© 2008 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 38

The boy reached to do something off screen and Vincent noticed that he was in a wheelchair. Now Vincent was certain that he hadn't met this person before. Rory was the only Clan member that he knew who was in a wheelchair.

"Perhaps if you could assess us of your situation, we might be able to..." Captain Byrne began to say when he was cut off.

"No time to talk. There are lives at stake here. Vincent, Cory wants you back on Earth now." the boy said firmly, then the Clan Short crest filled the screen.

Captain Byrne glanced at Vincent for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.

Vincent watched helplessly as Captain Byrne keyed the comm, then said, "Commander M'Butu, come to my office immediately."

"Yes sir."

The captain looked at Vincent and said, "Regardless of our feelings or those of the colonists, we have been given our orders."

For the first time since he woke up, Vincent was actually glad that he was unable to speak. He didn't have words to express the frustration that he was feeling, knowing that he was the cause for the colonists to have to leave their new home when they were close enough to touch it.

"Crewman Winters... Vincent. We need to trust in the judgment of Starfleet command and do as they say, otherwise they won't be able to trust us when it is necessary." Captain Byrne said in a sympathetic voice.

Vincent considered the words for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.

"I would suggest that we contact Admiral Morrow for further information, but he was in a similar state to your friend at Clan Short headquarters." Captain Byrne said frankly.

Movement from the office doorway drew Vincent and the Captain's attention.

Both expected to see Commander M'Butu, but instead were surprised to see Lehman, JonJon, Jenn and Lieutenant Simms.

"Captain, if you'd be willing to listen, I may have a way so that Vincent can go back to Earth without making the colonists have to leave." Lehman said quickly.

Commander M'Butu walked into the captain's office and looked around curiously.

"Very well Lehman. Please continue." Captain Byrne said with interest.

"Well, I was thinking that Starfleet doesn't really need the Yorktown to go back to Earth, just Vincent. So what if we asked the Soleen-Avalla to take him so the Yorktown can stay here and let the colonists move into their new home?" Lehman said quickly.

Everyone watched silently as the captain considered the question.

Finally the Captain shook his head and said, "The Soleen-Avalla have been more than generous in letting us have their colony. It would be the height of ingratitude for us to ask them for additional favors when it is within our power to do this for ourselves."

"Captain." Jenn said timidly.

Captain Byrne turned his attention to her and raised an eyebrow in question.

"The Soleen-Avalla empire would like to volunteer one of our ships to conduct Vincent back to Earth. This would not put you or the Federation under any obligation to us, on the contrary, it would be an honor to be of service to one of the Trach Manjai." Jenn said seriously.

"And if Vincent is on the Soleen-Avalla ship, you don't have to worry about whoever might be trying to hurt him." Lehman added quickly.

Captain Byrne smiled at Lehman, then said, "Jenn, perhaps it would be prudent if you contacted your government to be sure that they are willing to follow through on the commitments you are making for them."

"Captain Byrne, I am authorized to speak on behalf of my people and they will stand behind any decision that I make. But that doesn't matter in this instance. This offer was made by the counsel of elders, I simply relayed the message." Jenn said in a dignified voice.

"Very well. Then I will contact Starfleet command and propose this to them... and please thank your elders for me." Captain Byrne said as he adjusted the monitor on his desk.

"Starfleet is wanting us to go to Earth right away. We're trying to fix it so the colonists can still move into their new home." Lehman said quietly to Commander M'Butu at his side.

Captain Byrne glanced at the pair and smiled before pressing the comm.

"Please establish communications with Admiral Morrow." Captain Byrne said professionally.

"Right away sir." Debbie said quickly.

"Vincent, do you think it would be okay if I went with you to Earth? You know, so I could talk for you?" Lehman asked hopefully.

It was obvious to everyone in the room that Vincent was uncertain and likely to refuse.

"It may be a long long time before I get the chance to see Earth and I'd really like to. And besides, if I stayed here I'd have to have security following me around for who knows how long." Lehman said, then glanced at Lieutenant Simms at his other side.

Vincent looked into Lehman's eyes, then slowly nodded his agreement.

"Maybe I should go with you too. The Trach Manjai should probably stick together." JonJon said reluctantly.

Vincent shook his head and Lehman automatically spoke the words Vincent would have said if he had been able.

"Cyril needs you to be here. The colony needs you." Lehman said firmly.

Jenn turned to look at JonJon, and even though she didn't say a word aloud, both Lehman and Vincent could see, 'I need you.' written in her expression.

"Admiral Morrow for you Captain." Debbie said professionally, ending any possibility for JonJon to dispute Lehman's words.

Before the captain could say a word, Admiral Morrow said, "The Soleen-Avalla have just contacted Starfleet command and requested that they be allowed the great honor of ferrying Crewman Winters back to Earth. I have accepted their kind offer. Crewman Winters is to return to Earth at best possible speed and the Yorktown will remain in orbit of the new colony until such time that the colonists can sustain themselves or be resupplied."

Captain Byrne was taken aback by the Admiral's abrupt demeanor.

"Yes sir." Captain Byrne responded with military formality.

"Starfleet out." Admiral Morrow said firmly, then ended the transmission.

After a moment of silence, Commander M'Butu quietly said, "Something serious must be going on. I've never seen Admiral Morrow behave like that before."

Captain Byrne slowly nodded, then said, "Yes, quite. But it seems that those involved are too busy to share any details with those of us who are too far away to be of any help. They are simply telling us what needs to be done... and it is our job to do it. Commander, you may return to your duties. Jenn, whenever you are ready, you may call for your ship so Crewman Winters may be underway."

Vincent moved to Lehman's side, then discretely placed his hand on top of Lehman's.

After a moment of concentration, Lehman glanced at Vincent, then nodded that he understood.

"Captain, Vincent needs to do one thing before he leaves. It'll just take a minute or two." Lehman said hesitantly.

Captain Byrne looked at Vincent to find a pleading expression in his eyes.

"The trip you are about to embark upon will take a number of weeks. I'm sure a few minutes won't make a significant difference." Captain Byrne said more gently.

"Captain?" Jenn said hesitantly.

"Yes?" Captain Byrne asked as he turned his attention to her.

"Our technology is a little more advanced than yours. We are anticipating arrival at Earth in two Starfleet standard days." Jenn said carefully.

"Two days?" Captain Byrne asked in astonishment.

Jenn slowly nodded, then said, "The ship is within transportal range and will be ready to depart when Trach Manja Vincent is aboard."

T'Lani walked into the Captain's office and directly to Vincent's side.

Everyone watched as Vincent looked up into T'Lani's eyes, obviously communicating telepathically.

T'Lani and Vincent moved as one, each putting a hand gently to the side of the other's face.

The touch was a feather light caress, moving in slow motion. When all movement stopped, they were in the standard position of a mind meld.

No one in the room made a sound as, for that one moment taken out of time, Vincent and T'Lani became one being.

When the mind meld had finished, both moved in unison again, slowly moving their hands away.

T'Lani bent down slightly as Vincent stretched so he could give his wife a firm hug.

Vincent turned his head and his lips met T'Lani's.

The kiss was slow and firm and filled with emotion. It was obvious to all present that the kiss was not a display of lust or passion but a physical expression of their absolute devotion to each other.

When the kiss was finished. Vincent reluctantly let go of his wife, then turned to face Jenn and JonJon.

"We're ready to go." Lehman said quietly as he once again moved to Vincent's side.

* * * * *

When the shower of sparkles of the transportal beam cleared, Vincent and Lehman noticed that they were once again on the bridge of the Soleen-Avalla ship.

{"I had not expected to see you again so soon. Welcome aboard."} Captain Rasch said cheerfully.

{"Thank you Captain."} Lehman said with a smile at Captain Rasch and Treep.

After a moment, Lehman thought to add, {"Vincent can't talk right now so I'm coming with him to speak for him."}

{"Trach Manja Lehman, you are always welcomed aboard my ship. Once we are underway, would the two of you be interested in joining me for the morning meal?} Captain Rasch asked cheerfully.

{"Morning? Oh yeah, I guess your ship's time runs a little different from the Yorktown... um, sure. I'm ready for lunch and Vincent is always hungry."} Lehman finished with a teasing smile at Vincent.

A roll of his eyes was Vincent's only response.

Captain Rasch gave a booming laugh from deep in his chest, then turned his attention to the holographic display in the middle of the room.

{"Ship. Move us to the edge of the system at maximum impulse speed and let me know when the complete course to Earth is plotted."} Captain Rasch said professionally.

{"Yes Captain."} The ship's AI unit said formally, then in a notably softer voice it continued, {"Welcome back Trach Manja Vincent and Trach Manja Lehman."}

Lehman giggled at the reverent tone in the ship's computer generated voice and responded, {"Thank you ship. It's good to be back."}

{"Captain. I have programmed the growth patterns for the crystals we will need. Would you like to review them before I begin?"} Treep asked from a small console at the side of the room.

{"If Ship has confirmed that the patterns are correct, who am I to argue? Proceed."} Captain Rasch said with a touch of humor.

Treep nodded, then began working his controls.

Captain Rasch noticed the curious looks on Vincent and Lehman's faces.

{"When we reach your Earth, we will need to be able to communicate with your people. Treep is growing translation crystals for each of us."} Captain Rasch said simply.

Vincent thought about the words as Lehman asked, {"Growing crystals? I don't understand how that works."}

Before Captain Rasch could explain, the ship's AI said, {"We are now leaving the Haventauk solar system. The course has been calculated and is being verified by Central AI."}

{"Project the proposed course."} Captain Rasch said seriously as he devoted his full attention to the holographic display.

Both boys looked carefully at the hologram which displayed a thin tube running through the universe from the colony site, all the way back to Earth.

After a moment of looking, Captain Rasch began to nod as he said, {"Yes. This appears to be the most direct route. As soon as you receive confirmation, take us to maximum sustainable warp."}

{"It will be so."} Ship said seriously.

After another moment of looking over the projected course, Captain Rasch said, {"I suppose that is all we can do for the moment. Let us go and have our morning meal together."}

Vincent and Lehman glanced at each other, making sure that neither had any objection, then they moved as one to follow Captain Rasch.

* * * * *

{"It appears that Taryn was made aware of your presence."} Captain Rasch said as they entered the dining room.

The boys looked at the variety of foods lavishly displayed in the center of the large hexagonal table.

There was a centerpiece comprised of many different leafy and flowering plants. Surrounding the display were many different dishes of prepared foods.

{"He never makes a meal this nice for me."} Captain Rasch added more quietly as he moved to one of the chairs.

Vincent and Lehman exchanged an amused look, then followed the captain's example and took seats at the table.

Lehman noticed Vincent's glance toward the door and automatically asked, {"Will Treep be eating with us?"}

{"No. Either Treep or I should remain on the bridge during our voyage. It's less of a necessity while we are in our own area of space, but while traveling outside our system anything could conceivably happen and we need to be on the alert."} Captain Rasch said seriously.

Both boys were a little surprised at the Captain's sudden display of professionalism.

As casual as Captain Rasch liked to behave, there was no denying that he was a starship captain and very aware of his duty.

{"Please make your food selections and begin. We do not have any ceremonies associated with dining."} Captain Rasch said as he began to help himself.

Vincent and Lehman shared an amused glance as both remembered similar words while dining on the Gorn ship.

After a moment for all three to begin eating, Captain Rasch said, {"Earlier you seemed to have questions about the translation crystals."}

Lehman and Vincent both nodded.

{"As you may have noticed, much of our technology is based on the crystalline structure. Over the past few centuries we have worked to refine the technique so that we can manipulate the formation of crystals down to the atomic level. From what I know of Federation technology, our crystals function very much like your isolinear circuitry but are far smaller and much more efficient. When we have need of something like a translation device, we simply grow crystals embedded with the information patterns that we will need."} Captain Rasch said, then began to eat again as the boys thought about what he had said.

Lehman seemed to be a little bit lost, so Vincent put his hand over Lehman's briefly to share his understanding.

{"Oh, okay. So the facets of the crystals function something like on/off switches allowing light to either pass or reflect? And that ends up working a lot like the zeros and ones of binary programming?"} Lehman asked cautiously.

{"Yes Trach Manja Lehman. That is the underlying principle of all Soleen-Avalla technology..."} Captain Rasch said, then seemed to consider something.

Vincent and Lehman waited as Captain Rasch finally found the words.

{"Much of our technology is not unlike that the Soleen arrived with... the technology of the Gorn. But in the past one hundred years, the influence of the Avalla has changed the technology into something unique."}

{"The Avalla beliefs in the patterns of nature have been incorporated into everything in our society, including our programming. Most, if not all of the technological advances of the past century can be attributed to the addition of that simplifying and organizing philosophy that seems to come naturally to the Avalla."} Captain Rasch said distantly.

{"Do you still feel bad for the way your people treated the Avalla?"} Lehman asked, then received a disapproving glance from Vincent.

Captain Rasch noticed and considered for a moment before answering.

{"Yes, of course I do feel some sense of that. I'm sure most Soleen do. But what I was just thinking is how fortunate our people are for having found each other. It's a little overwhelming to think about how two such completely different species at completely different levels of social development could have such a beneficial influence on each other."}

Lehman smiled and said, {"Completely different, like two different pieces of a puzzle. But when you're fit together, you become something else. Something bigger."}

Vincent poked Lehman in the side, then gave him a cheeky grin.

{"What? I'm a Trach Manja. I'm supposed to say philosophical stuff like that. Right?"} Lehman said defensively.

Vincent smiled and nodded.

Captain Rasch chuckled at the exchange, then went back to eating his meal.

* * * * *

{"I must go to the bridge so Treep can have his morning meal. Would you like some time to relax in the lounging hall?"} Captain Rasch asked as he stood from his place at the table.

Lehman patted his belly and said, {"After a meal like that, lounging is about all I'd be able to do. Your cook did a great job."}

Vincent nodded his wholehearted agreement as he also stood.

As Captain Rasch began to walk toward the door he said, {"I will convey our appreciation to the cook. I know that he will be pleased to know that the Trach Manjai enjoyed his efforts."}

* * * * *

"Where do you want to go?" Lehman asked as the pair of boys stood just inside the door of the lounging hall.

Vincent shrugged, then casually gestured to one of the platforms.

"Works for me." Lehman said cheerfully and led the way.

Vincent followed a little more slowly as a feeling of apprehension washed over him.

* * * * *

Lehman and Vincent took their places on the platform and both laid back to bask in the artificial sunlight.

After a few minutes of silence, Lehman turned slightly to look at Vincent and asked, "Is there something wrong?"

After a moment of consideration, Vincent shrugged.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Vincent rolled his eyes at the question.

Lehman chuckled and said, "You know what I mean, like telepathically."

Vincent shrugged again.

Lehman wasn't sure if that meant Vincent wanted to talk or not, but decided to make telepathic contact so he could be sure.

Hesitantly, Lehman reached over and put his hand over Vincent's.

He had expected to receive a telepathic message from Vincent explaining what was wrong, or at the very least a message telling him that he didn't feel like talking.

But what Lehman found instead was a tangle of undefined emotions, twisting and churning.

After a moment to examine the turbulent collection of intertwined feelings, Lehman speculated, "Do you not feel like talking about stuff because you don't know what you're feeling or why?"

Vincent looked Lehman in the eyes and slowly nodded.

"And you're not sure if you really want to know." Lehman continued uncertainly.

Reluctantly, Vincent nodded again.

Both boys sat for a moment, thinking and considering.

Finally Lehman said, "If you don't talk about it, you'll probably just forget about it after a while."

Vincent slowly nodded.

"But that won't fix whatever's wrong." Lehman said in an apologetic voice.

Vincent let out a sigh of resignation and nodded again.

"Do you want me to leave you alone so you can sort it out for yourself?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Vincent moved his hand over Lehman's as an answer.

* * * * *

"Let's see what you've got here..." Lehman said as he carefully examined the collection of emotions before him.

"This big mess of anxiety seems to be hooked to some memories. Let's see what that is." Lehman said as he mentally reached out to explore the emotions.

Before Lehman could open the memory to experience it, he felt Vincent holding him back.

"What's wrong?" Lehman asked with concern.

//It's bad.// Vincent sent telepathically.

Lehman puzzled over the exceedingly simple response.

//That's some memories of my dad when he was screaming at my brother. It's really really bad and I'd be ashamed if you saw it.// Vincent said honestly.

Lehman pulled away from the collection of memories, then asked, "Do you know what that has to do with why you're feeling worried now?"

//Not really. That's all over with. My dad is dead, Lawrence is happy and I already said I'm sorry.// Vincent said slowly.

"You're sorry? Why do you need to be sorry?" Lehman asked curiously.

//It doesn't matter. That has nothing to do with this.// Vincent said as all his mental defenses seemed to instinctively reinforce.

Lehman felt Vincent's mental tension increase and decided that it would be best if he didn't pursue that line of questioning.

"Vincent, there are memory links all over this thing. If you don't want me looking at those memories, can you tell me if the memories have anything in common?" Lehman asked as he examined the knot of emotions that seemed to be growing.

//No... they're kind of all over the place. Some are about when I was at home with my parents. Some are from when I was at school...// Vincent trailed off with a tone of reluctance.

"You said that the one bunch made you feel ashamed. Do the others make you feel that way too?" Lehman asked cautiously.

After a moment to consider, Vincent responded, //No. They make me feel all kinds of things.//

"What kind of things?" Lehman asked in a leading tone.

//I feel stupid, little... angry...//

"What else?" Lehman prompted, feeling that Vincent was close to discovering the root cause of his anxiety.

//...lonely...// Vincent said in a mental whisper.

Lehman withdrew his hand from Vincent's, needing to be away from Vincent's tumult of emotions.

After a peaceful moment of quiet in his own mind, Lehman began to take an objective look at what he had experienced while telepathically linked with Vincent.

Memories from throughout Vincent's life.

A collection of powerful emotions gathered and feeding on each other to grow stronger...

...linked to memories...

...from throughout his life...

Suddenly Lehman realized the connection.

"Vincent, would you try to do something for me?" Lehman asked as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

Without hesitation, Vincent nodded.

"Imagine something for me. Imagine that for some reason Cory calls you and wants you to go to Vulcan and wait for him there." Lehman said seriously.

Vincent considered the words, then nodded as he began to imagine that they were on their way to Vulcan instead of Earth.

Lehman gently laid his hand over Vincent's, just to get a peek at the collection of emotions in Vincent's mind.

He quickly withdrew his hand and smiled as he realized that he knew what Vincent's problem was and that it wouldn't be difficult to fix.

The questioning look on Vincent's face snapped Lehman out of his thoughts.

"You're scared of going back to Earth." Lehman said frankly.

Vincent looked at Lehman with confusion at the unusual statement.

"You haven't shared a lot of your past with me, but I know enough of the basics of your life that I think I can understand." Lehman said in thought.

A momentary look of fear came into Vincent's expression before he carefully hid it.

Lehman smiled at the action, then said, "It's nothing big."

Vincent seemed uncertain, but tried to relax.

"You know all that stuff about your dad and Lawrence? That has something to do with it." Lehman said slowly.

Vincent hesitantly nodded.

"And do you remember when you were in school, how you always felt like you were alone and that nobody liked you?" Lehman asked carefully.

The expression on Vincent's face told Lehman more clearly than telepathic contact that he'd just hit a tender spot.

"Sorry, but that has to do with what you're feeling right now too." Lehman said seriously.

Vincent placed his hand over Lehman's long enough to ask, //So I'm afraid that if I go back to Earth, things will be like that again?//

Lehman thought about the question, then said, "Maybe a little. But I think the thing that's really eating you up is that you're afraid that when you get back to Earth, you'll become the person that you were when you lived there before."

Vincent's eyes went wide at the statement.

"You see yourself as a good person now. You like yourself. But since you've been on the Yorktown, you haven't had any of the influences or triggers that used to make you react in certain ways on Earth. You're afraid that when you go back to Earth, you'll suddenly become the angry, lonely boy who used to eat his lunch all by himself, sitting on the back steps of the school." Lehman said frankly.

Vincent's look became distant as he considered Lehman's words.

"Vincent. I'm here with you. I won't let that happen." Lehman said as he looked into Vincent's eyes and drew his attention back to the present.

The look of question in Vincent's eyes prompted Lehman to continue.

"How about this? I'll make a promise to you right here and now. If I see you starting to change back into the mean old Vincent that you used to be, I'll bring you back here to the ship and snap you out of it." Lehman said seriously.

Vincent raised his eyebrows, clearly conveying, 'Really?'

Lehman nodded and said, "I like the person who you are and I'll protect you however I can... and before you say it, I already know that you'd do exactly the same thing for me."

Vincent smiled and nodded that he would.

"Good. I'm glad that's settled. Now lay back and let's enjoy our lounging. We've had way too much seriousness for one day." Lehman said as he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

A feeling of movement on his hand a moment later caused Lehman's eyes to snap open.

The contact only lasted an instant and carried one simple message.


* * * * *

As Vincent rested back, he thought about what Lehman had said.

No matter how much he had changed since leaving Earth, he knew that the person that he used to be was still inside him.

Knowing the depth of the feelings that he used to have and all the horrible things he used to do and say, he just couldn't find the ability to trust himself.

...But he trusted Lehman.

* * * * *

Vincent heard a small voice laughing very near to him.

Slowly he opened his eyes and was surprised to find that instead of looking up at the ceiling of the lounging hall, he was looking up into a clear, blue sky.

The sound of giggles drew Vincent's attention away from the sky and he turned to see a small fluffy creature that looked something like a rabbit. It was an odd combination of colors, like swirled brown and pink.

Vincent sat up abruptly and looked around.

He was in a grassy meadow surrounded by trees in the distance.

There was no sign of the lounging hall, no sign of the Soleen-Avalla ship, and most importantly, no sign of Lehman.

"Where am I?" Vincent asked, then marveled at his ability to speak.

"You're here silly. Here is here." The little floppy eared rabbit looking thing chuckled.

"Um, yeah. Thanks." Vincent said as he slowly got to his feet and started to look around.

"Wanna play? Wanna play? Wanna play?" The little furry animal chanted as it bounced around Vincent's feet.

"No. I don't think so. Do you know if there are any other people like me around here?" Vincent asked slowly.

"Nuh-uh. You're the onlyest person like you I ever seen." The little thing said cheerfully.

"Onlyest huh?" Vincent asked, then started looking around to see if there was any sign of a town or road anywhere near by.

"Uh-huh. You're big and funny looking. I like you. Wanna play? Wanna play? Wanna play?"

Vincent took in a slow breath to brace himself before answering.

"Look, before I came here I was with someone else who looks just like me. I really need to find him." Vincent said seriously.

"A quest! We get to go on a quest! A quest! A quest! A quest!" The small rabbit chanted joyfully.

"Um, yeah. I guess so. Do you have any idea of where we should go to look for him?" Vincent asked reluctantly.

"If we're going on a quest, we'll need a band of brave warriors to go with us! Come on!" The little rabbit thing said happily, then started hopping away.

Vincent started to walk, since he didn't seem to have any other choice.

"Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" The little rabbit said as he hopped in a circle, then darted ahead of Vincent again.

Vincent started walking a little faster, trying to follow the bouncing little creature with his eyes.

All of a sudden Vincent stopped and looked around.

With a sudden flash of insight, he realized where he was.

"Brakkii!" Vincent called out into the air.

The little rabbit thing stopped his hopping and tilted his head as he looked at Vincent curiously.

"Brakkii, end this! I don't have time to play with you right now! My brother and my Clan are in trouble and they need me!" Vincent called out seriously.

"You're silly! Come on, come on, come on!" The little rabbit thing called as he bounced in place.

"Brakkii, end this now or when I find you I'm gonna kick your multi-dimensional ass!" Vincent called out angrily.

"Bad words! Hurting words! Be nice! Be nice!" The little rabbit creature called out as he covered his ears.

Vincent noticed the tears welling up in his tiny companion's eyes and felt his anger dissolve.

"Okay. No more hurting words." Vincent said with resignation.


Vincent reluctantly smiled, then made a show of covering his ears, then taking his hands away.

The small rabbit creature carefully took his paws away from his ears and watched Vincent cautiously.

"I won't use anymore hurting words. Go ahead and show me where we need to go."

The small creature began to bounce again, then took off in a burst of speed.

After a moment of hesitation, Vincent ran to follow.

* * * * *

"Mommy! Mommy! Look! Look! Look!" The little rabbit creature called out just before darting into a burrow between the roots of a huge tree.

Vincent stopped a few feet away from the tree, uncertain of what he should do.

"Calm down. I'm coming." A woman's voice said in a slow soothing tone.

Vincent watched the opening of the burrow carefully as a much larger rabbit creature emerged.

"Goodness!" She exclaimed at the sight of Vincent.

For some reason Vincent found her expression funny and couldn't restrain his laughter.

She had a momentary look of worry, but at Vincent's laughter, it softened into a warm, motherly expression of amusement.

"A quest! A quest! We're going on a quest!" the small rabbit creature said from his mothers side as he bounced with youthful energy.

"Be quiet for a moment Pipi. Momma needs to find out what's going on." She said gently.

The small rabbit creature continued to bounce in place, but stopped speaking.

"I am Naleen and this is my son Pipi." She said to Vincent slowly.

"It's nice to meet you, I'm Vincent."

She seemed disturbed for some reason, but quickly hid it, then asked, "What is this Pipi is saying about a quest?"

Vincent smiled down at Pipi, clung to his mothers side and still slightly bouncing.

"When I closed my eyes, I was on a spaceship and my brother Lehman was beside me. When I opened them again, I was here with Pipi." Vincent said carefully.

"So you need to go on a quest to find your lost brother?" She said in confirmation.

"I guess so. I don't even know where I am, so I'd be open to any suggestions." Vincent said seriously.

After a moment of thought, she quietly answered, "I'm certain that your brother would either be taken to the queen or at the very least she would be advised of his presence. I think the best thing you could do is travel to The Core where the queen lives and seek your answers there."

"The Core?" Vincent asked cautiously, not liking the sound of it at all.

"The Core is the source where everything came from and where everything will one day return." Naleen said reverently.

"The Core." Vincent said as he nodded at the explanation.

"Pipi could guide you to the forest path. He knows his way there and back. Or I could call his brothers and sisters to go with you if you like." She said carefully.

"NO!" Vincent said automatically as he formed the mental image of being surrounded by countless tiny rabbit creatures, all with Pipi's boundless energy.

In a quieter voice Vincent continued, "No thank you. I'm sure that Pipi will be more than enough of a guide for me."

Naleen gave a gentle smile, obviously understanding what he meant.

Pipi began to bounce even faster, and was obviously fighting to remain silent.

"When you get to the forest path, just follow it to The Core. Anyone there will be able to take you to the queen where you can find your answers." Naleen said as she looked down at her energetic son.

"Thank you for your help Naleen." Vincent said sincerely, then looked down at Pipi and asked, "Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Let's go!" Pipi said, then began to hop away.

Vincent chuckled at Pipi's energy.

"When you get to the edge of the forest, send him back home. If he were to go farther, I'm afraid he wouldn't be able to find his way home." She said seriously.

"I will." Vincent said with assurance, then turned at the sound of Pipi calling to him.

"This way! Come this way!" Pipi called out eagerly.

After a sigh of resignation, Vincent began to walk as he muttered to himself, "We're off to see the wizard."

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

What an interesting chapter this is. I kind of expected to see all the Munchkins ready to start singing. I hope Lehman is alright. I have to wonder if this is a dream, or if somehow Vincent is really where he seems to be. I suppose we will have to wait for the next chapter. How did I know I would fall in love with Pipi. I also wonder if this is in fact some kind of life lesson for Vincent. You do realize that my mind is very weird sometimes, and I think of the strangest things. Please forgive me for that.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher