Rad watched a group of mud covered colonists cross the room and prepare to transport when an idea suddenly came to him.
"Did Vincent have any mud on him when he beamed up?"
"Only from head to toe." Joe said frankly.
Rad shook his head in wonder and said, "That's it. The transporter image didn't render the mud. I thought about his clothes but didn't even consider the mud that was covering him. It makes sense now, I just couldn't figure out why there was so much damaged skin. The substitution matrix I programmed must have substituted the living cells from Vincent's trace pattern in place of the 'dead' mud."
Chief Morgan thought about it for a second, then said, "I think you may be right. So when the dead skin covering is removed, Vincent's own natural skin will be underneath."
"Right. I thought it had something to do with the radiation, but the difference in mass didn't add up."
"Quite right. I don't think this will effect Vincent's treatment, but it will make a significant difference in your report." Chief Morgan said seriously.
The beeping of Commander M'Butu's communicator drew everyone's attention.
"M'Butu here." Commander M'Butu said firmly.
"Commander, it seems our situation has just gone from bad to worse." Captain Byrne said in a worried voice.
"How so?" Commander M'Butu asked seriously.
"The planet appears to have reached some sort of saturation point. The upper atmosphere is destabilizing, causing holes to form which allow the solar radiation to reach the surface. Projections show that within the hour there will be no atmospheric protection whatsoever. Given the rate of bombardment, we estimate that within thirty minutes, the area you are in will be unable to sustain life. If there is any good news in all this, it would be that the storms seem to be dissipating as the lower atmosphere breaks down. We should be able to get more dependable transporter locks without the interference." Captain Byrne said with regret.
"Less than thirty minutes? Then it's time for a change in tactics. Chief Morgan, beam aboard and give every transporter operator on the ship a section of the colony to sweep. Have them lock onto every speck of a life sign that they can find and beam it aboard. I'll call the search and rescue teams in and get them started up." Commander M'Butu said firmly.
"I'll go with you Chief." Rad said as he moved to Chief Morgan's side.
"You guys go too. I'll stay with the shield generators." Joe said to his crew.
"But Joe..." Susan began to say.
"That's an order crewman. All of you, transport up now." Joe said firmly.
"Yes sir." Susan said reluctantly and picked up her tool bag.
"Darin." Joe said more quietly.
Darin walked to Joe's side.
"If something happens to me, will you take care of Vincent?" Joe asked hesitantly.
Darin was astonished by the request, but quickly said, "I will, I promise."
"Thank you Darin, now go on." Joe said as he tried to smile and look unconcerned.
Darin took his place beside Susan and Jimmy and watched Joe until the shower of sparkles completely obscured his vision.
"I will leave you now so you may feel free to express an emotional response to this announcement." Ensign T'Lani said calmly.
"Um, no thank you. I'll probably have an emotional response later... a big one. Right now there's something I need to figure out, would you help me?" Vincent asked in a small voice.
"Proceed." Ensign T'Lani said without expression.
"I'm just trying to figure out what I did wrong. I mean, why wasn't it enough? What else was I supposed to do?" Vincent asked in a lost tone.
"Crewman Winters, you appear to be working under a misconception. To my knowledge, you made no error in your decisions or actions. Your patriarch recognizes this and has stated as much by expressing his pride in your accomplishments. His concern appears to be focused on those who are responsible for you. In seeing the outcome of the past days events, he has sufficient reason to question their dedication to your well being. If you look at your current state and recognize that this level of damage occurred in less than one standard day of being in their care, you will see that the concern is logical." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.
"But there wasn't anyone else who could do it. I know Cory would have done exactly the same thing I did if he was here." Vincent said in frustration.
"If that is the case, can you speculate on the reaction of the one who is responsible for his care?" Ensign T'Lani asked in a leading tone.
Vincent thought about it for a moment, then said, "Aunt Teri would probably be mad that he did something dangerous, but I think that she'd be proud of him and understand that he was doing his job."
Ensign T'Lani waited as Vincent put the pieces together in his mind.
"So it's not about what I did, but about what they let me do. What's important right now is to help Rory understand why Daddy Joe and everyone else made the decisions that they did." Vincent said in thought.
"That would seem a logical pursuit. And there is one other action that you could take at this time that may be of benefit." Ensign T'Lani said in a considering tone.
"What's that?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Before I answer, I must ask you some questions." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.
"Okay. Go ahead." Vincent said as he sat up straighter in the bed.
"Were you ordered to put your life in danger or did you choose to do so of your own free will?" Ensign T'Lani asked carefully.
"Commander M'Butu asked me, he said that I didn't have to do it." Vincent said in thought.
"Did you carry any food or water with you?"
"No. I just had three couplers in my pocket and a flashlight strapped to my arm."
"During the incident, were you completely alone?"
"Yes. I mean, Benny was there after I finished shutting down the reactor, but that was something like fifteen or twenty minutes later after I was done crawling down the conduit pipe."
"Was there any time during today's events that you believed you might not survive the experience?" Ensign T'Lani asked in a notably softer voice.
"Yeah." Vincent said quietly, not wanting to go into detail.
"Then I believe you have satisfied the conditions that would allow what you did today to be considered a successful completion of the Kahs'wan." Ensign T'Lani said carefully.
Vincent nodded in thought as Channing asked from the next bed, "What is that?"
"The adulthood test." Vincent said distantly.
"I believe a more accurate translation would be 'The Ordeal of Maturity'. One who has completed the kahs'wan is considered an adult by Vulcan law. If you choose to pursue this option, you will need to contact the eldest member of your house and ask that today's events be recognized as your kahs'wan." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.
"How does that help him? I mean, that guy is still coming to see if Vincent was put in danger, right?" Channing asked curiously.
Vincent shook his head and said, "I'm a citizen of Vulcan. If I'm considered an adult by Vulcan law then I can make my own decisions."
"So if that Cory guy tells you that you have to come home, you don't have to listen to him?" Channing asked to be sure.
Vincent thought about the question seriously, then said, "Not exactly. I'll still be a son of Clan Short and a member of the House of Surak. Because of that, they can still tell me what to do. But they can't say it's because I'm too young or because it's not safe here. I'd be allowed to make choices like that for myself... it's kind of hard to explain."
"I believe you have explained it well Crewman Winters. If your request for recognition is accepted, you will be able to speak to your Clan Patriarch as one adult to another rather than as a child to a parent." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.
"Can you help me do it Ensign T'Lani? I can't see to work the terminal to contact Ambassador Sarek myself." Vincent said as he turned to face where he thought she was standing.
"I would be honored to assist you Crewman Winters." Ensign T'Lani said and moved to the terminal by Vincent's bed and opened a direct transmission.
"Vulcan High Command." A female voice said in formal Vulcan.
"I wish to speak with Ambassador Sarek." Ensign T'Lani said in a clear firm voice.
"The ambassador is en route from Earth to Vulcan, we have just received notice that his ship has been diverted from it's projected course. We are unable to predict when contact will be possible." The woman said formally.
"Is he on the Enterprise?" Vincent asked in barely passable Vulcan.
The Vulcan woman on the screen arched an eyebrow of surprise at either Vincent's appearance or his horrible pronunciation, then carefully responded, "That is correct."
"We will contact him directly. T'Lani out." Ensign T'Lani said flatly.
"Vulcan High Command out." The woman said without emotion and disconnected the transmission.
"Hey Vincent, did you really just speak Vulcan?" Channing asked in wonder.
"Um, yeah. It's not that big a deal. One of my guardians, a guy named Xain telepathically taught me how to speak a bunch of languages... But I didn't say it just right. I know the words in my head but it's hard for me to say them." Vincent said carefully.
"Proper pronunciation requires practice. Your pronunciation in this instance was adequate." Ensign T'Lani said as she opened another transmission.
"Communications." A woman said pleasantly.
"This is Ensign T'Lani in sickbay. Would it be possible to open a channel to the Enterprise coded as a Vulcan diplomatic transmission directed to Ambassador Sarek?"
"Yes. It might take me a few minutes to locate them. If you would like I could call you back when I've established contact." The communications worker said efficiently.
"That would be acceptable." Ensign T'Lani said formally.
"T'Lani, Raul, Baker. I need you in my office immediately." Dr. Perry's voice called over the intercom.
"I will return as soon as I am able." Ensign T'Lani said seriously.
"I'll be fine. Thank you for all your help." Vincent said with a smile in her general direction.
"Should you have need of my assistance, you have but to ask." Ensign T'Lani said formally, then hurried to the back door of the room.
"Vincent, you are full of surprises." Channing said with a chuckle.
"What do you mean?" Vincent asked curiously as he turned in his bed.
"I've never had a woman, Human or Vulcan, talk to me the way she just talked to you. She respects you." Channing said in wonder.
"Yeah. I guess so. But why does that matter to you? I mean, I thought you and Chance were, um... like boyfriends or something." Vincent said carefully.
Channing chuckled and said, "A lot of people think that. Chance and I roomed together at the academy the whole time we were there. I got posted to the Excelsior and Chance got posted here. After six months I was transferred to the Yorktown and we worked it out so we could room together again. He's like the younger brother that I always wanted."
"So you don't care that people think you're gay?" Vincent asked carefully.
"Why should I care? I'll tell anyone who's interested the truth if they have the guts to ask. If they don't then it's not my problem." Channing said casually.
Vincent smiled and said, "I think you'd like my Daddy Joe, he thinks about stuff the same way you do."
"Ensign T'Lani, I have your diplomatic channel." The communications officer said seriously.
"She was called away, but she was opening the channel for me. Can you put it through for me? I, um... can't see." Vincent finished shyly.
"Yes, of course." The woman said, then there was a moment of silence.
"He's waiting for you to start." Channing whispered from the other bed.
"Ambassador Sarek, I am Vincent Winters, son of Clan Short of the house of Surak of Vulcan." Vincent said in his best attempt at formal Vulcan.
"The members of Clan Short are my grandsons, therefore you are my great-grandson. As such you are entitled to call me great-grandfather or grandfather if that is more comfortable. And please feel free to speak English. I am fully versed." Ambassador Sarek said, trying to keep the pained note out of his voice at the butchering of his native language.
Vincent nodded, then continued in English, "Grandfather Sarek, I'm not sure if there's some kind of formal way I'm supposed to do this, but I need to ask you a favor."
"The most logical way to proceed would be to disregard formality and simply ask what you will." Ambassador Sarek said calmly.
"I went through something today, I guess you'd call it an ordeal. I don't know exactly what you need to know but I'll tell you the important parts."
"I went into a damaged reactor that was leaking radiation to shut it down. It was my choice to go and I could have turned around and gone back to the ship whenever I wanted.... I don't think anyone would have been mad at me if I'd changed my mind... I don't even think they would have been disappointed in me."
"But I made up my mind and did what needed to be done to help a lot of people. I went alone and took no food or water..."
"...And I really thought I was going to die."
"Grandfather Sarek, as the head of the house of Surak I'm asking if you'll accept what I did today as my kahs'wan." Vincent finished quietly.
There was a long moment of silence, then Vincent said, "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I'm blind right now. If you're nodding or something I can't see it."
"No. I am considering the conditions of the kahs'wan. The Enterprise will be at your location shortly. I will review the facts of the matter. When the Enterprise arrives, I will transport to the Yorktown and inform you of my decision." Ambassador Sarek said calmly.
"Din-tor heh smusma - sa'mekh'al." Vincent said carefully, trying as hard as he could to get the pronunciation just right.
Ambassador Sarek cringed slightly, then hesitantly said, "Peace and long life - grandson."
The screen went dark, then Channing whispered, "He's gone."
Vincent let out a gust of breath in relief, then flopped himself back on the bed.
"You did good Vincent." Channing said encouragingly.
Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "Wait. Did I just say Dif-tor or Din-tor?"
"Um, the second one I think." Channing said in thought.
"Are you sure?" Vincent asked more quietly.
"Yeah. Pretty sure."
"Oh, that's just great!" Vincent said sarcastically.
"What's wrong?" Channing asked slowly with concern.
"That was my Vulcan great-grandfather, the guy who's deciding if I'm mature enough to be considered an adult..." Vincent said seriously.
"I think I just told him to 'Misunderstand Me and Prosper'." Vincent said in a pained voice.
"Really?" Channing asked as he tried to fight down his laughter.
Vincent nodded, then stopped when he heard Channing lose the fight.
"I'm sorry I took so long. You wouldn't believe how many people are in the cafeteria and now the hallways are starting to fill up." Benny said as he walked to Vincent's bed.
"Thanks Benny." Vincent said quietly as he sat up.
"Is something wrong?" Benny asked with concern as he tried to get the collapsible tray table built into the side of the bed to lock into place.
"Yeah. There's someone coming who might make me go back to Earth because he thinks it isn't safe here for me." Vincent said quietly.
"You've got to be kidding. Why would he think something like that?" Benny asked in disbelief as the tray table finally did what it was supposed to.
"Um... Look at me." Vincent said and held out his arms.
"Oh yeah. I guess I'm getting used to seeing you like this." Benny said as he placed the plate of food on the tray table.
"There's really not anything I can do until Rory gets here." Vincent said in thought.
"You can eat. Open wide." Benny said as he cut a bite size chunk of roast beef.
"What are you going to feed me?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Old prunes and goat cheese." Benny said playfully.
Vincent chuckled, then felt the food touch his lips.
He opened his mouth and accepted the bite of food.
"I got to see some people I know down there. They seemed really scared about what's going to happen to us next." Benny said as he speared a chunk of potato.
Vincent swallowed his food, then said, "I bet Captain Byrne is already working on finding you a new place."
"Open." Benny said firmly.
Vincent obediently opened his mouth and was fed the chunk of potato.
"You said this guy is coming to make sure that you're safe, right?" Benny asked carefully.
Vincent nodded as he chewed.
"Well, if we find a new place to live, you know, a new colony. That would be a safe place, wouldn't it?" Benny said conversationally.
Vincent swallowed, then asked, "Are you asking if I want to come and live with you?"
"Open." Benny said, then in a quieter voice he said, "Yeah, kind of. I don't know what my life will be like now that my family is gone. But I know that the colony is my family too and they'll make sure I don't have to do without stuff until I can find a way to make a living."
Vincent accepted a fork full of steamed green beans, and nodded his agreement as he chewed.
"So maybe we could share a place, the house of Summers and Winters." Benny said with a smile.
Vincent swallowed and said, "That sounds nice."
"Crewman Winters, I'm sorry to interrupt your meal but I need to do a quick scan." Dr. Perry said as she rushed to his side.
"Okay." Vincent said with caution at her tone.
She quickly scanned him with the tricorder, then said, "Good, you're doing fine. I need for you and your friend to go directly to deck T and find a comfortable place to relax there."
"What's going on?" Vincent asked in confusion.
"Too much to tell. It just looks like we're about to get very busy and we'll need every bed that we can free up. Anyone who doesn't need critical care is being moved." Dr. Perry said as she turned and scanned Channing.
"Is Channing going to deck T with us?" Vincent asked quietly.
"Yes. I'll have one of the doctors join you down there shortly to oversee everyone. Please hurry now." Dr. Perry said as she moved to the next bed.
"Come on Vincent. We'll do it just like before, you can take my arm." Benny said as he helped Vincent to stand.
"Channing, do you need help to walk?" Vincent asked with concern.
"I'm just a little shaky, I think I'll be okay." Channing said as he tried to gain his balance.
"Benny, why don't you let Channing hold on to you. I'll walk on his other side and he can guide me." Vincent said seriously.
"That's okay Vincent..." Channing began to say.
"If you feel yourself getting weak, you can hold on to us and we'll keep you up." Vincent said firmly.
"I know better than to argue with you. Let's go, it looks like everyone is going down with us." Channing said as he looked around the room.
With Benny's help, Vincent made his way to Channing's side and took hold of his arm.
"He's the one." Someone whispered as the trio started across the room.
Vincent didn't know how many people were in the room, but he felt like there were a thousand eyes staring at him as he caught bits and pieces of whispered conversations.
"...Is that really him?"
"...Look at what happened to him..."
"...just a little boy..."
Vincent felt a hand on his arm as a girl's voice whispered close to his ear, "Thank you."
Vincent heard the acoustics change as they walked into the hallway, then asked, "Who was that?"
"Her name is Samantha." Benny said quietly.
"What was she thanking me for?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I'm not sure. Just about everyone from the colony knows that you're the one who shut down the reactor. So she was either thanking you for saving her life or for saving the lives of the people she loves." Benny said as the trio walked.
Channing guided Vincent to walk a little bit in front of him as they stepped into the turbo lift.
More and more people crowded in and finally the doors closed.
"Deck T." Channing said into the air.
The lift started to move horizontally until it reached the central shaft, then changed direction and began the long journey to one of the lowest decks in the ship.
The transporter beam cleared to show a twelve or thirteen year old boy hunched over, digging at the floor with his hands.
"Send me back! I can save them!" The boy begged as tears streaked down his cheeks through the mud that was covering him.
"No one is going back. Were you looking for someone from where I beamed you up?" Rad asked with sympathy.
"Yeah. I got knocked out when the wall fell in on me, but I'm okay so they have to be okay too. Please let me go back. They're my family, they're all I've got!" The boy begged in a panicked voice.
The security officer walked toward the transport chamber to move the boy off the pad when Rad raised a hand in a 'stop' gesture and shook his head.
"I tell you what, if you'll move off that transporter pad, I'll scan the area where you were and beam anyone I find up. But to do that I need you to move." Rad said, carefully walking the fine line between being sympathetic and demanding.
The boy looked at Rad with a lost expression, then stumbled off the transporter pad and waited expectantly.
"Okay, watch now. I'm going to target the area where I found you and lock on to everything I can find." Rad said as he looked at the transporter's scans with pain.
There was a faint blip and he locked onto it as quickly as humanly possible.
Rad initiated the transport and his hopes fell as he saw a small animal appear on the transporter's pad.
"Fizgig!" The boy said happily and ran to the small wet animal.
Rad shook his head as he looked at the area devoid of other life signs.
After a moment of watching the boy comforting the cold and frightened animal in his arms, Rad came to a decision and pressed the comm button.
"Sickbay." Rad said carefully, then waited for the computer to direct his call.
"Sickbay here. What can I do for you?" A frantic voice asked.
"Is there any way I can speak to Crewman Winters? It's kind of important." Rad asked hopefully.
"He was moved to deck T with all the other convalescent patients."
"Thank you, I'll try there." Rad said, then rekeyed the comm.
"Pool area, general announcement." Rad said, then waited a second for the computer to route the command.
"Crewman Vincent Winters, please contact transporter room two. Crewman Vincent Winters, please contact transporter room two." Rad said desperately.
The boy looked up from his dog, then over at Rad with question.
With a stab of pain through his heart, Rad shook his head at the boy.
"Vincent, be glad you can't see this." Channing said as the trio stepped off the turbo lift on Deck T.
"I can hear them, is it as crowded as it sounds?" Vincent asked as he held tightly to Channing's side.
"Probably more. We'll be doing good to find a place to sit down in here." Channing said as he looked around.
"Channing? How are you feeling?" A security officer asked as he approached the group.
"Hi Neil, I was feeling better until I saw this." Channing said seriously.
"What are you doing down here? Shouldn't you be in sickbay?" Neil asked cautiously.
"Dr. Perry's sending all the convalescent patients down here from sickbay because she's expecting to get overrun with new patients." Channing said carefully.
As if to prove his words, the turbo lift doors opened to reveal another load of patients.
"There's got to be someplace else for them to go, we're packed in here already." Neil said to no one in particular, then walked away.
Someone bumped into Vincent and knocked him into Channing's side which made them both have to fight for balance.
"This is no good. You guys aren't in any condition to have to deal with this." Benny said in a firm voice.
"Crewman Vincent Winters, please contact transporter room two. Crewman Vincent Winters, please contact transporter room two." Sounded over the public address speakers of the pool area.
"Get me to a comm station." Vincent said loudly to be heard over the increasing voices in the tightly packed room.
"There's one in the observation bay, come on." Channing said and started to guide the trio to the observation lounge directly across from the turbo lift.
As the trio approached the comm station, Neil noticed them and said, "I'm sorry guys but the comm stations are off limits until the colony is evacuated. We need them open for the emergency services."
"This is Crewman Vincent Winters, he was just paged." Channing said seriously.
"Crewman? Oh, you're the one who... um, go ahead." Neil said in astonishment.
Channing pressed the comm station button and said, "Transporter room two."
"This is Crewman Winters." Vincent said through the speaker.
"Vincent, this is Rad. I really need your help. I've got a boy here who just lost his whole family, is there any way you can find someone to bring you up here? I know you've got your own problems right now, but this kid really needs help. I can't help him, I have to keep transporting people up." Rad said as he divided his attention between the crying boy and his scans of the surface.
"Yeah, I'll be there as quick as I can." Vincent said immediately.
"Thanks Vincent." Rad said appreciatively as he continued to scan.
The security officer looked at Rad with question.
Rad noticed and said, "Just leave him be. Someone will be here to help him in a minute."
"What do I do now?" The boy asked in a lost and helpless voice.
"Just wait for one minute. Someone is on his way to help you." Rad said seriously.
"No one can help me..." The boy said distantly.
"...everyone who helps me is dead..."
"...I should be dead."
"Do you want to come with us or stay here Channing?" Vincent asked as he took firm hold of Channing's arm.
"Honestly, right now I'd gladly get into a space suit and cling to the side of the ship to get out of this room. I'm going with you." Channing said as he looked around.
"What about you Benny?" Vincent asked, not knowing where to direct his voice, but knowing that Benny was still around.
"Where you go, I go." Benny said firmly.
"Then let's go... one of you guys should probably lead the way." Vincent finished with a teasing smile.
As the trio approached the turbo lift, a security officer said, "I know it's miserable down here, but we're trying to work something out. We can't let anyone go up until we have another place for you to go."
Before Vincent could say anything, Neil spoke up from behind him, "It's OK Matt, these three were just called to transporter room two to help with an emergency."
Matt looked at the young boy who looked worse than the burn victims in the Starfleet training videos, then at the skinny teenager who looked like he had been dipped in a vat of mud. Finally his gaze stopped on Channing who was ghost pale and looking like he would pass out at any second.
"Think about it Matt. If there's someone who needs these three to help, they must be in pretty bad shape up there." Neil said seriously.
"Yeah, go on. Good luck guys." Matt said as he stood aside.
The turbo lift doors opened to let another group of people off. Neil and Matt tried to direct them out of the way to keep some sort of a path open.
As soon as the last of the people had passed, Channing guided Benny and Vincent onto the lift, letting them support most of his weight.
"JonJon?" Benny asked in surprise as the trio walked into transporter room two.
"Benny?" The boy asked in confusion.
"Guys, can you take him down to the pool area with you? He can't stay here." Rad asked as he locked onto three people and began the transport.
"No way. It's packed down there. We could hardly breathe." Vincent said frankly.
"They're dead." JonJon said in a hollow voice as he approached the trio with Fizgig in his arms.
Vincent heard the words and froze, everything else was forgotten in an instant.
"I know it hurts. The same thing happened to me and Vincent." Benny said as he did his best to hug JonJon with one arm while still supporting Channing's weight.
JonJon looked at Vincent curiously and asked, "What is it? A Suloban?"
"A what? No. He's a human, he's just got a full body scab." Benny said carefully.
Conversation stopped as the security officer led the three people away from the transporter and into the hallway.
Rad looked carefully at the readings on his transporter station, then hit the comm and called out, "Sickbay!"
"Sickbay here." A young man answered in a shaky voice.
"I need a med team to transporter room two immediately." Rad said quickly as he worked the transporter's controls.
"We don't have anyone to send you. We're treating patients in the hallways here." The young man said franticly.
"I've got three people who need emergency care. How about this? Clear out a spot for me and I'll beam them directly into sickbay." Rad said firmly.
"It'll take me a few minutes to clear a space, we're packed in here."
Rad looked at his scanner and said, "I don't have a few minutes. I'll beam them in here and you call me when you've cleared a place for them."
"It'll just be a few minutes." The young man said desperately.
"Call transporter room two when you're ready to receive them. I can't tie up the transporter any longer." Rad said quickly, then initiated the transporter.
A pile of three intertwined bodies appeared on the transporter pad, then just as suddenly disappeared and reappeared on the floor beside the transporter's control console.
Benny looked away from the horrific scene as Channing quietly asked, "Is there anything we can do to help them?"
"I don't know. Maybe you can separate them so I can transport them one at a time when there's a place for them to go." Rad said as he began to scan his area of the colony for other life signs.
"But shouldn't we leave them like they are until a doctor can see them?" Channing asked as he looked at the pile of twisted bodies helplessly.
"I really don't know, I just think the one on the bottom probably needs to breathe." Rad said, then spotted a cluster of life signs on his scanner.
"Right. Let's shift them." Channing said with resignation.
"JonJon and I can do it. You're too weak. Stay here so Vincent can hold you up." Benny said firmly.
Channing wanted to argue, but could barely stay upright when Benny carefully got out from under his arm.
"Leave Fizgig with Vincent and help me." Benny said firmly to JonJon.
"It won't eat Fizgig, will it?" JonJon asked cautiously as he looked at Vincent with fear.
Benny smiled and said, "I told you, this is Vincent. He's a Human. He'll take good care of Fizgig for you, won't you Vincent?"
"Yeah, I promise I won't hurt him." Vincent said with effort as he supported the majority of Channing's weight.
Benny and JonJon hurried to the pile of twisted bodies and stopped to try and determine how to separate them.
"Benny?" JonJon called out in a squeak.
"Come on JonJon, help me." Benny said as he reluctantly took hold of the top person's arm.
"Benny, that's your mom." JonJon said with wide horrified eyes as he pointed.
Benny looked where JonJon was pointing and was overwhelmed by the sight.
"Mom?" Benny said in a small child's voice as tears filled his eyes.
The transporter energized and six people appeared looking cold and haggard.
"Step off the transporter and someone will be here in a minute to take care of you." Rad said quickly as he began to scan again.
After a few careful pulls and tugs, Benny was able to get his mother separated from the others and carefully turned her so he could get a grip under her arms.
JonJon took hold of her legs and helped Benny to move her as gently as possible.
The door opened and the security officer hurried in.
"If you'll go with him, he'll see that you're taken care of." Rad said quickly, then energized the transporter to beam three more people into the room.
"There's no place to take them. They'll need to stay here for a minute while I check in." The security officer said quickly.
Benny and JonJon worked to gently turn the next body over.
"Dad?" Benny said as the tears continued to flow.
"Oh God." The security officer gasped as he saw the girl who had been underneath Benny's father.
Her small thin body was twisted into an impossible position. Her arm was turned and twisted enough to prove that her bones weren't just broken, they were mashed.
Rad took one look at her, then started pressing buttons on his console.
As soon as he found enough floor space in Sickbay to fit her body, he initiated transport and said, "Ready or not."
Benny looked at the spot where the mashed girl had been laying and whispered, "Callie?"
"Vincent, I really think you need to get him out of here." Rad said as he continued to scan.
"Transporter room two, we've got the first one, and I've got a place for the other two now." A man's voice called over the intercom.
Rad locked in on the voice and verified the location, then initiated the transport.
"I've got them."
"Are they going to be okay?" Benny asked in a trembling voice.
"I hope so. I promise that we'll do whatever we can to help them."
"Can I go to sickbay to stay with them?" Benny asked hopefully.
"I'm sorry. Sickbay is packed. If you can tell me your name and where you'll be, I'll call you as soon as I know anything."
"His name is Benny and he'll be in Deflector Control." Vincent said from across the room.
Benny looked at Vincent with question.
"Got it. Benny, I'll call you as soon as I know anything." The man said with distraction.
The sound of the transporter energizing drew everyone's attention.
"Oh thank God!" A woman said in a gasp as she stumbled off the transporter pad.
"It's like hell down there. Things are starting to catch fire... Nothing's starting it, everything's just bursting into flames." A man said as he followed her.
"Please step down, we don't have much time." Rad said desperately.
As soon as the last person stepped out of the transporter chamber, the transporter activated again and six people materialized on the pad.
"Everyone step off the transporter pad. We need to hurry." Rad said as he continued scanning.
"Guys? It's getting crowded in here, Channing's getting really heavy and I think Fizgig just peed on me. We need to get to deflector control now." Vincent said loudly to be heard across the room.
Benny shook himself out of his thoughts and put a comforting arm around JonJon to guide him across the room.
The transporter energized again and two men materialized, clutching to each other desperately both with wisps of smoke coming off their clothes.
"Thank you! Oh, thank you!" One of the men said in a gasping voice.
"Rad, will you please make sure the deflector control team gets out?" Vincent asked hopefully in Rad's general direction.
"Joe is the only one still down there. Don't worry Vincent, I've got a lock on his communicator. He'll want to stay until the last minute, but I'll make sure he gets out in time." Rad said as he kept his focus on his scans.
"Thanks." Vincent said, then felt someone take Fizgig out of his arms.
"How are you doing Channing?" Benny asked with concern at the hollow look in Channing's eyes.
"I think I can make it... but we'd better hurry." Channing said in barely a whisper.
"Help us to the turbo lift." Vincent said seriously as he tried to steady Channing.
"It's just a few steps out this door." Benny said encouragingly.
JonJon cuddled Fizgig to his chest and followed behind the trio as they left the transporter room.
"I thought it was packed in the hallway outside the transporter room. It's worse here." Channing said as the turbo lift doors opened.
"Left, down the catwalk and through the doors." Vincent said with effort at supporting Channing's weight.
"Dear God! You need to see a doctor!" One of the colonists exclaimed when he saw Vincent.
"The doctor's busy with people hurt worse than me." Vincent said firmly.
"Can you please let us through? We need to get to that door." Channing said in as loud a voice as he could manage.
"Please, can't you see they're hurt?" Benny called out as he tried to force his way through the crowd.
"They won't let you in there. It's a restricted area." A woman said seriously.
"Vincent works in there. They'll at least let him in." Channing said weakly.
"You don't look so good. Maybe you should stop and rest." An older man said with concern as they made their way down the catwalk.
"No. Just a little bit more." Channing said with effort.
"Vincent. We're here. You need to talk to them and ask them to let you in." Channing said seriously.
"Okay. Hit the comm button." Vincent said tiredly.
"I'm sorry, but this is a restricted area. No entry." Connie's voice said over the comm unit.
"Connie, this is Vincent. There's no place else for me to go. Can you please let four of us in?" Vincent asked hopefully.
There was a moment of silence, then the door opened.
"Hurry." Susan said and pulled the trio of Vincent, Channing and Benny through the door.
Benny reached back and plucked JonJon out of the crowd behind him just before the doors closed.
"I think someone got their math wrong because that looks like more than a thousand people." Susan said, then looked at Vincent in horror.
"Oh Vincent. How are you feeling? Does it hurt?" Jimmy asked before Susan could find her voice.
"I'm fine, but Channing needs to lay down. I think he's about to pass out." Vincent said seriously.
"Come with me, we've laid out some sleeping bags in the supply room." Susan said and took firm hold of Channing's arm.
"What about the rest of you guys. Do you need anything?" Jimmy asked as he looked at Benny and JonJon cautiously.
"Benny's family is in sickbay and they're hurt pretty bad. We told them to call here to let him know how they're doing." Vincent said seriously.
"I'll call you if we hear anything. Why don't you guys get some rest, you look like you could use it." Connie said frankly.
"Yeah, do you want to lay down? There's plenty of beds." Jimmy said quickly.
"I've been laying down for a while. I think I'd rather sit down. Is anyone at the auxiliary stations?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"No. Let me help you." Jimmy said and guided Vincent to sit in one of the two auxiliary station chairs.
Jimmy looked at Benny and JonJon consideringly for a moment, then said, "You can sit here if you want or go in there and lay down."
Benny hesitantly took the seat beside Vincent.
JonJon walked to Benny and slowly climbed onto his lap, asking with his eyes if it was okay.
Benny gave a faint smile and a nod to say that it was.
"How bad is it out there?" Susan asked cautiously as she walked back into the main room.
"They're packed in tight on every deck we've been to so far. It's a nightmare." Benny said as he hugged JonJon tightly.
"Cooper to Deflector Control." Darin said loudly over the comm to be heard over the voices talking in the background.
"Deflector Control here." Connie said seriously.
"I can't find Vincent anywhere. Sickbay said he was sent to Deck T but there's at least a hundred people down here and I can't find him anywhere... Someone could be standing on top of him and I wouldn't even know it." Darin said on the verge of tears.
"Calm down Darin, he's here with us in Deflector Control." Susan said quickly.
"Really?" Darin asked hopefully.
"Yeah, he just got here and he's fine. Come on up." Susan said with concern.
"I'm just waiting on you, 'big brother'." Vincent called out playfully.
"I'll be there in ten or fifteen minutes." Darin said loudly as he tried to make himself heard over the clamor of voices.
"Where else are you going?" Susan asked loudly in response.
"Nowhere. It's just going to take me that long to get through all these people." Darin said frankly.
Before Susan could respond she heard Darin say, "Ouch! Shit!" Then the comm went silent.
"The Enterprise had better get here quick, these people aren't going to stay friendly for very long in conditions like this." Connie said gravely.
Susan nodded her agreement.
A whimper drew everyone's attention as Fizgig squirmed to try and get out of JonJon's grasp.
"I bet this little guy is hungry. Let me take him for a minute to get him some food and water." Susan said gently.
JonJon looked at Susan with fear then turned more into Benny's chest to hide Fizgig from her.
"JonJon, Fizgig will get sick if he doesn't eat and drink. This woman is just trying to help him." Benny said quietly.
JonJon looked up at Benny with tears in his eyes and whispered, "But he's all that's left. I can't let him go."
Vincent heard the words and carefully said, "Then why don't you go with him? I bet if you asked Susan nicely, she'd show you where the food and water are so you could feed him yourself."
JonJon glanced at Vincent, then at Susan with hope and question in his eyes.
Susan gave him a gentle smile and said, "Come back to the supply room and I'll show you where we keep the emergency rations."
JonJon reluctantly got off Benny's lap, then followed Susan into the supply room.
There was a long moment of silence in Deflector Control until it was broken by Connie asking, "He's an android, isn't he?"