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A call to Earth assured Vincent that Lawrence was fine and that he was his usual self. After that, Vincent talked to Cory to get filled in on the latest events back home. Besides some kind of telepathic kick in the head that knocked Kyle out for a few hours, there hadn't been any excitement to speak of.
Vincent took the opportunity to fill Cory in about being named first citizen and getting a home at the New Hope colony. Cory seemed to be genuinely happy for him and said that he'd be able to come and see it for himself some day.
The call to Earth had been just what Vincent had needed to ease his mind.
* * * * *
"Home sweet home." Darin said as he sat his suitcase on the floor just inside their cabin.
"I don't know. Staying in deflector control's supply room was kinda fun. At least, I had a good time." Vincent said honestly.
"Yeah. So did I. But I won't mind having a real bed again." Darin said happily.
"A real bed sounds nice." Vincent agreed.
"How are you doing?" Darin asked with concern.
Vincent thought for a moment, then quietly said, "It hurts to leave everyone behind. But, this is the life that I've chosen. As long as I'm in Starfleet, this is going to happen."
"Yeah. I suppose so. But I don't think it will be like this every time." Darin said thoughtfully.
"How do you mean?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Well, everyone at New Hope was great and I'll miss them a lot. But I think that at some point we'll probably come across a planet of total jerks and be glad to be able to get away from them. You know, kind of like the law of averages." Darin said with a grin.
"You're probably right." Vincent chuckled, then started unpacking his clothes into the cabinet.
"I missed our room." Darin said with a tender smile as he looked around.
"Yeah. I did too." Vincent said happily.
"Do you have any big plans for your day off tomorrow?" Darin asked curiously.
Vincent snorted with amusement, then said, "Yeah. I guess you could say that. I'm going to be spending the whole day on the bridge."
"You are?" Darin asked with surprise.
"Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu have volunteered to help me with my officer's training. They said that it would work best if I spent the next two days on the bridge to learn some basics." Vincent said seriously.
"So that's why you're getting two days off right after getting back from shore leave." Darin said speculatively.
"Yeah. After the next two days, I'll be spending some time each afternoon on the bridge after I've finished my shift in deflector control."
"Isn't that going to make for a long day for you?" Darin asked with concern.
"Not really. I usually don't have that much to do until T'Lani goes off shift." Vincent said honestly.
"Oh, right. So you'll get to do your officer's training stuff on the bridge instead of being bored and waiting around for T'Lani to finish her work." Darin said thoughtfully.
"Yep. Since the guys aren't here to keep me company, I think it works out pretty good." Vincent said quietly.
"How's your school going?" Darin asked curiously.
"I started back to work on it, today. I didn't do much with it while we were at New Hope. I wanted to spend all the time I could with the guys... and with T'Lani." Vincent finished shyly.
"I'm really glad you two decided to accept a home there." Darin said honestly.
"Yeah. It feels good, like we're on the right track, or something." Vincent said, then quickly climbed up onto his bunk.
"Look at you go! You used to have to really work to get up there." Darin said with a smile.
"I've had a growth spurt since then. And besides, since I've been working out every morning, I'm a lot stronger than I used to be." Vincent said happily as he got comfortable on his bed.
"Maybe I should start exercising or something." Darin said in a considering tone. "After all the work I went through to get in shape for the academy, I shouldn't let myself get flabby."
Vincent chuckled, then said, "You're not flabby. But if you wanted to work out, I think that you and Rad should find something that you'd like doing together."
Darin turned away as he began to blush.
"Besides that!" Vincent said with a roll of his eyes. "I mean, working out is a lot more fun with two people. If you can find something you both enjoy, like weight lifting or aerobics or whatever, then you'll have something else that you two can spend time doing together."
"You know, that does sound good. I'll have to ask Rad about it." Darin said thoughtfully.
"Ask me about what?" Rad asked from the bathroom doorway.
"Hi Rad. We were just talking about you." Darin said happily.
"I noticed. Ask me about what?" Rad asked curiously.
"I was just telling Vincent that I'd like to start doing something to keep in shape, and Vincent suggested that we try to find something that we'd both enjoy doing, so we can do it together." Darin said honestly.
"I've done basic calisthenics, but I can't say that I enjoyed it. But I'd be willing to try some things until we find something that we both like." Rad said simply.
"Yeah. That sounds good." Darin said happily, then slowly walked up to Rad to give him a kiss.
Vincent watched for a moment, then rested back on his bunk and relaxed into his bond with T'Lani. He wasn't exactly communicating with her as much as he was opening himself to her and sharing his essence.
The new universe that they found themselves in was turning out not to be all that different. At least the people who were closest and most important to them seemed not to have changed.
* * * * *
Just when Vincent thought that there couldn't possibly be one more fact for him to learn about command, the captain turned him over to Commander M'Butu to learn the administrative duties. As the days went on, Vincent moved from station to station around the bridge, receiving training from each of the command staff.
It ended up that, each day since they had left the New Hope colony, Vincent would invariably make his way to the bridge and devote one hundred percent of his attention and dedication into learning anything the command staff were willing to teach him.
"In the past two weeks, you've received a very condensed explanation of the workings of the bridge and demonstrated adequate knowledge of the rudimentary skills needed to operate the various stations. I think that, today, you should learn by doing." Captain Byrne said frankly.
Vincent looked around quickly, wondering which station he would be asked to take. A fearful little voice inside him chanted, 'not the helm, not the helm'. Even though he had a reasonable grasp of the operation of the helm, the thought of actually being completely in control of the ship terrified him.
"I think, that for you to get a proper taste of command, you should have an officer's rank, if only for the duration of this exercise." Captain Byrne said frankly. "So, as of now, you are an acting Ensign."
"Thank you, Sir." Vincent said respectfully.
"You're very welcome, Ensign Winters." Captain Byrne said professionally, then quietly added, "You have the bridge."
Vincent's eyes went wide at the statement.
"I'll be over here at the auxiliary station, should you have any need of advice." Captain Byrne said simply, then walked to the far side of the bridge and took a seat.
"Oh... I, um... thank you, sir." Vincent stammered.
It took a moment for him to collect himself, but then he decided that, if he were in command, he should make a round of the bridge and be aware of what was going on at each station.
"Lieutenant Heinrick, would you show me our projected course?" Vincent asked as he approached the navigation station.
"Aye sir." Lieutenant Heinrick said, then added, "On screen."
Vincent looked carefully at the plotted course, then asked, "Is there a reason for us to travel for a day and a half to get to that planetary cluster and then double back toward Vulcan?"
"Once we reach the Pharcid cluster, we will be on an established trade route that is well charted and known to be free of debris. That allows us to travel safely at higher warp." Lieutenant Clark answered from the helm, being that he was the more senior officer.
"Is anything preventing us from bypassing the Pharcid cluster and returning to our original course in sector A-29?" Vincent asked curiously.
"No sir. We would just have to pay extra attention to potential hazards, since we would be traveling through unfamiliar territory." Lieutenant Clark said seriously.
"But it will put us about a day ahead of schedule." Vincent said slowly.
"Approximately, yes." Lieutenant Heinrick agreed.
"Navigation, plot a course to bypass the Pharcid cluster and take the most direct route to sector A-29." Vincent said decisively.
"Yes sir." Lieutenant Heinrick said hesitantly.
Vincent glanced toward Captain Byrne to see if he had any reaction to the order.
The look on the captain's face was one of mild interest, but he was most certainly not annoyed.
"Course plotted and laid in, sir." Lieutenant Heinrick said seriously.
"Good. Let's kick her into 4-wheel drive and go cross country." Vincent said with a grin, then added more seriously, "Helm, reduce to warp factor four and alter course."
"Aye, sir." Lieutenant Clark said, and Vincent noticed that he sounded amused.
* * * * *
It took a few minutes before Vincent could summon the courage to do it, but he finally sat down in the captain's chair.
As he watched the starfield on the screen, a thought came to him and he brought up the starfield on the chair console.
After a few minutes, he made a round of the bridge, making note of their course and speed as he checked to see what everyone was doing.
Eventually, he went back to the chair and looked carefully at the console again.
He noticed something odd in what he was seeing, and finally walked to the side of the bridge.
"Captain Byrne, would you look at some readings and give me your opinion?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Of course, Ensign Winters. What have you found?" Captain Byrne asked curiously.
Vincent quickly brought up the same image that he had been looking at on the chair console.
"What are we looking at?" Captain Byrne asked, as he looked at the hazy image before him.
"This is an overlay of the particulate matter flow. Do you see that disruption, right there? Doesn't that ripple look like it might have been caused by a warp ship?" Vincent asked seriously.
"Possibly. From the dispersion pattern, I suppose it's possible that a ship might have passed this way recently." Captain Byrne said slowly.
"But, if it is a disruption left over from a ship passing through here, who would it be? I mean, we're between nothing and nowhere. Who would travel through this part of space?" Vincent asked curiously.
"We're well away from the trade route. None of the planets in the surrounding systems have any natural resources of value. And, as you said, this area of space isn't between any points of interest. I can't think of any reason that anyone would have to be out here." Captain Byrne said thoughtfully.
"Could it be pirates?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Captain Byrne considered for a moment, then said, "Possibly. Although I am unaware of any pirate activity in the surrounding area."
"Is there any way we could trace it? I mean, find out where the ship went?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Perhaps. If there's enough particle disruption to establish a pattern, we might be able to project a rough estimate of a course." Captain Byrne said as he worked the controls of the auxiliary station.
"There, that looks like some more of it." Vincent said as he pointed at the top of the screen.
"Yes. I've got it. Our trail seems to be pointing toward the Durodni system." Captain Byrne said thoughtfully.
"Durodni? I've never heard of it." Vincent admitted reluctantly.
"There's no reason you should have. It's a recognizable navigation point, but serves no other purpose that I'm aware." Captain Byrne said frankly.
"Are there any planets that can sustain humanoid life in that system?" Vincent asked curiously.
"There certainly aren't any M-Class planets. But let me pull up the survey records and see what they have to say on the matter." Captain Byrne said as he worked his controls.
"Would it be possible for us to go there and see what made that trail?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"You're still in command, Ensign Winters. If you feel that we should investigate, then make it so." Captain Byrne said frankly as he worked his console.
"Navigation, plot a course to the Durodni star system. Helm, prepare for impulse speed." Vincent called out across the bridge.
"Aye, Sir." Both officers replied in unison.
"Beta Durodni three is listed as having a K-Class environment. Although it wouldn't be hospitable, survival would be possible, at least for a time." Captain Byrne said as he looked over the survey statistics.
"Communications, would you notify Starfleet that we're deviating from our projected course. Just say that we're investigating something that doesn't feel right." Vincent said carefully.
"Do you want me to use those exact words?" Debbie asked with a grin.
"Yeah. Either that or tell them that I've got a hunch." Vincent said with an answering smile, then directed his attention toward the helm. "Navigation, set our course for Beta Durodni three."
"Yes sir." Lieutenant Heinrick responded automatically.
A moment later, Lieutenant Clark said, "We're entering the Durodni star system now."
"As soon as we reach the Beta Durodni solar system, drop to full impulse." Vincent said seriously.
"Aye sir." Lieutenant Clark responded immediately.
"Sciences, I want a full sensor sweep of the system, to detect any ships in the area. And prepare for a planetary scan for life signs when we reach Beta Durodni three." Vincent called toward the science station, where Commander M'Butu was seated.
"Yes sir. Full sensor sweep and a planetary scan." Commander M'Butu said efficiently.
Vincent smiled at the response, then walked back to the command chair.
"I have an incoming transmission from Admiral Kincaid." Debbie said with a note of concern in her voice.
"On screen." Vincent said as he stood to face the big screen at the front of the bridge.
"Crewman Winters? I was going to ask why the Yorktown has gone off it's projected course, but I suppose I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't first ask... why are you in command?" The admiral finished in a disbelieving whisper.
"I'm in the mentoring program, and the command staff of the Yorktown has been helping me with my studies. I think Captain Byrne wanted me to have the experience of actually commanding a starship, so I could better understand what they're trying to teach me." Vincent said, trying to maintain a self-assured tone of voice.
"And your first act when given command was to alter your course?" Admiral Kincaid asked cautiously.
"Yes, Sir. The Durodni star system has no indigenous life, but we've picked up what might be evidence of a warp ship entering the system. Since I'm in command, I decided that we should at least take a look. It's probably nothing, but we won't know that for sure unless we check." Vincent said reasonably.
"Leland? What are you teaching this crewman?" Admiral Kincaid asked with a chuckle.
"I'm teaching him to be a leader, and to trust his instincts," Captain Byrne said as he stood. "Do you think there's a more valuable lesson he should learn first?"
The admiral pondered that for a moment, then quietly said, "No. The best captains know when to take the initiative. I'll leave you to your lessons."
"Thank you, sir." Vincent said as he stood a little straighter.
"Starfleet, out." Admiral Kincaid said with amusement sounding in his voice.
"Yorktown, out." Vincent responded automatically.
"Sir, we're approaching Beta Durodni three." Lieutenant Clark said from the helm.
"On screen." Vincent said as he sat in the command chair.
A planet with a milky gray/green atmosphere filled the screen.
"Commander M'Butu, can you find any life signs?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Indeterminate. The makeup of the atmosphere combined with the radiation makes it difficult to pinpoint definite signs of life." Commander M'Butu said slowly, then looked at Vincent expectantly.
The expression made Vincent feel that he was being quizzed. He took a moment to consider what Commander M'Butu had told him, then said, "Try scanning for tritanium or other man-made alloys. If we can't find the people, maybe we can find the ship."
After a brief moment of scanning, Commander M'Butu quickly said, "Yes. I'm detecting what appears to be a long range cruiser. I'm focusing my scans for life signs on that area."
"Lieutenant Patterson. Attempt communications." Vincent said seriously.
"Yes sir." Debbie said immediately, then began trying to hail the ship that was on the surface.
"I'm detecting three life signs. They're faint, but they're definitely alive." Commander M'Butu said happily.
"I'm receiving no response from the planet." Debbie said seriously.
"Commander, how will our transporters work with this radiation?" Vincent asked carefully.
"The effect will be negligible. Transporters should operate normally." Commander M'Butu said efficiently.
Vincent nodded, then turned to the Captain and asked, "Captain Byrne, would it be possible for me to relinquish command and go with an away team to the surface to assess the situation?"
"Yes. You'll be in command of the away team, so select your team and go investigate." Captain Byrne said firmly, then added, "I have command."
"I stand relieved." Vincent responded seriously, then turned and said, "Commander M'Butu, I'd like you on the team for sciences."
"Yes sir." Commander M'Butu said as he tried to restrain his expression of welling pride.
"I'm also going to need two security and one medical." Vincent said, and noticed Debbie's nod that she would take care of it.
"Have them meet us in transporter room two." Vincent said as he walked toward the turbolift with Commander M'Butu at his side.
When the turbolift doors closed, Captain Byrne looked around the bridge and asked, "Any comments on his performance?"
"Actually, he's already better than most of the cadet captains I had back at the academy." Lieutenant Clark said frankly.
"I like his style." Debbie said honestly, then added, "I just can't believe his dumb luck, stumbling across a warp trail out here in the middle of nowhere."
"Not as much luck as you might think." Captain Byrne said thoughtfully. "He was looking at an overlay of particulate matter movement for the area of space that we're traveling through. What he spotted was barely discernible, even to the practiced eye. I think his sharp eye, keen wit, and good instincts helped him find something that any of the rest of us would have overlooked."
* * * * *
Vincent and Commander M'Butu walked into the transporter room to find that Rad was the transporter technician on duty.
"Hey Vincent, you're getting to go on another away mission? This is getting to be a habit for you." Rad said happily.
Vincent smiled, then walked to Rad's side and crooked his finger to get him to lean down.
"Actually, I'm in command of the away team, this time." Vincent said, unable to restrain his grin.
"Seriously?" Rad asked with surprise, then at Vincent's nod, he smiled and said, "Way to go, Vincent!"
"Well, the hard part is still to come." Vincent said frankly.
The door opened to admit Lieutenant Simms and Ensign Barnhill.
"What type of arms will we be needing, Commander?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he stopped at the weapons locker.
"Acting Ensign Winters will be in command of this away mission. I'm only here representing sciences." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"Ensign Winters?" Lieutenant Simms asked, seemingly unphased by the announcement.
"Sidearms for the team, phaser rifles for security." Vincent said decisively.
"What's the situation?" Lieutenant Simms asked as he started handing out the weapons.
"Let's wait for medical to arrive." Vincent said, then turned as the door to the transporter room opened.
Dr. Perry and T'Lani walked into the room and directly to Commander M'Butu.
"I thought I might be able to use some help and T'Lani needs the experience." Dr. Perry said seriously.
"Acting Ensign Winters is in command. But I doubt that he'll have any objection." Commander M'Butu finished with a grin.
"Husband." T'Lani said, it either being a greeting or an expression of surprise.
"My wife." Vincent said with a tender smile, then brought himself back to the task at hand and addressed the group. "We've found evidence of a crashed spaceship on this planet and three weak life signs. We haven't had any communications with them and don't even know what species they are, or if they're friendly. But from the look of things, they probably need help."
"Is it possible that this is some sort of a trap?" Lieutenant Simms asked cautiously.
"Not likely." Vincent answered immediately. "The trail wasn't obvious enough that anyone would have found it unless they were looking. And hardly anyone travels through this part of space."
"What are the conditions on the surface?" T'Lani asked curiously.
"Commander?" Vincent asked and turned his attention to Commander M'Butu.
"It's a fairly standard K-Class planet. The heat is more than we're used to and the complete absence of water will cause you to dehydrate quickly. There's hard radiation, but limited exposure shouldn't cause any lasting damage." Commander M'Butu said efficiently.
Vincent looked around to see that everyone was ready, then walked to take his place on the first transporter pad.
"How close do you want?" Rad asked professionally.
"Transport us in about forty meters from the life signs. They don't know we're coming and we don't know if they're friendly." Vincent said seriously.
Lieutenant Simms nodded his approval of the plan.
Rad worked his transporter controls for a moment, then nodded.
As soon as his team members were all in their transport positions, he looked to Rad and said, "Energize."
* * * * *
When the transporter beam cleared, Vincent was immediately assaulted by the searing heat.
Commander M'Butu looked at his tricorder for a moment, then said, "This way."
Vincent nodded, then motioned for the rest of the away team to follow across the uneven terrain.
Lieutenant Simms made some quick hand gestures to Ensign Barnhill, which Vincent interpreted to mean for her to scout ahead of them and look for threats.
Vincent looked around, making sure to account for all the members of his team. Being in command, they were his responsibility.
* * * * *
After a few minutes of walking across the rugged terrain in the searing heat, Vincent heard the beeping of his communicator.
"Ensign Winters." Vincent answered seriously.
"I have a visual of the wreckage. I can see one person moving. It appears that they are using a piece of the broken hull as a crude shelter." Ensign Barnhill said seriously.
"Hold your position. We'll be there in a minute." Vincent said firmly, then added, "Winters, out."
After a moment to gain the attention of the team, Vincent said, "Ensign Barnhill has spotted someone moving in the wreck. Lieutenant Simms, I'd like for you to go with me to make contact. Commander M'Butu, Dr. Perry and T'Lani, stay back until we're sure that they're not a threat."
"Vincent, I have more experience in dealing with this type of situation. If you'd like, I could go." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"Thank you, Sir. But this is my mission, and I need to do this. I won't start my Starfleet career by asking someone else to do something that I wouldn't do myself." Vincent said firmly, then added with a smile, "Besides, there's only one cure for inexperience."
Commander M'Butu slowly nodded his acceptance.
Vincent and Lieutenant Simms increased their pace toward the wreckage of the ship.
* * * * *
"Hello? Do you need help?" Vincent asked cautiously as he approached a white robed figure who was standing with a stooped posture, looking into the wreckage.
When the person heard him, he turned so quickly that he tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground.
"Hold on! We aren't going to hurt you! We just noticed your crash and came to offer help." Vincent said quickly.
"You're real?" A young man's voice asked from beneath the white scarf that covered all but his eyes.
"Yeah. Last time I checked." Vincent said with a smile, then added, "I'm Ensign Winters from the USS Yorktown. Can we help you?"
"USS... A Federation Starship? Did my mother... My friends! Can you help my friends? They're hurt really bad!" The young man asked desperately.
"Yes. Where are they? Of course we'll help them however we can." Vincent said sincerely.
"They're right here. Please help them. They're dying!" The young man begged as he gestured to the unmoving bodies under the crude shelter.
"Lieutenant Simms, would you ask Dr. Perry and T'Lani to come here?" Vincent asked hopefully.
After a nod, Lieutenant Simms opened his communicator as he turned away.
"What's your name?" Vincent asked quietly.
"Please, help my friends. They're hurt really bad." The young man said in a quivering voice that betrayed how weak he was.
"A doctor is going to look at your friends right now, and she'll help them however she can, I promise." Vincent said seriously. "What is your name?"
"Tracey Sturgill." The young man said in a small voice.
"Tracey, I'm Vincent. Please calm down and tell me what happened." Vincent said gently.
A movement caused Vincent to look away, and he smiled when he saw Dr. Perry and T'Lani approaching.
"Check on them, first." Vincent said as he pointed into the shelter.
T'Lani's gaze met with Vincent's for just a moment as she passed, but Vincent could see her pride in him.
Vincent then turned his attention to the young man who was still sitting where he had fallen. "Tracey, tell me what happened."
"We were just going camping." Tracey said distantly, "The six of us, we took off for a few weeks just to go exploring. We were hoping to find a nice place, you know, where no one had ever really been before, and check it out. It was supposed to be an adventure."
"So, what happened?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I don't know." Tracey said in a small, helpless voice. "I mean, everything was fine, and then... it wasn't. The ship just stopped working. It was like the computer went insane and no matter what I did, nothing would work the way it was supposed to."
"So what did you do?" Vincent prompted gently.
"I tried to call for help, but the communications wouldn't work either. We lost life support, then the engines shut down and I could barely get the helm to respond at all. So I looked for a planet to try to land."
Vincent slowly nodded, then quietly said, "Hold on. I need to go over there for a few seconds, but I'll be right back. The doctor is going to check you out in a minute, to see how you're doing. Just do what she says and you're going to be fine."
"My friends. Please help my friends." Tracey begged desperately.
"The doctor is examining them, now." Vincent said seriously, then quietly added, "I'll be right back."
Tracey watched as Vincent slowly stood, then walked to someone who was waiting outside the improvised shelter.
* * * * *
"According to him..." Vincent said as he gestured toward Tracey with his head, "He lost control of the ship. All of a sudden, everything stopped working."
"It's hard to tell with this much damage, but I think this is a Starfleet long range light cruiser. If it's the one I'm thinking of, I don't think this style of ship has been in service for quite a few years." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"From what he described, this doesn't sound normal. Could you get an engineering team to go over the wreckage and try to figure out what caused this?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Yes. We could do that, but it may be difficult to find something when we're not sure what we're looking for." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"Control circuits." Vincent said simply.
"But this style of shuttle was decommissioned long before the control circuit fiasco ever happened." Commander M'Butu said thoughtfully.
"Yes. But Tracey isn't a Starfleet officer, and this isn't a Starfleet vessel, at least, not anymore." Vincent said seriously.
"So you think that he may have done some repairs on this old ship to make her spaceworthy and gotten ahold of some reworked control circuits." Commander M'Butu said speculatively.
"I think it's worth checking out." Vincent said seriously. "I don't want this guy feeling guilty about what happened, if it wasn't his fault."
"I'll get a team on it," Commander M'Butu said decisively, "Even if it wasn't control circuits, we'll figure it out."
"Thanks Commander." Vincent said gratefully.
* * * * *
"How are you doing?" Vincent asked as he walked back to Tracey's side and knelt down.
"How are my friends?" Tracey asked in panic.
"Let me find out for you. Just stay still." Vincent said, then contacted T'Lani through their bond.
Tracey watched curiously as Vincent appeared to be lost in thought, then waited anxiously when Vincent seemed to come back to himself.
"I'm sorry, Tracey. Two of your friends didn't make it." Vincent said quietly.
"Two? I thought... You mean three of them are alive?" Tracey said with excitement.
"Yes." Vincent said slowly, confused by Tracey's reaction.
"I thought... I mean, the last time I checked, Sung was still alive, but as far as I could tell..." Tracey said in a diminishing voice.
"One of your friends has been transported aboard, and as soon as the other two are stable enough for transport, they'll be beamed up too." Vincent said gently.
"Thank you, Vincent." Tracey said gratefully, then added, "I thought we were all going to die here. We're in the middle of nowhere and nobody knew where we were. This was a really stupid idea."
"Maybe you have a guardian angel watching out for you." Vincent said with a smile, then quietly added, "T'Lani is ready to examine you."
Tracey looked up to see T'Lani standing over him.
"Be at ease. This will only take a moment." T'Lani said as she quickly moved the scanning canister of the medical tricorder over Tracey's prone form.
Vincent waited anxiously for her pronouncement.
"As expected, you are suffering from severe dehydration and moderate radiation burns. You should transport aboard to receive medical care." T'Lani said simply.
"I won't leave my friends." Tracey said as firmly as he could manage in his weakened state.
"T'Lani, will it hurt for Tracey to stay here until his friends are stabilized and beamed aboard?" Vincent asked seriously.
"It is illogical for him to remain in a damaging environment in his condition. He can provide no benefit for his companions and will only cause further injury to himself." T'Lani said frankly.
"But, if he were to stay, only for as long as it takes to stabilize his friends, would it make his condition a lot worse?" Vincent asked carefully.
"No. Not significantly." T'Lani said slowly.
"Then it should be his choice." Vincent said simply.
T'Lani considered his words for a moment, then gave a single nod of agreement.
"Wait. Who are you again?" Tracey asked in confusion.
"Ensign Winters of the USS Yorktown." Vincent said seriously as he watched T'Lani walk back to check on her patients.
"Ensign? A Starfleet Ensign? But you're what? Eleven years old?" Tracey asked in confusion.
"Nine." Vincent said simply.
"And you're an Ensign?" Tracey asked in confirmation.
"Well, I'm an acting Ensign. This is actually the first away team that I've ever commanded." Vincent admitted shyly.
"I think you're doing fine." Tracey said in a bewildered voice, then quietly said, "I'd really like to check on my friends."
"Lean on me and I'll help you over to them." Vincent said as he moved to Tracey's side.
Tracey held onto Vincent as he crawled further back into the wreckage of the ship that had sheltered them from the blazing sun.
* * * * *
"Crewman Winters, report to briefing room one." Sounded over the intercom.
Vincent glanced around the sickbay, then quietly said to Tracey, "That's me. Just try to relax and let the doctors take care of you."
"I will. Thanks again for all your help and for staying with me." Tracey said gratefully.
Vincent gave him a quick smile before hurrying toward the door.
* * * * *
"Crewman Winters reporting as ordered, sir." Vincent said from just inside the door of the conference room.
"At ease, Crewman." Captain Byrne said automatically, then gestured for Vincent to take a seat. "Do you happen to know who it is that you rescued?"
"He said his name was Tracey." Vincent said simply.
"Yes. Tracey Sturgill. His mother is Commander Sturgill from the Starfleet compound at the Coffelt colony." Captain Byrne said frankly.
"I'm sorry, sir. I've never heard of it." Vincent said quietly.
"It's an outer colony that doesn't receive much recognition, but Commander Sturgill is a well respected and influential member of Starfleet." Captain Byrne said seriously.
Vincent nodded that he understood.
"Since you have not, as yet, completed your report, there has been very little information to pass on to Starfleet. From what I've heard, she has been asking, quite insistently, to speak with us, so she can be brought up-to-date on what is going on with her son." Captain Byrne said diplomatically.
"Yes, sir. I understand." Vincent said seriously.
"I believe you do." Captain Byrne said with a slight smile, then pressed the comm button and said, "Lieutenant Patterson, please establish contact with the Coffelt base, directed to Commander Sturgill."
"Yes sir." Debbie said immediately.
"So, do you have any observations to make about commanding your first away mission?" Captain Byrne asked pleasantly.
"Only that I wish we could have gotten to them sooner so that none of them would have died." Vincent said frankly.
"Regardless of how we may feel about it, death happens." Captain Byrne said simply. "No matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise, we can't save everyone."
"I know." Vincent said quietly, "I just feel bad for Tracey. He was the captain. He feels responsible for what happened and... it's probably going to bother him for the rest of his life."
"I'm sure that his family will see to it that he has someone to help him deal with it." Captain Byrne said gently.
"I have Commander Sturgill for you, sir." Debbie said over the comm.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Please put her through." Captain Byrne said professionally, then turned his chair to face the view screen.
"Leland? Oh, in all the confusion, I didn't realize that it was your ship! How's Tracey?" An older woman in a Starfleet uniform asked with worry.
"I believe Crewman Winters would have the most up-to-date information. He was in command when Tracey's ship was discovered." Captain Byrne said frankly, then gestured to Vincent at his side.
The woman on the screen was stunned into speechlessness at the sight of him. Vincent took the opportunity to say, "I just came here from the sickbay. Tracey was awake and able to talk. He's getting treatment for dehydration and moderate radiation burns, but they expect him to be fine."
"You were... in command?" She asked hesitantly.
"Yes Ma'am. I am in the Starfleet mentoring program and as part of my training, I was allowed to take command of the bridge while we were in what we thought would be an uninteresting part of space. I noticed a dispersion pattern of a recent warp trail and decided to investigate, since there's not supposed to be any traffic in this area. We followed the trail and found Tracey's ship crashed on the surface of Beta Durodni three. Four of the six occupants of the ship survived." Vincent finished quietly.
"Crewman Winters then took an away team to the surface to render medical aid until the survivors were stable enough for transport." Captain Byrne added seriously.
"Do you know what caused the crash?" Commander Sturgill asked carefully.
"No Ma'am. We've collected a lot of data and are trying to piece it together; so far it looks like equipment failure. Hopefully, we'll be able to know for sure, sometime soon." Vincent said seriously.
"Thank you." She said to Vincent sincerely, then turned to Captain Byrne and asked, "Do you know when I'll be able to speak with him?"
Vincent closed his eyes for a brief moment, then said, "He's going to be moved to the convalescent ward as soon as he's finished with his radiation treatment. He should be able to talk to you in about fifteen or twenty minutes."
Commander Sturgill smiled at Vincent, then looked at Captain Byrne and said, "Leland, I thought you were crazy when you said that this boy was in command. But I can see real potential in him. There aren't words enough for me to thank you, both of you, for rescuing my son."
"That's what we're here for." Vincent said frankly.
Captain Byrne smiled at the words, then said, "I promise you, Cassaundra, Tracey is going to receive the best of care and will be just fine."
"Thank you." She whispered.
"Enjoy your talk with your son. Yorktown out." Captain Byrne said gently.
"Coffelt out." She responded, then terminated the transmission.
Captain Byrne looked at Vincent consideringly for a moment, then thought to ask, "I was wondering, why were you looking at the particle movement overlays?"
"Ensign Thaelan sometimes does that to get a sense of what might be in the area that isn't visible. It seemed like a good idea, since we were traveling through unfamiliar space." Vincent said frankly.
Captain Byrne smiled at the response, then stood and gestured for Vincent to join him as he left the conference room.
* * * * *
"May I come in?" Vincent asked as he walked into the engineering conference room where Commander M'Butu and a team of engineers were working.
"Of course. You're our leader." Commander M'Butu said with a grin.
"The away team is all safely back home, so I think my leading is done for the day." Vincent said as he walked to the Commander's side.
"Actually, until your official report has been filed and accepted, you're still in command of your away team." Commander M'Butu said frankly, then added, "I assume that you're here to check on the progress of our investigation."
"Yes sir. I'd really like to know what caused the crash." Vincent said honestly.
"We're still working on that part, but I can tell you that your instincts proved to be right. Nearly every control circuit that we recovered from the wreckage was a reworked control circuit from Hargrove Industries." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"How bad is it?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.
"We're still trying to piece together the information from the flight recorder with the half-assed rewiring job on these control circuits. But by the time we're done, we should have a pretty good picture of what happened from the first failure to the last." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"How close are we to knowing if the crash was Tracey's fault?" Vincent asked slowly.
"We're reasonably certain that Tracey wasn't responsible for what happened. What we're trying to determine now is how the combination of faulty control circuits interacted to produce the catastrophic failure that resulted in the crash. If we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the control circuits are completely responsible, then we'll have a solid case against Hargrove Industries for the negligent homicide of those two boys." Commander M'Butu said firmly.
"Do you think it'd be okay if I told Tracey that we have proof that this wasn't his fault?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Yes. In fact, since you're in command of the mission, that's another part of your job." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
"I guess I'm just lucky that it's good news." Vincent said honestly.
Commander M'Butu slowly nodded, then quietly said, "We should be done with this within the next hour, so be ready to start working on your report."
"Okay. I'll go talk to Tracey now, then I'll check with Dr. Perry to see if her part of the report is ready." Vincent said seriously.
"Sounds good." Commander M'Butu said with a smile at Vincent.
Vincent looked up at him, then quietly said, "Thank you for letting me do this."
"You've worked hard, Vincent. You've earned this chance." Commander M'Butu said frankly.
Vincent smiled, then said, "Still, thanks."
* * * * *
Upon walking into the convalescent ward, Vincent noticed that Tracey was sitting up, staring at the sleeping boy on the next bed.
"How are you doing, Tracey?" Vincent asked quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping boy.
Tracey turned at the sound and revealed the tears running down his cheeks.
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked with concern as he approached.
"It's all my fault." Tracey said in a trembling voice. "They got hurt and Denny and Price are dead because of me."
"Tracey, I need for you to listen to me." Vincent said as he took firm hold of Tracey's hand.
It took a moment for Tracey to gather his emotions, but finally he was able to force himself to look Vincent in the eyes.
"The crash wasn't your fault." Vincent said firmly.
"It was my ship and I was the pilot. Hell, us going camping was all my stupid idea!" Tracey said as his tears started falling again.
Vincent shook his head in frustration, then tried again.
"Tracey, I'm going to have to leave in a few minutes, to work on my report. Before I go, you really need to hear this. It's very important." Vincent said firmly.
"Okay." Tracey said weakly as he tried to pay Vincent his full attention.
"For the last two years, a company on Earth has been taking old worn out control circuit units and refurbishing them, then selling them back to Starfleet and telling them that they're new." Vincent said seriously.
Tracey squinted his eyes in thought, then said, "Yeah. I think I remember hearing my mom say something about that."
"The control circuit units on your ship were some of those that they messed with." Vincent said firmly.
"Yeah. Okay." Tracey said slowly.
"When your computer and other systems started failing and you couldn't figure out why. That's why." Vincent said forcefully, then waited to see if Tracey was getting the message.
"So... the control circuits failed?" Tracey asked thoughtfully.
"Right." Vincent said with accomplishment. "And when one of these reworked control circuit fails, it usually gives false readings. That causes you to react the wrong way, since you're basing your decisions on faulty information."
"Okay. I guess I can understand that." Tracey said slowly.
"Now, we're still trying to figure out just how everything went to hell the way it did, but we know for sure that the reason you lost control of the ship and had to make an emergency landing was because of the control circuit failures."
"So... it wasn't my fault?" Tracey asked slowly.
"No, Tracey, it definitely wasn't your fault. Your friends were hurt and died because some people at Hargrove Industries tried to make a few extra bucks by reselling worn out units instead of just selling new ones." Vincent said frankly.
Tracey blinked with surprise, then asked, "My friends are dead so some people on Earth could make money?"
"Yeah. That's the way it looks." Vincent said seriously. "The Federation is already investigating the company. Once you're better, you can check with them about how that's going. In fact, from the way it's sounding, the people who are responsible for this are probably going to be charged for the murders of your friends."
"I want to know who they are. Who did this." Tracey said as his tears started flowing again, but this time, they were tears of rage.
"Revenge won't bring your friends back." Vincent said seriously, then forcefully added, "But justice might make other people think twice about screwing with people's safety."
The door opening caused Vincent to look away.
He smiled when he saw that it was T'Lani.
"Mr. Sturgill has an incoming transmission." T'Lani said impassively.
"I'll take care of it. Thanks, T'Lani." Vincent said as he moved a viewscreen on a swing-arm to where Tracey could reach it, then hit the comm button.
"Communications." Debbie said quickly, then smiled and continued, "How can I help you, Vincent?"
"I've got Tracey Sturgill here. He should have a call waiting." Vincent said professionally.
"Yes. I'll put it through." Debbie said with a quick smile, then the screen changed to reveal Commander Sturgill.
"Hello again, Commander. Tracey's right here. I'll leave you two alone so you can talk." Vincent said gently to her, then adjusted the swing arm so Tracey could use the terminal.
"Thank you, Crewman Winters." She said quickly.
Vincent smiled at Tracey, then waved as he left by the back door, so he could talk to T'Lani and Dr. Perry.
Tracey gave him a quick wave in return, then started talking to his mother.
* * * * *
"How's it going Champ? It looks like you've had a long day." Joe said with concern as Vincent walked into deflector control.
"Yeah, I have." Vincent said seriously, then added, "Of course, as if my day weren't already long enough, then I had to write a report about it."
"That's the way it works." Joe said with a sympathetic chuckle.
"What's going on here?" Vincent asked as he looked around at the bustle of activity.
"The first console is down." Joe said frankly.
"What? You mean, completely?" Vincent asked with surprise.
"I don't know yet. Connie's looking at it now." Joe said honestly.
"What happened?" Vincent asked quickly.
"I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count." Joe said as he looked askance at Vincent.
"Control circuit failure." Vincent said darkly.
"It's becoming almost a daily occurrence." Joe said honestly.
Vincent looked over at station two, then said, "Darin, if I ever get to meet your dad, I'm gonna kick him in the nuts."
"You'll probably have to wait in line. But I'll see what I can do to arrange it for you." Darin said absently as he studied his diagnostics.
"What's got you so tense?" Joe asked as he placed a hand on Vincent's shoulder.
"There's a guy in sickbay who's been tearing himself apart because he thought he was responsible for two of his friends dying. It turned out that it was because he got some bad control circuits when he was fixing up an old decommissioned cruiser from his mom's base." Vincent said seriously.
"That's terrible, but what does any of that have to do with you?" Joe asked gently.
"Well, you know I was working on the bridge today." Vincent said slowly.
"Technically, it's your day off, but I had assumed that you would end up on the bridge at some point." Joe said frankly.
"Captain Byrne thought that it would be good for me to be in command for a little while, so I could really understand the stuff that he was trying to teach me." Vincent said as he looked up cautiously.
Joe nodded that he was following what Vincent was saying.
"Well, you know that thing when we went off course? That was me." Vincent said shyly.
"But the captain approved it." Joe said slowly.
"He was there, and I guess he would have stopped me if I was doing something dangerous. But he was really just letting me do what I thought was best. You know, letting me be in command." Vincent said honestly.
"So, what did you do?" Joe asked cautiously.
"I found a warp trail and followed it to a wrecked ship. There were four survivors." Vincent said quietly.
"So you feel responsible for the survivors, since you're the one who found them." Joe said gently.
"That, and I took an away team to the surface and got them help and made sure we figured out why their ship crashed." Vincent said quietly, then chanced another look up.
Joe had a grin on his face and slowly began to shake his head.
"Only my little brother..." Darin said from the second console.
"Motherfucker!" Connie screamed as he jerked his hand out of the panel under console one.
"Are you hurt?" Joe asked as he rushed to Connie's side.
"No. But I swear, that son-of-a-bitch tried to bite me!" Connie said as he examined his hand.
"How bad is the console?" Joe asked with concern.
"Cascade failure. When the control circuit went, it took out everything further down the line. I could probably fix it in about an hour or two if I had all the parts..." Connie trailed off with a knowing look at Joe.
"But replacement parts are running at a premium right now and being reserved for essential systems." Joe said in resignation, finishing the thought.
"Isn't the first console pretty essential?" Darin asked as he walked to Connie's side.
"We can set it up on one of the aux stations. It makes more sense to use an operational console than to try to rig a damaged one to work." Joe said seriously.
"We'd better hurry up and get back to Earth. The ship is falling apart around our ears" Connie said seriously.
"Joe! Take the main!" Thaelan said as he jumped up from his chair with a breather in his hand and ran for the door.
It took a moment for Joe to get his bearings, but when he did he saw what had caused Thaelan to take off running.
"Connie, Darin, Susan, take breathers and go to environmental control to help out however you can." Joe said in a rush.
"What's wrong?" Darin asked as he hurried to get a breather.
"Just go!" Joe said firmly.
Vincent looked around and hurried to the first auxiliary station which was now serving as station one.
As soon as he was done looking it over, he called out, "Station one, green board." Then moved to station three.
"Two's good." Jimmy said quickly.
"Um, it looks like we've got problems with the main console in engineering." Vincent said as he worked to isolate the problem.
"Great." Joe said sarcastically as he checked through his systems.
"I can't make any sense out of this. I think the control circuit is throwing false readings and... yeah, it's refusing my commands. I can't get it to switch over to the backup circuit." Vincent said seriously.
"Naturally." Joe said with a weary shake of his head.
Editor's notes: I am so glad to see more of the Alpha 7 universe adventure.
It looks as if things are going to be quite a bit different for this Vincent than they are for the Vincent in the CSU.
From now on, there will be considerably different experiences happening to the two of them, and everyone else, for that matter.
We have already seen some things that have changed. To begin with, of course, things diverged when the box was opened, but as you know, there was a further change when an entire universe vanished from existence. That was what caused Vincent and the rest of the time travelers to feel differently.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher