Universe Alpha 7:
Blue Alert!

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All Rights Reserved

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Chapter 52- Suddenly

As the transporter beam cleared, Vincent immediately noticed something unexpected. It could be something as simple as a feeling of familiarity, but to Vincent it seemed to be more. There was some internal compass that was telling him that he had arrived home.

"Welcome aboard, Major Winters." The transporter technician said professionally. It took a moment for Vincent to remember him from the one time that Rad had introduced them.

"Thank you, Ensign Foster, but I'll be Ensign Winters as soon as I can get to the quartermaster's office." Vincent said with a grin that he couldn't suppress. The sense of happiness that he was feeling was almost overwhelming.

"Remember to check your cabin assignment. We usually get switched around after a refit." Ensign Foster said seriously.

"Oh, okay. Thank you." Vincent said as he fought to keep his welling emotions in check.

As he picked up his luggage, a thought came to him.

"Would you mind if I leave my things here while I go to the bridge and check in?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"That won't be any problem at all. I'll keep an eye on it for you." Ensign Foster said amiably.

Vincent set his luggage along the wall, just inside the door, then left the room with purpose.

* * * * *

As Vincent stepped onto the bridge, the first thing that caught his eye was Darin at the helm. More specifically, it was Darin's haircut that caught his attention. It was short enough to be classified as a 'crew cut'. As much as Vincent wanted to stop by and find out every detail of what had happened to Darin and Rad on their shore leave, he resolved himself to ask about it later in their shift.

Vincent had already taken a few steps onto the bridge before he noticed that there was an unfamiliar man sitting in the captain's chair. The possibility that someone other than Captain Byrne might be in command had never occurred to him. Regardless, he knew his duty, so he approached the unknown man and calmly said, "Ensign Winters reporting for duty, Sir."

"I know who you are. Damned inconvenient, having to stop to pick you up. Let me be clear about something. I don't have any use for glory grabbing, showboating celebrities." The captain said in a voice that was nothing less than a sneer.

As opening remarks go, Vincent felt that it left something to be desired. However, due to his recent tour of duty on a Vulcan ship, Vincent was able to keep his expression neutral and waited for the captain to tell him what was expected of him.

"Get off my bridge." The captain said in a venomous cold voice.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent said simply, in an emotionless voice worthy of any Vulcan officer. Then he turned and started walking back toward the turbolift. He couldn't tell if it were the emotionless mask that he wore, or the shock of being dismissed without cause, but for whatever reason, he was surprised by the absence of the rage that he intellectually expected to come rushing to the fore.

Even so, he still had to fight not to look around at the reactions of the bridge crew as he passed by, on his way to the turbolift.

* * * * *

The only thing that Vincent could think to do, since he had been banished from the bridge, presumably permanently, was to contact Commander M'Butu and request his duty schedule. He kept expecting a rushing wave of emotions to try and overtake him but, as yet, it hadn't come.

Putting the questions of his emotions, or lack thereof, to the side for the moment, Vincent decided that the best place that he could think of to contact Commander M'Butu and get things sorted out, was in Deflector Control.

As the turbolift arrived, Vincent took emotional inventory. He took a deep cleansing breath as he made an effort to put all negative thoughts out of his mind and focus logically on what he should do next.

By the time he reached the door to Deflector Control, he was completely focused and in full emotional control.

* * * * *

As Vincent walked in, he saw that Joe, Thaelan and Connie were the only ones in the Deflector Control. Although he knew that this particular combination of people could handle just about anything, it seemed curious that the rest of the crew weren't present.

"Would you mind if I used one of the auxiliary stations for a few minutes?" Vincent asked hopefully, resolved to attending to his own situation before trying to discover what had happened to the rest of the crew.

"Good God! Did you grow some more?!" Connie asked suddenly, from station one.

The new, unknown captain hadn't been able to break through Vincent's self control, but Connie had coaxed an emotional reaction out of him without even trying. Vincent reluctantly smiled at the question, then said, "Yeah, probably. I do that a lot."

Despite the 'less than warm' welcome he had received from the captain, being back on his ship with his people warmed Vincent to the depths of his soul. Something inside him seemed to release as he realized that, while traveling and having new adventures was nice, it was nothing compared to being home.

After a moment to sign in, Vincent checked to see if a duty schedule had been posted for him. His schedule was blank, so he composed a brief message to Commander M'Butu mentioning that he'd been banished from the bridge and requesting his duty schedule for the coming week. He did his best to construct the message so that he didn't sound whiney or accusatory. As professionally as he was able, he simply asked for the information that he needed to perform his duties... whatever they were going to be.

"Is something wrong?" Joe asked with concern as he walked to Vincent's side.

"No. I just wanted to check my work schedule and there's nothing posted for me." Vincent said carefully. Although he knew that Joe would want to help, however he could, Vincent felt that he needed to do his best to resolve the matter himself.

"We were scrambled a week ahead of schedule. I doubt that anyone's had time to even think about it. It's been all we can do just to get everyone on the ship and get us launched." Joe said frankly.

"If they had followed the original schedule, it looked like I was going to have plenty of time to make it back to Earth and even have a few days off before we'd be ready to go. But yesterday I got the call that I needed to be back ASAP. We travelled at top speed all the way back to sector 001 to get me here in time. Then Starfleet bumped the timetable up again this morning. So we rendezvous with the Yorktown outside the Sol system and I just now transported aboard." Vincent said honestly.

"I guess that explains the uniform." Joe said with a smile. Vincent felt the warmth of that smile and Joe's pride for him in his heart.

As much as Vincent would have liked to indulge in some 'kid time' right at that moment, more practical matters demanded his attention. He cautiously asked, "Do you know why we're in such a hurry?"

"No one's said anything to me about it, yet." Joe said honestly.

"Where is Captain Byrne?" Vincent asked more quietly.

"I had assumed that he was on the bridge. Are you saying that he isn't?" Joe asked with surprise.

"No. There's someone else up there that I've never seen before." Vincent said frankly.

Joe thought for a moment, then said, "Considering the way we were rushed out of the box dock. I'm guessing it's possible that the captain might have been unavailable for some reason and couldn't get back in time for the launch."

"How are things down here?" Vincent asked as he looked around, again aware of the missing members of their crew.

"It's too soon to tell, really. The way we were scrambled, I'm not sure if our full crew made it aboard. And, like you, I don't have any scheduling data, so I don't know for sure who my 'full crew' is even supposed to be." Joe said frankly.

If the captain hadn't been able to make it aboard, then it was possible that any of the other members of the Deflector Control team, or all the members of the Deflector Control team, weren't on the ship.

Vincent looked at Thaelan at the main and Connie at station one before saying, "Well, since I don't have a schedule, I could hang around here and help out, if you need me to."

"Since you offered, I could use a console status report." Joe said with a smile.

"I'm on it." Vincent said warmly. Even with the weirdness of their unknown mission, their unknown captain and their absent crew, it was still good to be home.

* * * * *

The doors opening drew Vincent's attention and he turned in time to see Susan, Lou and Judy rush into the room. All of them looked as though they'd been running.

"Sorry, Joe. We got here as quick as we could. The hangar deck is a madhouse and no one knows anything about what's going on." Susan said in a rush.

"No problem. Everything is fine, so far. Do you happen to know where Jimmy is?" Joe asked as he watched Thaelan making an adjustment to the shield frequencies.

"Yeah. Jimmy came aboard with us. He went to inspect the E-1 conduit to see that everything was installed correctly. He'll be down in a minute." Susan said seriously.

"Good man." Joe said with a smile.

There was a beeping at the main, then a moment later, Thaelan said, "Lieutenant Bowers, a message for you."

Joe read the message, then said, "You have a good eye Connie. I've just received Kent's orders. In fact, it looks like we'll be running with a full crew this time out."

"It's going to be weird having Kent back." Connie said frankly.

"Only in a painful, awkward way." Joe said with a smile.

Vincent had no idea what they were talking about, so he looked inquiringly at Connie, at station one.

At Vincent's look of confusion, Connie explained, "Kent was the crewman who didn't make it onto the ship in time last time we disembarked. You took his spot on the schedule. When we came aboard, just as we were getting off the shuttle, I thought I spotted him with the personnel waiting to get checked in and receive their assignments. I guess I was right."

"So who else are we getting?" Susan asked curiously.

"Kent and a new crewman fresh from the academy. They're both listed as enlisted rank 1." Joe finished with concern.

"So I guess Kent got busted down from E-3 because of what happened with Larissa." Connie said quietly.

"Do you need us to do anything Joe?" Lou asked quietly, obviously wanting to change the subject.

"Yeah, would you two take the aux stations and go through the repair logs to see if there's anything else we need to double check?" Joe asked seriously.

"We're on it." Lou said immediately.

"Susan, would you check out the supply locker to see that it's fully stocked?" Joe asked as he moved to station one to look over Connie's shoulder.

"Got it, Joe." Susan said quickly.

Vincent was surprised to feel a hand on his shoulder and turned to see who it was.

"Nice uniform, 'Major'." Susan said with a smile, then hurried to the supply locker.

Before he could respond, the sound of the door opening drew his attention.

"Crewman Simmons reporting for duty, Sir." Kent said from just inside the door of Deflector Control.

Joe glanced over and noticed that Kent was carrying a large duffel bag.

"Welcome back, Kent. Stow your gear in the supply room for now, then start going through tool bags. Make sure everyone is stocked up." Joe said seriously.

"Yes, sir." Kent said quickly and rushed around the partition.

* * * * *

"Console status?" Joe called absently as he kept the majority of his attention on the main.

After a glance, Vincent turned and said, "All consoles are showing fully operational. The bridge station isn't even hot."

"The repair logs show that they installed an air intake fan on the bridge station to prevent heat build-up." Lou said seriously.

"We'll need to put that on our maintenance list then. Fans like to draw dust and need to be cleaned regularly." Joe said in thought.

"I've already added it." Judy said with a smile as she continued to go through the maintenance logs.

* * * * *

"I know we'll have time later to tell each other all about what we did on shore leave, but I get the feeling that you've been up to something special... Major Winters." Connie said with a grin, from station one.

"Yeah. After I passed my officer's exam, I was assigned to work on a Vulcan science vessel. We had just finished our scientific survey and were on our way back when we got the call that the Yorktown was about to be dispatched, so we came back here as quick as we could. I would have made it in plenty of time if they hadn't changed the departure time again this morning." Vincent finished with a weary smile. There were a lot more details about his mission on the Vulcan ship that he would like to share, but there would be time for that, later.

"I've never seen the Deflector Control setup on a Vulcan ship. What's it like?" Connie asked curiously.

"I didn't really go down there to see." Vincent admitted shyly. "I was the third shift duty officer in command, so I stayed mostly on the bridge."

"Does that mean that while the rest of us were on shore leave, you were commanding a starship?" Connie asked cautiously.

Vincent couldn't restrain his grin as he nodded. He didn't want to sound like he was bragging, but there was no use denying the fact of what he had been doing.

The sound of the door opening caused Vincent to turn.

Jimmy walked into the room and stopped at the sight of Vincent in his Vulcan uniform. He seemed to be about to ask a question, but instead shook his head and walked to the second control console.

Lou smiled at the reaction, then walked to Joe and said, "All the repair logs are up to date. If you don't need us here for anything, we'd like to try and get a few hours of sleep before we have to go on duty." Lou said seriously.

"That's fine. Make sure to check your cabin assignments. As soon as everything's finalized, I'll have the schedules posted and Susan can fill you in if there's anything else that you need to know about. Have a good sleep." Joe finished with a smile.

After a moment of looking at the cabin assignments, Lou and Judy signed off the auxiliary stations, then quietly left the room.

* * * * *

Vincent easily fell back into the familiar routine of working the third control console. And knowing that most, if not all, of the systems had been replaced during the refit helped to put Vincent at ease. There was always the possibility that some quirk or defect in the new control circuits might not get along well with something else in the system, but it was still preferable to the perpetual feeling of imminent disaster that they had been working under from New Hope all the way back to Earth.

The doors of Deflector Control opened to admit a young Vulcan man wearing a cadet crewman's uniform and carrying two battered pieces of luggage.

"Crewman Valentine reporting for duty." The cadet said cautiously. From the hesitance in his voice and the way he was looking around uncertainly, he apparently wasn't sure if he was in the right place.

Joe looked at the 'cadet', then turned to the main console and looked at the orders again with an expression of puzzlement.

Vincent looked carefully at the 'cadet', Crewman Valentine. The man seemed to have his hair slightly longer than was regulation and had it styled down to cover the tops of his ears.

But the most notable feature of Crewman Valentine was his size. He was enormous. The cadet was nearly six and a half feet tall and appeared to be built like a professional bodybuilder. The only thing that betrayed his age was his youthful face. Vincent could honestly say that he had never seen a Vulcan anywhere near that size before.

There was a long silence in the room as everyone evaluated the newcomer. Finally the silence was broken by Joe cautiously asking, "Are you Crewman Valaan?"

"Yes sir, I'm sorry. My classmates at the academy called me Valentine and I became accustomed to it."

"I am Lieutenant Bowers, your commanding officer. What would you prefer that we call you?" Joe asked respectfully.

Vincent couldn't help but admire Joe's professionalism. In Vincent's recent weeks on a Vulcan ship, he had been away from many of the 'niceties' that humans were accustomed to using in their interactions. Being back, Vincent was better able to recognize and appreciate them.

Crewman Valaan seemed to be surprised by the question but quickly overcame it and answered, "If you wouldn't mind, I prefer to be called Valentine, or Val."

"Good. Then everyone's accounted for. Now that Crewman Valentine is here I'll go ahead and tell everyone what I have planned for our schedules... Susan, would you let Lou and Judy know when they come in to relieve you?" Joe asked casually.

"Sure thing." Susan said with a smile.

"The shifts will be as follows. I will be on Alpha shift with Vincent, Darin and Crewman Valentine. Beta shift will be Connie, Susan and Jimmy. Gamma will be Lou and Judy. Delta shift will be Thaelan and Kent. Since Vincent and Darin will also be scheduled to work on the bridge, Alpha will also be the shift that our Engineering fill-in crew will work."

The look on crewman Valentine's face was one of pure puzzlement.

Vincent quickly brought up his schedule and confirmed what he already suspected, before saying, "I'm not scheduled to work on the bridge, at all."

"Even better." Joe said as he made a note on his padd, then continued, "For the next few days Delta shift will work at the same time as Alpha shift until we're sure that all the refit systems are working properly. After that, Delta shift will work two days on each shift to give the other shifts their days off, then Delta will take three days off before rotating again."

"I always hated that shift." Connie said frankly.

"Does anyone have a problem with the schedule?" Joe asked as he looked around.

"Am I missing something? Why are you running a Delta crew when you don't have a lead person to run the main on Alpha? Isn't that going to tie you down?" Susan asked curiously.

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Vincent's going to be running the main." Joe said proudly.

"I can't. I'm not approved." Vincent said cautiously.

"Do you remember that little simulator trip that you took at the academy? You weren't just included in that simulation for no reason. They wanted to test you on the main to see how you reacted under pressure." Joe said with a smile.

"How did he do?" Connie asked curiously.

"Exceptionally well. He was able to maintain shield integrity in manual mode, on the bridge station, while under fire. His response ratio was over ninety-five percent." Joe said to Connie frankly.

Everyone looked around at each other and no one seemed to have any further questions.

"Then I guess it's settled. Beta crew, it's all yours. Alpha and Delta crews, report to duty at 08:00 tomorrow. Until then, dismissed." Joe said with a smile.

"Excuse me Lieutenant... they told me my cabin assignment in the hangar bay, when I came aboard, but I've forgotten. Could you, perhaps, tell me where I might be able to find that information?" Crewman Valentine asked timidly.

Vincent heard the question and quickly answered, "Come on over to the auxiliary station and I'll help you find it. I need to look mine up, too."

Joe shared a disbelieving look with Thaelan and Connie at what they had just witnessed; A Vulcan who couldn't remember something as simple as a cabin assignment.

* * * * *

Vincent stopped just short of sitting down at the auxiliary console, before asking, "Do you want to go first?"

"Please proceed... Major?" Valentine said uncertainly. That struck Vincent as funny, but he was careful not to let it show in his expression. Although the 'cadet' before him was obviously a Vulcan, he still had an overriding sense that the young man was emotionally fragile.

"Actually, now that I'm on a Starfleet vessel, I'm an ensign. When we're on duty, doing official stuff, you can call me Ensign Winters. But when we're off duty, like now, you can just call me Vincent, if you want." Vincent said pleasantly.

"Yes. Thank you. I will." Valentine said quietly.

Vincent signed onto the auxiliary station and keyed in his inquiry.

"You appear to be listed twice." Valentine said as he read the screen output.

Vincent turned to reply and was once again struck by how incredibly tall Valentine was. He turned back to the station and began to pull up the detail on the listing as he explained, "No. That's right. One's me and the other's my wife. She's listed as Ensign Winters, too."

"You have a wife?" Valentine asked in surprise.

If it were anyone else asking, Vincent would feel that he had to give the whole, 'Clan Short of Vulcan, in accordance with the ancient ways' speech. But since Valentine was obviously a Vulcan, Vincent was relieved that, for once, he could just answer the question in the most basic terms.

"Yeah. She's on Vulcan studying to be a doctor. I hope we're headed that way. I didn't think to look at our course." Vincent said as he cleared the search criteria and stepped away from the console.

"Can I use that when you're done?" Kent asked as he timidly approached.

"Please, go ahead." Valentine said and motioned for Kent to take the vacated seat before the console.

Kent keyed in his search criteria and when the results came up, he automatically pulled up the detail on the listing.

"It looks like we're going to be sharing a room." Kent said as he glanced at the huge Vulcan at his side.

From Kent's expression, Vincent couldn't tell if he thought that were a good thing or not.

Valentine didn't respond and seemed to be frozen, staring at the screen.

"Is there something wrong?" Vincent asked with concern.

"No. I am trying to develop some sort of mnemonic device to help me remember the location of my cabin." Valentine said frankly.

"What about 'flying eagles for two'? You can ride one and Kent can ride the other." Vincent suggested with a smile.

Valentine thought about it as Kent looked at Vincent with confusion and asked, "What the... What are you talking about?"

"A way for Valentine to remember your cabin number. Flying eagles for two is F for flying, E for eagle, four and two are pretty obvious. Deck F section E4 room 2. If Valentine can create a mental image of you and him, riding two eagles that are flying, then he'll never forget where his cabin is." Vincent finished with a smile.

"You guys make it waaaay too complicated." Kent said with a shake of his head.

"Different people remember things different ways. You go with what works." Vincent said frankly.

"I guess." Kent said dubiously, then asked, "Are you going to your cabin now?"

"I left my stuff in the transporter room when I came aboard, so I need to get that, then I need to go to the quartermaster and get some Starfleet uniforms. Right now, all I have is one uniform jacket. I think, after that, I need to get something to eat. They woke me up to tell me the Yorktown was leaving ahead of schedule, so I didn't even get to have breakfast, yet. I'm starving!" Vincent said honestly.

"I, too, need to go to the quartermaster's office. Could you tell me where that is?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"If you don't mind tagging along while I get my stuff, I can show you where it is." Vincent said honestly. He remembered how it was to be new on the ship and felt that Valentine might appreciate a little help, until he was comfortable finding his own way around.

"I've already got everything that I need, so I'll probably see you guys in the mess hall." Kent said before walking into the supply room.

"Ready to go?" Vincent asked cheerfully.

Valentine nodded once, then walked to the door where he had left his luggage.

As Vincent stood, he noticed Thaelan standing beside Joe, both of them watching Connie on the main.

"Gym, 06:00?" Vincent asked hopefully. He was really looking forward to resuming his training. His daily workouts with Thaelan had provided much more than physical activity for him and he had really felt that something was missing from his daily routine since they had parted company, nearly two months before.

"I will be there." Thaelan responded seriously.

Vincent smiled, then hurried to join Valentine at the door.

* * * * *

"Do you mind if we stop at my place first so I can drop these off?" Vincent asked as he carried his knapsack and backpack down the hallway.

"No. I am interested to see your quarters." Valentine said quietly.

"To tell you the truth, crewmen and junior officers' quarters are exactly the same." Vincent said frankly, then looked at the doorplate before continuing, "This is mine."

* * * * *

While Vincent quickly walked in with his knapsack and backpack, Valentine stood just inside the doorway, staring at the bed.

"Is something wrong?" Vincent asked curiously as he noticed that the luggage he had left on earth, in Joe's care, had been delivered to his cabin. Seeing it stacked, as it was, made it appear to be more than he remembered.

"I hope that you didn't mean it when you said that my cabin would be exactly like this." Valentine said cautiously.

After quickly stowing his luggage, Vincent followed Valentine's gaze to the double bed and laughed as he realized what Valentine was saying.

"You see up there? That's another bunk that folds down. I guess someone decided that since my wife and I were going to share quarters, that we should have a bigger bottom bunk. But besides that, your cabin will be just like this." Vincent said, then gestured for Valentine to precede him out the door.

* * * * *

"It looks like you get the bottom bunk." Vincent said when he saw that Kent had already visited the cabin and had stacked some personal items on the top bunk.

"We can go now, if you like." Valentine said timidly.

"No. That's okay. Go ahead and stow your gear. That way you won't have to worry about it later." Vincent said seriously.

As Valentine began to put his things away, he quietly said, "Forgive me if I'm being intrusive, but I don't understand about you being a Vulcan Major... especially since you're Human."

"I was adopted by a Vulcan clan, which automatically made me a Vulcan citizen." Vincent said as he turned and pointed out the patch on his sleeve.

"Clan Short? I have heard of them. You must be very proud." Valentine said, even more quietly.

"Yeah. But anyway, after I earned my commission as an ensign in Starfleet, the clan arranged for me to serve on a Vulcan science ship for a while. That's what I was doing while the Yorktown was in dock being refit." Vincent said honestly.

Valentine looked around, seeing if he had missed anything, before walking to Vincent's side.

Vincent smiled, then turned and led the way out of the room before saying, "So my Vulcan ship was on the way to Earth when the Yorktown moved up their timetable. We speeded up to get me here in time, but then they launched earlier than they were supposed to, so we had to schedule a rendezvous and then I transported over. That's why I'm still wearing a Vulcan uniform. If they had stuck to their original schedule, I would have been better prepared."

They walked in silence for a few minutes before Valentine quietly said, "Ensign Winters, I am facing something of a dilemma and perhaps, if you wouldn't mind, you could give me some advice on how best to proceed."

"What can I do to help?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"When I was given this assignment, I was told that I meet the absolute minimum requirements. I am concerned that I might not have the necessary skills to do the job that will be asked of me." Valentine said frankly.

Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Okay. Let's get our uniforms and get something to eat, then, if you want to, we can go back to Deflector Control and walk through the stations together. That way both of us can get an idea of what you do and don't know. Once we've done that, I'll know what things I can depend on you to do and you'll know what things you need to work on."

"You'll depend on me?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"Yeah. We're going to be a team. I'll be depending on you every single day."

* * * * *

"Randy? What are you doing in the Quartermaster's office?" Vincent asked with a grand smile.

"Check it out." Randy said as he proudly displayed the new rank insignia on his sleeve.

"Chief Petty Officer? Wow! Congratulations!" Vincent said with a big happy smile.

"It looks like I'm not the only one to get promoted, 'Major' Winters." Randy chuckled.

"Yeah, well, I'll be 'Ensign' Winters as soon as I can get some new uniforms." Vincent said with a grin.

"I guess that would be my job." Randy said cheerfully.

"Except that I'm not sure what size I am right now." Vincent said apologetically.

"Actually, I think I saw a bundle of uniforms with your name on it back there. We should check that out first." Randy said pleasantly, then continued, "Would the 'cadet' with you be needing some uniforms, too?"

"Yeah." Vincent said quickly. "Randy, I'd like for you to meet Valentine."

"Valentine?" Randy asked uncertainly.

"I would probably be listed as Crewman Valaan on any official roster." Valentine said cautiously, stopping just short of calling Randy 'sir'.

"Valaan! Wait right here, I think I've got uniforms waiting for both of you." Randy said happily as he walked into the back room.

"When I first started on the Yorktown, the Clan used to make all my uniforms especially for me, because I was so small. I thought that when I grew into regular sizes that they'd stop." Vincent said frankly.

"My uniforms also need to be custom tailored due to my size." Valentine said carefully.

"Here we go. Uniforms for Ensign Winters, courtesy of Clan Short, and uniforms for Crewman Valaan courtesy of the Starfleet Academy." Randy said happily as he placed two stacks of uniforms on the desk.

As soon as Vincent saw the stack of uniforms, he realized that they wouldn't work.

"I hate to ask, but it looks like I'm going to need engineering uniforms, not command... at least for a while." Vincent said regretfully.

"Not a problem." Randy said simply. He quickly checked the collar of one of Vincent's command uniforms to get the right size, then hurried into the back room.

Valentine noticed that there was a piece of paper on top of his uniforms and carefully picked it up to read it.

"What is it?" Vincent asked curiously.

"A note from the quartermaster at the academy." Valentine said with a gentle smile, then handed the note to Vincent so he could read it.

Randy placed another set of uniforms in front of Vincent and stopped with a curious expression.

Vincent smiled as he read the note aloud, "Congratulations Valaan. Good luck! Phil."

"That's the first time I've heard of the academy doing that, but from the size of you, I'm sure glad they did." Randy said frankly.

"I would consider Phil, the quartermaster at the academy, to be one of my friends." Valentine said thoughtfully.

"Well, Valentine, as far as I'm concerned, if you're friends with one quartermaster, you're friends with all of us. If you ever need anything, feel free to stop by anytime." Randy said cheerfully.

"I will remember, Randy. That is very kind of you." Valentine said carefully.

"How are Gary and Brock?" Vincent asked casually.

"They're both good... well, except that they just called me and let me know that they're short handed in supply. It looks like the new crewman who was supposed to replace me didn't make it aboard." Randy said frankly.

"Are they going to be okay?" Vincent asked with concern.

"Yeah. I think so. The job is really pretty easy... at least, until it isn't." Randy finished with a grin.

"Well, make sure you let them know that if there's anything that Deflector Control can do to help, all they have to do is ask." Vincent said seriously.

"I'll make sure to mention it to them." Randy said with a smile at Vincent.

"We've got someone waiting on us in the mess hall, so we'd better get going. I'll talk to you later." Vincent said as he picked up his stack of uniforms.

"Yeah. Don't be a stranger, Vincent." Randy said warmly, then added, "It was nice to meet you, Valentine."

* * * * *

"We should probably stop and change into our uniforms before we go to the mess hall." Vincent said seriously, then added more quietly, "Do you want to go to your cabin to change or come with me?"

"I would prefer to go with you, if you don't mind." Valentine said shyly. "I remember the constitution class deck plans, but I am having difficulty finding my way around."

"Do you know which way is forward?" Vincent asked simply.

Valentine looked around, then reluctantly shook his head.

"It's that way." Vincent said as he pointed. "If you can keep in mind which way is forward, then following the deck plans is really easy."

"Thank you. That is very helpful." Valentine said with surprise at the useful advice.

"Just a couple months ago I was a new crewman on this ship, so I know how it feels." Vincent said as he led the way into the lift.

"Deck G, Section 2." Vincent said to the ceiling of the lift.

"Thank you for helping me. I appreciate your extra effort." Valentine said shyly.

"If we're going to be working together as a team, we should be willing to help each other." Vincent said simply, finally beginning to feel more at ease in Valentine's company.

Valentine looked down at Vincent with surprise.

"Did I say something wrong?" Vincent asked cautiously when he noticed Valentine's expression.

"No. It's just that I said very much the same thing to someone my first day at the academy." Valentine said slowly.

"Oh? Were you right?" Vincent asked as he led the way off the lift.

"Yes." Valentine said with a chuckle, "I didn't realize at the time just how important helping each other would be."

"We're here." Vincent said as he keyed open his door.

"Head's over there if you're shy." Vincent said with a dismissive gesture at the door that led to the bathroom.

"Perhaps I was shy once, but no longer." Valentine said with a smile, then began to change out of his cadet uniform.

"If you want, you can leave your stuff here while we eat and we can swing back by and pick it up when we're done in Deflector Control." Vincent said as he quickly changed clothes.

"Thank you, that sounds like the most reasonable way to proceed." Valentine said as he pulled up his new Crewman's jumpsuit.

"Hey, that looks nice. You look like a real crewman, now." Vincent said as he looked Valentine over.

"You look very good, too, Ensign Winters." Valentine said seriously.

Vincent smiled at the compliment, then gestured toward the door.

* * * * *

As they walked into the mess hall, it took a few seconds of looking around before they spotted Kent at one of the tables.

"Sorry it took so long, Kent." Vincent said as he approached the table.

"It hasn't been that long." Kent said dismissively. "Why don't you guys go get some food?"

* * * * *

"Oh look! Stuffed pork chops!" Vincent said happily as he placed one on his plate.

"Is this a favorite food of yours?" Valentine asked curiously.

"Well, yeah. But I think it's mostly because I've been on the T'Salanade for the past few weeks... I want MEAT!" Vincent said, then reached back and took another one.

"Was T'Salanade the name of your Vulcan ship?" Valentine asked carefully.

"Yeah." Vincent said, then noticed that Valentine hadn't taken any food. "Hey, even if you aren't hungry, the stuffed pork chops are good enough to snack on."

"Perhaps I'll try one." Valentine said cautiously, then realized that Vincent hadn't made the automatic assumption that because he was a Vulcan that it would naturally follow that he was a vegetarian.

Vincent continued on through the serving lines and before it was over had a little bit more than a 'full meal' waiting on his tray.

Valentine, on the other hand, just had a small bowl of kiwifruit to go with his stuffed pork chop.

* * * * *

Vincent casually asked, "So what do you guys have planned for the rest of the evening?"

"I'm just going to unpack and try to get some sleep." Kent said frankly. "I've been so nervous since I received my orders that I haven't been able to get much rest."

"Are you feeling better now?" Vincent asked with concern.

"Yeah. Actually, I am." Kent said with a smile. "What about you guys?"

"When we're done here, Val and I are going down to Deflector Control and work through the stations." Vincent said casually.

At Kent's curious look, Vincent felt compelled to explain, "I just thought it might be a good idea to give Val the grand tour so that he knows where to find everything before we're on duty. This way he'll have a chance to ask questions if there's something that's unfamiliar."

"Hey, that's a good idea." Kent said in an impressed voice. "I wish someone had thought to do that on my first day."

"Yeah, well, I guess being a new guy makes me think of things that the older and wiser types have forgotten." Vincent said humbly.

Although Valentine was sitting with them and sometimes interacting, Vincent noticed that his mind seemed to be a million miles away.

* * * * *

"Why don't you take a look at the stations while I talk to Connie for a minute. If you have any questions about anything at all, you can ask me or one of the guys." Vincent said seriously.

When Valentine nodded, Vincent smiled and walked to the main.

"How's he doing?" Connie asked with concern as Vincent approached.

"I'm pretty sure he's doing just about the same as anyone else on their first day." Vincent said frankly.

"I was just a little bit worried when he couldn't remember his room assignment... I mean, if he has memory problems..." Connie trailed off.

"I get the feeling that he's really distracted about something." Vincent said honestly. "But don't worry, I'll keep an eye on him."

"Whatever it is, he'd better get over it. We're going to need him paying his full attention while he's on duty." Connie said seriously.

Vincent nodded, then said, "I'll see what I can do."

"Work your magic, Little Man." Connie said with a grin.

Vincent chuckled, then walked back across the room to see if Valentine had any questions.

* * * * *

"Do you have any questions for me?" Vincent asked as he approached.

"No. Actually, due to my lab studies at the academy, this all seems very familiar to me." Valentine said seriously.

"Good. How about the engineering part of it? Do you think you could do repairs if you needed to?" Vincent asked as he indicated for Valentine to walk with him.

"Yes. Many of my lab study projects focused on common repairs." Valentine said with a slight smile.

As Vincent led them into the supply room, he looked up at Valentine and quietly said, "Something is bothering you, it seems to be distracting you really bad. You don't have to tell me what it is, but I'm worried that being so distracted might interfere with your work."

"This morning, I took my final exams for my classes this term. Before I had even been notified of my grades, I was summoned to Commander DeGama's office and told of my posting to this ship. I was then ushered away to the shuttle pad and off to the spaceport." Valentine said quietly, then looked at Vincent pleadingly as he added, "I didn't get to say goodbye to my friends. I didn't even have a chance to explain anything. For all I know, they may assume that I failed my courses and was asked to leave the academy."

"You can go to the recreation deck to send an email or record a video message for your friends if you want. In fact, as long as no one is using the auxiliary stations, you can even do it here when you're off duty." Vincent said frankly.

"Would it be possible for me to do it now? I need to tell Ter... my friends about what happened." Valentine stammered.

"Yeah. Come on." Vincent said warmly as he led the way back into main Deflector Control.

* * * * *

Valentine signed onto the first auxiliary station and opened the email program.

He smiled when he saw a notice that one of his friends was also signed in. He clicked on the link to establish direct contact and an authorization box appeared on the screen.

"It's okay, Valentine. I'll approve it." Vincent said as he leaned in from auxiliary station two and keyed in his code.

"I wouldn't want for you to get into trouble." Valentine said hesitantly.

"I won't. Getting to talk to your friends will help you to be able to do your job better." Vincent said simply as he sat back in his chair.

"Valentine?" A young man asked with excitement.

"Hi Terry. How are you?" Valentine asked gently.

"What happened? You and Sharan were called to Commander DeGama's office, then a crewman came and took all your stuff away and no one knew anything." Terry asked in a worried tone.

"Sharan was offered assignment on the USS Potemkin and I was assigned to the USS Yorktown." Valentine said with a proud smile.

"You were... Where are you now?" Terry asked quickly.

"I'm on the USS Yorktown, this is one of my commanding officers, Ensign Winters." Valentine said as he motioned for Vincent to move into view.

"Hi." Vincent said shyly as he leaned in.

"Wait! Ensign Winters? You're not the same Winters from Kimber IV are you?" Terry asked cautiously.

"Yeah. That's me." Vincent said quietly.

"Oh, wow! It's an honor to meet you! The whole academy's been talking about you!" Terry said happily, then turned his attention to Valentine and said, "Val! The Hero of Kimber is your commanding officer! That's fantastic! I can't wait to tell everyone!"

"Terry." Valentine said seriously, drawing his full attention. "I love you."

The expression on Terry's face instantly melted into tenderness as he said, "I love you, too, Big Guy. Forever. Remember that."

"I can't be on subspace very long, please let everyone know that I am well and to expect frequent emails from me." Valentine said gently.

"I will." Terry said with a smile, then quickly asked, "Wait a second! Did you hear anything about what happened to Troy and Mike?"

"No. What happened?" Valentine asked curiously.

"A little while after you were called to Commander DeGama's office, Troy was called. About five minutes after that, Mike was called, too. The next thing we knew, their stuff was being taken away." Terry said frankly.

"They must have also received assignments." Valentine said speculatively.

"Let me know if you hear from them." Terry said frankly.

"Yes. I will. Both of them are very strong and capable, so I'm sure they have been assigned to duties that will make good use of their abilities." Valentine said peacefully.

"I know you're right. I just can't help but worry a little bit." Terry said with a smile.

"I must go. Please know that I carry you with me and that I will be thinking of you while we are apart." Valentine said gently.

"Same here, Big Guy." Terry said as his eyes glistened with unformed tears. "And as soon as I'm qualified for Starfleet service, I'm going to put in a request to be assigned to your ship... I mean, if you want me to."

"I would like nothing more. I will be counting the days until we can be together again." Valentine said as a tear slid down his cheek.

"I love you." Terry whispered.

"I love you, too." Valentine responded, then in unison, they both whispered, "Forever."

Reluctantly, Valentine reached up and closed the link.

Vincent waited for a moment for Valentine to collect his emotions, then quietly asked, "Feeling better?"

"Yes. Thank you." Valentine said quietly.

"I can tell that Terry loves you a lot. Don't worry. I'm sure you'll be together soon." Vincent said softly.

"Not soon enough." Valentine muttered.

"Don't worry, Valentine. You're going to be fine." Vincent said reassuringly.

"Am I?" Valentine asked cautiously.

At Vincent's look of question, he clarified, "...going to be fine."

"Yes, Valentine. You will. I promise." Vincent swore. In the short time that they had shared company, Vincent had developed a feeling of protectiveness toward Valentine. He didn't know what he would have to do to keep his promise, but he had a feeling, deep within him, that he would do whatever he had to to be sure that Valentine was never hurt by anyone.

* * * * *

Later, as the pair walked away from Deflector Control, Valentine noticed a troubled look in Vincent's eyes.

"Is something wrong? Now it is you that seems to be distracted." Valentine asked cautiously.

Vincent smiled at the question, then answered, "I'm just a little bit nervous about what's going on, about our mission. The Yorktown rushed away from Earth and now I can feel from the hum of the engines that we're traveling at high warp, faster than we usually would."

"Do you believe we are in danger?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"No, not danger." Vincent answered immediately, "Just... whatever it is must be really important. I don't think Starfleet changes their schedules without a really good reason. And there are regs about travelling at high warp. I'm just trying to figure out what could be so serious."

As they arrived at Vincent's cabin door, Valentine waited for him to key in his entry code.

"I'm not tired or anything. You're welcome to hang around here with me, or we could go and do something if you want." Vincent offered casually.

"I'm not ready for sleep either. However, I don't know what there is to do on this ship." Valentine said reluctantly.

"How about this? Grab your uniforms and we'll take them down to your cabin. After that, I can take you on a tour of the ship." Vincent said happily.

"Yes. That sounds good... if it wouldn't be an imposition on you." Valentine finished reluctantly.

Vincent smiled at the statement, then said, "I've just finished more than a month-long mission on a Vulcan ship. You would not believe how much I need to do something that's relaxing and not work related."

"I believe that I can imagine." Valentine said with his best attempt at an emotionless 'Vulcan' expression.

Vincent chuckled, then said, "Yeah, I guess you could."

* * * * *

When they reached the pool deck, Valentine seemed to be amazed that such a luxury was available for their use. Later they went to the recreation deck and Valentine seemed to be puzzled by all the various activities that were available to them when they were off duty.

"Yeah, I know it seems like it's a lot of stuff to play around and waste time when we should be focusing on our mission, but after we've been out in space for a few weeks, you'll see that we need these things to keep a crew of this many people from being bored out of their minds when they're off duty. I never realized how important it was until a few weeks ago." Vincent said honestly.

"For many years, it seemed that my only focus was on survival. Then at the academy, I dedicated my full attention to my studies. I don't know how to adapt to this... recreation." Valentine said slowly.

"I'm pretty sure you'll be able to get into it without too much trouble. And if you have any problems, there's lots of people on this ship who'll help you." Vincent said with a smile, then suddenly seemed to be struck with inspiration. "I just thought of a place that you might like."

Valentine quirked an eyebrow at Vincent, then silently followed him onto the nearest turbolift.

* * * * *

"This is the dorsal observation lounge." Vincent said as they walked off the lift.

Valentine thought for a moment, then slowly said, "Yes. I seem to recall seeing it in the deck plans."

Vincent chuckled, then said, "I bet the deck plans didn't prepare you for this." Vincent said as the doors to the lounge opened.

* * * * *

They walked in to find two other people already there, standing at the window and looking out silently.

"Chance! Channing! How are you guys doing?" Vincent asked happily.

"It seems like forever since we've seen you. How did things end up working out on your mission?" Channing asked curiously.

"I thought Uncle Chip was keeping you up to date or I would have written to you about it. The mission was on a Vulcan Science vessel. It ended up that I was third in command of a ship, pretty much the whole time since the last time I saw you. I just got back almost in time to catch the Yorktown before she left." Vincent said happily.

"You just became an ensign. How did you swing that?" Chance asked curiously.

"It's something my clan arranged for me. But I think getting to do that, not just the command part, but being on a different ship, is going to help me a lot with being an officer." Vincent said frankly, then quickly added, "Guys, this is Valentine. He's fresh from the academy and this is his first day aboard."

"You're a big one." Chance said as he looked up at the much larger man.

"Yeah. And I'm a little one. So what of it?" Vincent said sternly.

"Nothing! Nothing at all." Chance said quickly, then looked up to Valentine and said in a mock whisper, "You'd better hang around with me and Channing so you can learn how to be a crewman. I don't think Ensign Cranky-Pants remembers how."

Valentine broke into a grin at the statement and even Vincent couldn't help but smile.

"So, how are things?" Vincent asked casually.

"I got some good news, just after Christmas. It looks like I may be going into business for myself, soon." Channing said frankly.

"Really? Doing what?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Well, as you probably know, my family is kind of big in the wine industry. When we were at New Hope, I noticed that the glurrah had a lot of properties in common with grapes. I brought some home and while I was on leave, I tried a few things... well, I'm not one hundred percent sure yet. But it looks like I'm going to be able to make a pretty good wine out of the glurrah. If everything keeps going well, then at the end of my tour of duty, I'm going to move to New Hope to start a winery." Channing said cautiously.

"He's already got Benny on his payroll, overseeing two parcels of land so that they'll be ready to use if the wine turns out." Chance added.

"That's really great, Channing. I think it'll be good for the people at New Hope to have another industry." Vincent said with a smile.

"If I've learned anything about wine making from my family, it's to keep it small. If you try to build an empire, you might make lots of money, but you'll end up having a miserable life." Channing said frankly, then added, "But I guess winemaking is in my blood. It must be, I can't think of any other reason that I'd want to do this."

"It sounds really great." Vincent said sincerely and Valentine nodded his agreement.

Silence fell over the group as they looked out the viewport at the stars rushing past.

* * * * *

"It's getting late. We'd probably better call it a night." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Yes. It has been a very long day for me." Valentine said honestly.

"Everyone on our shift usually meets in the mess hall at 07:00 and has breakfast together. It'd be great if you'd join us. And let Kent know that he's invited, too." Vincent said as he looked up at the new crewman who was quickly becoming his friend.

"That is most kind, Vincent." Valentine said quietly.

"Goodnight, guys." Vincent said as he turned his attention to Channing and Chance.

"Goodnight Vincent. And it was nice to meet you, Valentine." Chance said for both of them.

"It was a pleasure to meet you as well." Valentine said graciously before following Vincent out of the room.

* * * * *

As Vincent got ready for bed, alone in his cabin, he reflected on the events of the day.

He was considering their mission. Both the urgency and the secrecy surrounding it served to put him ill at ease.

Even though Valentine was such a big person, Vincent could easily sense his vulnerability and was drawn to do whatever he could to help and protect the man.

As Vincent climbed into bed, he thought about T'Lani and wished that she were there, sleeping next to him. Everything else might not seem so big and overwhelming if he had her beside him, sharing the experiences with him.

Finally Vincent drifted to sleep, still aware of the empty longing in his heart.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I have waited a long time for this chapter or whatever chapter gave me information about what happened to Valentine.

I loved reading his story, and even though I knew we would see him again, I didn't have the slightest idea how long it would take to bring things into the right moment to bring him to the Yorktown.

I don't know exactly how to say this, so I will just say that I really missed Val and all the other people we met in his story, and I know it will be very nice to see him, and hopefully them again as well.

If you haven't already guessed, this chapter is the beginning of a new adventure. I can assure you that it will be interesting. I have no doubt whatsoever.

I believe that Vincent's tour of duty on a Vulcan ship will be helpful to him as this next adventure continues.

Vincent sure didn't get a warm reception from the new captain, did he?

I already find myself not liking this self centered new captain.

I hope that someone will take him aside and give him a good talking to, in case there might be hope that he can chill out a bit, but I seriously doubt it.

I can hardly wait for the next chapter.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher