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Edited by The Radio Rancher

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Chapter 14

JonJon walked to Vincent's side and watched for a minute as Vincent read one message after another.

"What are you doing?" JonJon asked quietly.

Vincent gave JonJon an incredulous look, then realized that JonJon just asked that because he didn't have any better way of starting a conversation.

Finally Vincent answered, "Reading messages from a lot of different people congratulating me about getting married and stuff."

"I'm really glad you got married. I think your wife is nice." JonJon said quietly.

Vincent glanced down and noticed that JonJon's gray coveralls had the pants legs rolled up to keep them from dragging the ground.

Vincent smiled as he said, "Thank you JonJon. I think so too. I never even thought about me getting married before today, but I'm really glad that it happened."

"I'll never get married." JonJon said in a whisper as he cuddled Fizgig in his arms.

"Why not?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Because I'm an android. I'll always be a kid. I'm never going to grow up and find someone who'll love me the way T'Lani loves you." JonJon said as tears welled up in his eyes.

"Sure you will. I bet that someday you'll find a girl who'll think that having a husband who doesn't get older is the greatest thing ever." Vincent said as he stood to pull JonJon into a gentle hug.

"But she'll get older. She'll get old and die someday. Everyone I love will get old and die and I'll always be the same. Besides, it doesn't matter anyway. I'm not real. "JonJon said as a tear escaped.

Vincent pulled back, then brought his hand to JonJon's cheek and caught the tear on his fingertip.

"This tells me that you're real. A machine doesn't feel pain. A computer doesn't worry about being loved. I can tell that you love Fizgig and that you care about me and Benny. That proves to me that you're a real person." Vincent said carefully.

"I love you and Benny. You're my new family." JonJon said in a whisper.

"I love you too JonJon. You and Benny both. You're the best friends that I've ever had and even though I'm going to have to go away when the Yorktown leaves, I'll still be your friend forever." Vincent said seriously.

"Vincent, the shower's free." Benny said as he walked out of the bathroom wearing gray coveralls that hung on him like a sack. To top it off, the pants legs didn't quite reach his ankles.

Vincent smiled at the sight and said, "Thanks Benny. I really need a nice long shower."

"JonJon, did you see the jacuzzi tub in there?" Benny asked curiously.

JonJon nodded that he did.

"Would you like to give Fizgig a bath in there? I could help you." Benny offered with a gentle smile.

"Yeah. His fur is really dirty. I bet he'd feel a lot better if he was clean." JonJon said happily.

"Come on and help me find some shampoo or soap." Benny said with a smile as he turned to walk back into the bathroom.

Vincent signed off the terminal then stopped and sat for a moment, just enjoying the peace and quiet before getting up to take his shower.

* * * * *

"Thaelan... is it okay if I call you Thaelan? I mean, I'll call you Ensign if you want me to." Jimmy asked excitedly.

"You may address me as Thaelan while we are not on duty if you wish." Ensign Thaelan said slowly.

"Cool. Susan and I are going down to the ship's store and I wondered if you wanted to go down there with us." Jimmy said hopefully.

"What are you intending to purchase?" Thaelan asked curiously.

"I don't know yet. I just wanted to see what they have to pass the time when we're off duty. Besides, I haven't checked out the new videos since we left Earth, maybe they have something we'd all like to see." Jimmy said with a smile.

"Thank you for the invitation but I believe I will remain here. Perhaps at a later time." Ensign Thaelan said cautiously.

"That's fine. Just let me know when, I'm always ready to go shopping." Jimmy said happily.

Ensign Thaelan nodded slowly.

"Are you ready to go Susan?" Jimmy asked, nearly bouncing with enthusiasm.

"You know, it's just not right. Women are supposed to be the ones to get excited about shopping." She said with a smile as she walked to Jimmy's side.

"And most of those women would be glad to find a man who would enjoy shopping with them." Connie said from auxiliary station one.

"Okay Connie, you got me there." Susan said with a smile, then noticed Jimmy's urging expression and said, "Don't worry, I'm ready. Let's go."

Jimmy gave a glowing smile and preceded Susan out the door.

"How are you doing Ensign Thaelan? Do you need to get away from this bunch yet?" Joe asked casually as he approached.

Ensign Thaelan thought about the question for a moment, then said, "No. Although I am not accustomed to being included in this... casual behavior, I don't find it unpleasant."

Joe smiled at the statement and said, "Please try to remember that we aren't expecting you to be anyone but yourself. Just because we act casually doesn't mean that we expect you to do the same. Do what makes you comfortable and we'll interact with you on your terms."

Ensign Thaelan thought carefully about the words for a moment, then said, "Thank you Lieutenant Bowers, I will remember that. I didn't realize that my discomfort was so evident that you could determine it's source."

"Don't worry about it, you hid it well. I just tried to imagine how I would feel in your situation. I had a similar feeling the first time I visited Vulcan." Joe said frankly.

"Did you try to adopt their mannerisms?" Ensign Thaelan asked curiously.

"Not really. I was just a little more emotionally controlled than I usually am... you know, out of respect. I'm too emotional to even consider trying to act like a Vulcan." Joe finished with a smile.

"We appear to have that trait in common. I am not good at hiding my emotions." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

Joe gave Ensign Thaelan an incredulous look.

Ensign Thaelan studied the expression for a moment, then suddenly said, "Ah, I see. Sarcasm without words."

* * * * *

"That felt good." Vincent said as he stepped out of the sonic shower.

"Yeah, I think I had a pound of mud on me." Benny said as he focused on holding Fizgig in place while JonJon worked the shampoo into his fur.

"Are you guys going to need any help?" Vincent asked as he pulled on his underwear.

"No. We're just about done washing him. Then we'll just have to rinse him." Benny said seriously.

"He's being a really good dog." JonJon said proudly as he slowly scrubbed Fizgig.

"While you're finishing up I'll get our clothes out of the laundry fresher and get ready to go. I don't want everyone else to have to wait too long." Vincent said as he pulled on a pair of faded blue jeans.

"That sounds like a good idea. Do you think there's any way we could find a brush for Fizgig? When he dries, we're going to need to brush out his fur." Benny asked as he kept his attention on the dog.

"They should have one down at the ship's store. I can go and get one while you guys finish up." Vincent said as he pulled on a red T-shirt.

"Thanks. It will take us a few minutes to get him dry. Just make sure it's a really stiff brush, his fur is really thick." Benny said in thought.

Vincent put on his socks and boots, then started pulling the clean laundry out of the fresher.

"You look just like a normal kid dressed like that." Benny said with a smile.

Vincent glanced at Benny, then said, "I am a normal kid."

Benny chuckled and said, "You know what I mean. When you're wearing the uniform you look like a crewman. Dressed like this you look like a regular person."

Vincent shook his head in amusement and said, "I am a regular person. Being a crewman doesn't make me different from anyone else. It's just my job."

"It's more than a job. It's part of who you are. I don't care what you say, you're different from me and JonJon. You've got something that we don't have and it's because you're a crewman." Benny said seriously.

Vincent thought about it for a moment, then said, "Okay. Maybe you're right but when I'm off duty I still feel like just another kid... Do you guys need anything else from the store while I'm down there?"

"I can't think of anything. The quartermaster gave us most of the stuff we'll need. But if you find anything like a chew toy or a treat for Fizgig, that would be nice." Benny said in thought.

"I don't know if they'll have anything like that, but I'll look. I'll be back in a few minutes." Vincent said with a smile as he carried their clean clothes out the bathroom door.

"You really like him, don't you?" JonJon asked seriously.

Benny looked at JonJon with surprise.

"I'm mean, like more than a friend." JonJon added more quietly.

Benny thought about it for a moment, then said, "I do, but not the way you're thinking. I admire him. Vincent's doing the things I've only dreamed about. I don't want to be *with* him. I want to be *like* him."

JonJon smiled at the statement and said, "I think you are like him."

Benny looked at JonJon with question.

"You gave me and Fizgig a home when we were all alone. You made me your brother. In every way that's important, you *are* like Vincent." JonJon said honestly.

Benny smiled at the statement and said, "If my hands weren't full of wet soapy dog right now I'd give you a big hug."

"Then let's rinse him off so you can." JonJon said happily.

* * * * *

"Hey Vincent, did you feel like doing some shopping too?" Susan asked as she noticed him enter the ship's store.

"I needed to get a brush for Fizgig. What are you guys doing up here?" Vincent asked with a smile.

"Jimmy wanted to see if we picked up any good movies when we were in dock... but they must have moved them, we can't find them anywhere." Susan said as she glanced over to see Jimmy working his way through the store aisle by aisle.

"Why don't you just ask?" Vincent asked simply.

"The clerk's been busy since we came in." Susan said frankly.

Vincent walked to the checkout counter and said, "Excuse me. Could you tell me where the movies are?"

The clerk glanced at Vincent, then said, "We've pulled them all to the back. Starting tomorrow, we're going to be showing the entire movie library on the big screen in the rec-hall. Ship's services will be posting a list of show times as soon as they have it all set up. After each movie is shown, they'll be put back out so you can buy them if you want."

"Okay, thanks. Sorry to interrupt." Vincent said quickly as he hurried back to Susan.

"He said..." Vincent began to say.

"I heard him. That sounds like a really good idea. I think that will make the next few weeks pass a little bit faster for the colonists. All of us will enjoy it." Susan said happily.

"Enjoy what?" Jimmy asked as he approached.

"They're going to be showing all the movies on the big screen in the rec-hall so everyone can enjoy them." Susan said with a smile.

"Cool. What do you say Susan? Would you like to go out for dinner and a movie with me before our shift tomorrow?" Jimmy asked with anticipation.

Susan considered the offer for a moment, then said, "If you can find a movie that we'll both enjoy, I think I'd like that very much."

"Then it's a date... It is, isn't it? A date, I mean." Jimmy asked hopefully.

Susan chuckled at Jimmy's hopeful expression and said, "Yes Jimmy. It's a date."

"Awesome. I hope someone thought about having popcorn and sodas for the movie." Jimmy said with a big smile.

"I'm sure they will." Susan said tenderly.

Vincent started looking around the store and spotted a small display of pet supplies.

As he started walking away, Jimmy asked, "What did you find?"

"Some stuff for Fizgig." Vincent said as he looked at the selection.

"Cool. I never noticed that stuff there before. What do you want to get him?" Jimmy asked as he looked over the selection.

"Um... All of it. I mean, one of everything. He doesn't have anything at all right now." Vincent said, then opened one of the small bins to look at a squeaky chew toy in the shape of a pork chop.

"Vincent, you might want to think twice about anything with a squeaker or a bell. We're all going to be in close quarters for the next three or four weeks..." Susan said reluctantly.

Vincent nodded and put the chew toy back into the bin.

"Why don't we just get him one of the rawhide bones for now, then when he's finished with that you can come down and get him something else?" Jimmy asked casually.

"Yeah. That sounds good... Oh, how am I going to pay for it? My wallet was in the uniform I left back in the tunnel at the colony. It had my Starfleet ID and credit card and everything..." Vincent trailed off in thought.

"Please allow me to take care of it." A voice answered from behind the trio.

Vincent turned and smiled when he saw Cyril and a young man he hadn't met watching them.

"Oh, okay. Thank you Cyril." Vincent said happily.

"Vincent, this is my boyfriend, Roger. Roger, this is the young man I was telling you about, Vincent Winters." Cyril said in a loving voice.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Vincent. Cyril has been going on all day about how brave you are." Roger said quietly.

"It's nice to meet you too Roger. These are my friends Susan and Jimmy from Deflector Control." Vincent said with a note of shyness in his voice.

"It's a pleasure to meet you both." Susan said seriously.

Jimmy nodded his agreement.

"Now Vincent, did I hear you say that you lost your wallet in the tunnels under the colony?" Cyril asked gently.

"Yeah. I didn't even think about it until just now." Vincent said shyly.

"Go ahead and get whatever you want and we'll take care of it for you." Cyril said warmly.

"Thank you, I just came down here to get a few things for JonJon's dog." Vincent said as he opened a bin an pulled out a stiffly bristled brush.

"How is JonJon handling the loss?" Cyril asked quietly.

"He's hurting a lot, but Benny and I are trying to keep him busy with other stuff so he doesn't think about it all the time." Vincent said seriously as he took a rawhide bone out of another bin.

"That's good of you. I'm glad JonJon has someone he can depend on in this difficult time." Cyril said quietly.

"JonJon has everyone in Deflector Control watching out for him." Susan said seriously.

"Yeah, we kind of adopted JonJon and Benny when they showed up with Vincent. They'll be staying with us until we reach the new colony." Jimmy added with a smile.

"I'm glad to hear that. If either of them needs anything at all, contact me and I'll see to it." Cyril said firmly.

"Okay, I will." Vincent said happily as he looked at Cyril expectantly.

"Do you have any more shopping that you'd like to do?" Cyril asked gently.

"No. This is it. The guys are waiting on me." Vincent said simply.

"Well, we mustn't keep them waiting." Cyril said with a warm smile and led the way to the checkout counter.

* * * * *

"Do you think they got lost?" Connie asked as he looked at the door.

"I'll give them five more minutes, then I'll call to see how they're doing." Joe said seriously.

"I don't think Vincent will let them get sidetracked. He's really responsible... a lot more responsible than I am." Darin trailed off shyly.

Rad chuckled at the statement and said, "We'll see. You get three teenage boys together and responsibility can fly out the nearest airlock."

Just then the boys walked into deflector control. JonJon had Fizgig wrapped in a heavy towel.

"You three look like you're about ten pounds lighter. I bet you feel better." Joe said with a smile.

"Yeah, I was feeling really gross." Vincent said shyly.

"Well, it's getting time to turn in for the night. Do you guys have anything else you need to do before bed?" Joe asked gently.

"We need to brush Fizgig so his fur doesn't get all tangled." JonJon said seriously.

"Well then, I guess you'd better get to it." Joe said with a smile at Fizgig's snout sticking out of the large towel.

JonJon smiled and carried Fizgig into the supply room.

"Well Darin, do you want to go next?" Joe asked casually.

"Sure. I just need to get my things." Darin said and walked to the supply room.

Rad had a loving smile on his face as he watched Darin walk away.

"You're interested in him, aren't you?" Joe asked curiously.

Rad looked at Joe with surprise, then said, "Yeah. That's not a problem is it?"

"Not at all. From the way he looks at you, I think he's interested too." Joe said happily.

"He's just so timid, I don't want to scare him away." Rad said with concern.

"I think Darin is a lot stronger than he appears. I get the feeling that he's just timid because everything is so unfamiliar here." Joe said introspectively.

"I guess that could be it." Rad said, then smiled when Darin walked out of the supply room with a small duffel bag.

"Do you mind if I go with you? I need a shower too." Rad said happily.

Darin looked at Rad with complete shock.

"Way to be subtle Rad." Joe said with a chuckle.

"What I meant to say is that I'll walk out with you, not that I want to shower with you... I mean, not that I *don't* want to..." Rad trailed off helplessly.

"Darin. Rad likes you and would like to accompany you to the turbo lift. Would that be alright with you?" Joe asked as he tried to restrain his chuckles.

Darin looked from Rad to Joe, then back to Rad again before shyly nodding.

"Go on you two." Joe said with a smile.

Rad gave Darin a gentle smile, then started walking toward the door.

A moment later Darin was following a step behind.

After Darin and Rad had left, Ensign Thaelan cautiously asked, "You encourage same-gender relationships among your crew?"

Joe turned to face Thaelan and noticed his puzzled expression.

"I just encourage everyone to find someone who makes them happy. I think Rad and Darin can do that for each other." Joe said, then noticed movement out of the corner of his eye.

"What's up sport?" Joe asked with a smile as he held out his arm to invite Vincent into a hug.

"I just wanted to come out and say goodnight. I'm really tired so I'm going to go to bed now." Vincent said as he hugged Joe from the side.

"You have a good sleep. I'll be in after I've had my shower." Joe said as he hugged Vincent gently.

"Thanks for letting me be here with you. I love it here on the Yorktown." Vincent said from the hug.

"Everyone is glad that you're here. Now go on and get to sleep. I love you." Joe said as he gave Vincent one final squeeze of the hug.

"I love you too Daddy Joe." Vincent said happily, then hurried back into the supply room.

Ensign Thaelan stared at the doorway of the supply room for a moment, then quietly said, "Lieutenant Bowers, you are a fortunate man to have such a remarkable son."

Joe smiled at the statement and said, "I agree. But I think we're all fortunate to have Vincent here. It's like he brings a feeling of wonder and joy to this place. I think working with Vincent will make our duties a pleasure rather than a job."

Ensign Thaelan considered the words for a moment, then said, "I was offered no choice in my assignment to this ship. I had the sense that I was being discarded at the first opportunity. Since I have come to know you and your crew, I believe that this assignment will provide many rewards."

"Come back here." JonJon said in a loud whisper, catching both men's attention.

Ensign Thaelan looked down to see a scraggly wet animal sniffing his foot.

"Fizgig!" JonJon whispered harshly, still crouched in the doorway.

"You may come and retrieve your rodent if you wish. I promise that I will not harm you." Ensign Thaelan said when he noticed JonJon's hesitant expression.

JonJon looked up at Ensign Thaelan and firmly said, "Fizgig's not a rodent. He's a Shih-Tzu."

Ensign Thaelan looked down at the wet animal and quietly said, "That would have been my second guess."

Joe smiled at the dry tone of Ensign Thaelan's voice, then reached down and picked up the wet animal.

"Don't Andorian children frequently have small animals as pets? In fact, I seem to remember hearing that hamsters are becoming very popular on Andor." Joe said as he petted Fizgig gently.

"That is correct." Ensign Thaelan said and held out his hands for the dog.

Joe handed Fizgig to Thaelan and smiled.

Ensign Thaelan petted Fizgig for a moment, then walked to the supply room doorway and handed him back to JonJon.

"He seems to be a fine animal, very evenly tempered." Ensign Thaelan said quietly.

"He doesn't like to be called an animal. His name is Fizgig." JonJon said seriously.

"Of course." Ensign Thaelan said, then turned his attention to Fizgig and said, "Fizgig, please forgive me if I frightened you earlier today. I was angry and did not behave as well as I should have."

As Ensign Thaelan petted the dog in JonJon's arms, Fizgig turned and began to lick his hand.

"Fizgig forgives you." JonJon said with a smile.

"That is good. I will try to behave properly in the future so I won't have to ask his forgiveness again." Ensign Thaelan said quietly as he continued to pet the dog.

"It's okay Ensign Thaelan. I know how it is to be different from everyone around you. The trick is to ignore that and try and look at how we're all the same." JonJon said with a smile.

Ensign Thaelan looked at JonJon curiously.

"I'm an android, so I know how it feels to be the different one when everyone around you is Human." JonJon said seriously.

Ensign Thaelan looked at JonJon with surprise for a moment, then said, "Perhaps the two of us can help each other understand these Humans."

"The three of us." JonJon said seriously, then leaned close to Ensign Thaelan and whispered, "Fizgig isn't Human either."

Ensign Thaelan smiled and said, "Of course. When the others start acting 'typically Human' the three of us can help each other through the experience."

"That would be nice... I've got to finish brushing Fizgig before he gets all tangled." JonJon finished quickly.

"I will return to Lieutenant Bowers now. I still have much to learn about fitting in here." Ensign Thaelan said quietly.

JonJon nodded, then hurried into the supply room.

* * * * *

"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you Darin. I really wasn't trying to do that." Rad said as they walked slowly down the catwalk.

"That's alright. I was just caught off guard." Darin said quietly.

Rad stopped and looked into Darin's eyes as he said, "Darin, I don't want you to feel pressured into anything."

"I don't. I'm just... a little surprised." Darin said slowly.

"But you're not against the idea... you know, of us maybe becoming a couple?" Rad asked in a hesitant voice.

Darin smiled at Rad's hopeful expression and said, "No, I'm not against the idea at all."

Rad let out a relieved gust of breath and said, "I'm so glad you said that."

Darin smiled at Rad nervously and said, "I'm a little worried because I've never done anything like this before."

"You've never been with a man before?" Rad asked gently as he looked into Darin's eyes.

"Not exactly. Before I went to the academy I had a friend and we... did stuff. But I knew him all my life and... I don't know, it was just different." Darin said with a note of confusion in his voice.

"I think I understand. It sounds like it's the emotional side of things that you're not sure about." Rad said quietly.

"I guess so. I mean, I want it, I'm just scared that I'll mess it up. I don't know what to do." Darin said desperately.

"To be honest, I don't know either. I'm not sure anyone does because it's different for each couple." Rad said thoughtfully.

Darin nodded distantly.

Rad thought for a moment, then began, "Darin, I'm very attracted to you physically. I think you're one of the most handsome men that I've seen in a long time."

Darin's eyes went wide at the statement, no one had ever said such a thing to him before.

Then Darin abruptly said, "Me too... I mean you."

Rad smiled at the bumbling statement, then quietly said, "After I got past the initial attraction, I got to know you a little and realized that you're incredibly gentle and kind."

Darin watched Rad's expression cautiously, reluctant to believe that Rad really wanted him.

"I'm really sorry if me saying that is intimidating to you. I just want you to know what I'm feeling so there won't be any misunderstanding." Rad said gently.

"It's not intimidating, just surprising." Darin said quietly.

After a moment of consideration, Darin continued, "I like that you're strong and outspoken. I admire that."

"I'm glad it doesn't put you off. I grew up in a large family and... I guess I'm a little more expressive than most people." Rad said thoughtfully.

"I guess what frightens me is that my father is something like you. He's forceful and sure of himself. The difference is that he always tried to dominate me. I always felt like he was trying to control me." Darin said distantly.

"I never want to make you feel like that." Rad said with concern.

"You don't. With you I don't have the feeling that you're trying to take control from me. You can be strong without making me feel weak." Darin said carefully.

"Did you ever stand up to your father?" Rad asked gently.

Darin hesitantly nodded and said, "When I entered the academy. He was completely against it. He said that I would be a failure and disgrace the Hargrove family name."

"I thought your last name was Cooper." Rad said slowly.

"On my birth certificate my last name is Hargrove-Cooper. When I entered the academy, I asked that they just call me Cooper. I didn't want to be associated with him anyway, I wanted to make my own way." Darin said shyly.

"I think you have a lot more strength than you know. It's easy to be assertive when you're sure of yourself, but to stand up to the biggest authority figure in your life to follow your dream... that takes a lot of courage." Rad said with admiration.

Darin blushed at the praise.

"What would you like to happen between us now?" Rad asked quietly.

"I don't know... I mean, I've never even been on a real date before so I don't know what to do." Darin said helplessly.

"Then that sounds like the perfect place to start. How would you feel about having dinner with me tomorrow after our shifts?" Rad asked hopefully.

"That sounds great." Darin said with a delighted smile.

"I'll stop by Deflector Control at 19:00 to pick you up." Rad said happily.

"I'll be ready." Darin said with a grand smile.

"Then it's a date! Come on, we'd better get moving so the rest of your team can get a chance at the shower tonight." Rad said as he started walking again.

"Oh yeah." Darin said quickly and hurried to Rad's side.

* * * * *

"It looks like you made a new friend." Joe said as Ensign Thaelan walked to his side.

"Yes. It appears that I have." Ensign Thaelan said cautiously.

"Is something wrong?" Joe asked with concern at Ensign Thaelan's pensive expression.

"No, not at all. I am just surprised by the feeling of inclusion that I am experiencing since I have arrived." Ensign Thaelan said carefully.

"I'm glad. Not everyone who is assigned to this department feels included. We've had a few new people request a transfer to a more 'military' posting." Joe said frankly.

"I can't imagine why someone would wish to avoid this atmosphere of unity." Ensign Thaelan said as he looked Joe in the eyes.

"I can't say that I understand it either. But I suppose it's not for everyone." Joe finished with a shrug.

The doors opened and silence fell over the room.

"Captain on the deck." Joe said firmly.

Everyone in the room stood to attention.

"As you were." Captain Byrne said seriously as he walked into the room.

Captain Byrne walked to stand before Joe and Ensign Thaelan and said, "Ensign Thaelan, I just wanted to come down and welcome you personally to the Yorktown."

"Thank you sir." Ensign Thaelan said, still at attention.

"At ease Ensign." Captain Byrne said calmly.

"Captain, that is 'at ease' for him." Joe said with a small smile.

"Oh, I see. Ensign Thaelan, my first officer, Commander M'Butu has brought a concern to my attention that I would like to discuss with you." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"Yes sir." Ensign Thaelan said in a forced military voice.

"We can step outside if you would prefer to discuss this matter privately." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"No thank you sir. I would not object to Lieutenant Bowers or the other members of Deflector Control being included in this conversation." Ensign Thaelan said frankly.

"As you like. By the nature of your orders and the comments attached to your file, Commander M'Butu came to the conclusion that you were assigned to the Yorktown under protest. If that is the case, I would like to know what we can do to accommodate you for the duration of your assignment with us." Captain Byrne said seriously.

After a moment to consider his words, Ensign Thaelan carefully said, "When I was given my new orders I did object to this assignment. I felt that I was being transferred from the Enterprise without being given a fair chance to demonstrate my abilities and prove my worth."

"I can see how that would be frustrating. I can assure you that you will be given the opportunity to work to your full potential while you are onboard my ship." Captain Byrne said in a measured tone.

"Thank you sir. Lieutenant Bowers allowed me to take control of the main console when we got underway and has already assigned me a shift to lead and a crew. I am quite content with my assigned duties." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"I'm glad to hear that. I was given to understand that you would object to any posting that required you to work with a group of Humans. Do you believe that you will have difficulty working in this environment?" Captain Byrne asked frankly.

Ensign Thaelan was surprised by the blunt statement, but at the same time, appreciated the Captain's honesty.

"No sir. I came onboard with a certain attitude firmly in place. However Lieutenant Bowers provided counsel and insights into the matter that allowed me to see things from a different perspective. After that, Crewman Winters offered his assistance to help me integrate into the Deflector Control team." Ensign Thaelan said carefully.

"Very good. Then I will leave you to your duty. If you have any concerns that Lieutenant Bowers is unable to address, please feel free to come to either Commander M'Butu or myself. It is of the utmost importance to us that all members of the crew are given the proper encouragement to reach their full potential." Captain Byrne said professionally.

"Thank you sir. From what I have witnessed in the past few hours, Lieutenant Bowers shares your philosophy and actively seeks to make it so." Ensign Thaelan said formally.

"That's good to know. Welcome aboard Ensign Thaelan." Captain Byrne said seriously and extended his hand to shake.

Ensign Thaelan shook the offered hand, then watched as Captain Byrne left the room.

* * * * *

"Well, since the Captain brought it up, is there anything you can think of that I can do to help you in running your shift in the morning?" Joe asked as he turned to face Ensign Thaelan again.

"Nothing beyond what you have already done. If I have any problems, I will seek your assistance." Ensign Thaelan said seriously.

"Good. I was afraid that you might be reluctant to ask for help." Joe said with a smile.

Before Ensign Thaelan could respond, the door to Deflector Control opened to reveal Darin wearing a radiant smile.

"Good shower?" Joe asked with a chuckle.

Darin nodded happily, then walked into the supply room.

Joe chuckled at Darin's reaction, then said, "The shower is free, who's next?"

"I'll go. It won't take me long." Connie said as he stood.

Joe nodded.

"Thaelan, do you want to come with me? I'll show you where it is." Connie asked casually.

Ensign Thaelan was surprised by the offer and hesitantly said, "I believe I can find my way to the cabin..."

"Yeah, probably. But it's faster if we do it like this, and if you come with me we can talk along the way." Connie said frankly.

Ensign Thaelan looked at Joe with question to receive a shrug in response.

After a moment to consider, Ensign Thaelan hesitantly said, "I will accompany you."

"Then grab your stuff and let's go." Connie said with a smile and walked to the supply room where his gear was stowed.

Ensign Thaelan looked at Joe with question again.

"It's just another way for him to tell you that you're accepted here." Joe said quietly.

Ensign Thaelan nodded, then picked up his rucksack from beside the lockers.

* * * * *

"So what do you think Joe?" Lou asked after Ensign Thaelan and Connie had walked out the door.

"I think he might fit in." Joe said thoughtfully as he walked to her side.

Lou nodded as she turned her attention back to the main console.

"Do you think you're going to have a problem with him?" Joe asked curiously.

"Maybe. At first, his snotty attitude was really pissing me off but now... I don't know, I get the feeling that underneath there might be someone worth getting to know." Lou said speculatively.

"I think you're right. Most of the Andorians I've met have an attitude of... superiority..." Joe trailed off uncertainly.

"Yeah. That's it. It makes me want to just slap the blue right off him." Lou said firmly.

Joe turned when he heard Judy's chuckle come from station one.

"Resist the urge Lou. I think it's just a cultural thing that most Andorians learn as they're growing up. I don't know his story, but I just have the feeling that there's quite a bit more to him than we're seeing." Joe said speculatively.

"I suppose so. I guess I can look at this as my chance to really get to know someone from a different culture. I mean, that's one of the reason's we're out here isn't it?" Lou asked in thought.

Joe smiled at the question and said, "One of the most important reasons."

* * * * *

"What did you want to say to me that you could not say in front of the others?" Ensign Thaelan asked seriously as he and Connie walked toward the turbo lift.

"I just wanted some company..." Connie began to say when he was stopped by Thaelan's incredulous stare.

"You caught me." Connie said with a chuckle.

Ensign Thaelan raised an eyebrow and waited for an answer.

"Well, I was really wanting to work up to this..." Connie said in prelude as the lift doors opened.

"Deck 5 Section C2." Ensign Thaelan said as they walked onto the lift.

"You remember that I told you about my brother Nicky." Connie said hesitantly.

"Yes." Ensign Thaelan said patiently.

"Well, since you two went through basically the same thing, I was wondering if maybe you could help me to help him." Connie said with difficulty.

"What can I do to help?" Ensign Thaelan asked carefully as the doors to the lift opened.

Connie led Thaelan to the cabin door as he said, "I really don't know. But I'm out of ideas of what to do for him. He's not healing. He's not getting better."

Ensign Thaelan nodded his understanding as he and Connie walked into the room.

"I know I just met you, and I hate to ask you for a favor like this but I'm really worried about him." Connie said frankly.

"I don't know what I'll be able to do to help you, but I will try." Ensign Thaelan said quietly.

"Thank you. Even if we can't come up with anything, thank you for trying." Connie said sincerely.

"If you don't mind, I'm going to use this terminal to compose a letter to my family while you shower." Ensign Thaelan said carefully.

"That's fine. I'll be done in a few minutes." Connie said and walked to the bathroom door.

Ensign Thaelan sat before the terminal, then waited a long silent moment before writing his letter.

* * * * *

"Joe, come look at this." Darin said in a whisper.

Joe walked to the edge of the partition where Darin was standing and glanced inside.

Vincent was fast asleep with a happy smile on his face.

"That's what I needed to see." Joe said peacefully.

Darin turned at a movement out of the corner of his eye and noticed that Benny and JonJon were also watching Vincent sleep.

"You guys had better think about getting to bed soon too." Darin said in a whisper.

"Yeah, we just finished brushing Fizgig. We're going to get ready now." Benny said quietly.

"Then come over here and give me a hug in case I don't see you again before you go to sleep." Joe said with a gentle smile.

JonJon happily walked to Joe to receive his hug as Benny followed a little more hesitantly.

Joe hugged JonJon tightly and said, "I'm really glad that you and Fizgig are here."

"Really?" JonJon asked in wonder.

Joe pulled back to look into JonJon's eyes and said, "Yes. Vincent has made quite a few new friends since he came on the Yorktown, but you and Benny are the only ones close to his own age. He can be a kid around you. I think he needs that."

JonJon smiled and said, "Thank you. I thought you just invited us to stay here because you felt sorry for us."

"No. I invited you to stay here because you're Vincent's friends, and now that I've had some time to get to know you, you're my friends too." Joe said gently.

JonJon smiled, then moved out of the way so Benny could get his hug.

Joe recognized the hesitance in Benny's expression and said, "Thank you for everything you did today Benny."

Benny looked at Joe with question.

"You were there for Vincent when I couldn't be. If there's ever anything I can do for you, all you have to do is ask." Joe said quietly.

"Vincent is a good person. I was happy to help him." Benny said with a gentle smile.

Joe slowly pulled Benny into a hug, ready to pull back at Benny's first sign of resistance.

After a long silent moment of hugging, Joe felt a tremble in Benny's body and realized that Benny was crying.

"It's okay Benny. Everything is going to be fine." Joe whispered soothingly.

Benny didn't respond except to tighten his hug until he was clutching Joe desperately.

"Go on Benny. Let it all out. I'm here for you." Joe whispered as he rubbed Benny's back.

Joe glanced over and noticed JonJon's look of concern.

In a slightly louder voice, Joe said, "After a day like you've had, it's okay to cry. Sometimes you just need to let it out so you can feel better."

JonJon picked up Fizgig and hesitantly walked to Joe's side.

Joe gave him a small nod to indicate that it was okay and held out one arm to include JonJon in the hug.

JonJon tucked in under Joe's arm and also began to silently cry.

"Everything is going to be fine. I'm here for you for as long as you need me." Joe whispered as he felt tears begin to form in his own eyes.

* * * * *

Beloved Mother,

I have been reassigned yet again, this time to the USS Yorktown. In less than one hour of my arrival, my new commanding officer assigned me a crew and allowed me to take control of the ship's main deflector console.

My new commanding officer spoke with me briefly and in just a few minutes was able to make me understand what you have been trying to explain to me for years. The bigotry and isolation that I have been enduring since I joined Starfleet isn't something that has been directed at me, but rather, is something that I have been carrying with me.

One of my new crewmates has also been able to give me some valuable insights about dealing with my personal tragedy. I believe it is time for me to begin to heal.

Please tell my brothers and sisters that my period of mourning is coming to an end and that when I am next in a position to return to Andor, I will visit and we can have a feast to celebrate life.

In your response, please apprise me of Father's condition. In my attempt to distance myself from my painful memories I have also distanced myself from my family. Please accept my apologies for neglecting my responsibilities as your eldest son.

For several years all the light seemed to have been absent from my life, but at last the dawn of a new day has come.

Your loving and devoted son,


* * * * *

To Be Continued . . .