Universe Alpha 7:
The Reflection of Home

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Chapter 43

"You're going to make yourself sick reading in the car." Joe said with concern.

"I don't get carsick, that's Lawrence." Vincent said absently.

"C'mon, Vince, I haven't done that in years." Lawrence said defensively.

"Vincent, just keep in mind that if you start feeling queasy that you may need to stop reading." Joe said seriously.

"Okay, but there's a chance that I won't get much study time while we're visiting your family, so I need to do as much as I can while I have the time." Vincent said as he looked up from his padd.

"Fair enough. But why don't you put that down for a minute so I can tell you a little bit about what to expect when we get there." Joe asked with a tone of hesitance in his voice.

Vincent recognized Joe's nervousness and immediately sat the padd in his lap and gave Joe his full attention.

"First of all, I haven't told them anything about either one of you. I want you to respect each other and not tell each other's secrets." Joe said seriously.

"I don't have any secrets." Vincent said simply.

"Vincent, you're a nine year old married Crewman serving on a starship. You're also known throughout the Federation as 'The Hero of Kimber'. Lawrence, you sometimes like to dress in women's clothes and you're living with your boyfriend. These things may seem perfectly normal to you, but my parents... I don't want to make them sound old fashioned, but that's a lot to take in all at once, even for the most liberal minded people." Joe said frankly.

Lawrence and Vincent shared a considering look, but neither seemed to be inclined to disagree.

"It's not that I'm telling you to lie, but if we do this right, they're just going to see two normal boys. They'll only know as much about you as you choose to tell them. I won't share anything about your histories without your permission." Joe said carefully.

"If I don't tell them about T'Lani, then I'm acting like I'm ashamed of her, and I'm not. She's my wife and I won't pretend that she isn't for anyone, not even you." Vincent said firmly as he looked at Joe in the rear view mirror.

"Good for you, champ. But I just wanted to give you a chance to feel like a normal kid for a while. What you tell them is completely up to you... well, as long as you respect your brother's private life." Joe said, sounding proud of Vincent's defense of T'Lani.

"So what you're really saying is that you don't want me to tell Grandma and Grandpa Joe that Lawrence is queer." Vincent said challengingly.

"I'd prefer that you didn't. And I think that if you really tried, you might come up with a better way of saying that." Joe said in a slightly chastising tone.

"I wasn't saying it to be mean." Vincent explained patiently to Joe, then turned to Lawrence and asked, "Do you want for me to call you gay or queer? I never asked you before."

"Actually, I've always kind of liked 'Butt Pirate', it has an exotic and adventurous sound to it." Lawrence said with a teasing smile.

Vincent smiled at the comment and quietly said, "I'll remember that."

"I never thought about what it would be like spending time with you two like this. You might just end up driving me crazy." Joe chuckled.

"I think Daddy has a good idea about while we're at our grandparents house. We can take a little vacation from being ourselves and just be normal for a little while... whatever that is." Lawrence said to Vincent seriously.

"I guess. But if someone asks me about any of that stuff, I'm not going to lie." Vincent said seriously.

"That sounds good to me. I'll do the same. If anyone asks me if I'm gay or if I have a hunky boyfriend I'll tell them the truth." Lawrence said with a smile.

"Yeah, and if anyone asks if I'm seeing anyone or have a job I'll tell the truth, too." Vincent said happily.

"And I'll just give the basic background information and let you two fill in the blanks however you want." Joe said, then abruptly turned the car.

"Whoa, what's that about?" Lawrence asked as he reflexively grabbed onto the dashboard.

"It's been fourteen years since I've been here. Some of the landmarks have changed." Joe said as he looked around.

"I told you we should have brought Darin along to drive for us." Vincent said as he picked up his data padd from the floor.

"I'm perfectly capable of driving, I just got a little bit disoriented and nearly missed my turn off." Joe said with irritation.

"Vince, I think it's cool that the three of us are getting to do this. I'd really like to have Deacon and Billy here with us and I know that you'd like to have T'Lani and Darin here, too, but this first time meeting our grandparents is going to be just for the three of us." Lawrence said with a gentle smile at Vincent.

"Yeah. I guess we needed to do something with just the three of us. We haven't got to do anything like that yet." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"A few more things, when you meet my father, don't say anything about Eleanor Roosevelt." Joe said seriously.

"What?" Vincent asked in confusion.

"She was President Franklin Roosevelt's wife." Lawrence said slowly.

"Yeah. I know that. I mean, why would I ever say anything about her?" Vincent asked in confusion.

"Never mind. The other thing is my mother's... chest." Joe said uncomfortably.

"What about it?" Lawrence asked cautiously.

"I just don't want you to be too surprised when you see her. She's sort of... buxom." Joe struggled to say, then quickly said, "This is their trailer park, look for lot 16."

"So your mom's got a nice rack. Got it." Vincent said absently as he turned off his padd and put it into his backpack.

"Vincent, I think you've been spending too much time with the guys on the lower decks." Joe said with a chuckle.

An unconcerned shrug was Vincent's only response as he looked at the various different mobile homes, all neatly slotted diagonally into parallel lots.

"There it is." Lawrence said quickly and pointed to the '16' marker.

"Okay guys. It's time for you to meet my parents." Joe said apprehensively.

* * * * *

As Joe parked the car, the front door of the double wide trailer opened to reveal a middle aged woman in a large floppy dress.

"Oh my God!" Lawrence said when he saw her.

"I said they were big." Joe said reluctantly.

"What the hell are they doing all the way down there?" Vincent asked as he stared in wonder.

"Just kind of hanging, it looks like." Lawrence said slowly.

"Gravity will do that..." Joe said hesitantly.

"Joe? Is that you?" the woman called as she slowly walked down the steps, tightly clutching the hand rail.

Joe got out of the car and walked slowly to his mother.

"Vince, no matter if they love us or hate us, I'm here with you. We'll be okay." Lawrence said seriously as he turned in his seat.

"Thanks, I'm here for you, too. Now, let's go meet your family." Vincent finished with an impish grin.

Lawrence chuckled and opened his car door.

* * * * *

"After fourteen years you just suddenly call me one night and ask if you can visit the next day? I thought you had to be dead, otherwise you would have called or written a letter..." Joe's mother said as she clutched her son desperately.

"I'm sorry, Mom. After the divorce I had to go away. I lost my wife and my son and... I just needed to get away and start over. I'm sorry I hurt you." Joe said as he held his mother gently.

"Where have you been?"

"I've spent most of the past ten years in space. I'm in Starfleet." Joe said quietly.

"I'm just glad that you're back. How long can you stay?" she asked hopefully.

"We're going to be here for two days." Joe said quietly.

"We?" Joe's mother asked, then pulled out of the hug to see Lawrence and Vincent standing beside the car.

"Mom, I'd like for you to meet your grandsons Lawrence and Vincent." Joe said as he watched carefully to see his mother's reaction.

"Lawrence? Your Lawrence?" She asked in wonder.

"Peggy died about three months ago and Lawrence decided that he wanted to find his biological father." Joe said with a sad smile at the memory.

"Come here Lawrence and give your grandma a hug." She said forcefully.

Lawrence had to force himself to take the first step, but every step after that came a little bit more quickly until he finally reached his grandmother.

Joe saw Vincent watching the scene apprehensively, unsure of his welcome, and put out his arm to invite Vincent into a hug.

"Oh Lawrence, I haven't seen you since you were just a tiny baby. You've grown up into such a handsome young man. I bet you have to beat the girls off with a stick." She said as she looked at him lovingly.

"She's almost right, except for the part about the girls... and the stick..." Vincent whispered to Joe.

Joe chuckled and hugged Vincent around the shoulders.

"And who is this?" She asked as she turned to look at Vincent.

"This is my son Vincent. He's Lawrence's half-brother." Joe said carefully.

"Which half?" She asked cautiously.

"He's Peggy's son." Joe said quietly.

"Well come here Vincent. If Joe says he's your father, then that makes you my grandson." She said and opened her arms to him.

Vincent hesitantly walked to her, unable to look at anything but the large, pendulous breasts before him.

"Don't be afraid, I won't bite." She said with a chuckle as she pulled him into a hug.

Vincent returned the hug for a moment, then started to push away.

"Are you too old for a hug from your grandmother?" She asked fondly.

After a moment to consider, Vincent carefully said, "I'll have to get back to you on that."

She chuckled at the response, but then looked at the sky with concern before saying, "Let's get in the house. I don't like the look of those clouds."

"Come on boys." Joe said with a smile and followed his mother into the house.

* * * * *

"Go on and have a seat, would you boys like some sweet tea?" Joe's mother asked quickly.

"No thank you Ma'am." Vincent said as he took off his backpack.

"Not right now, but thank you for asking." Lawrence said as he looked around the neat little living room.

"I'd like some." Joe said happily.

"It's in the fridge. Get me some while you're at it." His mother said as she sat down in a recliner.

Joe got up off the couch from between the boys and walked to the kitchen.

Vincent looked around the living room and his attention was drawn to the artificial white Christmas tree, decked out with an overabundance of ornaments. At first glance it seemed a little bit tacky, but after a moment, Vincent concluded that it actually fit perfectly, melding with the charm and down-home comfort of the home.

"You boys can call me Grandma June if you want. That's what all my grandkids call me... well, except for Loi, he still calls me Gramma Noon. When he first met me, he had trouble pronouncing my name." She finished with a chuckle.

"You have a grandson name Loi?" Lawrence asked cautiously.

"That's right. Well, his mother married your Uncle Isaac. But he's as much one of my grandkids as his little brother Malcolm." She said with a fond smile.

"So how are Lizette and Isaac doing?" Joe asked as he placed a glass of iced sweet tea on a side table by his mother.

"Lizette is fine. The whole brood moved up to Michigan about five years back. Isaac... died about two years ago. The drink finally did him in." June said with a shake of her head.

"Oh. I'm sorry to hear that." Joe said quietly.

"Well, if you would have stayed in touch with your family, you would have known, wouldn't you?" She said firmly.

Joe reluctantly nodded.

"Temmy and the boys live here with us now. I know she wishes she could move them out of here, but there's just no way they could have anything close to a decent life on a waitress's paycheck." June said regretfully.

"How's dad?" Joe reluctantly asked.

"Oh, he's fine. He'll be home from work at about five." She said absently.

"I thought he'd be retired by now." Joe said with concern.

"He retired from the railroad nearly ten years ago. But when he'd been home for about a month, his health started to go. When I saw what was happening to him, I packed him a lunch, walked him to the front door and told him to get out and get a job and not to come back until five." She said seriously.

"What's he doing now?" Joe asked quietly.

"He goes to the hospital, Monday through Friday from eight to five and spends time with the patients there. He reads to them, holds their hands and makes sure that no one in that place has to go through a single day without hearing a kind voice." She said proudly.

"Wow. I never thought of Dad doing something like that. That's wonderful." Joe said with a smile.

"It's his job. I get up every morning and make his breakfast and pack his lunch then I send him off to work. Every night he comes home and I have dinner waiting on the table for him... And with Temmy and the boys here, he even gets to come home to a house full of kids who love the stuffing out of him." She said fondly.

"That sounds so great." Joe said gently.

"Some people can be happy sitting around, drawing their retirement money but your father just isn't built that way. He needs to have a purpose." She said seriously.

"Daddy Joe, is it okay if I study now?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure. Go ahead." Joe said quietly.

June watched as Vincent pulled something that looked like a tablet computer out of his backpack and turned it on.

"It looks like you have quite the bookworm there, Joe." June said curiously.

"Vince might be having a big test in a couple days and he wants to make sure he's ready for it." Lawrence said quickly.

"He should get along well with Loi. He's very serious about his studies too." June said speculatively.

Vincent looked up from his padd for a moment, then went back to his studying.

* * * * *

"Grandma June! We're home!" A young voice called from the back of the trailer.

"Boys, put your things in your room, then come in here. We have company." June called from her chair.

A moment later, thundering footsteps could be heard coming up the hallway of the trailer.

A nine year old boy ran into the kitchen, then stopped in the doorway of the living room when he saw the strangers.

"Come on in here Malcolm. I want you to meet your Uncle Joe and your cousins." June said with a smile.

The boy timidly walked into the living room to stand beside his grandmother.

"This is Malcolm." June said as she pulled the nine year old onto her lap to give him a hug.

"Hi Malcolm, I'm Vincent" Vincent said with a smile to the brown haired boy with sparkling brown eyes.

"Hi. You got a video game?" Malcolm asked excitedly.

"No. This isn't a game, this is just the stuff I'm studying." Vincent said with a smile.

"Oh." Malcolm said with disappointment.

"I'm Lawrence." Lawrence said quietly.

"Hi Lawrence. I'm Malcolm. Do you like to play games?" Malcolm asked hopefully.

"Yes I do. In fact, we even have a game room at my house." Lawrence said with a gentle smile.

"Cool! Do you want to play now? I've got lots of games!" Malcolm asked with nearly breathless excitement.

"Is it okay?" Lawrence asked, looking from his father to his grandmother.

"Sure. Dinner won't be for about two hours. Go have fun." June said with a smile at Malcolm.

"Loi, we're gonna play. You wanna come play with us?" Malcolm asked hopefully.

"Not this time. I need to study." A tall thin Asian boy said quietly from just inside the kitchen.

"Vincent has some studying to do too. Why don't you boys go into the kitchen so you can study at the table?" June said as a question, but both boys understood that it was a command.

Vincent leaned over and gave Joe a quick hug before standing to go to the kitchen.

"And while the boys are entertaining themselves, we can catch up on the past fourteen years." June said firmly, directing her comment to her son.

Joe reluctantly nodded, secretly wishing he were leaving to play games... or even to study.

* * * * *

"What are you studying?" Loi asked in a voice so quiet that Vincent could barely hear him.

Vincent looked carefully at Loi's hesitant expression and could tell that he was bracing himself for rejection.

"Right now I'm studying about Vulcan history." Vincent said honestly.

"Really? That sounds interesting." Loi said with an excited smile.

Vincent could see that Loi was waiting for him to continue, so he sat down the padd and said, "Yeah. In fact, it's especially interesting to me because I feel like I can understand what they went through. You know, kind of feel what they felt."

"Really? How?"

"Well, a long time ago, Vulcans were really emotional and hot-headed... and so was I. But they figured out that if they could control themselves and think about things logically, then they could have a better life... I kind of did that, too..." Vincent said then considered for a moment before quietly amending, "Well, I'm doing that."

"Wow. I never thought about it like that. Maybe it would make history less boring if I felt like it had something to do with me." Loi said honestly.

"Yeah. It helps me a lot to think about it that way." Vincent said with a chuckle.

"So where do you live?" Loi asked curiously.

"New Hope." Vincent said, then waited for Loi's reaction.

"Is that in Vermont or Connecticut?" Loi asked cautiously.

"No... well, at least not the one where I live. It's out, um.... I'd have to get a star chart to show you." Vincent said shyly.

"Oh, so you're from a space colony?" Loi asked with a big smile.

"Yeah. Sort of. I have a home at New Hope, I just haven't lived there much yet. I guess most of the last three months, I've been living with my Daddy Joe on a starship." Vincent said cautiously, feeling like he was revealing all his secrets to the first person he met.

"So, why are you studying Vulcan History? Is it something for school?" Loi asked curiously.

Vincent glanced toward the living room, then reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet and took out his Starfleet ID, offering it to Loi.

"Petty Officer Winters?" Loi asked slowly.

"That's right. I'm an active duty Crewman in Starfleet." Vincent said quietly.

"Why are we whispering?" Loi asked cautiously.

Vincent smiled and said, "Because I don't want everyone to know. People treat me different when they find out that I'm a Crewman. It's like, they don't know how to talk to me anymore because they don't understand me."

"Maybe I'm a crewman, too." Loi muttered under his breath.

"What do you mean?" Vincent asked curiously.

"It's nothing. This is really cool, Vincent. I promise that I won't tell anyone." Loi said and handed the ID back to Vincent.

"It's okay, Loi. It's not like it's a really big secret or anything. I'm mostly just keeping it a secret for Daddy Joe. He worries that I don't get to act like a regular person very often." Vincent said seriously.

"It must be nice to have a father like that. One who cares about you and that you can spend time with." Loi said in a small voice.

Vincent was surprised by the statement and had to think about what that meant to him.

From Loi's expression, he must have felt like he said the wrong thing, or revealed too much... but at the same time, he seemed to want to talk about it more.

Vincent looked around the small kitchen for a moment, then came to a decision.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I need to study." Loi said quietly.

"I bet you'd be able to study a lot better if we went for a walk and talked about stuff for a few minutes first." Vincent said quietly.

"You really want to talk with me?" Loi asked hopefully.

Vincent smiled and said, "Sure. You're my cousin."

Loi hesitantly nodded, then walked to the doorway.

"Gramma Noon, is it okay if Vincent and I go outside and walk around for a while?" Loi asked cautiously.

"Just stay inside the trailer park and stay away from those Parker boys." June said with a tender smile.

"We will. I promise." Loi said shyly.

"Go on, the fresh air will do you good." June said happily.

Loi nodded, then noticed that Vincent was already waiting for him by the front door.

* * * * *

"I'm not really your cousin." Loi said, breaking the silence between them.

"Why not?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Gramma Noon's son was my brother's father, not mine. So I'm not really related to you." Loi said shyly.

Vincent chuckled, drawing a confused look from Loi.

"Grandma Joe's other son is my brother's father. So that means we're exactly the same." Vincent said with a happy smile. After some of the worry he had felt about visiting family that weren't technically related to him, it was a relief to find that Loi was in his same situation.

Loi thought about the words for a moment, then a smile appeared on his face.

"So I guess that Lawrence and Malcolm are cousins by blood and we're the other kind of cousins." Vincent said happily, to verify to Loi that he did accept him as family.

"Not only do I have a cousin who's just like me, but you like to study just like I do." Loi said with a smile.

Vincent thought about the statement and didn't know if he wanted to claim that he liked to study, but finally concluded that it didn't matter.

"So do you and your dad and your brother live on another planet? That sounds exciting, what's it like?" Loi asked with interest.

"Actually, we don't all live together. Lawrence lives here on Earth, in Florida. Daddy Joe's a Starfleet officer and kind of lives on the ship, full time. Like I said before, my home is at the New Hope colony, but while I'm on duty, I live with Daddy Joe on the Yorktown... that's our ship." Vincent said shyly.

"I never really studied too much about that stuff. What does a crewman do?" Loi asked with interest as they continued to walk through the trailer park.

"Well, I can't tell you about all crewmen, but what I do is live on a starship and work in Deflector Control." Vincent said happily.

"Deflector Control? What's that?" Loi asked curiously.

"We control the shields that keep stuff from hitting the ship while we're moving through space." Vincent said simply. It felt good to talk with someone who was interested.

They walked along for a few minutes in silence, when Loi finally asked, "So, are you studying Vulcan History for your work or do you have to do it for school? You have to go to school, don't you?"

"Yeah. I take classes at the Vulcan Academy of Science by subspace. I just took my final exam a few days ago, so I don't have anything to study for that, right now. But the reason I'm studying about Vulcan history is because in two days I might be taking my officer's exam, that is, if they have a seat open so I can take the test. That's why I'm trying to study as many things as possible because there's no way to know what they'll be asking about. They could ask about anything about the history of anybody in the Federation." Vincent said quietly.

"Really? So if you're trying to be an officer, does that mean that you're going to be in charge of people?" Loi asked in shock.

"Yeah. That's exactly what it means. That's the whole reason I'm allowed to be in Starfleet at all. Daddy Joe and the bridge crew of the Yorktown have been teaching me the stuff that I'll need to know to be an officer." Vincent said seriously.

"I don't understand. They want you to tell people what to do?" Loi asked curiously.

"They want me to be a leader. It's not as much about telling people what to do as it is about knowing what to do." Vincent said with conviction.

"I thought you knew not to come on our side of the park you squinty eyed freak." A sandy haired boy, around twelve years old, said with a snarl at the pair.

Loi looked around in panic and said, "Come on, we've got to run."

"What for?" Vincent asked as he noticed a second boy who was older moving to block their escape.

"That's William Parker and his brother Robert... I'm sorry Vincent. I didn't mean to get you beat up." Loi said in a diminishing voice as he saw that they were trapped.

"Not going to happen." Vincent said as he moved slightly in front of Loi to protect him.

"What you doin hanging around with that foreigner? You should help us beat him up so maybe he'll decide to go back home where he belongs." The older boy said in a superior voice.

"Loi, have these guys ever beat you up?" Vincent asked coldly. The thought of anyone hurting the timid boy that he claimed as his family made Vincent want to beat them to a bloody pulp.

"Yeah. A few times." Loi said with a tremor of fear.

"Then it's time to stop it." Vincent said firmly.

As he turned his attention back to the pair of bullies, the realization hit him that the brothers standing before him might be like he had been, before he encountered the Clan.

His mind raced over his options and he finally said, "We're going to go back to Loi's house now. We can either walk past you or over you. Your choice."

Neither boy seemed to show any signs of backing down.

"Guys. I've got to warn you, I've been trained to defend myself. Walk away now and no one has to get hurt." Vincent said as he shrugged out of his flight jacket and handed it to Loi. He found that he didn't want to fight, after all. But it was looking more and more like he wasn't going to have a choice in the matter.

"You're bigger than he is. We can take him." The younger boy said as he took another step forward.

"What happens next is your choice. If you want to talk, we'll talk. If you want to fight, we'll do that." Vincent said calmly. He'd fight if he had to, but he was determined to give the brothers every possible chance that he could give them to talk it out.

The older boy moved in to attack.

After a quick dodge to the side, Vincent said, "I warned you! Ha CHA!" Then popped him squarely between the eyes with the heel of his hand.

Out of the corner of his eye, Vincent could see Loi standing and watching him from a few feet away.

"Get back, Loi!" Vincent called, and faked a left then brought his right hand up to catch the twelve year old on the jaw.

Loi scrambled back just as the younger boy landed on the ground with a thump, right where he'd been standing.

"Last chance to end this. You can still walk away." Vincent said as he watched their every move.

"I'm gonna tear your guts out!" The older boy snarled and picked up a rock from beside his foot.

Vincent quickly turned and in a flash disarmed the fifteen year old with a round-house kick directly to his hand, then followed through with a punch to his abdomen.

The fifteen year old doubled over, clutching his stomach.

Vincent glanced to see the younger boy coming at him from behind.

He immediately dropped to one knee and swept his free leg to catch the twelve year old's ankle and hook it with his foot. One quick tug and the younger boy was flat on his back with the wind knocked out of him.

"Should I go get someone?" Loi asked in a trembling voice as he clutched Vincent's flight jacket to his chest.

"Hold on. Let's see if they're ready to talk." Vincent said as he watched the boys carefully.

The younger boy was starting to get up, presumably to fight some more, but the older one held him back.

"Hold up Willy, let's listen to him." Robert said as he looked at Vincent cautiously.

"Why do you want to hurt my cousin?" Vincent asked, watching carefully for any indication that they were about to attack again.

"Cause he don't belong here. He's a foreigner and him and his family are taking jobs away from the people who already live here. He should go back to his own country." The younger boy, William, said in a challenging tone.

"Loi? Have you taken anyone's job?" Vincent asked without turning his attention away from the pair of brothers.

"No. I've never had a job. I just go to school. And..." Loi trailed off, and from the sound of his voice, Vincent was pretty sure he was fighting down tears.

"And what?" Vincent asked more gently.

"I was born here, in Savannah. This is my country." Loi said quietly.

Vincent smiled at his cousin, then looked at the brothers and said, "So you guys were picking on my cousin just because he looks different from you. He was born here so he belongs here just as much as you do."

Robert and William both seemed to be conflicted about what they should do.

"Why don't you guys come over to Loi's house and meet our family. If you still want to fight some more after that, I'll take you both on." Vincent said firmly. Although it wasn't a peaceful resolution, by any means, at least they were talking.

"What? Just like that?" Robert asked uncertainly.

"Yeah, sure. It's not like I hate you guys or I'm mad at you or anything. If you're willing to listen, I'm willing to talk. Of course, if you try to hurt me or my cousin, I'll just kick the living shit out of you." Vincent finished seriously. He was so close to a point where he might be able to get the brothers to understand. If he could just get them to listen, just for a few minutes, he might be able to get them to see reason.

"Yeah. Okay. We'll go." Robert said, then looked at his brother with question at the tugging on his arm.

"Dad don't want us going into other people's trailers." William said urgently.

"Then we won't tell him. Come on, I think I want to see this." Robert said seriously.

* * * * *

"I'm guessing from the way you fight that you've been learning it for a while." Robert said slowly as they walked toward Loi's house. Both he and William were dusting themselves off in an effort to make themselves look presentable.

"Yeah. But I've been learning other stuff, too, like when not to fight." Vincent said seriously. He liked the direction their conversation was taking.

"Maybe that's something that I should be learning." Robert said under his breath.

"It's a lot harder to learn." Vincent said simply.

As the group approached lot 16, Vincent stopped and said, "It's a lot easier to hurt people than it is to talk to them."

"That don't sound right." William said slowly.

"Think about it this way. You can make people do what you want if you hurt them. You make them afraid of you and hate you, and once you've done that, you have some control over them. Whether you hurt them with your fists or your words, what you end up doing is the same." Vincent said carefully.

"But you said that talking is harder..." William said cautiously.

"It is. You have to think about what you're saying. Then you have to be able to defend what you said. You have to listen to the other person. It's a lot easier to just beat the snot out of someone than to try to get to know them." Vincent said frankly.

The brothers seemed to be lost in thought, so Vincent looked over his shoulder and asked, "How you doing cousin?"

"Good... I think." Loi said in a bewildered tone.

Vincent smiled at his reaction, then began to walk up the steps.

* * * * *

"That didn't take long." June said as she saw Vincent and Loi walk into the room, then her eyes went wide when she saw the pair of boys standing in the doorway.

"This is Robert and William Parker. Is it okay if they come in and visit for a few minutes?" Vincent asked with a grin at June's shocked expression.

"Yes. Fine." June finally said.

"Thanks Grandma Joe." Vincent said, then walked to the door to coax the pair of brothers to come in.

"Grandma Joe?" June asked her son with a smile.

"He calls me his Daddy Joe, so you and Dad are automatically his Grandma and Grandpa Joe."

"Guys, this is my Grandma Joe. She's Loi's grandma, too." Vincent said seriously.

"Hi." Robert said shyly, looking like he wanted to run and hide from the attention.

"This is my Daddy Joe, he's Loi's uncle." Vincent said in his 'mature' voice.

Robert barely managed another little 'hi', then looked at Vincent imploringly, silently asking him to get them out of there.

"Anyway, these guys have been picking on Loi because he's... hey Loi, what are you anyway?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Vietnamese." Loi said shyly.

"Yeah. That. So I wanted to bring the guys over here to meet you so they could see that Loi has a normal family that loves him and that he's really no different than they are." Vincent said seriously.

Joe looked like he was about to burst, trying to hold in his chuckles.

"What's funny?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Nothing. Really. I just get a kick out of how you deal with people." Joe said with delight.

"Anyway, guys, what do you think? Loi isn't that different from you, is he?" Vincent asked simply.

"No... I guess not." Robert said reluctantly.

"Let's go outside. If you still want to fight, we can do that now." Vincent said as he started walking toward the door.

"Vincent, are you going to be alright?" Joe asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I won't lose it." Vincent said before darting outside.

Robert and William followed Vincent out, leaving Loi standing by the open door.

"How are you doing, angel?" June asked with concern.

Loi considered for a moment, then quietly said, "I'm not sure, but I think things might be better now."

June gave a hesitant smile at the statement, then watched as Loi slowly walked out the front door.

"Do you think we should go and keep an eye on them?" June asked cautiously.

"No. If Vincent says he's got it under control, I'll trust him to know what he's doing." Joe said as his gaze stayed focused on the door.

* * * * *

"You ready to go again?" Vincent asked simply.

"No... at least, not yet." Robert said, and seemed to be struggling with a decision.

"Do you want to talk?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"No... not yet." Robert said, then looked into Vincent's eyes and continued, "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like for you to come over to our house."

"Oh, sure." Vincent said with surprise, then thought to ask, "Can Loi come too?"

"Yeah. No problem." Robert said absently as he started walking.

"Are you sure?" William asked with concern.

"Yeah. Trust me." Robert said in a low voice.

Vincent looked over to Loi to see how he was doing.

Loi noticed the movement and when their gazes met, he gave a timid smile.

* * * * *

"Dad, we've got company." Robert said loudly as he walked into the trailer.

Vincent and Loi walked into the single wide mobile home and had to wait for a minute for their eyes to adjust to the much dimmer light inside.

All the windows were covered with heavy drapes and the walls were all covered with dark wood paneling. The overall effect was dark and foreboding.

This house also had an artificial Christmas tree on display, however this one was the more traditional green and was only sparsely decorated. As it had been before, after he had been able to get past the initial tackiness, Vincent felt that the Christmas tree accurately represented the overall mood of the home.

A man who looked to be about 40 years old walked into the living room from the back hallway, and from the look of his hair, he had just gotten out of bed.

"Hey guys. What's up?" He said, sounding completely casual.

"Hi. Robert and William wanted us to meet you." Vincent said hesitantly, still not understanding why they were invited.

"Well come on in and have a seat. Have you guys had dinner? I was just thinking about thawing something out." Mr. Parker asked pleasantly.

"No, we haven't, but our Grandmother said something about us having dinner in two hours. I'm pretty sure she's expecting us to eat with her." Vincent said cautiously.

Mr. Parker gave an unconcerned shrug, then said, "Come on. Sit."

Vincent and Loi walked into the small living room area and took seats on the very old and worn couch.

"The guys usually don't bring anyone home from school with them. I'm glad they're starting to be sociable." Mr. Parker said as he sprawled back in a comfortable position on the equally old love seat.

"I don't go to their school. I'm just here visiting my cousin." Vincent said and indicated Loi at his side.

"Oh, so you live here in the park?" Mr. Parker asked Loi curiously.

"Yeah. In lot 16." Loi said shyly.

"16... Bowers?" Mr. Parker strained to remember.

"Yeah. That's right." Vincent said quickly.

"I don't really know them, but I went to school with one of their kids... I heard that he died a few years back." Mr. Parker said quietly.

"That was my dad. Isaac Bowers." Loi said quietly.

"Oh yeah, I heard about that. But I was actually talking about their other son, Joe. We were in the same grade." Mr. Parker said seriously.

Vincent thought about what Mr. Parker was saying, then cautiously said, "He isn't dead. Joe is my father... well, sort of. He's visiting over there right now."

"Really? You said 'visiting', do you know if you're going to be in town long? It'd be great to see him again." Mr. Parker said with a smile.

"We'll be here two days, but you can come over and talk to him right now if you want to." Vincent said frankly.

"I wouldn't want to intrude on his time with his family." Mr. Parker said reluctantly.

"My mom and my grandpa won't be home from work for a little while. So now would probably be the best time for you to visit with him." Loi said timidly.

Vincent smiled at Loi's willingness to speak up, then looked at Mr. Parker with question.

"Let me go change into a better shirt. This one looks like I slept in it." Mr. Parker said as he stood.

"Because you did." Robert said as his father walked away.

"Smart ass." Mr. Parker said before he disappeared down the hallway.

* * * * *

"I got the feeling that you brought us over here because you wanted to show us something." Vincent said as soon as Mr. Parker was fully out of the room.

"Yeah. This." Robert said as he made a gesture, indicating their surroundings.

"What about it?" Vincent asked cautiously, feeling like he should already know.

"We're dirt poor. We're trailer trash. This is how we live." Robert said in a desperate voice.

Vincent looked around again and took notice of the dreary little place.

"What do you want that you don't have?" Loi asked cautiously.

"What do you mean?" Robert asked, and seemed to be reluctant to look Loi in the eyes.

Vincent hoped that meant what he thought it did and that Robert was feeling some regret for his past actions toward Loi.

"I mean, yeah, there are nicer places around, but what are you doing without?" Loi asked with concern.

"A mom." William said before his brother could answer.

Robert looked sharply at his brother, but rather than dispute it, he finally nodded in agreement.

"I lost my dad a few years ago. So I know sort of how that feels. I don't think living in a nicer place will make it any better." Loi said cautiously.

"Okay, guys. I'm ready." Mr. Parker said as he walked down the hallway.

"Dad's got on his fancy, goin-to-meetin clothes." Robert said with a chuckle.

"Hush RJ. Don't act like a hick in front of the company." Mr. Parker said playfully.

Vincent smiled at the comment as Loi cautiously asked, "RJ?"

"Yeah, Robert Junior." RJ said shyly.

"I like that." Loi said quietly, then seemed to realize who he was talking to and hurried to look away.

RJ blinked with surprise at Loi's comment, then quietly said, "Thanks."

Vincent fought to contain his smile at RJ and Loi's exchange.

Mr. Parker opened the door and said, "We'd better hurry. It looks like it's gonna let loose a gully washer any minute now."

"Dad. If you don't want me sounding like a hick, then you shouldn't either." RJ said with embarrassment obvious in his voice.

"Yeah. Oh well. At least I'm being myself." Mr. Parker said unrepentantly, then walked out the door.

Vincent glanced at RJ in time to see an odd expression come over his face.

Before he could think too much about Mr. Parker's statement and RJ's reaction, he noticed that the others were rushing away.

* * * * *

There wasn't time for conversation as the group hurried across the trailer park, trying to beat the impending rain storm.

"It's starting." Loi said, then dashed ahead to open the front door of the trailer.

"Gramma Noon, we have company." Loi said as soon as he was inside.

"Well, invite them in out of the rain." June said as she got up from her recliner.

"Sorry about barging in like this." Mr. Parker said as he rushed inside.

"Don't worry about that. All of you get in here before you're soaked to the skin." June said as she slowly walked to the door.

Mr. Parker looked around the room and his gaze fixed on Joe.

"Robby? Robby Parker? Is that you?"

"I can't believe it's really you, Joe. I thought you were dead." Mr. Parker said in wonder.

Joe walked to the man and pulled him into a firm hug as he said, "Robby, I haven't seen you since high school. How are you doing?"

"I'm getting by. I ain't got much to speak of. But what I got is all mine." Robby said in a tired voice.

"Come in and have a seat." Joe said happily, then noticed the two boys behind him.

"I'll get some sweet tea for you and the boys. Come on in." Joe said happily.

Robby cautiously looked around the living room then took a seat on the sofa.

* * * * *

"Did you boys decide not to fight any more?" Joe asked casually as he carried three glasses of iced sweet tea into the living room and sat them on the coffee table before the couch.

"We got sidetracked." Vincent said frankly.

"Vincent, maybe we should talk it out." Joe said over his shoulder.

Vincent reluctantly walked to Joe's side and waited.

"What's going on Joey?" Robby asked curiously.

"From what I gathered, your boys have been tormenting Loi for a few months now... something about wanting Loi to go back home... and I don't think they meant to this trailer. "Joe said as he looked at the two boys squirming beside their father.

Robby glanced at Loi then shook his head with disappointment.

"Sorry, Joey. When my wife left me, the boys stayed with my dad for about a year while I tried to get my life back together. I thought I'd got all that racist crap that he'd taught them out of their heads, but... I'm really sorry." Robby said regretfully.

"It's okay." Joe said quietly.

"No it's not." Vincent said immediately.

"Vincent!" Joe said harshly.

"It's not okay. If these guys are going to keep picking on Loi just because he looks different from them, then it's not okay at all." Vincent said firmly.

"It won't happen anymore. I promise." Robby said seriously.

"No. I don't want you to promise it. I want them to. They're the ones who hurt my cousin and made him feel like he doesn't belong here, in his own home. I know you didn't want this to happen, but it's not going to stop until they're sorry and they promise." Vincent said frankly, as if he were simply stating a fact.

Robby turned to his sons and asked, "What do you say, boys? Is this the end of it?"

The younger boy nodded with an expression of shame while the older boy stared his father in the eyes.

"Come on, RJ, I raised you better than this. I want to be proud of you." Robby said in an urging tone.

RJ seemed to be about to agree, then he shook his head and angrily said, "But dad. He don't belong here. He should go back to his own country."

"But I already told you, this is my country. I was born in Savannah." Loi said quietly.

RJ looked at him with question.

"My father was born in Vietnam but he became a naturalized citizen before I was even born. My mother was born in Columbus, Ohio. This is my home. I am from here." Loi said quietly.

"So you've been picking on him just because he looks different. You can't always tell everything about a person just by looking at them." Vincent said seriously.

"Okay. I guess not." RJ said reluctantly.

After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Vincent asked, "Are you going to leave my cousin alone now?"

"Yeah. I guess it's just because he acts so scared of us and like he don't belong... It kind of made me feel like... I don't know..." RJ said disjointedly.

"I guess with people judging him by the way he looks, maybe sometimes he feels like he doesn't belong. I bet you aren't the only ones who pick on him." Vincent said seriously, then turned to look at Loi with question.

Loi gave a reluctant shake of his head.

"I guess not." RJ said quietly.

Vincent looked around the room, then asked, "It sounds like the rain stopped. Do you guys want to go outside and do something? Or are we supposed to still be mad at each other or something?"

"I guess we can fight, if you want to." RJ said unenthusiastically.

"Okay. Or, I could teach you how to swear in Klingon, if you wanted." Vincent said with a smile.

RJ and William shared a considering look, then both nodded.

Vincent took a step toward the front door, then noticed Loi standing by the kitchen doorway, looking unsure of what to do.

"Do you want to come with us, Loi?" Vincent asked with a smile.

"Are you sure?" Loi asked cautiously.

"Yeah. But you might need to get something to drink. Klingon takes a lot of spit." Vincent said with a smile.

Upon hearing this, RJ and William doubled back to the coffee table to pick up their glasses of sweet tea.

June, Joe and Robby watched as the boys paraded out of the room.

* * * * *

"That kid of yours has some fire, Joey." Robby said with a smile.

"You have no idea." Joe said with a chuckle.

"I'm really sorry this happened. You hear all the time about how hard it is to be a single parent, but... there's just not enough hours in the day or money in the bank to do everything that needs to be done for them." Robby said in a tired voice.

"It sounds like you need help." Joe said quietly.

"The only help I got is my dad, and I don't want the boys to go anywhere near him. You've seen how much he's polluted them with his hate already." Robby said seriously.

"Robby, I really know how hard it is. I try to do as much as I can for my sons, and I wish that I could do so much more. There's no way we would be here now or anything close to happy if I didn't have friends to help me." Joe said quietly.

"I just don't know what else I can do. I'm working a graveyard shift so I'll be home with the boys when they're awake. I sleep while they're in school but... they're still left alone way too much. Over the past year they've both been having trouble in school." Robby said desperately.

"Would it help if they had somewhere to stay in the afternoons?" June asked quietly.

Robby looked at her with surprise, he had obviously forgotten she was there.

"I'm home all day, every day. I have Loi and Malcolm here to watch after in the afternoons. As long as your boys behave, they could come over and spend time with my boys." June said cautiously.

"And maybe that would take some of the pressure off you." Joe said, then smiled at his mother.

"That sounds good. And on my days off, your boys could come over to my place to give you a little time to relax." Robby said in thought.

"That would be nice. I love having the boys here. But it would be nice if George and I could have some time with just the two of us now and again." June said with a distant smile.

"Then it sounds like we've got a plan... well, as long as we can get the boys to go along with it." Joe said frankly.

"Do you think we should be out there with them?" Robby asked as he looked at the front door apprehensively.

Joe smiled and said, "Don't worry. Vincent won't let things get too far out of control."

"He seems awfully sure of himself. I couldn't believe how he took charge and got my boys to straighten up. I wouldn't have thought anyone could do that." Robby said frankly.

"He's got a gift." Joe said with a secretive smile.

* * * * *

"T'ruk-D'h!" Vincent screamed.

"Truck Duh!" RJ said forcefully.

"No, you've got to sound angrier. This is one of the nastiest things you can say to a Klingon so you have to sound like you really mean it... T'ruk-D'h!" Vincent finished with a snarl.

"What does it mean, anyway?" William asked cautiously.

"It doesn't really translate into English, but it's like the top five dirtiest words you've ever heard all rolled into one. If you say this to a Klingon, you'd better be ready to fight him. If you win the fight, you'll earn his respect." Vincent said seriously.

"And if you lose?" William asked curiously.

"Then you shouldn't have said it to begin with. It's stupid to challenge someone if you aren't sure you can defeat him. Stupid people end up dead." Vincent said seriously.

"Where'd you learn to speak Klingon?" RJ asked cautiously.

"In school. It's my foreign language." Vincent said dismissively.

"Really? All I got to choose from was Spanish, French and German." RJ said with a sour look.

"They don't offer Vulcan at your school?" Vincent asked with surprise, knowing that most schools offered it as a second language course.

"Only if you're on the honor roll, which sucks, because that's the language that I'd really like to take." RJ said seriously.

"Why?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Because Spanish is okay if you're going to go to Spain or Mexico, but why would I want to go to either of those places? It's the same for French and German. There's no reason for me to learn either of those languages because there's no reason for me to ever use them. Why would I go to France or Germany? I live in a trailer park in Georgia!" RJ said in frustration.

"Then why would you want to learn Vulcan?" Loi asked timidly.

"Because if I could speak Vulcan, I'd at least have a shot at keeping up with everyone else and getting out of here. But if there's two guys who want to get into the Starfleet Academy and one speaks Vulcan and the other don't, which one do you think they're gonna pick?" RJ asked seriously.

"Do you guys have a computer at your house?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.

"Yeah. It's a crappy little PC. It's not even good enough to play any decent games." RJ said sourly.

"Is it hooked up to the Net?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Yeah. Dad's got us on DSL." William said from his brother's side.

"If you'll let me use it for a few minutes, I might be able to find a way so that you can take some Vulcan language classes." Vincent said carefully.

"We don't have the money for anything like that. We're lucky to even have the dinosaur computer." RJ said quietly as he changed direction to lead them to his trailer.

"Does it have a microphone and speakers?" Vincent asked thoughtfully.

"Yeah." William said quickly.

"Then we should be able to make this work." Vincent said seriously.

"What are you going to do? I've looked all over the Net and there's nothing for free except a few tourist pages with phrases." RJ said cautiously.

Vincent smiled and said, "You've really been checking into this, haven't you?"

"Yeah. The way I see it, getting into Starfleet is my only real shot at getting out of here. Otherwise, me and Willy are gonna end up getting a trailer in the space next to dad's." RJ said in a quieter voice.

Vincent stopped and looked seriously into RJ's eyes.

RJ stopped at the look of intensity and waited.

"A long time ago, someone asked me something that I think you should hear." Vincent said slowly.

"Okay." RJ said hesitantly.

"I was mouthing off, saying some stuff I shouldn't, when a Starfleet ensign asked me how I was going to be able to be in Starfleet around all the people of different species when I couldn't even accept the people of my own species." Vincent said as he held RJ's gaze.

"But it's different..." RJ began to say.

"No it's not. You don't have to like everyone. You don't have to believe everyone is the same. That stuff is completely up to you and you feel however you feel. But there's a difference between feeling and doing. It's the stuff you do that people judge you by and it's the stuff you do that may come back someday and keep you out of Starfleet." Vincent said seriously.

"How?" RJ asked quietly.

"Loi, if today never happened and you were in charge of accepting new cadets into the academy, would you take RJ and William?" Vincent asked frankly.

"No." Loi said quietly.

"Why not?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Because I know how they like to hurt people who are different from them. Starfleet is made up of lots of different people and it would only cause trouble." Loi said in nearly a whisper.

Vincent nodded his agreement and said, "He's right. Everyone has to get along on a starship. There's no place to go, sometimes you're stuck together for weeks or months at a time. If you're full of hate toward the people around you, it's just going to cause trouble and you'll get kicked out... that is, if you ever get let in."

"How do you know so much about it?" William asked suspiciously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Guys, what I'm going to tell you is kind of a secret. Loi knows and so do my brother and my Daddy Joe."

William and RJ moved closer to hear the secret.

"I'm an active duty crewman on the USS Yorktown." Vincent said seriously.

"You lie!" William said immediately.

Vincent shook his head as he took out his ID.

"It makes sense. If he knows so much about living on a starship and is able to speak Klingon..." RJ said thoughtfully.

William looked at the ID carefully and asked, "Is this really real?"

"Yeah. You can't fake that kind of hologram. That's my Starfleet ID." Vincent said firmly.

"Wait! This can't be real! It says that you're nine years old!" William said suspiciously.

"Yeah. That's right." Vincent reluctantly admitted.

"But you're bigger than me, and I'm twelve." William said in astonishment.

"Yeah. But three months ago I was smaller than you are. Trust me, you don't want to grow up any faster. It hurts!" Vincent said frankly.

Finally, William seemed to accept what Vincent was telling him and handed the ID to RJ.

"Petty Officer second class huh? So that's, like, what? Enlisted rank 3?" RJ asked speculatively.

"Yeah. But with any luck, I'm going to take my test to get my officer's commission in a few days." Vincent said proudly.

"Don't you have a bunch more enlisted ranks before you become an officer?" William asked slowly.

"That's not how it works, Willy. Anyone who receives a commission is an officer. A crewman or a cadet straight out of the academy or even a civilian who has important training that Starfleet needs can be an officer. The thing is, Starfleet is really stingy with the commissions. There's only so many to go around. So you really have to study and prove that you're the best before they'll give you one." RJ said seriously.

"Yeah. And I'm in a mentoring program so I can be trained about what it means to be an officer by my Daddy Joe, he's a Lieutenant in Starfleet. I've been working as a crewman for a few months and now, if they'll let me, I'm going to take the exam so I can maybe get my commission." Vincent said happily.

"It's starting to rain again." Loi said quietly as he looked to the sky.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:
I'd have to say that Vincent seems to have told a few more people than he planned to about being in Starfleet.

Now for a casual comment that I thought of during supper.

One of the things that stands out to me about a lot of these stories, and that is the disconnect on the Universes we are looking into, between Starfleet and the associated tech that goes along with it being available to those who are aware of it, but it is not exactly well known to the run of the mill population, at least not to the people who are not "connected."

They know Starfleet exists, but they don't normally think about it as being something they can turn to for help or even for information. There is a wide gap, and I would say that the vast majority of people have no idea just what StarFleet and the Federation do or don't do.

Vincent is, indeed, growing up, and becoming more and more confident in himself and in what he can accomplish, but good old puberty is having its way with him, anyway.

I really feel sorry for Loi. He seems to have had a lot of people treat him badly, and it has made him feel inferior, and helpless.

Hopefully, he may just get a little from RJ and maybe even Willie, to let other people know that Loi is worth having as a friend, I guess we will just have to wait for the next chapter or so, to find out.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher