When Vincent opened his eyes, he wasn't as much surprised by his surroundings as he was interested. He had almost expected to awaken in the meadow in the Realm of Blades.
When he went to sleep, he had been snuggled into a nest of boys and girls in Tan and Mike's living room. But as he looked around, he found himself in a bedroom. It wasn't exactly familiar, but he knew he had seen it before.
Just as he heard movement outside the bedroom door, his sleep fogged mind finally recognized it to be the bedroom in Brakkii's palace.
"I'm glad to see that you're finally here. I was sorely tempted to slip into your realm and just take you." Brakkii said gently as he walked into the room.
"Why? Is something wrong?" Vincent asked curiously as he sat up in bed.
"Wrong? Yes, I think that is a succinct and accurate description." Brakkii said with an uncharacteristic serious expression on his young teenage face.
"What is it? Is it something I can help with?" Vincent asked with concern, as he stood.
"That remains to be seen. But before anything else, we're going to need your physical body here. If this could be done by a spirit form, I would have taken care of it myself." Brakkii said frankly, then extended his hand.
"Can you just tell me? I've had, like, no sleep and I'm really not in the mood for guessing games right now." Vincent said as he placed his hand in Brakkii's.
"It's about your friend, Vince. He's in trouble." Brakkii said simply.
The world seemed to swirl around Vincent, then he felt his head fall forward as if he were nodding off to sleep. He jerked his head up and felt noticeably different. He felt heavier and more substantial.
"That's good. Except..." Brakkii trailed off as he looked down at Vincent wearing only Scooby Doo pajama bottoms.
"They're MichaelAngelo's. I didn't know I was going to be traveling." Vincent said frankly, then asked, "What's wrong with Vince?"
"Because this dream realm is attuned to you, I am always aware of how you are doing; you and Thomas and all the other versions of you who have access to this realm. I'm not watching you or anything like that, but I'm always aware of the hum of your energies." Brakkii said carefully.
Vincent nodded that he understood, then smiled when Brakkii produced the clothes he had left at MichaelAngelo's house, seemingly out of thin air.
"Almost two hours ago, Vince's energy disappeared and I felt it happen. He wasn't killed or anything like that, it was more like he was suddenly shifted to a place beyond where I can sense him." Brakkii said slowly as Vincent dressed.
"So where's that?" Vincent asked cautiously as he pulled his shirt on over his head.
"As you know, I am a multidimensional being. I exist on multiple planes and in multiple realities at the same time, that's my natural state." Brakkii said slowly as Vincent sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his shoes.
"Yeah. I sort of get that." Vincent said as he stood.
"Well, there is a nexus, a sort of... vortex that separates the realities here from equal and opposite realities on the other side." Brakkii said gravely as he led Vincent out of the room.
"So, it's like an anti-universe?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"More like an anti-multiverse." Brakkii said frankly.
"And you're telling me that somehow Vince got yanked through the nexus and into that place." Vincent said slowly.
"Yes, exactly. When he disappeared, I went looking for him. There was enough dimensional disruption that I had a trail to follow. Although it was possible for me to track him, my physical form can't traverse the nexus and therefore can't manifest in the anti-multiverse. So there's no way I could retrieve him on my own." Brakkii said regretfully.
"Hold on, do you mean anti- as in anti-matter? Because I really don't want to go there if me touching something will cause everything to blow up." Vincent said frankly.
"Oh, no. That's why there's a nexus. You can't possibly cross through it without being adapted. And due to my multi-dimensional nature, I can't physically cross it at all." Brakkii said seriously.
"So, it sounds like, if I go after him, that I'll be stuck there, too." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"No, of course not. I would never send you on a one way trip. While you're on this side of the nexus, I can attach spiritual strands to your essence that I'll be able to use to pull you back." Brakkii said quickly.
"So I go where Vince went, grab him, and you pull us both back. Is that the plan?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"In it's simplest terms, yes. But we also have to consider the possibility that this might not have been an accident." Brakkii said with concern.
"You mean they might have taken Vince to get someone to follow; like a trap?" Vincent asked as he stopped to look Brakkii in the eyes.
"That's not very likely. You've got to understand, it's exceedingly rare for beings to cross the nexus. The universe that you find there may bear little resemblance to yours. From what I've heard, the physical laws don't always operate the same way on the other side. And due to those inconsistencies and variations, I may not be able to place you exactly with Vince. But you should arrive relatively close by." Brakkii said frankly.
"But what about the trap?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"I can't be sure that it is a trap. What concerns me more is that I don't know how they managed to draw Vince across the nexus. If it was intentional, they may be experimenting with a transit device so they can cross the dimensional nexus to invade or raid our multiverse."
"So, how do we prevent that?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"I don't know that we can. But it's imperative that you find out HOW Vince was pulled across the nexus." Brakkii said firmly.
"Yeah. I'll do what I can. That's about all I can promise." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"And that's all I can ask." Brakkii assured, then looked deeply into Vincent's eyes as he said, "Remember, Vincent, you're a Trach Manja. Regardless of what universe you're in, you carry your gifts with you."
"Yeah, about that. I may have this mystical power, but I don't know how to use it. Can you tell me anything about what I'm supposed to do?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Be yourself. You were born with your gift, it's a part of your essence. There aren't any mysterious incantations or rituals that you have to perform to activate it. Your power is in your presence." Brakkii said thoughtfully.
"Well, that's about as clear as mud. I guess that's what I get for asking." Vincent muttered sourly.
Brakkii smiled briefly, then his look became serious as he quietly said, "You don't have to do this, you know."
"Yeah, I know. But you knew I would even before you asked me." Vincent said with a grin, then asked, "So are you going to tie some spirit strings on me or something like that? Because I want to get this done before I have to wake up in the morning."
"I've already done it. My spirit strands are firmly bound to your essence. I will be aware of what you're doing at all times. Just let me know when you're ready and I'll pull you back." Brakkii said seriously.
Vincent nodded, then nervously said, "I guess I'm ready. How do we do it?"
Brakkii made a sweeping gesture with his arm and indicated a full length mirror standing in a corner.
"Through the looking glass?" Vincent asked with a reluctant grin.
"I do my best to visualize these concepts in ways that are easy for you to comprehend. But if you prefer, I could make it a rabbit hole." Brakkii said frankly, then watched with concern as Vincent slowly stepped through.
Vincent couldn't be sure if he was falling, floating or flying.
He lost any concept of up or down as he felt like he was hurling through vast empty space. But at the same time, Vincent had the sense of being very still, like he was the only thing not in motion as the entire universe appeared to be coming undone all around him. Slowly he became aware of his body. It felt as though it was being warped and stretched out of shape. The sensation wasn't painful at all, just a bit strange and somewhat unpleasant.
All the strange sensations suddenly ended and Vincent dropped heavily into a heap on a dirty wooden floor. He slowly raised his head and looked around to find a hallway in what looked to be a run down office building. The lighting was harsh, and even though it seemed to be uncomfortably bright, the shadows around him seemed miles deep and filled with menace.
"I'll see..." A voice sounded from not very far away, then a door opened.
Vincent forced himself to stand and looked around quickly, trying to find someplace to hide, but it was already too late.
"It's another one!" An enormous Vulcan called out as he walked menacingly toward Vincent.
Before Vincent could even think about moving away, the Vulcan grabbed the top of Vincent's head with one of his massive hands and clamped on with an iron grip.
As Vincent half walked and was half dragged toward the doorway, he saw another version of himself, dressed in dark clothing and with a dire look on his face.
"Not good." Vincent's doppelganger said ominously before walking back into the room.
"Put him down, Destroyer. If he's anything like the other one, he's no threat." Vincent's somber clone said wearily as he settled in behind a large desk cluttered with papers.
"But what if he isn't like the other one?" The large Vulcan asked, not relaxing his hold on Vincent's head for an instant.
"Then I have you, my trusty body guard, to keep me safe, don't I?"
After a moment, the Vulcan released Vincent, half pushing, half throwing him into one of two chairs before the desk.
"I don't suppose you know how you got here." Vincent's doppelganger said in a weary tone.
The boy looked tired. His skin was too pale and there were dark circles etched under his eyes.
Vincent knew better than to mention Brakkii, so he answered quietly as he rubbed his head. "I went to bed last night. Then light, dark, crash, boom. Here I am."
"We need to find out why this is happening before we have to get a whole new planet just for my clones." Vincent's double said irritably to his bodyguard.
"We could kill them." The Vulcan said simply, and Vincent felt a chill run up his spine at the absolute seriousness of his suggestion.
"We could, but that would serve no purpose."
Vincent wanted to ask about Vince, but felt that both he and Vince might be safer if he held off for the moment. Instead, he decided to pry for information.
"Do you know how I got here?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Before he knew what had happened, the large Vulcan had backhanded him hard enough to knock him out of the chair.
"You'll speak when spoken to!" The Vulcan snarled.
"Val, go stand by the door." the doppelganger Vincent said impatiently.
"He needs to show you proper respect, Vindicator." The large Vulcan said reverently.
"And so do you. Over there, by the door. If he makes any threatening moves, I'll let you kill him." Vincent's doppelganger said seriously.
Reluctantly, the large Vulcan relocated himself to stand beside the door, but his intense gaze was fixed firmly on Vincent.
"Sorry about that. The Destroyer didn't get his name for being a cute and cuddly kind of guy." Vincent's doppelganger said as he walked around the desk and offered his hand to help Vincent to stand.
Vincent watched for any reaction from the Vulcan as he slowly and tentatively accepted the hand.
"What's your name?" The doppelganger asked as he helped Vincent to his feet.
"I'm Crewman Vincent Winters." Vincent said quietly as he probed the side of his face, which felt like it was beginning to swell.
"Crewman? So does that mean that you're a member of a military organization?" Vincent's clone asked curiously.
"Yes, I suppose so. I'm a member of Starfleet." Vincent said cautiously, feeling that anything he said might end up sending him to his doom.
"Would that be a force in the United Federation of Planets?" Vincent's doppelganger asked with interest.
"Yes. You've heard of the Federation?" Vincent asked with a sinking feeling.
"I've read a few reports... actually, it makes sense."
"I'm glad it makes sense to you. I'm still in the dark." Vincent said carefully, hoping that it would prompt his counterpart to reveal some useful information.
"I can imagine." Vincent's double said as he walked around the desk to take his seat again, then said, "By the way, I'm known as the Vindicator."
"So, you don't have a name?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Of course, I was born with a name, but Vindicator is the name that I earned. Well, actually, it was awarded to me when I was named as one of the five oracles, the servants of fate." The Vindicator said seriously.
Vincent slowly nodded.
"And how you got here... well, some Axis scientists have developed a new transporter that can operate via subspace to transport us great distances. Only high level officials are 'lucky' enough to be able to use it so far." The Vindicator said as he rolled his eyes on the word 'lucky'. "For some reason, when I transported here from Vulcan, another version of myself appeared a minute or so later. And now you make three... I really hate new technology."
"So it was just a transporter accident?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"It looks that way. I contacted one of the scientists who developed the thing and he said some gobbledygook about messed up quantum frequencies or something. I swore him to secrecy about all of this because I honestly don't have the time to deal with anything more." The Vindicator said frankly.
Vincent nodded that he understood.
"I think I'll just stick to old fashioned space flight and transporters until they get all the bugs worked out." The Vindicator said tiredly.
"What happened to the other you... I mean, us?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"He's resting in my room, next door. Unfortunately, the Destroyer scared him and he ran outside without a mask. We've been under a code purple smog alert for nearly three months and he appears to have no tolerance to the contaminated air. The doctor says that he's going to be fine." The Vindicator said simply.
"What planet are we on?" Vincent asked curiously. From the style of the building and the furnishings, he had assumed that they were on Earth. But as he looked around, he noticed that even though the room they were in seemed perfectly normal, there were no windows at all.
"This is Earth. And before you can start spouting a bunch of tree-hugging crap at me, we did what we had to do. We're a major force in the universe. If we hadn't exploited ALL our resources, the Axis would have been crushed before it was ever started." The Vindicator said firmly.
Vincent raised his hands in supplication and said, "It's your world. Your choice."
"Actually, I didn't choose. It was chosen for me, a long time before I was born. But at this point all we can do is deal with it." The Vindicator said tiredly.
Vincent nodded, then asked, "So, do you think your scientists can get me back home?"
The Vindicator shook his head, then said, "Thanks to me being an oracle, I can answer that with some certainty. There is no way that any scientists working on the project right now will be able to recreate the ID transporter accident to send you home. I'm sorry to say, it was a one way trip."
"You can see the future?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"No. Not really. But sometimes if I look at something or someone, I can see what's fated to happen. That's why I've been given such a position of authority. By knowing the fates of various people, groups and even worlds, I can guide the Axis to work with or around fate and assume complete control of the lesser races in our dominion." The Vindicator said frankly.
As Vincent opened his mouth to ask another question, a yawn suddenly escaped.
The Vindicator's somber expression broke briefly and revealed a restrained smile as he waited for Vincent to speak.
"Sorry. It's the middle of the night where I'm from." Vincent explained timidly.
"It is here, too." The Vindicator said simply. "Most people have adapted to working during the night because the smog eases somewhat after dark. It's best to not even try to go out during the day anymore."
Although Vincent had about a million questions that he'd like to ask, he felt that just about all of them would be likely to rub the Vindicator the wrong way. So in an effort to change the subject, he quietly asked, "Can I see Vince, now?"
"Who?" The Vindicator asked curiously.
"The other me... I mean, us. You said he's hurt. I'd like to check on him, if you don't mind." Vincent said quickly, realizing that he had just made, what might end up being, a fatal slip.
"The doctor just finished with him a few minutes ago. He's through here. " The Vindicator said as he indicated a side door.
Vincent got up and noticed that the Destroyer walked immediately to the Vindicator's side.
"Vincent? Is that you?" Vince asked blearily from his place on the bed.
"Hey Vince. I see that you're letting your hair grow out... I like it." Vincent said gently, then asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Um, thanks. I felt like I was burning and suffocating before, but the doctor took really good care of me and I feel better now." Vince said quietly, and Vincent noticed that he sounded like he had a sore throat.
"When you're feeling up to it, the three of us need to sit down and talk so we can decide what we're going to do about you." The Vindicator said frankly.
Vincent took firm hold of Vince's hand, then said, "I'm sorry, Vindicator, but I wasn't completely honest with you. I didn't come here by accident. I came so I could take Vince back to his own dimension."
The Destroyer took a step forward, but stopped when the Vindicator raised his hand.
"Your people have the technology to cross dimensions into alternate realities?" The Vindicator asked cautiously.
"No. At least, not as far as I know. But I happen to have a really good friend who is a being from an ancient race. He has the ability to cross dimensions. He noticed that Vince was missing and asked me to come and get him." Vincent said frankly.
"What about your 'Federation'? Do they know about this?" The Vindicator asked cautiously.
"They don't know anything about what I'm doing and they'll never hear about it from me." Vincent said seriously, then quietly added, "They're not ready."
"That, I understand." The Vindicator said frankly.
Vincent looked into the Vindicator's eyes and was surprised to realize that he and his 'equal and opposite' self held the same belief to be true.
"Who are you 'really'?" The Vindicator asked suspiciously.
"Crewman Vincent Winters, petty officer second class, Son of Clan Short of the family of Sarek of the House of Surak of Vulcan, and the thirty-seventh heir in succession of the Family Euchamaut of Greater Andoria. I am also a Trach Manja, one of the five masters of fate." Vincent said as he held the Vindicator's gaze.
"You're a 'master' of fate? What does that mean?" The Vindicator asked cautiously.
"I guess your gift is to foresee what is fated to happen. I can't do that. My gift is to be able to... sort of spin the wheel and reshuffle fate." Vincent said quietly.
"You can CHANGE fate?" The Vindicator asked with surprise.
Vincent slowly nodded.
"Destroyer! Get Lawrence! Bring him here NOW!" The Vindicator barked.
"I can't leave you alone with..."
"I SAID NOW!" The Vindicator screamed so forcefully that the veins bulged out in his neck.
"Yes. I'll... be right..." The Destroyer stammered, then rushed out of the room.
"Crewman... Vincent. If you can really change fate, then please help my brother." The Vindicator begged.
"What's wrong with him?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"SCPD." The Vindicator said with regret.
"What's that?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Systemic cardiopulmonary degeneration. Lawrence isn't responding to the treatments anymore. The doctors keep jerking me around, telling me that he's going to be fine but... I can see his fate. My mom and dad are already dead. Lawrence is the only family I've got left. Please... help him."
"I'll do what I can." Vincent said weakly, wishing once again that someone anyone would tell him how to use his abilities.
"Every time I look at Lawrence, I can see his sealed fate. I can't make myself tell him the truth, but I can't look him in the eye and lie to him either. I do my best to see that he's comfortable and taken care of but..." The Vindicator trailed off in anguish, then whispered, "He's all that keeps me from being consumed by my work."
Vincent slowly nodded that he understood.
"He hasn't even earned his name yet." The Vindicator said distantly.
Before Vincent could think of what to say, the Destroyer carried Lawrence into the room. Vincent was shocked by the sight. Lawrence looked so weak and frail that Vincent knew that the image would haunt him in his nightmares for years to come.
"I told you, I can walk, you big ox." Lawrence said breathlessly.
"Yes. You can. But not fast enough." The Destroyer said as he gently placed Lawrence on the foot of Vince's bed.
"What..." Lawrence began to ask, but seemed to run out of air as he looked from his brother to two more people who looked just like him.
"We're from alternate dimensions." Vincent said quickly, wanting to forestall any lengthy explanations.
Lawrence hesitantly nodded that he understood, then looked at his brother curiously.
Vincent looked at Lawrence, then at the Vindicator, not sure what he should do.
"Please." The Vindicator whispered as his eyes welled with unformed tears.
"Lawrence." Vincent said and offered his hand.
After a hesitant moment, Lawrence accepted the offered hand and held it weakly.
"Back in my dimension, I've been spending time with my brother. It seems like the first time I ever really talked to him. The whole time we were growing up, we never got along... mostly my fault. But now I'm spending time with him and his boyfriend and... I found out that I really like him."
Lawrence flashed a nervous look at his brother at the word 'boyfriend', then turned his full attention back to Vincent.
"What I'm really trying to say is, that I hope you and your brother can have lots of time to do that, too. You know, really get to know each other." Vincent said as he looked deeply into Lawrence's eyes.
"I'd like that, but... since he's become an oracle, he's always so busy." Lawrence said regretfully, then a look of panic filled his eyes. Vincent watched with concern as Lawrence released his hand and fumbled to get an inhaler from his pocket.
After a moment for the medicine to take effect, Lawrence looked somewhat relieved and nodded that he was okay to continue.
"Lawrence, all you need to do is let your brother know when you want to talk and I know he'll make time." Vincent said gently, then turned to the Vindicator and asked, "Won't you?"
The Vindicator stared at his brother in wonder as his mouth fell open.
"I think that means 'yes'." Vincent said to Lawrence with a grin.
"You did it." The Vindicator gasped as he continued to stare at Lawrence..
"For this to work, he's going to need his brother." Vincent said as he turned his full attention to The Vindicator. "Will you be there for him?"
The Vindicator blinked, which dislodged a single tear that slowly fell down his pale cheek. Finally, he looked Lawrence in the eyes and quietly said, "Yes. I'll always be there for you. Whenever you need me."
Vincent smiled at the answer, then turned to Vince and said, "I think now would be a REALLY good time for us to go."
Vince nodded his wholehearted agreement.
"It was nice meeting all of you. Thank you for taking care of Vince when he was hurt. I'll see that he gets home safely." Vincent said as he urged Vince to stand.
"I can get you access to a communication array if you need it. Just let me know what you need and I'll get it for you." The Vindicator said quickly.
Vincent could feel a tugging sensation and realized that it was Brakkii, signalling that he was ready to bring them back. He looked toward where he was being pulled and smiled.
"No thanks. We're just going to borrow your mirror for a minute. That's all we'll need." Vincent said as he led Vince by the hand, toward the mirror that was on the back of the Vindicator's closet door.
"Seriously?" The Vindicator asked incredulously.
Vincent grinned at his expression, then held tight to Vince as he felt Brakkii's strands pulling them into the vortex in the mirror.
This time through the vortex, Vincent was more aware of Vince in his arms than he was of what was going on around them. Before he could give name to the odd sensations washing over him, Brakkii's living room in the palace began to form around them.
"How are you doing?" Vincent asked Vince with concern as he tentatively released him from their hug, making sure that he could stand on his own.
"I... I think I'm alright." Vince said in a raspy voice.
"There's nothing wrong with either of you that a little time won't cure." Brakkii said reassuringly, then walked to Vincent and pulled him into a firm hug.
"What's that for?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I just wanted to give you that for what you said to the Vindicator." Brakkii said as he released Vincent from the hug. "I think of you as a good friend, too."
Vincent smiled, but the expression fell away as he thought of something, "What about Vince's quantum resonance frequency? If that's what caused them to lock in on him, then isn't this going to happen again the next time The Vindicator uses the ID transporter?"
Brakkii smiled, then said, "A valid concern, except that your trip through the nexus had the added bonus of restoring and cementing both your quantum frequencies back to those of your native dimensions."
"Can you do something for Vinny?" Vincent asked quickly, then added, "I don't think he could handle it if he ended up face-to-face with The Vindicator."
"Or The Destroyer." Vince said quietly.
"Not to worry, my young friends. By morning, Vinny will be sorted and that will be the end of any concerns that any of you should have about quantum resonance frequencies." Brakkii said with a gentle smile at the pair.
"Good." Vincent said with relief, then quickly added, "Vince, this is Brakkii. He's the queen of this dimensional realm."
"Queen?" Vince asked curiously.
"You can thank Vincent for that." Brakkii said as he looked askance at Vincent.
"It's not like I knew I was forming a dream dimension when that happened." Vincent said frankly.
"If you say so." Brakkii said playfully.
"So this is the same dream place, you know, with the mountains and stuff, where we met before?" Vince asked timidly.
"That's right. The Mountains of Despair are just about a fifteen minute walk from here." Vincent said pleasantly.
"Although I can think of more cheerful places in the realm that you could visit." Brakkii said honestly.
"Do we have time?" Vincent asked hopefully, then added, "I mean, I know that I need to get some sleep tonight."
"It's not as much of a concern for you now. As soon as you sleep, your dream selves can spend days or even weeks here and it will only be a scant few minutes in your waking worlds." Brakkii said to both boys.
"Oh, good. Because there's lots of stuff that I've heard about that I haven't seen yet. And I'd really like to introduce Vince to Pipi and Peiron and all the others." Vincent said with a smile.
"That sounds like a good idea. And after that, you could go and visit with Thomas and Lehman in the Valley of Cuddles and Snuggles. They've been asking about you." Brakkii said frankly.
Vince was watching the exchange but only understanding about half of what they were talking about.
"Let me get you two tucked safely into bed in your own dimensions, then I'll bring your dream selves here so you can run and play and relax for as long as you want." Brakkii said warmly.
Vincent turned to Vince and quietly said, "Remember, if you ever need me, all you have to do is dream yourself here. You'll never be alone or without help."
"Okay." Vince nodded, then quietly said, "And if you need me, I'll be there for you, too. I may not be a crewman or an Andorian heir, but I can be there to listen if you ever just need to talk about stuff."
Vincent smiled and said, "I'll remember that. Thanks, Vince."
"You two are going to have an entire dream world of time to talk to each other, so you need to get to sleep." Brakkii said seriously.
"Yeah." Vincent said with a smile at Brakkii, then added, "But there are some things that need to be said for real, in person."
Brakkii nodded, then held out his hand as he asked, "Who wants to go first?"
"I will." Vince said quietly, then turned to Vincent and said, "I'll see you in a few minutes."
"Yeah. Have a good sleep." Vincent said with a smile.
When Vince took hold of Brakkii's hand, he started to fade away. Vincent waved at him as he watched him go.
Once Vince was completely gone, Vincent quietly asked, "Is there any way you could send me to my brother's house instead of back to MichaelAngelo's?"
"Certainly, I sent Thomas there last night, so I know right where it is." Brakkii said pleasantly, then asked, "But won't the others wonder about where you went?"
"No. I told them last night that I'd probably be gone before they woke up. I had planned on going up to the ship to work out in the morning. Besides, I can tell Thomas and Lehman when I see them in the realm." Vincent said frankly.
"I wish there was something I could do for your eye." Brakkii said with concern.
Vincent probed his swelled cheek for a moment, then said, "Don't worry about it. I've had worse."
"Are you ready?" Brakkii asked as he offered his hand.
"Yeah. I don't want to keep Vince waiting."
Vincent woke in the morning, feeling completely rested.
His time in the realm had been joyous and free. Thomas and Lehman had accepted Vince without hesitation and all of them had a wonderful time exploring the realm.
During the course of their adventures, Vincent found out that Vince had contacted his brother and that they now shared a room together at Camp Little Eagle. And even though Vince's Lawrence seemed to have some problems that he was going to have to work through, Vince seemed confident that they would be able to work things out together.
Before they left, Brakkii had asked all of them, including Vince, to be sure to return the following night and to be ready for a party.
Vincent slowly stretched, feeling completely relaxed and at peace with the universe.
As much as he enjoyed the sensation, a rumble from his stomach announced that it was time for him to get up and begin his day.
He smiled to himself as he tried to imagine what comment Lehman would have made about his stomach growling.
"Vincent." A quiet voice said, and it took Vincent a moment to realize that it was Manu's voice coming from his bracelet.
"Yeah. What's going on, Manu?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I didn't want to disturb you while you were sleeping, but last night I noticed that you moved outside my scanning range. I was concerned for you." Manu said carefully.
"Yeah. Everything's fine. I just had some Trach Manja stuff that I had to do in an alternate dimension." Vincent said as he walked into the bathroom.
"You have the ability to cross dimensions at will?" Manu asked with surprise.
"No. But I guess the Great Spirit makes sure that I have a way to get to where I'm needed, when I'm needed." Vincent said frankly, then reluctantly added, "Excuse me, but I need to pee."
"Of course, Vincent. I'm simply relieved to know that you are well." Manu said quietly.
"Thanks, Manu." Vincent responded, then noticed his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His cheek looked none the worse for wear. His eye, on the other hand, could only be described as a full-on 'shiner'.
When Vincent reached the bottom of the stairs, he noticed a stranger sleeping on Billy's couch.
He took a moment to look at the boy, drawn by the handsome chiseled features and the combination of dark hair and fair skin.
Finally, Vincent's need for coffee asserted itself and he continued on to the kitchen.
As Vincent waited for the coffee maker to finish, he noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye and saw the boy from the couch standing in the kitchen doorway.
"I'm sorry if I woke you." Vincent said quietly.
"That's fine. I just smelled the coffee and wondered who was up." The boy said as he looked at Vincent curiously.
"Yeah. Well, I'm just going to have some toast and coffee, and then I'll be leaving. So you can go back to sleep if you want." Vincent said frankly.
The boy considered for a moment, then slowly said, "No. Maybe I'll take a nap later if I have a chance, but I'm awake now."
"Do you want some coffee or some toast?" Vincent asked pleasantly, then added, "Everything's out, so it's no trouble."
"Um, yeah. Sure." The boy said uncertainly, then hesitantly asked, "What happened to your eye?"
Vincent put slices of bread in the toaster and smiled before answering, "I sort of got beat up in a dream last night."
The boy looked at Vincent curiously, but didn't ask for clarification.
"Oh, I guess I should introduce myself. I'm Lawrence's brother, Vincent." Vincent said as he took another coffee cup down from the cupboard.
"You're..." The boys said in a gasp, then stared at Vincent in wonder.
Vincent looked at him for a moment, but when the boy didn't seem to be inclined to continue, Vincent said, "It looks like you've heard of me. Before you ask, yeah, I'm the one from the Kimber IV rescue and, no, I didn't die."
The boy snapped out of his trance-like state and smiled, then said, "I'm glad to hear that, otherwise I'd be talking to a ghost."
Vincent chuckled, then started pouring coffee.
"By the way, I'm Ace." The boy said as he accepted a cup.
"It's nice to meet you, Ace." Vincent said pleasantly, then asked, "Are you new here? I don't remember seeing you before and I know that no one's mentioned you."
"Yeah, I just got here last night." Ace said uncomfortably, "But who I am and where I'm from is kind of a long story."
Vincent chuckled, then said, "Believe me, I know a little bit about long stories."
"I guess you would." Ace said with a grin.
"Well, since you just showed up last night and were sleeping on the couch... Well, um, do you have a place to live?" Vincent asked cautiously, then heard the toaster pop up.
Ace nodded, then shyly said, "I'm going to be living here. Billy said something about me having my own room as soon as 'the triplets' leave."
Vincent giggled, then said, "I should have invited Vince to come home with me last night. It would have been priceless to see the look on Deacon's face when he saw four of us."
Ace looked at Vincent with confusion at the statement.
Vincent noticed and said, "Long story. Doesn't matter."
Ace nodded that he accepted that.
"So, is everything okay? I mean, usually when someone shows up out of nowhere, they've got all kinds of problems and stuff that they need help with. You don't have to tell me about whatever made you come here, but, is there anything you need?" Vincent asked with sincere concern as he handed some buttered toast to Ace.
Ace thought for a moment, then said, "No. I mean, a lot of things are still up in the air right now. But I'm pretty sure that Billy and Allen will take care of all that."
Vincent nodded, then quietly said, "I wasn't being nosy, really. I just wanted to be sure that you weren't in trouble, because if you were, I know lots of people who I can call to help you out."
Ace smiled, then said, "Thanks, Vincent. I'm kind of adrift right now, waiting for what's going to happen next. I mean, it's all good, but I just don't really have any... control or... plans, or anything like that."
Vincent nodded, then asked, "How would you feel about visiting a ship that's in orbit?"
"Sure." Ace said without concern, then asked, "What would we be doing up there?"
"It's still pretty early, so I thought I could go up there and work out, then maybe have some breakfast. You could come with me to keep me company, if you want. It's nothing but something to do." Vincent said frankly, then finished off his piece of toast.
"Yeah, that sounds nice. But I'm going to need to change." Ace said as he looked down at himself, dressed in a t shirt and sweat pants.
"What you're wearing will be fine. It's not like we're going to be doing any 'official' business or anything." Vincent said honestly.
"I at least need to get my shoes." Ace said frankly.
"You can if you want to. But I walk around the ship barefoot all the time. We're just going up to kill some time until Lawrence and Deacon get up." Vincent said frankly.
"Oh. If you're sure that I don't need anything." Ace said uncertainly.
"I'm sure you won't, but if you do end up needing something, we can always come back and get it." Vincent said simply.
"Then I guess I'm ready." Ace said as he stood beside the table.
Vincent quickly drank the last of his coffee, then said, "Manu, two to transport to my cabin."
"On your command." Manu said immediately.
Once the transportal beam cleared, Vincent walked directly to one of the honeycombs at the side of the room and took down a pair of soft linen pants.
"This doesn't look anything like any of the crew cabins that I've seen before." Ace said slowly as he looked around.
"It's a Soleen-Avalla ship." Vincent said simply as he sat on the edge of the bed and started to take off his boots.
"Soleen-Avalla? I don't think I've ever heard of them." Ace said slowly.
"Most people on Earth haven't. Their space is really far from here and they don't make contact with Earth very much, except to talk to Starfleet sometimes." Vincent said casually, then added, "Maybe Manu could tell you about it while I'm working out."
"Manu?" Ace asked cautiously, and was surprised to see that Vincent was taking off all his clothes.
"Yeah, he's the ship's AI." Vincent said simply, then looked upward and said, "Manu, this is Ace. He's a new friend of mine."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ace. Please let me know if there's anything you need while you're visiting." Manu said courteously from above them.
"Oh, um, yeah. I will. Thanks." Ace said into the air, and noticed that Vincent had pulled on the soft linen pants.
"By the way, Manu, how did things work out with Geoff last night? Was Challen able to help him?" Vincent asked curiously as he folded the clothes that he'd just taken off. Ace was surprised that Vincent seemed to be intending to go barefoot and bare chested.
"Yes. The treatment Challen chose to employ has a very high probability of restoring Geoff to normal function. Geoff is in the medical bay and is awake if you would like to visit with him."
"Would you mind?" Vincent asked Ace curiously.
"What's wrong with him?" Ace asked cautiously.
"His psychiatrist put him on some heavy duty drugs that really messed him up. I'll let him tell you about it if he feels like it." Vincent said frankly, then waited for Ace's decision.
It took a moment for Ace to realize what Vincent was waiting for, but when he did, he said, "Yeah. I'm sure that if he's a friend of yours, that he's okay."
"Well, I just met him for a few minutes yesterday, so I don't know if I'd say he's my friend. He seemed like a decent enough guy... a little bitter, but like I have room to talk." Vincent finished with a grin as they walked out of Vincent's cabin.
"Good morning Geoff, would you like some company?" Vincent asked as he led the way into the room.
After a moment of hesitation, Geoff said, "Yeah. I guess."
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked with immediate concern.
"Life sucks. But other than that... not a thing." Geoff said darkly.
"I thought you'd be happy that Challen was able to find a treatment for you that would work." Vincent said honestly.
"Yeah. I am." Geoff said with a sigh, then added, "But that only makes me look 'normal'. I'm still just some throw-away that got dumped off at a boy's ranch by his dad."
"Okay. Tell me what would make you happy." Vincent said frankly.
Geoff chuckled, then said, "That's the big question, isn't it?"
"C'mon. What would it take? You have to have some idea." Vincent prodded.
"You really want to know?" Geoff asked indignantly, "I want to be away from the lying, pitying, back-stabbing people. I'm sick of false sympathy and empty promises."
"How are you with Vulcans?" Vincent asked quietly.
Geoff looked at Vincent strangely for a moment, then broke into a smile. "You're really gonna try to fix things, aren't you?"
"It's kinda what I do... at least, when I can." Vincent said frankly.
"Well, Vulcans are alright, but I probably wouldn't do well living with them full-time. I think that part of my problem is that I'm too high strung." Geoff said honestly, then added, "I think being around people who are so controlled might make me even more emotional."
Vincent thought about what Geoff had said, then turned when he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye.
"Good morning, Trach Manja Vincent. I hope you are well today." Challen clucked, then his words came out as English speech from a pendant he was wearing.
"Good morning, Challen. I'm fine. I'd like to introduce Ace, a new friend of mine from Earth." Vincent said diplomatically.
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance." Challen said graciously.
Vincent thought for a moment, then asked, "Who's voice is that? It sounds familiar, but I can't place it."
"The actor's name is Stephen Fry." Manu said seriously, then asked in a softer voice, "Is it acceptable?"
"Yeah. It sounds great, and it's perfect for Challen. I just couldn't figure out where I had heard it before." Vincent said quickly.
"I'm pleased that you like my voice." Challen said pleasantly, then looked at Vincent curiously and asked, "Did you alter your coloring?"
"What?" Vincent asked in confusion.
"This new marking on your face. I find it pleasing." Challen said consideringly.
"My black eye?" Vincent chuckled, "No, I didn't do that on purpose, it just kind of happened."
"Oh, I understand now, it's an injury... a bruise." Challen said with a nod, then said, "I can repair the damage if you would like."
"Don't bother. It doesn't hurt and it'll be fine in a day or two." Vincent said dismissively, then turned his attention to Geoff on the bed.
Challen followed his gaze and said, "Good morning, Geoff. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, I guess." Geoff said noncommittally.
Challen looked over the readings on the Soleen-Avalla biobed, then happily said, "It appears that the restorative technique has worked exactly as anticipated, so, if you're ready, we can begin the next phase of your treatment."
"I'm kinda hungry, can I eat something first?" Geoff asked hesitantly.
"Although I can't be sure, it's possible that the treatment will cause some dizziness and nausea. It would probably be better to do it with an empty stomach." Challen said gently.
"How long is it going to take?" Vincent asked curiously.
Challen considered for a moment, then said, "If all goes to plan, just over half an hour."
"That'll work out great." Vincent said with a grand smile, then turned to Geoff and said, "I'm going to go do my morning workout. As soon as you're done with your treatment, Manu can call me and then we can have breakfast together."
Geoff looked from Vincent to Challen and back before quietly responding, "Yeah. Okay. I guess."
"Just have Manu call me if you need me for anything." Vincent said cheerfully as he started walking toward the door.
Ace noticed a slightly overwhelmed expression on Geoff's face, and could clearly see that Geoff didn't quite know how to deal with people treating him as a friend.
"Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine." Ace said with certainty, then once he had Geoff's attention, he added, "Vincent, wouldn't settle for anything less."
"You coming?" Vincent called from the door.
Ace gave Geoff one last smile, then hurried to Vincent's side.
"Vincent, the cargo bay is currently in use, being filled with supplies that we will ferry back to the New Hope colony. There should be sufficient room for you to perform your work out in the lounging hall." Manu said seriously, then casually added, "I could ask the members of the crew to leave the lounging hall to afford you privacy, if you would like."
"No. That's alright, Manu. I work out in front of other people all the time, back on the Yorktown." Vincent said as he walked down the hall at a slow, casual pace with Ace at his side.
"What are you going to do to help Geoff?" Ace asked curiously.
"I don't know yet. Maybe we can come up with something at breakfast." Vincent said simply.
Ace froze in his tracks and nearly stopped breathing at the sight of a seven foot tall, biped reptile walking down the hallway toward them.
"Greeth, I'd like for you to meet Ace, a friend of mine from Earth." Vincent said pleasantly as he walked up to the enormous humanoid dinosaur.
The dinosaur made some growls and hisses that made the hairs on Ace's neck stand on end.
"He says that it's a pleasure to meet you, Ace." Vincent said casually, then said to Greeth, "I'm on my way to work out. You're welcome to come with us, if you want."
Greeth made a few more growls, then bowed slightly to the boys before continuing down the hall.
"He has to be on duty in a few minutes." Vincent said casually before leading the way into the lounging hall.
"What was he?" Ace asked in a whisper.
"Soleen. It's really hard for them to speak our language, but most of them have learned to understand it. If you want to talk to any of the crew, they'll probably be able to understand what you're saying. If not, Manu will translate for you." Vincent said simply, then added, "You can work out with me if you want. Or you can sit down over there or you can go up on one of those platforms and lay out and relax for a while if you like."
Ace looked around and noticed two other Soleen in the room with them. Without a word, he walked to the bench that Vincent had indicated.
Ace sat for a few minutes, just silently watching as Vincent began to move through the stances of his workout. Finally his thoughts were interrupted by Manu saying, "If you have any questions about the Soleen-Avalla, I would be happy to answer them for you."
"I don't think I have any questions right now, but thanks for offering." Ace said quietly.
"You seem overwhelmed. Please keep in mind that whether we're Soleen, Avalla, AI, or Human, we're all just people." Manu said frankly.
Ace considered the words for a moment, then smiled as he looked up and said, "Thank you, Manu. That really helps."
"Challen has completed Geoff's treatment. He should be recovered enough to join you for breakfast shortly." Manu said quietly into the lounging hall.
"Thank you, Manu." Vincent said as he properly disengaged from his stance routine, then started to cool down.
Ace watched Vincent's movements with appreciation. He could see the beauty in the graceful and powerful movements. It gave him an insight into the 'larger than life' person he'd grown up hearing about.
Even in this different dimension, so many years in the past, he could see that Vincent was someone to be admired.
"Ready to go?" Vincent asked as he finished his cool down exercises.
"Sure. Lead the way." Ace said simply.
"Let's swing by and get Geoff, then we can go to the dining hall together." Vincent said casually.
"Don't you want to get a shirt?" Ace asked curiously.
"The Soleen-Avalla don't care how you're dressed... they might not care if you're dressed." Vincent said with a grin, then added, "Well, except at dinner. That's kind of their formal meal, and everyone who can be there dresses up... I don't mean fancy, or anything, but I mean, they dress up in decent clothes. Dinner is as much about socializing as it is about eating." Vincent said as they walked at a casual pace.
"That sounds nice." Ace said with a smile, and noticed a huge Soleen lumbering toward them in the hall.
"How much longer, Greer?" Vincent asked happily.
The enormous reptile growled something at Vincent, which made him laugh, then he started walking again.
"What was that about?" Ace asked as he hurried to catch up.
"Greer is pregnant. I asked her how much longer and she said 'Too long'." Vincent chuckled, then turned to walk into the sickbay.
"That was a she?" Ace muttered in disbelief.
"Are you ready for breakfast?" Vincent asked cheerfully as he walked into the room.
"I think so." Geoff said uncertainly as he looked at Vincent from his position, laying on the bed.
"Did your treatment make you not hungry?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"No. I'm still hungry, it's just that the treatment made me really dizzy, and I'm not sure how my stomach will react to food right now." Geoff said honestly.
"If you're anything like me, your stomach will probably be fine just as soon as you smell the food." Vincent said frankly.
"And if you're feeling dizzy, you can walk with me and I'll help you if you need it." Ace said with concern.
"Thanks." Geoff said uncertainly, then quietly asked, "What's your name again?"
"Thanks, Ace. I have a really hard time remembering people's names." Geoff said shyly as he climbed down off the biobed and fought for balance.
Immediately, Ace was by his side, steadying him.
"Are you alright? We can wait if you need to." Vincent said with concern.
"I'll be fine. It's just kind of like being drunk." Geoff said unsteadily.
"I hate to sound like a little kid, but I have no idea what that feels like." Vincent said frankly.
"Neither do I." Ace said honestly.
Geoff rolled his eyes, then said, "Okay, then I feel like I just rode the tilt-a-whirl, three times in a row."
"Okay, I know what that feels like. Come on, let's get you fed." Vincent said with a grin.
"Are you going to be okay?" Ace asked from Geoff's side.
"Yeah, I've got it." Geoff said as he started to walk toward the door.
"I'll be right here if you need me." Ace said as he walked close to Geoff's side.
"Wow, Taryn must have heard that we had company!" Vincent said as he walked into the dining hall.
Geoff and Ace both gawked at the elaborate table filled with an impressive variety of foods, all laid out very artistically to also be a feast for the eyes.
"This is for us?" Ace asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. You know how it is when you have company coming over, you want to do something nice." Vincent said as he took a place at the table.
The other two were slower to join him, but eventually took their places.
"Good morning, Trach Manja Vincent. I'm happy to see that you are well." Captain Rasch said as he walked into the room.
"Yes, I am." Vincent said with a smile up at the jovial Saurian, then said in a somewhat formal tone, "Captain Rasch, may I present Ace and Geoff."
"A pleasure to meet you both. Please, enjoy your meal." Captain Rasch said as he made a sweeping gesture to the banquet before them.
The silence that followed caused Vincent to turn to see the two frozen and staring teenagers.
"Think 'Barney'." Vincent whispered.
Geoff blinked with surprise, then had to fight to contain a chuckle.
Ace was brought out of his shock more by Geoff's muffled laughter than Vincent's words.
Captain Rasch gave Vincent a quick smile of thanks for putting the boys at ease.
"Taryn made a point of providing something special for your meal this morning."
Vincent broke into a wide grin as Captain Rasch moved a cup and a carafe of coffee toward him.
He quickly poured himself a cup. Then, after a moment to appreciate the aroma, Vincent took a long, slow sip of his coffee.
"Was it prepared to your satisfaction?" Captain Rasch asked hopefully.
"It's perfect." Vincent said peacefully, then looked upward as he said, "Manu, would you please thank Taryn for me and tell him that I really appreciate this?"
"I will relay your message." Manu said warmly.
"Hey, this is good!" Geoff said with surprise.
Vincent looked over at his plate and noticed what he was eating.
"Yeah. The yellow stuff is good, too. I like just about everything that I've eaten here." Vincent said happily.
Ace nodded his agreement, since he was too busy eating to speak.
Conversation stopped as a smaller Soleen man approached the table.
("Forgive my interruption. Challen said that his patient would be staying on board for treatment for at least another day, so we prepared a change of clothing for him.") The Soleen growled timidly.
"Geoff, the crew made a change of clothes for you, since you'll need to stay on board for a while." Vincent translated.
After a moment for the words to register, Geoff turned and accepted a brilliant green robe, trimmed in gold, and a pair of plain white pants like Vincent's.
"Thank you." Geoff said, past his shock.
The Soleen man smiled and gave a timid bow before withdrawing.
"If there is anything else that my crew or I can do to make your stay with us more pleasant, please let me know." Captain Rasch said warmly.
"I will." Geoff said quietly, as he held the stack of clothing reverently.
"If you want, we could take a bath after breakfast." Vincent said casually to Geoff.
"Take a bath... together?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"Yeah. The Soleen-Avalla have a big bathing room, kind of like a swimming pool. They all bathe together instead of everyone having a little tub or shower of their own. But if you don't want to, it's fine." Vincent said seriously.
"I don't really understand Human modesty, but if exposing yourself to others is distressing to you, I will ask the members of the crew to avoid the bathing room while you make use of it." Captain Rasch said frankly.
"No. Thank you. You don't need to do that." Geoff said quickly to the captain, then turned to Vincent and continued, "I can do it. I just didn't expect you to say that you wanted to bathe with me."
"Yeah. I guess that sounded weird." Vincent said with a grin, then added, "Sorry."
After a moment, Geoff nodded in reply.
"How about you, Ace? Would you like to take a bath before we go back to Earth?" Vincent asked casually.
"Sure. It's not a problem for me, I grew up with stuff like that." Ace said casually, between bites of food.
Geoff looked from Vincent to Ace, then over at Captain Rasch curiously.
Vincent noticed and quietly asked, "Is something wrong?"
Geoff seemed to be lost in thought, but finally absently responded, "No, not wrong."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Vincent asked curiously.
"No. There's nothing to talk about. It was just a feeling. Kinda like when you feel like you're going to sneeze, and then you don't. It was like that, but with an idea." Geoff said distantly, then suddenly realized what he must sound like.
"Well, if you do want to talk, it'd be okay." Vincent said quietly as he looked Geoff in the eyes.
"Yeah. I got that." Geoff said with the closest thing to a smile that Vincent had ever seen on him. Something in Geoff's expression or tone of voice told Vincent that Geoff took the offer more seriously than his casual response would imply.
"That was so good! I don't think I could eat another bite!" Ace said as he pushed his empty plate away.
Vincent finished off his last few bites of breakfast before saying, "Are you two ready to go?"
"I'm in no rush. All I'm doing today is going for more medical treatments." Geoff said as he stood.
"I'm going with my brother to sort through the stuff in our house, to see if there's anything that we want to keep since our parents are dead." Vincent said back to him frankly.
"I have no idea what I'm going to be doing. I arrived last night with the clothes on my back and Billy was nice enough to take me in." Ace said thoughtfully.
"You win." Vincent said to Ace, then added, "But Geoff and I were pretty close."
Ace chuckled, then said, "Yeah. I think it was close enough to call it a tie. It sounds like we're all in store for some uncomfortable and unpleasant things today. So let's go enjoy our bath, so we can go and do our stuff and get it over with."
"Yeah. I'm for that." Vincent said with a nod, then looked at Geoff with question.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?" Vincent asked as he led the way into the bathing room.
"Yeah. The way you asked me just seemed a little creepy. I'm fine." Geoff said quietly as he looked around and saw two Avalla and one Soleen lounging in the bathing pool.
"You can just leave your clothes on the bench, here. I'm going in." Vincent said as he skinned out of the pants he was wearing.
By the time Geoff had sat down to take off his shoes, Vincent was already walking toward the pool.
"Vincent didn't tell me anything about you, or why you need to have medical treatments. Are you okay?" Ace asked as he started to undress.
"I'm feeling better than I have in years. I just need to complete the medical treatments so that I'll keep feeling that way." Geoff said as he watched Ace pull the t shirt off over his head.
"That's good. I just got the feeling that you're worried about something." Ace said frankly, then pulled down his sweat pants.
"From what you said before, I'm worried about pretty much the same things that you are. My mom is dead. My dad dumped me off in front of a boy's ranch as he left town. Even though the alien doctor seems to be fixing me up, I've got no one and nothing... no future, that I can see." Geoff said as he took off his shirt.
Ace chuckled, then said, "You've got it all backward. You've got a future that can be anything you want it to be. The entire universe is open to you. All you have to do is decide what it is that you want."
"That's the big trick, isn't it? Deciding what I want." Geoff said as he stood and pulled down his pants.
"What do you think would make you happy?" Ace asked curiously, standing naked before Geoff, waiting for him to finish.
"Honestly? To be away from Earth... from people." Geoff finished quietly.
"You don't like people?" Ace asked with surprise.
"No. I really don't." Geoff said distantly, then hurried to say, "I mean, you and Vincent seem to be okay."
"It's okay." Ace assured him, then quietly asked, "But what do you mean?"
"There's just the constant push and pull, it's like other people are bombarding me with their attention and pity and... I don't know how to describe it. I just know that it's exhausting." Geoff said tiredly.
Ace looked at Geoff curiously for a moment, then had an idea.
Drawing on some of the lessons he had learned from his 'uncles' as he was growing up, Ace forced himself to bring up a strong feeling. He fought to keep himself from revealing the emotion in his expression as a profound and consuming rage built within him.
Geoff's eyes went wide and he seemed to pale as he backed away from Ace like a frightened animal.
"You're an empath." Ace announced, as he let go of the anger within him and it dissipated like a puff of smoke.
"I'm a what?" Geoff asked cautiously as he tried to get his fear to subside.
"You're empathic. When you said that thing about being bombarded and that it made you tired... that's what I've always heard that it's like for an untrained empath." Ace said seriously, then gestured for Geoff to walk with him toward the bathing pool.
"So I can feel what other people feel?" Geoff asked uncertainly.
"I don't know how it all works. Some empaths can feel other people's feelings as if they were their own. Some can just sort of see other people's feelings, you know, like when you read the expressions on their faces. All I know about it is that it just takes some training and you can block it out. I'm sure the clan has a lot of people who can help you with that." Ace said as he eased himself into the water.
A giggle drew their attention to the other side of the bathing pool where Vincent was animatedly talking with the Soleen and Avalla crew members who were bathing.
Ace was about to say something when he noticed the look of concentration in Geoff's eyes.
"What is it?" Ace asked quietly.
"I can sense Vincent... and you're right. Even though he's turned away and I can't see his face, I know exactly what he's feeling. But the other three... I can't feel them at all." Geoff said distantly.
"I never heard of the Soleen-Avalla before today, so I don't know anything about them. Maybe they're so different from Humans that you don't get telepathy from them." Ace said thoughtfully.
Geoff slowly nodded as he thought about the words.
"I bet that Vincent could talk to some people to find someone to help you learn to control your gift." Ace said hesitantly.
"Gift?" Geoff scoffed, "How much of a gift do you think it is to know how everyone thinks and feels about you?"
"I'm probably not the best person to ask about that. I grew up with a family... no, more like a community, that loved me. I don't have any doubt that if I had been empathic, that I would have felt just as loved." Ace said distantly.
Geoff could feel the sincerity behind Ace's words and couldn't help but ask, "Really? If they loved you so much, then how are you here, now?"
"It's a long story that I'm really not allowed to talk about, but what it boils down to is, that something was about to happen and they knew that they were going to die. Instead of doing stuff for themselves, they worked together to make sure that I would survive... they loved me that much."
Geoff felt the tears welling in his eyes. He was unprepared for the swell of emotions emanating from Ace and couldn't do anything but pull Ace into a hug to try and ease his suffering.
"I'll be fine." Ace said as he pulled his emotions back under control. "Dwelling on that only wastes their gift to me. I have to make every minute that they gave me count, so that all they sacrificed wasn't in vain."
Geoff chuckled bitterly, then said, "Here we are, in basically the same situation, except that everyone you ever knew loved you and everyone I ever knew... well, they didn't hate me. But they only put up with me because it was their job or their duty or something like that."
"I'm sure they must have loved you." Ace said quietly.
"Hello? Empath here, remember?" Geoff said in an insistent voice, then explained, "For years I've been believing that I was feeling sorry for myself and making it all up or I was somehow misreading their feelings toward me, but the whole time it was my empathy telling me what they reallyfelt. They didn't love me. They NEVER loved me!"
After a moment, Ace whispered, "I'm sorry, Geoff."
"I know." Geoff sighed, then looked Ace in the eyes as he quietly added, "But I wish I didn't."
"Are you guys about done? Everyone should be awake at Billy's house by now." Vincent said as he started his way slowly across the bathing pool.
Ace nodded, then said to Geoff, "Vincent and I are going back down to Earth to get started on our stuff. So, once we're gone, you'll be here with a whole ship full of people that you can't sense, right?"
"Yeah. Right." Geoff said with the slightest hint of an honest smile.
Vincent looked from Geoff to Ace, then asked, "Did I miss something?"
"Yep." Ace said with a grin, then turned away and climbed out of the pool.
"What?" Vincent asked Geoff curiously.
Geoff smiled at Vincent, then turned and followed Ace.
Vincent shook his head as he muttered, "I turn my back for five minutes and all of a sudden, I'm out of the loop."