By MultiMapper
Copyright ©2002-2011 MultiMapper and CSU Productions.
All Rights Reserved.

For full disclaimer and Copyright information visit Copyright/Disclaimer Page. Continuation of viewing this document is deemed acceptance of all terms on the preceding link. While these stories are provided for free, I would appreciate it if those who were able would consider contributing to this artist via my Patreon.

Chapter 6

"Well, looky here. I guess Horton didn't drop out after all."

"Good thing. I've been wantin to get a piece of that since day one."

"The lab rat looks really pretty today."

"I bet he smells nice too."

"Come on precious, I bet you wanna show me how much you missed me, don't'cha?"

"Awww, Stan. Can't you see that he's shy? I bet he just needs to be encouraged."

"C'mon Horton. Why don't you give me a kiss. Right... down... here."

* * * * *

As Valentine walked into the side door of the main building, he heard what sounded like a scuffle and taunting whispers from a side hallway beneath the staircase to his right.

"I'll catch up to you. I need to check something." He told Terry as he went to investigate.

After breaking away from the group, it only took a moment for Valentine to realize what he was seeing.

Mike was being forced to his knees as five larger and stronger cadets were mocking and taunting him.

"Stop!" Valentine called as he rushed forward.

The five looked up with surprise as the large Vulcan approached.

"This ain't none of your business. We're just havin some fun." One of the cadets said as he turned to fully face Valentine.

"It doesn't look like it's too much fun for Mike." Valentine said as he came to a stop. "Let him go."

"Do you think you can take all of us?" The cadet asked in a challenging voice.

"He won't have to." Terry said as he stopped at Valentine's side and turned off the compensators on his wrists.

"Let. Him. Go." Valentine growled.

"Or what?" The cadet asked as he tightened his grip on Mike's shoulder.

"Screw this!" Terry said, as he stepped forward and grabbed the cadet's wrist.

Valentine noticed that Mel and Sharan were now on either side of him and looked to be ready for anything.

"Don't let them hurt Terry." Valentine said under his breath, then quickly added, "And don't let them get away."

Terry's crushing grip on the cadet's wrist forced him to let go of Mike.

Valentine glanced over his shoulder, then asked, "Troy, would you and Phillipa get Mike back to the barracks?"

"Sure thing, Big Guy." Troy said immediately.

Valentine then looked Mike in the eyes and quietly said, "Come on, Mike. Go back to the barracks with Troy and Phillipa. Remember that we've got class soon and you'll need to be calm and be professional."

"Right." Mike said in a trembling voice, then rushed past Valentine.

As soon as Mike was far enough down the hall that he couldn't hear, Valentine quietly said, "Juan, go get Dr. White and bring him here."

"Are you sure?" Juan asked uncertainly.

"Yes. Do it now." Valentine said firmly.

"What do you think you're gonna do to us?" The cadet asked as he tried to jerk his hand away from Terry.

"We're going to prevent you from hurting anyone else." Valentine said coldly.

One of the cadets moved toward Terry, but as soon as he was within reach, Terry flicked him away as though he were a fluff in the wind.

"Fuck this. I'm outta here." Another of the cadets said as he tried to rush away.

Before he could take two steps, Sharan was blocking his escape.

"Hey Val, are you any good at that Vulcan nerve pinch thing I've heard about?" Melanie asked playfully as she watched the five cadets in front of her carefully, ready to move in an instant.

"No. I am not. I'm afraid that the consequence of my attempt to use that technique could prove to be fatal." Valentine said, then dodged to one side to prevent the escape of another of the cadets.

"I'm okay with that." Melanie said as she grabbed the man by the arm, and in one swift move sent him hurling to the floor at the feet of his buddies.

"Perhaps, but I believe that beating them to a bloody pulp would be more satisfying." Valentine said frankly.

"Now you're talking." Terry said as he released the wrist of the cadet that seemed to be the leader, then stepped back to Valentine's side.

The cadet cradled his wrist and looked around nervously. When he realized that there was no escape, he whined, "Come on guys, it was just a joke."

"Yet, I'm not laughing." Valentine said dryly.

"Is there a problem?" A voice called from behind them.

Valentine turned to see Dr. White approaching with Juan at his side.

"I believe we have discovered the source of Cadet Horton's difficulties." Valentine said frankly.

"Have you now?" Dr. White asked with interest.

"These guys were ganging up on Mike and had him forced down on his knees in front of this guy's crotch." Terry said frankly.

"I can imagine that a person would not want to look their best when being sexually propositioned and tormented in this manner." Valentine said reasonably.

"Yes. He might even become sullen and withdrawn." Dr. White said in a voice of resignation.

"Cadets Rice, Bolton, Lutz, Fuller and Mendoza, report to Commander De Gama's office." Dr. White said firmly.

"But it was just a joke." One of the cadets whined.

"Cadets, that wasn't an idle suggestion. Move." Dr. White said firmly.

"Do you need for us to go with you to give statements?" Terry asked quietly from beside Valentine.

"Let's see how this goes first. If we can get one of them to open up and unburden his soul, we won't even need Cadet Horton to give a statement." Dr. White said quietly, then gestured for Valentine's group to walk with him back toward the main hall.

"What about Mike? Doesn't he need to see a counselor after something like this?" Melanie asked from Valentine's other side.

"People deal with things in a lot of different ways. If Cadet Horton would like some suggestions about how to get past something like this, of course I'd be willing to do whatever I can. But the only way my counseling will be of benefit is if he comes to me seeking my help." Dr. White said frankly. "I'd better get to Commander De Gama's office to start sorting this out."

"We should get back to the barracks to check on how Mike is doing." Melanie said as they parted company with Dr. White at an intersection in the hallway.

* * * * *

As the group walked back into the barracks, they noticed that Mike was on his bunk, curled nearly into a fetal position with his headphones on and was facing the wall.

"How's he doing?" Melanie asked Troy with concern.

"He's been like that since we got here." Troy said helplessly. "Phillipa and I tried to talk to him, but he just won't listen."

Valentine walked to the edge of Mike's bunk and sat down.

"Mike." He said quietly as he gently placed a hand on Mike's shoulder.

"Don't touch me." Mike hissed.

"As you like." Valentine said softly as he removed his hand. "If you will answer two questions, I promise that I will leave you alone."

There was a long silent moment as Mike considered, then he quietly said, "Two questions."

"Do you remember why you are here? What it is that you hope to achieve?" Valentine asked gently.

After another long, silent moment, Mike reluctantly answered, "Yeah. I remember."

"Good. Then you know why you need to get up off your bunk and get ready for class." Valentine said seriously.

"Yeah." Mike said with resignation, then slowly began to uncurl himself and sit up. "What was your other question?"

"I've noticed that you're usually wearing headphones. What are you listening to?" Valentine asked curiously.

"That's your second question?" Mike asked incredulously.

"I've been curious." Valentine said frankly.

Mike reluctantly broke into a smile as he said, "1980's pop music. It... transports me... takes me away from everything for a while."

"Although I can understand the appeal of such a thing, I think that if you are going to succeed at the academy, you will need to be here." Valentine said apologetically.

Mike slowly nodded, then quietly asked, "What did you do to those guys?"

"We called Dr. White and he is going to deal with them." Valentine said frankly.

Mike got a pained look as he said, "Dr. White knows? He was the last person I wanted to find out about it."

"May I ask why?" Valentine asked curiously.

"Because now he'll probably want me to have therapy or treatments or something." Mike said irritably.

"No. He already told us that if you need his help, he will, of course, be willing to do whatever he can. But unless you ask him, he will assume that you are able to deal with this on your own." Valentine said frankly.

"He said that?" Mike asked with surprise.

"Yes. From what I have observed, he wants all of us to be self sufficient and will only involve himself when absolutely necessary." Valentine said simply.

"I'll remember that." Mike said thoughtfully.

"I believe it is nearing time for breakfast. Are you going to join us?" Valentine asked pleasantly.

"I... um... yeah. I guess." Mike said cautiously as he looked past Valentine at the others who were doing their best to look like they weren't paying attention.

"Let's go then." Valentine said as he stood.

"Yeah." Mike said as he scooted over on his bunk, then stood at Valentine's side.

As Valentine was about to step away, Mike put a hand on his elbow to get his attention.


* * * * *

"I guess I'll be the bad guy and ask the question." Melanie said as the group walked out of their barracks. "Who were those guys?"

Mike looked at her uncertainly for a moment, but something in her expression actually put him at ease. She wasn't judging him or looking down on him, she was just curious to know about what had happened.

"They were my old class group." Mike said hesitantly.

"Wait. So how did you get in with our group if they didn't flunk out?" Melanie asked cautiously.

"I asked to be moved to another group." Mike said simply. "They assumed that I flunked out. You guys thought that the rest of my class group had flunked out. No one had to explain anything."

"But didn't you have to explain to someone about why you wanted to change class groups?" Troy asked curiously.

"No. There's a form that you fill out. As long as you're willing to wait until the end of the term, no one asks any questions at all." Mike said frankly.

"It would have been nice if Phillipa and I had known about that, we would have filled out that form on the first day." Juan said frankly.

"Did you two have problems?" Troy asked curiously.

"You could say that." Juan said with a roll of his eyes.

"They put us in with a bunch of punks." Phillipa said bluntly, much to the surprise of everyone present.

Juan chuckled as he nodded in agreement.

"The only good thing about them is that they were stupid punks. They all flunked out by the end of the term. That's how we ended up with you." Phillipa finished with a smile.

"What about you Troy? Did you end up with punks too?" Terry asked with a grin.

"No. I got a bunch of superior, know-it-all, star jock, 'look at me, I was on the honor roll back in Dog Fart, Montana', assholes. They were so busy telling each other just how smart and popular and everything that they were before the academy that they didn't study. It was actually kind of sad to watch them crash and burn, one after another... it seems that none of them had ever failed at anything before. They never saw it coming."

"What the..." Melanie asked as they walked into the cafeteria to find it crowded with people.

"It wasn't like this on our first day." Terry said with confusion.

"Our first day wasn't the first day of the new regular term." Juan said frankly.

"So this is all the new regular term people, all the new accelerated term people and just a few like us, people who survive for more than a month." Troy said with a grin.

"We'd better jump onto a line and hope there's some food at the end of it. We don't have all morning." Melanie said apprehensively.

"Perhaps we should divide and conquer." Valentine suggested carefully.

"What do you have in mind?" Sharan asked curiously.

"Two of us get main courses for everyone, two get side dishes, two get drinks, and two get a table and hold it for us." Valentine said seriously.

"Mike and I are on drinks." Troy said quickly.

"Tables." Phillipa said with a grin.

"Terry and I would be honored to get side dishes." Valentine said with a warm smile.

"I hope you all like what I'm going to pick out for you, because that's what you're getting." Melanie said with a chuckle.

"You know of my preferences." Valentine said with a grin at Melanie.

"You'll get what you get 'Mr. Divide and conquer'." Melanie said playfully.

* * * * *

"What is it?" Terry asked as he looked at the plate of food Melanie placed before him.

"Does it matter?" Valentine asked simply.

"If I'm expected to eat it, it does." Terry said frankly.

"Bitch, bitch, bitch." Melanie said with exasperation as she picked up the plate.

"May I?" Sharan asked as he put out his hand for the plate of food.

Melanie handed it to him and watched as he placed it in the middle of the table. After that, he placed the rest of the main courses that they had selected from the serving line.

"These are the selections available. Take what you like." Sharan said to the others around the table.

Valentine and Terry exchanged a look, then scooted all the side dishes toward the center of the table.

When all was said and done, everyone at the table seemed to be happy with the divide and conquer strategy. Once everyone had made their selections, each pair had to fill in the others on their foraging adventures. By the time the topic had been exhausted, the meal was nearly over.

"I hate to think of how crowded the shower rooms are going to be this morning." Troy grumbled as they left the table.

"We didn't work out today, so there's no reason we should have to shower again." Valentine said carefully.

"Hey, yeah!" Troy said happily, "I'm just so used to automatically showering after breakfast that I didn't even think about it."

"Does everyone have their schedule set up for the next month?" Melanie asked cheerfully.

"Thanks to Troy, I do." Valentine said happily.

"What did Troy do?" Melanie asked curiously.

"He worked out my schedule so that it's possible for me to qualify for Starfleet service at the end of this term." Valentine said happily.

"He what? How did he do that?" Melanie asked with surprise.

"He asked me what my goal was, and when I told him, he looked through the classes and put together the best selection to reach that goal." Valentine said with a smile.

"Troy, do you think you could do that for me?" Sharan asked reluctantly.

"Sure, if you can tell me what you want to do, I'll work it out the best way that I can. I'm getting pretty good with the scheduling tricks." Troy said with a proud grin.

* * * * *

"Let's see what you've got, Sharan." Troy said as soon as they were back in the barracks.

"You saw everything that I've got last night... remember, I even thanked you for the compliment." Sharan said with a sly grin.

"Oh yeah, you did." Troy chuckled. "But how about this time you show me your bare naked class schedule?"

"If you like, I'm not shy." Sharan said as he brought up his class information on his padd.

"Hey Mike, do you have your schedule made out yet?" Terry asked casually.

"Yeah. I did it last night. It's pretty simple, I don't see what the big deal is." Mike said honestly.

"Well, it isn't a big deal for me. I'm just going to take the classes that I need to take until I've got all the credits that I need to graduate. But Val and Sharan are trying to do something else. They're both trying to qualify for Starfleet service before graduating."

"Why?" Mike asked curiously.

Terry shrugged and said, "You'd have to ask them."

* * * * *

"So, tell me, what is it you were trying to do with this?" Troy asked as he read through Sharan's path program.

"I wish to take all possible courses in my specialty, which is dynamic translation software, while also attempting to complete my Starfleet service requirements." Sharan said carefully.

"Then what's the deal with all these language classes?" Troy asked with a pained look.

"I thought they were necessary for the translation protocol." Sharan said hesitantly.

"Only if you're wanting to be an old fashioned, stone age, linguist. But if you're going to be a programmer specializing in translation software, you need to focus on the programming side of your training and let the computer handle the translating.

"I must have misinterpreted the requirements." Sharan said quietly.

"Yeah, they're written about as clear as mud." Troy said with a chuckle, then thoughtfully added, "At least you took a good solid base of classes last term, that helps. And I see that you've received some college credits for programming, that works for you too."

"Have you found something?" Sharan asked hopefully.

"I think it's going to depend on your threshold for dealing with bureaucratic bullshit." Troy said as he looked up from the padd.

"How do you mean?" Sharan asked hesitantly.

"How to put this..." Troy muttered as he worked through the menus of the padd. "I have seven classes loaded into your path, but you can't add the eighth class because it requires you to complete another class first."

"So I'll have to wait until next term to take the other class?" Sharan asked carefully.

"Sure, if you want to think inside their bureaucratic little box, you could do that." Troy said with a mischievous grin.

"I take it that you have another option in mind." Sharan said speculatively.

"Yeah. You see, this prerequisite class is just some stupid archaic thing about one programming language being derived from another even though they're actually two completely different and independent languages now..."

At Sharan's puzzled look, Troy rolled his eyes and said, "You know what? It doesn't matter. You need to get an override so you can take those two programming classes at the same time. If you can do that, you'll qualify for service at the end of this term."

"I will?" Sharan asked with surprise.

"Well, don't get your hopes up too much. You will be qualified to do exactly one thing. If no one needs you to do that one specific thing, then you'll be here at least one more term, learning general skills. I've heard this referred to as an 'all or nothing' gamble, they don't encourage students to do it." Troy said frankly.

"What will I need to do to get the override?" Sharan asked cautiously.

"Go with me while I get my overrides. I need to get three of them. I did this last term, so I know everything that you have to do." Troy said with a smile.

* * * * *

"Is everyone ready for class?" Valentine asked as he looked around the barracks.

"We've got our schedules planned out, what else do we need?" Melanie asked simply.

"Some of us have made a commitment to behave professionally during our class time hours. I just wanted to be sure that we were all prepared both physically and mentally for the task." Valentine said simply.

"I can do professional." Melanie said thoughtfully.

"I am always professional." Sharan said frankly.

Juan and Phillipa shared a look, then Juan announced, "Count us in."

"Give me a minute." Phillipa said quickly, then rushed to the lavatory.

"How about you, Mike? Are you ready?" Valentine asked quietly.

Mike looked down at himself, then up at Val and asked, "Am I?"

Valentine looked him over one time, then said, "Head up, shoulders back, chest out."

Mike did his best to stand with proper posture, but somehow gave the impression of being uncomfortably contorted.

Terry walked up beside Mike and said, "Imagine that there's an invisible string coming up from the top of your head. Feel that string being pulled up and let your body fall into line underneath it."

Mike looked uncertain, then tried again to straighten his posture.

"Let me pull the string, maybe that will help." Terry said with a smile, then put his hand over Mike's head and pretended to be pulling up on an invisible string.

"Up." Terry coaxed.

Mike stood straighter and even went up on his toes a little.

"Good. Hold it there." Terry said happily.

"Yes." Valentine said with approval. "You look... confident."

"I'm ready." Phillipa said as she rushed back into the room with her hair now pulled back from her face which looked very clean and professional. "Mike. I don't know what you did while I was in there, but keep doing it. You look good."

Mike actually smiled at the compliment.

Valentine looked over his bunkmates one last time to see that everyone was ready, then led the way out of their barracks.

* * * * *

"What a striking group." the female officer said as everyone took their seats.

"I will be your facilitator this term, I am Lieutenant Brandt. Since you are second term students, I'm sure you already know what our main focus will be today. I also wanted to mention that there will be lectures and workshops given throughout the term on certain topics that are related to many of your specialties. Attendance is, of course, completely optional, but more than a few students have come away from these events with a greater understanding of their study materials." The Lieutenant said seriously.

"For those of you that wish to celebrate the upcoming holidays by taking time off from the academy, simply get with me and I will arrange for you to get a pass. For those who don't, classes will continue without interruption." She said seriously.

"Now, if there are no questions of relevance to everyone, I'll let you get to the business of scheduling and I will be here if you have any questions or concerns." Lieutenant Brandt said in a pleasant tone.

As soon as she had taken her seat, Troy got up and walked to her desk.

"Cadet Sharan and I both need to get special permission to do some overrides on our classes." Troy said quietly.

"Let me see what you're wanting to do, maybe it's something I can help with." Lieutenant Brandt said helpfully.

Troy fought to maintain his professional demeanor as he took his hand written schedule out of his pocket.

After a moment of looking at the tentative schedule, she asked, "What was your name Cadet?"

"Cadet Crewman Evans." Troy said confidently.

Lieutenant Brandt brought his previous term grades up on her terminal, then looked up at Troy with wonder.

"I'm a good test taker." Troy offered quietly.

"I'd say so." Lieutenant Brandt muttered, then handed his schedule back to him.

"Considering what you achieved last term, I doubt that anyone will have a problem approving this." She said respectfully.

"Thank you for looking it over." Troy said courteously, then asked, "May Cadet Sharan also go with me?"

"Yes, of course." Lieutenant Brandt said pleasantly.

* * * * *

"So, what did we end up with this term? Any tortoises?" Melanie asked as they walked out of the classroom.

"What?" Phillipa asked with a giggle.

"Last term we had tortoises, who took only a few classes and hares who took a full load." Melanie explained happily.

"I think that compared to Troy, we're all tortoises." Sharan said frankly.

"Did you take your full load, Troy?" Melanie asked Troy curiously.

"Yeah." Troy said shyly.

"Then what the hell are you doing out here? You should be studying!" Melanie said playfully.

"Oh, I will be soon. Trust me." Troy said with a smile.

"What about you Mel, did you take another full load?" Valentine asked curiously.

"Yes. but since I trudged through most of the required stuff last term, I actually have classes about stuff I'm interested in this term. I'm looking forward to it." Melanie said happily.

"Terry?" Valentine asked to his side.

"I took the six classes I was planning on. I think I'm going to be alright." Terry said peacefully, then looked back and asked, "How about you Mike?"

"I... um, took eight classes. Six of them are lab studies." Mike said hesitantly.

"I have five lab studies. Maybe we'll be able to work together on some of them." Valentine said happily.

"Really?" Mike asked in amazement.

"Yes. If you wouldn't mind." Valentine said cautiously, not understanding what was bothering Mike.

Apparently, Mike noticed because he quickly explained, "My last class group thought I was stupid for wanting to work in the labs so much. They called me 'Lab Rat'. But I just learn things a lot better by doing them instead of reading about them."

"I think that I will also learn more in the lab environment. I didn't have cause to visit the labs last term, so maybe you could show me around." Valentine asked hopefully.

"Yeah. And the lab techs are great, I hope they're all still here this term. Every one of them knows just about everything there is to know about their labs." Mike said with excitement.

The rest of the group were taken aback at the transformation in Mike when he spoke about the labs. It was the first time any of them had seen him passionate about anything.

"Perhaps we could go after lunch?" Valentine asked with a smile.

"Yeah." Mike agreed happily.

* * * * *

"It looks like there are even more people than there were this morning." Terry said as he looked at the lines of people waiting for food.

"Divide and conquer?" Sharan asked frankly.

"Main courses." Terry said quickly, then added, "I'm strong enough to carry them all."

"Perhaps, but eight plates of food might be a bit awkward among so many people. I will help you." Sharan said seriously.

"We'll get the sides." Phillipa said quickly.

"Salads." Melanie said with a smile at Valentine.

"I'm on drinks." Mike volunteered.

"Desserts." Troy said quickly.

"I suppose that leaves me to find us a table." Valentine said with a smile at his friends.

* * * * *

After a few minutes of looking around the dining room, Valentine spotted a table of new cadet crewmen who seemed to be almost finished eating.

He tried to be unobtrusive as he waited for them to leave. (at least as unobtrusive as a 6'5" Vulcan built like a body builder can be)

The moment the last student got up from the table, Valentine moved into the nearest seat to stake his claim.

As soon as he was assured that the table was his, he looked toward the lines of people getting their food to see if he could find his classmates.

Since his attention was focused on what was happening on the other side of the room, a voice from behind him startled him.

"Are these seats being reserved?"

"Yes." Valentine said as he turned.

He froze at the sight of the young Vulcan woman, a cadet Lieutenant.

"Valaan?" She asked, actually betraying surprise in her voice.

"T'Laraan." Valentine responded in a bewildered tone, not even trying to suppress his emotions.

Sharan and Terry approached the table with main courses, but didn't interrupt Valentine's discussion.

"Did you arrive today?" T'Laraan asked cautiously.

"No. I have been here for one month in the accelerated training class." Valentine said in a more controlled voice. "And you?"

"I too am in my second term, although in the standard course of study." T'Laraan said calmly as Mike placed a tray of drinks on the table.

"Hey Val, who's your friend?" Troy asked as he placed several desserts in the middle of the table.

Valentine glanced away from T'Laraan for a moment and found that the rest of his class group had joined them.

"T'Laraan, these are my classmates..." Valentine stopped suddenly, then amended, " friends. Everyone, this is T'Laraan, my sister."

"There's an open seat. Would you like to join us?" Melanie asked quickly.

"Thank you, no. I was endeavoring to secure a table for my classmates." T'Laraan said formally to Melanie, then turned to Valentine and said more quietly, "I did not anticipate your presence."

"I didn't expect to see you here either. How are mother and father?" Valentine asked cautiously.

"Unchanged." T'Laraan said simply, masterfully hiding any trace of emotion in her response.

"I see it! I'm on it." Troy said suddenly and bounded away from the table, drawing Valentine and T'Laraan's attention.

"That group over there is leaving their table, Troy is claiming it for you." Melanie explained to T'Laraan.

"That is most kind." T'Laraan said tonelessly, then turned to face Valentine again and said, "I will take my leave."

"Live long and prosper." Valentine said quietly.

"Peace and long life." T'Laraan said formally, then after a nod to the others at the table, she withdrew.

"You never mentioned that you had a sister at the academy." Sharan said suspiciously.

"I did not know." Valentine said formally.

Hearing his own tone of voice, Valentine consciously worked to relax before continuing, "I haven't spoken to anyone in my family in about four years."

"That sucks." Juan said simply.

Valentine was caught off guard by the statement, and couldn't restrain a smile.

"Yes, Juan. It does." Valentine said with a grin.

* * * * *

Just as Valentine was about to take his first bite of salad, he noticed a cadet ensign roam past their table, carrying a tray full of food.

"We have room for one more if you'd like a place to sit." Valentine offered quickly, before he got too far away.

The cadet ensign looked back at Valentine uncertainly, not knowing if the offer had been directed at him.

"Come on and join us. You can scoot in right here." Terry said as he shifted over slightly to make a place for him.

"Thank you." The cadet ensign said uncertainly as he placed his tray on the table.

"I hope you guys don't mind being seen with a cadet officer." the newcomer said hesitantly as he looked around the group.

"I'd think you'd be more worried about being seen with a bunch of cadet crewmen." Melanie said playfully.

"There's nothing wrong with crewmen. Ask anyone from Kimber IV." the cadet ensign said with a smile.

Melanie chuckled at the response and nodded her agreement.

"My class group got booted out... which isn't actually a bad thing, except that it means that I'm kind of on my own when it comes to things like this." the young man said anxiously.

"You may be on your own, but you're not alone. I'm Valentine and you are welcomed here." Valentine said warmly.

"Thanks. I'm Liam." the young cadet ensign said shyly.

"What happened for your class group to get kicked out? I mean, if you can talk about it." Terry asked curiously.

"Oh, it was just a stupid prank. They were being jerks and hacked the personnel files to falsify the records of some of our classmates. Believe me, the academy is better off without them." Liam said frankly.

"I thought I heard something about that happening last term." Sharan said cautiously.

"Yeah. It was early last term when they got caught. I got thrown in with another group but, I don't know what happened, we never really clicked." Liam said uncomfortably.

"Some of us went through that." Terry said with surprise.

At Liam's curious look, he continued, "There were four of us, me, Val, Mel and Sharan. Four other people were moved in with us. We lived together for about a week before they washed out. They were nice and friendly and all that, but they never became part of us."

"Yeah. When they finally left, we weren't happy about it or anything, but we weren't really that sad either." Melanie said frankly.

"It's good to know that I'm not the only one that's happened to." Liam chuckled.

"Well, since today is the start of a new term, maybe you could get in with another class group if you asked." Juan said speculatively.

"I sort of already did. I was placed with another group this morning... but I'm not one of them." Liam said regretfully.

"Is that by your choice or theirs?" Sharan asked curiously.

"It's mutual." Liam said honestly. "They're a group of friends who've been together since the beginning, kind of like you four, I guess. Since I'm in my last term, it's a little bit late for me to try to become part of their dynamic."

"So you're in accelerated training?" Sharan asked curiously.

"I wasn't before, but now I am. The way it worked out I could either take one month or four months to accomplish the same thing, so I switched to the accelerated track to finish early and getting switched to another class group was just an added bonus."

"That makes good sense. We're all in the accelerated course." Valentine said proudly.

"Yeah, and half of us were just added to this group yesterday and we're already a team... at least as far as I'm concerned." Phillipa finished timidly.

"We are." Melanie assured her.

"That's great. I didn't know that the crewmen had teams like that. I kind of thought that all of you were working on your own thing." Liam said with interest.

"That reminds me..." Terry said suddenly. "...that food in the middle of the table is up for grabs. Help yourself to anything you like."

At Liam's questioning look, Sharan explained, "We split up and each went to a different serving line to get food for everyone. Then when we arrived at the table, everyone took what they wanted."

"I guess that proves it, you guys are a team." Liam said with a chuckle, then took a small bowl of sliced kiwi fruit from the middle of the table.

"Those are very good." Valentine said, indicating the bowl of kiwi fruit that he also had.

Liam looked at Valentine curiously for a moment, then cautiously said, "You're not like most of the other Vulcans that I've met."

Before Val could respond, Terry quickly said, "Yeah. We really lucked out."

Valentine couldn't help but smile at the comment.

"Well, I don't know much about what cadet crewmen do. What do you have going on next?" Liam asked curiously.

"Mike and I will be going to the labs." Valentine said simply.

"That's Mike." Terry said, pointing down the table and Mike raised his hand in a slight wave in response.

"The rest of us will probably begin studying. We learned last term that we shouldn't waste even a minute of our time." Melanie said seriously.

"Juan and I were talking about taking Christmas day off to spend with my family. But after that, we'll be right back studying with the rest of you." Phillipa said quietly.

"That sounds nice. I'd love to take Sharan home to meet my family, but I'm afraid they wouldn't let me have him back when it's time to go." Melanie said with a chuckle.

"I'm just going for Christmas day but I'll be back as soon as I possibly can. In fact, I'll be lucky if I can make it through the whole day with my family." Troy said reluctantly.

"How bad is it going to be?" Melanie asked cautiously.

"They're going to treat me like I'm five years old. At the dinner I'll have to sit up straight and be quiet. After that I'll have to go outside and play with the kids." Troy said in a diminishing voice, then added. "I don't play."

"Well, as bad as it gets, I think it will still be better with your family than without them." Terry said frankly.

"Are you going to do anything for Christmas, Terry?" Melanie asked quietly.

"My family never really celebrated Earth holidays. I guess it would have been impossible to get a Christmas tree on Tellar... although it might have been fun to try to explain to the shopkeepers what we were looking for." Terry finished with a grin.

"Why don't we have a Christmas tree in our barracks?" Valentine asked curiously.

"I suppose we could. Would any of you object to that?" Melanie asked as she looked around the table.

After a moment, Melanie asked, "Then why don't you let Sharan and me worry about getting the tree."

"What about presents?" Troy asked cautiously.

"I'm not really interested in doing that. Anyone else?" Melanie asked curiously.

"How about..." Phillipa began to say, then thought better of it.

"Go on. You had an idea?" Melanie asked gently.

"Every year my parents make a really big deal out of getting one new ornament for the tree. The tree has twenty two ornaments, one for each year they've been married." Phillipa said carefully.

"That sounds nice." Melanie said with a smile.

"Well, since this will probably be our only Christmas together, I was thinking, that maybe everyone could just get an ornament for our tree. That way all of us will be able to add something to the celebration but it won't take a lot of time or trouble or money." Phillipa said in a rush.

"I like that." Terry said with a gentle smile at Val.

"Yes. I think that is an excellent idea." Valentine said happily.

"Liam, before you can even think otherwise, you're part of this too." Melanie said firmly.

"I am?" Liam asked cautiously.

"Yes. We're in D 7 T. Of course, you'll be welcomed there any time but we'll be expecting you to come by and add an ornament to our tree." Melanie said dramatically.

"And for the rest of the term, you've got a place to sit at lunch or whatever meal is going on." Valentine said seriously.

"Don't even think about begging off, you've been adopted." Terry told him frankly.

"I have?" Liam asked with a chuckle.

"Don't bother fighting it. They won't let you get away." Mike said grimly.

"Yeah, Mike fought us a little bit, but we finally won him over." Terry said cheerfully.

"They're relentless." Mike said with a barely restrained smile.

"Then I guess I have no choice. Yes, I'll bring an ornament for the tree and yes, I'll plan on taking meals with you guys for the rest of the term." Liam relented.

"Good. Now that that's settled, we'd better get down to some serious eating. I think all of us have other things that we need to get to work on." Sharan said frankly.

Terry smiled as he said, "You're right Sharan, as usual."

* * * * *

As the days passed in the first week of their second term, Valentine began to notice that Mike seemed to have something weighing heavily on his mind. While they were together in the lab, Mike was consumed by their work and seemed to be at peace. But outside the lab setting, he seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Since Valentine was, for the most part, unfamiliar with Human customs and what constituted 'normal' behavior, he was going to approach Troy or Melanie and seek their advice. But before he could do so, he noticed that they, also, seemed to be uncharacteristically anxious.

"Val, may I speak with you?" Aieyu asked as everyone was preparing to leave their morning training session.

"Yes. Of course." Val said immediately.

"I can see a difference in you, just between yesterday and today. It's as though a shroud of worry has covered your features and it pains me to see it. Please tell me, is it anything I can help with?" Aieyu asked gently.

Valentine gave a small, appreciative smile at Aieyu's concern for him and said, "Actually, what's bothering me is that something seems to be bothering my friends and I don't know how to help them."

Aieyu thought for a moment, then asked, "Is Terry one of those you're worried about?"

"No. So far Terry seems to be fine." Val said thoughtfully.

"Then consider talking to him to gain his insights on the matter. I can sense your bond with him. It is strong and very beautiful. Be his strength, and in an instance such as this, let him be yours." Aieyu said gently.

"I will. Thank you." Valentine said, feeling very contented at that moment.

Aieyu pointed toward the door and whispered, "He's waiting."

Valentine smiled, then hurried to join Terry who was resting against the doorframe.

* * * * *

As they were leaving the gymnasium, Terry decided to give Val the time and space that he needed to work out whatever was bothering him.

When they reached the barracks and Terry saw Val sit heavily on his bunk, his resolve crumbled.

"What's on your mind, Big Guy?" Terry asked as he sat on the bunk beside Val and hugged him gently. "It looks like something serious."

"I'm worried about our friends." Val said simply as he returned the hug.

"What's got you worried?" Terry asked curiously.

"Mike seems to be anxious about something. When we're outside the lab, he's almost... depressed." Val said carefully.

"Well, since I don't go to labs with you, I'll just have to take your word for it. He seems the same as always to me. I mean, he's nicer than when we first met him, but he's never exactly been a happy kinda guy." Terry said frankly.

"I've noticed that Troy is also exhibiting signs of anxiety. Is this some sort of Human condition that I haven't heard about?" Val asked with concern.

"If it is, it's one that I haven't heard of either." Terry said casually, then noticed the worried look on Melanie's face as she walked into the barracks.

Melanie didn't acknowledge either of them, she might not have noticed them. She just automatically climbed up to Sharan's bunk and sat down cross-legged.

"Perhaps I'm imagining it." Valentine said slowly.

"No. I think I see what you mean." Terry said thoughtfully. He seemed to be about to say something else, then stopped and looked up in realization.

"Do you know what it is?" Valentine asked hopefully.

"I think it's the holiday blues." Terry said as he looked around.

"I don't understand." Valentine said slowly.

"Well, I don't know much about it. But from what I've heard, sometimes people get anxious or depressed before Christmas. For some it's because they don't have anyone to share the holiday with. For others, it's because the holiday brings back a lot of memories, and when that happens, not all the memories are happy ones. It probably happens for all kinds of reasons." Terry said thoughtfully.

"What can we do to help our friends? I don't want for them to be miserable like this." Valentine said with a pleading look at Terry.

"I really don't know. This whole Christmas thing is as new to me as it is to you." Terry said frankly.

"I have an idea." Valentine said as he stood from his bunk.

Terry stood as well, then walked with Val to where Melanie was sitting cross-legged on Sharan's bunk, reading a padd.

"Melanie, I've noticed that you seem anxious about something. Is it something I can help with?" Valentine asked carefully.

After a moment, Melanie looked up at him, then slowly said, "I don't think so."

"Perhaps if you told us about your problem, we might come up with a solution that you had not considered." Valentine said slowly.

Melanie smiled, then said, "Thanks, Val, but I don't know if there is a solution."

Valentine gave a vulcanesque raise of one eyebrow as a prompt for her to continue.

Melanie chuckled at the action, then said, "I want to invite Sharan to go home with me for Christmas. But having him meet my family is kind of a big step and we haven't been together that long. I feel like, if I ask him, that I may be moving too fast and I might scare him away."

Valentine slowly nodded as he considered her problem.

"How would you feel about me meeting your family?" Terry asked curiously.

"I wouldn't have any problem with that. We both know that we're just friends." Melanie said frankly, then added with a grin, "I know they'd love you."

"So the problem isn't with the action of meeting your family, but with Sharan's perception of being invited." Valentine speculated.

Melanie considered for a moment, then said, "Yeah. It may be too soon for us to take that step."

"I think that the action will only have as much significance to Sharan as you tell him it does. I am not well versed in the nuances of Andorian socialization, but I would guess that their courting rituals are quite different from yours. I believe that if you tell him what it means to you, that he will accept you at your word and not read more into it." Valentine said carefully.

Melanie thought about it for a moment, then broke into a smile as she said, "Yeah! I wasn't even thinking about the cultural differences! That'll make it so much easier. I'm supposed to meet him in the rec room after my shower, I'll ask him then!"

Valentine smiled at Melanie's sudden happiness, and was surprised when she hopped down from Sharan's bunk and gave him a quick hug.

"Thanks, Val!" She said from the hug. "You always say that you're not like other Vulcans. Well, you're right. You're BETTER!"

Before Val could respond to that, Melanie raced out of the room.

"I wonder if Mike and Troy are going to react like that?" Terry asked with a chuckle.

"Troy, perhaps. Mike... doubtful." Valentine said as he tried to restrain a grin.

* * * * *

"It's back this way." Valentine said as he led Terry through the lab.

"I've never been in here before. This is kinda cool." Terry said as he looked around.

"Mike, do you have a minute to talk?" Valentine asked as he approached.

"Sure Val, I just wanted to double check everything so we can get this lab started right after lunch." Mike said as he fussed with a piece of equipment.

"What's that?" Terry asked quietly.

"A distribution node." Val answered, just as quietly, then said to Mike, "I've noticed that outside the lab, you've been worried about something. I feel that since we've started working in labs together that we've become friends. So I wanted to ask if there is anything I can do to help with whatever is bothering you."

Mike stopped what he was doing, then slowly turned to look at Val.

"I realize that you're a very private person and that you may not want to share this with me. I can accept that. Please just know that I'm concerned and that if there's anything I can do to help, you only need to ask." Valentine said sincerely.

Mike's serious expression melted slightly, then he said, "Before I left for the academy, I made a promise. Now I have to keep it, and I really don't want to."

"It must be something really horrible from how it's making you feel." Terry said honestly.

"I promised my family that I'd be home for Christmas." Mike said frankly.

"What's wrong with that?" Terry asked curiously.

"You'd have to meet my family to understand." Mike said wearily.

Val thought for a moment, then said, "I could do that."

"Do what?" Mike asked cautiously.

"Meet your family." Val said simply. "If returning to spend time with your family is causing you anxiety, perhaps it would be easier if I accompanied you."

Mike shook his head as he said, "My family's not the type of people that you'd want to meet. They're the type of people you'd walk across the street to avoid."

"I don't speak much of my time before the academy. But I lived for several years in a community of outcasts, bartering my labor for food and shelter. For the most part, the people who make up that community are considered imperfect, like me. So, although I can't speak about your family specifically, I can say that, in general, I feel most comfortable with people who are not 'normal' by the conventional usage of the word." Valentine said honestly.

"Are you saying that you want to go home with me?" Mike asked slowly.

"I'm saying that if it will make returning to your home and visiting your family easier for you, that I would be willing to accompany you." Valentine said carefully.

Mike looked down and thought for a moment as Valentine gave Terry a questioning look, as if to ask 'how am I doing?'.

"Yeah." Mike said reluctantly. "If you're really sure you want to do it, I think that visiting my family would be a lot easier with your help."

"I will put in a request for a pass immediately." Valentine said with a slight smile.

"Okay. Then I'll make sure we have transportation there and especially back." Mike said seriously.

"Just let me know if there's anything I need to do." Valentine said quietly.

"Yeah. There's one thing." Mike said as he looked Valentine in the eyes.

Val quirked an eyebrow in response.

"Get out of here so I can get this set up for us to do our lab." Mike said with a grin.

"As you say." Valentine said formally, then gave a slight bow before withdrawing from the room.

Mike watched him leave, then after a moment was surprised to realize that he was smiling.

* * * * *

"Do you think you'll be okay missing a day of studying?" Terry asked as they walked down the hallway.

"Yes. With so many lab study courses, I don't need as much time doing book work. I can spare one day, and it's for a worthy cause." Valentine said honestly.

Terry slowly nodded, then suddenly said, "Troy!"

Valentine followed Terry's gaze and spotted Troy walking toward the library.

"Hey guys! What's going on?" Troy asked happily as he stopped and turned toward them.

"Actually, that was my question for you." Terry said as he walked quickly toward Troy.

"What do you mean?" Troy asked curiously.

"You've been in a blue funk for a few days. What's up?" Terry asked simply.

"I'm just anticipating the joys of Christmas." Troy said sarcastically.

"You said that your family treats you like a little kid, right?" Terry asked in confirmation.

"Yeah. It sucks." Troy said frankly.

"Do you think they'd still treat you that way if I went with you?" Terry asked curiously.

"Why would you go with me?" Troy asked cautiously.

Terry shrugged, then said, "Because I'm your friend."

Troy's incredulous stare prompted Terry to continue, "Maybe if you brought a friend home with you, it might not be so miserable for you. Or, if it is, at least you'd have someone to share it with."

"But don't you want to spend that time with Val?" Troy asked cautiously, then looked up at Valentine.

"He's going home with Mike." Terry said simply.

"You are?" Troy asked Val in surprise.

"Yes. For much the same reason that Terry is offering to accompany you to your home." Valentine said seriously.

"So what we're doing is like 'adopt an alien for Christmas', huh?" Troy asked with a grin.

"Yes. Sharan will probably be going with Mel. Val is going with Mike, and if you'd like the company, I'll go with you." Terry said honestly.

Troy thought for a moment, then slowly asked, "You've never had Christmas before, right?"

"That's right. I've heard about it, but my family never celebrated it." Terry confirmed.

"I can't just invite someone over to my parents house, but let me shoot an email off to my mom and see what I can do. Maybe if I tell her that I've made a friend who's never been to Earth before and never had Christmas, it will be enough to get her to invite you." Troy said thoughtfully.

"Do you think that this will help you to be able to enjoy the holiday?" Terry asked cautiously.

"Yeah! It'll be great! I can show you where I grew up, and if they start up their crap, we can just leave and I'll show you around town and stuff." Troy said happily.

"If you'll go write your email, I'll go and request a pass." Terry said with a smile at Troy's new found excitement.

"It sounds like a plan! I'll tell you how it went at breakfast." Troy said with a grand smile, then dashed away, back toward the library.

"From what I've heard, it's the custom at this time of year to give presents to those who are most important to you." Valentine said as he looked at the library door.

"I'm with you, Big Guy. This is our way of giving them a Merry Christmas." Terry said as he hugged close to Valentine's side.

* * * * *

After putting in their requests for passes, Val and Terry took a quick shower before heading toward the mess hall.

"Hey guys!" Melanie said as she spotted them in the hallway. Sharan seemed perfectly content as he walked with his arm around her.

"Hi Mel, how's it going?" Terry asked cheerfully.

"Fantastic! Sharan said that he'd go home with me!" Melanie said happily.

"Hey! That's great. Did you get your passes and transportation all lined up?" Terry asked curiously.

"Yep. We just finished! Now all we have to do is wait for Christmas to get here." Melanie said with a smile, then added, "That's going to be the hardest part."

"When I requested my pass, the clerk mentioned that all the other members of D 7 T had already requested passes." Sharan said informatively.

"Yeah. Do you guys have some big plans?" Melanie asked happily.

"I won't know about my plans until breakfast." Terry said honestly.

"To my knowledge, my plans are not finalized either." Val said casually.

"So, you're not doing something together?" Melanie asked curiously.

"No." Val and Terry said in unison.

Melanie seemed to be disappointed but didn't question further, instead she asked, "Did you hear about what Liam's doing for Christmas?"

"No. I don't recall him mentioning it." Val said and looked at Melanie with interest.

"I think you two were off doing something else. Anyway, he said he's got this second cousin or something in Ireland, and she's setting up this whole big family reunion thing for Christmas day. Liam said he's never even met most of his family from over there, it sounds like it's going to be so great." Melanie beamed.

"I'll have to ask him about it at breakfast." Valentine said warmly.

Terry snuggled a little bit closer to Val as they walked at a casual pace toward the cafeteria.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I am not sure what happened, but I noticed that somehow I didn't write any editor's notes on Chapter 5.? I am not going to repeat that mistake here.

This has been a very interesting chapter.? Once again we notice that our group is becoming more of a family.? Terry and Val seem to be able to tune in on the right thing to do in almost any situation.

Knowing the way that Mike has acted, it wouldn't surprise me much if his family is a real bunch of at least annoying people.? At least I bet they annoy Mike.? I just hope they aren't xenophobic toward Val.

Mel and Sharon seem to have gotten their plans made, and it should be interesting to see what her family's reaction to someone from a different planet will be.

I feel sorry for Troy, too, always being treated like a child.? I hope that having Terry around will moderate their behavior, at least to some degree.

I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens, once Christmas comes around.

I can hardly wait for the next chapter.? Actually I don't have to wait. I already have it. GRIN!

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

Proof Reader Notes:

First off quit teasing the reader's Darryl.?

It is nice to see everyone is going to take a Holiday on while helping friends, and yes I can't hardly wait for the interaction with Mike's Family and Val, should be interesting.

Do we really have to wait till Christmas? Just teasing MM, Lol.

I believe things will go just fine, however there always a chance for a snag or two.?

Robert -" Privatecomm983 "-