© 2006 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 18

As Vincent and Darin left Dr. Perry's office, T'Lani walked immediately to Vincent's side.

"Are you well Husband?" T'Lani asked as she placed her hand on the side of his face.

Vincent smiled at the gesture and said, "Yeah, I'm fine. Dr. Perry just told me that I, um, well... just started puberty."

T'Lani froze at the words for an instant and seemed to be lost in thought.

"Is something wrong?" Vincent asked with immediate concern.

"No. I was simply concerned for your well being." T'Lani answered slowly.

Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "There's something else. Please tell me."

T'Lani arched an eyebrow at Vincent, then quietly said, "When the Captain asked if there were any type of ceremony that we would like, I did not respond. My silence could be taken as a negative response when the truth of the matter is otherwise."

Vincent thought about the words for a moment, then asked, "So does that mean that there is a ceremony that you would like to have?"

"When our family elders discussed our marriage, they decided to postpone our bonding ceremony in deference to your age and human physiology." T'Lani said quietly.

"Our bonding ceremony?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Yes. Normally, when the family elders perform a union such as ours, there is a bonding ceremony to ensure the union. But our elders were reluctant to allow such a bonding in this instance due to your prepubescent state. They were concerned that the bonding could have adverse consequences." T'Lani said carefully.

"Wait. The bonding is a Vulcan telepathic thing. Right?" Darin asked cautiously.

"It is more. There is a telepathic element by which we will each carry a part of the other. There is also the cultural significance that the bonding ensures our unity." T'Lani said thoughtfully.

"So does that mean we're not really married?" Vincent asked in confusion.

"No. Our elders have concluded that we are married. That is sufficient." T'Lani said firmly.

"But without that ceremony, it means that we're not married like the other people on Vulcan because we don't have a bond." Vincent said speculatively.

T'Lani looked at Vincent with surprise at his interpretation.

"And since I started puberty, there isn't any reason we can't have the bonding ceremony now... Is there?" Vincent asked before she could answer.

"The ceremony must be conducted by a senior member of one of our families. Since we are traveling away from Earth and Vulcan, it will likely be weeks, perhaps months, before we could have the opportunity." T'Lani said seriously.

Vincent felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Darin's expectant expression.

"I bet if you talked to the Captain, he could arrange it when... you know." Darin said quietly.

Vincent thought for a moment, then looked back to T'Lani and said, "I can't promise that I can make it happen, but if you want to do it, I can talk to the Captain and maybe we can find a way to have the ceremony sooner."

T'Lani looked at Vincent curiously, then glanced at Darin speculatively.

"T'Lani, you are a Vulcan by birth. I am a Vulcan by choice. I understand why our family elders were willing to make an exception, but our marriage is too important to be done half-way. I'll do whatever I can to fix it so we can have our bonding ceremony as soon as possible." Vincent said firmly.

"You honor me, my husband." T'Lani said quietly.

"Actually, I'm kind of glad that it worked out this way." Vincent said with a speculative smile.

"Why's that?" Darin asked curiously.

"Because now we get to have a ceremony. I grew up thinking that getting married was a certain thing. Then when Grandfather said that we were married, just like that, I guess I felt like... there was something missing." Vincent said in thought, then turned to T'Lani and hurried to say, "I don't mean that I don't feel married to you."

"I understand, my husband. I too had a preconceived idea of how my wedding would one day be. I had no reason to believe that it could be otherwise." T'Lani said peacefully.

"Don't worry you two. We'll find a way to work this out." Darin said gently.

Vincent nodded his agreement.

"Dr. Perry is attempting to gain my attention. I must go." T'Lani said as she caressed Vincent's cheek again.

"I'll tell you as soon as I have things worked out so we can have our ceremony." Vincent said quietly.

"Be well, my husband." She said tenderly as she caressed his cheek with her thumb.

Vincent put his hand over hers and snuggled into it for a moment then said, "Be well, my wife."

* * * * *

"Is everything alright champ?" Joe asked with concern as Vincent and Darin walked into the room.

"Yeah. It's fine." Vincent answered with a gentle smile.

Vincent walked to Joe's bedside and noticed that Thaelan was watching, unsure if he should step away to give them privacy.

Vincent crooked his finger for Thaelan to come close.

When he was sure that Joe and Thaelan were listening, Vincent shyly said, "Dr. Perry just told me that I'm starting puberty."

Thaelan's eyes went wide at the statement as Joe broke into a tender smile.

Joe reached out to pull Vincent into a gentle hug as he said, "That's wonderful. If you need to talk about anything I'll always have time to listen."

Vincent returned the hug and said, "Thanks Daddy Joe. Darin said he'd help me too so I know everything is going to be fine."

Joe looked up at Darin and gave a grateful smile.

After another minute of hugging, Joe quietly asked, "Did you get to finish your report?"

"Almost. I've got most of it written but I still need to go through it and make sure it's good enough for Starfleet." Vincent said as he stood from the hug.

"I don't know how long it's going to be before the rendezvous so you should probably get that finished." Joe said gently.

"Do you need to finish yours?" Vincent asked quietly.

"No. I was just proofreading when everything went crazy. I'm sure it's fine." Joe said peacefully.

"Well, mine is close to being done, but I might need help to make sure it's good enough." Vincent said seriously and looked up at Darin with question.

"We can go take care of it now." Darin said softly.

"Thaelan, if you'll go to Deflector control and make sure everything is running properly, Vincent and Darin have some reports that need to be completed right away. As soon as they return to deflector control, you can relieve Lou and Judy so they can get some rest." Joe said seriously.

"Yes sir. I would like the opportunity to verify that the sabotaged systems have been restored to working order." Thaelan said formally.

"We shouldn't be gone too long." Vincent said to Thaelan with assurance.

"If this is a report for Starfleet Command, take the time you need to do it correctly." Thaelan said seriously.

"Okay." Vincent said with a smile.

"I guess we'd better go." Darin said slowly, not wanting to leave Joe alone.

"I'll be fine. Go on." Joe said gently.

As Vincent took a step away from Joe's bedside, he noticed JonJon standing beside Benny's bed.

"JonJon, would you do something for me?" Vincent asked as he walked to JonJon's side.

"Yeah. What can I do?" JonJon asked quietly.

"When Benny wakes up, would you tell him 'Thank You' and that I'll be up to visit with him as soon as I get off duty?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"I will. He's really going to be okay isn't he?" JonJon asked quietly.

Vincent pulled him into a quick hug and said, "He's going to be just fine. But if you need to hear it from someone else, you can ask Dr. Perry or T'Lani. They'll both tell you the same thing."

"Okay. I will." JonJon said quietly.

"Don't forget to take Fizgig down to use his box. I wouldn't want him to get in trouble for doing his stuff in here." Vincent said quietly.

JonJon looked down at the dog in his arms and said, "I don't want to leave Benny."

"Come here." Vincent said and guided JonJon to Joe's bedside.

"Daddy Joe, will you watch out for Benny while JonJon takes Fizgig to the bathroom and gets him food and water?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure. I tell you what JonJon, Thaelan is going down to deflector control right now. If you go with him, I can call him if anything at all happens." Joe said seriously.

"Okay. Thanks Daddy Joe." JonJon said shyly.

"Give me a hug." Joe said as he reached out an arm to JonJon.

After a moment of hesitation, JonJon leaned over the bed and was pulled into a firm hug.

Vincent looked at Thaelan, hoping he wouldn't mind taking JonJon with him.

"Do not be concerned Crewman Winters. I will attend to your friend." Thaelan said quietly.

"Thanks Thaelan. I'd better get going now so I can get back to work." Vincent said quickly.

Thaelan gave a small smile and a nod of agreement.

* * * * *

"Hello Crewman Winters, it's good to see you again." Lieutenant Walking Bear said casually.

"Hi Lieutenant. This is Darin, um, Ensign Cooper. I don't think you got to meet him before." Vincent said uncertainly.

"I saw him in the meeting. It's nice to meet you Ensign Cooper." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a gentle smile and extended his hand to shake.

Darin shook the offered hand and said, "It's nice to meet you too."

"I'm assuming that you two aren't here for a social call." Lieutenant Walking Bear said speculatively.

"Not this time. We need to finish our reports." Vincent said quietly.

"The padds you brought me are right over there by the storage containers." Lieutenant Walking Bear said as he gestured to the back of the shuttle.

"Thanks. Darin, do you have time to help me now or do you have stuff to do on your own?" Vincent asked seriously.

"I just have to do a proofread. It will only take a minute, I can do it after I've helped you." Darin said with a gentle smile.

"Is Joe going to be okay?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked cautiously.

"He's going to be fine. He just needs some rest." Darin answered assuringly.

"He's a good man. I'm glad he's going to be alright." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with relief.

"Would you look at what I've got done so far and tell me what I need to do next?" Vincent asked as he handed his padd to Darin.

"Sure." Darin said with a smile and began to read.

* * * * *

"JonJon, could you tell me what happened to your friend? In all the excitement of the day, I didn't hear." Thaelan asked casually as they walked toward the turbo lift.

"Yeah. Channing is sick and needs to stay in bed so Benny and I were helping him to not be too bored. Anyway, this kidnapper guy comes in with Vincent's brother and is being really mean to him. He had a phaser and made us all sit still while he called his friends to come and get him and Vincent's brother." JonJon said in thought.

"Deflector Control." Ensign Thaelan said to the ceiling of the lift, then looked at JonJon with question to prompt him to continue.

"Well, we heard the turbo lift door open and the kidnapper guy was about to go out and shoot whoever was out there. So Benny screamed that it was a trap and then the bad guy... shot him." JonJon said as tears welled up in his eyes.

Thaelan automatically pulled JonJon to his side into a gentle hug.

"But then Vincent came in and he was screaming really loud and acting like a little kid. He kicked the guy then punched him hard enough to knock him over." JonJon said from Thaelan's side.

"Which he never would have been able to do if not for your friend Benny." Thaelan said gently.

JonJon nodded into Thaelan's side, then said, "Then security came and were about to take the bad guy away when he just dropped over dead."

"I did hear about that part when I was in sickbay. Ensign Gianni... the bad guy, had an artificial tooth that was filled with poison. When he knew he had been captured, he broke the tooth and swallowed the poison." Ensign Thaelan said as he walked off the turbo lift, still holding JonJon at his side.

"Vincent says that Benny is going to be okay. I'm just so worried about him. I've lost my whole family. I don't want to lose Benny too." JonJon said as tears began to form in his eyes again.

Thaelan stopped and turned JonJon to face him.

"Sometimes bad things happen and there is nothing you can do to prevent that. Worrying about what might happen and being afraid to lose someone you love can prevent you from risking your heart and loving anyone else." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

JonJon nodded hesitantly.

"Don't make my mistake JonJon. Enjoy the time you have with the people you love and try not to focus on the things you can't change. Let them know that you love them so you'll always have memories of happiness to carry with you, no matter what adventures the universe throws in your life path." Thaelan said intensely.

JonJon thought about the words, then quietly said, "I'll remember that. I mean, I'm still scared of losing Benny and Vincent. But what you said is right. I need to let them know I love them and enjoy them while I have them. So a hundred years from now I can look back at the fun times I had with my best friends."

Thaelan nodded and draped an arm around JonJon's shoulders as they continued toward deflector control.

* * * * *

"It looks good Vincent. I made a few small changes for grammar, but besides that, I think you just need to read it over to make sure it says everything you want it to say, then finalize it." Darin said seriously.

"Thanks Darin. If you hadn't let me use your template I'd never be able to get this thing finished."

"I'm sure you would have eventually been able to finish it, but it probably would have taken a little longer." Darin said with a smile as he read over his own report one more time.

"And been really boring." Vincent said frankly.

Vincent read his report carefully, then finalized it and put his electronic signature on the file.

"Did you need us to bring you anything Lieutenant Walking Bear? You must be hungry by now." Vincent asked as he put his padd on the stack with the others.

"No. Thank you Crewman Winters. I asked the security personnel to bring me something to eat earlier. I'm fine." Lieutenant Walking Bear said peacefully.

"Well, just call me if you need anything at all. I think I'm just going to be working on reports all day, so I won't mind taking a break for a while to bring you something." Vincent said seriously.

"I'll call if I need anything. I promise." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a fond smile.

"Mine's finished, are you ready to go?" Darin asked as he put his padd on top of Vincent's.

"Yeah. Do you think anyone would mind if we stopped to talk to the Captain for a minute, then maybe stopped by the mess hall and got something to eat before we go to deflector control?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"I think it will be okay as long as we don't take too long." Darin said with a smile.

"We'll come back and see you after our shift if you're still here." Vincent said quickly as he walked toward the shuttle door.

"I'll look forward to it." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Captain Byrne, do you have a minute to talk with me?" Vincent asked from the doorway to the captain's office.

"Yes. Of course Crewman Winters, Ensign Cooper, do come in and have a seat. What can I do for you today?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"Well, I guess it's pretty simple. When T'Lani and I got married, our family elders decided that I was too young to bond with her because I'm Human and I hadn't um, entered puberty yet." Vincent said uncomfortably.

"I don't have enough of an understanding of Vulcan bonding to know why that is, but I'm sure your family elders had their reasons." Captain Byrne said in a considering voice.

"Yeah. Well, you see... it's like this... I just... um..." Vincent trailed off.

"Dr. Perry just told him that he has officially entered puberty." Darin added quietly.

Vincent nodded, and hurried to continue, "So that means that we could have the bonding ceremony now. But one of our family elders has to perform the ceremony."

"And we were thinking that since we'll be meeting up with the Enterprise soon, that maybe there would be some way that we could arrange it so Vincent and T'Lani could have their bonding ceremony before the Enterprise leaves." Darin said seriously.

"I see. Have you discussed this plan of yours with Ambassador Sarek?" Captain Byrne asked quietly.

"No sir. We haven't talked to anyone about it. I just told T'Lani that I was going to try to work something out." Vincent said quickly.

Captain Byrne nodded, then said, "Crewman Winters, what you're asking may not be possible. The proto-matter must be delivered to Earth with all due haste. I will make some inquiries and see if there is some way that we might be able to make an accommodation."

"Thank you sir. If we can't do it today, then we'll just have to wait till we get back to Vulcan. That's not so bad." Vincent said seriously.

"A very good attitude Crewman. Logical." Captain Byrne finished with a grin.

"Yes sir. Thank you." Vincent said with a smile.

"Crewman, Ensign, you are dismissed." Captain Byrne said with a fond smile.

* * * * *

"Please wait while I make sure that the atmosphere is suitable for us." Ensign Thaelan said as he pressed in a sequence of commands in the panel by the deflector control room door.

"Do you think something might be wrong with the air?" JonJon asked hesitantly.

"No. But the bad man you were telling me about, he was down here earlier and he put something in our air to make us all sleepy. I just want to make sure that it's all gone." Thaelan said as he looked at the small digital display.

"So is that why everyone is in sickbay?" JonJon asked as he clutched Fizgig tighter to his chest.

"That's right. But everyone is going to be fine after they get some rest." Thaelan said with assurance as he opened the door.

"Is it safe?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"Yes. Completely safe. I need to make sure everything is operating correctly while you are attending to Fizgig." Thaelan said seriously.

"Thanks Thaelan. I feel a lot better knowing that you're here." JonJon said with a smile.

Thaelan thought about the statement, then finally said, "You are the first person in a very long time to say such a thing to me. Thank you JonJon, and I am glad you are here too."

JonJon smiled as he carried Fizgig into the supply room to attend to his needs.

* * * * *

"Hi Thaelan, did you have a chance to get anything to eat before you came back here?" Darin asked as he entered deflector control.

"No. It did not occur to me to do so." Thaelan said as he moved from station two to station one.

"Good. Vincent brought you something." Darin said with a smile.

Thaelan looked up in surprise as Vincent carried a small boxed lunch to him.

"I didn't know what kind of food you liked so I brought you a roast beef sandwich." Vincent said shyly.

"I have become accustomed to Human food. I'm sure I will enjoy it. Thank you Vincent." Thaelan said with a small smile.

"No problem. Is everything okay?" Vincent asked as he looked around.

"Yes. All systems appear to be operating normally. We can relieve Ensign DeGama now." Thaelan said as he walked to the main console.

"I don't think Lou will mind waiting a minute or two more so you can have your lunch." Darin said quietly.

Thaelan looked at the boxed lunch in his hands and quietly said, "I believe you are right. I will contact her when I have finished this."

"While you're doing that we'll run a quick status check on all the systems and sub-systems." Darin said, then glanced at Vincent with question.

Vincent nodded and walked to the third console to begin working.

Thaelan ate his lunch and watched as 'his' crew efficiently went through the status checks.

"Darin, would you look at this?" Vincent said as he looked at a reading on station two.

Darin walked to his side and read for a moment before saying, "Either the R7 battery backup lost 2/3 of it's charge or the control circuit is giving false readings."

"Do you want me to go look at it?" Vincent asked seriously.

"You haven't worked with the R cells yet have you?" Darin asked in concentration.

"No, Susan and I just worked with the conduits." Vincent said as he looked up at Darin.

"Then I'll go take care of it. You need to stay here in case Ensign Thaelan needs anything when he takes the main." Darin said seriously.

"Do you think you can show me how to work on the R cells later so I can do it next time?" Vincent asked hopefully.

Darin smiled and said, "Sure. Just remind me and we'll go down together and I'll show you around."

Vincent nodded and said, "I'll remember."

"Ensign Thaelan, we're showing a fault in one of the R cells. I need to go down and check it out." Darin said as he turned.

Thaelan thought about the statement and said, "Take a communicator with you and keep an open channel. Working on R cells is very different from working on any other system in deflector control."

"Yes sir." Darin said as he walked to the locker to get his tool kit, then grabbed a communicator.

"I have number eight." Darin said as he waited by the door.

Thaelan turned to the main and keyed in his instructions.

"Your communicator is now tied into the main comm." Thaelan said seriously.

Darin nodded, then said, "Vincent, would you run a bypass of R7 and let me know when it's offline."

"Yeah. I'm on it." Vincent said and hurried to station one.

"I'll be right back." Darin said and walked out the door.

After a moment of keying in the new power configuration, Vincent initiated the program, then hurried to station two to run a diagnostic on the cell to verify that it was unpowered.

"Is it switched over?" Darin asked over the comm.

"Hold on. I just want to make sure it did what I told it to." Vincent said with concentration.

"Ensign Cooper. Be sure to ground yourself and use full static protection while working on the R cell." Ensign Thaelan said firmly.

"I'm getting my static band on now." Darin said seriously.

Thaelan sat the remains of his lunch aside, then pressed the dedicated comm line to the bridge and said, "Ensign DeGama, this is Ensign Thaelan. I am ready to relieve you and assume control."

After a moment, Lou's tired voice could barely be heard saying, "It's good to hear your voice Thaelan. It's been a very long night. You should have control now. I stand relieved."

"Acknowledged." Thaelan said as he accepted control from the bridge station.

"Wow. She really sounded tired." Vincent said with concern.

"We will be sure to allow her and Crewman Wills sufficient time to rest before they return to duty." Ensign Thaelan said with assurance.

"This control circuit is fried. I think I'm going to need to replace the entire housing. I wouldn't trust these connections." Darin's voice said over the comm.

"Acknowledged. I will forward a request to supply for the necessary items. They should be waiting for you when you arrive." Thaelan said as he began to type on his panel.

"I never thought of that." Vincent said with a smile.

"It increases maintenance efficiency when you have a dispatcher to do such things." Thaelan said seriously.

The doors of deflector control opened to admit Chief Morgan looking unusually serious.

Vincent and Thaelan automatically stood to attention.

"As you were. I just heard about Joe and came down to get a status report." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"All systems show normal function. We have a maintenance issue with the R7 cell, but Ensign Cooper is working to resolve it now." Ensign Thaelan said professionally.

"Very good. Crewman Winters, do you know how to run a primary system status check?" Chief Morgan asked as he walked to stand beside station two.

"Yes sir." Vincent said as he started the level two diagnostic.

"Very good." Chief Morgan said as he watched Vincent work.

After a moment of looking over the board, Vincent said, "All systems showing normal function. Would you like a secondary system check while I'm here?"

"No thank you Crewman. I just wanted to be sure that you had been trained on the essential systems to support Ensign Thaelan should the need arise." Chief Morgan said warmly.

"Both Crewman Winters and Ensign Cooper have demonstrated their understanding of the basic systems. I have no doubt in their abilities." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"That's good to know." Chief Morgan said with a smile.

"Vincent, would you run a quick status check on the R cell switches before I try changing out this housing?" Darin called over the comm.

"Yeah. Hang on." Vincent said as he pulled up the sub-system display and started a status check on every switch that connected to R7.

Chief Morgan watch as Vincent efficiently worked the console.

"The I-14 switch indicator isn't working. Let me check the console status real quick. It'll just take a second." Vincent said and hurried to station three.

After a moment of looking at the readings, Vincent called into the air, "I can't tell if it's good or bad so you need to change it out."

"You'll need to divert power from the E-7 and E-10 conduits before I can change it." Darin said seriously.

"E-7 and E-11." Vincent corrected automatically as he walked to station one.

Darin chuckled and said, "I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Would you see if there is an interconnector to R-8? I don't think there is, but I'd like to be sure."

"Um, yeah. Just a second." Vincent said as he reprogrammed the power configuration.

"I'll get that for you Crewman Winters." Chief Morgan said as he walked to station two and brought up the system controls.

"There is no interconnection between R-7 and R-8 Ensign Cooper." Chief Morgan called out into the air.

After a moment, Darin answered, "Thank you Chief Morgan."

Vincent pressed the key to activate the new configuration and said, "It should be unpowered now. But make sure you check it out first."

"I will Vincent. I've had more than enough excitement already today. The last thing I need is to get my hair straightened." Darin said in a playful voice.

"Chief Morgan, would you look at this wave pattern?" Ensign Thaelan asked from the main console.

Chief Morgan walked to Ensign Thaelan's side and looked at the readings carefully.

"Curious. Can you bring up a visual?" Chief Morgan asked cautiously.

Ensign Thaelan switched to visual mode on the main screen.

"Nothing visible." Chief Morgan said in thought.

"Perhaps I should do an overlay of particle movement." Ensign Thaelan said speculatively.

"It's worth a try, do it." Chief Morgan said with interest.

"There it is... but what is it?" Ensign Thaelan said as he looked carefully at the readings.

"The dense particulate matter is emitting enough electro-magnetic radiation to mask it." Chief Morgan said quickly, then hit the comm and said, "Main bridge, we are detecting a dark matter cluster at heading 004 mark 3 at a distance of 22,000 kilometers."

"Scanners don't detect anything." A voice said cautiously.

Chief Morgan quickly transferred the overlay image to the bridge.

"Thank you Chief. We have it, we're changing course." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"I'll get to work on a sensor modification to nullify the effect of the EM particulate matter." Chief Morgan said with relief.

"Thank you Chief. It appears that we were running through a mine field without even knowing it." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"I'll let you know when the sensor modification is ready. Morgan out." Chief Morgan said firmly.

"M'Butu out." Commander M'Butu said and closed the transmission.

"Do you need assistance with the modification?" Ensign Thaelan asked seriously.

"No thank you Ensign. It will be a simple matter to negate the EM effect now that we are aware of it. Good job of detecting it though. How did you realize that something was hidden out there?" Chief Morgan asked curiously.

"I like to watch the eddies and currents of the particulate matter that we're passing through. I noticed a disruption in the particle flow which normally indicates a solid mass in the stream, but there was nothing there." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"It's good to see that the academy isn't training all the instincts out of the next generation. Trust those instincts and you'll move on to great things, mark my words." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"Yes sir." Ensign Thaelan said with a smile of pride.

"I'm going to work on those sensor mods now. Call me in main Engineering if you need anything before Joe comes back to duty." Chief Morgan said as he walked toward the door.

"Yes sir. I will." Ensign Thaelan said firmly.

Chief Morgan gave a nod that he heard before walking out the door.

* * * * *

"Well now you did it Thaelan." Darin's voice said from the comm.

"What is that Ensign Cooper?" Thaelan asked curiously.

"By spotting that dark matter before we ran into it, you've probably saved a few hundred lives. What do you say Vincent? Is he officially one of us now?" Darin asked with an obvious smile in his voice.

"Not yet." Vincent said in thought.

There was a beeping that drew Thaelan's attention away from the casual conversation.

"Deflector control." Thaelan said quickly.

"Ensign Thaelan, I'll need you to write an incident report detailing how you spotted the dark matter. I'd like to be able to present it to the Captain to help explain the need for the sensor modifications." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"Yes sir. Right away." Ensign Thaelan said formally.

"*Now* he's officially one of us." Vincent said with a cheeky grin.

Ensign Thaelan looked up at the sound of Darin's laughter.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters?" Thaelan asked as he muted the comm, so Darin couldn't hear.

"Yes?" Vincent replied as he turned in his chair.

"This morning, when the intruder tried to abduct, Ensign.... your brother..." Thaelan said with difficulty.

"Yes?" Vincent said in a quieter voice.

"It appeared that you regretted not being able to do more to defend him and yourself." Thaelan said carefully.

"Yeah. Everyone says I did the right thing, but I really felt like a little kid because there wasn't anything I could do if he tried to hurt Darin." Vincent said quietly.

Ensign Thaelan nodded at the response, then said, "Among my people, it is the father's responsibility to teach his children to defend themselves. I realize that Lieutenant Bowers has taken up many of the duties of being your father. But if you have no objection, I could do this for you."

Vincent recognized the seriousness of what Thaelan was offering and said, "I would like that Thaelan. I want to learn as much as you're willing to teach me."

Thaelan smiled at the serious response and said, "When our schedules have become more stable, we could set aside a time each day to train."

"Do you like to get up early or are you someone who likes to sleep until the last minute?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I am typically an early riser." Thaelan said casually.

"Me too. If you want, we can get up a little bit early and have our training before we go on duty. Darin likes to sleep until the last minute, so we can train, take our showers, then wake up Darin and go to breakfast." Vincent said in thought.

Thaelan nodded and said, "That would work very well for me. Some physical activity before work helps me to be more focused."

Vincent giggled, then noticed Thaelan's curious look directed at him.

"It's just hard for me to imagine you being *more* focused." Vincent said with a chuckle.

Thaelan smiled at the statement, then turned off the mute on the comm system.

* * * * *

"Is the diagnostic done yet?" Darin asked as he walked back into Deflector Control.

"The level two showed it being fine, but I'm running a level three on R-7 and all the connected systems before we bring it back up." Vincent said seriously.

"Good. I'll go ahead and fill out the maintenance report if you guys want." Darin said as he put away his tool kit.

"Yes. And send a copy to Environmental Control since their backup systems are also connected to the R cells." Thaelan said seriously.

"Will do." Darin said as he started on his report.

"Now that Darin is back, I should probably start working on my reports. I've got a bunch of them that I have to get done today." Vincent said hesitantly.

"What reports do you have to write, if I may ask?" Thaelan asked curiously.

"Um, I have to write the one about finding the modified control circuit, one about helping Channing when he got shocked, then the one about what happened when I went into the reactor, I guess I'll have to do another one about what happened in the transporter, even though I don't have much to tell in that one, then... is that it?" Vincent asked as he turned to look at Darin.

"Lieutenant Simms asked you to write one too." Darin said with a look of apology.

"Oh yeah, I forgot that one." Vincent said distantly.

"Then you should sign in at one of the auxiliary stations and allow Ensign Cooper and I to attend to deflector control. We will call on you if we have need of your assistance." Thaelan said seriously.

"Okay. Thank you Ensign Thaelan. Darin, could you give me another copy of the template. I left the other one on the secure padd." Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure, I'll have it to you in just a second." Darin said with a smile.

"Ensign Cooper, do you have a significant number of reports to work on today?" Thaelan asked cautiously.

"Just about the kidnapping and the Cooper Bridge." Darin said in thought.

"Then perhaps when our shift is over we could work on our reports together. I also have to write a report about the intruder, then another about the dark matter detection." Thaelan asked cautiously.

"That sounds good... But, I'm supposed to go on a date with Rad at 19:00, as long as it's before or after that, then yeah." Darin said carefully.

"Since we don't know when Ensign Agropos and Crewman Tullis will be fit for duty, I don't think it will be possible to set a more definite time." Thaelan said in thought.

"The way things seem to work around here, we should probably get used to that." Darin said with a smile.

Thaelan nodded his agreement, then turned at a giggle from Vincent.

"The template just called me 'Honey Muffin'." Vincent said with a chuckle.

Darin smiled at Vincent's enjoyment of his program, then turned and began to run systems checks.

* * * * *

"Hey guys, does anyone need a break?" Susan asked as she walked into deflector control.

Darin looked up from his work and thought for a moment, then shook his head.

"I think we're fine." Vincent said as he looked around.

"I don't know what procedure you use on this ship when the person at the main console needs to... visit the lavatory." Ensign Thaelan said reluctantly.

Susan smiled and said, "You just look over everything to see that it's working normally, then get me to watch it while you're gone. I'm not qualified to run the main, but I know enough to keep an eye on it for the two minutes that you'll be gone."

"Would you mind watching for me now? I won't be long." Ensign Thaelan asked hopefully.

"Go ahead. I've got it." Susan said with a smile.

Ensign Thaelan nodded gratefully, then hurried out of the room.

As soon as he was gone, Susan said, "He seems to have mellowed out a lot."

"Yeah, I like working with him." Vincent said, then went back to working on his report.

Darin nodded his agreement and said, "Even if Joe hadn't put him in charge of our shift, I think I'd like to hang around with him. He's interesting and he's really good at his job."

Susan slowly nodded in thought.

"Any word on when Connie and Jimmy will be fit for duty?" Darin asked casually.

"Oh yeah. They're both awake now and Joe told them to relieve you guys at 18:00. And if you guys wouldn't mind coming in at 06:00 then Lou and Judy will have the day off and we'll go back on our normal schedule starting with beta shift tomorrow. Joe thinks Lou and Judy need a little extra time off after the really long day they've had." Susan said frankly.

"Sounds good to me." Vincent said absently.

"Well, I'm not an early bird like you Vincent. Someone will probably have to wake me up." Darin said seriously.

"I'll make sure you're up in time. What are brother's for?" Vincent said as he looked away from his report.

"Thank you Crewman Walker." Ensign Thaelan said as he hurried back into the room.

"No problem, and you can call me Susan if you want." Susan said gently.

"Yes, of course. Thank you Susan. Please let me know if I can ever return the favor." Thaelan said respectfully.

"I'll do that. Well, if you guys don't need anything, I'm going to go check on the guys and I'll see you at 18:00." Susan said cheerfully.

"Okay, see you then." Darin said with a warm smile.

Vincent turned and gave her a little wave.

Susan smiled at the gesture and left the room.

* * * * *

"Thaelan, you won't have a problem coming in at 06:00 tomorrow will you?" Darin asked casually.

"No, that won't be any problem at all." Thaelan said seriously.

"Joe want's Lou and Judy to have the night off since they basically pulled a double. The Beta shift will work 18:00 to 06:00 and then we'll work until 16:00 tomorrow." Darin said in thought.

"That would be satisfactory." Thaelan said carefully.

A beeping on Vincent's console drew everyone's attention.

"This is Crewman Winters." Vincent answered cautiously.

"Vincent Winters?" The early middle aged man asked pleasantly.

"Yes." Vincent said hesitantly.

"I'm Mr. Chilton from the Federation's tutoring center. Your name was submitted to us for enrollment in a subspace classroom." The man said seriously.

"Yeah, but I thought they were going to wait until next week to set it up so I could have a chance to get used to living here." Vincent said cautiously.

The man smiled and said, "Yes, the new class that we're organizing won't be starting until next week, I just needed to tell you about the way the classes will be structured before we begin."

"Oh, okay." Vincent said hesitantly.

"The application said that it would be preferable for you to have limited class time and submit completed academic assignments at your own pace. Our classes are formed into study groups so you can develop your group problem solving skills. To be part of a team, you will need to attend the classes when they are offered." Mr. Chilton said seriously.

"That may be difficult for me. I have a job and I can work on my assignments on my days off. My commanding officers will work around my school schedule, but I'd rather not have to take a bunch of time away from work if I don't have to." Vincent said honestly.

"Oh... I wasn't aware before I called that you were a crewman. I had just assumed that you were the child of a Starfleet officer that needed tutoring while traveling with his family so he could maintain his academic standing." Mr. Chilton said in a neutral tone.

"I'm a Petty Officer, Second Class. I'm assigned to Deflector Control on the USS Yorktown. But I'm also nine, so I still need to be in school." Vincent said seriously.

"I see. How well do you think you'll be able to focus on your academic studies while maintaining a work schedule?" Mr. Chilton asked cautiously.

"I won't know until I try." Vincent said honestly.

Mr. Chilton shook his head and said, "I need to speak to your parents about this. This is unacceptable. A child of your age needs to focus on his academic studies."

"Mr. Chilton, if you want to talk to my parents, you'll need to get an Ouija board. Besides, I am an adult by Vulcan law and I'm allowed to make my own decisions. If you can't accept my decisions, I'll make other arrangements for my education." Vincent said firmly.

"That might be best. We want our students to make their education a priority." Mr. Chilton said coldly.

"You want to make everything in my life revolve around your schedule. That's not going to happen. Getting an education is very important to me... but you are not. Winters out." Vincent said, then slammed the comm button on his console.

"Gee Vincent, I'm guessing you didn't like your new teacher, huh?" Darin asked hesitantly.

"Oh, that wasn't a teacher. *That* was a principal." Vincent said frankly, then took a slow deep breath to try and calm his temper.

"And I suspect from your tone that he is not the first principal you've met." Thaelan said speculatively.

"Oh no. I've talked to a few principals, they were all jerk wads like this one... I need to get this taken care of before he can call Cory or Daddy Joe." Vincent said as he pressed the comm on his terminal.

"Communications." Debbie said seriously.

"Hi Debbie, could you get me a connection to Vulcan High Command?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure, it'll just take a second." Debbie said casually.

"Vulcan High Command, How may I direct your call?" A young Vulcan man asked in precise English.

"I am Crewman Vincent Winters, Son of Clan Short of the House of Surak of Vulcan. I'm not sure who I need to speak to. I'm a Vulcan citizen serving as a Crewman on a Starfleet vessel. The Federation tutoring center is not willing to work around my duty schedule and I was hoping that there might be a Vulcan school that I could attend by subspace that would be willing to work with me." Vincent said firmly.

"Allow me a moment to make some inquiries. Please hold." The man said seriously.

Vincent nodded, then the Vulcan High Command logo filled the screen.

"Wow, you're going right to the top." Darin said cautiously.

"It'll probably be faster than starting at the bottom." Vincent said simply.

A moment later the young man appeared on the screen again.

"I will direct your call to Saakmal, the Secretary of Education. I have apprised him of your situation." The young Vulcan man said efficiently.

"Thank you." Vincent said in a toneless voice, then watched as the screen changed.

"I am Saakmal. You wish to make accommodations for your education?" The middle aged Vulcan man asked seriously.

"Yes sir. I am an active duty crewman serving on a Starfleet vessel. I would like to arrange to take my school classes during my off duty hours, if that's possible." Vincent said calmly.

"Petty Officer Winters, I have accessed your personal file and found the record of your academic progress thus far." Saakmal said seriously.

Vincent waited, knowing that he wasn't expected to respond.

"It appears from your files that you have the requisite understanding to begin your studies in our third standard course of study. You will be given access to your academic materials via subspace and can work at your own pace. Your Starfleet service will satisfy several of your course requirements, thus easing your workload to a manageable level." Saakmal said slowly.

Vincent nodded his understanding.

"Your file indicates that you speak eight Earth languages as well as Formal Vulcan and Vulcan Standard, is this correct?" Saakmal asked carefully.

"Yes sir." Vincent said respectfully.

"That would satisfy the language requirement for the third standard course, but if you have an interest, there is a language course being offered for the first time that you may find rewarding. It would require you to attend classes via subspace so you can hear and speak the language in a real-time setting. The class is provided at non-standard times so that those who require scheduling flexibility may attend." Saakmal said seriously.

"It sounds perfect for me. What is the language?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Conversational Klingon." Saakmal said without expression.

"I would like to take the class." Vincent said, trying to contain his enthusiasm.

"Very well Petty Officer Winters. You are officially enrolled in classes to begin at your convenience. A schedule of available times for you to attend your Conversational Klingon class via subspace will be forwarded to you. You have been officially enrolled at the Vulcan Academy of Science." Saakmal said formally.

"Thank you Saakmal. Live long and prosper." Vincent said respectfully.

"Peace and Long Life, Petty Officer Winters." Saakmal said reverently.

A moment after the screen went blank, Vincent turned to see Darin and Thaelan looking at him curiously.

"What?" Vincent asked self consciously.

"You just enrolled for school by talking to the Secretary of Education." Darin said slowly.

"Yeah, so? He's just a secretary... they're usually a lot nicer than the principals they work for." Vincent said hesitantly.

"No, you misunderstand. He is not A secretary. He is THE secretary. Saakmal is the Secretary of Education. He's in charge of ALL education on Vulcan. His office coordinates every school and every college on the planet." Thaelan said seriously.

"Oh... kewl." Vincent finished with a happy smile.

Darin shook his head and said, "Only my little brother could get enrolled in school by talking to the Secretary of Education himself."

"How are your reports coming Crewman Winters?" Thaelan asked in a casual voice.

"Oh, um. Okay I guess. I've finished two of them, but I'm about to start on the one about the reactor and that's probably going to take some time." Vincent said reluctantly.

"If you would like, you could take a break for a few minutes before starting the next report." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"Yeah. I need to get a drink and maybe a snack. Can I get you guys anything?" Vincent asked as he signed off his terminal.

"I'm fine." Darin said as he looked over his console.

"I too am well, but thank you for the offer." Thaelan said with a smile.

"Okay, I won't be gone long." Vincent said and hurried out of the room.

* * * * *

"Ensign Cooper, I just wanted to say again that I am grateful for your help this morning." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"You'd do the same for me wouldn't you?" Darin asked as he turned in his chair.

"Yes. I would." Thaelan said firmly.

"Then don't worry about it. I would have done the same thing for anyone on our team... even Jimmy." Darin finished with a grin.

"You do not like Crewman Tullis?" Thaelan asked cautiously.

"I like him fine. It's just fun to tease him." Darin said with a smile.

Thaelan quirked an eyebrow at the statement.

"I wouldn't ever do anything to really upset him, but it's fun to do stuff to aggravate him. The funniest thing is that he doesn't even realize that I'm doing it on purpose." Darin said with a smile.

"I don't think I will ever understand Humans." Thaelan said distantly.

"Well, I am one and I probably won't either. But if you'll ask about what's confusing you, I'll explain as much as I know." Darin said honestly.

"There was one thing. I get the sense that Crewman Winters was the one who led everyone else to want to... include me. I don't understand his motivation." Thaelan said honestly.

"I don't know either. But if you really want to know, ask him. Vincent isn't shy about saying what he thinks and feels." Darin said frankly.

Thaelan thought about the statement, then slowly nodded his agreement.

* * * * *

"Hey Vincent, how are you doing?" Chance asked as he saw Vincent approaching.

"Great. I've just been writing a bunch of reports and I'm taking a quick break before I have to get back to it." Vincent said happily.

"Channing told me how you clocked that security guy. You're just full of surprises." Chance said with a smile.

Vincent chuckled at the statement and said, "I'm not the only one. I just did what I had to do because there was no other choice. Benny called for help and got shot. That took a lot more guts than I have."

"From the way Channing tells it, Benny thinks the same thing about the way you went into that reactor." Chance said frankly.

Vincent thought about it for a moment, then said, "Okay. I guess maybe we're both kinda brave. But if people don't stop talking about it pretty soon our heads are going to get too big to fit through the doors."

Chance chuckled at the statement.

"Excuse me, would you guys like some cookies? We just got them out of the oven." A crewman asked as he walked around the serving line with a basket of chocolate chip cookies.

"Yeah. That sounds great!" Vincent said happily.

The crewman handed Vincent a napkin and held the basket out to him.

"Do you want some milk?" Chance asked as he also took some cookies.

"Yuck, no. I can't stand milk." Vincent said with a crinkled nose.

"You're a weird kid." Chance said with a smile.

"What are you going to have?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Coffee." Chance said simply.

"I think I'll have some too." Vincent said consideringly.

"It might stunt your growth." Chance said with a teasing smile.

Vincent chuckled at the statement and said, "I'll take my chances."

* * * * *

"I know you said you didn't want anything, but they just made some cookies." Vincent said as he walked into deflector control.

"Thanks Vincent, that sounds good." Darin said with a smile.

"I brought you some coffee to go with it. I brought you some too Thaelan." Vincent said happily.

"Thank you Vincent. That was very kind." Thaelan said quietly.

"I was in the neighborhood." Vincent said with a smile as he walked back to the console where he had been working.

After a long moment of silence, Thaelan quietly said, "Vincent, I appreciate all that you've done to make me feel included here, but I'm curious to know why you went to such lengths to help me when I behaved so badly toward you."

Vincent looked up from the report template for a moment to think, then said, "Because I used to be a lot like you."

Thaelan looked at Vincent curiously.

"I was mean to people and really angry all the time and I was really really alone. When you walked in here... I saw you being how I used to be. Daddy Joe made me feel like I belonged somewhere and that someone cared about me and I guess I wanted to do that for you." Vincent said in deep concentration.

"I see. So you sought to provide the type of comfort that you had been lacking earlier in your life." Thaelan said speculatively.

"Yeah. Since I know what it feels like to be that way, I thought I'd try to help you so you didn't have to feel that way if you didn't want to." Vincent said seriously.

"I remember you saying that you didn't want to change Thaelan, you wanted to give him a reason to want to change himself." Darin said in realization.

"I thank you for that Vincent. I have been in a very dark place in my life for far too long." Thaelan said in a low voice.

"Yeah. Been there, done that. I guess that most people think that people will automatically like them... Jimmy's like that. People like you and me, we kind of just expect that people don't like us until they prove us wrong. At least that's how I used to be. Anyway, now we're on the other side of all that and we can help other people when we see them drowning in it." Vincent said frankly.

"I don't know if I can." Thaelan said in thought.

"You already did." Vincent said with a smile.

"I did?" Thaelan asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I took Daddy Joe and JonJon some cookies in sickbay before I came here. JonJon told me about how nice you were to him. You weren't just nice to him, you made him feel like he's not alone. Like he's got someone that he can go to who really understands him." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"I feel the same toward him." Thaelan said in a whisper.

Vincent giggled at the statement.

"What is funny?" Thaelan asked cautiously.

"When you came here you were angry at life, now you're living it. Having someone you love and who loves you in return is being alive." Vincent said happily.

Thaelan thought about the words for a moment, then said, "You have uncommon wisdom."

"Yeah, but so do you. I think going through all that stuff that we did that made us angry and then getting to the other side of it made us wiser." Vincent said with a grin.

"Perhaps so."

To Be Continued...