Universe Alpha 7: The Opposite Heaven

Chapter 37

The door opened to reveal Thaelan, Connie, Susan and Darin, all looking as if they'd just run a marathon.

"How bad is the damage?" Joe asked immediately.

"The equipment can be repaired. The cost in lives..." Thaelan trailed off with a shake of his head.

"They had an explosion that either knocked out or killed everyone over there." Susan said frankly. "To me it looked like two dead, but we were too busy trying to keep the rest of us alive to be sure."

"I was afraid of that. From the readings on the main, I thought there might have been a pressure breach in one of the atmospheric processors." Joe said honestly.

"Yeah. That's what happened. We were able to hold it together until Chief Morgan sent an engineering team down to take over." Darin said tiredly.

"How are things here?" Connie asked as he fell into the seat at the, now dead, first console.

"Just peachy." Joe said flatly.

"What now?" Connie asked darkly.

"The main console in engineering is down. Control circuit." Joe said in a flat tone.

"Jimmy, you up to it?" Connie asked over his shoulder.

"Yep. Let's do it." Jimmy said as he walked to his locker.

"Hold on a second." Joe said as he turned in his chair.

He looked around to see that he had everyone's attention before saying, "From now until we get to Earth, all of you should consider yourselves to be 'on call'. That means, rest when you can get the chance, don't make any firm plans, keep a communicator with you at all times and be prepared to drop anything you're doing and come to work at a moment's notice."

"So, how's this different from what we do every day?" Vincent asked Connie curiously.

A few amused looks flashed around the room at Vincent's question.

"Now, it's official." Connie said, then ruffled Vincent's hair affectionately.

"Hey! The hair! Do you know how long it takes me to get it looking like this?" Vincent asked playfully.

"I thought you woke up each morning with it looking that way." Connie said with a grin.

"Yeah. That's the look I'm trying for. Don't mess it up." Vincent said with a gleam of mischief in his eyes.

Joe smiled at the exchange, then said, "Connie, why don't you and Jimmy go take care of that control circuit now."

"Sure thing." Connie said with a smile, then took two communicators from beside the door and said, "We've got one and two."

"You're Vincent, aren't you?" A young man said from the bed beside Tracey's.

"Yeah. I guess Tracey must have been telling stories about me." Vincent said with a grin as he glanced at Tracey who was fast asleep.

"Yeah. Some pretty wild ones. I'd call him a liar to his face except... we got here somehow." The young man said as he looked around the convalescent ward.

"You must be Sung." Vincent said speculatively.

"Yeah. What stories did Tracey tell you about me?" Sung asked quickly.

"Actually, he was a little bit too worried to be telling stories when we met. The only thing he really said is that he thought that you were still alive. Other than that the only thing he would do is keep asking me to help his friends." Vincent said honestly.

"He took good care of us." Sung said with an admiring glance over at the next bed.

"Yeah. And now I think it's time for you to return the favor." Vincent said honestly.

"What can I do?" Sung asked curiously.

"Did Tracey tell you what happened with the control circuits?" Vincent asked seriously.

"Yeah. He said that someone on Earth was selling worn out parts to Starfleet. We got some of those parts when we rebuilt the cruiser and that's why we crashed." Sung said distantly.

"That's right. I just need for you to help me keep Tracey from doing anything stupid. I don't want him getting in trouble trying to avenge the deaths of his friends." Vincent said frankly.

"What can I do?" Sung asked thoughtfully.

"There's a counselor on the ship, his name is Tony. I'd like for you to help me convince Tracey to talk to him." Vincent said frankly.

Sung slowly nodded.

"In fact, I think it might be a big help if all of you agreed to see Tony, that way Tracey wouldn't feel funny about it." Vincent said carefully, watching for Sung's reaction.

"I don't know if Erich and Jared are going to be in any shape to talk to anyone for a while." Sung said frankly.

"According to the medical report, Erich will probably be in here recovering with you by morning. They just want to keep an eye on his condition tonight." Vincent said honestly.

"You read the official report about what happened?" Sung asked cautiously.

"Actually, I wrote it." Vincent said shyly.

"So, Tracey didn't make that up? You really rescued us?" Sung asked with surprise.

"Well, yeah. But I had some help." Vincent said with a grin.

"Would you tell me what happened?" Sung asked hopefully.

Before Vincent could answer, the sound of the door opening drew his attention.

"Good evening, Vincent. It is nice to see you again." the nurse said as he entered.

"Hi, Vlad. How are things around here?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Very crazy. The main sickbay is full of people from environmental control." Vlad said seriously.

"Oh, yeah. I expected to see some of them in here. How are they doing?"

"After the explosion, the room was flooded with a combination of corrosive gases. All the survivors will need extensive respiratory therapy. It will be days before any of them are released to convalescent care." Vlad said frankly.

"What happened to them?" Sung asked curiously.

"I think, the same thing that happened to you." Vincent said seriously.

At Sung's look of confusion, he continued, "I'm betting that the explosion was caused by a control circuit failure. Just like what made your ship crash."

"Most all the injuries in the past few weeks have been from control circuit failures." Vlad said frankly.

Vincent nodded, remembering T'Lani mentioning the same thing to him.

"I must return to main sickbay." Vlad said quietly, "I just wanted to come in and see if there's anything that you needed."

Sung blinked at the question, then quietly said, "I could really use a drink."

Vlad smiled and said, "I imagine that you could. We have water or, if you like, we also have grape, apple and orange juice."

"Grape." Sung said with a smile.

"I'm going to bring you a pitcher, so you can drink as much as you like. Be sure to call me as soon as it's empty." Vlad said as he walked away.

"You look like you're getting tired. I'd better leave so you can get your rest." Vincent said gently.

"Before you go, would you tell me what happened?" Sung asked hopefully.

When Vincent saw Vlad approaching, he quickly unfolded the tray table built into Sung's bed.

"Thank you, Vincent." Vlad said gratefully as he placed the pitcher and glass on the tray, then looked at his patient and said, "I'm needed in the other room. Do you have your call button?"

"Right here." Sung said and held it up.

"Good. Call me if you need anything at all." Vlad said warmly, then rushed away.

"How about this?" Vincent asked, as he poured a glass of juice for Sung. "Why don't you enjoy your drink, then settle in and get some rest while I tell you all about what happened today."

"Like a bedtime story." Sung said with a sleepy grin.

"Yeah. Exactly like that." Vincent said warmly as he watched Sung slowly drinking his juice.

"You guys look like you had a rough night." Joe said as Darin and Vincent approached the table with their breakfasts.

"Yeah. I was up late, talking to the guys in sickbay, then I talked to Tony for a while." Vincent said as he sat his tray on the table.

"And it seems that I can't get to sleep until I know that Vincent is safely tucked in." Darin said with a tired grin.

"No workout today?" Joe asked curiously.

"No. I left a message for Thaelan before I went to bed. I knew that I'd be tired this morning." Vincent said honestly, then took a long, slow drink of his coffee.

"I suppose that I can go ahead and tell you what I have planned before Thaelan gets here." Joe said frankly.

Vincent fought down the urge to groan, knowing that it couldn't be anything good from the expression on Joe's face.

"Up to now, both of you have been told not to touch the main deflector console, because you're not approved to run it." Joe said carefully.

Vincent's eyes went wide at the statement and he devoted his full attention to Joe's next words.

"For the next few shifts, I'm going to have each lead person start training their entire crew to run the main. With things being as they are, it's possible that one of you may have to go to an alternate console and take control, in an emergency." Joe said frankly.

Vincent shared a concerned look with Darin.

"You still won't be approved to run the main, I don't have that kind of authority. But in an emergency, you may be able to hold things together until one of us can take over." Joe said seriously.

"So things are really that bad?" Darin asked cautiously.

"No. Not yet." Joe said quietly, "But if we wait until things are that bad, it might be too late."

"Good morning." Thaelan said as he approached the table, carrying a tray of food.

"Good morning, Thaelan. I'm sorry I didn't work out with you this morning." Vincent said quickly.

"It was nice to have the opportunity to sleep in. I wouldn't want to do it often, but I enjoyed it this once." Thaelan said happily.

"I was just telling the guys that I'd like for us to give them some basic training on running the main, so they'll be able to help out if there's an emergency." Joe said casually.

"A prudent precaution." Thaelan said before taking a bite of his food.

"I need to do something real quick before I start work, so I'll see you guys in a few minutes." Vincent said as he hurried to gather his breakfast dishes onto his tray.

Before anyone could ask what he was doing, Vincent hurried away.

There was a long silence, until Joe finally said, "Sometimes I'm amazed at how fast he's growing up, and other times I'm just as amazed at how he hasn't changed a bit."

"As illogical as that sounds, I agree and understand completely." Thaelan said with a distant smile.

"Hey guys." Vincent said as he walked into the convalescent ward carrying a bag from the ship's store.

"Good morning, Vincent. How are you doing today?" Tracey asked quietly.

"I'm good. But I have to be at work in a few minutes." Vincent said honestly.

"Thanks for stopping in to visit. Company makes having to just lay here a little bit easier." Sung said frankly.

"Believe me, I've spent plenty of time in sickbay. I know how it is." Vincent said with a chuckle. "Actually, that's why I brought you these. I hope it'll help you to pass the time."

He handed Tracey and Sung each a small, hand-held video game.

"I've got to get to work, now. I hope you guys feel better soon." Vincent said quickly as he started walking toward the door.

"Thanks!" Tracey said as soon as he got over his surprise.

Vincent waved his acknowledgement as he hurried out the sickbay door.

"Oh my God! Do you realize who that was?" Sung asked as he stared at the small video game in his hands.

"That was Vincent." Tracey said slowly, thinking that it was obvious.

"Yeah. But do you know who he is?" Sung asked imploringly.

"He said he was an acting Ensign... Rescuing us was the first mission he ever commanded..." Tracey trailed off weakly, pretty sure that wasn't the answer Sung was looking for.

"Do you remember about a month and a half ago, that thing about the Kimber Colony?" Sung asked in a leading tone.

"Yeah. Everyone was real torn up about it because we knew that it could just as easily have happened to us. Mom was trying to figure out some way that we could offer them a place at Coffelt, but then they found another place." Tracey said distantly.

"But do you remember what happened at Kimber? The big story? The hero?" Sung asked impatiently.

"Oh yeah. The crewman who went into the reactor... oh my God! Are you saying that that was Vincent?!" Tracey asked in wonder.

"Yeah. I didn't put it together until he said that he spent a lot of time in sickbay." Sung said frankly.

"I guess he would have." Tracey said distantly.

"Dude! We got rescued by the hero of Kimber!" Sung said with a grand smile.

Tracey looked down at the video game in his hand, then quietly said, "It's more than that."

"What do you mean?" Sung asked curiously.

"He didn't just rescue us. He's watching over us, taking care of us." Tracey said as he held up his video game as evidence.

Sung thought for a moment, then quietly said, "Yeah. He was here last night, telling me about how we got rescued. I didn't think about it, but that was really nice of him."

"Man, there's more to it than that. He went down to the planet, he talked to me and helped me to deal. He stayed with me when we got back to the ship and then he made real sure that I understood that the crash wasn't my fault." Tracey said firmly.

"Yeah. He talked to me about that, too. He asked me to help convince you to see a counselor, you know, like he was really worried about how you were handling everything." Sung said thoughtfully.

"That's because he understands." Tracey said in realization.

"He understands what?" Sung asked curiously.

"Back at Kimber, not everyone survived. He understands what it's like when you do everything you can and do your absolute best and people still die." Tracey said with a pained look.

"I was there, Trace. You held it together and landed the ship." Sung said quietly. "I don't know anyone else who could've done what you did."

"But Denny and Price are still dead. And no matter what, I still feel like there should have been a way to save them, too." Tracey said honestly.

"Why don't we do like Vincent said and talk to that counselor guy?" Sung asked seriously.

"I can handle it." Tracey said as he looked away.

"Yeah. I think you can." Sung said honestly, then added, "But you shouldn't have to, not all by yourself."

Tracey was quiet and Sung could almost hear the battle going on inside him.

"Maybe we could ask Vincent to go with us." Sung suggested cautiously.

Tracey turned to look at him with question.

"Well, maybe if he came along, he might tell us some of the inside story of what it was like for him at Kimber." Sung said with anticipation twinkling in his eyes.

"Yeah. Alright. If he'll do it, you can count me in." Tracey reluctantly agreed.

The door opening stopped any further conversation and they watched as two crewmen moved another patient into the room.

It wasn't until they had him settled into the bed on the other side of Sung that Tracey and Sung realized who it was.

"How is Erich?" Sung asked one of the crewmen quickly.

He walked back to them and said, "You'll have to talk to Dr. Perry for the official version, but from what I understand, he's got a lot of healing to do, but he's going to be fine."

"Thanks." Sung said quietly as he looked at the angry red burn on Erich's cheek that was glistening with some type of salve.

"I'm Wade. Do you guys need anything while I'm here?" the crewman asked helpfully.

"Um, yeah. Bathroom." Sung admitted shyly.

Wade looked at the chart on Sung's bed, then said, "Do you want a bedpan? Your chart says that you're okay to walk to the bathroom, but only if you feel up to it."

"I'd like to try to walk, that is, if you wouldn't mind helping me." Sung said honestly.

"I don't mind." The crewman said as he moved to Sung's bedside, "Besides, Doc Perry keeps the bedpans all the way in the back of the freezer, they're a pain to get to."

Sung started to chuckle, then said, "Don't make me laugh or I'll pee all over the floor."

"Just hang on, we'll get you there." the crewman said as he slowly walked Sung to the bathroom.

Tracey watched until they left the room, then his focus turned to Erich.

Vincent walked into Deflector Control and went directly to station three to check the console status.

"I have to meet with Chief Morgan this morning, I don't know how long that's going to take." Joe announced to the room. "As soon as you've finished your system checks, Thaelan can start training you on the main."

Vincent glanced at Joe and nodded that he had heard before moving to station two.

Before leaving, Joe said, "Remember to keep your communicators handy. I have a really bad feeling."

The statement caused Vincent to look up from his console and he caught a glimpse of Joe's concerned expression as he left the room.

When he looked back at his console, he saw something out of the ordinary. "I'm showing a fault in the R-7 battery backup system."

"The environmental control team is already working on that. As soon as they report that the repair is complete, be ready to run a level three diagnostic on the system." Thaelan said casually.

"Aye sir." Vincent said professionally as he automatically went through the secondary systems.

When his system checks were complete, Vincent walked to join Darin at the main.

"Before we begin, keep in mind that I will be showing you all the functions of the main. That includes how to operate the manual mode of many systems that are normally automated. In all likelihood you will have no occasion to use this knowledge, but it is necessary to learn it." Thaelan said ominously.

"Go ahead Thaelan. Teach us everything that you can and we'll speak up if it's too much." Darin said seriously.

"As you like." Thaelan said simply, then brought up the main deflector distribution grid on the viewscreen.

"We will begin with the variable modulation emitter..."

"Are you guys ready for a break?" Connie asked casually as he and Susan walked into Deflector Control.

"Yeah. What are you doing here?" Vincent asked curiously as he looked away from the main.

"Joe called and said that he was going to be tied up in a meeting for a while and asked us to stop in." Connie said casually.

"He's been gone all morning. I wonder what he's up to." Vincent said with concern.

"I'm sure we'll hear all about it when he gets back. Why don't you guys go and have lunch? We've got you covered." Connie said with a cheerful smile.

"Thank you. I stand relieved." Thaelan said as he moved away from the main.

"Susan, I've got a level three running on the R-7 system. Environmental Control just finished working on it." Vincent said quickly.

"I'll keep an eye on it for you." Susan assured him.

Vincent gave her a quick smile, then walked with Thaelan and Darin to the door.

"Can you feel the tension?" Darin asked as he looked around the mess hall.

"Yeah. I guess every department is having as much trouble as we are." Vincent said quietly.

"Rad was telling me that Transporter Control has taken all but two of the personnel transporters offline. They just don't want to take chances with the unstable systems." Darin said quietly.

"When we were at New Hope, they had the whole system offline. I never did hear what that was about. Did anyone get hurt?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Thankfully, no. One of the technicians, Ensign Bergman, noticed some fluctuations in the targeting scanners and reported it to Chief Morgan. I didn't understand all the technical stuff when Rad explained it to me, but I guess one of the control circuits was feeding constant power to the scanning array, even when it was supposed to be offline, and caused it to degrade or something. Because of that, Chief Morgan had them shut down the whole system and test everything manually."

"I'm glad no one was hurt." Vincent said quietly.

"Right now, I'd trust the transporters over just about any other system on the ship. I've been hearing about how they're manually double and triple checking everything every single day to be sure that the transporters are operational when we need them." Darin said seriously.

"I bet the transporter control team is going to be ready for shore leave when we reach Earth." Vincent said frankly.

"I believe we will all be much relieved." Thaelan said honestly.

"What are you going to do on your shore leave, Thaelan?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Given the state of the Yorktown, I anticipate an extended time in port for repairs. If it is possible, I would like to return to Andor to spend time with my family." Thaelan said thoughtfully.

"What about you, Vincent?" Darin asked curiously.

"Well, Cory keeps talking about a party when I get back to Earth to celebrate my promotion and marriage and stuff. So that's what I'll do first. I'm not sure when I'll be able to take my officer's exam, but I'll want to do that as soon as I can." Vincent said in a slow, considering voice.

"Do you feel that you are ready for your exam?" Thaelan asked curiously.

"Right now? Not really. I've still got a lot of the book work to work on. You know, memorizing and stuff. But I think I should be able to get to where I need to be in the next two weeks." Vincent said thoughtfully.

"What of you Darin? Do you have plans for your shore leave?" Thaelan asked before taking another bite of his food.

"Yeah. Rad invited me to spend our shore leave with him and his family." Darin said quietly.

"Are you going to visit your parents?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I think I'll let them know that I'm back. I'll just have to see their reaction before I decide." Darin said quietly. "If I do see them, it'll probably be for dinner or something like that. I'm not going to stay with them."

"We should return to Deflector Control. It was very nice of Ensign Agropos and Crewman Walker to allow us to take a break, but I wouldn't want to take advantage." Thaelan said seriously.

"You're right Thaelan, as usual." Vincent said with a smile as he gathered his dishes.

Darin grinned and nodded.

As the trio walked into Deflector Control, they noticed that Joe had returned from his meeting.

Joe, Connie and Susan were silent and seemed to be holding something back as Vincent and the others settled in at their stations.

"Do you want to tell them, or am I going to have to whisper it behind your back?" Connie asked with a grin.

Joe smiled, then said, "Chief Morgan is talking to the captain right now and if all goes well, we're going to be changing course."

"To where?" Darin asked curiously.

"Coffelt." Joe said simply.

"What, where or who is that?" Darin asked cautiously.

Before Joe could answer, Vincent quickly said, "Coffelt is a colony world in sector A-13. It has a Federation base."

Connie arched an eyebrow at Vincent, impressed that he knew about the Coffelt base.

"A-13? Isn't that about a week away in the wrong direction?" Darin asked curiously.

"More like four days, but yes." Joe said simply.

"What would be the purpose of going to Coffelt?" Thaelan asked reasonably.

"For the ship, our purpose would be to get some new control circuits and other supplies that we're dangerously low on. We weren't prepared to establish a colony with the supplies we had. When we set out on this voyage, we were only supposed to be going to Alpha Centauri and back to Earth." Joe said frankly.

Vincent giggled at the statement as, unbidden, the theme from 'Gilligan's Island' sprang into his mind.

Joe smiled at the action, then said, "On a more personal note, it seems that a certain 'acting ensign' rescued a boy named Tracey, who happens to be the son of the Coffelt base's commander."

Darin started to snicker as he shook his head.

"So, stopping at Coffelt will allow us to return Tracey and the other survivors to their home." Joe said with a smile at Vincent.

"I'm sure Commander Sturgill will be happy about that." Vincent said with a grin, thinking about how worried she had been for her son.

"Leaving that aside, we need to make this stop. Continuing on, the way things are, is just too dangerous." Joe said in a dire tone. "Lieutenant Nyman and one entire shift of her crew were nearly killed yesterday. That could have been us, or just about any department on this ship."

"Is it really that bad?" Darin asked cautiously.

"Considering the way things are right now, it wouldn't take very much at all for us to have to stop the ship and call for a tug to tractor us back to Earth." Joe said frankly.

"I think Chief Morgan would get out and push before he'd allow that." Connie said with a chuckle.

Joe smiled, then said, "Yes. He would take it personally if that happened. But even he agrees that it's too dangerous to try and make the trip directly back to Earth."

"So, what do we need to do?" Susan asked curiously.

"Right now, we need to get to work on a list of needed supplies, in order of their priority." Joe said seriously.

"Do you want us to stay and help with that?" Connie asked, not revealing his own preference in the offer.

"No. I'm going to have these guys get started, then when you come in, you can take over and add your own ideas. Lou and Judy can add their ideas tonight, then tomorrow morning I'll take a look at what everyone came up with." Joe said thoughtfully.

"It sounds like a plan." Connie said happily. "If you don't have anything else for us to do, I guess we'll get out of your way."

A beeping from the main console drew everyone's attention.

After a moment of reading, Joe said, "It's official. We're on our way to Coffelt."

"Hey guys! How are you feeling?" Vincent asked as he walked into the convalescent ward.

"Pretty good." Sung said with a smile at Vincent's cheerful greeting.

"And thanks for the games. It really helped to pass the time." Tracey said gratefully.

"I know how boring it can be when you're stuck in bed." Vincent said dismissively, then asked, "Has Sung talked to you about meeting with my counselor?"

Tracey and Sung exchanged a look, then Tracey hesitantly responded, "Yeah. And I said that I would, but..."

Vincent smiled, then waited with anticipation.

"Well, I was thinking that, you know, maybe, if you wanted to, you could go see him with us." Tracey said uncertainly.

"Yeah. Sure." Vincent said immediately, then added, "But it'll have to be later, probably after dinner. I have to go to work on the bridge right now."

"Okay. But you'll do it? You'll see the counselor with us?" Tracey asked to confirm.

"Yeah. No problem." Vincent said casually, then seemed to notice Erich in the next bed past Sung. "How's he doing?"

"He woke up for a few minutes a while ago, but he fell back asleep before we could do much more than tell him that he's alive and safe." Sung said frankly.

"I saw his medical report. His whole system was impacted really bad by the radiation and dehydration. It's going to take time for him to completely recover, but he will." Vincent said sincerely.

"What about Jared?" Sung asked cautiously.

"Oh, well, he's probably not going to be leaving the sickbay before we reach Coffelt. He has some internal injuries from the crash and will need to stay on life support for a while." Vincent said apologetically.

"We're going to Coffelt?" Tracey asked suddenly.

"Oh, didn't anyone tell you about that?" Vincent asked in surprise.

Tracey and Sung both shook their heads.

"The ship has been having some problems, mainly due to control circuits. So we're changing course to go to Coffelt where we can get enough equipment and supplies to get us safely back to Earth." Vincent said seriously.

"How long will it be before we get there?" Tracey asked with dread.

"About four days, I think. I'll be able to tell you more after my shift on the bridge." Vincent said slowly as he watched Tracey's expression carefully.

There was a long moment of silence, then Tracey noticed Vincent's look of concern directed at him.

Quietly, Tracey said, "When we get there, I'm going to have to face Denny's parents and tell them what happened."

"It wasn't your fault." Vincent said gently.

"I know." Tracey said weakly, "But Denny's dead. How, why... none of that will matter, I'm alive and he's dead. That's what they're going to see."

"Let's talk to Tony about it, tonight. Maybe he'll have some suggestions about how to make it easier on everyone." Vincent said encouragingly.

Tracey slowly nodded, but didn't look hopeful.

"What about Price's family?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Price didn't have anyone. He was raised in an orphanage and went to school with us." Sung said quietly. "I'm pretty sure that we're the only ones who'll miss him."

Vincent nodded and felt an undefinable sadness for the boy he'd never met.

After a long silent moment, Vincent reluctantly said, "I've got to get to the bridge now. I'll go ahead and set things up with Tony for after dinner."

Tracey nodded as Sung said, "Thanks, Vincent."

After a last look back, Vincent left to begin his time on the bridge.

"Crewman Winters, before you begin, could I have a word with you?" Commander M'Butu asked as Vincent walked onto the bridge.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent said as he walked to the science station.

"I finished reading your report about yesterday's incident and wanted to tell you that I'm impressed. It was concise and complete." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.

"Thank you, Sir." Vincent said respectfully, fighting to restrain a smile.

"Up to now, you've been on a probationary status, meaning that your reports would have to be approved by an officer before being sent on to Starfleet." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

Vincent couldn't hold back the expression of surprise on his face.

"It's not personal. Most new crewmen are put on probationary status by default and remain that way until we're reasonably certain that they are capable of discerning relevant facts and conveying that information in an understandable manner." Commander M'Butu said slowly.

Vincent remained at attention, feeling that the Commander's statement didn't require any response from him.

"So, in light of the fine job that you've done to date and the exemplary job that you did on yesterday's report, I'm pleased to tell you that you're off probationary status. From now on, your reports will be transmitted directly to Starfleet." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.

Vincent returned the smile, understanding that what Commander M'Butu was really saying was that he had earned their trust.

"Now, for the short time that we have you, today, how would you feel about working one of the stations?" Commander M'Butu asked pleasantly.

"Yes, Sir. I would like that." Vincent said, riding the wave of pride that he was feeling.

"Then relieve Lieutenant Clark at the helm." Commander M'Butu said firmly.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent said automatically, then turned to walk across the bridge.

"I'm here to relieve you, Lieutenant Clark." Vincent said respectfully.

After a glance at Commander M'Butu, Lieutenant Clark stood and said, "I have no variances to report."

Vincent took the vacated seat and had to sit on the edge of the chair to be able to reach all the controls.

After looking over the entire console, Vincent said, "I have control."

"I stand relieved." Lieutenant Clark said efficiently, then walked across the bridge to speak with Commander M'Butu.

Vincent made sure that he was aware of their course and speed, then ran a quick diagnostic on all the main systems to be sure that there was nothing out of the ordinary.

When all his system checks were done, he puzzled over the fact that he didn't feel the least bit nervous.

The previous day, he had been terrified by the mere thought of running the helm. Today, he felt confident and completely comfortable in his knowledge and abilities.

Captain Byrne walked onto the bridge and looked around, his gaze fixing on Vincent for a moment before walking to Commander M'Butu.

There was a slight fluctuation in engine output and Vincent made an adjustment to correct for it. Otherwise, everything seemed to be taking care of itself.

Vincent glanced up for a moment when Captain Byrne walked past him and to the command chair. Once the captain had settled into place, Vincent turned his full attention to his duties, monitoring the engine status, course and speed.

"Hey guys, how are you doing?" Vincent asked as he walked into the convalescent ward.

"I think we're good." Tracey said uncertainly, then looked to Sung for confirmation.

"Dinner was a little on the skimpy side, but otherwise, I think we're fine." Sung said casually, then asked, "What's in the bag? Did you bring us something?"

Vincent chuckled at Sung's child-like look of anticipation as he approached. "Yeah. I did."

Sung and Tracey watched as Vincent set down the bag, then took out a small cardboard box.

He slowly opened the lid and enjoyed the matching expressions of delight when they saw what was either an extremely large piece of chocolate cake or a small cake in it's own rite.

"Wow! Thanks, Vincent." Sung said, nearly drooling and his eyes never leaving the cake.

"I guess that it's good that your dinner didn't fill you up too much." Vincent said as he handed Sung the cake.

"Are you going to share that?" Tracey asked his friend hopefully.

Before Sung could answer, Vincent reached into the bag and took out another cake for Tracey.

"Thanks, Vincent." Tracey said with a huge smile.

"Seeing you enjoy it will be enough thanks for me." Vincent said happily as he sat the empty bag aside.

Sung looked over at Erich, who was asleep, then back at Vincent with concern.

"T'Lani said that Erich won't be able to have solid food for a while. But since you guys can, you might as well enjoy this." Vincent said seriously.

Sung nodded, then pulled open his box so he could start eating the cake.

"Did they just make this? I think it's still warm." Tracey asked in a low voice that was mostly a groan of pleasure.

"Yeah, that's what made me choose the cakes. In fact, I had to wait for them to finish icing them." Vincent said frankly.

"Mmm. This is great!" Tracey groaned.

"Seriously, Vincent, I don't think I've ever tasted anything this good." Sung said past a mouthful of cake.

Vincent chuckled a little at their reactions, but was mostly glad to see that they weren't miserable, thinking about their situations.

"Oh! Vincent, I wanted to thank you." Tracey said suddenly, "My mom called a little while ago and she was really happy when I told her about me seeing your counselor. It's not too often that I do something that she approves of without her nagging me first."

Sung nodded his agreement to Tracey's statement.

"I'm glad I could help." Vincent said with a smile. "Now go ahead and eat. Tony's going to be here in a few minutes."

"You don't mind doing this, do you?" Sung asked hesitantly.

Vincent thought for a moment, just how to phrase his response, "Back before I joined Starfleet, I never really talked to anyone. Because of that, I didn't know 'how' to talk to people, you know, about feelings and junk like that. So even if someone wanted to talk to me, it was easier for me to either say nothing or be mean to them, than take a chance of talking to them and maybe saying it wrong."

"I think I'm a little bit like that, too." Tracey said introspectively.

"Well, Tony's a counselor. He's trained to get what you're saying, even if you're saying it wrong. And he's also not allowed to tell anyone else the stuff that you tell him. So it's safe to talk to him and tell him stuff, and he's really good at helping you figure out how to deal with things." Vincent said seriously.

"You don't sound like you have any problem saying what you're feeling, now." Sung said honestly.

Vincent smiled, then responded, "Well, I could always speak right up when I was mad about something, but I couldn't talk about the serious stuff. Now... I guess it gets easier with practice. I don't think I'm really good at talking about feelings and stuff, but I can make myself do it when I have to."

"I guess that's what counts." Sung said thoughtfully, then added, "Besides, if we could all just open up and talk about our feelings whenever we wanted..."

"...we'd be girls." Tracey interrupted.

Vincent laughed as Sung considered for a moment, then nodded his agreement.

"Well, maybe this won't be so bad, since you guys are laughing." A man said from the doorway.

"Guys, this is Tony." Vincent said happily, then turned and said, "Tony, this is Tracey and Sung."

"It's really nice to meet you. Vincent has had nothing but nice things to say about both of you." Tony said with a sincere smile.

"Yeah. Same here." Tracey said seriously.

"Well, since we all know what I'm doing here, why don't we just begin..."

"I see you're making an early night of it." Darin said as Vincent walked into their cabin.

"Yeah. I'm really tired." Vincent said as he automatically took off his boots.

"Well, unless you count Thaelan's lessons as hard labor, I don't think your day at work was too bad." Darin said thoughtfully, then asked, "What else happened?"

"After we finished our list for Daddy Joe, you remember that I had some school work to do, right?" Vincent asked.

"Klingon History, wasn't it?" Darin asked uncertainly.

"Yeah. It's really wicked and bloody and cool. But someday, I'm going to have to ask why I need to know all the dates... whatever. So after I finished my lessons, our shift was over." Vincent said as he sat down on the edge of Darin's bunk.

"Right. But I kind of just assumed that you went to the bridge, after that." Darin said frankly.

"I did, but first I went to sickbay to check on the guys. Then I worked for a few hours on the bridge." Vincent said slowly, then mischievously added, "On the helm."

"Seriously? You got to work the helm? Today? What was it like?" Darin asked with excitement.

Vincent chuckled at his energy, then said, "To be honest, I didn't get to do much. I think I did three drift corrections in the two hours I was on the helm. That's it. We never changed course or speed the whole time I was manning the station."

"But how was it? That's what I trained for, that's what I've always wanted to do." Darin said quickly.

"You should talk to Commander M'Butu about it. If he knows that you're interested, I bet that he'd work it out so that you could work the helm now and then." Vincent said seriously.

"Do you really think so?" Darin asked hopefully.

"Sure. He's talked to me some about how he does his crew scheduling and stuff like that. If no one tells him any different, he just takes for granted that everyone is happy doing what they're doing. If you tell him that you'd like to take a shift on the helm now and then, I'm pretty sure that he'd try to work it out." Vincent said honestly.

"You don't think he'd mind?" Darin asked cautiously.

"No. That'll just give him one more person he can depend on if he needs to cover the helm schedule. Besides, if I remember my regs right, you need to get a certain number of hours on the helm or you'll lose your certification."

"That's true. Okay. I'll do it!" Darin said happily, then added, "Thanks, Vincent."

Vincent smiled, then said, "Let's see. After my time on the helm, I had dinner with T'Lani. Then I went to sickbay to visit with the guys and to introduce Tony to them."

"Tony? Your counselor?" Darin asked cautiously.

"Yeah. It just seemed like the guys, Tracey especially, could use some help dealing with the crash and everything. So I kind of talked everyone into getting together so they could talk." Vincent said frankly.

"Did it help?" Darin asked curiously.

"Hard to say." Vincent said speculatively, "But I can only do so much. I introduced the guys to Tony and got them talking. From here on out, it's really up to them."

"Well, I really don't know much about their situation. But it sounds to me like you've done everything that you can for them." Darin said frankly.

"Until we get to Coffelt, yeah." Vincent said with a nod.

"What happens when we get to Coffelt?" Darin asked curiously.

"I'm not sure yet, but something."

"All deflector control personnel, report to stations immediately! All deflector control personnel, report to stations immediately!" Sounded over the intercom in the cabin.

Vincent picked up his communicator and had it keyed before his eyes were fully open.

"This is Vincent, I'm on my way." He said quickly.

"Is Darin with you?" Connie asked in a distracted voice.

"Yes. He's here." Vincent said as he jumped down from his bunk.

"Both of you go to the battle bridge." Connie said abruptly, then the communicator went silent.

"Did you hear?" Vincent asked as he pulled his crewman's uniform on over his sleep pants.

"Yes. Go! I'm right behind you." Darin said as he rushed to dress.

Vincent was hopping on one foot as he pulled on his other boot.

When Vincent and Darin arrived on the battle bridge, they were surprised to find that it was fully manned.

The grim expressions on the faces of those around them prevented either from asking about what was happening. Rather, they went to the deflector control panel and started running system diagnostics.

"This shows that the main bridge has control." Darin said as he looked over the board.

"Daddy Joe's probably up there." Vincent said, then a flash of blue in his peripheral vision caused him to look away.

"What's our status?" Thaelan asked as he approached the console.

"All systems are showing normal function." Darin responded professionally.

"The main bridge has control, we haven't had contact with them yet." Vincent added helpfully.

After looking over the main console, Thaelan said, "Very good. I'll send a text to all stations that we are in place and can assume control if and when there is a need."

Vincent nodded, then looked around the battle bridge, trying to get a sense of what was going on.

Just then, the main screen came on and the captain's face appeared.

"Commander, is your crew ready?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.

"Yes, Sir." Commander M'Butu said from the battle bridge command chair.

"We can only hope that your services won't be needed." Captain Byrne said, betraying a hint of nervousness, then continued, "All stations, switch over to manual function. If all goes as planned, the repairs on the main computer will only take a matter of minutes. Normally, we could make such repairs while running with redundant systems, but in light of our recent difficulties, it seems that running the systems manually will have a greater chance of success."

After a moment to be sure that the captain was done speaking, Commander M'Butu said, "Due to the possibility that the bridge might suffer some system failures when the manual systems are engaged, backup crews are in place here and in main engineering. Just hold your station and with any luck, all of us will be on our way back to our cabins within the next half hour."

Vincent and Darin shared a quick look of concern at the Commander's words, then devoted their full attention to the console in front of them.

Although it was difficult to tell what had changed, Vincent knew that something had. Things seemed quieter and somehow, more fragile. He looked around and could tell that he wasn't the only one who felt it. Whether they consciously recognized it or not, the entire crew of the back-up bridge were listening to the strange silence that hid behind the muted chirps and pings of the bridge's stations, in manual mode.

"Bridge is signalling full shutdown of main computer." An ensign said from the communications station.

"I'm getting a message from Joe." Thaelan said quietly.

Vincent and Darin stood on either side of Thaelan to read the message.

"Deflector Control systems all functioning normally. Hang in there, guys." was printed on the screen.

The tense minutes dragged past as everyone waited for something to happen.

Suddenly, without warning, the silence that surrounded them became alive with tiny, unidentifiable background sounds. It was like the heart of the ship was beating again and they could hear the electronic blood coursing through the walls and floor, making the Yorktown alive.

"Everyone, check in with your department heads. I'm sure they're going to want at least some of you to do full system diagnostics before you call it a night." Commander M'Butu said to the crew.

Surprisingly, no one gave the slightest hint of a groan or a complaint at the thought. Everyone seemed to just be relieved that the computer repair was able to be made without a problem.

"Joe says that Ensign Agropos and his crew will do the necessary diagnostics. We are free to retire for the evening." Thaelan said professionally.

"Thanks, Thaelan. I'll see you at the usual time in the morning." Vincent said cheerfully.

When Thaelan noticed that Vincent wasn't leaving, he looked at him curiously for a moment, but finally made his way to the turbolift to await his turn.

"Are you ready to go?" Darin asked quietly.

"Let's talk to Commander M'Butu first, then I will be." Vincent said seriously.

"I don't want to bother him, now. He's probably busy." Darin said quickly.

"He's a Commander. He's always busy. That doesn't mean you should avoid him. You just need to be careful not to waste his time." Vincent said as he coaxed Darin across the room.

"Quite a lot of build up for very little excitement." Commander M'Butu said as Vincent and Darin approached.

"Yes, Sir. But I'm just as happy not to have that kind of excitement." Vincent said frankly.

Commander M'Butu chuckled and nodded his agreement.

Vincent looked up at Darin and urged him to say what he needed to say.

"Commander M'Butu, Sir." Darin nervously began. "Vincent mentioned that he was able to run the helm today, and that got me to thinking. Would it be possible for me to be scheduled to work the helm?"

"Permanently?" Commander M'Butu asked cautiously.

"No! I mean, no, Sir." Darin stammered, "I just thought that since I originally trained to be a helmsman, I'd like to see if there's any way I can pull a shift or two when you have an opening."

When Vincent could see that Darin was finished, he added, "And Darin needs to log a certain number of flight hours to keep his certification."

Commander M'Butu smiled at Vincent, then turned to Darin and said, "With things being as they are, I can't say when it will be, but I'll work you in."

"Thank you, Sir." Darin said, unable to contain his excitement.

"You two had better be hitting the sheets. 08:00 is going to come awfully early." Commander M'Butu said in a tone of warning.

"Yes, Sir. And thank you again." Darin said quickly before rushing to the lift.

Vincent grinned up at Commander M'Butu before following Darin more slowly.

"Deck G, Section D7." Darin said as he entered the lift.

"Lift, hold." Vincent said seriously.

Darin looked down at him curiously.

"I'm kinda hungry. Do you want to go and have a snack before we head back to the cabin?" Vincent asked hopefully.

Darin thought for just a moment, then said, "Lift, resume. Reset destination, engineer's mess hall."

"I hope they have some chocolate chip cookies. I'd really like some cookies and milk." Vincent said with a grin.

"I thought you hated milk." Darin said suspiciously.

"I do, except with chocolate chip cookies." Vincent said with an unrepentant smile, "Then it's okay."

Darin casually draped an arm around Vincent's shoulders, and as soon as the turbo lift doors opened, walked with him in search of milk and cookies.

To Be Continued...