Universe Alpha 7: The Opposite Heaven

Chapter 38

The sound of the alarm jolted Vincent out of a sound sleep.

He automatically reached up to turn off the alarm, and very nearly fell back to sleep before he caught himself and sat up in bed.

He glanced at the clock, somehow hoping that the alarm had been reset to the wrong time and that he could get some more sleep. But there was no denying that it was time to get out of bed.

It took a little extra effort, but Vincent finally made his way down off his bunk.

After a trip to the bathroom, Vincent gathered fresh clothes into his gym bag and double checked to see that he had his communicator with him.

He glanced at Daren, who was sound asleep, and for just a moment, wished that he could trade places with him and enjoy just a little bit more sleep.

* * * * *

"Are you well? Would you prefer to forego our workout this morning?" Thaelan asked as he noticed that Vincent seemed to be only half awake.

"I'll be fine once we get started." Vincent said absently, then looked up at Thaelan and continued, "Actually, I think a good workout will help to wake me up."

"As you like." Thaelan said, then started his warm-up stretches.

Vincent moved to face him so he could mirror Thaelan's position.

After a moment of stretching, Vincent asked, "Are we still going to start the new routine today?"

"Yes. Today's exercise will be stance and counter-stance, except that they will be done in a random sequence. Once you have identified the stance that I am adopting, you will select the appropriate counter-stance to block me." Thaelan said seriously.

"Good. I've been looking forward to doing this exercise." Vincent said happily.

"Then let us begin." Thaelan said as he stopped his stretching and stood.

Vincent got to his feet and immediately fell into his primary defensive posture.

"We will go slowly to begin with, then, as you progress, we will increase speed." Thaelan said simply.

"Got it." Vincent said intensely, waiting for Thaelan to make a move.

Thaelan raised his right hand and stepped forward on his left foot as he watched Vincent's reaction carefully.

Vincent immediately moved into the counter-stance position and matched Thaelan's slow pace to block his move.

"Very good." Thaelan said approvingly, then moved fluidly into his next stance.

* * * * *

Vincent lost any awareness of the passage of time as he and Thaelan increased not only the speed of their stances, but also the force applied behind them.

There was a part of Vincent's mind that was focused on the exercise, but another part of his mind seemed to be set free. All the stress and tension that he carried with him was released as he achieved a state of consciousness that was nothing short of tranquility.

It surprised Vincent when Thaelan made a move that he couldn't immediately identify. It confused him until he realized that Thaelan was withdrawing. It turned out to be the standard move to disengage from the exercise.

Vincent followed suit and fell back into his defensive posture as he looked at Thaelan with question.

"It appears that we have worked beyond our allotted time." Thaelan said as he looked at the clock.

Vincent was surprised to see that they had gone fifteen minutes beyond their normal workout time.

Before he could say anything regarding his surprise, he noticed that there were nearly a dozen people watching them.

"As I mentioned previously, this exercise typically draws an audience." Thaelan mentioned casually as he went through the short-form version of his cool-down stretches.

Vincent noticed that their spectators were starting to drift away, then he also began to stretch.

* * * * *

"I was beginning to wonder if you guys had gotten lost." Joe said playfully as Vincent and Thaelan approached the table with their food.

"We started a new level of training this morning and lost awareness of time." Thaelan said frankly.

"Good workout?" Joe asked Vincent with a smile.

"The best so far." Vincent said happily before digging into his breakfast.

"Now that we're all here, can you tell us if we have anything special planned for today?" Darin asked from his place sitting next to Rad.

"Only any additional training that Thaelan thinks you might need on the main." Joe said thoughtfully, then added, "With the systems being as unstable as they are, I'm planning on keeping our workload as light as possible. I don't want anyone bogged down in the middle of a project if there's an emergency."

"We're going to be doing transporter tests for most of the day. Chief Morgan wants us double and triple checking all the operative transporters to be sure they're running at peak efficiency." Rad said unenthusiastically.

"Since we've lost station one, I don't think I want to push my luck by putting undue stress on the systems that we still have functioning." Joe said hesitantly.

"How bad is it, Joe?" Rad asked with concern.

"Let's just say that if the systems were anymore unstable, I'd be recommending to the captain that we stop the ship and wait for a tug to tractor us in." Joe said frankly.

"Seriously?" Rad asked as he looked Joe in the eyes.

"Everything is operating correctly at the moment, but just about every system in Deflector Control is being routed and switched by circuits that should have been replaced YEARS ago. We've done everything we can, but we can't predict when the next circuit will degrade to a point that it will negatively impact our systems." Joe said carefully.

"And when one thing goes, it puts stress on everything below it." Darin said with a nod.

"Yes. That's exactly what happened to console one." Joe said regretfully.

"But, do you think it's safe for us to continue on, the way things are?" Rad asked cautiously.

"Right now, yes. We have all our primary and backup systems in place and fully functional. We can compensate for any conceivable malfunction that might happen. You know how nitpicky I am, if I could see any possible way that the ship was in danger, I'd be in the captain's office the very next minute." Joe said firmly.

Darin turned to Rad and said, "I know how serious you take your duty as a transporter technician. You assume personal responsibility for every person who steps into your transporter chamber. We do that, too, except that we're responsible for every person on this ship, all the time."

"Wow. You guys sure know how to kill a good mood." Vincent said playfully as he finished his breakfast.

"Don't worry. We'll be at the Coffelt Base in about two and a half days, then we should be able to be resupplied with enough essential circuitry that we should be able to make our way back to Earth without incident." Joe said with a smile.

Looks went around the tables as everyone was thinking basically the same thing.

A lot can happen in two and a half days.

* * * * *

"Good morning, Lou. Anything going on?" Joe asked casually as he walked into Deflector Control.

"Them." Lou said as she gestured over her shoulder with her thumb, not looking as she spoke. Joe followed the movement to two members of the engineering staff seated at the workstations.

Joe looked at them curiously, then walked to the main.

"Here are their orders." Lou said as she pulled up the text on her screen.

Joe read for a moment, then looked around at his crew.

"Vincent and Darin, you're to report to the bridge." Joe said simply.

Both of them looked at Joe with surprise.

"Don't ask me. Report to Commander M'Butu and he'll give you your new orders." Joe said frankly.

Vincent and Darin shared a concerned look before simultaneously turning to leave.

"Good luck, guys." Lou said from the main.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters and Ensign Cooper reporting as ordered, sir." Vincent said formally as he and Darin stopped in front of Commander M'Butu at the science station.

"At ease." Commander M'Butu said professionally, then added, "The captain and I discussed it and there are a few things we would like to accomplish before we arrive at Earth. Ensign Cooper has received specialized training in helm and navigation, but has no experience. Crewman Winters has received rudimentary training on all the bridge stations, but needs practice before he can be considered to be 'proficient'. So, for the foreseeable future, both of you are going to be scheduled to work on the bridge."

Vincent and Darin both felt a twinge at being taken out of Deflector Control, but they also both realized that the captain and commander's decision was the correct one.

"Ensign Cooper, relieve Lieutenant Cuthbert on the helm." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"Yes, Sir." Darin responded immediately, then briskly walked away to take his station.

"Crewman Winters, for the duration of your assignment on the bridge, you will carry the rank of an acting Ensign. Your duty assignment for the foreseeable future will be to function as backup crew and fill in wherever you're needed. Your post is the first auxiliary station, and when you sign in you'll find the schedule of breaks and lunches for the command staff. You'll relieve each of the command staff in turn and take over their station at those times. When you're at your auxiliary station, you need to stay aware of what's going on at all the other bridge stations, so you can be ready to step in at a moment's notice." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"Yes, Sir. I understand." Vincent said seriously.

Commander M'Butu's formal attitude fell away as he quietly said, "If you run into any problems or need any advice, please feel free to ask."

"I will, thank you, Sir." Vincent said with a grateful smile, then he walked across the bridge and stood by the auxiliary station, where an Ensign was intently studying a status board.

"I'm here to relieve you." Vincent said in a quiet voice, not wanting to startle the young man.

"Thank you, I stand relieved." He said simply, then signed off the console.

Vincent watched him go, then took the seat and signed in.

* * * * *

The first hour and a half was actually boring. Since everyone had just taken their stations, no one needed a break. Nothing happened to call anyone away, so Vincent just had to stay alert and aware of what was going on.

Finally, it was time for the first scheduled break and he walked to the communications station.

"Lieutenant Patterson, are you ready to take a break?" Vincent asked as he walked to her side.

"Yes. Thank you, Ensign Winters." She said with a smile.

Vincent couldn't help but grin at her.

"You might get a request for a status update from Coffelt, the file is queued right here." She said as she pointed at a file folder icon.

Vincent nodded that he understood.

"Otherwise, it's been a slow morning. You shouldn't have any problems." She said as Vincent took her chair and fitted the earpiece into his ear.

"If I run into anything I don't know how to handle, I'll ask for help." Vincent said frankly.

"Good plan." Lieutenant Patterson said with a tender smile, then walked away.

* * * * *

Vincent heard a soft tone and immediately accepted the transmission.

"Federation Starship Yorktown." Vincent said in his 'mature' voice.

"I have a secure transmission from Admiral Kincaid directed to Captain Byrne." The female voice said professionally.

"One moment." Vincent said before muting the voice input, then said across the bridge, "Captain, I have a secure transmission for you from Admiral Kincaid."

"In my ready room." Captain Byrne said seriously, then got up from his command chair and started walking across the room.

Vincent quickly transferred the call to the viewscreen in the ready room, then glanced over his shoulder to see Commander M'Butu automatically taking the Captain's chair.

As Vincent turned to look at his console again, he noticed a light come on, just as a soft tone sounded in his ear.

Vincent accepted the video transmission, then said, "Federation Starship Yorktown."

There was a long pause as the older man on the screen looked at him with puzzlement.

"Were you trying to contact the USS Yorktown?" Vincent finally asked.

"I've got underwear older than you." The man blurted out.

Vincent fought to contain his smile, but it was no use.

He checked to see the origin of the transmission and saw that it was the Federation base at the Coffelt Colony.

When he was finally able to speak calmly, Vincent said, "I'm acting Ensign Winters on the USS Yorktown. Were you needing our status update?"

After a moment, the older man seemed to come back to himself and said, "Yes. That's right."

Vincent quickly pressed in the sequence to transmit the report.

"Winters? Are you the one who saved Tracey's life?" The man asked cautiously.

"I was part of the team that saved him." Vincent said seriously.

"It's an honor to meet you, acting Ensign Winters. Thank you for saving him. He's very dear to all of us." The man said gently.

"I can understand that. Tracey's a good guy." Vincent said with a smile.

"I hope to meet you in person when you arrive. Have a safe voyage. Coffelt out." The man said respectfully.

"I'd like that too. Yorktown out." Vincent said professionally, then closed the transmission.

Before he had released the button, another one lit up. This one being a shipboard communication.

"Communications." Vincent answered smartly.

"Ask Commander M'Butu to join me in my ready room." Captain Byrne said in a dire tone.

"Aye, Sir." Vincent said seriously, then closed the transmission.

Vincent turned in his seat and said toward the command chair, "Commander M'Butu, the captain asked that you join him in the ready room."

Commander M'Butu stood, then looked around the bridge quickly before saying, "Ensign Winters, you have the bridge."

"Aye, Sir." Vincent said as he remained at the communications station.

* * * * *

"Anything to report?" Lieutenant Patterson asked as she stood by Vincent.

"Coffelt received their status report. The Captain received a secure call from Admiral Kincaid and now he and Commander M'Butu are in a meeting in the ready room." Vincent said professionally.

"Who has the bridge?" She asked as she looked around.

"I do." Vincent said simply.

She smiled, then said, "Then I'd better let you get to it."

Vincent returned the smile, then turned over the communications station to her.

* * * * *

After a round of the bridge, Vincent settled into the command chair, curious about what could be keeping the Captain and Commander for so long.

"Sir. I'm receiving a low band transmission on an emergency frequency." Lieutenant Patterson said suddenly.

"On screen." Vincent said as he stood.

"It's audio only." Lieutenant Patterson said as she switched the audio to the overhead speakers.

The garbled sounds were vaguely recognizable as speech, but the level of distortion was such that there was no way to make out any words.

"Can you find a source for the transmission?" Vincent asked as he walked to the science station.

"It's a ship. Heading three oh eight mark one one." Lieutenant Patterson said carefully.

Vincent focused the scanners from the science station on the heading and was able to find the image of what appeared to be a disabled spaceship.

After a long silent moment, Darin hesitantly asked, "Do you want me to change course?"

"Hold course and speed." Vincent said firmly as he carefully examined the scanning data.

"Aye, Sir." Darin said as he turned his attention forward.

"Lieutenant Patterson, would you please contact the Coffelt Base and fill them in on what we've encountered. Also, send them our location, a copy of the audio transmission and all my scanning data. Tell them that they need to send a security team to investigate." Vincent said seriously.

"Would you like for me to notify the captain?" She asked cautiously.

"No. I'll fill him in when he takes over." Vincent said firmly as he walked back to the command chair.

Questioning looks went around the bridge, but everyone kept their questions to themselves.

* * * * *

Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu walked onto the bridge with matching grim looks on their faces.

"Report." Captain Byrne said as he approached the command chair.

Vincent stood and stepped aside as he said, "We've maintained course and speed. We received a call from a disabled ship on an emergency frequency, so I contacted Coffelt so they could send a security team to investigate."

"You ignored a distress call?" Commander M'Butu asked in astonishment.

"No, Sir. I received what appeared to be a distress call. After looking at the scans of the disabled ship and of the asteroid field they were drifting in, I decided that it was too risky. If I were going to lay a trap for passing ships, that's exactly what it would look like." Vincent said frankly.

Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu shared a look for a moment, then the Captain said, "As it happens, Admiral Kincaid just notified me of recent pirate activity in the sector we are approaching. It seems that three ships have been attacked and disabled in the past two days and one of them was finally able to make enough repairs to make a report of it this morning. That being the case, it is possible that the distress call you received was something more than it appeared."

Vincent stood at attention, seeing no reason for him to respond.

"Return to your station, Ensign Winters. I have command." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"I stand relieved." Vincent said professionally, then walked to the auxiliary console to check his break schedule.

After a moment of whispered conversation with the captain, Commander M'Butu walked to Vincent's side. "When you received the distress call, why didn't you call the captain to the bridge?" Commander M'Butu asked carefully.

"Maybe I should have. But the way I saw it, there really was only one choice. No matter if it was you or me or the captain in command, none of us would have chosen to take the Yorktown into that asteroid field in the shape she's in now." Vincent said frankly.

"That was the captain's decision to make." Commander M'Butu said firmly.

"Would you have called the captain?" Vincent asked curiously.

"That's different. I'm a commander." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"You and the captain were busy doing something important, or you would have been on the bridge. It makes no sense for me to sit in the command chair if you expect me to call you every time there's a decision to be made. I mean, yeah, if I wasn't sure about what I was doing, of course I would have called you or the captain to the bridge to be sure what I was doing was the right thing. But this, I knew I was right." Vincent said imploringly.

Commander M'Butu held Vincent's gaze for a moment, then glanced over at the auxiliary station.

"It looks like you need to give Ensign Cooper his break. I'll discuss what you've said with the captain and get back with you." Commander M'Butu said frankly.

"Thank you, Sir." Vincent said respectfully, then walked across the bridge to the helm.

* * * * *

"Captain, we have an incoming transmission from Lieutenant Commander Carmondy from Coffelt Security Force, Foxtrot division." Lieutenant Patterson said professionally.

"On screen." Captain Byrne said as he stood.

"Captain, we were on our way to investigate the scene of one of the pirate attacks when we received your report. We've changed course and I wanted to know if there's any additional information before we arrive at the coordinates you provided." Lieutenant Commander Carmondy said formally.

"Ensign Winters was in command when the incident occurred." Captain Byrne said frankly, then looked over at Vincent at the helm and asked, "Can you think of anything you'd like to add to your initial report?"

Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "No, Sir. I sent them all the information that was collected while we were within scanning range."

"It would appear that we have no additional information to offer you." Captain Byrne said frankly.

"We just want to be as prepared as possible before we go in there. Thank you for checking, Sir." Lieutenant Commander Carmondy said professionally.

"Please, let us know if you find anything of consequence when you arrive." Captain Byrne said seriously.

"Yes, Sir. Foxtrot, out."

"Yorktown, out." Captain Byrne responded, then looked speculatively at Vincent for a moment.

Vincent could feel the stare on his back as he forced himself to keep his attention on the helm.

"I'm back. Thanks." Darin said as he approached Vincent's side.

"I have no variations to report." Vincent said as he stood.

"I've got it. Thanks." Darin said with a smile, then looked over the helm.

As Vincent walked across the bridge, back to his auxiliary station, he noticed that Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu seemed to be engaged in a serious conversation.

* * * * *

As Vincent was sitting at the navigation station, next to Darin, he heard Debbie call out, "Sir, I've just received a text message. Lieutenant Commander Carmondy reports that they have arrived at the scene of the distress call and have been set upon by twelve heavily armed mid-range fighters."

"Do they need our assistance?" Captain Byrne asked with concern.

"No, Sir. They seem confident that they have the situation under control. You had asked to be notified about what they found." Lieutenant Patterson said frankly.

"Yes. Of course." Captain Byrne said thoughtfully, then continued, "Commander, you're with me. Ensign Winters, you have the bridge."

"Yes, Sir." Vincent said with surprise from his place at the navigation station.

"Lieutenant Patterson, would you find someone to fill Ensign Winters' spot as backup crew. I believe he may be otherwise occupied for the remainder of the day." Captain Byrne said frankly, then after receiving a nod from her, continued off the bridge.

* * * * *

Once the navigator returned from his break, Vincent made a round of the bridge before settling in the command chair.

"Ensign Winters, I have a text message from Foxtrot Division." Debbie said with a smile.

"What have you got?" Vincent asked curiously, drawn in by her good mood.

"They say that not only were they able to subdue the pirates who were laying in wait in that trap, but they were also able to recover all the stolen cargo from the three ships." Debbie said happily.

Vincent smiled, then said, "Please send them a message from the Yorktown, tell them 'Good Job'."

Debbie chuckled, then turned to send the message.

Vincent noticed that Darin was being relieved from his station by the older looking ensign that Debbie had summoned to the bridge.

"Do you have any idea of when you'll be going to lunch?" Darin asked as he approached.

"Actually, I don't know if I'll be going to lunch." Vincent said honestly.

"They kind of just dumped all this in your lap, didn't they?" Darin asked quietly.

Vincent gave an unconcerned shrug, then said, "I can handle it."

Darin broke into a grand smile, and said, "Little brother, I believe that you can."

Vincent's unconcerned facade fell away for a moment and revealed a small measure of his insecurity as he looked up at Darin and honestly said, "Thanks."

Darin nodded, then left the bridge so he could have his lunch.

* * * * *

"Sir, I have an incoming video transmission from the Coffelt Base Commander." Debbie said with concern.

"Put it on screen." Vincent said as he stood.

After a stunned moment of silence, Commander Sturgill slowly said, "Crewman Winters, it's a surprise to see you."

Vincent giggled at the statement, then said, "I guess that Captain Byrne thinks that it's best that I learn stuff by doing it. What can I do for you today, Commander Sturgill?"

"We've just completed our final supply inventory, so you'll know what parts will be available when you arrive." Commander Sturgill said with a pleasant smile.

"I'll see that Chief Morgan gets a copy." Vincent said as he glanced at Debbie. She nodded to him that she would take care of it.

"I heard that the Yorktown had a near miss with a band of pirates." Commander Sturgill said frankly.

"They laid a trap, but we didn't step in it. I'm glad it turned out that way, but there's not much of a story to tell." Vincent said frankly.

"From the sound of it, no one else is going to be stepping in that particular trap, ever again. Our security force was able to get every last one of them." Commander Sturgill said happily.

"That's good. It would've been nice if we could've gone in there and took care of them ourselves, but we've already taken too much damage from all these faulty and worn out circuits. The last thing we need to do is put stress on them and bump them around." Vincent said frankly.

"Yes. Even though it's natural to have a sense of pride in one's ship, it's also important to be realistic and aware of such limitations." Commander Sturgill said frankly.

Vincent nodded his agreement.

"I look forward to meeting you in person, very soon, Crewman Winters." Commander Sturgill said with a tender smile.

"Yeah. Me, too." Vincent said with a big toothy grin.

Commander Sturgill chuckled, then said, "Coffelt Base, out."

"Yorktown, out." Vincent responded.

* * * * *

Commander M'Butu walked onto the bridge and directly to the command chair.

"Are you about ready to take lunch?" The Commander asked casually.

"Yes, Sir." Vincent answered as he stood, then said, "Commander Sturgill sent the updated inventory list. I forwarded it to Chief Morgan. We've maintained course and speed. There are no variations to report."

"I have command." Commander M'Butu said professionally as he sat down in the command chair.

"I stand relieved." Vincent said formally, then turned and left the bridge.

* * * * *

"Hey, Vincent! How are you doing today?" Chance asked as he approached the table.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." Vincent said with a grin, then gestured to offer Chance a seat.

After sitting down, Chance looked at Vincent speculatively and said, "Come on, give."

"It's a long story. A distress call, pirates... you know, stuff like that. I can tell you all about it after my shift, but I'm almost done and I have to get back to the bridge." Vincent said before taking another large bite of his food.

"Distress call." Chance said slowly.

Vincent nodded as he chewed.

"Pirates?" Chance confirmed.

Vincent nodded again.

"What is it that you're doing on the bridge?" Chance asked cautiously.

"I'm in command." Vincent said with a grin, then took a long drink of his coffee.

"Seriously? You're really in command?" Chance asked in wonder.

"Yup." Vincent said simply.

"How did that happen?" Chance asked in a stunned voice.

"I'm in the mentoring program. The command staff have been helping me learn the stuff that I need to know to be an officer. I guess the captain thinks that having this experience will be good for me." Vincent said consideringly.

"So what is this about a distress call and pirates?" Chance asked cautiously.

"I'll have to tell you later. I need to get back to the bridge." Vincent said frankly.

"Will you be here, in the mess hall, after your shift?" Chance asked slowly.

"Yeah. As far as I know." Vincent said thoughtfully, then added, "But if the captain has something else for me to do, I might not. I can't really swear that I'll be here."

"I'll be waiting. I want to hear ALL about this." Chance said firmly.

"Okay. I'll do my best to be here." Vincent said with a smile, then picked up his tray.

* * * * *

As soon as Vincent returned from lunch, Commander M'Butu immediately relinquished command and left the bridge.

After making a round of the bridge, Vincent stopped by the helm and asked, "So, how is it?"

"I'm still having trouble believing that I'm here." Darin said honestly.

Vincent grinned at the answer, then whispered, "You and me, both."

"Sir, I have an incoming transmission for you from Admiral Kincaid." Debbie said with a note of surprise.

"Is it on a secure channel?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No, Sir." Debbie responded immediately.

"Then, put it on the screen." Vincent said as he walked to the command chair.

"Ensign Winters, how are you doing today?" Admiral Kincaid asked pleasantly.

"Very well. What can I do for you, Admiral?" Vincent asked in an equally pleasant tone.

"Straight to business. I like that." The admiral said with a grin, then continued, "As I'm sure you are aware, the news of your... participation... in the Kimber colony rescue made a few headlines back here on Earth."

"No, Sir. Actually, I didn't know that." Vincent said honestly.

"Well, the survivors told a few people, some news organizations caught wind of it, and the story ran for a few days. Starfleet didn't do anything to encourage or discourage it, feeling that it would just die out if we left it alone." Admiral Kincaid said frankly.

Vincent nodded that it sounded reasonable.

"One of the reasons we didn't want to encourage the story is because, many times a 'hero' is just a regular person put into an extraordinary circumstance. While praise and adulation may be pleasant feelings, focusing a lot of attention and public scrutiny promotes a level of stress that many are unable to handle well." Admiral Kincaid said carefully.

Vincent considered for a moment and nodded his agreement with their decision.

"Now, to the reason for my call." The admiral said in prelude. "Starfleet has been having something of a public relations crisis, of late, in regard to the subject of 'pirates'. While the instance of pirate activity is actually rare, those few instances garner such attention that it makes Starfleet look as though they're unable to address the problem."

Vincent slowly nodded his understanding, although, he couldn't imagine why the admiral was telling him all of this.

"If you would agree to it, Starfleet would like to make an announcement that 'The Hero of Kimber', was responsible for the detection and eventual capture of twelve pirate ships." Admiral Kincaid said frankly.

"But I didn't do anything!" Vincent objected.

"Ensign... Vincent, you spotted them. Rather than fall into their trap, you called for a security force to investigate. While I admit that you didn't play much of a part in the actual apprehension of the pirates, without you, it's possible that they wouldn't have been captured at all." Admiral Kincaid said seriously.

Vincent thought for a moment, then reconfirmed his posture before asking, "What do I have to do, Sir?"

"All that we're asking is for you to give your permission for us to release the story. Since you're on active duty, we aren't going to allow any interviews. But we will provide the media with a list of your accomplishments that are a matter of public record." Admiral Kincaid said as he watched carefully for Vincent's reaction.

"And by doing it this way, it will get the story about the pirates out in a way that'll cause more people to notice it. And because of that, Starfleet won't look like they're not dealing with the problem." Vincent said speculatively.

"Yes." Admiral Kincaid said happily, then added, "And since the most vocal detractors are from the colony worlds, who are the most frequent targets of the pirates, a story about 'The Hero of Kimber', who saved so many colonists lives, will be likely to make them take special notice."

"And all I have to do is say 'yes'?" Vincent asked slowly.

"That's right. And, most likely, all of this will have died down before the Yorktown arrives at Earth. You might have the occasional person recognize you or ask you about it, but since you aren't doing any interviews, you shouldn't be elevated to celebrity status." Admiral Kincaid said seriously.

After another moment to consider, Vincent slowly said, "Yes, Sir. If it will help to show people that Starfleet really does work to stop the pirates, then I'll give my permission."

"Thank you, Ensign Winters. We'll do our best to minimize the sensationalism whilst accomplishing our goals." Admiral Kincaid said frankly.

"I'd appreciate that." Vincent said honestly.

"I'll let you get back to your duties. And you might want to watch the Federation news broadcast this evening." Admiral Kincaid said with a smile.

"Thank you, Sir. I'll do that." Vincent said professionally.

"Starfleet, out." Admiral Kincaid said with a smile.

"Yorktown, out." Vincent said calmly.

* * * * *

When the transmission ended, Vincent noticed that he had a crewman waiting for him to sign off on a report.

Once that was out of the way, Vincent made a round of the bridge before going back to settle into the command chair.

His mind was going over and over what the Admiral had said when Debbie announced, "I have an incoming video transmission from the Coffelt Base Commander.

Vincent smiled and stood as he said, "On the main screen."

"Crewman Winters, I still can't quite get used to seeing you in command." Commander Sturgill said with a smile.

"Think how strange it is for me." Vincent said frankly, then cautiously asked, "How are things going?"

"Very well. I just wanted to call to inform you that our pirates have turned out to be a bit more ambitious than we had first realized. It may take some weeks to catalog all the recovered property. But we're currently estimating a dollar value well into the tens of millions." Commander Sturgill said seriously.

"That much?" Vincent asked with surprise.

"Yes. They've been working in an area for a short time, then moving on. All their 'treasure' has been stored on an airless planet, waiting on them to come back and divvy it up." Commander Sturgill said frankly.

"So this wasn't just a few guys trying to get rich quick." Vincent said speculatively.

"No. It looks like they've been at this for a few years. They just move so quickly from place to place that they were nearly impossible to catch. By the time we were aware that there was pirate activity in an area, they had already moved on." Commander Sturgill said simply.

"Wow." Vincent said as he was beginning to realize the scope of the operation that they had stumbled on to.

"I had better get back to the business of running this place. I just thought you'd be interested to know about these new developments." Commander Sturgill said with a smile.

"Yes. Thank you, Commander. And I'll be sure to let Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu know about it, too." Vincent said quickly.

Commander Sturgill nodded, then said, "Coffelt, out."

"Yorktown, out."

* * * * *

"Sir, engineering reports a control circuit failure in the port nacelle plasma regulator." Debbie said in an urgent tone.

"Get me Chief Morgan." Vincent said firmly.

After a few seconds, Debbie turned and said, "Apparently, he's got his hands full, at the moment."

"Fine, but unless he's fixing it with his mouth, someone needs to get him on a communicator so I can find out what's going on." Vincent said seriously.

"I'll suggest that." Debbie said cautiously, then turned her attention back to her communications panel.

A few seconds later, the overhead speaker came alive with the sounds of alarms and alerts in the background, and finally a voice said, "This is Chief Morgan."

"This is Ensign Winters on the bridge, I'm in command. Tell me what you need for me to do to help you." Vincent said firmly.

"Give me two minutes to see if I can get this son of a... If I can get it to switch to manual mode, then we'll be fine." Chief Morgan said gruffly.

"Understood. Let me know if there's anything you need." Vincent said seriously.

"You'll be the first." Chief Morgan said quickly, then the line went silent.

"Lieutenant Patterson, please compose a summary of the situation and notify Starfleet, Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu." Vincent said seriously.

"Do you want me to call the captain to the bridge?" Debbie asked cautiously.

"Not yet. But if Chief Morgan can't get that regulator under control, then call him right away." Vincent said seriously.

"What happens if he can't get control of the regulator?" Darin asked quietly.

"Then we may have to vent our plasma and do an emergency warp core shut down." Vincent said simply.

After a second of thought, Darin said, "Yeah. I think I'd want the captain here for that, too."

Vincent nodded, then waited anxiously for any news from engineering.

* * * * *

"Bridge! We got it!" Chief Morgan called out in a triumphant voice.

"Good work." Vincent said happily, then asked, "Are you going to be able to fix it?"

"Not before we reach the Coffelt Base. The whole unit needs to be replaced." Chief Morgan said frankly.

"Is it going to be any problem running it in manual mode for that long?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"From a personnel standpoint, no. I have enough qualified people to cover it. From a comfort standpoint... one 'human error' and we'll be left hanging dead in space." Chief Morgan said grimly.

"I'll notify the Captain and Commander M'Butu, I'm sure one of them will be in touch with you before the end of the shift." Vincent said seriously.

"I'll look forward to it." Chief Morgan said with a chuckle.

Vincent smiled, then said, "Good work, Chief Morgan. Winters, out."

"Morgan, out." Chief Morgan responded.

"Lieutenant Patterson, would you provide an update for Starfleet, Captain Byrne and Commander M'Butu?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"I was just waiting for you to ask." Debbie said with a grin, then made a show of pressing one button to send the messages.

Vincent smiled as he sat back in the command chair.

* * * * *

"Report." Commander M'Butu said as he walked onto the bridge and directly to the command chair.

"We've maintained course and speed. There are no variations." Vincent said as he stood, then continued, "There was a control circuit failure in the port nacelle plasma regulator. Chief Morgan was able to switch it into manual mode and is sure that his team can keep it stable until we reach Coffelt."

Commander M'Butu stood for a moment and seemed to be looking down into Vincent's soul. Finally, he responded, "I'm willing to concede that you took the appropriate action with the distress call. But when you received the notification about the plasma regulator, you should have called the captain to the bridge immediately. This is his ship, and when something happens that poses a legitimate threat, he should be the one to make the decisions about what's to be done."

"Yes, sir. I'll remember that." Vincent said as he fought to keep his welling emotions from showing through. He wasn't sure if it was from being reprimanded or if it was his sense of failure that was gnawing at him. All that he knew was that, right at that moment, he wanted to cry.

"The captain wants to speak with you privately in his ready room. I have the bridge." Commander M'Butu said professionally.

"Yes, sir. I stand relieved." Vincent said smartly, then turned and walked away with his posture straight and his head held high.

* * * * *

"Acting Ensign Winters, reporting as ordered, sir." Vincent said as he stood just inside the captain's ready room door.

"At ease, Ensign. Please, have a seat." The captain said as he gestured to the chair next to his at the table.

As Vincent walked to take the seat, he noticed that the captain didn't show any signs of being upset with him. If he had to put a label on the captain's expression, it would be contemplative.

"I would imagine that Commander M'Butu just had a talk with you, probably something one step removed from an actual reprimand." The Captain said speculatively.

"Yes, sir." Vincent responded quietly.

"Oliver is a good man and I have a great deal of respect for him. But he also still has things to learn." Captain Byrne said frankly.

Vincent looked at him with surprise.

"He feels that you're a little too quick to take the initiative, that you should be more cautious and more willing to ask for help." The captain said consideringly, then glanced at Vincent inquiringly.

"Yes, sir. To me it feels like he wants me to sit in the command chair, but when anything happens, he wants me to get someone else to decide what to do about it." Vincent said slowly, carefully choosing his words.

"Precisely." The captain said with a smile and a nod, then continued more gently, "He's worried for you."

Vincent looked at the captain with surprise.

"I suppose in this instance you could liken command to walking a tightrope. You have to plan your steps carefully and maintain control at all times. One misstep, and the consequences are severe and far reaching. I believe that what Oliver is seeing is that you're attempting to walk the tightrope without a safety net." Captain Byrne said carefully.

"So, do you think I should call for help when there's a decision to be made?" Vincent asked cautiously.

Captain Byrne smiled warmly at Vincent, then said, "No. I don't think that at all. In my experience, most new officers are reluctant to take the initiative. They either depend on others to make their decisions, so that they're not held to account for anything, or they adhere rigidly to rules and regulations, disregarding their own experience, instincts and even good, old fashioned, common sense. More often than not, either Oliver or I am put in the unenviable position of having to explain to them that being an officer means that we're depending on them to 'think' and 'decide'."

Vincent considered the words, then slowly nodded his understanding.

"In short, I'm advising you to continue on as you have been. Your decisions thus far have proved to me that you're capable." The captain said frankly, then added more slowly, "I think that, between us, we can demonstrate to Oliver that being decisive and headstrong can be an asset, and isn't something to be discouraged. People aren't all cast from the same mold. They all have different strengths and weaknesses. The most effective leaders recognize that and encourage those attributes which can be an asset."

"But, like today, when I got the report about the plasma regulator, I thought that instead of bothering you before anything actually 'happened' that I'd give Chief Morgan a chance to get it under control. Was I wrong to do that, or did you want me to call you to the bridge?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"I believe that you handled it correctly, although, I think the situation might have warranted a call rather than a text message. That way I could have advised you if I had information of which you weren't aware." Captain Byrne said thoughtfully.

"I'll do that next time." Vincent said seriously.

Captain Byrne nodded, then said, "If you'll send Commander M'Butu in to talk with me, you can finish out your time on the bridge today.

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


* * * * *

"Commander, the captain wants to talk to you in the ready room." Vincent said as he walked onto the bridge.

After a moment of surprise, Commander M'Butu responded, "Well then, you have the bridge. If I don't return before the end of the shift, Lieutenant Lewis will be relieving you."

"Understood. I have command." Vincent said professionally.

"I stand relieved." Commander M'Butu said uncertainly, then walked off the bridge.

As Vincent walked slowly around the bridge, Darin quietly asked, "Did you get in trouble?"

"No. The captain and I just talked about some of what happened. If you'll ask me later, I'll tell you about it." Vincent said casually.

"Are you excited about the news story?" Darin asked with a smile.

"I guess." Vincent said noncommittally, then added, "But I don't want to get too worked up about it. I'm pretty sure that if I get all excited, that it'll just end up being a fifteen second announcement or something."

"Even if it's for fifteen seconds, it's the FEDERATION news." Darin said imploringly.

Vincent smiled, then whispered, "Okay, yeah. I'm excited."

Darin smiled at the shy admission.

* * * * *

After his shift was over, Vincent went to the mess hall and met up with Chance and Channing. He filled them in on the events of the day and was more than half sure that they didn't entirely believe him.

When it was almost time for the Federation News broadcast, he excused himself without explaining where he was going. He didn't tell Chance and Channing not to watch the broadcast with him, but he never explicitly invited them either.

"Good! I was afraid you weren't going to make it!" Vincent said as T'Lani approached.

"You stated that the news broadcast started at 18:00, it is now precisely 18:00." T'Lani said impassively.

Vincent smiled as he relaxed back in his chair in the small alcove on the recreation deck.

Although he had considered inviting everyone in Deflector Control to watch the story with him, he finally decided that all he really wanted was to share the moment with his wife.

The opening screen of the news broadcast came on and everyone in the 'Viewing Lounge' fell silent, wanting to catch the latest news from Earth and the Federation.

Vincent was surprised to see the picture from his Starfleet ID in the background behind the anchorman.

"Many of you may have heard about one spectacularly heroic act that occurred during the Kimber Colony evacuation. A small boy who was accepted into the Starfleet Mentoring Program, volunteered to enter a damaged reactor and shut it down."

"Hundreds of lives were saved that day, lives that would have been extinguished but for the selfless actions of Crewman Vincent Winters. But that isn't the end of the story. No, in fact, it was only the beginning. On his first day aboard the USS Yorktown, Crewman Winters was recognized for uncovering a plot to defraud Starfleet and the Federation of millions of dollars. That very same day, he was also responsible for saving the life of one of his fellow crew members."

"Since the Kimber Colony incident, Crewman Winters has been promoted by two enlisted ranks, he was instrumental in saving the life of the religious leader of an entire planetary system and has the distinction of being the only member of Starfleet to ever be welcomed aboard a Gorn vessel."

"This very day, Crewman Vincent Winters detected an insidious trap laid by pirates to ensnare passing ships. He immediately called for a security force from the nearest Federation Starbase, and due to the information he provided, they were able to capture the entire band of pirates, as well as recover approximately one hundred million dollars worth of stolen property."

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

Vincent stared wide eyed at the video screen. He had just expected a little announcement that he had helped catch some pirates.

"Only my little brother." A voice chuckled from behind him.

Vincent turned to see that nearly the entire deflector control team were in the viewing lounge.

"Way to go, champ." Joe said as he put a hand on Vincent's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

"I guess you were telling the truth." Chance said with a grin.

"I think this calls for a celebration." Rad said frankly.

The protest was perched on Vincent's lips, but he held it back.

Even though being the center of so much attention might be uncomfortable for him, he was surrounded by his wife, his family and his closest friends.

"Yeah. Let's do it!"

To Be Continued...