© 2006 MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved
Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 15

Vincent opened his eyes and looked around curiously at his surroundings.

It took a moment for him to remember that he was sleeping in the supply room of Deflector Control.

He quietly got out of his sleeping bag and pulled on his T-shirt from the night before.

He moved quietly and was careful not to wake anyone else as he crept out of the room.

* * * * *

"Good morning Vincent, did you have a good sleep?" Lou asked pleasantly as she watched Vincent walk to the main console.

"Yeah. What time is it?" Vincent asked groggily.

"It's almost 04:45. There's still time for you to get some more sleep if you wanted to." Lou said gently.

"I went to sleep early enough that I think I'm done sleeping now. Where's Judy?" Vincent asked as he looked around.

"We had a control circuit failure on one of the R cell nodes so she's switching it out. I guess that's going to be happening a lot until we can get back to Earth and get stocked up on good control circuits." Lou said casually.

"Oh yeah. I guess so." Vincent said as he came more awake.

"Since you're up, would you mind running a quick level two on the main console? I'm getting some strange readings here and I'd like to make sure that they're for real." Lou said as she looked at her board carefully.

"Yeah. It'll just take a second." Vincent said and walked to station three to run the diagnostic.

"If this isn't a problem with the sensor display, then you guys may be having an interesting day." Lou said speculatively.

"The level two diagnostic shows that the console is running fine, but I'm going to run a level three just to be safe." Vincent said as he keyed in the command.

"Thanks, I was going to suggest that." Lou said as she examined the readings more closely.

"While that's running, I'm going to go get dressed." Vincent said and walked to the supply room.

After a moment, Lou muttered, "Yeah. Fine."

* * * * *

Vincent walked out of the supply room wearing his uniform and walked directly to station three to check on the status of the diagnostic.

"It's not showing anything wrong so far. I'm going to run to the bathroom and I'll be right back." Vincent said quickly.

"Wait Vincent. Before you go could you wake up Joe, I think he needs to see this." Lou said in deep concentration.

"Yeah, I'll get him now." Vincent said as he started feeling concern at the tone of her voice.

* * * * *

"What's going on Lou?" Joe asked as he hurried to the main console.

Lou glanced up and smiled at the sight of Joe in his pajamas.

Before she could answer he saw the strange readings and asked, "Have you run a diagnostic to see that it's not a faulty sensor image?"

"Vincent has a level three running right now, but I'm beginning to think that it's for real." Lou said as she stared at the sensor data.

"I don't recall ever seeing readings like this before." Joe said as he examined the sensor data carefully.

"I think I have." Lou said quietly.

"Really? Where?" Joe asked curiously.

"Back in my Astrophysics class at the academy. These are the types of readings you would get from proto-matter." Lou said hesitantly.

"It's too soon to be jumping to a conclusion like that. This could be something as simple as a particulate matter build-up on the sensor array." Joe said cautiously.

"Or it could be the first recorded instance of naturally occurring proto-matter that anyone has ever seen." Lou said seriously.

"Is everything okay?" Vincent asked as he hurried back into deflector control.

"Everything is fine. Lou's just getting her hopes up about something that's probably just a hardware maintenance issue." Joe said, trying to hide his excitement at the prospect.

"You know... it could take hours to check every possible hardware cause for this reading... but it would just take a few minutes to rule out proto-matter." Lou said in a leading tone.

Joe thought about the statement for a moment, then reluctantly nodded.

"So you're going to do it?" Lou asked hopefully.

"Give me a minute to get dressed, then I'll go up to the bridge and try to convince whoever the duty officer is to come out of warp long enough to collect a sample." Joe said as a hopeful smile crept onto his face.

"Thanks Joe... This could really be it." Lou said with excitement.

"Try not to get your hopes up too much. Right now it's only a possibility." Joe said seriously, then walked to the supply room to change.

* * * * *

After Joe walked into the supply room, Vincent curiously asked, "So what's going on?"

"The area of space that we're traveling through is virgin territory..." Lou began to say, then trailed off when she noticed Vincent's wide eyed expression.

Lou fought down her chuckles as she said, "That just means that no Federation starship has taken this course through space before. The space beyond the Kimber colony is mostly virgin territory. We've done all kinds of detailed long range scans, but this is the first time we're actually traveling through this space.

"Oh, okay. I get it." Vincent said timidly at his original misunderstanding.

"Well, now I'm detecting some particulate matter impacting the shields that appears to have some characteristics of a theoretical substance called proto-matter." Lou said carefully.

"What's that?" Vincent asked curiously.

Joe walked behind Vincent and pulled him into a gentle hug from behind and said, "Some scientists believe that proto-matter may be what the 'big bang' exploded out into empty space and it was the catalyst that caused the formation of the universe."

"But so far it's all been just a theory. Some scientists have created something in a lab that they named proto-matter but it was unstable and didn't have the properties that would be necessary for the formation of the universe. But what I'm detecting on the sensors *could* be the real thing." Lou said as she looked at the readings again.

"I'd better go now so I can settle this before we're both lost on a flight of fancy." Joe said with a smile and gave Vincent one final squeeze.

"Let me know as soon as you find out." Lou said firmly.

"I will Lou, I promise." Joe said gently, then thought to ask, "Would you like to come with me Vincent?"

"Sure. That'd be great." Vincent said with a happy smile.

* * * * *

Joe and Vincent walked onto the bridge and directly to the command chair.

"Lieutenant Walking Bear, would it be possible for us to come out of warp long enough to collect some samples of the particulate matter that we're traveling through?" Joe asked hopefully.

"Can't you just beam a sample aboard?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked cautiously.

"Not this time. The transporter might corrupt the sample. We have to be very careful to avoid any possibility of contamination." Joe said seriously.

"What is it that you think you've found?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked curiously as he turned his full attention to Joe.

Joe looked around the room, then leaned close to whisper, "Proto-matter."

"Seriously?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked with astonishment.

"It's a possibility. But there's no way to know for sure without a sample." Joe said urgently.

Lieutenant Walking Bear thought for a moment, then said, "It may take me a few minutes to round up a shuttle pilot for you. Everyone got thrown off schedule with the evacuation efforts yesterday."

"Darin trained on helm and navigation. He could probably do it if you wanted. I know he'd want to help if he could." Vincent offered quickly.

Lieutenant Walking Bear looked at Vincent curiously.

"Crewman Winters is right. If you can bring us out of warp and have a shuttle prepped for us, we can provide a pilot." Joe said with a smile at Vincent.

"Then consider it done." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously, then looked at Vincent and said, "And it's a pleasure to meet you Crewman Winters, I've been hearing some good things about you."

"It's nice to meet you too." Vincent said shyly.

"Go wake up Darin while I get the sample containers that we'll need. I'll meet you two on the flight deck." Joe said seriously.

"Yes sir." Vincent said quickly, then hurried to the turbo lift.

"I know how the gossip on the ship can distort the truth of the things you hear. I've been hearing such fantastic things about him, I just have to ask. What is he really like to work with?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked carefully.

"He's still new and has quite a bit to learn. But he's picking up on things quickly and has a strong work ethic. I'd have to say that he's better than most of the new crewmen that have been assigned to me in the past few years." Joe said consideringly.

"It's hard to believe. At his age I was just beginning to look up at the stars and dream." Lieutenant Walking Bear said distantly.

"I know what you mean John. I think I was probably older than Vincent before I started stargazing... I'd better get down to sciences and get some level 5 containment jars for the samples. I wouldn't want to keep Vincent waiting." Joe said with a smile.

"You'd better hurry Joe. From what I've been hearing about him, he might just go do it without you." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a teasing smile.

Joe chuckled and walked to the turbo lift.

As he stepped on the lift, he heard Lieutenant Walking Bear say, "Helm, prepare to take us out of warp..."

* * * * *

Joe walked to the shuttle craft pushing a cart with four carry-all containers.

"Let me help you with that." Darin said quickly as he rushed to Joe's side.

"No Darin. Vincent and I will get this. Go ahead and start your pre-flight. We need to get this done as quickly as possible so the Yorktown can get underway again." Joe said seriously.

Darin nodded and rushed to the shuttle craft.

"Take one side and lift it gently. These containers are fragile." Joe said as he locked the wheels of the cart.

Vincent took hold of one side and gently lifted the box off the cart, then walked backward to the steps of the shuttle craft.

"Gently. We don't need to rush this part." Joe said quietly.

Vincent slowly walked backward up the two steps, then turned once he was inside the shuttle so Joe could lead the way to where they were going to store it.

After a moment to maneuver the carry-all to the back of the shuttle, Joe finally said, "Good. Now we just need to do that three more times."

Vincent nodded and hurried off the shuttle to get the next container.

* * * * *

"Are you guys ready?" Darin asked over his shoulder.

"Go ahead Darin. While you're getting us into position, we're going to be prepping these containment jars." Joe said seriously.

"What do we need to do?" Vincent asked carefully.

"These containment jars are designed to hold a sample in a level 5 quarantine field. Anything that's put inside the jar will be completely isolated so that no light, heat, magnetic fields... not even gravity will be effecting it. What we need to do is make sure that all the properties of the force field are tuned to completely enforce the isolation. I'm going to set up the sample jars, then you can do the fine tuning." Joe said as he opened the first carry-all container.

"Me?" Vincent asked with a squeak.

Joe smiled at him and said, "It's just another force field. You know how to adjust field properties well enough to do this. Besides, Darin and I will be here to answer any questions you have and I can look it over when you're done if you're not sure."

"Um, yeah. If it has to be perfect, then it would be better if you'd look at it. Even if I was sure about what I was doing, that would probably be the smartest thing to do." Vincent said in thought.

Joe smiled at the statement and said, "That's a very good way of looking at it. Watch what I'm doing in case you have to prep a containment canister someday."

* * * * *

"We're outside the shield, what should I do now?" Darin asked cautiously.

"Contact Lou and find out where we need to go to collect a sample." Joe said seriously.

"Got it." Darin said, then opened the comm channel.

"Shuttle craft Victoria to Yorktown Deflector Control." Darin said professionally.

"I'm here Darin. Turn to heading 322.4 mark 7, ahead 86.74 meters for your first sample." Lou said seriously.

"With coordinates like that, you don't even need a pilot out here. You could pilot the shuttle by remote." Darin said with a smile as he maneuvered the shuttle to the proper trajectory and nudged the thruster to move them the short distance to the sample.

"I could, but I don't think Joe would let me hog all the glory." Lou said playfully.

"Firing reverse thrusters. All forward momentum stopped." Darin said once he was in position.

"Vincent, how's the first sample container coming along?" Joe asked as he walked to the front of the shuttle.

"It'll just be a few seconds, then you can look at it." Vincent said in deep concentration as he made minute adjustments to the field properties.

"Lou, where is it?" Joe asked as he looked over Darin's shoulder at the scanners.

"Z minus two meters." Lou said seriously.

"Ouch. You couldn't have brought us any closer could you?" Joe asked as he looked at the scanner carefully.

"I could have, but I've never seen Darin pilot before. I wanted to leave a margin for error." Lou said frankly.

"How did I do?" Darin asked with a smile.

"Let's just say that you'll be even closer to the next three samples." Lou said and a smile could be heard in her voice.

"Daddy Joe. Are you ready to check this?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Sure thing son, I'll be right there." Joe said and hurried to Vincent's side.

After a moment of close inspection, Joe finally said, "You set it up perfectly. If it gets out that you can prep a containment jar this well, sciences might try to steal you away from us."

"I won't go without a fight." Vincent said firmly, then broke into a smile.

"Help me move it to the collection airlock. As soon as we've got it secured, Darin will fire the maneuvering thrusters so we can collect the sample." Joe said with a smile.

* * * * *

"I'm evacuating the atmosphere from the collection container." Joe said in concentration.

"Containment and quarantine fields on standby." Vincent said as he double checked all the field properties.

"Sterilization complete and confirmed. Initiate containment field." Joe said seriously.

Vincent was surprised by the command, but immediately pressed the button to activate the containment field.

"Okay Darin. It's up to you now." Joe said into the air.

"I'm lined up on it. I've just got to tap... tap... angle the descent just a little bit..." Darin said in concentration as he maneuvered the shuttle craft into the perfect position.

"How close are we now?" Joe asked quickly.

"We're at point five meters." Darin said in concentration.

"Will you give me a countdown?" Joe asked as he put his finger on the airlock release.

"Point four five." Darin called out in an absent voice.

"Vincent, get ready to activate the quarantine field. We only get one chance at this." Joe said seriously.

"Point three five."

"I'm ready." Vincent said as he followed Joe's example and placed his finger on the activation button.

"Point two five." Darin said as he worked his controls.

"Looking good flyboy." Lou's voice called out over the comm.

"Point one five."

"Point one."

"Point zero five."

"Get ready..." Joe said in concentration as he pushed the airlock control firmly.

A second later he pushed the control again as he said, "Activate."

There was a long moment of silence, until it was broken by Lou asking, "Did you get it?"

Joe picked up his tricorder and scanned the collection canister carefully before saying, "We got something."

"What do you mean?" Lou asked slowly.

"I mean that the tricorder can't identify what we've collected. That doesn't mean that it's proto-matter, but whatever it is, it's not something that the tricorder has been programmed to recognize." Joe said frankly.

"Are we ready to do another one?" Darin asked from his place at the front of the shuttle.

"Hold on, the quarantine field is reacting to the sample... give me a second to fine tune it." Vincent said in concentration.

"It's going to take us a few minutes to secure the sample jar and set up a new one. I guess you could be getting into position while we do that." Joe said as he started looking over the sample jar to make sure everything was secure.

"Do you have another one ready for me Lou?" Darin asked hopefully.

"Heading 207.88, mark 293.1, ahead 366.42 meters." Lou said firmly.

"I'll take that as a yes." Joe said with a chuckle as he disconnected the sample container from the airlock.

* * * * *

"Would you look at this. We're back on board and we've still got nearly an hour to kill before our duty shift." Joe said happily.

"Do we have to unload the sample containers right now? I really wanted to do something with Benny and JonJon real quick before I have breakfast." Vincent said in a rush.

"No. I don't think anyone will mind if we leave the samples on the shuttle for the time being. I'm not sure which department of sciences should get custody of them anyway. Once we're on duty we can write a report for Commander M'Butu and he can decide what to do next." Joe said casually as he walked to the door of the shuttle.

"Won't someone mess with them while we're gone?" Vincent asked with concern.

"Not if we ask them not to..." Joe said as he stepped off the shuttle, then walked to the ensign who was in charge of the Gamma shift crew.

"Ensign Mahoney, we've just collected some very sensitive samples and left them on that shuttle. Would you please see that no one disturbs the shuttle until I can make some arrangements?" Joe asked professionally.

"Yes sir. I don't think that will be any problem. Do you want me to contact you in deflector control if we need to move the shuttle?" Ensign Mahoney asked calmly.

"That will be fine. If I'm not there, they'll know where to find me." Joe said seriously.

Ensign Mahoney nodded his understanding.

"Well Vincent, why don't you go do what you need to do and we'll meet you in the mess hall." Joe suggested casually.

"Okay. I'll be there as quick as I can." Vincent said happily and rushed ahead of them.

* * * * *

"Hey Vincent. I was wondering where you went." Benny said with a contented smile as he sat up in his sleeping bag.

"If you guys will hurry up and get dressed, I want to take you up to where Channing is staying so you can take care of him... I mean, if you still want to." Vincent finished shyly.

"Oh yeah. I forgot. It'll just take me a minute." Benny said as he got out of his sleeping bag and walked to get his clothes.

"You said it was okay if Fizgig went with us, right?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Channing is a really friendly guy and I think he'll enjoy playing with Fizgig." Vincent said with a gentle smile.

JonJon smiled, then hopped up and began to get dressed.

"Are we going to have time to get something to eat before we go?" Benny asked as he was pulling on his shirt.

"I thought that you guys might want to check and see what Channing wanted to eat, and then you could get food for all of you and eat with him." Vincent said seriously.

"That sounds like a good idea. It'll be like a picnic." Benny said happily.

"Should I bring Fizgig's um..." JonJon trailed off and pointed at the litter box.

"Not right now. You can come back for it later if you want or bring Fizgig down here when he needs to use it." Vincent said seriously.

"Okay. Then I guess I'm ready." JonJon said as he picked Fizgig up and cuddled him gently.

"Let's go." Vincent said urgently and led the way out of the supply room.

* * * * *

"Shhh. I don't know if he's awake yet." Vincent whispered as he led the way into the room.

"Don't worry about it Vincent. We're all awake, we were just talking." Channing said with a smile.

"Channing, you already met Benny. This is our friend JonJon and his dog Fizgig." Vincent said as he motioned to them.

"Nice to meet you." Channing said with a smile, then said, "Guys, I'd like for you to meet Chance and Harmon, my roommates for the next few weeks."

"Hi." JonJon said and gave a little wave.

"I've got to go now so I can eat before I have to go to work." Vincent said seriously.

"Hold on Vincent. We'll go with you." Chance said quickly as he stood.

"You guys have fun today. I'll stop by after my shift." Vincent said with a smile.

Chance and Harmon straightened their uniforms as they waited for Vincent by the door.

"Have a good day Vincent. We'll be fine." Channing said happily.

* * * * *

Vincent approached Joe and Darin's table carrying his tray of food.

Joe saw him approaching and casually asked, "Did you get everything taken care of that you needed to?"

"Yeah. I just wanted to introduce Channing to JonJon and make sure they were going to be okay before I left." Vincent said as he took his seat.

"Oh, I forgot to ask last night. How is Channing?" Joe asked curiously.

"He's fine, he was just up too long yesterday. Dr. Perry said that he needs to rest for three days." Vincent said, then took a bite of his food.

"Is that the guy you went to visit in sickbay night before last?" Darin asked with interest.

"Yeah. He was also in the bed next to mine in sickbay yesterday." Vincent said casually.

"So you arranged for Benny and JonJon to take care of Channing while you're working?" Joe asked speculatively.

"Uh huh. I thought that that way they could be doing something that really matters instead of being bored all day with nothing to do."

"Good thinking. Guys, we'd better hurry up. It's just about that time." Joe said seriously.

"I'm almost finished." Vincent said quickly.

"Excuse me gentlemen, may I have a moment of your time?" A voice asked from behind Vincent.

He turned to see a familiar face and happily said, "Hi Neil. Would you like to join us?"

"Do you know everyone on this ship?" Joe asked Vincent with a smile.

"I'm working on it." Vincent said with a giggle.

"Are you Ensign Darin Cooper?" Neil asked Darin seriously.

"Yes. Why do you ask?" Darin replied cautiously.

"I've been ordered to 'discretely' ask the three of you to come to conference room one immediately." Neil said firmly.

"What's this about?" Joe asked curiously.

"I've been ordered to inform you that you are not to speculate on the reason for the meeting in my presence. I don't know and I don't need to know. Please proceed to the conference room without drawing undue attention." Neil said seriously.

"You heard the man. Let's go." Joe said as he stood and picked up his plate.

* * * * *

"Do I have time to swing by deflector control and arrange coverage for while we're gone?" Joe asked as he led the way to the cafeteria window to drop off his plate.

"No sir, I don't think you do." Neil said seriously.

"You were a lot more fun yesterday in the observation lounge when you were tired." Vincent said playfully as he looked up at Neil.

Neil broke into an involuntary smile and said, "I'm just acting this way so you guys will know that I'm serious."

"We know you mean it, so you can stop being growley now. I want to talk to the nice guy who helped me when I was on the pool deck and I couldn't see." Vincent said hopefully.

"Okay Vincent. Just for you." Neil said with fond amusement.

As the group approached the turbo lift, Neil stepped away and said, "This is as far as I go."

Darin looked at Joe with question, then reluctantly followed him onto the turbo lift.

"If whatever this is keeps me busy for a while, will you check to see that Channing is okay?" Vincent asked hopefully.

Neil smiled and said, "I'll check on him the first chance that I get."

* * * * *

Joe, Darin and Vincent walked into the conference room to find Lieutenant Walking Bear, Lou and Captain Byrne waiting for them.

"Gentlemen, please have a seat. We have an important matter to discuss." Captain Byrne said firmly.

Joe looked at Lou curiously and received a puzzled look in return.

Captain Byrne pressed his comm control and said, "Lieutenant Patterson, I need a priority one secure channel directed to Admiral Morrow at Starfleet Command."

"Yes sir." Debbie said quickly.

"Captain..." Joe began to say but was stopped as Captain Byrne raised his hand.

"Admiral Morrow for you sir." Debbie said professionally as the monitor came to life.

"Leland, may I assume that this is somewhat urgent from the early hour and the need for a secure channel?" Admiral Morrow asked as he sat back in his chair.

"Yes sir. Something happened this morning of which I thought you should be aware. We have not had any discussion of this matter so that you can be involved from the beginning." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Well, you certainly have my interest. What have you got for me?" Admiral Morrow asked as he sat forward.

"It appears that my deflector control team may have come across some naturally occurring proto-matter." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"Dear God! Who else knows about this?" Admiral Morrow asked immediately.

Captain Byrne looked around the room, obviously waiting for an answer.

"I haven't discussed it with anyone outside this room." Joe said carefully.

"I told Judy, but I asked her not to tell anyone else until we were sure." Lou said quietly.

Captain Byrne pressed the comm button and said, "Lieutenant Simms."

"Yes sir." Was the immediate answer.

"Crewman Judy Wills." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Right away sir." Lieutenant Simms said quickly, then the comm went silent.

"Anyone else?" Captain Byrne asked as he looked at Vincent and Darin.

"No sir. I didn't tell anyone." Vincent said shyly as Darin shook his head.

Captain Byrne looked at Lieutenant Walking Bear and received another negative response.

"Very good. Now how sure are you?" Admiral Morrow asked intensely.

Captain Byrne looked at Joe with question.

"We collected four samples of the... substance. The tricorder wasn't able to identify it." Joe said carefully.

"Where is that tricorder?" Admiral Morrow asked seriously.

"I left it on the shuttle craft with the samples." Joe said in a professional tone.

"You left proto-matter sitting unattended in a shuttle bay?" Admiral Morrow asked with disbelief.

"No sir, not exactly. I told Ensign Mahoney that we had some sensitive samples on the shuttle craft and asked him to call me if the shuttle needed to be moved. He assured me that no one would bother it." Joe said in a quieter voice.

The sound of the turbo lift doors opening caused all conversation to stop.

Judy hesitantly walked into the room and stood at attention.

"Crewman Wills, have you discussed the possible discovery of proto-matter with anyone outside this room?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

Judy glanced at Lou, then said, "No sir."

"Very good. Then please have a seat so we may continue." Captain Byrne said professionally.

There was a moment of silence that was finally broken by Admiral Morrow quietly asking, "Given the sensitivity of proto-matter, how did you manage to collect samples."

"Ensign DeGama spotted the proto-matter with the Yorktown's sensors, then guided Ensign Cooper to where he needed to be. Once there, he used the maneuvering thrusters to slowly lower the shuttle until the sample airlock lined up with the proto-matter then dropped the shuttle over it." Joe said proudly.

"That sounds like a very precise maneuver." Admiral Morrow said seriously.

"He's the best pilot in deflector control." Joe said with a proud smile.

"How are the samples being stored?"

"In level five sample containers with full containment and quarantine fields." Joe answered professionally.

Admiral Morrow keyed something into the console in front of him, then hesitantly asked, "Do you happen to know the frequency of the quarantine field that you're using?"

"108.11 cycles per millisecond." Vincent answered immediately.

There was a long moment of silence before Admiral Morrow asked, "Please confirm, did you say 108.11 cycles?"

"Yes sir." Vincent said firmly.

"Could you tell me how you arrived at that precise modulation?" Admiral Morrow asked slowly.

"Once we had the sample contained, I tuned the quarantine field to prevent any particle leakage." Vincent said cautiously.

Admiral Morrow shook his head and began to chuckle.

Vincent looked at Joe with puzzlement and received a shrug in response.

"According to the theoretical research on the subject, true proto-matter could only be contained in a quarantine field modulated at precisely 108.11 cycles per millisecond. I believe that this is all the evidence I need to proceed with this matter. Leland, shortly you will be receiving rendezvous coordinates, when you reach the coordinates you will transfer the proto-matter samples to the Enterprise so the samples can be transported to Earth." Admiral Morrow said firmly.

Captain Byrne nodded his understanding of the instructions.

"Your people need to understand the gravity of the situation so I am authorizing you to brief them on Project Genesis and the related facts concerning the Mutara Nebula. Their security clearances should be adjusted accordingly." Admiral Morrow said seriously.

"Yes sir." Captain Byrne said immediately.

"I think it would be prudent if one member of this group were reassigned to serve as an escort for the proto-matter all the way back to Earth. I believe that only someone who knows all the facts could appreciate the importance of keeping the proto-matter safe and I would like to limit the number of people brought in on this." Admiral Morrow said firmly.

Captain Byrne nodded his agreement.

"All of you, this matter is highly classified. Once you have been briefed, you are not to discuss this matter with anyone outside this group. The dissemination of this information in any form would constitute an act of high treason punishable by a life sentence on a prison planet. I believe you will understand the need for secrecy when your briefing has concluded." Admiral Morrow said gravely.

A moment of silence fell over the room until it was broken by Admiral Morrow saying, "Captain Byrne, the safe transport of the proto-matter is your first priority. You have in your possession the most valuable substance in the universe. You are hereby authorized to use any and all means necessary to safeguard it's transport and prevent it falling into the wrong hands. Am I understood?"

"Yes sir. I understand." Captain Byrne said in a somewhat reluctant voice.

"I'm going to brief the Enterprise command staff, then you'll be contacted with the rendezvous coordinates." Admiral Morrow said seriously.

"Yes sir, we'll be standing by for your message." Captain Byrne said with distraction.

"Starfleet Command out." Admiral Morrow said firmly.

"Yorktown out." Captain Byrne said in a hollow voice, then disconnected the transmission.

Vincent looked at Captain Byrne with concern.

"I believe Admiral Morrow adequately expressed the seriousness of the situation, so now I will tell you the rest of the story." Captain Byrne said reluctantly.

"Perhaps some of you know or have heard of Dr. Carol Marcus." Captain Byrne asked in prelude.

"I met her once when we did a supply run to the Regula One station., but I don't know much about her." Joe said quietly.

"I've read a few of her published reports. It was a little too theoretical for my taste." Lou said with a shrug.

"Dr. Marcus undertook a project for the Federation code named Project Genesis. The essence of the project is that a device that Dr. Marcus and her team developed could be introduced into a dead world and the 'Genesis Effect' would transform a lifeless planet into a living world complete with atmosphere, water, even plant and animal life which would develop at an accelerated rate." Captain Byrne said in concentration.

"That sounds wonderful. What am I missing?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked slowly.

"If the Genesis Device were detonated on a planet where life already existed, the Genesis Effect would destroy every living thing on that world... within minutes." Captain Byrne finished reluctantly.

A long moment of silence fell over the room as everyone digested the statement.

Finally Captain Byrne added, "The key to the Genesis Device was proto-matter."

"Excuse me. You said 'was'... does that mean that Dr. Marcus actually built the device?" Lou asked suddenly.

"Yes." Captain Byrne said simply.

"Admiral Morrow mentioned the Mutara Nebula... it wasn't consumed by a black hole the way the official reports said, was it? Dr. Marcus detonated the Genesis Device and the Genesis Effect consumed the entire nebula." Joe said in a speculative voice as he figured it out.

"The Genesis Device was stolen from Dr. Marcus and detonated by someone else, but the rest of what you said was spot on." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Dear God! It was powerful enough to consume an entire nebula? No wonder Admiral Morrow is scared to death of it." Lou said in wonder.

"The nebular matter was drawn together by the Genesis Effect and formed a planet. But the artificially created proto-matter that was the basis of the device was, by it's very nature, unstable. The Genesis planet was born and lived for only a few short months before it finally decayed and became nothing more than an unremarkable rock in space." Captain Byrne finished quietly.

"But with naturally occurring proto-matter they could construct a Genesis Device that would result in a stable and habitable planet." Lieutenant Walking Bear said speculatively.

"That is the assumption that we're working under. An examination of the samples that you collected would prove or disprove that theory." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"Captain Byrne, I don't understand exactly what the Admiral meant when he said 'any and all means'." Vincent said slowly, feeling that it was the key to the Captain's suddenly somber mood.

"That was the Admiral's way of saying that you and I and this entire ship are expendable. We will be sacrificed to protect the proto-matter or we will destroy it and ourselves to prevent the proto-matter from falling into the wrong hands, should the need arise." Captain Byrne said in a toneless voice.

"Oh. Um... wow." Vincent said quietly.

Joe smiled at Vincent's reaction, then turned back to the captain.

"So, do I have any volunteers to accompany the proto-matter back to Earth?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"Captain, if I may, I would like that honor." Lieutenant Walking Bear said firmly.

"Very well Lieutenant Walking Bear, the protection of the proto-matter is now your personal responsibility." Captain Byrne said decisively.

"Captain, may I suggest that we leave the proto-matter on the shuttle craft so that when the Enterprise arrives, it won't have to be shifted unnecessarily." Joe said carefully.

"That sounds like a sensible idea. Lieutenant Walking Bear can stay on the shuttle and I'll post security to the area to prevent the possibility of anyone trying to gain entry." Captain Byrne said firmly.

"Would it be okay if the rest of us were allowed to go on the shuttle too? I mean, so we could take Lieutenant Walking Bear food or bring him stuff from his cabin if he needs it?" Vincent asked quietly.

After a moment of consideration, Captain Byrne nodded and said, "I'll make sure that security knows that you are allowed entry."

"Captain, I'm sorry I didn't bring this matter to you earlier. I thought the proto-matter would be a significant discovery to the scientific community, but I didn't consider that it might have a practical purpose." Lieutenant Walking Bear said repentantly.

"No need to be sorry. You had no way of knowing. The information about Project Genesis is only known by the higher ups at Starfleet and a few select ships captains." Captain Byrne said sincerely.

"Thank you sir." Lieutenant Walking Bear said quietly.

"I believe the next order of business should be for each of you to compose a report detailing your involvement in this matter. Include sensor readings wherever possible to corroborate your statements. Write the reports on secure data padds and deliver them to Lieutenant Walking Bear on the shuttle so they can be transported with the sample containers. No record of this event is to be made in official or personal logs. Do you understand?" Captain Byrne finished forcefully.

"Yes sir." Was the collective response.

"Then you are all dismissed." Captain Byrne said professionally.

Everyone stood and walked immediately to the turbo lift.

Once inside, Joe said, "Deflector Control."

"Hanger bay." Lieutenant Walking Bear said next.

"Lieutenant Walking Bear?" Vincent asked quietly.

Lieutenant Walking Bear looked at him with question.

"If you need anything like food or whatever, you can call me in deflector control and I'll get it for you... since it's kind of our fault that you're going to be stuck on the shuttle." Vincent finished shyly.

"Please don't feel responsible for this Crewman Winters. I have a sense that the Great Spirit has a hand in what's happening here. That is why I was so quick to volunteer for this duty. But I will keep your kind offer in mind and call you if I need anything." Lieutenant Walking Bear said gently.

Vincent thought about the statement for a moment, then asked, "Would you mind telling me about the Great Spirit... I mean later, after our reports are done?"

"I will be happy to answer whatever questions you have. So when you visit, be sure to bring your questions with you." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a smile.

"You'd better watch out what you're asking John. One of Vincent's questions sparked an investigation that spread through the entire Federation." Joe said with a teasing smile at Vincent.

"That is good. The proper question carries more power than a hundred answers." Lieutenant Walking Bear said sagely.

The doors to the turbo lift opened and Joe said, "It looks like it's time for us to get to work."

* * * * *

"There you are!" Jimmy said in a frustrated voice.

"Observant, isn't he?" Lou said dryly.

Joe smiled at the statement, then said, "Ensign Thaelan, I'm sorry for having to do this to you on your first full day with us, but would you mind running the majority of this shift alone? We'll be here if you need anything, but we all need to work on our reports."

Ensign Thaelan looked at Joe with surprise for a moment, then said, "I will not mind at all. I will do my best not to interrupt your work."

"No Ensign Thaelan. Even though these reports need to be done, deflector control comes first. If you need anything, one of us will take care of it for you." Joe said firmly.

"I understand. If there is a need I will inform you immediately." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"That'll work. Everyone else, it's time to get to work." Joe said to the group.

"What *exactly* do we need to do?" Jimmy asked carefully.

"What *you* need to do is write a detailed report about your contribution to the 'Cooper Bridge'. All of us have our own reports to write and when everyone is finished, we can work to compile them." Joe said seriously.

"Are you serious? That's going to take forever." Jimmy said irritably.

"Just do it Jimmy. Vincent has more reports to write than you do and you don't hear him complaining." Joe said frankly.

Jimmy glanced over at Vincent and said, "Bosses pet."

"Whiner." Vincent said quickly in response, then stuck out his tongue.

"Jimmy, you're off duty. You can do it later if you want, but just remember... It has to be done." Joe finished firmly.

Jimmy thought for a moment, then said, "I'll do it now. I want to get it done so I'll have time to take Susan to a movie in the rec hall before our shift."

"That sounds nice. Do you know what movie you'll be seeing?" Joe asked curiously.

"Well, I don't really pay much attention to movies, but when I was looking at the list I found a romantic comedy that Susan and I might both like." Jimmy said with a smile.

"Oh? What's it called?" Joe asked curiously.

"Jiggley." Jimmy said with a grin.

"A romantic comedy called 'Jiggley'?" Joe asked with confusion.

"Yeah. It looks like kind of a chick flick, but maybe there will be enough funny parts so I'll enjoy it too." Jimmy said with a smile.

"Oh, well I hope you two have fun. Have you asked her yet?" Joe asked casually.

"I asked her to go to dinner and a movie but I haven't told her which one yet. In fact, I think I'm going to go and see if I can arrange something special for dinner..." Jimmy said with increasing excitement.

"Go ahead, just remember that you have reports to write." Joe said with a friendly smile.

Jimmy hopped up and ran for the door.

As soon as the door had closed, Darin said, "That movie has been called one of the worst movies ever made. A few of the reviews that I've read compared watching it to having food poisoning."

"Why didn't you warn him?" Joe asked curiously.

"Because he was being mean to Vincent." Darin said frankly.

Joe considered for a moment, then said, "Works for me. But I've honestly never heard of a movie called 'Jiggley'."

Darin smiled and quietly said, "It's pronounced 'Gigli'."

To Be Continued . . .