© 2006 MultiMapper
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Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 16

"I don't know where to start." Vincent said as he looked at the blank padd in his hand.

"Let me show you a trick. I think you'll like this." Darin said as he walked to Vincent's side.

Vincent smiled and held the padd out so Darin could access it easily.

"I'm going to import a template for you. It's just something I came up with at the academy to help me with reports." Darin said as he tried to access his personal files.

"Hold on, the built in security won't let me import the file, I'll sign in on my padd and send it to you." Darin said and went back to his chair.

"What does the template do?" Vincent asked curiously as he waited to receive the file.

"It just asks you questions. I tried to make it as interactive as possible, but there are still a few quirks to work out. It should be just what you need to help you get started." Darin said, then looked up from his padd and said, "You should have it now."

"Okay. What do I do?" Vincent asked as he opened the file.

"All you have to do is answer the questions. Talk to it like you're visiting with a friend. When you're finished, you should have most of your report written and you'll just have to 'fine tune' it." Darin said seriously.

After a few minutes of Vincent typing and reading, he looked up from his padd and hesitantly asked, "Um, Darin. Why did the padd just call me 'honey'?"

"I wanted it to be friendly. What do you think?" Darin asked with a smile.

"Well, it's either really friendly or really creepy. I'm not sure which yet." Vincent said as he keyed in his answer to the next question.

"If you have any suggestions on how I can improve it, just let me know." Darin said casually.

After a moment of reading and typing, Vincent said, "It's asking me questions like someone who's trying to get to know me."

"That's the whole point. Instead of filling in blanks that say 'NAME:______ RANK:______' and so on, and then trying to figure out what to say in that big empty space in the middle, you have a conversation with the padd and it asks you a bunch of questions about why you have to write a report. You end up saying just about the same thing, but it feels like you're talking to a friend instead of doing paperwork." Darin said without looking up from his padd.

"Okay. I guess I can understand that, but it just called me 'babycakes'." Vincent said hesitantly.

"It must like you." Darin said with a smile.

"Would you mind if I tried it too? It sounds like fun." Jimmy asked hopefully.

Darin looked at Jimmy with surprise for a moment, then said, "Sure. Crewman Tullis, right?"

"Yeah." Jimmy said with a smile.

Darin keyed in a few commands, then transmitted the template to Jimmy.

Vincent giggled as he filled in an answer on his report.

"What's so funny?" Jimmy asked curiously as he opened the template.

"I was filling in the stuff that happened and the padd broke in and asked me if I was feeling okay now, you know, like it really cared." Vincent said with a smile.

"It's just trying to find out your current medical status for the report. Is it being too friendly? I can change the parameters so it's not quite so casual." Darin said seriously

"No, it's fine. I really like it this way. I have a whole bunch of reports to write and I think this is going to make them fun." Vincent said with excitement.

"Darin, your program just called me a butthead." Jimmy said in astonishment.

"How did you get it to do that?" Darin asked as he stood and walked to Jimmy's side.

"I don't know. I was just answering the questions and it started going off on me. Look at this." Jimmy said as he held out the padd.

Darin read it for a moment then said, "I copied the basic personality template from the archive at the academy. I don't know why it's reacting to you that way."

After a few seconds of going through the options menu, Darin handed the padd back to Jimmy and said, "Go ahead and try it now. I've reset the personality matrix to neutral."

"Thanks." Jimmy said quietly as he started keying in information again.

After a moment, Darin asked, "Is it acting better?"

"Yeah. It's not exactly being friendly, but at least it's stopped calling me names." Jimmy said as he concentrated on his work.

"Good. If you have any other problems with it, just let me know. It's still a work in progress." Darin said as he took his seat again.

As Darin took his seat, Vincent looked at him curiously.

Darin got a mischievous smile on his face and gave Vincent a conspiratorial wink.

Vincent fought to keep his giggles to himself as he went back to work.

* * * * *

As Vincent was filling in the details of what happened earlier that day, he noticed that he was having trouble focusing his eyes. He blinked a few times to try and clear his vision.

Darin jerked as he felt himself starting to drift into sleep and vaguely noticed a ringing in his ears.

Without thought, Darin's recent Starfleet training kicked in and he reached under station three where he had been working on his report and pulled out the emergency breather unit that was stored there.

As he was pulling the breather unit onto his face, he noticed Ensign Thaelan slump over on the main control panel.

"Everybody! Get breathers on! Something's happened to our air." Darin called out in a muffled voice through the breather.

Vincent turned his chair at the sound, then his eyes rolled back as he fell unconscious.

Darin jumped up from his chair and ran to Vincent.

"Hang on little brother. You're going to be fine." Darin said as he pulled a breather out from under auxiliary station two and carefully put it on Vincent.

As soon as Darin was sure the breather unit was functioning properly, he looked around to see that everyone else was unconscious.

"Sorry Joe, I'll be right back." Darin whispered as he ran to the main console to help Ensign Thaelan.

"Wake up Thaelan. You've got to run the main." Darin said as he tried to fit the straps of the breather around Thaelan's head without injuring his antennae.

"What happened?" Vincent asked in a groggy, muffled voice.

"I think we lost atmosphere. Help Joe." Darin said as he moved to station one to help Connie.

"What... what do I do?" Vincent asked helplessly.

"There's an emergency breather unit under each station, watch what I'm doing." Darin said as he pulled out the breather unit, then eased Connie back in his chair so he could put the breather on him.

"Okay." Vincent said as he started to work.

"When you're done with Joe, take care of Jimmy. I'm going to call for help." Darin said as he pressed the comm button on station one.

The only response was a discordant beep.

Darin tried again with the same result.

"This console is down." Darin said and rushed to the main console where Ensign Thaelan looked like he was waking up.

Ensign Thaelan's body jerked once and he fell out of his chair.

Darin knelt by his side and gently slapped his cheek, trying to wake him up.

Ensign Thaelan's body suddenly went rigid, then he started jerking uncontrollably.

"He's having a seizure! Vincent, call for a med team!" Darin said as he moved around to Ensign Thaelan's head and held the sides of it firmly.

After a moment Vincent said, "All the consoles are locked up. I can't do anything."

"Then go get help!" Darin screamed as he continued to hold Thaelan's head.

Vincent ran to the door and nearly ran face first into it when it didn't open.

Darin noticed that Thaelan was looking at him with wide, frightened eyes as his body jerked and thrashed uncontrollably.

"I think there's something in the air that's caused you to have a seizure. You're breathing clean air now so it should pass in a few minutes. I'm protecting your antennae so you can just let the seizure happen until it works out of your system. I won't let anything happen to you." Darin said quietly in an assuring voice.

"The door's locked. I can't get out." Vincent said with a note of panic in his voice.

Darin glanced down in time to see a wet spot forming on Thaelan's uniform pants.

"Vincent, get me a blanket for Thaelan." Darin called out forcefully.

Thaelan continued to look at Darin with fear.

"Here." Vincent said as he ran to Darin's side carrying a sleeping bag.

"Go see if you can wake up Joe. He'll know what to do." Darin said as he quickly spread the sleeping bag over Thaelan's lower body.

Darin leaned close to Thaelan's ear and quietly said, "Everything will be fine. Vincent didn't see and I'll never tell."

Vincent ran to Joe's side and started to shake him to try and wake him up.

Joe slowly opened his eyes and looked at Vincent with confusion.

Vincent hugged Joe tightly and said, "Something is wrong with the air and Ensign Thaelan is sick or something and all the computers are locked up and now the door won't open."

Joe looked around the room groggily, then whispered, "Communicator."

Before Vincent could acknowledge the statement, the door opened to reveal a man wearing a hooded cloak.

"Hide!" Joe gasped and pulled Vincent behind him.

Vincent ducked down and curled himself under the console.

The intruder looked around the room quickly, then walked to Darin.

"You. Hargrove. Come with me." The intruder said in a low muffled voice as he pointed a weapon at Darin.

Darin looked at the intruder in shock as he continued to hold Thaelan's head and said, "I can't."

Joe forced himself up from the chair and made a dash to try and subdue the intruder.

As soon as Joe had stepped away from the console, Vincent darted to the door to find it locked again, then grabbed one of the communicators from the rack by the door and ran into the supply room.

The intruder saw movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Joe coming at him.

* * * * *

"Security. We need help in deflector control!" Vincent said into the communicator as he huddled between two storage bins in the supply room.

The sound of a weapon firing sent a chill up Vincent's spine.

"Security has been dispatched. Please advise of your situation." A professional voice asked calmly.

"Someone has done something to our air and locked up our computers and... and now someone is in here and I just heard a phaser fire." Vincent said in a trembling voice.

The sound of an alert klaxon could be heard and Vincent heard Debbie's voice on the intercom saying, "Security to Deflector Control. This is not a drill. Intruder Alert. Reports of weapons fire and compromised atmosphere. Security to Deflector Control."

"Crewman Winters, is that you?" The voice on the communicator asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Please help us. Ensign Thaelan is having a seizure or something and Connie and Jimmy are passed out and Daddy Joe or Darin might be dead." Vincent said as he felt tears falling down his cheeks.

"Vincent, this is Lieutenant Simms. Where are you? Are you some place safe?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

"I don't know how safe it is here. I hid in the supply room so I could call for help." Vincent said in a trembling voice.

"You did exactly the right thing. Just stay where you are and remain silent. The security team is just outside Deflector Control." Lieutenant Simms said assuringly.

"You need to check on Lou and Judy and Lieutenant Walking Bear. They may need help too." Vincent said quickly.

"Do you know where they are?" Lieutenant Simms asked calmly.

"Lou and Judy should be in Daddy Joe's quarters. Um... that's on deck E section C2 room 2." Vincent finished in a rush.

"I'll have a team check on them." Lieutenant Simms said with assurance.

"Lieutenant Walking Bear should be on the shuttle craft Victoria in the hanger bay, there should already be some security people there." Vincent said as he tried to think clearly.

"They're checking on him now... Crewman Winters. Security has gained entry to Deflector Control and it's safe for you to come out now." Lieutenant Simms said assuringly.

"Okay. Thank you for talking to me." Vincent said as he crawled out from between the storage containers.

"I'll be down to talk with you in person in just a moment. Take care of yourself." Lieutenant Simms said warmly.

"Okay." Vincent said as he wiped his eyes and cautiously walked to the door.

* * * * *

As Vincent walked into the main room of Deflector Control he saw Joe sprawled on the floor with one of the security team knelt by his side, examining him.

"How is he?" Vincent asked as he ran to Joe's other side.

"Alive. You'll need a doctor to tell you any more than that." The security officer said in a muffled voice through his breather unit.

Vincent looked quickly around, then saw the med team walking into the room.

"If he wakes up will you call me?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Are you Crewman Winters?" The security officer asked slowly.

"Yeah, and this is my Daddy Joe." Vincent said as he looked down at Joe again.

"If he wakes up, I'll call you right away. I promise." The security officer said in a tender voice.

"Thanks." Vincent said, then stood.

After a quick look around the room, Vincent walked to T'Lani's side as she scanned Ensign Thaelan.

"Husband, I am gratified to see that you are well." T'Lani said calmly as she looked at the medical tricorder's readings.

Vincent looked around and said, "I'm glad you're here. How is Ensign Thaelan?"

"His body is overcoming the effects of a foreign substance introduced into the air supply. If you will excuse me, I must speak to Dr. Raul." T'Lani said seriously.

"I'll wait for you here." Vincent said as he watched her walk away.

Vincent slowly knelt by Ensign Thaelan's side and said, "I'm sorry I couldn't do more to help you."

Ensign Thaelan struggled to ask, "You called help?"

"Yeah. I hid in the store room and called them on the communicator." Vincent said, feeling ashamed by his cowardly act of hiding.

"You did good." Ensign Thaelan said with effort.

"But when that guy came in, I... I wanted to be able to do something to stop him... I couldn't do anything." Vincent said quietly.

"You. Did. Good." Ensign Thaelan said firmly.

"Okay." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Ensign Thaelan, Dr. Raul will be here shortly to assess your condition and administer medication to ease your symptoms." T'Lani said seriously.

"Let me know if there's anything I can do to help you." Vincent said in a quiet voice that could barely be heard through the breather unit.

T'Lani reached down to place her hand on the side of Vincent's face and caressed his cheek with her thumb.

Vincent smiled at the gesture, then placed his hand over hers.

"I must attend to Ensign Thaelan. Perhaps we could share a meal after our duty shifts have concluded." T'Lani said quietly.

"That sounds nice. Just call me here when you go off duty." Vincent said with a happy smile.

T'Lani nodded her agreement, then turned her attention back to Ensign Thaelan.

* * * * *

Vincent walked to Darin and pulled him into a tight hug.

Darin returned the hug firmly as he felt at least a small portion of his tension release.

"What happened?" Vincent asked quietly.

"Whoever that was that shot Joe, pointed his weapon at me and told me to go with him. But before he could do anything else the alert sounded and he ran off." Darin said as a tremble ran through his body at the memory.

"I took a communicator into the supply room and called for help." Vincent said quietly, still feeling that he had behaved cowardly.

Darin picked up on something in the tone of Vincent's voice and firmly said, "I would either be laying there beside Joe or been taken by that guy if it hadn't been for you."

He then knelt to be on Vincent's eye level and said, "You did exactly the right thing."

"Thanks Darin." Vincent said and pulled him into another hug.

"Gentlemen, may I please speak with you for a moment?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he walked into the room.

"Yes sir." Darin said as he stood and came to attention.

"At ease Ensign Cooper." Lieutenant Simms said in a neutral tone.

"Did you catch him?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Not yet Crewman Winters. That's why I need to ask you both some questions. From the look of it, you two will be the only ones who might have any answers." Lieutenant Simms said as he looked around.

Vincent looked around the room, then quickly said, "No one's watching the main!"

"It's okay. Chief Morgan is watching it for the moment and Ensign DeGama and Crewman Wills are on their way to the bridge." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

Vincent smiled with relief.

"Do either of you have any idea of who went to all this trouble to break in here and what he was looking for?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

Before Vincent could say anything, Darin quickly asked, "Have you checked on Lieutenant Walking Bear?"

"Yes. He's fine. You're the fourth person to ask me. Does what happened here have something to do with him?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

Vincent and Darin shared a look before Darin finally said, "It might. I really don't know for sure."

"Ensign Cooper, Ensign Thaelan wishes to speak with you." T'Lani said seriously.

Darin gave Lieutenant Simms a questioning look.

"Crewman Winters and I can talk while you're doing that." Lieutenant Simms said quietly.

"Thank you sir." Darin said and ran to see what Ensign Thaelan wanted.

* * * * *

"So Vincent, what can you tell me about what happened here?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

"Well, we were all working on our reports while Ensign Thaelan was running the main console. I guess my eyes started going all funny and my ears started making this weird squealy sound. Darin... I mean Ensign Cooper said something about the air being wrong or bad or something. Then the next thing I know, I'm wearing a mask and Darin is over at the main console putting a mask on Ensign Thaelan." Vincent said in thought.

"Do you recall any kind of odor or maybe a strange taste in your mouth when you woke up?" Lieutenant Simms asked slowly.

"Yeah. It was really weird. When I woke up I thought I tasted almonds." Vincent said as he concentrated on the vague memory.

"What can you tell me about the intruder? Did you get a good look at him?" Lieutenant Simms asked carefully.

Vincent closed his eyes for a moment, then said, "No. He was wearing a cape thing with a hood. I couldn't see his face at all. But he was a little bit taller than Daddy Joe and kind of big, like big with muscles, not fat."

"Do you have any idea what the intruder was after?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Well, at first I thought he was after... um... something that I can't talk about. But he didn't say anything about that. The only thing he asked for when he was in here was Darin. He wanted Darin to go with him."

"Can you remember *exactly* what he said?" Lieutenant Simms asked slowly.

"I don't know. I was still feeling kind of dopey from whatever I was breathing. I think he called Darin 'Harvey' or something like that. I can't really remember that part too good." Vincent said as he struggled with his memory.

"That's fine Crewman Winters. Ensign Cooper may remember the exact wording of what he said. How are you feeling now?" Lieutenant Simms asked with concern.

"Me? I'm fine. But I'll feel a whole lot better when I know Daddy Joe and everyone else is going to be okay." Vincent said seriously.

"Dr. Raul, how is Lieutenant Bowers doing?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he turned and led Vincent to Joe's side.

"As far as I can tell, he was hit with a low yield disruptor. We can take care of the damage in sickbay, but he'll just have to sleep off the rest of the effect." Dr. Raul said as he looked at his tricorder.

"But that doesn't make sense. A disruptor of any yield should have triggered the ship's internal sensors." Lieutenant Simms said, obviously thinking out loud.

"I don't know anything about that, but this...", Dr. Raul paused as he pulled open Joe's jacket and pulled up his shirt to reveal a large red welt on his chest, " a disruptor burn."

Lieutenant Simms pulled out his communicator and said, "I need a team to investigate the contamination of Deflector Control's air supply, a team to trace the computer access that disabled Deflector Control's consoles and a team to do a level three sweep of internal sensors to determine how an energy weapon was able to be fired on this ship without raising an alarm."

"Do you want me to pull the team from the shuttle bay to aid in the investigation?" The security officer asked cautiously.

"No. Call all shifts to duty until we can get some answers. In fact, double the detail in the shuttle bay." Lieutenant Simms said firmly.

"All shifts, yes sir." The security officer said quickly.

"One more thing, enact security protocol Bravo. Preliminary evidence indicates that security may have been infiltrated." Lieutenant Simms said firmly.

"Yes... yes sir." The security officer responded with surprise.

* * * * *

"May I speak privately with Ensign Cooper?" Ensign Thaelan asked in a whisper.

"Of course. But do not exert yourself. Your body has had to deal with significant stress." T'Lani said firmly.

"I will remain still. Thank you." Ensign Thaelan said, then watched her walk away.

"What did you need to tell me?" Darin asked quietly.

"I wish to express my appreciation for your actions earlier. The substance that was tainting the atmosphere caused me to experience a feeling of disorientation. Your assurances eased my mind and your action of holding me so I did not injure my antennae gave me a feeling of security that helped me endure the experience of the seizure. I will not forget this act of kindness and will some day find a way to repay you." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"We're a team Thaelan. We help each other to help the team." Darin said gently.

"I understand, but to hide the evidence of my... loss of control. And the fact that you thought to protect me in the manner you did is still much appreciated. Had my antennae been injured during the seizure I might have been incapacitated for several days." Ensign Thaelan said reluctantly.

"I know. I also know that it's a sensitive subject that you would rather not talk about. I'm just glad that I was able to help. I'd better get back to the Lieutenant to answer some questions." Darin said as he glanced away.

"Before you go, I also had a question for you." Ensign Thaelan said quietly.

"Sure, what is it?" Darin asked as he leaned in closer.

"Did I understand correctly when I heard the Vulcan nurse refer to Crewman Winters as her husband?" Ensign Thaelan asked slowly.

"That's right. T'Lani is Vincent's wife. I think they're good for each other." Darin said with a warm smile.

"The child is full of surprises." Ensign Thaelan said as he glanced over to see Vincent at Joe's side.

"You don't know the half of it. Remind me later and I'll tell you how he asked one question that sent a security alert through the entire Federation." Darin said with an amused smile.

"I didn't realize the honor I was receiving by being assigned to lead your crew." Ensign Thaelan said as he looked Darin in the eyes.

"I'm glad you think so. As our leader, anything we do also reflects on you." Darin said with a smile.

"I will try to live up to the challenge." Ensign Thaelan said peacefully.

* * * * *

"Jimmy!" Susan called as she ran into the room.

Lieutenant Simms raised his phaser automatically at the abrupt entry.

"It's okay, she's his girlfriend... well almost." Vincent said quickly.

Lieutenant Simms reluctantly lowered his phaser and watched as Susan looked around the room with tears in her eyes.

"You'd better put on a breather until we're sure that the air in here is clean." Lieutenant Simms said to Susan quietly.

Susan walked to the supply locker and pulled out a breather unit.

"I'm sorry sir, she rushed past us." A security officer said as he walked into the room.

"If you can't adequately secure this room then call for reinforcements." Lieutenant Simms said harshly.

"Yes sir." The young ensign said quietly.

"Get back to your post." Lieutenant Simms said firmly.

"Yes sir." The ensign said quickly and hurried out of the room.

"Susan was just worried about Jimmy, I know she didn't mean to get anyone in trouble." Vincent said quietly.

"That isn't the point. My people are posted to keep anyone from getting in until we figure out exactly what happened here. What you just saw was a breach of security that could have cost someone their life if it had been our intruder returning." Lieutenant Simms said with concern.

"I just hate to see anyone get into trouble like that." Vincent said in thought.

"I know, I don't like yelling at my staff. But the fact of the matter is that if I let something like that slide, someone could die. You don't get second chances in life and death situations." Lieutenant Simms said reasonably.

"I understand. If you yell at him when something like this happens and no one got hurt, then he's more likely to do the right thing when it really does matter." Vincent said carefully.

Lieutenant Simms smiled and said, "Exactly. Now if you'll excuse me for a moment, I need to talk to Ensign Cooper and see what he can tell me about the incident."

Vincent nodded and watched as Lieutenant Simms walked away.

* * * * *

"Please excuse me Ensign Cooper, but I have some questions to ask you and time may be a factor." Lieutenant Simms said quietly.

"That's fine Lieutenant. Do we need to speak privately?" Darin asked as he stood from Thaelan's side.

"No, that won't be necessary. I just need to know what happened from your point of view." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"I was working on my reports when I started feeling sleepy and heard a strange ringing in my ears. All of a sudden I remembered the emergency training from the academy and I pulled on a breather unit. When I looked around I saw that Ensign Thaelan was falling onto the console. I tried to warn everyone, but they were already falling asleep. I saw Vincent, I mean Crewman Winters, when he passed out so I put a breather on him first. Next I ran to Thaelan because he was running the main and he needed to be awake." Darin said in careful thought.

"Why did you put the breather on Crewman Winters first?" Lieutenant Simms asked carefully.

"Because he's my little brother I guess... I didn't really decide who I'd help first, I just did it." Darin said uncertainly.

"Go on." Lieutenant Simms said in thought.

"So while I was putting the breather on Ensign Thaelan, Vincent started waking up. I told him what to do and he put the breathers on Lieutenant Bowers and Crewman Tullis." Darin said in slow concentration.

"Go ahead." Lieutenant Simms said in a leading tone.

"I don't know, um... I tried to call for help and station one was inoperative. Then Ensign Thaelan fell out of his chair and started having convulsions. I went to help him and told Vincent to call for help." Darin said, then looked down at Ensign Thaelan who was listening intently.

"Vincent figured out that all the consoles were locked up and started to try to wake Joe up so I told him to ask Joe what to do. The next thing I knew, someone was walking into the room and he had a weapon of some kind. It looked something like a phaser, but it wasn't standard issue." Darin said carefully.

"Could you see his face?" Lieutenant Simms asked quietly.

"No. He was wearing a hood and his face was covered with a gas mask." Darin said in distant thought.

"A gas mask, not a breather?" Lieutenant Simms confirmed.

"That's right. A gas mask, the full face kind." Darin said carefully.

"Then what?" Lieutenant Simms asked slowly.

"Then he wanted me to go with him." Darin said distantly.

"Can you remember his exact words?" Lieutenant Simms asked in nearly a whisper.

Darin closed his eyes and carefully said, "He said, 'You. Hargrove. Come with me'."

"Hargrove?" Lieutenant Simms asked in confirmation.

"Yeah, that's my father's last name. I've been using my mother's maiden name since I entered Starfleet. My legal name is Hargrove-Cooper." Darin said, just realizing how strange it was that the intruder called him Hargrove.

"Who else knows your father's last name?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

"I don't know. Anyone who looked at my personnel file would see it. But the only person I've told since I've been on the Yorktown is Rad." Darin said thoughtfully.

"Rad? As in Ensign Radovanovich from transporter control?" Lieutenant Simms asked carefully.

"Yes, I'm sorry. I mentioned to Ensign Radovanovich that my father's name was Hargrove last night. I haven't told anyone else... the subject just hasn't come up." Darin said in thought.

"Excuse me Lieutenant, we need to transport Ensign Thaelan to sickbay." Ensign T'Lani said as she led a crewman with a gurney to Ensign Thaelan's side.

Lieutenant Simms looked around quickly, then opened his communicator and said, "I need five security officers to Deflector Control for escort duty. And please ask Ensign Rayne Radovanovich to come to security as soon as possible to have a talk with me."

Darin looked at Lieutenant Simms curiously while Ensign T'Lani looked on impassively.

Rather than answer Darin's questioning gaze, Lieutenant Simms walked to the center of the room.

"Everyone, please wait a moment for a security escort before you leave." Lieutenant Simms said to everyone as he looked around.

There were several curious looks, but no one asked why.

"Dr. Raul, can you give me a preliminary report?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he walked to his side.

"It appears to have been an anesthetic gas. By all indications, they should awake soon." Dr. Raul said seriously as he examined Connie.

Vincent put an arm around Susan's waist and said, "Daddy Joe and I both woke up when we started breathing clean air again. So I know that Jimmy's going to be okay."

"Then why hasn't Jimmy woken up yet?" Susan asked as she hugged Vincent with one arm.

"I think because he was breathing the bad air longer than I was. He breathed more of it so he'll be asleep longer." Vincent said carefully.

"The young crewman is right. Also, Crewman Tullis and Ensign Agropos were nearer the ventilation duct so they probably received a more concentrated dose of the anesthetic gas. Excuse me, it appears that our security escorts are here so we're going to transport our patients to the sickbay now." Dr. Raul said seriously.

"Can I come with you?" Susan asked quietly.

Dr. Raul considered for a moment, then said, "Of course. His condition isn't such that he should need to be isolated."

"Why do we need security?" Susan asked as she looked at Lieutenant Simms with confusion.

"This is just a precaution for your own safety. As soon as I have a better idea of what I'm dealing with, I'll relax the restriction if it's possible." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

Susan nodded, then glanced at the group of security officers entering the room.

Vincent went to Joe's side and waited to leave with him when Lieutenant Simms said, "Ensign Cooper and Crewman Winters, would you stay behind so we can try to make some sense of why this happened?"

Darin reluctantly stepped away from Thaelan's side and said, "Yes sir."

Vincent took a step back from Joe's side as the medical assistants wheeled him out of the room.

* * * * *

"Report Lieutenant." Captain Byrne said firmly as he walked into Deflector Control.

"What appears to have been anesthezine gas was introduced into the air supply of Deflector Control. All the computer systems were disabled and the door control was overridden. An intruder entered Deflector Control and was subsequently encouraged to leave when the security alert was announced." Lieutenant Simms said in a professional voice.

"Do you have any idea of what the intruder was after?" Captain Byrne asked cautiously.

"Given the preliminary evidence, I would have to conclude that the intention of the intruder was to abduct Ensign Cooper." Lieutenant Simms said frankly.

Captain Byrne considered for a moment, then said, "Have you developed any theory as to a motive?"

"Without investigation, the only plausible theory is that Ensign Cooper would be either 'convinced' to disclose information about your meeting this morning or would be used as a hostage to gain access to whatever is being protected." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"I regret that it is necessary to withhold certain information from you." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"I understand sir, I'm simply stating that at this point, I can't think of any other motive that anyone would have to abduct a Deflector Control ensign." Lieutenant Simms said frankly.

"Begin your investigation. I want to be updated immediately about any findings. Make this investigation your top priority." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Of course sir." Lieutenant Simms said slowly, wondering why the captain would think that he would do otherwise.

* * * * *

"I don't suppose you can tell me anything about what happened in the meeting this morning?" Lieutenant Simms asked absently as he thought about how to proceed.

Before Darin could answer, Vincent quickly said, "I can tell you that Captain Byrne thinks that this is so important that he won't even tell Commander M'Butu what it is."

Lieutenant Simms nodded and said, "I won't ask anymore. It's just frustrating to be searching for answers and know that there is information being withheld."

"We can't tell you anything about what the meeting was about, but since we know what it is, maybe it will help if we're around." Darin said carefully.

"I suppose so. It's better than taking the chance of overlooking something significant just because I was left out of the loop." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Just believe me when I say that you don't want to be in this loop." Darin said with a worried look.

Lieutenant Simms looked at Darin with question.

"Yeah. It could end up dumping us on a prison planet for the rest of our lives." Vincent added seriously.

Lieutenant Simms nodded as he realized that they were serious.

"Let's go to my office to get this investigation rolling. My teams should be reporting in soon." Lieutenant Simms said decisively.

Darin put a hand on Vincent's shoulder and said, "We need to collect these padds and either take them with us or to the shuttle."

"Oh yeah." Vincent said immediately and hurried to grab the padd he had been working on.

"Help me remember to ask Lou for hers when we see her again." Darin said as he picked up the padd he had been working on.

"Yeah. Maybe we should ask her now." Vincent said as he picked up the padd Joe had been working on.

"I believe she took a data padd to the Victoria before she went to the bridge." Lieutenant Simms said as he watched them carefully.

"Thanks, then do you mind if we go down there now too? After that we can go to your office." Vincent asked hopefully.

"From the sound of it, I think going to the shuttle bay is a good idea." Lieutenant Simms said quietly.

"I think we have everything. Let's go." Darin said as he looked around.

Lieutenant Simms looked around the room one last time, then said, "I think we can leave the breathers here."

"Good. That thing was rubbing me on my neck." Vincent said as he took off the mask.

"It's better than having to go to sickbay." Darin said frankly as he also took off his mask.

"Been there, done that." Vincent said with a smile as he walked toward the door.

Lieutenant Simms discretely held up two fingers to let his people know that two security officers needed to accompany them.

* * * * *

"Vincent, it's good to see that you're alright. I heard the intruder alert, then Lou came by but didn't know much about what was going on." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with concern.

"Someone tried to take Darin... Ensign Cooper, I mean." Vincent quickly amended.

"Your pilot, I remember." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a concerned glance at Darin.

"Whoever it was... He... he shot... Daddy Joe." Vincent said as tears welled up in his eyes.

"Would you guys mind if I talk to Vincent alone for a minute?" Lieutenant Walking Bear asked quietly.

"We'll be right outside the shuttle." Lieutenant Simms said reluctantly.

"Yeah. You know where to find us if you need us Little Brother." Darin said with a forced smile, then followed Lieutenant Simms off the shuttle.

After a moment to gain control of his emotions again, Vincent looked at Lieutenant Walking Bear with question.

"It's your choice whether the events today lead to a bright and wonderful future or into a future of desolation and destruction." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.

Vincent felt fear at the statement and was about to respond when he saw the anticipation in Lieutenant Walking Bear's eyes.

After a moment to think about the statement, Vincent carefully said, "I had the same choice yesterday. And if I survive today, I'll have the same choice tomorrow."

Lieutenant Walking Bear smiled brightly and said, "It took three years for my grandfather to teach me that. You got it without any prompting from me. Very good. Did you bring any questions with you?"

"I brought a lot of them... but I think you just answered most of them before I could ask. I guess the biggest one I've got right now is why did Daddy Joe have to get hurt?" Vincent asked in a small voice.

"You have a bigger question, this one is just a part of it." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then nodded and asked, "Why do bad things have to happen?"

"That's a very big question and it has quite a few answers. I have a feeling that you know most of those answers already, even if you haven't ever said them out loud." Lieutenant Walking Bear said quietly.

Vincent nodded again and said, "Sometimes because people choose selfish things. Sometimes it's just because things happen, like flipping a coin... And I think that sometimes there's a reason for things, but we're usually too close to see what the reason is."

"I think you're right. Sometimes the Great Spirit allows things to happen that seem horribly unfair, but in reality he is working to put things in a certain order for the benefit of all his children." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.

"Then how do you know when you're supposed to do something and when you're just supposed to let it happen?" Vincent asked in thought.

"Now that's a question that carries some power. I can only tell you what I do, perhaps that will be enough." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.

Vincent nodded and waited expectantly.

"When I have the feeling that the Great Spirit may be at work, I try to watch what is happening very carefully to determine how I might move things in the most favorable direction." Lieutenant Walking Bear said carefully.

"I don't understand. Like how?" Vincent asked curiously.

Lieutenant Walking Bear smiled and said, "Like when proto-matter is discovered on my shift, then a Crewman asks me about my personal beliefs."

Vincent thought about the statement for a moment, then asked, "So what am I supposed to do?"

"Do what you believe is right. Follow your own moral compass as to what's right and wrong and don't let anyone else dictate what you 'should' believe." Lieutenant Walking Bear said firmly.

Vincent looked at Lieutenant Walking Bear speculatively for a long, silent moment, then said, "You know what's about to happen, don't you?"

Lieutenant Walking Bear shook his head, then said, "It doesn't work that way. I just know when I'm being drawn toward a specific action. When you asked me what you were supposed to do, that's the first thing that came to my mind. I have no more knowledge about the future than you do, but I can watch for omens and follow my instincts."

"Thank you Lieutenant Walking Bear, I understand." Vincent said as he turned.


"Yeah. Why are you surprised?" Vincent asked with a chuckle.

"It just seems quite a lot to take on faith." Lieutenant Walking Bear said frankly.

Vincent giggled and said, "I'm a kid. After believing in stuff like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, this is no big deal."

"Just remember to listen to your heart." Lieutenant Walking Bear said seriously.

"I will. I need to go now. Lieutenant Simms has to try and figure out what just happened."

"Tell me all about how things went when we meet again." Lieutenant Walking Bear said with a smile.

"I will if you will." Vincent said with a cheeky grin.

Lieutenant Walking Bear smiled and watched as Vincent left the shuttle.

* * * * *

"Did you two come up with anything about who might be behind the attack?" Lieutenant Simms asked seriously.

"No, we didn't really talk about that." Vincent said as he followed Lieutenant Simms onto the turbo lift.

"Is everything okay?" Darin asked with concern.

"Yeah. I think it is." Vincent said in slow concentration.

Lieutenant Simms led the way off the turbo lift and toward his office when his communicator suddenly sounded.

"Simms." He said immediately into the communicator.

"I think someone is trying to override the transporter lockout." A voice said in a rush.

"RUN!" Lieutenant Simms said and took off running down the hall.

A moment later he said, "Get in that holding cell and I'll activate the transport inhibiter."

Darin ran into the cell and watched as the force field was put in place.

An alarm sounded from the control console.

"We just barely got him in there in time. Whoever is doing this is trying to lock onto him now." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"How would they know which one of us is Darin?" Vincent asked as he looked at the readings.

"Good question. All I can think is that he must have been painted." Lieutenant Simms said as he tried to trace the transporter signal back to it's origin.

"Painted? What's that?" Vincent asked curiously.

"It just means that someone took Ensign Cooper's transporter trace file and used it as search criteria. I don't know exactly how the term 'painted' came into use, but I suppose it's like having a painting to compare with every person that you scan." Lieutenant Simms said as he continued to search.

"Rad would know how to do that." Vincent said in thought.

"Probably, but he should be waiting in my office to speak with me." Lieutenant Simms said absently, then abruptly said into the comm, "Computer, security override authorization Simms Beta Four. Transporter room two, Isolation protocol. Disable transporter. Erect force field containment."

Vincent watched with wide eyes as Lieutenant Simms worked the controls of his console.

"Isolation protocol confirmed." Was the toneless response from the computer.

"I need a security team to transporter room two. Don't enter until I arrive." Lieutenant Simms said firmly.

Vincent watched the proceedings with question.

"Ensign Cooper, I'm going to ask you to remain in the holding cell until I can confirm that we have your would-be kidnapper in custody." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Yes sir." Darin said from behind the force field.

As Lieutenant Simms walked toward the door, Vincent hurried to follow.

"Crewman Winters, it would be best if you stayed here with Ensign Cooper. I don't know what we're going to find down there and it might not be safe for you." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"I know about some stuff that you don't. If this has anything to do with that then you may need me." Vincent said firmly.

"I'll just have to take your word on that Crewman." Lieutenant Simms said reluctantly, then looked at the two security escorts and said, "Don't lower those shields for anything. Keep your weapons handy and be on the alert for any sign of attack."

Both security officers immediately stood a little straighter and simultaneously each put a hand on his phaser.

"Let's go." Lieutenant Simms said as he walked out the door.

* * * * *

"Report Ensign?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he approached the door to transporter room two.

"No attempt has been made to breach the containment field." The security officer said seriously.

Lieutenant Simms pressed the button on the comm panel and said, "Computer, security override authorization Simms Beta Four. Release the door and lower the shields on transporter room two."

"Vincent, stay here for a minute." Lieutenant Simms said firmly, then walked through the door.

After a long moment of waiting, Vincent finally saw Lieutenant Simms walk out of the transporter room carrying a small device.

"Someone was controlling the transporter by remote." Lieutenant Simms said distantly.

"Let's check on Darin." Vincent said in a rush.

"Hold on." Lieutenant Simms said, then opened his communicator and said, "Ensign Margoles, what is the status of our guest?"

There was a long moment of silence.

Lieutenant Simms expression turned to one of panic as he ran to the nearest turbo lift with Vincent following close behind.

* * * * *

Vincent felt a chill run through his body at the sight of two unconscious security officers laying in the floor.

He ran to the holding cell to find the shields deactivated and the cell standing empty.

To Be Continued . . .