Universe Alpha 7:
The Reflection of Home

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Chapter 46

Vincent's mind drifted back on the time he had spent with his cousins and their new friends. Although he had called the relationship he had formed with some of the members of his crew 'family', actually spending time with Loi and Malcolm had been an entirely different experience.

It was so completely different from anything from his former life that he couldn't have imagined having that type of connection with people, especially people he had just met. His logical mind just couldn't explain how the virtual strangers that he had just met two days before could have become so dear to him so quickly.

Then his thoughts turned to the early hours of that morning, when his Daddy Joe had driven him to the spaceport in Orlando, where he could catch a shuttle to San Francisco. It had made Vincent nervous to be travelling on his own, but it also somehow seemed right. It was necessary for him to take this step on his journey by himself. Much like the Kahs'wan, he felt that this was another milestone along the way to his eventual maturity.

"Time." A voice announced from the front of the room, jolting him out of his thoughts.

Vincent closed the test screen on his terminal and waited to see what he was going to have to do next.

"How many did you have left to do?" A young woman asked from the terminal next to his.

"I finished a few minutes ago, I was just rereading my answers to make sure that I didn't goof something up by typing it wrong." Vincent said simply, not wanting to admit that he had been daydreaming while he should have been reviewing.

"You finished? All of them? Even the velocity problem?" The woman asked in panic as she began to pale.

"Oh yeah. That one was just a simple geometric progression. The problem gave you way too much information so you'd think that you'd have to use differential equations to solve it." Vincent said simply, then noticed that the woman was nearly in tears.

"How many did you have left?" Vincent asked slowly.

"Five or six..." She reluctantly admitted.

"Well, I guess you can figure that this is just the practical. We still have two more parts of the exam to go through. As long as you score well on the other two it won't matter if you missed a few on this one." Vincent said encouragingly, then added, "By the way, I'm Vincent."

"Oh, yeah. I'm Secily. Thanks, the practical was the exam I was most worried about anyway. In the other two exams I know what kind of questions they'll be asking but there just wasn't any way to prepare for this. I mean, the questions could be from any division on a starship or starbase." She said as she calmed herself.

"May I have your attention. Cadet Shelton, Cadet Jackson and Cadet Myers, please report to room three seventeen. Crewman Winters, please report to room one twelve." The instructor said firmly from the front of the room.

"That's me, good luck Secily." Vincent said to the young woman beside him.

"You, too. And thanks again, I feel a lot better now." Secily said shyly.

Vincent smiled at her, then hurried to join the others who were filing out of the room.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters?" The lieutenant behind the desk asked him immediately as he entered room 112.

Vincent glanced down at his crewman's jumpsuit, then asked, "What tipped you off?"

"The haircut." The woman said dryly, then with a slight smile she continued, "Please go right in. Commander De Gama would like to speak with you."

Vincent smiled and hurried into the office.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters, reporting as ordered, Sir." Vincent said as he stood at attention.

The commander smiled and said, "You're definitely active duty."

Vincent remained at attention, but inwardly smiled at the comment.

"At ease, Crewman Winters. Please have a seat." The commander said warmly.

Vincent took the offered seat and waited expectantly.

"Would you please answer these questions for me, then I'll tell you why you're here." Commander De Gama said as he handed Vincent a padd.

Vincent looked over the operations questions and quickly answered them. In less than five minutes he was handing the padd back to the commander.

After a brief moment to look over the answers that Vincent had given, Commander De Gama said, "Very good. After some careful consideration, we've decided that your Starfleet service will satisfy the requirements for the operations portion of your exam.

Vincent was surprised by the statement, but restrained his happiness so he could maintain his professional manner.

"Since your next test won't begin for nearly three hours, I thought you might enjoy a simulator exercise in the interim. We have a cadet class who are just about to take their maiden voyage." Commander De Gama said with a gentle smile.

"Yes sir. I would like that. Thank you." Vincent said respectfully as he fought to contain his excitement.

"Good. I'll let the examiners know that you're coming. Go down to room three and wait for the cadet crew, you'll be told all you'll need to know down there." Commander De Gama said warmly.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Vincent said happily as he stood.

"Dismissed." Commander De Gama said gently.

Vincent smiled at the commander, then hurried to leave the office.

* * * * *

Vincent walked into the large empty room which looked more like a departure lounge than a classroom.

One wall was mirrors and there were plants and low, comfortable looking couches, obviously staged for conversation, around the room.

The sound of movement drew Vincent's attention and he turned in time to see two people walk in.

"Are you sure this is the right place?" A young man asked nervously.

Vincent was surprised at just how young he appeared to be. He looked as though he might easily be one of Vincent's clan brothers.

"Yes. Room three. It isn't that hard to remember." The girl who entered with him said with amusement.

"Oh. Hi. Are you here for the simulator test?" The boy asked Vincent cautiously.

Vincent smiled and said, "Yes. Commander De Gama told me to wait here."

"Oh good. I was kind of confused by this room. It's like a doctor's waiting room." The boy said as he looked around nervously.

"I think it's a departure lounge. You know, like the place you wait at the airport until your flight is ready to board." Vincent explained honestly.

The boy seemed to consider, then said, "I guess that makes sense."

"You'll have to excuse Ryan. He's a little nervous about training in the simulator." The girl said with a fond look at her companion.

"And you're not?" Ryan asked her challengingly.

The girl seemed to consider, then said, "Yes. I'm nervous, I'm just not bouncing off the walls."

"I'm Vincent."

"It's nice to meet you, Vincent. I'm Chrysta and the basket case is Ryan." she said with amusement.

Vincent watched as Ryan walked to the mirrored wall and started to look closely at his face.

"I knew it, I'm starting to break out. This happens every time I get stressed out." Ryan said with annoyance.

Vincent smiled at the statement, remembering his recent encounter with acne, then turned when the door opened again.

A young Vulcan woman walked into the room and paused to survey her surroundings.

Without a word to anyone, she walked to the far side of the room to take a seat on one of the couches.

"Who's that?" Vincent asked Chrysta quietly.

"I don't know." Chrysta said as she looked at the Vulcan woman curiously, then added, "I've seen her around, but she's not in our class group."

"Well, neither am I." Vincent said frankly.

"Vincent, right?" Ryan asked as he returned from the mirror.

"Yeah. And you're Ryan." Vincent said with a smile.

"Yeah. So what's your thing?" Ryan asked curiously.

"My thing?" Vincent asked hesitantly.

"Yeah. I do communications and Chrys does navigation." Ryan said quickly.

"Oh. Okay. Well, I can do a lot of things. But I guess my main thing is Deflector Control." Vincent said, trying to keep from smiling at Ryan's unrestrained energy.

"Cool! We get to have an engineer! I think this is going to be great! I've heard that if we can become a real team, we'll be able to stay together all the way through the academy." Ryan said with glee.

Vincent shared a smile of amusement with Chrysta.

A tall skinny boy with wiry dark blond hair walked into the room and looked around.

His gaze fixed on Vincent for a moment, then he said, "There's a help desk down the hall where they can tell you where to go."

Vincent looked at the boy with confusion.

"I guess someone should probably go with you. If you were too stupid to keep up with the rest of your class on your field trip, you'll probably get lost before you can reach the end of the hall." The boy said snottily, then sourly added, "And if you were going to play dress-up, you should at least have dressed like an officer."

"I'm Crewman Winters and I'm here taking my officer's exam today. Commander De Gama told me to wait here so I could be included in the simulator exercise." Vincent said seriously.

The boy looked around the room again, then exploded, "Oh God! They can't be serious! You're my crew?"

Vincent gave a Vulcanesque raise of one eyebrow, but didn't betray any emotion in his reaction.

The door opened to admit two more cadets.

The boy looked them over critically, then muttered, "It figures."

Vincent glanced at Chrysta and Ryan to see if they had a better idea of what was going on.

"I worked my ass off to qualify for the Lieutenant track, then nearly kill myself studying to qualify for command, and when the day finally comes... I get stuck with geeks, losers and a rectum faced pygmy!" The boy said as he threw himself into one of the overstuffed couches.

"Vincent, if it makes Lance this unhappy to have you along, I'm really glad you're going to be a member of our crew." Chrysta said quietly.

"Cadets. It's time for me to give you your mission briefing." A man said as he walked briskly into the room. "I am Commander Dickman."

Vincent heard a few snickers as he held himself firmly at attention.

"For the next two hours, you will be using my simulator. I will be watching your every move to evaluate your operational skills while Captain Sulu judges your practical skills." Commander Dickman said, then gestured toward the door where Captain Hikaru Sulu of the USS Excelsior was entering.

"For this mission, you will be the command staff of the USS Enterprise. Your mission is to proceed to Argot III and rendezvous with the USS Excelsior to deliver your top secret cargo. By order of Starfleet, you are authorized to use any and all means necessary to protect your cargo and prevent it from falling into enemy hands." Captain Sulu said firmly.

Commander Dickman solemnly nodded his agreement to the words.

"Commander Dickman and I will be present on the bridge to observe, but we will not participate in this exercise. Are there any questions?" Captain Sulu asked seriously as he looked around.

Lance flashed Vincent a glare before asking, "Do we get extra points for baby sitting?"

Captain Sulu ignored the question and held up his padd to read.

"Lieutenant Wilkerson, for the duration of this exercise, you will be the captain."

Lance's chest puffed out with pride as Vincent fought not to display any emotional reaction.

"Lieutenant T'Laraan, you will be first officer and also serve as science officer."

"Ensign Price will be on communications. Ensign LeFete will be on navigation. Ensign McCarthy will be on the helm..."

Vincent glanced at Lieutenant T'Laraan and felt the absence of his wife. He knew that T'Lani needed to be on Vulcan to complete her medical training, but at the same time, he had become accustomed to feeling her in their bond and felt an emptiness where her presence should be.

"...Crewman Winters, during this exercise you will hold the rank of ensign and you'll be in charge of Deflector Control." Captain Sulu said, breaking Vincent out of his thoughts.

"Now, if there are no relevant questions, Commander Dickman and I will go get the simulator set up and will be back in a moment. You may want to use this time to get to know each other." Captain Sulu said then waited for a moment to see if anyone needed clarification.

As soon as the door had closed, Lance broke up into laughter and said, "Dickman!"

Vincent turned to look at Chrysta and Ryan, hoping to strike up a conversation, but was disappointed to see that they were fighting to contain their laughter.

"He's your commanding officer!" Vincent loudly interrupted in his 'mature' voice.

Chrysta and Ryan both stopped laughing immediately, sensing Vincent's seriousness.

"Come on Pee Wee, it's funny!" Lance said with a chuckle.

"All of you are Starfleet cadets and Commander Dickman is your superior officer. He deserves your respect." Vincent said to the group surrounding him.

Then he turned to Lance and said, "If you want the people you command to treat you with respect, then you need to show respect to the people who are above you. As our captain, you don't just get to tell us what to do, you have to show us how a captain behaves."

Lance blinked with surprise at Vincent's serious words.

"Captain Wilkerson, for the rest of this simulation I promise that I'll treat you like my captain and I'll swear to be loyal to you." Vincent said firmly.

"I... um... thanks." Lance stammered, taken aback at the sincere words.

"But for this to work, you have to act like a captain, so that I can respect you." Vincent said as he looked up into Lance's eyes.

"I'll do my best." Lance said uncertainly.

"We'll all help you." Vincent said firmly, then looked around the group and asked, "What do you say guys?"

Cautious and uncertain nods went around the group.

"Come on! This is OUR captain. That doesn't just mean doing what he says. It means that we'll stand behind him and do anything we can to prove that he's the best cadet captain that the academy has ever seen!" Vincent said vehemently.

Lance broke into a smile at Vincent's words, then said, "Thank you... what was your name again Pee Wee?"

"Vincent, but I'll be Ensign Winters while we're in the simulator." Vincent said seriously.

"Thank you Ensign Winters." Lance said, then turned when the door to the holding lounge opened.

"Cadets, the simulator awaits." Captain Sulu said from the open doorway.

* * * * *

The group walked down a long hallway, then through a door that looked to Vincent like the door on a bank vault.

"Take your stations." Captain Sulu said, then moved to one of the unoccupied auxiliary stations to take a seat.

Vincent walked immediately to the deflector control console and began to run through the standard series of diagnostics.

As Vincent was about to start his sub-system diagnostics, he remembered the day that Thaelan had joined the crew of the Yorktown.

Vincent went through the systems quickly and switched all the secondary systems to active standby.

The view screen at the front of the bridge finally came on and showed the cadet crew that they weren't moving.

"Navigation, set course for Argot III." The cadet-captain said firmly.

"Aye sir." Chrysta said automatically.

"Course laid in." she said a moment later.

"Helm, engage at warp factor five." The cadet-captain said firmly.

"Aye sir." Ensign McCarthy said uncertainly, then took them to warp.

Vincent could feel the hum of the engines, but could easily tell that it wasn't real. The feeling was false, somehow hollow. It didn't have the deep bass resonance of the Yorktown's engines.

"Shield status?" Lance called while keeping his attention on the main view screen.

"Deflectors at optimum. Defensive shields ready to deploy, on your command." Vincent said professionally as he looked over his board for any sign of a problem.

"Captain, I have a distress call on subspace. Audio only." Ryan said quickly from his comm station.

"Let me hear it." The cadet-captain said as he sat forward in his chair.

Everyone listened carefully. Between the pops and static, they could barely hear, "...colony... ...under attack... ...HELP US!!!"

"It's stopped transmitting." Ryan said in a hollow voice.

"Try to get them back." Lance snapped.

"Aye, Sir." Ryan said as he started to work on his communications console.

"Sciences, were you able to get a reading on where that message came from?" Lance asked quickly.

"Yes Captain. The source was the Marshall colony on Tengus IV." T'Laraan said calmly.

"Navigation, lay in a course for Tengus IV. Helm, as soon as the course is laid in, engage at best possible speed."

"Yes sir." Was the simultaneous response.

"Communications, I need to talk to Starfleet. Secure channel." Lance said firmly.

After a moment, Ryan reluctantly said, "Sir, I can't establish two-way communication with Starfleet. We're too distant. The best I can do is transmit a message via subspace and wait for a response. From our position, I'd guess that it'll be seven to ten minutes before we'll get an answer."

"Do you know how many people can die in ten minutes?" Lance asked under his breath.

"Would you like to record a message for Starfleet?" Ryan asked cautiously.

"No. Just tell them that we went off course and why. By the time they get back to us, the situation will have changed anyway." Lance said decisively.

Vincent impatiently looked around at the cadet crew to see if they were going to make any objection about what their captain was planning to do.

T'Laraan and Vincent's eyes met, and even though her expression was impassive, Vincent somehow knew that she was asking if he would speak to the cadet captain about what he was planning.

Vincent gave a slight nod, then turned to face the cadet captain and said, "Captain Wilkerson, our mission..."

"We'll save the colonists, then travel at higher warp and still make our delivery." Lance barked impatiently.

Vincent took a deep breath to brace himself, then continued, "Captain Wilkerson, our mission is to safely deliver our top secret cargo to the Excelsior. We're going against our orders if we go off course."

"The colonists depend on Starfleet to defend them. There's no way I'm going to ignore a distress call." The cadet captain said with conviction.

"Yes sir." Vincent said respectfully, then continued, "Our mission briefing said that we can use 'any and all means'. So what if we separate the saucer section and let it continue on to the rendezvous point with the cargo? That way the star drive can go rescue the colony without us going against our orders."

Lance thought about the suggestion, then turned to T'Laraan and asked, "First officer... I forgot your name. Do you think you're up to the challenge of taking the saucer section to the rendezvous point?"

T'Laraan blinked once, apparently surprised by the question, then responded, "Yes sir. Although I should make mention that the saucer section only has impulse engines, therefore, our arrival at the rendezvous coordinates would be greatly delayed."

"I don't remember hearing anything about a time limit. We just have to keep the cargo safe and get it there. Pee Wee, Helm guy, we're going to the battle bridge. First Officer, give me a yell when you're ready to separate the saucer." Lance said as he walked across the room.

"I will begin preparations immediately." T'Laraan said as she moved away from the science station.

"And I thought this was going to be a simple simulation." Captain Sulu said with a chuckle to Commander Dickman at his side.

"The only time you have a simple simulation is when you have a simple minded crew. Do you want to stay with the saucer or go with the star drive?" Commander Dickman asked professionally.

"I'll stay here, it looks like Lieutenant T'Laraan could use a helmsman." Sulu said as he walked across the room and took the seat that Ensign McCarthy had vacated.

"Then I'd better get going." Commander Dickman said as he walked to join the others on the turbo lift.

* * * * *

"Battle bridge." Lance said as soon as Commander Dickman was aboard.

"Helm guy, can you double up on navigation?" Lance asked seriously.

"Yes... I think so." Ensign McCarthy said nervously.

"Can you get us to Tengus IV?" Lance asked simply.

"Yes sir. I can do that." Ensign McCarthy said quickly.

"That's all I'm asking." Lance said with a smile.

As the doors opened, Lance led the way off the turbolift to the battle bridge.

"It smells funny in here." Ensign McCarthy said as he walked to his station.

"The air is a little bit stale, no one has chosen to use the battle bridge of the simulator for quite a while... honestly, most cadets forget it's here." Commander Dickman said as he stood just inside the door.

"Commander, I know you aren't supposed to take part in the exercise, but is there any way that you could kind of bend that rule and help us out on communications?" Lance asked hopefully.

Commander Dickman chuckled and said, "It's not uncommon for active duty personnel to take part in the simulations, Captain Sulu and I were just sitting out since you had a full crew. I would be happy to take communications."

Lance smiled and said, "Thank you sir. Helm, prepare for saucer separation."

"I... don't know what to do." Ensign McCarthy said nervously.

"Sure you do. We covered this in class. Besides, you have the easy part. You just have to hold at station keeping until the saucer signals ready to separate, as soon as the docking clamps are blown, you just nudge us away with maneuvering thrusters. There's nothing to it." Lance said encouragingly.

"Thank you, sir. I remember reading it now, I just... I didn't think I'd need to know it so soon." Ensign McCarthy said timidly.

Lance put his hand on the Ensign's shoulder and said, "You and me both."

"Lieutenant T'Laraan, on screen." Commander Dickman said, then a moment later, the viewscreen filled with a view of the main bridge.

"We are ready for saucer separation, on your command." T'Laraan said calmly.

"Separate." Lance said firmly.

Vincent looked around at the sound of distant explosions.

"Docking clamps disengaged." T'Laraan said calmly.

"Helm, z minus 40." Lance said seriously.

"Aye sir." Ensign McCarthy said as he worked his thruster controls.

There was a long moment of silence before Lieutenant T'Laraan said, "Separation complete."

"Proceed to the rendezvous coordinates at best possible speed. Call us immediately if you run into any problems at all." Lance said seriously.

"As you say, Captain." T'Laraan said with full Vulcan control.

"We'll be back to you as soon as we've checked on the colonists." Lance promised, then turned to the helm and continued, "Helm guy, put us on course to Tengas IV, best possible speed."

"Aye sir." Ensign McCarthy said seriously as he worked his station.

Vincent went through his Deflector Control panel to be sure that all the systems were operating as they should.

"Communications, see if you can raise the Marshall colony." Lance said as he looked over Ensign McCarthy's shoulder to see the course he had plotted.

"No response. Not even a transponder link." Commander Dickman said carefully.

Lance looked up, then said, "That would either mean that the signal is being jammed at it's source..."

"...or that the colony has been destroyed." Vincent added quietly.

* * * * *

Vincent felt the simulated sensation of the ship moving at high warp.

Even though his logical mind knew that it wasn't real and the sensations were only pale imitations of the real thing, he still felt his adrenaline begin to rise.

Vincent's mind began to race over what had happened so far and what was likely to happen next.

"This is stupid." Lance said in frustration.

Vincent glanced over at Lance curiously.

"We're going into this blind. If this was for real, we'd know who was attacking the colony." Lance said irritably.

Vincent thought about the words, then said, "No. We wouldn't."

Lance looked at Vincent with question.

"When we were on our way to Kimber IV, it was something like this. The Federation lost contact with the colony and the Yorktown was sent to see what was wrong. All we could do is guess about what it might be and be as prepared as possible. Every department on the ship was preparing for every possible thing they could think of that might have gone wrong." Vincent said quietly.

"Kimber IV? Crewman Winters... that was you?" Ensign McCarthy asked suddenly.

"What are you talking about?" Lance asked curiously.

"He's the kid that went into the reactor! He's the Hero of Kimber!" Ensign McCarthy said imploringly.

"I remember hearing about that." Lance said slowly, then looked to Vincent and cautiously said, "But I thought that kid was really little."

"Yeah. That was me. Whenever they talk about me on the news, they always use my Starfleet ID picture from when I first signed up. I've grown a lot since then." Vincent said with a chuckle, then quickly added, "But I guess I haven't grown up enough, since you're calling me Pee Wee."

"It's lucky for us that you're here. I think we're going to need all the help we can get." Ensign McCarthy said with a smile at Vincent.

"Hold on." Lance said as he looked at the display in the arm of his command chair.

"I hope that luck holds out for us. I'm detecting two Romulan ships in orbit of Tengus IV and another approaching." Lance said as he looked at his readings carefully, then quietly added, "And it looks like the colony has been completely destroyed."

There was a moment of silence. Even though everyone knew that it was a simulation, it was still impossible to dispel the emotional impact of losing an entire colony.

"Shields!" Lance called out in sudden panic.

"Aye, Sir." Vincent said immediately as he brought the defensive shields up to full power.

"Helm, get us out of here." Lance barked suddenly.

"Yes Sir." Ensign McCarthy responded quickly.

"Brace for impact!" Lance said in a panic as he gripped his chair.

Vincent grabbed onto his deflector control panel and kept his full attention on the shield status. If he saw that the shields were starting to drop, he knew that he could activate the secondary system with the touch of one button.

The room jolted at the impact of the Romulan disruptor blast on the shields.

"Helm? Why aren't we moving?" Lance asked in panic.

"I... I don't know... we can't establish a warp field." Ensign McCarthy said in confusion as he worked his controls.

Another blast rocked the ship and the room went dark for a moment, except for the light emitted by the control panels.

"If warp engines won't work, then use thrusters." Vincent called out urgently as he maintained his focus on the shield output.

"Right. Right." McCarthy said as he worked his controls quickly.

Vincent's eyes went wide as he saw a dip in power as first one, then another of the deflector control systems failed.

Just as the shields were about to collapse, Vincent pressed the button to switch over to the secondary systems.

"We've lost primary shields. Secondary systems are stable and at full power." Vincent announced firmly.

After a moment to look over the damage reports, Vincent worked a few quick power shunts to reroute power through the more stable circuits so that if he needed to switch back to the primary system, it could be of some use.

"Helm, whatever you're going to do, do it now. I'm going to buy you as much time as I can." Lance said as he started firing the phasers.

"There's not much I can do. The warp engines won't work." Ensign McCarthy said helplessly.

"Guys! This was a trap. We were lured here. So there's probably something here that's disrupting our warp field. Maybe if you can back us away enough, you'll be able to get a warp field again." Vincent said as he watched his status board carefully.

"Pee Wee's right. Helm guy, reverse! Full thrusters!" Lance commanded.

"Aye sir. An exact reverse course." Ensign McCarthy said as he worked his controls furiously.

"It looks like whatever is keeping us from moving is causing our photon torpedoes to stall." Lance said from the weapons console, then the ship was rocked by another blast.

"Captain, we're being hailed by their lead ship. They're signaling for us to lower our shields and prepare to be boarded." Commander Dickman said, and Vincent noticed that he actually sounded concerned.

"Ya know what? I don't think so." The cadet-captain said, then began to fire full phasers at the three Romulan ships in rapid succession.

Suddenly, Vincent's console switched from it's usual LCARS configuration to a two-tone blue on black display. A chill went up Vincent's spine as he realized that he had lost the link to the main computer and was now in direct control of all Deflector Control's systems in the manual mode.

"We're at full thrusters on reverse course." Ensign McCarthy announced to the room.

The sound of phasers firing filled their ears as Lance tried to penetrate the Romulan shields with the force of his own will.

"Can you establish a warp field yet?" Lance called out over the sound of firing phasers.

"No, but we'll be at the point that we lost the warp field any second now." Ensign McCarthy said in a rush.

"Can you keep our shields up for that long, Pee Wee?" Lance asked as he switched his targeting.

Vincent was working furiously, shunting power through every stable system and conduit he could find. Finally he managed to respond, "You'd better make it quick. My systems are about to overload."

"Brace for impact!" Lance called suddenly.

Rather than the sound of disruptors impacting the shields, the cadet crew heard the sound of the ship entering high warp.

"Choke on this, you Romulan bastards!" Lance screamed as he launched a barrage of six photon torpedoes in rapid succession.

Vincent smiled as he checked over his systems and verified that all his systems were stable enough to handle warp speed.

"It looks like they weren't really in the mood for a fight after all." Lance said as he looked carefully at the scanners.

"I bet they were after our cargo. When we showed up without the saucer, they were still happy to destroy us, but there wasn't any point to chasing after us." Vincent said distractedly as he watched his console carefully.

Lance considered the words for a moment, then said, "Communications, would you contact the saucer section on a secure channel and request a status report? Helm guy, get us on course to meet up with them at best possible speed."

"Aye sir." Ensign McCarthy said quickly as he worked his controls.

"Good job guys." Lance said as he watched the sensors carefully.

"Saucer reports situation normal." Commander Dickman said from the communications console.

"Assess them of our situation and tell them to be on guard. If Pee Wee is right, the Romulans know what they're carrying and might still try to get it." Lance said seriously.

"Yes sir." Commander Dickman said with a grin, then started making his report.

"When you're done with that, get me a damage report and tell the repair crews to focus on weapons, shields and engines, in that order." Lance said quickly.

Vincent nearly broke into a laugh at Lance's way of addressing his crew, he was definitely not a seasoned Starfleet officer.

"Yes sir." Commander Dickman said with a slight grin.

"Shield status?" Lance called out, seemingly oblivious to what anyone else was doing.

As Vincent was about to answer, his console switched back to it's usual appearance, signalling that main computer access had been restored. With a relieved smile, he said, "Stable."

"Good. Helm guy? I have no idea what your name is but you did a great job back there." Lance said with a timid smile.

"My name is Aidan McCarthy, and thanks. I think you did a great job, too." McCarthy said shyly.

"What's our engine status, McCarthy?" Lance asked in a more relaxed voice.

"Warp eight point four. I've programmed a hyperbolic course to intercept the saucer where they should be if they maintained their course at maximum impulse." Ensign McCarthy said seriously.

"Eight point four? Do you think you might be able to squeeze a little more out of her?" Lance asked hopefully.

"No sir. I don't think so, but I'll see what I can do." McCarthy said as he retuned his warp field to try to coax a little bit more speed out of the ship.

"Right. Everyone, don't relax just yet. We might still be in store for another fight before we get our cargo safely delivered." Lance said as he watched the sensors carefully.

* * * * *

After long silent minutes of everyone working, Commander Dickman stood from his station and said, "As much as I would like to take this scenario to it's conclusion, we do actually have a time limit."

Everyone on the battle bridge looked at Commander Dickman with question.

"This exercise is over." Commander Dickman said, and a moment later, all the stations went dark and silent as the overhead lights came up to full illumination.

"Cadet crew, go to the lounge to wait for your evaluation. Captain Sulu and I will meet you there." Commander Dickman said, then walked to the turbolift to leave the battle bridge.

Vincent walked with Ensign McCarthy and Lance to the turbo lift a moment later and boarded it in silence.

* * * * *

When the doors opened, they stepped onto the main bridge where the rest of the cadet crew was waiting.

"How are you guys?" Lance asked cautiously.

"The saucer section proceeded on course, as per your orders." Lieutenant T'Laraan said calmly.

"Let's go to the lounge and wait for our evaluation." Lance said with distraction.

The rest of the cadet crew gathered behind Lance and followed him out of the 'bank vault' door.

* * * * *

"How do you think we did?" Lance asked as soon as they were all in the lounge.

No one seemed to be inclined to answer, so Vincent said, "We kept our cargo safe and didn't let the colony go without doing everything in our power to help... I think we did good."

Lance slowly nodded, but didn't seem to be sure.

"I concur with Ensign Winters' assessment. When faced with two diametrically opposed imperatives, you found a way to achieve both your dissimilar goals. I respect your decisions." T'Laraan said impassively.

Lance looked at T'Laraan with surprise at the statement, then broke into a smile.

"This exercise has shown me that I still have a lot to learn, but I think I just got a taste of what it really means to be in command... there's no way they could have taught that in a text book." Lance said introspectively.

"I think that someone who only learned this stuff from a book would have ignored the distress call and just followed his orders." Vincent said frankly.

"Yeah, probably. I might have done that too, except that I grew up in a colony. I know what it feels like to wonder if an attack is going to come and if there will be a starship close enough to do any good. When a colony needs help, we need to defend them. That's what they're depending on us to do. Orders or no orders, that's part of our job, too." Lance said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.

"Yeah. I think that understanding that, is what makes the difference between a leader and a follower." Vincent said consideringly.

"Cadets. Please take your seats so I can give you your group evaluation." Commander Dickman said firmly as he walked into the room.

The members of the group found seats and waited expectantly.

"Well, as you probably already guessed. You passed." Commander Dickman said with a note of pride in his voice.

After a moment for the words to sink in, he continued, "I think it's important to mention that after a saucer separation, the ship would have to travel to a space station and would need to be in dock for an extended period of time to be rejoined. For that reason, Starfleet discourages the practice... so don't make it a habit."

Captain Sulu stepped forward and said, "When faced with a distress call, your captain made a judgment call that was a bit unconventional. Let me tell you from personal experience, that happens. But leaving that aside, it was the reactions of you, the crew, that we were most interested in. You supported your captain's decision and worked without deviation to carry out his orders. Beyond that, you offered your insights and suggestions to help him achieve his goals. I believe you have demonstrated the characteristics of a fine crew."

Commander Dickman nodded his agreement and said, "I think you've shown that you have what it takes to function as a cohesive team. And just so you know, it usually takes teams three or four simulations before they reach this point. You've done very well."

"However, you still have a lot to learn. Although you did well as a group, there were areas where each of you could improve. This afternoon we will be having one on one discussions with each of you so the learning process can begin." Captain Sulu said seriously.

Lance slowly stood and said, "Before we leave, I'd like to thank all of you for trusting me. I don't know if I was really ready for this, but I know for sure that it wasn't me that passed this test, it was all of us together. If I'd been with another crew, I probably would have crashed and burned."

After a long silent moment, Vincent stood and said, "Maybe, but none of us would have passed this test without a good captain to lead us."

"Well said." Captain Sulu said with approval, then continued, "And I'd like to thank Crewman Winters for taking part in this exercise. I have a feeling that this might have turned out very differently without his participation."

Vincent shyly smiled at Captain Sulu's praise.

"Yeah. When I found out that he was the guy from the Kimber colony rescue, I figured that he probably knew what he was talking about." Lance said timidly.

"Crewman Winters was also instrumental in thwarting a plot against the Holy One of the Okudai and has the distinction of being the only person in Starfleet to be welcomed aboard a Gorn vessel." Captain Sulu said seriously.

"You're going to make me get a swelled head." Vincent mumbled shyly.

Chuckles spread through the group at the timid words.

"Cadets, report to your usual classes after lunch. Either Captain Sulu or I will meet with you there. Until then, you're dismissed." Commander Dickman said in a relaxed tone.

Vincent waited for the cadets to leave, then asked Captain Sulu and Commander Dickmann, "Did anyone say where I was to report to next?"

Commander Dickman smiled at Vincent and said, "Yes. After lunch you are to report to room 215 for your policy exam."

"Thank you, Commander." Vincent said sincerely.

"No. Thank you Crewman. I think your presence in today's simulation did more good for that group of cadets than a year of instruction." Commander Dickman said frankly.

"I was glad to help. Oh, and by the way..." Vincent trailed off cautiously.

Commander Dickman and Captain Sulu waited expectantly.

"As soon as I walked in here I knew that was a two-way mirror." He said as he pointed at the mirrored wall.

Commander Dickman laughed and said, "Just don't tell the cadets. There are some days we learn more about how the cadets are going to work out in here than we do in the simulator. Although I could have done without a close-up look at Cadet Price's blemish."

Vincent smiled as he said, "Yeah, I thought about that when he walked up to the mirror. I won't tell anyone it's a two-way mirror, I promise."

"Thank you Crewman Winters. It's been a pleasure to get to meet you." Captain Sulu said with a warm smile.

Vincent looked up at Captain Sulu curiously and said, "A while back, I remember hearing something about a rooster tail and the Golden Gate bridge... Did you end up having to pay that ticket?"

Captain Sulu looked at Vincent with surprise for a moment, then broke into a grin as he said, "Yes, I did. And I still need to have a nice long talk with your clan's patriarch about that."

* * * * *

"Hey, would you guys mind if I sit with you?" Vincent asked as he carried his tray from the cafeteria food line.

"Sit down. I was hoping you were going to have lunch with us. I have about a zillion questions for you." Ryan said cheerfully.

Vincent looked around and noticed that the entire group that had been on the simulator were sitting together... like a real team.

"Crewman Winters... I'm glad you're here. I really wanted to tell you that I'm sorry about that pygmy crack." Lance said uncomfortably, as he picked at his food.

"Actually, I thought that one was funny. It's Pee Wee that didn't work for me." Vincent said with a smile then started eating.

"Yeah, sorry. I just have trouble remembering people's names." Lance said in a low voice.

"No problem." Vincent said without concern, then took another bite.

"Wow, you must be hungry." Ryan said as he looked at Vincent's plate.

"Yeah. I didn't even know I was hungry until I smelled the food." Vincent said between bites.

"So you're really an active duty crewman huh?" Lance asked awkwardly.

"Yeah, for a few months now. I'm on shore leave while the Yorktown is getting refit." Vincent said with a smile at Lance.

"What's it like to really be out there? I mean as part of the crew." Ryan asked with a smile of wonder.

Vincent stopped and thought for a moment before saying, "No two days are exactly the same. Some days are boring, some are exciting and some are even a little scary."

"But you got to shut down a reactor that was about to go critical and save hundreds of lives! I can only imagine being able to do something like that!" Ryan said excitedly.

Vincent shook his head and said, "I did that because there was no one else who could do it. I was just the smallest crewman on the ship. It's an exciting story, but that was just one day out of the past few months. I've done other things that weren't as exciting, but were just as important."

"Really? Like what?" Chrysta asked curiously.

"Well, like Captain Sulu was saying, I was assigned to escort the Holy One of the Okudai while he was on board our ship. It doesn't sound like that big a deal when we're sitting here, but when I was there... I don't even know how to describe it. Everyone in the Okuda system worships him... more than that, they love him. Billions of people love him and I had the chance to get to know him and become his friend." Vincent said distantly.

"Okuda? I think I remember hearing about them. Aren't they a xenophobic race with closed borders?" Lance asked curiously.

"Yeah. But that may be changing soon. They're having an election right now, but as soon as everything is all settled they're going to ask the Federation to send the Yorktown back to Okuda so maybe we can start having some kind of trade with them." Vincent said happily.

"So it's like you were there to see history being made." Chrysta said speculatively.

"Yeah. I guess I was." Vincent said with a smile.

Silence fell over the table for a moment, as everyone got back to the business of eating.

"Lieutenant T'Laraan, which house are you from?" Vincent asked casually before taking a bite of his food.

"The house of Sukaan." T'Laraan said simply.

"Really? That's my wife's house. Do you know T'Lani, daughter of Sufaal?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Sufaal is my uncle. I have spoken to T'Lani on occasion but not for several years." T'Laraan said seriously.

"Hold up a second." Lance said firmly, then continued, "Did you say wife?"

"Yeah. I've been married for a couple months now. My wife is on Vulcan trying to get her healer's certification. If she can get it done in time, she's going to be a doctor." Vincent said casually, then took another bite of his food.

"I noticed from the crest on your uniform that you are a member of Clan Short of the house of Surak." T'Laraan said quietly.

"Yeah. They're the ones who set it up with Starfleet so I could get into the mentoring program." Vincent said happily.

"Did you say something before about you being here today to take your officer's exam?" Lance asked uncertainly, apparently not sure if he were remembering correctly.

"That's right. But they decided to count my Starfleet service in place of the operations test so I had time to do the simulator with you." Vincent said, then took the last bite of his food.

"Do you still have more testing to do?" Ryan asked curiously.

"Yeah. I'll be taking my policy exam right after lunch... in fact, I'd better get going. It's almost time." Vincent said, then drank down the last of his juice.

"I believe the appropriate Human expression in this circumstance would be, 'good luck'." T'Laraan said calmly.

Vincent smiled as he stood and said, "Thank's T'Laraan. I hope everyone's meetings go well. Just remember, even if you have stuff that you still need to learn, you're already a crew, that's the big thing."

"Yeah. Good luck on your exam Crewman Winters. We'll all be rooting for you." Ryan said happily.

Vincent waved that he heard as he dropped off his tray at the cafeteria window.

* * * * *

"Time." The examiner said from the front of the nearly empty classroom.

Vincent smiled as he signed off his terminal.

He had finished the questions early and even had time to go back through them to make sure none of them were trick questions.

"Crewman Winters?" The examiner called from the front.

Vincent walked to the desk and waited.

"I have a message that you are to proceed to room 112 to receive your test scores." The examiner said seriously.

"Thank you." Vincent said happily.

* * * * *

"Go right in Crewman Winters, he's waiting." The lieutenant at the desk said as soon as Vincent stepped into the room.

Vincent didn't even slow down on his way to Commander De Gama's office.

"Crewman Winters reporting as ordered, sir." Vincent said as he stood to attention.

Commander De Gama smiled and said, "At ease Crewman, have a seat."

"Thank you sir." Vincent said happily as he sat down in the chair.

"I take it from your expression that you already know your results." Commander De Gama said with a smile.

"Well, I think I aced the policy exam. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be." Vincent said happily.

"Not too many people say that. Most get bogged down in the Starfleet codes." Commander De Gama said casually.

Vincent chuckled, then said, "Well, I didn't realize it until I started studying, but I knew most of the codes before I even entered Starfleet. I guess I spent most of the last three or four years studying everything I could find about Starfleet and had already read them so much that I just knew them."

"Let's see." Commander De Gama said as he looked at his terminal screen for a moment, then said, "There's one other thing we need to discuss before we can proceed."

Vincent waited anxiously until Commander De Gama finally said, "Your counseling."

"Oh yeah. That." Vincent said in a small voice.

"Of course your counseling is private and I don't need to know why you're seeing a counselor. But I do need to be aware of any potential problem before you can be considered for a commission. I've gone through the notes in your service record and had a talk with your counselor. Do you think that you're emotionally fit for command?" Commander De Gama asked curiously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then quietly said, "Yes sir. I know that I am. I still have a few things that I'd like to work out with Tony, that's my counselor, but I'm pretty sure it's no worse than anyone else's stuff."

Commander De Gama smiled and said, "Well, it seems that your counselor agrees with you. He said that, in his opinion, you are emotionally stable and any further counseling you might undergo would simply be for your own piece of mind."

"I didn't know he thought that, but that's exactly how I feel about it, too." Vincent said happily.

Commander DeGama started keying something in on his terminal. After a moment, he turned the monitor so that it was visible to Vincent.

"Since you're a crewman, the process to receive a commission is a bit different for you than it would be for a cadet from the academy. You've demonstrated that you have a reasonable grasp of the academic skills required to perform the job. But to be an officer also requires that you have a particular set of social skills." Commander DeGama said seriously.

Vincent glanced at the blank screen of the monitor, then back at Commander DeGama and nodded.

"It is for that reason, when a crewman is considered for a commission, we interview some of the officers he or she has had contact with for an assessment of the crewman's capabilities, to be sure that they're up to the job. Occasionally, an officer may choose not only to give their assessment but also their personal recommendation, which weighs heavily in the crewman's favor." Commander DeGama said carefully.

Vincent stared at the commander anxiously, hoping that someone had chosen to do that for him.

"As an ultimate show of support, an officer may also request to be present when the crewman receives his commission, to stand with him, so to speak. Of course, there are times when they can't be physically present, so they attend via subspace." Commander DeGama finished with a smile.

Vincent looked quickly at the viewscreen, hoping that one of the officers that he had served with would step forward and do something like that for him.

"Marge, send them in." Commander DeGama said into his intercom, then pressed a button on his terminal.

The screen filled with the image of Commander Sturgill. Vincent smiled when he saw her and saw her smile at him in return. Then, the screen split and Lieutenant Walking Bear's image was beside Commander Sturgill's. Vincent glanced at Commander DeGama, but before he could say anything, the screen split again to show Lieutenant Simms and Dr. Christine Chapel. When it split again, he saw Sean & Cory, Lieutenant Clark, Admiral Kincaid and Lieutenant Patterson.

As Vincent turned to ask Commander DeGama if this meant that they were all supporting him, he saw his Daddy Joe, Commander Dodds, and Captain Byrne walk into the office as a group.

"You did it, Vincent." Joe said proudly.

"You've done well, Ensign Winters. I am proud to have you representing the Yorktown." Captain Byrne said as he extended a hand to shake.

"Ensign?" Vincent asked cautiously, then looked to Commander DeGama with question, since no one had said the 'official' words.

Commander De Gama walked around the desk and said, "Vincent Winters, you have passed all the required tests and demonstrated a working knowledge of the fundamental principles of command. I am pleased, on behalf of Starfleet, to offer you the rank of Ensign. Do you accept this commission?"

"Yes sir, I do." Vincent said professionally.

"Then here you go, Champ." Joe said as he held out a uniform jacket with a rank insignia already attached to the shoulder strap.

Vincent turned the jacket to look at the Clan Short crest on the sleeve before putting it on over his crewman's jumpsuit.

Commander De Gama extended his hand as he said, "Congratulations, Ensign Winters."

Vincent shook the offered hand and said, "Thank you, sir."

He glanced at the monitor and was surprised to see that the screen had split at least two more times. The individual windows were so small he couldn't make out who all of them were.

"I can't wait to tell T'Lani about this." Vincent said in a voice that barely concealed his happiness.

"Before you do that, I have one more thing for you." Captain Byrne said seriously.

Vincent looked up at Captain Byrne with question at the statement.

Without a word, Captain Byrne placed a gray bundle of cloth into Vincent's hands.

And the Adventure Continues...

Editor's Notes:
I find myself drying my eyes once again, which often happens to me while reading a chapter from MultiMapper.

I have waited a long time to see this chapter come to light.

This chapter was conceived several years ago, as MultiMapper came up with the concept. The reason it has taken as long as it has for us to see it completed, is that the overall storyline has only now reached the point where the things happening in this chapter could have taken place.

I find it interesting to note that without Vincent being involved with the simulation, I don't think the others would have been willing to form the bond that occurred among the entire team and the mission might have failed completely.

I also don't think it is a true coincidence that many times when Vincent becomes involved in a situation that very often one or more good things come out of the situation.

He has developed a talent he has which allows him to somehow do or say the very thing that is needed to improve what is happening and bring about something better than what would have happened without his presence.

I'm hoping for a new chapter soon.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher