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"Are you familiar with the properties of matter and anti-matter?" Dr. Xon asked slowly.
"Yeah, I read about that stuff when I was studying about starships." Vincent said carefully.
"Then you understand what would happen if a Crewman Vincent Winters from an anti-universe were to come in contact with you?" Dr. Xon asked in a leading tone.
"Yeah. When the exact same matter and anti-matter from the opposite universes touch each other they try to, um... mix or something and when they do it causes an explosion that destroys both universes." Vincent said in thought.
"Correct. I am using that theory as a basis for my plan to adjust your quantum signature." Dr. Xon said carefully.
"You're going to explode me?" Vincent asked hesitantly, sure that's not what he meant.
"No. When you make physical contact with your counterpart, your quantum signature should automatically attempt to adjust, much as it would with anti-matter. But since the variation is slight, the reaction should also be slight." Dr. Xon said carefully.
"Should be..." Vincent parroted apprehensively.
"To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been attempted before. There is no way to know what reaction will occur." Dr. Xon said reluctantly.
"Test it. Take a... ping pong ball or something from my universe and test it in the alternate universe." Vincent said reasonably.
Dr. Xon considered for a moment, then said, "That might be a reasonable way to proceed... if we had more time. Unfortunately, we do not have that luxury."
"Why not? If we're able to travel through time, we can go back as many times as we want until we get it right, can't we?" Vincent asked seriously.
"No. The ripple that erased your existence from my time is traveling backward toward the timeline split. Once it reaches that split you will no longer exist in any timeline and there will be no way of correcting your quantum signature. You will either be forced to live out your life here on Gateway with me, or if you are in your own time when the anti-time ripple arrives, you will simply cease to be." Dr. Xon said carefully.
"Oh. Wow. That sucks. Um, okay. What now?" Vincent asked apprehensively.
"When the timeline was altered, I began to search for the cause. Once I established that it was due to your transporter accident, I began to work on ways to alter your quantum signature. I have targeted two alternate dimensions that have the best chance of restoring your signature to it's original frequency. We will travel to those alternate dimensions in your timeline and you must make physical contact with your alternate self. I will tell you when your signature has been sufficiently altered. Then, if all has gone to plan, you will return to your own time and dimension and the original timeline should be restored." Dr. Xon said thoughtfully.
"Um, this sounds really dangerous. Is there any other way to do this?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Not to my knowledge. Either we attempt to alter your quantum signature in the manner I have suggested, or we do not. Those are the choices before us." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"Okay. Let's do it." Vincent said with determination as he turned to look at the large stone portal that they had emerged from.
Dr. Xon turned on his tricorder and began to make the necessary adjustments as he said, "Guardian of Forever, I seek your aid to restore the past."
"Such is my function. Such is my purpose. Ask your question so you may repair the fractured course of time." The Guardian said in a booming voice.
"Guardian of Forever, will you show me these temporal/spatial coordinates?" Dr. Xon asked seriously as he transmitted the coordinates to the Guardian.
"Look into the past that you may restore the future." The Guardian said as the portal began to show scenes in the swirling mist.
"Um, that's not the Yorktown." Vincent said as he pointed at the images speeding by before them.
"No. Your alternate self in this universe is not on the Yorktown, he is on Earth." Dr. Xon said as he put a hand on Vincent's shoulder and guided him to stand directly before the changing scenes in the mist.
"What am I... is he doing there?" Vincent asked curiously.
"We will know shortly. Prepare to step through." Dr. Xon said with intense concentration.
Vincent prepared himself and was ready to jump.
* * * * *
"This is Clan Short." A young voice said professionally.
"Hi. I'm Ensign Darin Cooper from the USS Yorktown. I'm Vincent Winters' brother." Darin said hesitantly.
"Yeah. Keith told us all about you. I'm Jamie, what's up?"
"Well, I've got a friend named Rad and his little brother is missing. I was hoping that maybe since you're on Earth you might be able to do something to help him." Darin said hopefully.
"Yeah. Tell me what's going on and we'll do whatever we can." Jamie said seriously.
"I don't know too much. I got an email from my mom and I guess she was pretty torn up. I couldn't make sense of most of it." Rad said as he seemed to snap out of his stupor.
"Is there someone we can call to get more information?" Jamie asked reasonably.
Darin, Joe and Rad noticed someone walk up behind Jamie, then nudge him over in the chair. The boy was identical to him and wore the same serious expression.
"Yeah. We could call my house and ask my mom." Rad said quickly.
"Do they have a terminal?" Jamie asked hopefully.
"Yeah, they got one when I joined Starfleet. I'll send you the address." Rad said and keyed in the connection.
"Got it." Jamie said, then the screen split to show the other terminal.
"Hello?" A young man asked, and he had a very tired look in his eyes.
Rad got a slightly irritated expression, then hesitantly asked, "Is my mom around?"
"No. She's out talking to the neighbors in case anyone might have seen what happened to your brother." The man said quietly.
"Is anyone else there?" Rad asked seriously.
"Yeah. The twins are in their room. Hold on, I'll get them." The man said sadly, then walked away.
"Who was that?" Darin asked quietly.
"My mom's new husband." Rad said darkly.
"He looks like he's about our age." Darin said cautiously.
"He is, he was my best friend my whole life. But when I went to the academy, he started sleeping with my mother." Rad finished with disgust.
"Rayne? Is that you?" A young voice asked hopefully.
"Shayd? How are you doing?" Rad asked gently.
"I'm Shadoe. But Shayd is right here." The boy responded with a grin.
"Liar. I've always been able to tell you two apart. Can we talk?" Rad asked cautiously.
"Yeah. Asshole's in the kitchen starting dinner." Shayd said seriously.
"What's really going on?" Rad asked firmly.
"Tan's missing." Shayd said carefully.
"Bullshit. If he was really missing you'd be out with Mom looking for him." Rad said as he looked his younger brother in the eyes.
Shayd and Shadoe exchanged a look, then Shadoe hesitantly nodded.
"He's with your dad." Shayd said in a whisper.
Rad shook his head and asked, "Why are you pretending that he's missing? You're worrying everyone to death."
"You don't know how it is around here. Numb-nuts is on this big power trip trying to prove that he's our dad and Tan couldn't handle it anymore. I wish we'd gone with him." Shayd finished in a low voice.
Shadoe nodded his agreement.
"Guys, this isn't right. I understand that things are bad..."
"You don't get it Rayne, things aren't just bad, they're totally fucked up!" Shayd exploded.
Rad was shocked by his brother's outburst and realized that he didn't really know what was going on.
After a moment to collect his emotions, Rad quietly said, "Tell me about it."
"Mom goes to work all day, then when she comes home she just eats and goes to bed. Shit-for-brains is always here watching us and trying to control everything we do. When I go to the bathroom I have to look over my shoulder because I feel like he's going to be right there. He's ALWAYS watching." Shayd said with an expression of frustration.
"Yeah. He doesn't let up. He always wants to know what we're doing and what we did at school and who we talked to and... hell, we can't even go over to anyone else's house because he wants to know what we'll be doing over there. He talks to their parents and gets a report about everything we did." Shadoe said desperately.
Rad nodded slowly, then reluctantly said, "Go get him. It's time to deal with this."
* * * * *
"Is everything okay?" Tyce asked with concern.
Lehman looked at Treifa, then hesitantly said, "It's fine."
"It's okay Lehman, Treifa knows what's going on. I trust him." Tyce said carefully.
Lehman nodded, then said, "I think something might be wrong with me. I was barely able to change myself and now I can't change at all."
Tyce looked at Treifa with question.
"Are you in any pain?" Treifa asked cautiously.
"No. I'm feeling a little tired, but besides that I'm fine." Lehman said honestly.
"Are? you well enough to go to the dinner with us?" Tyce asked with concern.
"Yeah, I think so. Besides, I'm really hungry. Maybe I'm having trouble changing because I haven't eaten in about twenty hours." Lehman said in thought.
Treifa considered, then quietly said, "Let's hope that's the problem."
Tyce nodded his agreement, then said, "Then let's go have dinner."
Everyone boarded the turbo lift, then Lehman said, "Officer's mess hall."
* * * * *
Everyone in the room jumped as two strangers suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
A young Native American man stood forward and asked, "What's going on here?"
"I am Dr. Xon and I believe you know my companion." Dr. Xon said seriously.
The young man looked at Vincent with surprise, then turned in time to see someone race down the hallway.
"I'm Jerico Foote, I'm in charge of this cabin. What are you doing here and why is Vince wearing a Starfleet uniform?"
"It is quite a long story and we have limited time. Would it be possible for us to see my companion's counterpart?" Dr. Xon asked in a typical Vulcan emotionless voice.
"He's still in our room." A Chinese boy with a black mask covering half his face said as he emerged from the hallway.
"I need to know what's going on before I can consider allowing you to see him." Jerico said cautiously.
Before Dr. Xon could answer, Vincent said, "He's going to die unless I can touch him."
"Not good enough. I need to understand what's happening." Jerico said firmly, then glanced at a large teenager by the front door.
The boy gave a quick nod, then hurried out.
"I'm from an alternate universe. There was a transporter accident that kind of unhooked me from my timeline. If I touch the Vincent from this universe, I might be able to get hooked back to it. If I don't get it fixed, then me and all the other me's in all the other dimensions will die." Vincent said seriously.
"This isn't right. They don't belong here." A young boy with dark hair said as he stared at Vincent intently.
"I know Luke. I can sense the wrongness of it." Jerico said as he held his gaze on the pair.
"Perhaps that is because we are not native to this universe." Dr. Xon said reasonably.
"Come on, all I need to do is touch the other Vincent and then we'll leave." Vincent said imploringly.
"No. Tell me why you're here. Tell me the whole truth." Jerico said in a voice that seemed to echo.
Vincent felt a strange sensation wash over him and began to speak without wanting to.
"I think I'm here because my dad was a bad person. He hurt a lot of people and died trying to hurt even more. Ever since that happened, things have been going wrong around me and I've been the only one who can make them right. I think I'm paying for all the bad stuff he did. I'll probably keep on paying until something finally kills me.? But if I don't touch the Vincent Winters from this dimension, then a lot of people will die or not be born and it will be all my fault." Vincent said seriously.
"The sins of the father..." Luke said in a whisper.
Jerico nodded, then quietly asked, "Dylan, will you get Vince and bring him in here?"
Just then the front door of the cabin opened and two security officers walked in followed by the teenager who had run out earlier.
"Please wait. I don't think they're a threat." Jerico said to the guards.
"I'm sorry, but we need to take unauthorized personnel to the security office and make a report. It's procedure." One of the officers said seriously.
"Everything is fine. It was just a mistake. These people belong here." Luke said in concentration and his voice seemed to echo the same as Jericho's had.
Vincent and Dr. Xon watched curiously as the security officers were both overcome with matching expressions of confusion.
"I'm sorry if we interrupted, we thought there was an intruder." One of the officers said apologetically.
"No need to apologize. It was just a misunderstanding. We're glad that you're here to keep us safe." Jerico said with a kind smile.
The guards nodded, then quietly left.
The large teenage boy looked at Jerico with confusion.
"Thanks for getting them Uri, but I think we need to deal with this ourselves." Jerico said, then noticed Dylan leading Vince out of their bedroom.
"What's wrong. Is it time for my meds already?" Vince asked in a sleepy voice as he rubbed his eyes.
"No Vince, you have some visitors." Jerico said gently and motioned to Vincent and Dr. Xon.
"You look like me." Vince said in sleepy confusion.
"Yeah. I guess so. Will you shake my hand?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Who are you?" Vince asked suspiciously.
"I'm Crewman Vincent Winters, Petty Officer second class from the USS Yorktown." Crewman Winters said proudly and held out his hand to shake.
"Wow. You're really a crewman? I always wanted to be in Starfleet. How'd you do that?" Vince asked with fascination but didn't make any move to shake the offered hand.
"It's a really long story. Will you please shake my hand now?"
"Why?" Vince asked suspiciously.
"Please, just shake my hand. Then I'll tell you whatever you want to know."
Vince cautiously took hold of his counterpart's hand and immediately felt a tingle run up his arm.
Dr. Xon opened his tricorder and scanned the pair.
"Please continue contact for 3.9 seconds." Dr. Xon said carefully.
"Can you give me a countdown or something?" Vincent asked as he grasped Vince's hand firmly with both hands to keep him from pulling away.
Vince looked at his counterpart with fear and confusion as he felt an electrical sensation spreading through his entire body.
"It hurts." Luke said as he turned away.
"I know." Jerico said as he squinted his eyes at the sight.
"What's wrong?" Uri asked in confusion, all he could see was the two identical boys shaking hands.
"Their auras are changing... It's making me sick." Luke said as he clutched his stomach.
"It's against nature." Jerico said in a pained voice.
Dr. Xon watched his tricorder carefully as he said, "Perhaps so, but it needs to be done. Three... two... one."
Vincent let go of his counterpart and fought to catch his breath. His whole body was tingling and his legs felt weak.
"I'm... what did you do to me?" Vince asked in a fearful voice as he began to sway.
Two boys ran to his sides and helped him to the couch.
"Your quantum signature has been slightly altered." Dr. Xon said frankly.
"What? He's altered too? Does that mean he's unhooked now?" Vincent asked with concern.
"No. Not unhooked, just slightly out of synchronization. No harm will come to him from this experience." Dr. Xon said slowly.
"How sure are you?" Vincent asked seriously as he finally started feeling somewhat normal again.
"Reasonably. This is why I have had you maintain limited contact. You have slightly altered each other. Your contact in the next dimension will alter you further without causing damage to your counterpart." Dr. Xon said carefully.
"Will you tell me about how you got to be a crewman now?" Vince asked hopefully from the couch.
"Sure." Vincent said with a smile as he walked to where Vince was sitting.
"We must proceed to our next destination." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"I have to answer his questions. That was the deal I made. I promise I won't take too long." Vincent said, then turned to Vince and continued, "The day my dad and mom died, I was in the hospital for... well, I was just in the hospital. My brother Lawrence came to the hospital with some guys from Clan Short and got me and took me to Commander Dodds' house. While I was there I met Captain Spock, Aunt Teri, David Gallagher and a lot of other people. They all worked together to fix it so I could go into the mentoring program and become a crewman. What happened to you?"
"Um, well I went to the hospital... probably for the same reason as you. My brother never came and got me because my dad threw him out. I don't know where he is... Anyway, then the cops came and talked to me and then CPS was going to stick me in a group home somewhere, but the judge took me back to the little room behind the courtroom and talked to me about a lot of stuff. Then he sent me here." Vince said frankly.
"What about the medication? Are you sick?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Um, well. I was really sad and mad and... well, Dr. Dan said that I needed to take the medicine for a while so I can, like, get used to not feeling bad all the time. He's said I probably won't need any medicine at all by the end of the month." Vince said carefully.
"So how are you feeling now?" Vincent asked with concern.
"I dunno. I guess maybe I'm starting to feel better. I don't feel like crying all the time now, and everyone's been really nice. It's just so different here." Vince said reluctantly.
"If your life was anything like mine, different doesn't mean bad." Vincent said frankly.
Vince thought about the statement for a moment, then hesitantly nodded.
"Crewman Winters, we must be leaving." Dr. Xon said quietly.
"I've got to go. Just remember, different doesn't mean bad. That applies to all kinds of things." Vincent said as he walked to Dr. Xon's side.
"I'll remember. I'm glad I got to meet you." Vince said quietly.
"I'm glad too." Vincent said, then a thought came to him.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the couplers that he had grabbed before leaving deflector control.
"Here, this is for you." Vincent said and handed the coupler to his counterpart.
Vince looked at the coupler, then asked, "Is this really a coupler from your ship?"
"Yeah. I always keep a few extras with me. You can have this one for luck."
"Thanks. But I don't have anything to give you." Vince said with concern.
"It is time for us to go." Dr. Xon said quietly.
"Wait. I got something." Vince said and quickly reached for his back pocket.
"It's okay. You don't have to." Vincent said as he started walking back to Dr. Xon.
"No. Here, take it." Vince said as he jumped off the couch and ran to hand Vincent a picture.
"Thanks." Vincent said in a rush just as Dr. Xon pulled him through the wall.
* * * * *
"The twins said you wanted to talk to me. Do you have an idea of where D'Artagnan might be?" The young man said as he hurried to the terminal.
"He likes to be called Tan." Rad said firmly.
"Do you know where he is?"
"Brad, sit down and listen to me for a minute." Rad said seriously.
"You know something, don't you? Where is he?" Brad asked frantically.
"Brad, calm down. Where are the rest of the kids?" Rad asked carefully.
"The girls and MichaelAngelo are with your mom. The twins are here, probably in their room." Brad said with confusion at the question.
"It's more likely that they're listening at the door. Guys, get in here! I want you to hear this too." Rad said more loudly.
Shayd and Shadoe walked into the room wearing matching guilty expressions.
"Everyone, this is Jamie and... his brother I guess." Rad said uncertainly.
"Jacob. We're here to help if we can." Jacob said seriously.
"Cool. It's nice to meet you. We don't know any other twins. Well, guy twins." Shayd said with a smile at the boys.
Jamie and Jacob gave matching smiles in return.
"Brad, I think we caused all this." Rad said firmly, drawing everyone's attention.
"How?" Brad asked with confusion.
"Think about it. You always got along with all the kids until our fight started. Maybe if we can settle things between us, we can make things better for everyone." Rad said seriously.
"We can deal with that later. We've got to find Tan." Brad said desperately.
"He doesn't want to be found. And unless we can get a few things cleared up, he's not going to want to be found." Rad said quietly.
"He ran away?" Brad asked in disbelief.
"Yeah. And from what I've heard, I don't blame him." Rad said frankly.
Brad looked at his former friend with shock.
Rad shook his head, then said, "We'll get to that in a minute. Right now we need to get things settled between us."
"I married your mom. You hate me. I think that's about as settled as we're going to get it." Brad said with regret.
"I don't hate you... Okay, maybe I did for a little while, but not anymore."
Brad's eyes opened wide with surprise.
"Do you have any clue about why I was so upset?" Rad asked seriously.
"Because I married your mom." Brad said frankly.
Rad shook his head and said, "You really are dense, aren't you?"
"Yeah. That's what you've always told me." Brad said reluctantly.
"Guys, try to be grown up about what I'm about to say. You're old enough to hear this and I think you need to understand what's really been going on." Rad said to his brothers.
Shayd and Shadoe nodded in unison.
"Brad, we were best friends growing up and I really loved you." Rad said seriously.
"I loved you too Rayne." Brad said shyly.
"No Brad, I mean I really *loved* you. The problem is that I didn't understand my feelings and didn't tell you when I finally did figure it out." Rad said as he looked Brad in the eyes.
"Oh." Brad said in realization.
"Yeah. Oh... So when I heard from the guys that you and mom were, um... dating, I kind of freaked out. I mean, not only were there my feelings toward? you but... think about the stuff we used to do." Rad said carefully.
Brad looked at the twins beside him and blushed.
Rad followed his gaze, then said, "Guys, we had sex. It's normal for friends to experiment to figure out how the equipment works."
Shayd and Shadoe both looked at Brad with matching expressions of horror.
"Friends and brothers." Jamie added from the split screen.
Shayd and Shadoe turned as one to look at Jamie and looked like they might combust from the redness of their faces.
"Busted." Jamie snickered.
Brad looked with shock from the screen to the twins and then to Rad.
"Come on Brad, we're all guys and we need to be able to talk about stuff like this." Rad said imploringly.
Brad reluctantly nodded.
"Anyway, that's why I was so mad. Just when I figured out that what I was feeling for you was really love, you hooked up with my mom." Rad said frankly.
Brad nodded again.
"I was mad. I said some pretty bad things to you, but nothing compared to what I said to the guys here. I didn't realize it at the time, but everything I was saying was being listened to and taken to heart. My feelings of hurt and betrayal were passed on to them." Rad said with regret.
"I see." Brad said quietly as he looked down.
"Oh, and you're not off the hook either. You've been doing your oblivious, control freak thing with the guys and that's been driving them crazy." Rad said seriously.
"I'm what?" Brad asked as he looked up to meet Rad's gaze again.
"From what I've been hearing, you're turning into your father. Do you remember how you used to bitch and moan about how he would try to control you and keep tabs on you every minute of your life?" Rad asked in a leading tone.
Brad reluctantly nodded.
"That's exactly what you've been doing to the guys. But it's even worse because you aren't their father. You're the guy who married their mother, and now you're trying to control them." Rad said frankly.
Brad thought about the words, then looked at the twins and said, "Rayne's right. I'm sorry guys, sometimes I'm oblivious."
Shayd quietly said, "Our real dad never wanted to spend time with us..."
Shadoe continued, "...so it was really weird for us when all of a sudden you were there, like, all the time."
"That's why Tan had to leave. He's older than the twins and he's starting to want to become more independent. Then all of a sudden, you're there suffocating him and trying to control him."
"I just wanted to protect them and be a part of their lives..." Brad said quietly.
"Guys, here's the part that I needed you in here for. Help me let Brad know what he can do to make things better." Rad said seriously.
"Back off." Shayd said immediately.
"Shay, I was thinking of something a little more constructive." Rad said, trying not to sound harsh.
"Give up on the dad thing. You're not our dad and you'll never be our dad." Shadoe said frankly.
"Shad, it'll be more helpful if you'll tell him what he *can* do instead of what he can't." Rad said in a leading tone.
The twins looked at each other for a moment, then Shayd quietly said, "I guess if you wanted, we could do stuff like we used to when Rayne still lived with us."
"Like what?" Brad asked cautiously.
"I don't know, like stay up late watching movies and camp out in the living room." Shayd said uncertainly.
"Or maybe go to a drag race or something." Shadoe added hesitantly.
"I'd like that." Brad said carefully, not wanting to disrupt the tentative peace between them.
"Good. I'll let you work that out. And when I get back to Earth maybe all us guys can go do something together." Rad said with a smile.
"Do you think we could borrow your dad's cabin by the lake?" Shayd asked hopefully.
"I bet you could. As soon as I know when I'll be back on Earth, I'll call you so you can set it up." Rad said with a smile.
Shayd nodded happily.
"But remember, we need to be left alone sometimes. It's really creepy to have you watching us all the time." Shadoe said seriously.
"Yeah. Give it a rest. The little kids might like all that attention but it's driving us nuts." Shayd added.
"I know how that feels. I'll try, but you may need to tell me when I'm doing it. I don't always realize it." Brad said hesitantly.
"Count on it." Shayd said firmly.
Brad nodded, then carefully asked, "What about Tan?"
"He's safe. I need to talk to him and see how he's doing. But if he decides that he doesn't want to come back are you going to be okay with it?" Rad asked cautiously.
"Yeah, I guess so. As long as I know he's okay." Brad said reluctantly.
"I'll call you back as soon as I know what's going on." Rad said more gently.
"Thanks Rayne. I'm sorry about... everything. I never meant to hurt you." Brad said quietly.
Rad sadly nodded and said, "I know."
* * * * *
When the lift doors opened, Captain Byrne stepped away from the group and said, "If I may have everyone's attention, I'll make introductions and then we can go to our table. Dinner will be served in just a few minutes."
Tyce glanced at Traiel, then glanced away quickly.
Lehman felt relief as he noticed the pleased expression on Traiel's face.
"I believe everyone knows the Holy One, on his left is his protector Audge and his high priest Oluf. On his right are Crewman Winters, his cultural liaison while he is amongst us and Ensign Thaelan, a member of the last Federation delegation to visit Okuda prime." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"Next we have captains Marr, Treas, Gartain, Traiel and Treifa. If you will all follow me, we can have a seat and be comfortable while we get to know each other." Captain Byrne said hopefully.
As the group was walking toward the table, a crewman intercepted the captain and whispered in his ear.
Captain Byrne whispered to the Crewman, then said, "If you will all excuse me I will return in just a moment. I've instructed the staff to start serving the meal as soon as it's ready."
The crewman nodded then rushed to the kitchen while the Captain walked for the turbo lift.
"So Holy One, Treifa says that you're considering endorsing a proposal that a colony at the edge of our system be allowed to have contact with the Federation." Captain Gartain said casually.
"Yes. I am considering that option. I would be interested to know your feelings on the matter." Tyce said diplomatically.
"It sounds like a fine idea. Our first step out into the universe." Captain Gartain said happily.
"First steps tend to be unsteady and should be taken slowly. Thanks to my Federation hosts I've seen that not everything beyond our borders is more advanced." Tyce said seriously.
"In what way?" Captain Treas asked with interest.
"For example, they do not balance their chi with their ieb." Tyce said seriously.
All the Okudai captains looked at Tyce in shock as Oluf asked, "All of them are imbalanced?"
"That is my understanding. Ensign Thaelan, the people of Okuda balance their opposite sex and same sex desires to maintain balance in their psyche. Perhaps you know, do all Federation worlds believe in a monogamous life-long bond which forbids the opposing sexual contact?" Tyce asked curiously.
Thaelan thought about the question for a moment, then said, "I believe that monogamy is the prevalent belief on most Federation worlds, but most, perhaps all, societies have sub-cultures that would support alternative lifestyles that are more in line with your beliefs."
"Shocking." Captain Treas said with a disbelieving shake of her head.
"Disgusting." Captain Marr said in a growl.
"Please excuse my absence. Admiral Morrow asked that I pass on his best wishes to all of you and his hopes that this would be a productive meeting." Captain Byrne said and gave a meaningful glance toward Lehman.
"I had just mentioned an example of our differing philosophies. But perhaps it would be best if we begin to discuss the reason for our gathering." Tyce said formally.
"Are you planning to continue to fight to keep our society in the stone age?" Captain Treas asked before anyone else could speak.
Tyce thought about the question for a moment, then said, "No. I believe the time has come to reevaluate certain attitudes toward progress. But I cannot condone a plan that will disrupt our society to a point that will throw us into chaos."
"How about trade with the Federation?" Traiel asked seriously.
Rather than answer the question directly, Tyce turned to Captain Byrne and asked, "What do you think the Federation would think about opening trade negotiations with the Okudai?"
"Of course we would be in favor of it. But your people should carefully consider what they are willing to offer up for trade. It has happened on more than one occasion that governments have made promises that heavily burdened their people and depleted their resources." Captain Byrne said carefully.
"That is a reasonable concern. So it would be necessary to have people of integrity in the positions to make such decisions." Tyce said in thought.
"Good luck." Treifa said with a chuckle.
Thaelan looked at Treifa with surprise, then said, "Sarcasm is relatively unknown to my people. You appear to have this form of humor in common with Humans."
A chuckle spread around the table at the statement as waiters arrived with a small plate of salad for each person.
"You are vegetarians?" Treifa asked hesitantly.
"No. We simply have a salad course before the main course of our meal." Captain Byrne said gently.
"Do not worry Captain Treifa, I had the opportunity to sample their cuisine earlier in the Engineer's mess hall. Their tastes seem to be much like our own. I especially liked the stuffed pork chops." Tyce finished with a smile.
"You ate among the common workers of the ship?" Oluf asked in horror.
Tyce flashed a disapproving look at Oluf and said, "Yes. Why do you believe it is a dishonor for me to do so? Do you believe that I will be tainted by their sweat or somehow infected by their work ethic?"
Traiel smiled broadly at the statement before taking a bite of his salad.
"No Holy One, but you should be shown the proper respect of a visiting dignitary and treated to their finest offerings, not subjected to the rations of their common workers." Oluf explained carefully.
"Crewman Winters spent the day showing me where he works, eats and sleeps. Thanks to his willingness to share the details of his life, I have come to understand that the workers on this ship perform their duties with pride because they know that their contributions are appreciated by their captain. And the rations of the common workers that you speak of were as fine a meal as any that I've had and fit for any dignitary." Tyce said firmly.
"As you say Holy One." Oluf responded quietly.
"I'm pleased that you enjoyed your meal Holy One." Captain Byrne said, trying to divert attention from Oluf's discomfort.
"Yes Captain. Not only did I enjoy a good meal, but also good company. Crewman Winters introduced me to his friend JonJon who is one of a group of colonists who are traveling to establish a new colony." Tyce said seriously.
"What is the purpose?" Captain Treas asked with interest.
"As I understand it, their purpose is to reduce the impact of technology on their lives. They produce their own food and live close to the land, much like our Andarkan colony." Tyce said seriously, then smiled when he saw that Lehman had eaten all his salad.
The waiters returned to clear the salad plates, then replaced them with plates with filet mingon and rice pilaf.
"This is more what I expected." Treifa said with a smile.
"Yes. It looks very good." Captain Treas said approvingly.
Lehman took a bite of the meat and considered the taste carefully. After a moment to draw on Vincent's memories, he motioned to one of the waiters who was standing nearby.
"Could you get me some catsup please?" Lehman asked quietly.
"Catsup?" The waiter asked hesitantly.
"Yes. Please?" Lehman asked hopefully.
The waiter nodded, then walked out of the room.
"Is something wrong Crewman Winters?" Captain Byrne asked cautiously.
"No sir. I just asked for some catsup for my meat." Lehman said shyly.
"Catsup?" Treifa asked cautiously.
"Yes. As I understand, it is a condiment that is used to mask the flavor of food that is repugnant." Thaelan said seriously.
"Is there a problem?" The chef asked as he walked to the table.
"I just wanted some catsup for my meat." Lehman said quietly, wishing that he had never asked.
The chef looked at Lehman for a moment, then said, "I suppose a child wouldn't have the refined taste to appreciate my filet mingon."
"Is that what this is? I had filet mingon on the Enterprise... but it didn't taste like this." Lehman said, then shrank back a little when he noticed the anger in the man's eyes.
"Would you see that the crewman gets some catsup?" Captain Byrne asked as he tried to restrain a smile.
"I'll send someone down to the engineers mess hall to get your catsup. You'll have it in a moment." the chef said gruffly, then walked away.
When the chef was finally gone, Lehman quietly said, "I'm sorry about that, I didn't mean to make him mad. I just think this meat would taste better with catsup."
* * * * *
The pair emerged from the portal and landed on the sandy ground of Gateway.
Vincent lifted the picture his counterpart had given him to see what it was.
"What did he give you?" Dr. Xon asked curiously.
"A picture of him and all the guys in his cabin... They look kinda like a family." Vincent said as he looked at the group picture carefully.
"If we complete our task, he will have the opportunity to live long and prosper." Dr. Xon said formally.
"Yeah. I know. I just feel kinda bad because I've got such a good life and he has to be doped up to be able to put up with his." Vincent said quietly.
Dr. Xon stepped forward and put a hand on Vincent's shoulder before saying, "He is going through a difficult time. Such is the way of life. You have had difficulties and are stronger for having faced them. The tragedies he has endured are causing him to form new relationships that will serve him well in his later life."
Vincent thought about the statement, then nodded his agreement.
Dr. Xon released Vincent, then walked to a rack of equipment by the portal and selected a device.
"Please allow me to examine your quantum signature so I can adjust the time needed for the next contact." Dr. Xon said as he adjusted the instrument.
"Do you have any kids or anything Dr. Xon?" Vincent asked curiously as the Vulcan scientist scanned him.
"My apologies Crewman Winters, but I must refrain from answering any specific questions because I am part of the future. Any specific knowledge that you carry into the past with you could potentially pollute the timeline and cause a paradox." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"Okay, I studied about paradoxes, I don't want to cause one of those. I just wanted to get to know you." Vincent said quietly.
"If all proceeds according to plan, we may have that opportunity one day." Dr. Xon said as he looked over his readings.
"What does it say?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"It confirms that your quantum resonant frequency has been altered by 0.04 cycles. Another such contact should be able to realign your quantum signature to that of your home universe and restore my timeline into being." Dr. Xon said seriously.
"Okay. So where are we going this time?" Vincent asked cautiously.
* * * * *
"Do you want us to sign off? It looks like you have things under control." Jamie said cautiously.
"Sure. Thanks for your help guys. I was afraid that Tan was really missing and we might have to go looking for him." Rad said honestly.
"I'm glad it worked out. If you need any other help, just call us." Jacob said sincerely.
"I'll do that." Rad said gratefully and watched as they disconnected.
"Do you want us to give you some privacy for this?" Darin asked quietly from Rad's side.
"I'd really rather have you guys here if you don't mind." Rad said as he glanced from Darin to Joe.
"We're here for as long as you need us." Joe said with a smile.
Rad nodded, then turned back to the terminal to initiate the call to his father.
"Radovanovich residence." A timid voice answered and the screen showed only an empty room.
"Tan, is that you?" Rad asked carefully.
"Rayne? How are you doing? Are you okay?" Tan asked with excitement as he moved in front of the screen.
"Yeah, at least I am now that I know you're alright." Rad said peacefully.
"Oh. Yeah." Tan said quietly.
"Where's dad?" Rad asked cautiously.
"He's out in the kitchen making dinner. Do you want me to get him?" Tan asked quietly.
"Not yet. I want to talk to you first and find out how you're doing." Rad said with concern.
"I'm fine. I'm sorry if I worried you. I just couldn't stay there anymore." Tan said shyly.
"I know. I talked to Shay and Shad. They filled me in." Rad said quietly.
"Are you mad at me?" Tan asked hesitantly.
"No. But I wish you would have called me and talked to me about it first. We might? have found a way to do this that wouldn't make everyone think you'd been abducted." Rad said honestly.
Tan nodded with an expression of shame.
"What do you want to do next?" Rad asked gently.
"I really want to stay here. Your dad said that I could stay as long as I want and it's really nice here." Tan said as he looked at Rad with hope.
"If that's what you really want, we can probably make that happen." Rad said gently.
"Really? You think you could do that?" Tan asked hopefully.
"I think I could, but it may not be exactly the way you're wanting." Rad said slowly.
"How do you mean?" Tan asked cautiously.
"You can't leave things like this with Mom. It isn't right. You're going to need to go talk to her face to face and explain why you left and what you've decided to do next." Rad said firmly.
"Can't I just send her an email?" Tan asked hopefully.
"You could. But it would be the coward's way of doing it. You've already messed up by running away the way you did. Now it's time to do the right thing and face your decisions like a man." Rad said with certainty.
"I guess so. I just hate Brad so much. I don't even want to be in the same room with him." Tan said darkly.
"I had a long talk with him before I called you. I think I got through to him and worked some stuff out so it won't be as bad as it has been." Rad said quietly.
"So you think I should go back?" Tan asked cautiously.
Rad thought for a moment, then said, "No. Actually I think you should stay with my dad."
"Why?" Tan asked hesitantly.
"Because my dad's a really good decent man. I think the best thing you could possibly do right now is stay with him and learn what that means so you can grow into a good decent man that I can be proud to call my brother." Rad said seriously.
Tan nodded slowly at the statement.
"I've known Brad since I was a little kid and I know he isn't a bad person, he's just making a lot of mistakes while he's trying to figure out how to be a father." Rad said quietly.
"He sucks at it." Tan said darkly.
"Yeah. He does. He could probably use some help." Rad said frankly.
Tan looked at Rad with confusion.
"When he married Mom he got an instant family. I've made it a lot harder for him by talking bad about him to you and the twins. How long do you think it can keep up like this before he decides to bail out?" Rad asked seriously.
"And that would be a bad thing?" Tan asked sarcastically.
"Do you remember how you felt when your dad bailed out? Or Mike and Allie's dad? It hurt like hell. You don't want them to have to go through that again do you?" Rad asked imploringly.
"No. I guess not. Livvy and Jess really do love him." Tan said quietly.
"He's the only dad they've ever known. You don't have to like him Tan, but if you can try to support him and help him out when you're around the others, it might make everyone's lives a lot easier." Rad said seriously.
"I can try. Maybe if I don't have to live with him 24/7 I'll be able to put up with him when I visit." Tan said in thought.
"That's good. I'm going to try that too." Rad said with a smile.
"Thanks Rayne... Joe? Is that you back there?" Tan asked as he moved a little closer to the screen.
"Hi Tan. Yeah, it's me. How are you doing?" Joe asked quietly.
"Um, well, I guess you already know since you heard all that." Tan said shyly.
"Yeah. Your brother wanted us here for moral support." Joe said with a gentle smile at Tan.
"I'm glad you guys aren't mad at each other anymore. Rad was really miserable after you had your fight." Tan said honestly.
"So was I, but that's all in the past now." Joe said happily.
"That's right." Rad said, then motioned for Darin to come closer to the terminal screen.
"Tan, I'd like you to meet my boyfriend Darin." Rad said happily.
"It's nice to meet you Darin. How long have you known my brother?" Tan asked with a smile.
"Since I came on board the Yorktown... almost two weeks now." Darin said shyly.
"You'll have to tell me all about it when you guys come back to Earth. You are going to bring him to meet me in person when you get back, aren't you?" Tan asked hopefully.
Rad smiled, then turned to Darin and asked, "Would you like to spend our shore leave with me and my family in California?"
"Yeah. I think I'd like that." Darin said happily.
"Oh yeah, Tan. When I talked to Brad we kind of made plans for all us guys to go camping out at the cabin by the lake one weekend." Rad said cautiously.
"Brad wants to go camping with us?" Tan asked darkly.
"No. Actually the twins came up with the idea and we invited Brad along." Rad said seriously.
"Okay. I guess that's alright. Just as long as he didn't invite himself." Tan said reluctantly.
"Would you go ask dad if he can come talk to me for a minute? I just need to clear a few things through him before we can call everything settled." Rad said seriously.
"Yeah, I'll go get him now." Tan said quickly and rushed away from the terminal.
"I like your brother, he seems like a good kid." Darin said quietly.
"He really is. I hope my dad is willing to go along with this because I think it's the best thing for him." Rad said with concern.
* * * * *
"Your catsup." The waiter said as he placed a bowl of catsup beside Lehman.
"Thanks." Lehman whispered, then spooned a little bit of the catsup onto his meat.
Conversation around the table stopped as they watched Lehman take a small bite of his meat.
Lehman considered the flavor, then smiled.
He looked around the table and noticed everyone watching him.
"It really is better. Would you like to try some Holy One?" Lehman asked quietly as he scooted the bowl of catsup closer to Tyce's plate.
Tyce smiled at the offer and said, "Yes. I believe I would."
After a moment to spoon a small dab of catsup onto a piece of meat, Tyce carefully took a bite.
His eyes widened in surprise, then he said, "You should all try this. It is very good."
Over the course of the next few minutes, the bowl of catsup made it's way around the table and everyone had tried some.
Everyone, even the captain, was in agreement that the catsup added something to the flavor that made the filet mingon taste better.
"Holy One, when the time comes to begin trade negotiations with the Federation, will you endorse the action?" Treifa asked seriously.
Tyce considered the question carefully while he ate, then said, "I would consider endorsing trade between our people if certain conditions are met."
"What conditions?" Captain Treas asked cautiously.
"First, it would be necessary to have honest people to oversee the trade. I am concerned that the people given this responsibility will become corrupt and seek to line their own pockets at the expense of our people." Tyce said seriously.
"Perhaps representatives from each province could be appointed by the provincial governors to oversee the operation." Oluf said in thought.
Tyce shook his head and said, "I don't trust the governors and I am against the whole idea of appointees. I believe the people should be allowed to select one from each province by popular vote. The process may be slower, but it will reflect the trust and will of the people."
"I like that idea very much." Captain Treas said happily.
"What else?" Treifa asked cautiously.
"Once the representatives are chosen and trade is established,? we need to make sure we put catsup on the list of things we want to import."
Smiles and chuckles went around the room at the statement.