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"Lieutenant Bowers, do you know how long it will be before the dinner will begin?" Tyce asked seriously as he walked with Oluf and Audge out of the supply room.
"Let me check." Joe said, then keyed in his query on the auxiliary console he had been working on.
After looking over the information, Joe said, "You have ten minutes before the people from the other ships are scheduled to transport over. The dinner will begin in just over half an hour."
Tyce nodded at the information then noticed Vincent sitting at station two looking at him cautiously.
"If you can spare Crewman Winters, we could proceed to the transporter room to await our guests." Tyce said formally.
"Vincent was just doing a few system checks for me. He's free to go whenever you're ready." Joe said with a gentle smile at Tyce.
Vincent quickly signed off his station, then walked to Tyce's side.
"Darin, I would like to thank you again for your assistance this afternoon. You were very helpful." Tyce said with formal regality.
"It was my pleasure Holy One. If I can do anything else to help, all you have to do is ask." Darin said gently.
Tyce gave a single nod, then walked toward the door.
Audge walked on his right and Vincent on his left.
Oluf watched the trio walking away for a moment, then hurried to follow.
* * * * *
"Um, Tyce. Is everything okay? You know, between us?" Vincent asked with concern.
Tyce looked at the hesitant expression in Vincent's eyes and smiled.
"I understand the cause of the misunderstanding earlier and have accepted your apology. If anything, my admiration for you has only increased." Tyce said and gave Vincent a quick, one armed hug as they continued to walk.
"Then would it be okay if we stop somewhere before we go to the transporter room? I need to let my friends know that I won't be hanging out with them." Vincent said carefully as the group slowly walked down the catwalk toward the turbo lift.
"Did you have a prior commitment?" Tyce asked with concern.
"No. Not really. I usually hang around with Benny, JonJon and Channing when I go off duty until T'Lani finishes her shift. I just want to let them know what's going on." Vincent said with a smile.
"Oluf, would you go to the transporter room to wait for us? If representatives from the other ships arrive before we join you, would you greet them in my stead?" Tyce asked formally.
"Yes Holy One, it would be my honor to do so." Oluf said reverently.
As the trio boarded the lift, Vincent said, "Deck J, Dorsal and Transporter room one."
"Are you sure that your friends won't be upset that you won't be joining them? You have already spent the majority of your day with me, I would not be offended if you choose to spend some time with your friends." Tyce said quietly.
"They won't mind at all. Besides, I'd like to have dinner in the officer's mess hall. I haven't done that yet." Vincent said with a grin.
Tyce smiled at the expression, then the turbo lift doors opened.
? "Oluf, when you get off the turbo lift turn left, turn right at the first hallway then just walk straight ahead and the transporter room will be the first door on your left." Vincent said as Tyce and Audge stepped off the lift.
"Thank you Crewman Winters." Oluf said quietly.
Vincent gave him a brief smile, then hurried off the lift.
* * * * *
Tyce, Vincent and Audge could hear singing coming from behind the closed doors on the other side of the room.
"Your friends sound very happy." Tyce said cautiously.
"They are. But usually not this happy, let's see what's going on." Vincent said as he walked in front of the group to open the door.
* * * * *
The singing abruptly stopped as the door to the dorsal observation lounge opened. Vincent was the first to walk in and was barely able to contain his laughter at what he saw.
Channing, Benny and JonJon were all sitting on Channing's cot wearing triangular white paper hats and each one had a little black moustache painted on.
"What are you..." Vincent began to ask, then shook his head and said, "Never mind. I really don't want to know."
Fizgig poked his head from behind JonJon to reveal that he was wearing a little paper hat and had the fur above his mouth painted black in a sort of moustache.
Tyce broke into laughter at the sight.
He was quickly joined by Vincent and Audge.
"We were just..." Channing began to say.
"It's okay Channing. I just wanted to let you guys know that I'm going to be having dinner with these guys in the officer's mess hall today. I didn't want you to be down here waiting on me to show up." Vincent said as he tried to get his chuckles under control.
"Oh. Thanks Vincent. Is this the Holy One that JonJon was telling us about?" Channing asked quietly as he tried to discretely take off the paper hat.
"Yep. And this is Audge, the guy who protects him." Vincent said as he gestured toward the man with a cast.
"Please do not worry. I think it is good that you are able to have such fanciful fun. We will be leaving now so you may continue." Tyce said with a peaceful smile.
"You don't have to go, you're welcomed to join us." Benny said quickly.
"They're having a formal dinner with some people from the other ships in a few minutes so we need to go. But maybe we'll be able to play with you guys some other time." Vincent said with a grin.
"Yeah. Okay." Channing said shyly.
Vincent chuckled at Channing's reaction, then said, "Come on guys. Let's get to the transporter room before anyone shows up."
Tyce nodded, then said, "It was a pleasure to meet all of you. I truly hope that we will have the chance to play before it is my time to leave."
"Yeah, that'd be great." Benny said with an honest smile.
Tyce nodded, then walked to follow Vincent and Audge out of the room.
* * * * *
"I like your friends Vincent. They remind me of how I was before I was given the honor of being the Holy One." Tyce said distantly.
"Yeah. They're great. After working all day, Benny and JonJon remind me how to be a kid. And I guess having Channing with us makes me feel like it's okay to be a Crewman and still act like a kid now and then." Vincent said introspectively.
Tyce thought about the statement, then quietly said, "I believe that if I were able to achieve such a friendship, it would improve my life greatly."
"You already have." Vincent said with a smile as he stepped onto the turbo lift.
Tyce looked at Vincent curiously.
"Transporter room one." Vincent said to the ceiling of the lift, then turned to Tyce and said, "I'm your friend Tyce. Even after we get you home, you can always call to talk to me or even to just make a funny face at me if you want."
Tyce laughed at the thought, then said, "Yes. I believe I would like to do that."
"And I know that if you get the chance, Benny and JonJon will be your friends too. Once their colony is set up, you can talk to them every day if you want to." Vincent said seriously.
The turbo lift doors opened and Vincent led the way.
"I hope it is to be so." Tyce said distantly.
"Make it so." Vincent said as he turned at the first junction.
Tyce chuckled and said, "You make everything sound so simple and easily achieved."
"No. It's not always easy, but things are usually pretty simple if you can just forget about the things that don't matter and the things you can't change." Vincent said frankly, then stopped just short of a door.
Tyce looked at the door, then down at himself to see if the foreign clothes he was wearing were still neat.
"Please allow me." Audge said quietly.
Tyce turned to face him and allowed Audge to straighten his collar and fuss with his hair for a moment.
"Please allow me as well." Tyce said with a grin.
Audge looked at him with surprise, then held still as Tyce straightened his collar.
Vincent smiled at the scene, then when everyone was ready, he stepped toward the door and stood aside as it opened, allowing Tyce and Audge to precede him into the room.
* * * * *
"Welcome Holy One, our first guests have just signaled that they're ready for transport." Captain Byrne said formally.
"Thank you Captain. Please proceed." Tyce said calmly.
Captain Byrne gave a nod to the transporter technician, then the sound of the transporter filled the room.
When the shimmering sparkles had cleared, there was a man and a young boy, about Tyce and Vincent's age, standing beside him.
"Welcome to the Yorktown Captain Traiel. Would you introduce us to your companion?" Captain Byrne said with a friendly smile directed at the young boy.
"Thank you Captain, this is my son, Tyber." Traiel said seriously.
Tyce looked distantly at the pair for a moment, then took a step closer to Audge's side.
"It's nice to meet you Tyber, if you want, you can come over here and hang around with us." Vincent said with a quick smile.
Tyce held his formal expression as he considered what he should do.
Traiel smiled at Vincent's invitation, then put a hand on his son's shoulder and urged him to step out of the transporter chamber.
Tyber hesitantly walked toward Vincent and Tyce, then suddenly stopped when Vincent put out his hand in greeting.
"I'm Crewman Winters but you can call me Vincent if you want." Vincent said with a smile.
Tyber slowly took the hand, and had a look of intense concentration as he shook it.
His eyes went wide with surprise and relief as he looked into Vincent's eyes.
"It's nice to meet you." Tyber said formally as he telepathically said, //The Holy One is in danger. Get him away from Traiel.//
Without displaying any outward sign of receiving the message, Vincent released Tyber's hand and asked the Captain, "Do we have time to show Tyber around for a few minutes before the dinner begins?"
"The other guests will be arriving shortly. I'm sure that 'The Holy One' will want to be here to greet them." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"We won't be gone long and if they come before we get back Oluf can take care of greeting them... He would be honored." Vincent said with a grin at the elderly priest.
Captain Byrne looked curiously at Vincent, then finally said, "Given the serious discussion that will most likely accompany our dinner, a few minutes of relaxation might be of benefit. Please be brief."
"Yes sir. Thank you sir." Vincent said, then gestured to the door, urging Tyber and Tyce to accompany him.
Audge looked at Tyce with question but before he could respond, Vincent said, "Come on Audge, I think you'll like this too."
* * * * *
As soon as the door to transporter room one closed, Vincent's expression changed to complete seriousness as he said, "Come on. Let's go somewhere that we can talk privately."
Tyce kept close to Audge's side and made a point of keeping Audge between him and Tyber.
"Tyber, you aren't related to that man who claims to be your father. Traiel has a son named Tyber but you're not him... you aren't even of the Okudai people." Tyce said seriously.
Tyber's eyes went wide at the declaration and he asked, "How did you know?"
"I am the Holy One. I can see the lineage of all of my people." Tyce said firmly.
A look of resignation came over the boy's face, then he quietly said, "You're right. My real name is Lehman."
Silence fell over the group as they entered the turbo lift.
"Conference room one." Vincent said firmly.
"Please explain why you are here." Tyce said seriously as he stood with his shoulder touching Audge's side.
"I'm an assassin sent to kill 'The Holy One'." Lehman said in a low, quiet voice.
The doors to the turbo lift opened, and Vincent looked to be sure no one was in the room before saying, "Come on, we can talk in here."
The group stepped off the lift and Tyce never left Audge's side.
Once everyone was seated, Tyce quietly asked, "If you're here to kill me, why are you telling me this?"
"Because the man who claims to be my father is a ruthless man who must be stopped. He believes that he has given me no choice but to obey his commands." Lehman said seriously.
"What will he do to you if you don't do what he says?" Vincent asked quietly.
Lehman gave Vincent a dark look that said without words that the consequence would be death.
Turning his attention back to Tyce, Lehman said, "I was taken from my world and forced to undergo surgical changes at his command so I could hold your shape and become the Holy One." Lehman said with concern filling his voice.
"Hold my shape?" Tyce asked curiously.
Lehman looked Tyce in the eyes as his body began to reshape itself. Within a minute he was an exact duplicate of Tyce, he was even wearing the same mint green shirt.
"My people are known as Chameloids. We are shape shifters. I'm just a child, so normally I could not hold your shape for more than a few minutes, but Traiel did something to me. His doctors cut into me and did something to make it so that I could hold your shape for as long as I wanted to."
"What do you really look like?" Vincent asked in a gentle whisper.
Lehman glanced at Vincent, then changed into a blue skinned boy with blue/black hair and yellow eyes.
When Vincent noticed Lehman's frightened expression, he gave him a quick gentle smile that help put him at ease.
"I hadn't considered that they would go to such lengths to get rid of me." Tyce said distantly.
"What do you want to do?" Vincent asked as he turned his attention back to Tyce.
"I could have Traiel detained. But if he has the support of powerful people as I suspect he does, even I as the Holy One might have difficulty proving an accusation of conspiracy. We have only Lehman's testimony that Traiel has any ill will toward me. I doubt that the word of an alien child would be considered sufficient evidence to convict him of anything." Tyce said in distant thought.
"So we need to catch him doing something." Vincent said carefully.
"It will be difficult. Lehman, what does he believe you are doing right now?" Tyce asked curiously.
"Traiel constructed many scenarios so I could be alone with the Holy One for a moment. Gartain would cause a distraction and I would assume your shape while Traiel killed you and disposed of your body. Since Crewman Winters invited us to explore the ship, I'm sure Traiel is hoping that I've found a way to complete our mission." Lehman said uncomfortably.
"What if we make him think that you did?" Vincent asked carefully.
"I could return to the transporter room and allow Traiel to believe that I am Lehman in disguise." Tyce said speculatively.
Vincent nodded and said, "And Lehman would return to the transporter room, disguised as me. How will we explain that Tyber didn't come back?"
"The excuse we were planning to use is that due to the differences in ship's time, Tyber was tired and wanted to return to his ship." Lehman said as he looked at Tyce curiously.
"I see. Do you think you could take Vincent's shape?" Tyce asked in a voice of deep concentration.
"Yes, I can do that easily. But I know nothing of him or his people. To mimic his actions I would need to touch him." Lehman said shyly.
"Why?" Vincent asked curiously.
"My people are slightly telepathic. That is how I warned you of the danger to the Holy One. If I can touch you, I can take on your mannerisms and some of your basic knowledge." Lehman said seriously.
"So Lehman could pretend to be you while you get security and let them know what's going on." Tyce said carefully.
"Would you be willing to do that?" Vincent asked Lehman with concern.
"Yes. I'll do whatever I can to stop Traiel. He believes that he can command my actions and force me to obey him. But I would rather die than be his assassin." Lehman said darkly.
Vincent nodded that he understood.
"Holy One, when Traiel looks at you, make this sign with your fingers." Lehman said and demonstrated a simple hand gesture.
Tyce carefully made the gesture and looked at Lehman with question.
"That's right. That will be the signal to Traiel that I have taken your place. Here is a communication device that he will use to contact you later to give his instructions." Lehman said and handed a small communicator to Tyce.
"You'll need to stay close to me in case he contacts me. I won't know how to answer his questions if he asks anything." Tyce said with concern.
"I doubt that you'll have to worry about that. Traiel isn't one for asking questions, he tends to believe that he knows all and likes giving orders." Lehman said darkly.
"Audge, what we are about to do is dangerous, but I believe it is necessary. It may come to a point where you are my only protection." Tyce said as he looked up at Audge who was still at his side.
"I will protect you with my life." Audge said seriously.
"So will I." Lehman said quietly.
Tyce, Audge and Vincent looked at Lehman with question.
"I have been studying what the Holy One does for nearly a year so I could impersonate you when the time comes. Your people need you. You must survive." Lehman said firmly.
The sound of a communicator beep drew everyone's attention.
"Crewman Winters." Vincent said in a slightly surprised voice. He had completely forgotten that he was carrying his communicator.
"Vincent, you have a priority one transmission." Debbie said seriously.
"Okay, I'm in conference room one. Can you put it through?" Vincent asked cautiously, it seemed wrong for him to ask a lieutenant to do something like that for him, even if it was her job.
"Yes. And good luck." Debbie said in a voice filled with concern.
Vincent walked to the view screen expecting to see Cory or Commander Dodds, he was shocked when the image on the screen was Admiral Morrow .
Vincent stood at attention and waited for the admiral to speak.
"Crewman Winters... I have a sensitive matter of some urgency to speak with you about." Admiral Morrow said frankly as he looked at the people standing behind Vincent in the room.
"Yes sir. Admiral Morrow, this is 'The Holy One' of the Okudai, his protector Audge and an assassin who was sent to kill him, his name is Lehman." Vincent said seriously.
"Assassin? Well Crewman Winters, it seems that your time on the Yorktown continues to be interesting." Admiral Morrow said in a slightly puzzled voice.
"Yes sir." Vincent said with resignation.
"Is there anything I can do to help with your... situation before we begin to deal with my reason for contacting you?" Admiral Morrow asked carefully.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Um, well. Lehman is a shape shifter. He's supposed to kill the Holy One and take his place so some bad guys can control him and get him to do the stuff they want. We were thinking that if the Holy One pretended to be Lehman pretending to be the Holy One, then we could figure out everything that they're trying to do and maybe get enough evidence so that we can find out who all the bad guys are and arrest them."
"Without knowing more of the situation, it sounds like a reasonable plan, but it could also have it's dangers. Be sure that 'The Holy One' is outfitted with a transport inhibitor and has someone nearby to protect him at all times." Admiral Morrow said carefully.
"Yes sir. I'll take care of the inhibitor and Audge will be protecting Tyce... I mean, the Holy One." Vincent said seriously.
Admiral Morrow looked away for a moment, then said, "I'm afraid that you'll be attending to other matters Crewman Winters. In fact, you will be leaving the ship within minutes."
Vincent looked at the admiral with surprise.
"Excuse me Admiral, but I may be able to help." Lehman said shyly.
Admiral Morrow looked at the blue skinned boy curiously.
"Crewman Winters, if I may touch you I can absorb enough of your memories to function as you while you are absent." Lehman said quietly.
Vincent glanced at Lehman, then looked to the Admiral and said, "Admiral Morrow, I know it's a crime to impersonate Starfleet personnel, but can Lehman take my place while I'm on this mission? I don't want him to get into trouble, but he needs to be close to the Holy One and I think this is the best way he can do it."
"Yes. And given the nature of this other matter, it will be to our advantage if no one knows that you've left the ship. I give my word that your friend won't get in any trouble for impersonating you." Admiral Morrow said seriously, then glanced away again.
Lehman carefully placed his hand to the side of Vincent's face and closed his eyes. Within the space of a few seconds, Lehman transformed himself into an exact duplicate of Vincent, uniform and all.
When Lehman opened his eyes, he had an expression that was between pain and confusion.
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked with concern.
"That was more difficult than it should have been." Lehman said as he slowly pulled his trembling hand away from Vincent's face.
"Are you alright?" Vincent asked as he looked at Lehman and it was like looking into a mirror.
"I'll be fine, it just took more effort and concentration than it should have. Don't worry, I've absorbed what I'll need to know to impersonate you..." Lehman trailed off with distraction.
Vincent turned back to the Admiral and asked, "What do I need to do?"
"I need to speak with you privately Crewman Winters." The Admiral said, then looked at the others.
"I need to take Tyce to security, then we need to get back to the transporter room. The Captain is waiting on us." Lehman said as he glanced at Tyce.
"Take care of yourself Vincent." Tyce said with concern for his friend.
"I will if you will." Vincent said with a smile.
Tyce nodded, then reluctantly led the way to the turbo lift.
Vincent watched as the trio left the room.
* * * * *
The door to transporter room one opened and Tyce walked in alone.
All attention turned to him and he felt that he should say something.
"I seem to have misplaced my escorts." Tyce said shyly.
When Traiel looked at him, Tyce quickly made the subtle hand gesture.
Traiel tried to hide his pleased smile.
"Well as you can see, Treifa and Captain Marr have already joined us. We are awaiting Captains Gartain and Treas." Captain Byrne said seriously.
The transporter room's doors opened again to admit Lehman and Audge.
"There you are! Where did you go?" Lehman asked in a demanding tone, doing his best to behave as Vincent would.
"You will address the Holy One with proper respect." Oluf said firmly.
"Alright, but you need to put a leash on him or something. And he lost Tyber." Lehman grumbled.
"Tyber was tired and returned to his ship. He said that they operate on a different ship's time cycle." Tyce said carefully, trying to exactly remember what Lehman had told him to say.
Traiel smiled at the statement and said, "Yes, our ship's time is set with the Dingovan colony so this is the middle of the night for us."
A beeping from the transporter console drew the Captain's attention, then he said, "I understand. It appears that Captains Gartain and Treas are ready to join us. So as soon as they have transported we can all go to the dining room."
Tyce gave a conspiratorial glance at Traiel, then smiled and nodded.
* * * * *
"A Vulcan scientist named Dr. Xon, will be joining you shortly. Go with him and he will explain everything that you need to do." Admiral Morrow said frankly.
"But how? And where am I going?" Vincent asked in confusion.
"Crewman Winters, please trust in my judgment and that of Starfleet in this matter. It would take far more time than we have to explain what needs to be done. Go with Dr. Xon, do what he says and return to the Yorktown when your mission is complete. Contact me personally the moment you return." Admiral Morrow said firmly.
"Yes sir. I will sir." Vincent said as he snapped to attention.
"Crewman Winters, would you accompany me?" An unfamiliar voice said.
Vincent jumped at the sound and turned to see a Vulcan man waiting for him without expression.
"Where... where did you come from?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
The Vulcan man raised an eyebrow, but didn't give a response to the question.
"Um yeah. Okay... I'll call you as soon as I get back Admiral. Winters out." Vincent said as he walked to the Vulcan man's side.
"Good luck Vincent. Morrow out." Admiral Morrow said in a voice of concern, then disconnected the transmission.
* * * * *
"Holy One, I need to go to Deflector Control to change." Lehman said in a whisper.
"Is something wrong?" Tyce asked with concern.
"I'm not sure. But I seem to be having difficulty altering my shape. I need to change into one of Crewman Winters' uniforms or I may be trapped in this clothed form." Lehman said carefully.
"I understand. Go and if anyone asks, I will say that I sent you to do something for me." Tyce said carefully.
Lehman nodded, then hurried out of the room.
The captains of the other two ships materialized in the transport chamber and looked around the room slowly.
"Welcome aboard Captain Treas, Captain Gartain. I am Captain Leland Byrne. If you'll come with me, we will proceed to the dining room where we can all be more comfortable." Captain Byrne said with practiced diplomacy.
"Is this the Holy One?" Captain Treas asked as she looked curiously at Tyce.
"I am the Holy One." Tyce said seriously as he looked her in the eyes.
"Before we begin, I just want to know one thing. Are you really going to listen to us or are you just doing this so we'll stop attacking you?" The woman asked intensely.
Tyce considered his answer carefully, weighing the need to be truthful with the need to keep the appearance of being an imposter.
"Captain Treas, the fact that your concerns were of such importance that you were willing to face the consequences of attacking 'The Holy One' has opened my eyes... and my ears. I will listen." Tyce said, then carefully glanced at Traiel with question.
Traiel gave an almost imperceptible nod of approval.
Captain Byrne smiled at Tyce's thoughtful response, then said, "If you will all follow me, I'll conduct you to the dining room."
* * * * *
Lehman was relieved to find the memories that he had borrowed from Vincent included a very detailed layout of the constitution class of starship.
He hurried to Deflector Control and was about to walk into the supply room when he was stopped.
"What are you doing down here? I thought you'd be in the dining room by now." Joe said seriously.
Lehman looked into Joe's eyes and saw the love and concern housed within.
An echo of Vincent's love for Joe welled inside Lehman and he had to fight the desire to run to Joe and hug him tightly.
Lehman concentrated and a wet spot appeared on the right side of his pants leg.
"I had a little accident." Lehman said shyly and turned so that Joe could see the spot.
"Then you'd better hurry and change. You won't want to miss out on the first course." Joe said with a gentle smile.
Lehman nodded at Joe, then ran into the supply room to change.
* * * * *
"I am Dr. Xon, please take my hand so I can conduct you through the portal." The Vulcan man said seriously.
Vincent hesitantly took the man's hand and was guided to walk into the wall of the conference room.
After some initial resistance, Vincent felt himself being pulled through the seemingly solid matter.
The sensation on his skin was like being pulled through strands of cotton or spider webs.
Everything was hazy, like walking through a dense fog.
Just as suddenly as the strange sensations began, they stopped.
Vincent and Dr. Xon were stepping onto sandy ground in a desolate clearing surrounded by rocks.
"Where are we?" Vincent asked as he looked behind him and saw the portal they had just stepped through.
"Where we are is a planet that has been named Gateway. But the more interesting question is 'when' are we. The answer to that question is, nearly fifty years in your future." Dr. Xon said seriously.
Dr. Xon arched an eyebrow and asked, "What concerns you?"
"Time travel. You don't just go back and snatch someone out of the past because it sounds like fun. Something must be really seriously wrong if you brought me here." Vincent said with concern.
Dr. Xon nodded, then quietly said, "Ten days ago there was a time shift that altered the entire universe. People who I have known my whole life are now dead or never existed. The few who survive have no memory of me. In fact, my colleagues here on Gateway are the only people I have found who have any memory of me at all. I was here doing research on the Guardian of Forever when the time shift occurred. This planet is shielded from alterations in the timeline. I believe that if I were to leave this planet in this time, I too would cease to exist."
"Okay. Since I'm here, does that mean I did something that messed up time?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"A series of factors contributed to a situation that resulted in the time displacement." Dr. Xon said seriously.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Translation: Yes, I caused it."
"Not directly. As a consequence of a transporter accident in your recent past, I believe your quantum resonance frequency has been altered." Dr. Xon said carefully.
Vincent watched curiously as Dr. Xon began to scan him with an unfamiliar device.
Dr. Xon concentrated for a moment to try and? put his explanation in the simplest terms, then said, "All matter in the universe resonates at the same quantum resonance frequency. Parallel and alternate dimensions each have a frequency that is distinctly their own. Normally an altered resonance frequency would not be a concern, the only effect might be an uncanny tendency to be in the wrong place at the wrong time since you are technically out of synchronization with the rest of the universe."
"Well, that explains a few things." Vincent said off-handedly.
"Unfortunately, something happened, or from your point on the timeline, will happen, that impacts the entire multi-verse." Dr. Xon said carefully.
"Multi-verse?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"This universe and every parallel and alternate universe that is associated with it." Dr. Xon said in clarification.
"So what happened... will happen... whatever..." Vincent asked with frustration.
"To make conversation easier between us, I will use the future tense to explain events relative to your native point on the timeline." Dr. Xon said simply.
"Um, yeah. Okay."
"The prime materia timeline, the one from which all other timelines are spawned, is going to split into two." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"So? If I'm getting what? you're saying, there are alternate timelines and universes all over the place. What's the big deal about this one?"
"The alternates and parallels are all shadows of the prime materia. Alternates do not spawn alternates, otherwise the exponential progression would be beyond imagining. At the timeline convergence point, all the alternate and parallel dimensional universes will merge back into the prime materia and become one. When all are joined, a critical mass will be achieved and the prime materia will split into two distinct timelines. They will be completely separate from that point on and have no effect on each other." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"Okay. I think I get that. But where does my quantum thingy figure into all this?" Vincent asked hesitantly.
"Your quantum resonant frequency no longer associates you with the prime materia. If you enter the convergence point where the timelines split as you are, you will not emerge from the other side." Dr. Xon said frankly.
Vincent gulped as a chill ran up his spine.
"Your absence in the new timeline will cause an incongruity that cannot be reconciled, so to correct the loss of your... thread, let's call it, the forces that maintain balance in the multi-verse would trace back to your origin and erase your existence." Dr. Xon said firmly.
"So I won't just die, but I will have never been born?" Vincent asked carefully.
"That is correct. And nothing you have ever done in your life will have happened." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"Wait. I saw this on a movie at Christmas last year, this guy wishes that he had never been born, then he gets to see how the world is different without him. Is this like that?" Vincent asked as he looked Dr. Xon in the eyes.
"I have seen the movie I believe you are referring to, it is called 'It's a Wonderful Life'. And this situation does have certain elements in common with the movie, however the resolution may be a bit more complicated."
"Okay, I think I understand. What do I have to do?" Vincent asked seriously.
* * * * *
Lehman tried to change himself to an unclothed form so he could put on one of Vincent's uniforms.
Sweat started to bead on his forehead as he concentrated harder on his objective, but his body wasn't changing.
Finally he gave up on making the change all at once and decided to do as he had done as a small child and change each part of his body individually.
He focused on his left foot first and watched as the boot slowly morphed into a human looking foot.
He stopped for a moment to catch his breath, then took in a deep inhale and held it as he focused his will on changing the other foot.
Lehman had to refer to Vincent's memory and self image to make the transition of the rest of his body.
The images were vague and Lehman ended up using what he had learned of Okudai physiology to fill in the gaps in his memory.
Each transformation seemed to take more effort than the one before.
When he had finally made the last of his 'clothing' vanish, he looked down at himself to be sure that he hadn't missed anything.
Lehman's gaze stopped on his hairless crotch and he thought about what the future might hold for him.
With the last bit of effort at his command, Lehman forced his genitals to alter to a state that was a few years more developed.
If whatever was wrong with him didn't get better, there was a chance that he could be stuck in this form. He felt that he might appreciate the more 'adult' equipment later.
After one last look, Lehman opened the storage locker where Vincent's clothes were stored and quickly started to dress.
As he pulled the boots on, he realized that he hadn't estimated the size of his feet correctly.
The boots were too tight and he could barely make them fit over his feet.
"Are you okay champ?" Joe asked as he looked around the corner.
Lehman was trying to alter the size of his feet to make them fit in the boots while he was pulling the second boot on, but he found that he had completely lost the ability to alter his shape.
"Oh, it looks like that growth spurt is kicking in. After your dinner you need to go to the quartermaster and see about getting larger boots." Joe said with a gentle smile.
Lehman looked at Joe with surprise at the suggestion, then smiled.
"Yeah. I will. Thanks." Lehman said as he stood.
"Come here." Joe said with a smile and opened his arms.
Lehman hesitantly walked into Joe's outstretched arms and was pulled into a warm hug.
"I'd really like it if you'd come and talk to me when you have some free time. I know that 'kid time' is supposed to be for you, but I think I'm needing some." Joe said as he hugged Lehman tightly.
"I will just as soon as I can. I promise." Lehman said as he tried to restrain his tears of joy at the wonderful feeling.
Lehman thought about his life in the foundling home on his home world and the past year as the property of Traiel. No one had ever shown him love like this.
He knew that this was intended for Vincent, but somehow it didn't matter. At this exact moment in time, someone loved him.
* * * * *
When the door to Deflector Control opened, Lehman nearly walked face first into Rad's chest.
He quickly stepped out of the way as Rad continued to walk without noticing him.
As soon as Rad was in the room, his gaze immediately turned to Darin.
"You're done awfully early." Darin said with surprise as he looked away from console one.
"I... Um... Yeah. The Chief said it was okay." Rad said in a semi-coherent voice.
Darin hopped up from his chair and ran to Rad's side.
"What's wrong? Come over here and sit down." Darin said as he guided Rad to sit at one of the auxiliary stations.
Joe walked out of the supply room in time to hear the question and hurried to Rad's other side.
"My little brother Tan... I just got a message from Earth... he's missing. He's been missing for two days." Rad said as tears filled his eyes.
Darin and Joe simultaneously pulled him into hugs from opposite sides.
"He didn't come home from school and... no one knows anything." Rad said as his tears freely fell.
Darin held Rad firmly, then said, "I know there's not much we can do to help all the way out here. But there *is* something."
Rad looked up at Darin with helplessness and confusion filling his expression.
Darin pulled one arm free of the hug and reached over to the auxiliary console.
"Communications." A voice responded immediately.
"This is Ensign Cooper, will you please open a diplomatic channel to Clan Short Headquarters?"
* * * * *
The group approached the turbo lift and it became evident that everyone wouldn't be able to fit.
"Captain Byrne, please take your other guests and make them comfortable. I will join you shortly." Tyce said seriously.
"Holy One, it is not proper..." Oluf began to say but was stopped with a glance.
"I have evaded Crewman Winters once today, I will show him the courtesy of waiting for him to return before joining you for dinner." Tyce said as he looked at the Captain again.
"I'll wait for the next one too." Treifa said, then looked at Tyce with question.
Tyce looked at him for a moment, then nodded his acceptance.
Once the turbo lift doors closed, Tyce looked Treifa in the eyes and asked, "Did you know that they were planning to kill me and replace me with a shape shifter?"
Treifa's eyes went wide at the question, then he quickly said, "No. I saw a few proposals about using shape shifters but none of them had a possibility of working."
Tyce looked deeply into Treifa's eyes, then turned to Audge and said, "He speaks the truth."
"Does this mean that an attempt was made on your life?" Oluf asked in shock.
"Yes Oluf. But Audge has performed his duties perfectly and would not have allowed it to happen. And it turns out that their assassin was not a willing participant in the scheme and is now helping me to uncover all who are responsible for this plot." Tyce said firmly.
"Traiel." Treifa said darkly.
"Yes. He was instrumental in this plan, but I suspect that he is merely a pawn. The resources needed to covertly smuggle a Chameloid from their home world and surgically alter him is far beyond what Traiel could finance." Tyce said seriously.
"Surgically alter?" Treifa said as the color washed out of him.
"Yes, that is what he said. What is it?" Tyce asked carefully.
"The surgery, I read about it in the proposal. Are you telling me that Traiel actually found a Chameloid child and did that to him?" Treifa asked with tears forming in his eyes.
"Yes. What is it? What's the surgery?" Tyce asked cautiously.
Treifa turned away and wiped his eyes, then quietly said, "For this to work they needed a Chameloid that was basically your size so they had to have a child. But a child can only hold a foreign shape for fifteen or twenty minutes at most. The surgery was to remove certain organs from the child's endocrine system and replace them with an adult's organs."
"So an adult Chameloid was sacrificed to make this plan work." Tyce said with pain.
"Yes, and there is a more than fifty percent chance that the child's body will reject the transplanted organs." Treifa said quietly.
The pained expression in Treifa's eyes told Tyce all he needed to know. Without asking, he knew what would happen if the organs were rejected.
The group turned as one when the turbo lift doors opened and Lehman was standing there in a fresh clean uniform.