should have most of them in the side pouches of the tool bag. Once I've seen the list, I'll tell you." Joe said seriously.

Vincent opened the tool kit, then looked in the side pouches to see what components he had on hand.

A tone sounded and Joe pressed the button to answer it.

"I've got it Joe." Lou's voice said over the intercom.

"Thanks Lou. We'll try to make it quick." Joe said and switched over control to the console in Engineering.

"You guys go ahead and work this console as if I weren't here. I want to see how you work as a team." Joe said and took a step back.

Vincent opened his tool bag in front of the console and waited for Darin to finish looking over the list.

Joe looked at Vincent and said, "You'll want to grab some extra couplers from the supply locker. You're going to need them for just about every job."

"Where's the supply locker?" Vincent asked as he stood.

Joe opened a locker and showed Vincent where the most common supplies were kept.

"This isn't so bad. It's all simple stuff." Darin said as he handed Joe the data padd.

"You should have all these components except the harmonic wave modulator in the bag. I think..." Joe trailed off, then pulled a small circuit board out of the supply locker.

"...Yes. We have one. We like to keep an extra in here because they degrade with prolonged use." Joe said, then handed the board to Darin.

"Are you ready Vincent?" Darin asked with a smile.

Vincent grabbed a handful of couplers and nodded happily.

Joe watched with pride as 'his boys' went about the work of repairing the main deflector console.

* * * * *

"Hi Joe, how are things going?" Judy asked casually as she walked into the room, carrying her tool kit.

"Just fine. The guys are just finishing up the maintenance on the main console." Joe said with a smile.

"I was able to get a good chunk of the repairs done last night. The only thing left that really bothers me is the power distribution node in J 27. The readings show that it's operating at about 70% which means that it could fail at any time." Judy said as she put her bag away.

"The guys will get right on it. They're just about to close it up." Joe said as he glanced at what Darin and Vincent were doing.

"Do you want a level two on the main?" Judy asked as she walked to the third work station.

"No. I want the guys to do it. They need to get used to the process." Joe said seriously.

"Right. Is there anything else you need done?" Judy asked as she looked around.

"No. Thanks for everything you did last night. That status board was looking like a Christmas tree when I left yesterday. You really got a lot accomplished." Joe said with a smile.

"Go ahead and do a level two Vincent." Darin said as Vincent walked toward station three.

"Level two?" Joe asked Darin carefully.

"Yeah. Everything we just did can be checked by a level two diagnostic and it'll only take a few minutes. I mean, unless you want me to do a level three." Darin said, then looked at Joe with question.

"No. You're exactly right Darin, I just wanted to be sure you understood which was the correct diagnostic level to use and why. You explained it perfectly." Joe finished with a smile.

"All green." Vincent called out from his station.

Judy stepped over to read over Vincent's shoulder, then said, "It looks like I'm leaving you in good hands Joe."

Joe walked to the main console and pressed a few buttons, then said, "I think you're right. Lou will be done in just a minute, do you want to meet her up there?"

Judy smiled and said, "Yeah. Tell her I'm on my way."

Joe nodded and made one more quick system's check before pressing the direct comm link to the Engineering console and saying, "That's it Lou, I'm ready to take it back."

"It's all yours." Lou responded.

"Judy is on her way up. You two have a good morning." Joe said with a smile.

"You too Joe." Lou said peacefully.

"What do we need to do next?" Vincent asked as he walked to Joe's side.

"The most important thing on the list is to replace a distribution node in J 27. It isn't switching efficiently, which means that it could fail at any time." Joe said seriously.

"We'll have to go to supply for something that big." Darin said in thought.

"That's right, you'll also have to go into the jeffries tubes to get to it. And that reminds me, you two will need to carry communicators when you leave." Joe said, then checked some readings on his board.

"Because there aren't any comm stations in the jeffries tubes?" Vincent asked carefully.

"That too. But mainly because I'm tied to this control board. You guys are my hands if anything needs to be done, so I need to be able to call you whenever you leave deflector control." Joe said as he glanced at Vincent.

"Where do we get communicators?" Darin asked quietly, feeling like he should already know the answer.

"On the left side of the door. Just tell me which number you're taking so I'll know who I'm calling." Joe said, then turned his attention back to his board.

Vincent walked to the little rack built into the wall and took down two communicators, then handed one to Darin.

"I've got three." Vincent said, then hooked it on his belt.

"I have four." Darin said and did the same.

"Okay guys. Go get that distribution node and call me as soon as you're done." Joe said seriously.

Vincent quickly picked up his tool bag and hurried to Darin's side.

* * * * *

Darin and Vincent had just left the supply room and were heading for the jeffries tube they needed when a sound stopped them in their tracks.

"What kind of a moron are you? It's just my luck to get stuck with a worthless idiot rookie who can't even tell the lines apart." An angry voice called from ahead of them.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for that to happen." Another voice whimpered.

Darin looked at Vincent, trying to decide what was the proper thing to do in this situation.

Vincent looked up at Darin and quietly asked, "What would Daddy Joe do?'

Darin thought for a moment, then straightened his posture and forced himself to walk around the corner.

* * * * *

Just around the corner, Darin saw two men working in a panel.

"Is there a problem here?" Darin asked in a professional tone.

"Yeah. The academy ain't teaching these guys the difference between an input conduit supply line and a distributed feed line. This moron just fried the distribution node." The angry crewman said with disgust.

"Crewman Winters, would you please bring me the distribution node?" Darin asked seriously.

"Yes sir." Vincent said immediately and took the new distribution node out of his tool bag.

"Do you know how to hook up a distribution node?" Darin asked seriously.

"No sir. I know what it does, but I don't know how to install it." Vincent said carefully.

Darin took a minute to show Vincent where the main power feed connected, and then carefully explained the different connections that went into the unit.

"Do you understand all that?" Darin finally asked.

"Could you show me how to properly seal the connections. I haven't seen that done and I wouldn't want to do it wrong." Vincent said in thought.

Darin showed Vincent the proper way to seal a connection, then stood back and said, "Okay Crewman Winters. It's all yours."

Vincent nodded and went to work.

Darin turned to the two crewmen who had been watching and said, "What you just saw was how we work as a team. I check to be sure that Crewman Winters understands what he's doing, and he knows that if he doesn't understand something he can ask and I'll explain it to him. From what I heard when I walked up, you guys might think about trying something like that."

Darin turned to face the older man who had been yelling and said, "You need to have patience with new people. If you teach them to do it the right way, later on it will pay off for you because they will eventually be doing everything the way you like."

After receiving a nod from the older man, Darin turned to the other man and said, "And you need to tell him if you don't understand something. A failure of communication like this one could end up costing you more than a few minutes of work. It could cause extensive damage to the ship or might even kill you."

"Ensign Cooper? Will you look to see that I'm doing this right?" Vincent asked from the panel.

Darin turned his attention to Vincent and watched as he sealed a connection.

"That's perfect. Good job." Darin said with a smile, then turned back to the two men.

"What's your name Crewman?" Darin asked the younger of the two.

"Crewman Tidwell." He answered immediately.

"Crewman Tidwell, would you go to the supply room and get a replacement distribution node for me?" Darin asked in a professional tone.

"Yes sir. Right away." Crewman Tidwell said quickly and rushed off.

Darin looked at the other crewman with question.

"Crewman Hartman, sir." He said reluctantly.

Darin looked at the rank insignia on the crewman's sleeve and said, "Crewman Hartman, this isn't a threat, just some advice. You should consider taking a voluntary reduction in rank so you'll only be responsible for your own actions. As a petty officer, you are going to have to train new people and be responsible for them. If you get promoted, you'll have even more people to train and be responsible for."

"Yes sir." Crewman Hartman said quietly.

"If you would prefer to stay at this rank, then you might consider some leadership training. If you can't become comfortable training and supervising new personnel, then you're just going to get more and more frustrated and probably take it out on your trainees. And one of these days you'll either run into a crewman who won't put up with it and will do something drastic to you... or you'll find one who believes what you're saying to him and he'll do something drastic to himself because he believes that he's a worthless idiot."

"I get what you're saying. Maybe I ain't cut out for this..." Crewman Hartman said quietly.

"That's up to you to decide. But seriously consider the leadership training. With just a little work, I bet you'll become more comfortable with training new people and eventually you won't be able to remember what used to make you so miserable at work every day." Darin finished with a smile.

Crewman Hartman hesitantly nodded.

"Otherwise, I'm afraid that this limitation might cause your career in Starfleet to hit a dead end. To increase in rank, you *have to* be able to lead." Darin said in an imploring voice.

"I'll think about it. Thank you sir." Crewman Hartman said sincerely.

"I'm done. Do you want to check this out?" Vincent asked as he pulled away from the panel.

"I'll be right there Crewman Winters." Darin said with a smile, then carefully checked over Vincent's work to see that everything was connected correctly.

* * * * *

As Darin and Vincent were once again on their way to the jeffries tube, Vincent asked, "Did I really do okay back there?"

"Sure, you did fine. Why do you ask?" Darin asked curiously.

"You guys were talking really quiet and looking at me while I was working and I thought maybe I was doing it wrong or something." Vincent said with concern.

"You installed that distribution node perfectly. I was just giving Crewman Hartman some advice about how to train a new crewman." Darin said in thought.

"So does that mean that maybe he'll stop yelling at that other guy? That made me feel bad for him." Vincent said quietly, then stopped and said, "This is it."

Darin looked at the wall plate beside the opening in the wall to confirm that they were in the right place, then climbed into the jeffries tube, followed by Vincent.

"I hope that Crewman Hartman will do something to make a change. What he's doing now isn't doing anyone any good. He's making himself miserable, he's making his trainees miserable... and I hate to think of what his bunkmate has to put up with." Darin said as he crawled along, then asked, "Where is the distribution node?"

"The deck plans that I had didn't show little stuff like distribution nodes, but it's up ahead of us." Vincent said as he followed, dragging his tool bag.

"If your deck plans don't show where the distribution nodes are, then how do you know it's up ahead?" Darin asked curiously.

"Because it isn't behind us and it isn't here." Vincent said with a smile.

Darin stopped for a second, then said, "That confirms it, you *are* a Vulcan."

* * * * *

"Are you sure?" Darin asked carefully as he looked into the open panel.

"You just showed me how to do it. I need the practice." Vincent said seriously.

"Okay. But I was only showing you so I could demonstrate to Crewman Hartman and Crewman Tidwell the right way to work together." Darin said carefully.

"Yeah, I thought it was something like that." Vincent said, then tested the old distribution node to see that it was unpowered.

"You need to test across all five points. If this distribution node is failing, it's possible that it could be storing a charge in one of the connector points." Darin said carefully.

"Thanks. I didn't know that." Vincent said, then proceeded to check the other points.

"You did a good job back there. It really helped that you asked questions, they needed to see that." Darin said as he watched Vincent carefully.

"I thought you did a really good job too. You explained everything so I could understand it." Vincent said, then sat his tester aside.

Darin pulled the decoupler out of the tool bag and handed it to Vincent before saying, "I just did what I thought Joe would do."

Vincent smiled and said, "It really works, doesn't it?"

"Yeah. They should be teaching that at the academy." Darin said with a smile.

"This one's stuck. I can't get it loose." Vincent said as he tried to get the coupler to release.

"Let me try." Darin said, then moved in and took the decoupler from Vincent.

After a moment, Darin said, "It's jammed. Hand me the laser drill and I'll cut it out."

Vincent pulled out the laser drill and handed it to Darin.

"Move back a little. Sometimes they pop when you cut them loose." Darin said and waited for Vincent to scoot away.

After a moment of work, there was a little pop, then Darin sat the laser drill aside.

"That's got it. Go ahead, but be careful, it's going to be hot." Darin said as he moved away from the distribution node.

Vincent pulled the old distribution node out of the small space, then moved the new node into place.

"Make the first two connections and seal them before you secure the unit. The space is too small for you to get the sealer behind the unit to do it later." Darin said instructively.

"You're really good at this." Vincent said in an impressed voice.

"I guess I am. I never really thought I'd be using these skills when I was taking the engineering classes. I was sure I was going to be a helmsman." Darin said distantly.

Vincent finished sealing the first two connections, then moved the new distribution node into place.

Darin reached into the tool bag and brought out the extra couplers that Joe had asked Vincent to bring and handed them to him.

"Thanks." Vincent said and began to fasten the unit down.

"I never really understood why we use couplers instead of nuts and bolts." Darin said as he watched Vincent work.

"Oh, that's easy. Bolts are threaded, so the vibration of the ship would cause them to work loose. Couplers lock into place so you don't have to worry about that." Vincent said as he fastened the last coupler into place.

Darin chuckled and said, "Well that's another of the mysteries of Starfleet solved. If you ever go to the academy, I think you'll do great. You'll be starting out a lot better off than I did."

Before Vincent could respond, the hum of the ship's engines changed.

"We've increased speed." Vincent said in concentration.

"Scoot over. I'm going to make the connections and you can seal them." Darin said seriously.

Vincent scooted slightly, then sealed the connections as Darin made them.

The sound of an alert klaxon could be heard clearly in the distance.

Darin listened carefully for a moment, then said, "It's a yellow alert."

To Be Continued...