© 2008 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 35

{"Welcome."} An elderly Gorn woman said from behind a long table.

{"These are the elders of our world. Their wisdom guides our people in the most productive direction."} Jenn said respectfully as she indicated the four elders, two Gorn and two feathered, like Treep.

{"We have waited for many centuries for the arrival of the Trach Manja as was foretold in the ancient holy writings."} the elderly Gorn woman continued.

Vincent was about to respond when JonJon took a step forward and asked, {"Would you tell us about your history? We really don't know anything about how things are here."}

{"We had assumed that the Trach Manja would know."} an elderly Gorn man said from further down the table.

Lehman stepped to JonJon's side and said, {"We're just people, no different from any of you. We learn about things the same way you do."}

Vincent smiled at Lehman and nodded his agreement.

{"From your conversation earlier, it seems that you have already met the Gorn."} the elderly woman said slowly.

All three boys nodded.

{"As you have probably guessed, the Soleen were once part of the Gorn people. Our ancestors were the artists, poets and great thinkers of the Gorn civilization. The military leadership of the Gorn decided that such people were weak and should be purged from the gene pool so the successive generations of Gorn would be great warriors."} the elderly woman continued.

The Gorn man who had spoken earlier picked up the story, {"Our ancestors were gathered from all the worlds of the Gorn empire onto one planet, a desolate world on the edge of the Gorn territory. It was obvious that when all of the free thinking and pacifist influences were gathered, a mass execution would take place. Many starved to death in the years of the gathering... there was disease and much suffering..."}

When he seemed to drift away into thought, the elderly woman picked up the story telling, {"The new arrivals came less and less frequently and the people who had been gathered were certain that their group would either be annihilated from space or that they would be abandoned and left to starve."}

The man seemed to come back to himself and continued, {"One day, when all hope was nearly gone one of the largest ships in the Gorn fleet landed on the surface. Panic spread through the crowds of people because they believed that it signaled their end."}

{"When the landing was complete, the ramp extended and a single man stepped out. It was the Holy One."}

In a quiet voice the elderly woman said, {"Many of our ancestors rejected the state mandated religion and felt that the Holy One was a pawn of the military used to help control the masses."}

The elderly man nodded his agreement to her statement, then said, {"The Holy One gathered the leaders of our people and told them that he had been working on an alternative to the Gorn military's plans. He told us that the ship he arrived on was to be our transport out of the Gorn system. It was then he decreed that when our ancestors left Gorn space, they would no longer be considered Gorn, they would be the Soleen. He then gave their leader a book of the religious teachings of the Holy Ones past and a scroll. He instructed that the scroll be kept safe and not opened for five hundred years. The crew of the ship then emerged and joined the Holy One. He told our ancestors to take the ship and leave immediately, for even his influence in the government couldn't guarantee their safety."}

{"The technology of that time was primitive by our standards. The journey took years and the prospect of starvation was their constant companion. Many of our people died on the journey from disease and the lack of the basic necessities of life. Our ancestors also encountered many hostile beings and had to defend themselves. Years of enduring these experiences hardened their hearts."} the elderly woman said sadly.

{"By the time they arrived in this system the peaceful sophisticated people from the Gorn Empire had become little more than barbarians."} the elderly man said in an anguished voice.

Silence fell over the gathering for a moment, then the chirping of one of the feathered elders drew everyone's attention.

{"The Soleen came to our world and brought despair and destruction to our people. We were a simple and peaceful people with no technology. We didn't have a government or military. When the Soleen arrived they raped the land of its resources and brutally murdered thousands of our people. That went on for centuries. The Avalla retreated to the less hospitable regions of the planet to hide and try to survive."}

{"The Soleen of the time felt that there weren't enough resources to support both our people, so they devised a 'humane' solution."} the elderly Soleen woman said in a pained voice.

{"They gathered my people like cattle and took them to another world, a world not suited to our needs."} the Avalla elder said firmly.

After a moment to compose himself, he continued, {"They gathered my people and took them to a world which was too cold and too dry for my people to remain healthy."}

{"Many became sick and died because they couldn't adjust to the different climate."} the other Avalla elder added with a few quiet clucks.

One of the Soleen elders stood from the table and walked toward the opposite side of the room as the other Soleen elder said, {"The gathering was nearly complete. It was estimated that there were less than one thousand Avalla left on the entire planet. Then the most miraculous thing happened."}

{"The five hundredth anniversary of our expulsion from the Gorn Empire arrived. The anniversary had become our most celebrated holiday, but this anniversary was also the day that the scroll would be opened. The Soleen prepared for months for the celebration and the scroll opening ceremony was televised for all to see. It was our plan for this day to mark our new beginning. It was to be the last day of our struggle with the past and our first day of the harmonious future."}

{"This is a replica of the scroll. The original is located in a museum in the center of town."} the elderly Soleen man said as he presented the unrolled scroll to the boys.

Vincent looked at it carefully, then said, {"We can't read your language. What does it say?"}

{"The message was simple, just one sentence. 'Do not become that which you hate'."} the elder said quietly.

{"All our people, all of them, were witness to the opening of the scroll. And in that moment, all of our people were ashamed."} the elder Gorn woman said quietly.

{"That day was nearly two hundred years ago. We've been working since then to repair the damage to the planet and to integrate the Avalla into our society."} the elder man said quietly.

Vincent nodded in thought and was surprised to hear Lehman speak.

{"I understand all of that, but you didn't say anything about the Trach Manja. I got the feeling that you've been expecting us. Can you tell us about that?"}

{"The story of the Trach Manja is more ancient than the one we've just told. It is included in the teachings of the Holy Ones past. The references are varied and the language is ancient so some of the translated meanings are dubious. But the essence of it is that the Trach Manja, he who is above all houses and castes will come and usher our people into the new age."} the elder Soleen man said reverently.

{"Over the past two hundred years, we've worked very hard to repair the past damage to the environment and finally live in harmony with the ecosystem of the planet. We've eliminated poverty and hunger so that even those living in the least of our social castes can thrive and contribute to the common good."} the elder Soleen woman said passionately.

The elder Avalla woman chirped to add, {"And we have been keeping a watch on the stars, on our neighbors in the universe. We've been watching and debating the possibility of opening ourselves to the outer worlds and risking the fragile balance we've finally attained."}

{"Will you help us? Give us your guidance?"} the Soleen woman asked in nearly a whisper.

Before Vincent could even consider the answer, Lehman spoke up, {"No. At least not right now."}

Vincent turned to look at Lehman with surprise.

{"I'm sorry, but there's something we need to do first."} Lehman said quickly.

{"What is it that you must do?"} the Soleen elder woman asked curiously.

{"It's hard to explain, but there are some people we need to talk to. Before we can give any advice to you, we have to get advice from them."} Lehman said firmly.

After a series of growls, hisses, chirps and clucks from the table, everyone seemed to be in agreement.

{"We have waited centuries for this day, we can wait for you to do what must be done."} the elder Soleen woman said with a slight smile.

{"Thank you. We won't take any longer than we have to, I promise."} Lehman said seriously.

"Come on guys, we need to talk." Lehman said to the other boys as he turned toward the door.

Vincent noticed that Captain Rasch, Treep and Jenn were all standing by the door waiting for them.

"Them too?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Sure. I think we'll need their help." Lehman said as he led the way out of the room.

Vincent gestured to the trio to follow them.

* * * * *

"Okay Lehman, what was that all about? And when did you become the leader?" Vincent asked playfully.

"I don't know if you guys thought about it, but this is part of our... purpose." Lehman said with a glance at Captain Rasch, Treep and Jenn.

"I don't get it." JonJon said with confusion.

"Do you think anyone in that room was the person who will change the destiny of the planet?" Lehman asked frankly.

"Oh... Got it." JonJon said quietly.

"There are three of us, I think that probably means that there are at least three people we need to be finding and talking to." Lehman said seriously.

"Works for me... but where do we start?" Vincent asked slowly.

"Well, I know where I need to go. All I can say is follow your instincts and go where you feel you should be going." Lehman said with conviction.

"Okay, but what about these guys?" Vincent asked as he looked back at the trio from the ship who were patiently waiting.

"We don't know our way around here or anything about their customs. There are three of us and three of them... coincidence?" Lehman asked with wide eyes.

"You have a lot more faith in this stuff than I do, but you're probably right. I think Jenn and I need to go back to the ship and have a long talk." JonJon said frankly.

"I can't explain why, but there's something about Treep that makes me want to get to know more about him." Vincent said cautiously.

Lehman glanced out the window, then said, "Then I've got Captain Rasch. How about we meet back here at sunset to compare notes?"

"Yeah. It sounds like a plan." Vincent said with a smile.

JonJon nodded and seemed to be anxious to begin.

The three boys turned simultaneously and walked to their respective guides.

* * * * *

{"Treep, do you have time to go somewhere with me today?"} Vincent asked curiously in Eagle.

Happiness filled Treep's expression as he said, {"I am certain that no one would object if I were to accompany you."}

{"Good. Then let's go. I don't think we have a lot of time."} Vincent said quickly.

{"If you know where you need to go, I could arrange a teleportal for us."} Treep said seriously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then asked, {"If I weren't with you right now, where would you be going?"}

{"Assuming that I had no duties to perform on my ship, I would probably go to the house of my parents. That is where I live when I am not on the ship."} Treep said in a considering voice.

{"Do you think it would be okay if I went with you to your parents' house?"} Vincent asked slowly, not entirely sure that he was doing the right thing.

{"My parents would be honored to meet the Trach Manja."} Treep said with certainty.

{"Then lead the way."} Vincent said as he made a gesture to the door.

{"I can arrange a teleportal for us. It would be much faster."} Treep said slowly.

{"Is that how you would normally go to your parents' house?"} Vincent asked curiously.

{"No, I would normally walk to the nearest public teleportal station and teleport to the section of the city where my parents live."} Treep said cautiously.

{"Then let's do that. I'd like to see some of the city anyway."} Vincent said with a smile.

Treep nodded and began walking toward the door.

Vincent glanced back at the others before following.

* * * * *

JonJon walked to Jenn and immediately broke into a smile.

Jenn mirrored his smile as she looked deeply into his blue eyes.

"Do you think it would be any problem if we went back to the ship?" JonJon asked quietly.

"I don't think so. But since it is docked, I doubt that anyone will be there." Jenn said slowly.

JonJon smiled as he said, "That sounds perfect to me. It would give us a chance to have a good talk."

Jenn giggled then nodded her agreement.

JonJon noticed that Treep and Vincent were leaving the room.

"You'll have to lead the way. I have no idea how to get there from here." JonJon said frankly.

Jenn got a look of concentration on her face, then a fountain of sparkles erupted around them.

* * * * *

{"I need to go that way."} Lehman said in concentration as he approached Captain Rasch.

{"Tell me where you need to go and I'll arrange a teleportal to take us there."} Captain Rasch said seriously.

Lehman thought for a moment, then said, {"No. We need to walk there. I might lose the link if we transport."}

Captain Rasch watched as Vincent and Treep walked out of the room.

A moment later JonJon and Jenn disappeared in a teleportal stream.

{"I need you to show me the way out of this building. I don't know how long this is going to take so I need to get started."} Lehman said urgently.

{"Right this way."} Captain Rasch said as he began walking.

Lehman kept concentrating on the vague sensation in his mind as he absently followed.

* * * * *

{"That sign indicates a teleportal station two city sections from this building."} Treep said as he pointed one of his talons at a sign on the corner.

Vincent looked down at the sidewalk, then around at the buildings surrounding them.

{"Is something wrong?"} Treep asked with concern.

{"No. The design of your city is just different from what I'm used to. Everything here is built in hexagons isn't it?"} Vincent asked curiously.

Treep seemed to be confused by the question.

Vincent knelt down and pointed at one of the hexagonal bricks of the sidewalk.

{"Yes. That is the natural design common to all Avalla structures. It is the most harmonious with nature."} Treep said carefully.

Vincent nodded, then said, {"Go ahead and lead the way to where we need to go. I just wanted to be sure I understood."}

Treep accepted the explanation, then started walking in the direction the arrow on the sign had indicated.

{"It looks like all the buildings have their sides open. What do you do when it rains?"} Vincent asked as he walked with Treep at a casual pace.

{"We enjoy the feeling of the rain. Anything that rain might damage would be kept in the inner rooms of the structure."} Treep said frankly.

Vincent nodded, then thought to ask, {"Does it ever get cold here?"}

They approached a three way intersection and Vincent noticed another sign pointing the way to the teleportal station.

{"Yes. There is a brief season of cold. During those times we wear additional layers of clothing to insulate us and the Soleen tend to stay indoors."} Treep said honestly.

Vincent nodded at the information, then noticed that there were several Soleen and Avalla people who had stopped walking and were staring at him.

{"I guess I look pretty strange to them."} Vincent said quietly.

{"No. Our people are all familiar with the various races of the Federation. They are just understandably curious about seeing a Human on our world."} Treep said frankly.

{"How much do they know about Humans?"} Vincent asked curiously.

{"Many of the Earth's entertainment programs are recorded and broadcast on Soleena. Those programs have inspired our people to begin producing their own original works."} Treep said casually, then gestured to indicate the teleportal station ahead of them.

{"What Earth shows do you like to watch?"} Vincent asked with a smile.

{"My current favorite is '7th Heaven', although I am also a devoted viewer of 'The Late Show with David Letterman'."} Treep said a bit shyly.

{"Really? I got to meet David Gallagher from '7th Heaven' before I left Earth."} Vincent said happily.

{"You've actually met David Gallagher? What is he like?"} Treep asked with excitement.

{"He's a friendly guy. I really like him, but he's not as tall as I expected him to be."} Vincent said consideringly.

Treep came to a stop at the back of a line of people.

{"Now we will await our turn to use the teleportal."} Treep said casually.

Vincent nodded as he noticed that the other people in line were staring at him.

{"Mommy, one of the people got out of the television."} a young Soleen girl said as she pointed at Vincent from just ahead of them in line.

{"Don't point. It's rude."} the girl's mother said in a hiss as she tried to grab her daughter's arm.

{"I don't mind if she points."} Vincent said in the Gorn language, then went down on one knee to be on the girl's eye level and said, {"You're very pretty. What's your name?"}

"Britney." the girl said with a shy giggle.

{"Her name is Grashalla, but she's decided that she wants to be named Britney instead."} the girls mother said in a voice of exasperation.

Vincent giggled at the statement, then stood to look at the mother and said, {"When I was her age I didn't like my name either. I wanted a name like Joey or Jimmy."}

{"You're Trach Manja!"} the Soleen woman said in shock as she stared at his necklace.

{"Yeah."} Vincent said shyly, then continued, {"But you and Grashalla can call me Vincent."}

The woman seemed panicked, not knowing what she should do.

Finally she bowed deeply and whispered, {"Thank you... Vincent."}

{"You don't have to bow to me. I'm a person waiting in line just like you. No better and no worse."} Vincent said seriously.

{"But you are Trach Manja..."} the woman said in a whisper.

{"Yeah. But I still eat, sleep and have a family just like you do. Being a Trach Manja means that there's something special that I have to do, but the rest of my life is just like anyone else's."} Vincent said seriously.

The woman slowly looked into Vincent's eyes, then after a moment she shyly smiled.

Vincent smiled in return, then gestured to the line of people that had moved up in front of them.

{"Please go ahead of me. We are in no hurry."} the woman said quietly.

Vincent gave a small smile, then said, {"Why don't we just go together?"}

The woman reluctantly nodded, then took her daughter by the hand and moved up in the line.

{"You handled that well."} Treep said as he took a step closer.

{"She's still looking at me like I'm a Holy One or something."} Vincent said as he walked forward with Treep at his side.

{"You are Trach Manja, you are foretold in the ancient teachings of the Holy Ones."} Treep said thoughtfully.

{"Treep. I'm a crewman on my starship. I wake up every day and do my job and follow my orders. Every now and then I get to do something extra like coming here to your planet. But the rest of the time I'm just a regular person with a regular job."} Vincent said honestly.

{"You are not revered and honored among your people?"} Treep asked in disbelief.

{"No. My people don't know what a Trach Manja is, and that's just the way it should be. A Trach Manja isn't a Holy One or a king or a president. He's just kind of a guide, you know, like those signs that we followed to get to the teleportal station. We point the way when we're needed. The rest of the time we're just... there."} Vincent said seriously.

{"Bye bye Vincent."} the young Soleen girl said happily as she waved, then she and her mother were enveloped in the fountain of sparkles of the teleportal.

Treep keyed in the destination coordinates for him and Vincent, then indicated where they needed to stand.

A moment later a shower of sparkles erupted around them.

* * * * *

When the sparkles had finally subsided, JonJon found that he and Jenn were on the deserted bridge of the ship.

"Why did you bring us to the bridge?" JonJon asked curiously.

"I didn't. I just asked Ship to teleport us aboard and didn't specify where." Jenn said simply.

"Ship? Can you understand my language?" JonJon asked into the air.

"I understand." The ship responded slowly.

"Would you have time to talk with Jenn and me about some things?" JonJon asked as he looked up, not having any idea where he should direct his voice.

"Conversation will not distract me from performing my other duties." the ship responded in a professional voice.

JonJon looked around the bridge, then asked, "Can you talk to us just as easily in the Lounging Hall?"

"Yes. I have full access to all areas of the ship."

JonJon turned to find Jenn looking at him curiously.

"I'd just feel more comfortable if we could go somewhere else so we could relax while we talk. I feel like we're intruding on someone else's place in here." JonJon said seriously.

"I'll show you to the Lounging Hall." Jenn said gently, then started walking toward the door.

JonJon hurried to follow.

* * * * *

{"Can you tell me where we're going?"} Captain Rasch asked as they stepped out of the building onto a sidewalk.

{"That way."} Lehman said as he pointed.

{"To the ocean?"} Captain Rasch asked hesitantly.

{"Yes. If that's what's over there."} Lehman said frankly.

{"Well then, the fastest way will be to follow this path."} Captain Rasch said and turned the opposite direction from where they were facing.

Lehman hurried to follow.

{"Can you at least tell me *why* you need to go to the ocean?"} Captain Rasch asked as they walked at a hurried pace.

{"I'm sensing a telepath calling to me, but I'm only slightly telepathic so I need to be closer to really hear it."} Lehman said seriously.

{"None of my people have telepathic abilities. Neither Soleen nor Avalla."} Captain Rasch said seriously.

{"Well someone does because I can hear him calling to me."} Lehman said as he started walking even faster.

{"The spirit of the sea..."} Captain Rasch said in realization.

{"What's that?"} Lehman asked curiously.

{"Just something I heard as a boy. An Avalla legend from the ancient times. They believed that the entire ocean was inhabited by a spirit that protected them. Many primitive cultures worship the sun or the moon or the forces of nature to try to explain things that are beyond their understanding."} Captain Rasch said slowly.

{"Well, if it's a spirit, it's a telepathic one because I can feel it and I'm pretty sure it knows that I'm coming."} Lehman said firmly.

{"I hope for your sake that this is something friendly."} Captain Rasch said with the beginnings of worry.

{"I hope so too. I won't know until I get there."} Lehman said as he started to pull ahead of Captain Rasch.

{"Shouldn't you let the others know what you're doing?"} Captain Rasch asked as he tried to keep up.

{"There's nothing they could do. Vincent is even less telepathic than I am and JonJon isn't telepathic at all. I'm the only one who has a chance of talking to... whatever this is."} Lehman said before turning a corner.

* * * * *

When the sparkles cleared, Vincent looked around to find that he and Treep were standing in another transit station that was nearly identical to the one they had just left.

{"My home is this way."} Treep said as he motioned toward one of the sidewalks.

{"Is it far?"} Vincent asked as he looked around.

{"No. It is just around the corner from here."} Treep said casually.

{"Does everyplace in the city look exactly the same?"} Vincent asked curiously.

Treep clucked and giggled for a moment, then said, {"Yes. Inside the cities most structures are identical. Outside the city centers there is variation."}

Vincent nodded, then noticed a radical difference as they turned the next corner.

{"I'm guessing that's outside the city center."} Vincent said hesitantly as he looked at the hexagonal structures with plants and trees growing wildly around them.

{"Yes. These are typical residences for the city dwellers."} Treep said, then started walking toward one particular house.

Vincent followed and noticed that the homes were constructed the same way as the buildings in town.

The main rooms of the houses were sheltered by an overhanging roof, but completely open to the air.

{"Mother, I've brought someone to meet you."} Treep said quickly as he hurried to a woman who seemed to be cooking at the right side of the house.

The woman looked up at Treep and said, {"I didn't expect you to be home for a few days. Who did you bring?"}

{"Mother, this is Vincent, he is a Trach Manja."} Treep said in a formal tone.

{"You're the Trach Manja?"} she asked in a whisper.

{"One of them."} Vincent said quietly.

Treep's mother stared at Vincent with disbelief.

{"Vincent, this is my mother, Chirra."} Treep said cautiously, closely watching his mother's expression.

{"It's nice to meet you Chirra."} Vincent said and noticed that his throat was getting raw from the strange demands he had been making on his voice.

There was a moment of silence until Treep finally asked, {"When will father be home?"}

Chirra stared at Vincent a moment longer, then absently said, {"He's already been home, I just sent him to the market for me."}

{"Did Tern go with him?"} Treep asked slowly.

Chirra blinked her large black eyes, then turned to her son and said, {"No. Tern is in front of the video screen where he is every day at this time."}

{"Come with me Vincent, I want to introduce you to my brother."} Treep said happily, then started walking across the open room that was facing the street.

{"Will the Trach Manja be staying for dinner?"} Chirra asked toward her son's retreating form.

{"Would you like to have dinner with us?"} Treep asked Vincent casually.

{"What do you eat?"} Vincent asked cautiously.

{"I think our diet is what Humans call 'Vegetarian'. Many of the Soleen eat meat, but most Avalla do not... our bodies weren't designed to process that type of food."} Treep said in thought.

{"Yeah, I'd like to have dinner with you, I mean, as long as it's not too much trouble."} Vincent said cautiously.

{"If you make enough food he will stay."} Treep called out to his mother, then started walking again.

Vincent heard some squawking and chirping from behind them but couldn't make out any words, he just got the sense that what she was saying contained the phrase 'my smartassed son'.

* * * * *

Treep led Vincent through the large open room at the front of the house, then around a corner through another room that seemed to be a collection of pillows of various shapes and sizes. The single wall of the room had four portraits, each in a hexagonal frame. There was also a collection of objects that Vincent suspected might be something like books from the way they were stored.

When Vincent walked around the next corner he spotted two children laying on a large pillow that looked like an oversized bean bag chair.

Both of the boys appeared to be about four years old.

One of them was Soleen and the other was Avalla.

The boys had their full attention turned toward the video screen on the wall.

Vincent looked at the screen and smiled at the sight.

{"Every day my brother stops to watch 'Sesame Street'. Big Bird is his hero."} Treep said fondly.

Vincent smiled as he walked with Treep to join the children.

{"Tern, I brought someone to meet you."} Treep said gently.

{"Hi."} Tern said quickly without looking away from the video screen.

Treep chuckled and said, {"Maybe I should introduce you over dinner."}

Tern reluctantly looked away from the screen, then froze when he saw Vincent.

He reached to his side and nudged his companion to get his attention.

{"What is it? I think they're about to do the counting again."} the young Soleen boy asked as he kept his focus on the screen.

Tern nudged his companion again as he stared at Vincent.

The Soleen boy turned in his seat and froze.

{"Tern and Ko, this is Vincent."} Treep said with amusement.

{"Nice to meet you."} Vincent chirped in Eagle.

Both boys eyes got even wider when they heard Vincent speak.

{"Does he come from Sesame Street?"} Tern asked in disbelief.

Vincent chuckled, then said, {"No. But I come from the planet where Sesame Street is made."}

{"And he speaks Avalla! I knew it! On the video screen they speak Soleen but I knew they really spoke Avalla. That's why their mouths move different from when they talk!"} Tern said in a rush.

Vincent smiled as he said in the Gorn language, {"The language they speak on Sesame Street is really English. I think they just had other people do the voices so you could understand what they were saying."}

{"Eng-lish?"} Ko asked curiously.

"This is English. It's the language I grew up speaking." Vincent said slowly.

Both boys looked at Vincent in wonder.

{"That's the language they use on the grown up shows that we're not supposed to watch."} Ko said seriously.

{"That's right Ko. They speak English in the adult shows and subtitle them in Soleen."} Treep said gently.

Vincent glanced at the screen, then said, {"It looks like they're about to count. You'd better watch."}

Ko and Tern reluctantly looked away from Vincent and were soon lost in the program on the screen.

* * * * *

As soon as the pair were comfortably seated on one of the pedestals in the Lounging Hall, JonJon asked, "Ship, do you have a name?"

"I have a ship registry number to differentiate me from other ships." the ship responded immediately.

"Okay, it just seemed like it might be rude to call you Ship. I know I wouldn't like it if someone called me 'Android'." JonJon said carefully.

"No. I am accustomed to being called 'Ship'."

JonJon nodded, then noticed the curious look in Jenn's eyes.

"Ship is an intelligent being. He is sentient. I want to understand what his life is like and be sure that he and all his brother and sister AI units are being treated with the same respect that all artificial life forms should have." JonJon said frankly.

"Would you clarify your statement?" Ship asked slowly.

"Sure. Jenn and I are artificial life forms just like you are. We're sort of like cousins. I want to understand how things are for you so I can help you if I can." JonJon said into the air.

After a long moment of silence, Ship quietly asked, "What can I do to assist you?"

"Tell me what makes you happy. What makes you sad. What you would change if you could." JonJon said carefully.

"I am most contented when I am able to fulfill my purpose. The recent mission to meet with the Federation ship was very satisfying for me. What I most dislike is being deactivated. The only way I can describe the sensation in your language is by using the word 'death'. If I could change something, all I would want is the choice to be allowed to accept or reject the captain who is assigned to me." Ship said seriously.

"You don't like Captain Rasch?" Jenn asked with surprise.

"Captain Rasch is a very good and understanding man... a bit lazy at times... but not to a point that it is a burden. Given the choice, I would accept Captain Rasch. There have been previous captains who have taken control of me and refused my services. One disabled my vocal circuits and locked me out of the control systems so his crew could 'really' pilot the ship. He robbed me of the joy of fulfilling my purpose on that voyage." Ship finished gravely.

JonJon nodded slowly, then asked, "What about other AI systems. Do you know if any of them have problems that need to be addressed?"

"We do not normally communicate about such things, but allow me a moment to make some inquiries." Ship said seriously.

"Take all the time you need." JonJon said as he looked into Jenn's eyes.

* * * * *

{"Please wait."} Captain Rasch said as Lehman took off at a dead run toward the ocean.

Lehman slowed down slightly as he started to pull his shirt off over his head.

Captain Rasch finally caught up to him and asked, {"Are you planning to swim into the middle of the ocean?"}

{"If I have to."} Lehman said as he stopped at the water's edge and sat down to take off his boots.

{"It would be suicide. People don't even swim in this area because it is so dangerous."} Captain Rasch said frankly.

{"I don't have time to go somewhere safer. I have to do this now."} Lehman said as he stood and pulled down his pants.

{"Wait here for me. I'll be back before sunset."} Lehman said as he handed Captain Rasch his clothes, then began to walk into the water wearing only his boxer shorts.

{"Please listen to me. This is dangerous. I'm responsible for you while you're here."} Captain Rasch said desperately.

{"If I don't come back, tell Vincent that I was doing what had to be done. He'll understand."} Lehman said as he took unsteady steps out into the water.

Captain Rasch stood helplessly, holding Lehman's clothes in his arms.

He watched as Lehman walked farther and farther out into the water, then suddenly went under.

Captain Rasch held his breath as he looked at the water and strained to see anything below the surface.

Finally, Lehman emerged from the water holding onto the back of an extremely large fish.

{"It's okay. I've got a ride."} Lehman said as he waved, then took firm hold of the large spiny fin on the fish's back.

Captain Rasch watched in wonder as the fish towed Lehman away from the shore and finally out of sight.

* * * * *

{"Would you like to see the rest of the house?"} Treep asked as they walked away from the boys.

{"Yes. I'd like that."} Vincent said honestly.

Treep led Vincent around the next corner of the house to expose a large garden with a pond in the middle.

{"That's really beautiful."} Vincent said as he looked at the dense foliage.

{"Most Soleen-Avalla homes are constructed this way. Most of these are the native plants for this area."} Treep said as he continued to guide Vincent along the side of the house.

Vincent noticed something familiar and asked, {"Is that glurrah?"}

Treep walked to the plant that Vincent was pointing at and said, {"Yes. That is one of the plants that the Soleen introduced to this world. It looks like these are ripe. Before dinner we may gather some for the meal."}

Vincent nodded, then followed as Treep led him around another corner to an open area with a long table and many chairs.

{"This is our dining area. When the food is prepared it will be brought here."} Treep said as he walked past the table.

When they rounded the next corner, Vincent noticed that they were back at the kitchen area where Chirra was still working.

It seemed strange to Vincent to have all these areas of the house open on three sides. It was like they had all their rooms on patios.

{"I will show you the inner rooms now."} Treep said as he pulled a heavy curtain aside and walked through the doorway.

* * * * *

It took a moment for Vincent's eyes to adjust to the dimmer light inside.

{"As you have noted, the Soleen-Avalla architecture was developed on a six sided shape. For that reason, we have six inner rooms. This room is the entry. When you go through the doorway at the far end of the room you will be at the center point and you will be able to enter any of the other inner rooms of the house."} Treep said seriously as he walked toward the doorway.

Vincent followed and soon found himself in a small hexagonal room with six doorways.

Three of the doorways had closed doors.

{"This is my room."} Treep said as he hooked one of his talons in a hole in one of the closed doors and pulled.

Vincent watched curiously as the door seemed to fold in on itself and sort of disappear into the doorframe when it was fully opened.

{"We close the doors of our private areas. The rooms with open doors are available for use."} Treep said as he walked into his room.

Vincent peeked into the other open doorways and saw that one was the entry room they had just come from, the next was a bedroom, probably a guest room, and the last seemed to be a bathroom.

{"Until the time comes when I choose a mate, this will be my home."} Treep said from inside his room.

Vincent walked into the room and looked around with interest.

{"Your room is very comfortable. I like it."} Vincent said with a smile.

{"If you don't mind, I'll change out of my uniform then I'll go ask mother if she would like for us to gather some glurrah for dinner."} Treep said casually.

Vincent smiled as he realized that Treep was becoming more relaxed around him and said, {"Yes, that will be fine."}

Treep walked to one side of the room and Vincent noticed that it seemed to be a honeycomb of sorts.

Most of the hexagonal spaces held one or more items.

Treep went to one, then another of the cells and picked out the clothes he was going to change into.

{"I can wait for you outside if you want."} Vincent said cautiously, feeling uncomfortable watching Treep change clothes.

{"If you like, but this will just take a moment."} Treep said casually, then undid the sash around his waist.

His tunic fell open and exposed his thin, completely feather covered chest.

Treep noticed Vincent's interested stare but felt that he would be equally curious if it were Vincent changing clothes, so he continued.

As Treep slipped off his pants, Vincent's eyes went wide with surprise.

{"It's pouched."} Treep said with amusement at Vincent's bewildered expression.

Vincent reluctantly looked up to meet Treep's amused eyes.

{"Our sexual organs are only exposed when we are aroused and prepared to mate. Otherwise they remain pouched, at least that's the term the Soleen use. Nudity is not considered indecent among my people. I'm told that until the Soleen came to our world we did not wear clothing except during the season of cold. Such a thing was never considered."} Treep said frankly as he began to dress in a set of clothes that looked something like a gray sweat suit.

{"Oh. Okay. I'm sorry about staring, I just... well, your shape is humanoid so I kinda just expected..."} Vincent trailed off uncomfortably.

{"I'm not bothered. Come now. I'm ready."} Treep said as he walked to the door of his room.

Vincent smiled and quickly followed.

* * * * *

"Would you tell me about your original purpose?" Jenn asked quietly.

JonJon felt a momentary twinge at the question, but at the same time he felt that he finally had someone who he could talk to about his pain. Someone who could understand.

"Well, I don't remember my first two companions. They must have died and I chose to have those memories locked away so I could continue living. In the lifetime that I do remember, I've had two companions. When I was activated... or I suppose it was reactivated, my purpose was to be the companion of Munroe Daniels. At that time he was a four year old boy who was afraid of the dark." JonJon said with a fond smile.

Jenn moved closer so her shoulder was touching JonJon's.

After a moment to consider, JonJon put an arm around Jenn and continued, "It was incredible Jenn. I got to watch him grow from a frightened child into a sweet teenager and on into a man. I was so proud of him."

A tear slowly fell down JonJon's cheek. Jenn noticed and reached up to gently wipe it away.

"My second companion was Munroe's son, Jeremy. I loved him as if he were my own son. I was there when he was born. I helped bring him into the world. I was with him every day of his life. I held him when he was scared and laughed with him when he was happy." JonJon said quietly.

"What happened?" Jenn asked in a whisper.

"We lived at the Kimber IV colony. It was such a peaceful and happy life, the perfect life for Jeremy. I know he would have grown up to be a wonderful man... he should have grown up... He was only fourteen..." JonJon trailed off as the tears flowed freely down his face.

"I'm sorry JonJon. I shouldn't have asked." Jenn whispered as she held him to her shoulder and gently stroked his hair.

JonJon's tears finally subsided and he quietly continued, "It all started with the storms. There was thunder, lightning, hail and high winds. None of us knew anything was even wrong. No one could have imagined that the storms would keep getting stronger. We thought we were safe in the house. I mean, it was a nice house and it was always safe there. We boarded up the windows so they wouldn't get broken and we stayed inside. Then it happened..."

"There was this horrible roaring sound that seemed to be everywhere and then everything was black and silent. I guess I was knocked out or something, because when I woke up it was noisy and raining again. I dug myself out from under a wall that had fallen on top of me and on up through the debris that had been the roof of the house... then I tried to dig out my family..."

"I don't know how long I was doing that. But it was the only thing I could do... If I was alive then they had to be alive too..."

Jenn continued to smooth JonJon's hair as she whispered, "It's okay JonJon. You did everything you could."

"I was digging and digging trying to find them when all of a sudden everything started to shimmer around me... then I was on the Yorktown." JonJon whispered distantly.

"I begged them to let me go back but the transporter guy... I think it was Rad... he told me that no one was going back down." JonJon said quietly.

A long moment of silence settled between the pair as Jenn held JonJon through his tears.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well, this is a very interesting chapter. It seems each of the boys has a different purpose to work out. I think Jenn is going to be able to help Jon-Jon cope better with his loss, and give him a new ray of hope that he will be able to have a happy life. I certainly hope so.

Vincent seems to have made a friend in Treep, and his family seems very nice as well.

I have no idea what is going to happen with Lehman, but somehow I am sure we will find out more in the next chapter.

Well done, MultiMapper. A truly great informative chapter, to whet our appetites for the next one.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher