Universe Alpha 7:
The Opposite Heaven

By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2023 MultiMapper and CSU Productions.
All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter 39

When Vincent awoke, what he immediately felt was a sense of contentment. To put it simply, he felt good.

He glanced at the alarm clock at the head of his bed and found that it was about three minutes before the alarm would have sounded. So, after turning off his alarm, he quickly and quietly got down from his bunk and hurried to the bathroom to begin his day.

As he walked toward the bathroom, he was surprised not only to find that he had an erection, but that, more than anything, he wanted to be alone with his wife so that they could 'explore' as they had done at New Hope.

Since that wasn't possible, he did his best to put it out of his mind as he continued on and got ready to start his day.

* * * * *

"Good morning." Vincent said as he slowly stretched, enjoying the sensation of pulling the muscles in his legs to their full extension.

"Good morning, Vincent. You seem to be in good spirits today." Thaelan said as he fell into place at Vincent's side and also began to stretch.

"Yeah. I feel like I got a really good sleep. How about you?" Vincent asked cheerfully.

"I am well. I thought that, perhaps, after the celebration last night, you might be tired." Thaelan said casually.

"No. I think the best part was that T'Lani and I got to spend some off-duty time with other people. We don't get a lot of chances to do that and it was nice." Vincent said happily.

"Yes. I can see how that would be satisfying." Thaelan said contemplatively, then seemed to snap out of it and asked, "Shall we begin."

Vincent hopped to his feet and moved into his defensive posture.

Without further prelude, Thaelan faced him and moved fluidly into his first stance.

Vincent automatically blocked the move, and the game was on.

* * * * *

At the end of their workout, they saw that about half the people in the gym had stopped to watch them.

Vincent's only response was to fight down a shy giggle as he and Thaelan did their cool-down stretches.

"You are progressing quite well, far better than I had anticipated." Thaelan said honestly.

"It feels right, like my body's getting used to the motion. It's kind of like I felt when I used to do the gymnastics stuff at school." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"How so?" Thaelan asked curiously.

"When I started the gymnastics, I hated it because it felt so awkward. But when I got used to doing it, I really liked the feeling of pushing my limits. It's probably my favorite thing of anything we ever did in gym class." Vincent finished with a smile.

"Have you considered pursuing gymnastics further?" Thaelan asked with interest.

"No. You gotta be small for gymnastics to really do anything with it. You're body's like a pendulum, the longer it is, the slower it moves. I know I'm not that big now, but I'm probably going to be pretty tall, like my dad was. So, even though I still enjoy doing that stuff, I don't see any reason to put a lot of work into something that'll never go anywhere." Vincent said frankly.

"Perhaps, the reason could simply be 'because you enjoy it'."

Vincent stopped his stretching and seemed to be thinking about it, then he suddenly curled and rolled onto his shoulders, then sprang into a handstand.

He held the pose for a moment, his body fully extended, then he tumbled backward twice before landing firmly on his feet.

Three or four people started clapping and Vincent shyly smiled at them before walking to Thaelan's side.

"Now I see how you've been able to master your training so quickly. Your previous training with gymnastics has made you aware of your center of gravity and how to properly balance yourself." Thaelan said approvingly.

"Yeah. I guess. I just know that I used to like doing that stuff. Of course, even if I wanted to be a gymnast, I couldn't ever tell my dad about it, because he thought that a guy doing gymnastics was gay." Vincent said honestly.

"You probably don't need for me to tell you this, but I will say it, nonetheless. Gymnastics is exercise. Nothing more." Thaelan said seriously as they walked toward the changing room.

"I knew that in my head, but my heart probably needed to hear it. Thanks, Thaelan." Vincent said cheerfully, before going to his locker.

* * * * *

After selecting their food, Thaelan and Vincent walked to the tables to find that everyone else had already started eating.

"Darin was just telling us about your time on the bridge yesterday. It sounds like it was a pretty exciting day." Joe said with a proud smile.

"Exciting, yeah. I'm probably going to spend all my spare time today writing 'exciting' reports about it." Vincent said before taking a long drink of his coffee.

"That's the price you pay for excitement." Joe chuckled.

"How are things going in Deflector Control?" Vincent asked casually before taking a large bite of his scrambled eggs.

"It's a little bit tense, having to be on guard all the time. And the time seems to be dragging on, since we can't really do anything extra to occupy ourselves." Joe said honestly.

"And no disrespect to the crewmen they sent us from engineering yesterday, but they are certainly no replacement for the two of you." Thaelan added before taking a drink.

"I can see how they wouldn't want to become too comfortable with us, since it's only a temporary assignment." Joe said in their defense.

"They needn't bother. I can already tell you that they will not work out in the long term. It takes a certain mindset to work in Deflector Control, and do it well. Neither of them has it." Thaelan said firmly.

"You miss us?" Darin asked with a grin.

"You are my crew." Thaelan said simply.

"Yeah. We are." Vincent said with a smile, then wolfed down his last bite of food.

"Are you in a hurry to be somewhere?" Joe asked curiously as Vincent seemed to drink the last half of his cup of coffee in one gulp.

"Yeah. I wanted to have a few minutes to talk to the guys before I have to hit the bridge." Vincent said as he quickly gathered his dishes and left the table.

"I don't know how he does it." Joe chuckled.

"Anyone else, no matter what age they are, would be freaking out at least a little bit about being assigned to work on the bridge of a Constitution class starship. It doesn't even occur to Vincent to be intimidated by it." Darin said seriously.

"Work, school, friends, and family... he seems to give them equal attention and equal priority. I don't know if such a thing would work for everyone, but it certainly seems to be serving him well." Thaelan said thoughtfully.

Joe slowly nodded, then said to Darin, "As much as I miss having you and Vincent in Deflector Control, I couldn't be more proud of both of you. I never would have thought that two of my crew would be assigned to the bridge. It makes a father proud."

Darin blushed at the words and didn't know how to respond.

* * * * *

"How are you guys doing this morning?" Vincent asked as he walked into the convalescent ward.

"At the moment, I think that we're just caught up in being happy that Erich is awake and feeling a little bit better." Sung said honestly.

"Hi, Erich. My name is Vincent. I'm a friend of Tracey and Sung's." Vincent said pleasantly.

"It's nice to meet you, Vincent. Tracey and Sung have mentioned you... a lot." Erich said in a tired, but pleasant voice.

"I bet." Vincent chuckled, then quietly asked, "How are you feeling? Do you need anything?"

"Actually, now that you ask, yeah. I'm kind of thirsty." Erich said timidly.

Vincent walked to Erich's side and pressed the call button by his hand, then asked, "So, what were Tracey and Sung telling you about me?"

"Mostly, that you're the 'Hero of Kimber', and that you saved our lives. Is all of that stuff true?" Erich asked cautiously.

Vincent chuckled at the direct question, but before he could answer, Vlad walked into the room.

"Good morning, Vlad. Erich just mentioned that he was thirsty. I would have got him something, but I didn't want to take the chance of getting him the wrong thing." Vincent quickly explained.

"A wise precaution. I will return in a moment." Vlad said before walking to the terminal by the door to check Erich's record for any dietary restrictions.

Vincent turned his attention to Erich and could see that he was still waiting for an answer to his question.

"Okay. Yeah, I guess all that stuff is true, but it wasn't just me. There were lots of heroes at Kimber and lots of people who helped to rescue you. People just noticed me, I guess, because I'm so young." Vincent said frankly.

A sound drew Vincent's attention to where Tracey was turning his terminal for everyone to see. "Not only has he saved hundreds of lives, but thanks to Crewman Vincent Winters, the people on several colony worlds are free to enjoy their lives and travel in safety because he helped remove this scourge from our society. He may always be remembered as 'The Hero of Kimber', but he's since proven that he's so much more."

"Oh, you saw that..." Vincent said shyly.

"It's all anyone could talk about last night. I guess it's not too often that someone on their ship gets mentioned on the Federation News." Sung said frankly.

"Yeah. We kind of had a party after the news broadcast. Well, I don't know if you'd call it a real party, but a bunch of us got together in the dorsal observation lounge and talked and laughed for a while. It was nice because the people I work with in Deflector Control don't usually get to hang around with my other friends. But Chance and Channing were there... and the guys from supply. Of course, T'Lani was there, so that made it even better."

"That's his wife." Sung quietly said to Erich.

"You know, you're making us look bad." Tracey said to Vincent playfully.

"How?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

"You're, like, twelve years old and you've already done all these really incredible things. I'm seventeen and all I've done..." Tracey trailed off as despair overtook his features.

"All you've done is save the lives of three of your friends from an accident that would have killed all of you if you hadn't been an excellent pilot. Remember, I've seen the official engineering review. I know what an incredible thing that you did. The difference is, there wasn't a Federation News guy telling everyone about it the next day. Like it or not, you're every bit as much a hero as I ever was." Vincent said firmly.

As Vlad walked in carrying a pitcher, Vincent noticed the time and said, "I've got to go, now. I can't be late to the bridge. I'll stop in and see you guys later."

"It was nice to meet you." Erich said with a genuine smile.

"Yeah. Nice to meet you, too." Vincent said as he started walking toward the door.

As the door opened, Vincent turned and said, "Tracey."

"Yeah?" Tracey responded cautiously.

"I'm not twelve. I'm nine." Vincent finished with an impish grin before hurrying out the door.

"Nine..." Tracey said with a chuckle and a shake of his head.

* * * * *

When Vincent walked onto the bridge, he smiled as he passed Darin, then immediately walked to the auxiliary station that he would be using as 'backup crew' and relieved the ensign who was on duty.

A quick check showed him that nothing out of the ordinary was going on, so he opened Darin's template program to work on his reports until the first of the bridge officers needed a break.

"Congratulations, Ensign Winters. Being featured on the Federation News is a rare honor." Captain Byrne said from beside him, startling him a little.

"Yes, sir. I know that, really, the Federation wants for people to know that Starfleet is working really hard to stop pirates, so that's why they did that. But even if I don't deserve it, it feels kinda good to have people saying nice things about me and treating me good and stuff."

"I've heard tell that there was a bit of a celebration after the news broadcast."

"Yes, sir. I didn't know if I should, but everyone wanted to..."

"It's quite alright, Ensign. I simply hope that in the coming weeks, that you remember last night and the feeling of camaraderie that you experienced. With all the media attention that has been focused on you, it would serve you well to remember the people who treated you kindly and enjoyed spending time with you in the days when you were simply another crewman."

Vincent thought about the words for a moment, then hesitantly asked, "Do you mean that people who aren't really my friends might start being nice to me?"

"I'm saying that such things have been known to happen. But I'm sure that if you'll keep in mind where you came from and who your true friends are, that you'll be able to navigate your way through a bit of sudden fame."

"Thank you, Sir. I don't think I would have thought about it. But since you mentioned it, I'll be sure to watch out."

"The commander and I are planning to be in the conference room for the majority of the day. I've already informed Lieutenant Clark that you are qualified and have my complete confidence if he chooses to allow you to relieve him at break time or lunch. The decision is his, of course."

"Yes, Sir. And if I do get to command, I'll do my best not to do anything newsworthy." Vincent said shyly.

"Please, don't restrain yourself on my account. Your achievements thus far have all cast the Yorktown in a favorable light." Captain Byrne said with a smile before walking over to speak with Lieutenant Clark for a moment.

* * * * *

As Vincent was sending his final report, Lieutenant Clark walked to his side and said, "The Captain has said that you can take command if the need should arise."

"Are you ready for a break?" Vincent asked as he stood.

"No. Not yet. I just wanted to be sure that you would be comfortable being in command. I mean, I know that you can do it, I just don't know if you want to do it. I can see how, with your limited training, that it could be more than a little intimidating." Lieutenant Clark said frankly.

"It doesn't bother me. I mean, yeah, of course it scares me a little. I'm not stupid. But I figure that if I ain't got the balls to sit in the big chair, then I shoulda stayed home. There's no reason for me to be on the Yorktown at all if I'm afraid of command." Vincent finished seriously.

"Go ahead and put me down on your schedule for breaks and a lunch. You'll be covering for me." Lieutenant Clark said in a tone of voice that sounded something like admiration.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent said with a smile as he made the entries on his terminal.

* * * * *

"We have an incoming Diplomatic Transmission for Ensign Winters." Debbie said to Lieutenant Clark.

"Is it on a secure channel?" Lieutenant Clark asked cautiously.

"No, Sir." Debbie said quickly.

"Well, then... Ensign Winters?" Lieutenant Clark asked with a smile as he looked at the Auxiliary station.

"Yes, sir?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I think it's time for me to take a break. You can take your call from the command chair. You have the bridge." Lieutenant Clark said with a broad grin.

"Thank you, Sir. I mean... I have command." Vincent stammered.

"I stand relieved." Lieutenant Clark said with a smile, then turned and walked off the bridge.

"Are you ready to receive the transmission?" Debbie asked quietly.

"Yes. On main screen." Vincent said as he stood in front of the command chair.

Cory's image filled the screen and seemed to be about to say something, but his image was momentarily frozen with his mouth slightly open.

"Hi Cory." Vincent said with a smile.

There was a long moment of silence, then Cory hesitantly asked with much more than a hint of surprise, "You're in command?"

"Yeah. Not all the time, of course, but now and then, when they need someone to fill in." Vincent said happily at Cory's amazement.

After another quiet moment, Cory seemed to snap out of his shock and said, "I just wanted to call and tell you that we saw the news broadcast about you last night and we're all very proud of you."

"Thanks, Cory. I mean, it really wasn't that big of a deal about the pirates. I was in command when we received a distress call, but, for some reason, it looked kinda suspicious, so I called for a security team from the Federation base at Coffelt to check it out, instead of taking the ship into an asteroid field to handle it myself." Vincent said frankly.

"You were in command of a starship. That's a big deal, all by itself. Then, you spotted a trap. That's another big deal. And, after all that, you made a decision and handled it the right way. Yet another big deal. Don't belittle your achievements, Vincent. Own them. You did that. Be proud!"

"Okay, Dad. I will." Vincent said shyly.

Cory smiled at the timid response, then gently said, "I just called to congratulate you and see how you're doing."

"I'm pretty good, at the moment." Vincent said with a grin.

"I can see that. Remember to call us every now and then. There are a lot of us who care about you, here." Cory said tenderly.

"I will. I promise." Vincent said warmly.

"Clan Short. Out."

"Yorktown. Out."

When the main screen went back to displaying the starfield, Debbie quietly said, "Your Clan's patriarch seems to be a remarkable person."

"I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for him, and the rest of the Clan. When they see something wrong, they fix it. They don't whine or complain or say 'poor little me'. They find what's causing the problem then they find a way to make it better. All I do is try to be like them." Vincent said simply as he sat down in the command chair.

* * * * *

When Lieutenant Clark returned from his break, Vincent began rotating through the bridge stations, giving each of the bridge officers their break.

He was surprised at how comfortable he felt at each of the stations, when only a few short days ago he had felt some anxiety about working any of them, especially the helm.

Later, when Lieutenant Clark went to lunch, Vincent was once again in command, although nothing of any significance happened the entire time. The only surprise came when Lieutenant Clark returned and asked Debbie to summon another bridge officer to serve as backup crew for the rest of the day.

Before Vincent could ask about it, Lieutenant Clark assumed command and told Vincent to take his lunch.

Although the officer's mess was closer, Vincent was accustomed to having his meals in the engineer's mess.

It wasn't surprising that there were very few people in the mess hall since it was kind of an odd, in-between hour to be eating.

Vincent enjoyed most of his meal quietly, and it wasn't until he took his first bite of a gooey, still warm, brownie, that he was interrupted.

"Oh, Crewman Winters, I'm glad I found you. I went to Deflector Control, but they said that you were on the bridge. Then I went to the bridge and you weren't there. They said you were at lunch, so I thought you be in the officer's mess..."

Vincent had had time to finish chewing his brownie and take a sip of coffee before he interrupted, "Did you need me for something, Crewman Duckworth?"

"Your measurements. I'm supposed to scan you so we can make you a formal ensign's uniform tunic for the reception dinner at Coffelt." The young man said nervously.

Vincent knew without a doubt that he had never actually seen or spoken with Crewman Duckworth before. But the 'false' memories that he and T'Lani had gained when the timeline changed, and history was rewritten, told him that Crewman Duckworth worked in ship's services and had, in fact, either made or drastically altered the uniforms that he had been wearing since his growth spurt, over a month earlier.

After another sip of coffee, Vincent stood to face the nervous crewman and spread his arms as he said, "Go ahead."

Crewman Duckworth stared at him dumbly for a moment, then jerked his tricorder up and fiddled with it until he got it to do the scan.

When it was finished, Vincent cautiously asked, "Is that everything?"

Crewman Duckworth seemed to have all his attention devoted to the readout on the tricorder. When he finally stopped fiddling with the controls, he looked up at Vincent, obviously having forgotten he was there.

"Did you need anything else?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I don't think anyone told me I did." Crewman Duckworth replied slowly.

Vincent nodded, waiting to see what Crewman Duckworth was going to do.

Crewman Duckworth looked down at his tricorder for a moment, then said, "You've grown nearly half an inch since your last scan."

"Good to know." Vincent said as he finally gave up on Crewman Duckworth making sense and took his seat so he could finish his brownie and coffee.

"My brother is your age, but he isn't as tall as you are." Crewman Duckworth said seriously.

Although Vincent knew the constructed memories that he had were false, and never really happened to him, in some respects they were clearer and easier to recall than his actual memories. Before he could think better of it, Vincent responded, "I thought that you told me before that your brother is eleven. I'm nine."

Crewman Duckworth quickly nodded, confirming Vincent's words, then nervously added, "But he's still not as tall as you. I hope that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with him... he doesn't act like he's sick..."

"Don't worry about it. I'm sure your brother is fine. I'm the one who's weird. I started puberty a lot earlier than most guys." Vincent said before taking a long drink of coffee.

"Thanks for being nice and talking to me. People usually don't..."

"Don't what?" Vincent finally asked as he stood and put his dishes on his tray.

"Be nice or talk to me." Crewman Duckworth said frankly.

"What's your first name?" Vincent asked as he looked the man in the eyes.


"I guess that you already know that I'm Vincent. Would you tell me, Brian, are you always this nervous when you talk to people?" Vincent asked carefully.

"Not always. Most people, I don't want to talk to at all. I don't have anything to say to them. When it's people for my work, then it's usually just officers. All I have to do is say 'Yes, Sir' and do what they want. They're easy." Brian said honestly.

"Okay. Then, how many people on this ship, right now, do you think you'd have trouble talking to?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I don't know, about... maybe, fifteen or twenty, I guess." Brian said thoughtfully.

"Do you know if they... if 'we'... have anything in common, or does it seem random?" Vincent asked curiously.

"I just don't want to feel like a fool in front of certain people. Of course, as soon as I'm around them, I get nervous about doing something stupid and looking like a fool, and end up doing something stupid because of being so nervous." Brian said ruefully.

"Try thinking about it like this. The only reason I have clothes to wear right now is because of you. So I'm not going to think you're a fool, even if you goof up at some point. I promise that I'll continue to see you as the person I depend on to worry about clothing for me so I'm free to worry about other things. How's that?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"I really help you like that?" Brian asked cautiously.

"Sure. Who else? I don't want to imagine what I'd look like right now if I had to do all my own sewing. But I can guarantee you that I wouldn't be looking as good as I do right now." Vincent said frankly.

"Thank you. I'm never sure how to act around people. Everyone I've ever talked to about it told me to just be myself, like it's an easy thing to do, but..."

"I know what you're saying. Think of what it's like for me. There's a set of rules about how to act that's for kids and a different set of rules for adults. That's fine, except that I'm a kid doing an adult job. Sometimes I don't know which set of rules to follow, and other times, I don't think that there is any right answer because none of the rules seem to apply to me." Vincent said honestly.

Brian stared for a moment, then whispered, "You do understand."

Vincent smiled at the reaction, then said, "Yeah, at least, some. I tell you what, I've got to get back to the bridge now. If you need anything else, you should be able to catch me after my shift either down here or in sickbay."

"I should have everything that I'll need, here. Thank you." Brian said as he held up the tricorder.

"Since you're making me a dress uniform, I should be the one thanking you. I've really gotta go. Bye." Vincent said as he quickly hurried away to take his dishes to the drop-off window.

* * * * *

"Sorry I took so long. I kinda got stopped along the way." Vincent hurried to explain as he rushed onto the bridge.

"I assume that means that Crewman Duckworth was able to find you." Lieutenant Clark said pleasantly.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent shyly responded.

"Good." Lieutenant Clark said with a smile, then added, "I've decided that for the rest of the shift, you should be in command."

"Is there some reason, or do you just feel like taking the day off?" Vincent asked cautiously.

Lieutenant Clark chuckled, then said, "I just thought that it might be good for you to get some feedback from someone relatively close to you in the chain of command. That way, I can pass on any words of wisdom that might occur to me while I watch you work."

"Oh, thanks." Vincent said with surprise, thinking that it sounded like a very practical suggestion.

"Then, are you ready to assume command?" Lieutenant Clark asked with a smile.

"Yes, Sir. I have command." Vincent said formally.

"I stand relieved." Lieutenant Clark said as he walked to the second auxiliary station to observe.

* * * * *

The one time Vincent actually wanted for something to happen, to give Lieutenant Clark a chance to see him in action, everything was agonizingly routine and normal.

Lieutenant Clark took command when Vincent went to take a break, but otherwise, nothing interesting happened.

Finally, just about an hour before the end of the shift, Vincent was surprised to receive an incoming message.

"Bridge, Ensign Winters in command." Vincent answered the comm in the arm of the command chair.

"Vincent, we've just had a catastrophic failure of the Deflector Control console in engineering. It's a real mess and I'd like for you to ask the captain to bring us out of warp while we isolate the engineering console. With the way things are rigged right now, the malfunctioning hardware could conceivably interfere with our ability to control the shields. This shouldn't take longer than ten minutes." Joe said in a dire tone.

"Acknowledged. We'll be waiting for your call. Bridge out." Vincent said before pressing the button to end the call. Then he stood as he said, "Ensign Cooper, bring us out of warp and to a full stop. Communications, signal all departments to remain at station keeping. Navigation, recalculate our course to Coffelt, if there's any way you can see to shave some time off this trip, I know that we'd all appreciate it."

As soon as Vincent stopped talking, most of the bridge crew said a crisp, "Yes, Sir." as they performed their assigned duties.

Vincent couldn't help but have a feeling of regret when he heard, as well as felt, the ship dropping out of warp.

Lieutenant Clark seemed to be about to say something, but Vincent shook his head, then keyed the comm as he said, "Conference room one."

"Report." Captain Byrne said sharply.

"Captain, Deflector Control reports that their console in engineering has suffered a catastrophic failure that is a danger for the entire Deflector Control system." Vincent said professionally, then paused in case the Captain had a question.

When it seemed that he didn't, Vincent continued, "I've ordered us brought out of warp until the console has been completely disconnected. Lieutenant Bowers seems confident that the repair will take less than ten minutes."

"Thank you for the advisory, Ensign Winters. Keep me posted. Out." Captain Byrne said seriously, then ended the transmission.

Vincent quickly made a round of the bridge, to visually confirm that everything was being done. As soon as he was sure that everyone was taken care of, he walked to Lieutenant Clark and asked, "Did I miss anything?"

"No. Actually, I was just going to remind you to report to the captain. Carry on. You're doing fine." Lieutenant Clark said with a smile.

"Thank you, Sir." Vincent said respectfully, then walked to the navigator to see if he had made any progress with their course.

* * * * *

When the tone of an incoming message sounded, Vincent immediately hit the button and said, "Bridge. Ensign Winters."

"The Engineering console has been completely isolated from the Deflector Control system. It's safe for us to go back to warp." Joe said professionally.

"Acknowledged. Are you going to have a team on the bridge station until we reach Coffelt?" Vincent asked curiously.

"No. We just need a lead person to man the station. I'll be up as soon as Thaelan has everything sorted to his liking down here and is ready to take control." Joe said seriously.

"Would you like for us to wait until you're on station before we go to warp?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. I happen to know that I have two people who I can count on to hold it together until I can get there, should the need arise." Joe said as a note of tenderness crept into his voice.

"That's right. We've got you covered. Bridge, out." Vincent said with a smile, then announced, "Navigation, lay in the course for Coffelt. Helm, warp four."

"Aye, Sir." Both said in unison. And a scant few minutes later, they were up to speed and heading toward Coffelt again.

* * * * *

Vincent kept a careful eye on the Deflector Control panel until Joe made his way onto the bridge.

After a moment for Joe to look over the console and verify that everything was as it should be, Vincent carefully asked, "How are things in Deflector Control?"

"Tense. But I suppose that's to be expected. Otherwise everything is fine." Joe said frankly.

"I need to make a round of the bridge, right now, but let me know if you need anything." Vincent said and waited for Joe's response.

"I will. Go on." Joe said with a smile, then watched Vincent slowly walk around the bridge to verify what everyone was doing.

* * * * *

"The shift is going to end in about fifteen minutes. Was there anything you wanted to cover with me about my performance today?" Vincent asked Lieutenant Clark cautiously.

"Nothing important. I made a few notes that you can look over when you have time. Mostly time management tricks that I've learned along the way. But as far as the actual job, you're doing just fine. When you were faced with a potential crisis, you were decisive and didn't hesitate to act. When you called the captain, you presented him with an overview of the situation and informed him of the action you had taken. There's not one thing I think that you should have done differently and I would like to think that I would have reacted as well in the same situation."

Vincent nodded, but seemed to be lost in thought.

"Did you have a question for me?" Lieutenant Clark asked cautiously.

"Kinda, I guess." Vincent mumbled.

"Remember, I'm here to help you. If you have a question, this is the time that you should ask."

"But, it's kinda personal." Vincent said anxiously.

"Oh. I just thought it was something to do with command."

"It sorta is... this morning, while I was doing reports, I got this really bad boner. It went away before I had to give anyone a break, but what if I had to cover someone's station? I don't want to be up walking around the bridge with a big raging hardon boner sticking out." Vincent said frankly.

"Well, I don't recall having that problem on the bridge. But when I was a young teenager, there was a time when I had to deal with a similar situation. Since I was involved in sports at the time, I decided that I should take to wearing my jockstrap at the times that it might be a problem." Lieutenant Clark said distantly.

"I wear a jock when I work out. So I already got one! Thanks!" Vincent said happily.

"I can't promise that it will solve your problem, but it should at least make it less obvious."

"It sounds like it'll work. I'll give it a try." Vincent said happily.

"I'll do the shift change. Why don't you go on and get out of here?" Lieutenant Clark said with a smile.

"Are you sure? I don't mind doing shift change." Vincent said honestly.

"Yes, I'm sure. Besides, I need to spend at least a little time in the command chair or I might forget how." Lieutenant Clark teased.

"Yeah. I wouldn't want that to happen, or I might not be able to get a break when I need one." Vincent chuckled.

On his way toward the lift, Vincent stopped by the helm and quietly said, "I'm going down to the engineer's mess for a snack. Would you like me to save you a seat?"

"Yeah. Sounds good. Rad's got to work late today, so I'll be down in about fifteen minutes." Darin said happily.

Vincent smiled, then made his way to the lift.

* * * * *

"It looks like we must be nearly out of fresh food. I don't think I saw much of anything that wasn't made in the protein processors." Darin said as he took his seat.

"Yeah. There's not much of a selection, but this isn't bad." Vincent said casually as he gestured to his plate of chips and cheese dip.

"So, do you have lots of school work to catch up on tonight, or are you planning to spend some time with T'Lani?" Darin asked casually.

"I'm at the end of my module in my school work, so I thought I'd wait until my next day off to do my testing T'Lani's still going to be working for a while, so I thought I'd go up to the phaser range and do a little target practice. Then, when it's closer to time for T'Lani to get off, I could go to sickbay and visit with the guys until she's done." Vincent said between chips.

"Would you like some company? I haven't done any target practice since the academy, so I'm probably pretty rusty." Darin said frankly.

"Yeah. That'd be great!" Vincent said happily.

With the new motivation to drive them, they finished their afternoon snack and left to enjoy some target practice.

* * * * *

Vincent and Darin turned out not only to be evenly matched, but also rather competitive.

One round turned into two, then into four. Before either of them knew what had happened, they were in a fierce battle to prove their supremacy at target practice.

It wasn't until Vincent glanced behind him and saw T'Lani watching him that he realized how much time had passed.

"Look at how late it is! I didn't mean to be here this long." Vincent said with surprise.

"It only felt like a few minutes. Where did the time go?" Darin chuckled.

"T'Lani and I are going to have dinner. Would you like to join us?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Are you sure I won't be intruding?" Darin asked cautiously.

"You are the brother of my husband. Families share meals." T'Lani said simply.

"See there? It's logical. Say 'yes'." Vincent said as he put his phaser away, then walked to T'Lani's side.

"How can I say no to that? Yeah. Okay." Darin said with a smile.

* * * * *

When Vincent woke the next morning, he was once again feeling good.

Looking back on the previous night, he felt that his time with T'Lani and Darin was just what a family should be. Although he could tell that Darin would have preferred to be spending time with Rad, he also knew that Darin appreciated not having to spend that time alone.

When Vincent walked into the gym, he was surprised to find Thaelan waiting for him.

"Good morning!" Vincent said happily.

"Good morning, Vincent. You seem to be of good cheer." Thaelan said warmly.

"Yeah. I slept really good." Vincent said with a smile, then quickly chirped, "I'll be ready in a minute!"

Thaelan watched fondly as Vincent rushed away.

* * * * *

Before Vincent could warm up, Thaelan caught him and said, "Today we are going to spar. We will begin, now."

Vincent fell into his primary defensive posture and waited for Thaelan's first move.

"You are already at a disadvantage. As soon as it is determined that a fight cannot be avoided, you should immediately attack." Thaelan said seriously.

"Right." Vincent grunted, then went on the offensive.

Thaelan easily blocked his attack and transitioned into an attack of his own.

Although Vincent was expecting the move, he hadn't anticipated the force behind it. Thaelan wasn't pulling his punches. His attacks were obviously intended to cause damage.

A few moves later, Vincent pulled away to avoid a punch to his chest and was thrown off balance.

His reaction was more instinct than thought. He allowed himself to continue to fall backward, and brought his hands back. He flipped into a handstand, then tumbled back to his feet in one fluid move.

As soon as he had his balance again, he moved to attack.

Thaelan blocked the attack flawlessly and no matter how Vincent tried, he couldn't seem to break through Thaelan's defenses.

In a move that was more desperation than anything else, Vincent moved in close to attack. When he had both of Thaelan's hands occupied, he ducked slightly and leaned forward as he kicked his foot out behind him.

Pushing with all his might, and stretching as fully as he possibly could, he managed to bring his foot up behind him in a scorpion kick that caught Thaelan in the chin.

The move surprised Thaelan and in that moment, Vincent let loose a series of quick, forceful jabs to his abdomen.

Thaelan recovered quickly and defended himself again, but Vincent knew that he had managed to get at least a few good hits in.

"Withdraw." Thaelan said firmly, and Vincent fell back into his defensive posture.

Vincent was fighting to catch his breath when he noticed that nearly everyone in the gym was watching them.

"Quite an interesting move, although I don't remember teaching it to you." Thaelan said slowly, also breathing heavily.

"Yeah. Well, there was no way I was gonna get a hit on you if I only stuck to the moves you taught me. Every move has a counter move, so unless one of us screws up, we'll always end in a draw." Vincent said reasonably.

"A valid point. That discovery is one of the lessons that this exercise is intended to teach." Thaelan said with the beginning of a proud smile.

Vincent glanced at the clock, then asked, "Do you want to go again?"

Rather than answer verbally, Thaelan lunged to attack.

* * * * *

"What happened to you? You look like you've been in a fight!" Joe asked with surprise at the sight of Vincent's fat lip and swollen eye.

"We've started a new level of training." Vincent said shyly as he took his seat.

"How did it go?" Joe asked cautiously, then turned when he saw Thaelan approaching.

Joe froze for a moment, taking in the indigo welt on Thaelan's chin and the slight limp as he walked.

Vincent followed Joe's gaze, then said with a smile, "Pretty well, I think."

"Vincent is quite a good student and has exceeded my expectations." Thaelan said as he placed his tray on the table.

"I can see that." Joe said with a restrained chuckle.

"I'm gonna go to sickbay before my shift. I can already feel myself getting sore." Vincent said between bites of food.

"I will accompany you." Thaelan said calmly.

"That's okay. You don't have to. I'll be alright." Vincent assured him.

After a moment, Thaelan quietly said, "I, too, would benefit from a pain reliever before my shift."

Vincent was surprised by the statement, but slightly smiled as he said, "Okay."

* * * * *

"Husband, are you well?" T'Lani asked when Vincent and Thaelan walked into main sickbay.

"Yeah. Our training just got a little more intense than usual and I thought that I should get something for the pain and swelling before I start my shift."

"Ensign Thaelan, are you responsible for my husband's condition?" T'Lani asked without a hint of emotion.

"Yes. Just as he is responsible for mine." Thaelan said honestly.

"Get on the biobeds and Doctor Raul will be with you shortly." T'Lani said firmly as she indicated the only two beds in main sickbay that weren't in use.

Once Vincent and Thaelan had taken their places, T'Lani initiated a scan, then left the room.

"Perhaps we were a bit overzealous in our training this morning." Thaelan said quietly.

"No. I need to learn this right. You holding yourself back won't teach me what I need to know." Vincent said seriously.

"I doubt that your wife sees it that way." Thaelan said as he turned to look at Vincent.

"She understands. She just doesn't like it." Vincent saId frankly.

"What do we have here?" Dr. Raul asked as he hurried into the room.

"We started a new level of training." Vincent said sheepishly.

"Good. I was afraid that we had been in a battle and no one bothered to tell me." Dr. Raul said as he examined Vincent's scans.

"Can you give us something for the pain so we don't have to be sore at work all day?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Just a moment..." Dr. Raul said distractedly, then said over his shoulder, "T'Lani, would you have a look at this?"

After a moment to take in the words, Vincent closed his eyes and muttered, "Oh, crap."

"What concerns you?" Thaelan asked cautiously.

"Well, from the way I feel, and the way he just said that, I'm not sure, but it probably means..." Vincent began to say, but was interrupted.

"It would appear that my husband is beginning another growth spurt." T'Lani said as she studied the readout.

"Oh, jeez! That's just what I need! Those things hurt! Now, on top of everything else that's going on, I'm gonna be all achy and moody all the time." Vincent grumbled.

"Does this condition also cause whining?" Thaelan asked curiously.

Vincent was surprised by the question, but quickly answered, "Um, yes. Yes it does."

* * * * *

"Good morning, Ensign Winters. Before we begin, today. I think I should ask, are you fit for duty?" Commander M'Butu asked with concern as he visually surveyed Vincent's injuries.

"Dr. Raul seems to think so. He gave me medicine for the pain and swelling, so I should be fine." Vincent said simply.

"On our original schedule, today was supposed to be your day off. It wouldn't be any problem to call someone to fill your position this morning." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"No. Thank you, Sir. I want to get as much time as I can on the bridge. Like I told you back at New Hope, I really do realize what an opportunity this is for me and I don't want to waste a minute of it." Vincent said frankly.

"As you like. But, if you'll look at your schedule for the afternoon, you'll notice that you've been scheduled as 'stand-by'. Someone else will be giving breaks and lunches, but if we end up needing more than one backup crewmember, you'll be the next one we call. I thought you could use the time for your school work, if you would like." Commander M'Butu said professionally.

"Yes, Sir. I'm going to be taking some tests on my next day off, so I would like to take some time to go back over my study materials... besides, I have a Conversational Klingon class scheduled this afternoon and I didn't think I was going to be able to attend. It should be great!" Vincent said enthusiastically.

Commander M'Butu smiled at Vincent's happiness, then gently said, "Take your station, Ensign."

"Yes, Sir."

* * * * *

Vincent's half shift was as routine as routine could be. He filled in at the different stations and even had a few minutes in the command chair when Commander M'Butu took his break. When Commander M'Butu went to lunch, he left Vincent in command. During that time, Vincent's replacement started giving lunches to the regular bridge crew.

Once he was relieved of command, Vincent went to the Engineers Mess to have lunch. It wasn't very busy and the atmosphere seemed perfectly tranquil, so Vincent got his padd of study materials and sat at a table in the mess hall to review for his upcoming tests.

As the time approached for his Conversational Klingon class, he decided that he should move to a more private location.

Although it was possible for him to use his padd in his current location, the other people in the mess hall might not appreciate hearing his attempts at speaking the Klingon language.

He was happy to find the dorsal lounge unoccupied. Although he had been diligently studying his language lessons, he hadn't been able to attend the subspace class before. That really wasn't a problem, since it was so early in the class. He was only just becoming familiar enough with the language that he might have any hope of understanding it when hearing it spoken.

"NuqneH!" Sounded as soon as his video link was established.

Vincent was surprised to find himself talking to an actual Klingon.

"Yeah. Um, nuk-quaH, I guess." Vincent said hesitantly.

The elderly Klingon let loose a robust laugh from deep in his chest.

Vincent didn't know whether to be offended or amused by the reaction.

"Young Human. I know of you. Hero of Kimber, Nemesis of Pirates. I am Muuda, son of Groth. Today, in honor of your attendance, we will be speaking of glorious battles and heroic deeds. Accept the invitation link that I have sent and you will join the group channel. All conversation on the channel is in Klingon. Should you need to ask a question in another language, simply return here and I or my assistant will return to help you." The elderly Klingon said seriously.

"I've been studying for this class, but I'm not very good yet." Vincent said cautiously.

"You will learn. We will teach you. Now, come, young Human. Let the telling of grand and glorious tales begin!"

Muuda slowly told a lengthy tale of bravery and glory. Vincent was surprised to find that he followed along fairly well, better than he would have expected. Once Muuda was done with his epic tale, he introduced Vincent to everyone in the class and asked that he tell of his grand and glorious adventure at Kimber. At first, Vincent was reluctant to talk, due to his limited vocabulary. But he found that when he didn't know a word that he could easily look it up on the screen of his padd.

With the coaxing of his instructor to drive him, Vincent told the story of his time at Kimber IV. Muuda interrupted a few times, correcting him or telling him to be more expressive. It didn't take long for Vincent to realize that the instructor was using his storytelling as an example for the other members of the class, who were mostly Vulcan, to explain how emotional inflection affected the meaning of the spoken Klingon language.

After he was done telling his story, the room was opened for discussion. When others would speak, they would show up on his screen. A young Vulcan teenager caught his attention when he commented on seeing Vincent on the Federation News broadcast. Vincent couldn't explain why, but the young man seemed somehow familiar. It's not like he knew many Vulcans, and he was sure that he'd never met the young man before, in either timeline, but still.. he just seemed familiar.

When Vincent signed up for the class, it was stated that the conversational Klingon discussion would last precisely one hour and fifty three minutes.

As they approached the three hour mark, Vincent was beginning to wonder if they would ever call an end to the session. A few of the others had left, but Muuda and the majority of the class were continuing a lively conversation.

A comment directed at him drew him back into the discussion, and he had to admit that he was enjoying himself.

* * * * *

It was Vincent's stomach that finally coaxed him out of the Dorsal lounge and back to the mess hall.

The announcement about his growth spurt explained why he was hungrier than usual. Even though he would be having dinner with T'Lani before very long, he still felt like he needed something to eat right away.

He selected a nice snack for himself, then went to a table to eat.

"Are you too good to sit with your old friends, now that you're famous?" A man asked from the next table.

Vincent looked at him curiously for a moment then, between bites of food, he asked, "Who are you?"

"I guess you are. Being promoted to the bridge has gone to your head. I'm surprised you're not too good to eat down in the engineer's mess with us regular folk." The man sneered.

"No. Seriously, who are you?" Vincent asked in puzzlement, then took another large bite of his food.

The two other people at the crewman's table were chuckling at Vincent's non-reaction to their friend's belligerent behavior.

"We see each other all the time. On the lift, in engineering, and now you're too full of yourself to even acknowledge me." The crewman said angrily.

Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "Maybe you're right, because I don't remember you at all. I know Reese and Marie, but I have no idea who you are."

"Have we met?" Reese asked cautiously.

"No. But Jimmy, from Deflector Control, talks about you two all the time and has pointed you out to me, so I feel like I know you." Vincent said with a smile.

"Jimmy's great. Him and his friends are a lot of fun." Reese said fondly.

"Doesn't he talk about me?" The belligerent crewman whined.

"Maybe. He sometimes talks about someone else with Reese and Marie. But I don't think he's ever said a name, he just says 'that asshole that they work with'." Vincent said frankly.

Reese and Marie laughed as much at the statement as to their friend's reaction.

"I'm not an asshole."

Vincent stared at the man incredulously for a moment, then took another bite of his food.

"Well, maybe sometimes." He reluctantly admitted.

"Listen, I just came down for a quick snack. I've got to go to sickbay right now. But, if you guys want, next time we run into each other down here, I'd be happy to sit with you." Vincent said before taking his last bite.

"That'd be great!" Reese said happily.

"Even me?" The formally belligerent crewman asked cautiously.

"Sure, Asshole. I think you'll be lots of fun to talk to." Vincent said with a grin.

"If you think that, then why are you calling me asshole?"

"Because you never told me your name." Vincent said simply.

"Barth." The crewman said grudgingly.

Vincent stared for a moment, then said, "You do, and you'll clean it up."

"It's short for Bartholomew." The man said sourly, dutifully ignoring Reese and Marie's laughter.

"I'll be happy to eat lunch with you sometime, Barth. Now I've really gotta go."

* * * * *

"How are you guys doing today." Vincent asked as he walked into the convalescent ward. Tracey and Sung were sitting up, but Erich seemed to be fast asleep.

"I think I'm just about ready to get out of this bed." Tracey said frankly.

"What does Dr. Perry think about that?" Vincent asked curiously as he walked to the foot of Tracey's bed.

"Last time she checked on me, she said that if I was up on my feet for five minutes, that I'd probably be flat on my back for thirty, recovering. I'm just too drained to be up and moving around." Tracey said grimly.

Vincent nodded, then looked to Sung and asked, "How about you?"

"It takes everything I've got to make it to the bathroom and back. I've got no problem with staying in bed." Sung said frankly, then thought to ask, "How was your day at work?"

"It was just a standard shift. Nothing to talk about." Vincent said with a shrug.

"Still, it's gotta be better than laying in bed." Tracey grumbled.

"We all do what we've got to do. Sometimes that means doing things we don't like." Vincent said simply.

"At least Tracey and Erich are here. I hate to think how miserable this would be if I was in here all alone." Sung said honestly.

"Yeah. That would suck." Tracey reluctantly agreed.

Vincent looked at the clock, then said, "It's still going to be a little bit before T'Lani gets off work. I've got time to go down and get you guys a snack if you'd like something. When I was leaving the mess hall, they were just putting out some cookies that looked pretty good."

Tracey and Sung both perked up at the mention of 'cookies'.

Vincent didn't wait for an answer. He smiled as he said, "I'll be right back."

* * * * *

After cookies and a nice visit with the guys, Vincent was happy when T'Lani joined him.

They left together, saying little, but sharing themselves in their bond.

Rather than go to the mess hall to have dinner, as was usual for them, T'Lani led Vincent to her cabin.

"My roommate will be working late today. We will not be interrupted." T'Lani said as she caressed Vincent's cheek.

Vincent realized what she was implying and slowly brought his hand up to her face.

"I can sense the urgency in your need. When you have such desires, it would be best to seek me out so that arrangements can be made." T'Lani said gently.

"I don't want this to just be about me. I don't want you to feel like you have to do stuff just because I'm feeling... um, you know... horny." Vincent stammered shyly.

"Your needs are mine, husband. To know that you have such unfulfilled longing causes me concern." T'Lani said honestly.

"I know. But there's no way we can be together every time I'm feeling that way. If we did, we'd never be able to go to work." Vincent said frankly.

"From my research, Human males frequently have a heightened sex drive at your stage of development." T'Lani said gently.

"All day, every day." Vincent confirmed wearily.

"Should circumstances be such that our intimacy is not possible, it would be acceptable if you relieved yourself manually." T'Lani said cautiously.

Vincent was confused for a moment, then got it.

"Are you saying that it's okay if I jack off?" Vincent asked uncertainly.

"Yes. The sexual tension that you have been experiencing has the potential to become an increasing distraction. Logic suggests that you should relieve that tension by whatever means necessary, so you will be able to focus on your duties." T'Lani said seriously.

"But you're my wife. I'd feel like I was doing something wrong if I did that without you." Vincent said anxiously.

"You will not dishonor me with such an action. You will simply be satisfying a biological need, in order to avoid undesired consequences." T'Lani said simply.

Vincent considered for a moment, then quietly admitted, "I've never done that. I mean, I did that stuff with you on New Hope, but I'm not sure that was... I mean, if I was doing it right, or the best way, or what."

"From my observations of your interactions with your brother, Darin, I believe that he would feel honored if you were to request his advice in this matter." T'Lani said honestly.

"You want for me to ask Darin to teach me the best way to jack off?" Vincent asked incredulously.

"Being a Human male, not long past puberty, I believe he should be able to provide valuable instruction."

After a moment to think it over, Vincent reluctantly said, "Okay. I'll ask him. But after he teaches me, I'll be thinking about you while I'm doing it."

"It is good." T'Lani said gently, then added, "But, for now, while we have the opportunity to do so, let us continue in your discovery and exploration."

Vincent giggled, then said, "I love you, T'Lani. More every day."

"As I love you, my husband."

* * * * *

Vincent returned to his cabin to find it empty. He supposed that Darin was spending time with Rad, and was happy about that. With all the unusual demands on the transporter control crew caused by the faulty control circuits, Darin and Rad were having difficulty finding time to be together.

After getting ready for bed, Vincent climbed up to his bunk and settled in to do some reading, not his school work, but the text that Joe had recommended for him to read to prepare for his officer's exam.

He lost awareness of time as he read through the material and was jolted out of his study when the door opened.

"I didn't think you'd still be awake." Darin said with surprise as he walked into the room.

"I didn't plan to be, but I got to reading and... you know how it goes." Vincent smiled.

"It never went that way for me, I always ended up fast asleep on the first page, but I know what you mean." Darin said as he walked to his bunk and sat down.

"Do you have a few minutes? There's something I need to ask you about." Vincent asked as he turned off his padd and set it aside.

"Sure. What's up?" Darin asked as he stood and rested his forearms on Vincent's bunk, so they could talk face to face.

"Actually, 'What's up' is kinda the problem." Vincent said nervously.

"I'm not following." Darin said cautiously.

"Okay. Remember when Dr. Perry said that I was supposed to ask you about stuff and you said that you'd help me?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

"Oh, yeah. So, what's going on?" Darin asked curiously.

"Well, you see... I keep getting boners, for no reason at all. I'll be at my station or in the mess hall and it'll just happen..." Vincent struggled to say.

"Yeah. That's happened to me. In fact, it still does, now and then. But not as much as it used to." Darin said frankly.

"Well, I sorta asked Lieutenant Clark about it and he said that if I wear a jockstrap, that it'll keep it from showing as bad." Vincent said timidly.

Darin considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah. That sounds like a pretty good idea."

Vincent nodded, then quietly said, "But when I've got a boner real bad, it kinda makes me think about... I don't know, mostly T'Lani, and the stuff we do." Vincent said as he felt a blush rising up his cheeks.

"You should probably be talking to her about this." Darin said reluctantly.

"I did. She told me to talk to you." Vincent said honestly.

"She did?" Darin asked with surprise.

"Yeah. She said that she could tell that I'm getting distracted when I'm boned up real bad. So, she said that when that happens, if we can't be together, that I should... um, jack off."

Darin stared wide eyed at Vincent, not knowing what to say.

"You see, the thing is, I don't know a lot about that stuff. T'Lani knows the mechanics of it, but I'm not sure I understand it right. I may be doing it wrong." Vincent said worriedly.

"Are you saying that you want me to teach you how to masturbate?" Darin asked cautiously.

"Yeah." Vincent said with a weak, hopeful smile.

"Show me what you already know." Darin said hesitantly.

Vincent was surprised by the suggestion, and hurried to say, "I was just with T'Lani a little bit ago, I don't really need to right now."

"I don't mean for you to whip it out and do it. Just make the motion with your hands, like you're doing it, and I'll give you some suggestions. I'm pretty sure that'll be good enough to get you on the right track."

Vincent reluctantly reached down to his groin and held his thumb and forefinger together, like he was signalling 'okay', then started mimicking the action of pleasuring himself.

"Yeah. That should work just fine for now. But when you're ready, try using your whole hand." Darin said, then made a jerking off motion, to demonstrate.

Vincent nodded that he understood.

"A lubricant helps, but if you don't have any, spit will do. It just feels better than doing it dry." Darin said frankly.

"Can I get the lubricant in the ship's store?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Over by the soap and shaving stuff." Darin confirmed.

"Is that it? Just use my whole hand?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Well, there are a lot of different things that you can do, different techniques and toys and stuff. But this should be all that you'll need." Darin said seriously.

"Thanks, Darin. I can't think of anyone else that I could have asked about this." Vincent said gratefully.

"That's what big brothers are for." Darin said warmly.

"I don't think I could talk to Lawrence about something like this." Vincent said reluctantly.

"Maybe not. But not every relationship has to be exactly like every other one. You and me as brothers isn't the same as you and Lawrence. That's not good or bad, it's just the way it is." Darin said simply.

"Yeah." Vincent said with a smile of realization.

"Now, it's past our bedtime. And tomorrow promises to be a big day." Darin said frankly.

"Yeah. We'll be arriving at Coffelt."

To Be Continued...

Editor's notes:

I have enjoyed reading the stories in the Alpha 7 Universe, It is really fun comparing what is happening in the separate versions of the stories. It gets more and more interesting to see the divergence between the timelines. Vincent is slowly but surely diverging as each story moves forward. He is finally experiencing different events, depending on which Universe he exists in.

As time goes by, the two Vincents will become farther and farther away from each other, and they will find things much different from one another. I can hardly wait for each new chapter of both stories.

Please remember to let MM know how you feel about his stories. I know he would enjoy hearing from you.

I don't think I am telling tales out of school, so to speak, by mentioning that although MM has had a pretty heavy work schedule lately, I am certain that if he had a few more comments on some of his chapters, it might inspire him to do more writing. Just sayin' Grin!

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Note from AC:

Once again, Vincent shows us parts of his inner complexity that astound and amaze. His psychological growth is progressing nicely, and his sense of family is finally hitting home. When MM told me initially of his ideas for multiple Vincents, my response was "You're the only author I know who could pull that off". I am glad I was right; I enjoy watching the divergance just as much as the rest of you!

Please, let MM know your thoughts! While I may have came up with the story that started the CSU, he single-handedly turned a story into a Universe. Without his awesome stories, there would never have been a CSU explosion. This chapter is a perfect example of that, and I'm still awestruck when I read new words!

Thank you for another amazing chapter, MM... I am eagerly waiting to see more of the trials of Vincent, and Vincent, and Vincent .... :)