There was a long moment of silence as the group of boys stared in disbelief.
"What does it mean?" Tyber finally whispered.
"Nothing." Oscar answered in an uncertain voice.
Vincent shook himself out of his stupor and glanced around the group as he said, "After all that build up, this was a real let down."
"But why would they bring us in here just to open an empty box?" Tyber asked in confusion.
"I really don't think they knew it was empty." Lehman said quietly.
"Well JonJon, I guess you called that one." Vincent said with a teasing smile at his friend.
"Android intuition." JonJon said with false bravado.
Vincent giggled at the statement, then said, "Let's go tell the Holy Ones that it was empty so maybe I can get back to the Yorktown in time to have some breakfast before I have to go to work."
"I'm hoping I can get some more sleep." Lehman said, honestly.
JonJon hugged Lehman to his side and guided him to start walking.
As the five boys approached the door, they dissolved into nothingness.
"Okay... Did anyone else see what I just saw?" Vincent asked as he tried to recover from a tingling sensation that seemed to be coursing through his entire body.
"If you saw the five of us walk to the door and vanish, then yes." Oscar said hesitantly.
"What does it mean?" Tyber asked in confusion.
"Maybe we should try to follow them. They may be duplicates of us, intent on taking our places." Oscar said speculatively, then started walking toward the door.
"No. I think I know what that was. You don't have to worry about it. We won't be seeing them again." Vincent said, as he carefully considered what he was feeling.
Oscar turned on him and asked, "What do you think it was?"
"I think... Actually, I'm pretty sure that what we just saw was a time split." Vincent said slowly.
"Time split? What's that?" Tyber asked curiously.
"It's kind of hard to explain, and I'm really not supposed to talk about most of what I know about it. But I've felt this feeling before, and it means that something just happened to our timeline. Since there were just two groups of us, I think what we saw was what would have happened to us if the box were empty." Vincent said in slow concentration.
"Very good." A man's voice said from behind the group.
The group turned as one to see a tall transparent man standing about six feet away.
His skin appeared to be thin and made of something like crinkled white paper and his eyes were sunken in, looking like they were solid black.
"Who are you?" Vincent asked before anyone else found their voice.
"I was known as Eliam. Now I am the keeper of this archive." The man said quietly, as he gestured toward the box which had a glowing sphere about four feet wide hovering above it.
The group turned and moved around so they could all easily see the glittery light.
"It's kind of pretty." Lehman offered shyly.
"As holograms go, it's alright. I wouldn't really brag on it." Vincent said with a shrug.
"I don't know for sure, but it looks like a model of the universe." Tyber said as he leaned in to get a better look.
"No. It isn't. It's hard to tell, as small as it is, but I'm not seeing any familiar formations." Oscar said in a considering voice.
Vincent looked more closely and tried to find the Milky Way, the formation he had the most familiarity with.
After another moment of inspecting the hologram, Vincent said, "Oscar is right. There's nothing here that I recognize."
"It's doing something." Lehman said, as he pointed toward the center.
All the boys watched in silence as one after another of the little lights started moving toward the center. As each one reached the central point, it winked out.
The boys watched silently as more and more little lights winked out.
"This is giving me the creeps. I feel like I'm watching the deaths of billions of people." JonJon finally said in a whisper.
Vincent looked back at Eliam with question, to find him watching the model with an expression of profound sorrow.
"It's horrible." Tyber said in a whisper, as tears began to well in his eyes.
"It's the natural cycle of death and rebirth in the universe." Eliam said in a resigned tone that didn't quite hide his sorrow.
"Rebirth? Everything is being destroyed. How is there rebirth after that?" Vincent asked as the central point started glowing.
Silence was the only answer as everyone was transfixed on the sight.
The model seemed to pick up speed and within a second, all of the tiny lights were drawn to spiral into the growing molten central point.
A moment after the last light disappeared, Lehman asked, "So is that it? The end of everything?"
"No. The beginning." Eliam said with certainty.
As soon as the words left his mouth, the swirling molten glob exploded.
All the boys scampered back as molten debris flew out in all directions and expanded to fill one end of the large room.
"It's the big bang." Vincent whispered in realization.
"I think what we're seeing is billions of years of progress in a matter of seconds." Oscar speculated as he looked around the room.
"Vincent, is that ours?" JonJon asked as he pointed.
Vincent moved to JonJon's side and looked where he was pointing.
"Maybe. But it's not right yet. We probably need to give it a few million years to settle down." Vincent said in thought.
Oscar walked to his side and watched as the molten globs of debris formed into recognizable patterns.
"So does this mean that before the universe was born that there was a whole other universe that was destroyed?" Tyber asked, curiously.
"That's what it looks like." Vincent said as he continued to watch the different star systems develop.
All the boys were startled when everything seemed to freeze in place.
"You reasoned that out well." Eliam said from behind them.
"Why are we here?" Oscar asked in a firm voice.
"Why are any of us here?" Eliam said with a gentle smile.
Vincent shook his head and said, "We're not going to do this. I didn't get enough sleep, I'm hungry and my joints are aching. Will you just tell us why we were all brought here so we can get started doing whatever it is you need us to do?"
Eliam seemed to be surprised by the statement, but his only answer was a casual bow and a gesture toward the conference table at the other side of the room.
When the last of the boys was seated, Eliam said, "What you just witnessed was an ending and a beginning."
"We figured that part out." Vincent said shortly.
JonJon put a hand on Vincent's arm to get his attention, then put a finger to his lips to silently say, 'shush'.
Vincent rolled his eyes, then turned his attention back to Eliam.
"What you saw happened, and will happen again." Eliam continued.
Vincent nodded and fought the urge to say, 'Well, duh!'.
"We are approaching the point of critical mass, when all matter will be drawn together again or will continue on to allow another cycle." Eliam said carefully.
Vincent thought about the words for a moment, then quietly said, "Okay. I get that. But I still don't see why we're here. What do we have to do with it?"
"The cycle of destruction and rebirth will continue until a civilization develops that is worthy of continued existence."
The boys looked around at each other, barely comprehending the scale of what he was saying.
"What do we have to do with it?" Vincent asked again.
"There are certain creatures in existence that have the ability to alter fate. Their presence and force of will can cause things that were predestined, to become otherwise." Eliam said carefully.
"You five are just beginning to find that power in yourselves and you will use those abilities to determine the ultimate fate of the universe." Eliam said, and Vincent noticed that he was more transparent than just a minute before.
"Okay. Are you saying that we five are some kind of super people?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Remind me to feed him before we go anywhere with him again." JonJon whispered to Lehman.
Lehman nodded his agreement.
"Super people? No... Each of you are members of your own species and not unlike others of your kind. But as each of you grow, you will begin to notice that if you invest your thought and caring into a project, the random factors will seem to align in your favor." Eliam said carefully.
"That sounds good, except... I don't grow." JonJon finished hesitantly.
Vincent glanced at JonJon, then turned to Eliam and nodded in agreement.
Eliam seemed to consider for a moment before saying, "Whether you are aware of it or not, it is necessary for what is to come. If you are one of the five, you grow."
"The nail." Lehman whispered.
JonJon looked at him curiously, not understanding what one thing had to do with the other.
"The doctors on the Enterprise said that it might effect your development." Vincent said cautiously.
"So my hardware was physically altered to allow me to fulfill this destiny? And I was drawn to be in this time and place? Did you kill my family?" JonJon asked darkly, as he glared at Eliam.
"No young one, not me. The force that guides the universe brought the five of you to meet in this time and place, and made sure that you had the ability to do what was asked of you." Eliam said cautiously and was now difficult to see.
"Okay guys. It looks like Eliam's nightlight is about to burn out, so let's see what we have to do before we're stuck sitting here talking to nothing." Vincent said firmly.
"Each of you will go and live your lives as you would have before, only now you will do so with the knowledge that you can make changes in destiny. Your presence and will can alter the predestined fates of people... or even worlds." Eliam said seriously.
"There's got to be more to it than that, or we wouldn't be here. Spill it." Vincent said firmly.
"Others have worked to put in place a network of people who can aid you in your efforts to alter the destiny of this universe. They would be put in place as respected figures of authority." Eliam said cautiously.
"The Holy Ones. Two of them are waiting for us to finish." Oscar said as he watched Eliam cautiously.
"Yes. Your Holy Ones will provide you access to places that you might not otherwise be permitted. They will alert you to situations where your unique abilities might be of benefit. They are resources for you to draw upon." Eliam said, and was now little more than an undefined glow.
"You said that we have to change the destiny of the universe. How do we do that?" Tyber asked quickly.
"You may be able to completely change the destiny of an entire planet by altering the destiny of just one man. Likewise the fate of the universe may be changed by altering the fate of just one planet. So it follows, that if you can change the fate of one pivotal being, the universe might be allowed to continue on to fulfill more of it's ultimate potential." Eliam said slowly.
"But how do we find that man?" Lehman asked, cautiously.
"You will be drawn to him. It is part of your nature to be drawn to the people who are instrumental in the formation of the future." Eliam said, as he turned his insubstantial face toward Lehman.
"Okay. So we find the guy who can change the future of a world, what then? What do we do?" JonJon asked as he squinted his eyes to try and see Eliam's facial features.
"Care. Become involved. Help him realize his dream. Your presence and your will for it to be so is all that is necessary for a destiny to be rewritten." Eliam said in a whisper of a voice.
"I can barely see you. Are you okay?" Lehman asked with concern.
"The abrupt time displacement provided me the energy to manifest before you, but as time flows away from it, I am fading." Eliam said with concern.
"What else do we need to know?" Vincent asked quickly.
"Only one more thing. A warning. The failure of the five in my time was due to their being universally known. They were made the supreme rulers of the five great empires because it was known by all that they had the ability to save our universe. When our universe reached it's critical mass and all matter began to return to it's origin, our societies fell into ruin and our civilizations collapsed. The five were unable to perform their duties and improve their empires because they... we became the focal points. Our ability to change the universe was lost because there were few factors that we, as emperors, did not control. There were not enough random factors to allow us to change anything of significance. Heed my warning, do not announce the true nature of your gifts or you face the possibility of losing this chance. If you fail in your duties, one of you may have to choose to give up his physical body to become the keeper of the archive and warn the next universe."
The last few words were little more than whispers in the empty air.
"Wow. That sucks." Vincent finally said.
Oscar nodded his agreement.
"I guess we should go tell the Holy Ones what happened so we can find out what to do next." JonJon said cautiously.
"I need to do one thing first." Vincent said as he walked to the box.
He carefully closed it, then turned and said, "Oscar."
Oscar looked at Vincent curiously.
Vincent pulled open the top of his jumpsuit enough to expose his right nipple.
Oscar let out a yelp of laughter, then turned away to try and get himself under control.
"I just thought things were getting a little too serious. Now I'm ready." Vincent said with a smile.
"Wait." Tyber said, before he reached the door.
Everyone stopped to look at him curiously.
"Before we go talk to the Holy Ones, I think we need to talk about what just happened." Tyber said with concern.
"What is there to talk about? The five of us were brought here to save the universe. The only choices we have are do it or don't. Does anyone want the universe to die?" Vincent asked seriously.
"No, but there has to be someone better than me to do this..." Tyber said in a hollow tone.
"Nope. You're here. That means that you're good enough." Vincent said simply.
"I believe the mammal is correct. We have been selected for this task by forces beyond our comprehending. Our very presence is all the evidence required to prove that we are worthy." Oscar said, then gave Vincent a teasing smile.
"Listen guys, my dad was an insane murderer who secretly wanted to pork my brother. If anyone should feel unworthy it's me. But we're gonna do this because there's no other choice. Besides that, I think 'Savior of the Universe' will look pretty good on a resume if I ever decide to leave Starfleet." Vincent finished with a cheeky grin.
"Okay Vincent. I guess you're right. I mean, if you think about it, nothing has really changed. Eliam said that we're just going to go and live our lives like before." Tyber said speculatively.
"Except that now we'll know that if we help someone, it might be that one person who will tip the balance and let the universe keep living." JonJon said in thought.
"Good. Then if we're all agreed, let's go. The sooner we meet with the Holy Ones, the sooner I can get something to eat. I'm starving." Vincent said, as he started toward the door.
"Does he always think with his stomach?" Oscar asked Tyber curiously as they followed.
"I don't know. I met him for the first time yesterday." Tyber said in thought.
"I see... What does it mean, 'to pork'?" Oscar asked more quietly.
Tyber looked at the other boys who had moved ahead and quietly said, "I was hoping you could tell me."
As the boys walked into the hallway, they stopped as a group to stare at the nearly seven foot tall Gorn who appeared to be waiting for them.
"Where are the Holy Ones?" Oscar asked in his growling and hissing language.
The rest of the boys shared glances of surprise that they understood what he was saying.
"They await your presence in the Lounging Hall." The large reptile answered.
Oscar considered for a moment, then broke into a smile as he said, "Our guests require food. Please see that a traditional feast is prepared that is in accordance with mammal eating habits. I will conduct our guests to the lounging hall."
"I will see to it, but... what do they eat?" The large reptile asked as he glanced at the group of boys watching him.
"I do not know. Have the cooks prepare a variety, and we will hope that none of the selections will be offensive." Oscar said carefully.
"I will notify the cooks immediately." The large reptile said, then hurried away.
Oscar looked at the group behind him and said in English, "Follow me, the Holy Ones are this way."
Vincent thought carefully about the pronunciation before saying in the Gorn language, "In the Lounging Hall?"
Oscar stopped suddenly and looked at Vincent with surprise.
"We could understand everything both of you just said." JonJon said quietly.
Oscar took off the crystal he had been wearing and asked, "You can now understand our language?"
Lehman nodded and said, "It sounded like a language that I learned to speak by telepathy. Not really familiar, but I understood the meaning clearly."
Oscar nodded absently, then started walking again.
"I wonder what else Eliam did to us without telling us?" Tyber asked speculatively.
Vincent took a deep breath, then let out a long, sustained shriek.
"You don't have to use that kind of language Vincent. We're guests here." JonJon said in a chastising tone.
"And you say my language is difficult to pronounce." Oscar said with a chuckle.
Vincent smiled at the statement.
"I understood what you said, but what language was that?" Tyber asked as the group approached a large double door.
"Eagle. I just figured that if Eliam taught all of us to speak Gorn, that he might have given all of us all of each other's languages." Vincent said casually.
"But Eagle? You speak Eagle?" JonJon asked in wonder.
Vincent nodded and said, "So do you now."
As the group walked into the large room, Oscar said, "This is where our crew can come to relax while off duty."
Vincent looked around the brightly lit room and immediately noticed the higher humidity.
"The rest of the crew have vacated the area so we may speak." J'Laad said from on top of a large platform at the center of the room.
Oscar continued to lead the way to the platform, then around the side to reveal a ramp that led up to the Holy Ones.
It was warmer and the light was even brighter on top of the platform. Vincent felt like he was back in Florida in the summertime.
"What was in the box?" Tyce asked from J'Laad's side.
Before Vincent could answer, Tyber said, "Everything that is."
Tyce seemed disturbed by the answer.
"...And has been." Lehman added in a small voice a moment later.
"I had almost hoped that they would see nothing." J'Laad said quietly.
"You're in the wrong timeline for that." Vincent said, before he could think better of it.
J'Laad and Tyce both looked at Vincent with matching expressions of surprise that were verging on panic.
"What happened? What about timelines?" Tyce asked firmly, sounding nothing like his usual, gentle self.
"I just... When we opened the box, I think the timeline split." Vincent said carefully.
"Why would you believe such an unlikely thing?" J'Laad asked slowly, obviously trying to appear calm.
A combination of the early hour, his empty stomach and a stranger than usual morning, even for him, sparked a fire of anger within Vincent.
"I know what it feels like okay? I'm not allowed to talk about how, but when we opened the box, it caused something to happen that affected time. All of us saw our alternate selves walking away from the box like they didn't see us. When we opened the box, time split into two different realities." Vincent said, as he tried to get control of his building rage.
"Vincent." Oscar said seriously.
Without thought, Vincent turned to Oscar with a full glare of anger burning in his eyes.
Oscar tugged on the sleeve of the robe he was wearing and caused the robe to fall open at the neck. As it opened it revealed one side of his smooth, golden chest. The pectoral muscle was nicely defined, but there was no trace of a nipple.
Vincent's anger dissipated in a burst of laughter.
After a moment for Vincent to calm down, J'Laad said, "Come and sit with us. We have some matters to discuss and I have something to give you."
All the boys made their way fully onto the platform and gathered in a semi circle in front of J'Laad and Tyce.
"Did the keeper of the archive reveal himself to you?" Tyce asked cautiously.
"If you mean, did we see Eliam, yeah." Vincent said carefully.
JonJon bumped against Vincent's shoulder and whispered, "I'm sure that's what he meant. He *is* the Holy One."
Vincent looked at JonJon with a smirk but didn't reply.
As J'Laad was about to speak, Oscar broke into a howl of laughter.
Everyone turned their attention to Oscar as he fell back on the floor.
"Reveal himself!" Oscar squeaked with delight.
"He's good for my ego." Vincent said quietly to JonJon.
"Just remember, you would have gotten the same response if you had shown him your nipple again." JonJon said sagely.
"Okay. I'm as funny as a nipple. I guess I can live with that." Vincent said with a smile at Oscar's laughter.
As Oscar's gales of laughter finally began to subside, J'Laad said, "If we may continue."
"I'm sorry Holy One, but the double meaning of the words used was quite..."
"I'm aware of the double meaning. I have known their language since before your birth." J'Laad said seriously.
Oscar finally settled back into his position sitting upright before J'Laad, then waited expectantly.
"Yes. Well... what was I saying?" J'Laad asked as he looked at Tyce with question.
"Holy One, we have a feast prepared when you and your guests are ready to dine." A small stout Gorn said from just inside the doorway.
"Yes. We will be down shortly." J'Laad said with confusion.
"The mammals did not have an opportunity to eat before they came to our ship. Apparently it is early in the morning by their ship's time." Oscar hurried to explain.
"So you asked the cooks to prepare a feast?" J'Laad asked carefully.
"Yes. It seemed the proper way." Oscar said seriously, then finished with a smile.
"It is good. Come, we will dine." J'Laad said as he stood and walked toward the ramp.
"Tyber, would you mind bringing the box?" Tyce asked quietly.
Tyber looked where J'Laad had been sitting to see another black box, nearly identical to the one they had opened.
"Oh no. The last one told us that we have to save the universe. I don't want to know what's in this one." Vincent said firmly.
Tyce chuckled and said, "It's just something to help you. Once we've had our meal, we'll explain everything."
When they were finally all down the ramp, they spotted a variety of platters of food sat in a decorative pattern near the base of the platform.
"I like dining traditionally." Oscar said happily as he walked between two platters and took a seat on the ground with his back against the base of the platform.
"There is no etiquette in traditional dining. Just sit and eat." J'Laad said as he moved slowly between the platters and took a seat as Oscar had done.
"Do we need to sit over there?" Tyber asked curiously.
J'Laad smiled as he said, "Yes. This tradition of our people was born of necessity. During the hottest part of the day, we would have a meal break in the shadows of the great pillars. Hundred's of people would be gathered, resting with their backs against the pillars and the feast spread out before them."
While J'Laad had been talking, everyone found places to sit with their backs to the base of the platform.
"Our people have lost so many things to innovation and technology. We have nearly lost the essence of what it means to be Gorn. But this tradition continues on, it reminds us of our origin, when our only tools were stone and wood." J'Laad said with a distant look of peace.
"You can eat. There is no ceremony, you simply take whatever food appeals to you." Oscar said as he picked up a clawful of something that looked deep fried.
"I don't know what most of these things are." JonJon said as he looked over the selection.
"Glurrah! Would you hand me some of that?" Lehman asked with excitement.
JonJon saw the cluster of lavender fruit that Lehman was pointing at and cautiously handed him a bunch.
"These are my favorite, we have these on my home world." Lehman said, and began to split open a finger sized lavender pod then sucked the contents out.
JonJon hesitantly took one and opened it carefully.
"You eat like a female." Oscar said with a chuckle.
JonJon took that as a challenge, and quickly sucked the contents of the pod into his mouth.
After a moment to get past the slimy texture, the flavor was sweet and pleasant.
"Hey Oscar, would you hand me some of that meat?" Vincent asked around a mouthful of something that tasted like carrots.
"Are you aware that the creature is warm blooded? I would not wish for you to eat something that would offend your morals." Oscar said carefully.
"Me and my morals both think that the meat looks like it would taste good." Vincent said, then bit into something he imagined should taste like an apple, but ended up being more of a radish.
Oscar selected a relatively large piece of meat and quietly said, "If you will pull it apart with me, it is considered to be a sign of friendship."
Vincent smiled and quickly grabbed onto the opposite side of the piece of meat.
"Do you want to do that?" JonJon asked Lehman curiously.
"No. I don't like Juppa rats, they give me gas." Lehman said, then leaned forward to grab another bunch of lavender fruit.
JonJon looked over to see Vincent and Oscar both enjoying their, now separate, pieces of meat.
After a moment of watching them happily eating, JonJon turned and asked, "Would you like to share a rat with me Tyber?"
J'Laad settled back after eating his fill and smiled at all the boys enjoying the food before them.
"I never imagined that there would be a day when people of so many different species would be gathered and sharing this most ancient tradition of my people. I suppose it's superstition, but I can't help but believe that this is a very good sign." J'Laad said with a peaceful smile.
Tyce watched for a moment longer before saying, "They don't see species. Look at them. They're just enjoying good food and good company. Why can't we all live this way?"
"If we fulfill our purpose this day, and set them on their course, then one day perhaps we will."
"Hey Oscar, do you have room for another rat?" Vincent asked with a smile.
Oscar looked at the last piece of meat on what had once been a full platter and considered for a moment.
Suddenly he let out a loud belch that seemed to echo through the room.
"Now I do." Oscar said happily and picked up the rat for Vincent to take the other end.
All the boys giggled and were finally beginning to slow their eating.
"I had not considered that the young of other species could consume so much food. I had somehow thought that our own young were unique in their ability to decimate a feast." J'Laad said as he surveyed the remains of what had once been an abundance of food.
Tyce wanted to answer, but his mouth was too full.
J'Laad noticed and broke into delighted laughter.
"I have had centuries to prepare for this day, and yet now that it has arrived, nothing is going to plan." Tyce said quietly.
"Perhaps we should take them to the communications area so we may begin the process of notifying those involved." J'Laad said speculatively.
"I had wanted to tell them about their responsibilities, but..." Tyce trailed off as he looked down the line of boys leaning lazily against the base of the platform.
"The walk will do them good. And once they meet their Holy Ones, perhaps they will be reenergized." J'Laad said with a smile at the boys.
Tyce nodded and said in a louder voice, "If everyone is finished, we need to call a few people."
The puppy dog expressions in the boys' eyes nearly made Tyce relent, but he held fast to his determination and took a step away from the platform.
Slowly, the others stood to follow.
Tyce turned to say something but found that he didn't need to when Tyber automatically picked up the black box.
"You know, when you invited us to eat with you, I was a little bit scared that we'd, well... um..." Vincent trailed off, uncertain of how to continue.
"Be eating people?" Oscar asked with a smile.
"Well, um, yeah." Vincent said shyly.
J'Laad allowed his steps to lag until he was walking with Vincent and Oscar.
"The Gorn are known for our tradition of eating our enemies when they are defeated, but I assure you that it is more symbolic than anything." J'Laad said seriously.
"So you don't really eat them?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Oh, we eat them, but not the entire army. The victorious general of the battle will have the honor of eating his defeated opponent, the heroes of the battle will be invited to the feast and the feast will be recorded and broadcast to all the troops so they may also join in the victory celebration."
Oscar nodded and said, "It is these broadcasts that have given our people the reputation that they have."
"And it is a reputation we do not seek to lose. It serves us well by making those who would attack us seriously consider the consequences of being defeated." J'Laad said carefully.
"There are some who are too stupid to realize that, Captain Gartain for example." Tyce said as he stopped at a door at the end of the hallway.
Vincent thought about what he had been told as the group walked into the room that J'Laad had opened for them.
When the group were all in the room, Tyce gestured for Tyber to bring the box to him.
"Oscar, come forward." J'Laad said as he started working the jeweled control panel.
Hesitantly, Oscar stood forward and took his place at J'Laad's side.
The screen came on and a large, dark golden reptile filled the screen.
"Rhoskan." J'Laad said firmly.
"Holy One." Rhoskan responded as he gave a brief, respectful bow.
"Have you studied the ancient teachings of the Holy Ones past?" J'Laad asked carefully.
"Yes Holy One, I have studied the ancient texts since I was a child." Rhoskan said respectfully.
"Good, then you remember what has been said of the greatest of our warriors, proud and noble being given the honor to stand above and beyond all estates." J'Laad said in a leading tone.
Rhoskan's eyes seemed to light up as he said, "Yes Holy One. The Trach Manja, he will stand forward as the voice of all the estates of the Gorn empire."
J'Laad gave a slight nod at Rhoskan's summary, then glanced at Tyce.
Vincent followed J'Laad's gaze and saw Tyce opening the black box.
He lifted something out and handed it to J'Laad.
"You will recognize this as the ancient symbol of the Trach Manja. I, the Holy One, do bestow the title of Trach Manja upon Oscar, heir of the third estate of the Gorn Empire." J'Laad said as he brought the necklace over Oscar's head.
Rhoskan stared in disbelief at the scene before him.
"Now Rhoskan, since your son has received this highest honor, I believe that you, as his father and as leader of the third estate, should also say something." J'Laad said firmly.
Rhoskan seemed to snap out of his trance, then said in a flustered voice, "I Rhoskan, head of the third estate of the Gorn empire do hereby recognize Oscar, heir to the third estate to be an adult. May he choose his mate well and provide many offspring to faithfully serve the empire."
Oscar bowed reverently to his father, but didn't say a word.
"I must instruct your son in his new duties. I will personally conduct Oscar to your home when the fleet returns." J'Laad said casually.
"Thank you Holy One. We will have rooms prepared." Rhoskan said as he bowed again.
J'Laad gave a slight bow, then disconnected the transmission.
"I'm glad that's over. I really do dislike all that formal nonsense." J'Laad said with relief.
"You're not done yet, we still have four to go." Tyce said with a smile.
"True, but the rest will behave properly without the formality." J'Laad said with a smile, obviously knowing he was right.
Tyce looked over the group of boys and said, "Tyber, I suppose we'd better do you next."
Tyber cautiously stepped forward.
"Tyber. For millennia Okuda has been silent in the universe. You are now their voice." Tyce said as he took a necklace and placed it over Tyber's head.
"What does that mean?" Tyber asked cautiously.
Before Tyce could answer, J'Laad said, "You are the voice of the worlds who wish to remain separate. You represent the wishes of the xenophobes and those with closed borders."
Tyce nodded and said, "Just the same way that Oscar speaks for those who believe that the strong should conquer the weak. Oscar is the voice of warriors."
Vincent turned in time to see Oscar's chest puff up a little at the statement.
"Who wants to be next? We have one for all of you." Tyce said as he looked at the other three.
Lehman reluctantly stepped away from JonJon's side and took his place before Tyce.
"Would you contact the Reverend Mother Myscendria? I still can't figure out how to work Gorn controls." Tyce said timidly.
J'Laad let out a sigh of long suffering as he programmed the communications console.
"This is a secure channel. Please use another frequency." A computerized voice said firmly.
"This is J'Layiah." Tyce said firmly into the comm.
A moment later an elderly blue skinned woman appeared on the view screen.
"J'Layiah? Is that really you?" She asked hopefully.
"Yes. J'Leitha, you are looking well." Tyce said peacefully.
She giggled at the statement, then said, "Thank you for saying so, but I'm looking older than the hills. What can I do for you J'Layiah?"
Tyce motioned for J'Laad to come to his side.
"J'Laad? No. It's too soon, my people have only just..."
"...entered their third age. Ours too J'Leitha. Congratulations, one of your children was chosen." Tyce finished happily.
The Reverend Mother broke into a wide smile, her white teeth almost glowing out from her dark indigo skin.
"Lehman, come forward." Tyce said in a whisper.
"Child, do not hide yourself. Show me your true face." The Reverend Mother said gently.
Lehman's gaze fell to the floor as he said, "I'm sorry Reverend Mother, but the off-worlders who took me from our world did something to me... inside me, and now I can't change anymore."
"I have heard of this procedure. But if you are locked in your current form, how is it that you are still alive?" The Reverend Mother asked with concern.
"Have you heard of the Federation?" Tyce asked quietly.
"Yes. I have heard the name, though their borders are too distant for us to have had contact." The Reverend Mother said carefully.
"We are on the border of their space now. Their doctors were able to keep Lehman alive and replace his failed organs with artificial organs that mimic Human biology." Tyce said carefully.
"I see." She said quietly, then continued in a more relaxed voice, "You say this child, Lehman, has been chosen?"
"Yes. If you agree, Lehman will represent the Chameloid people as well as those who have no voice. He will represent the interests of slaves, the conquered, children and any others who cannot speak for themselves."
"Child, tell me of your life, how did you come to be taken by off-worlders?" The Reverend Mother asked gently.
"My parents died in the plague a few years ago, then I was put in the foundling home... some men came and bought me and took me to Okuda." Lehman finished with a shrug.
"OFFWORLDERS BOUGHT one of my children!" The Reverend Mother screeched.
"J'Leitha, will you accept Lehman as the voice of the Chameloid people and promise to be his guide and support in the coming years?" J'Laad asked firmly.
"Yes. And Lehman, call me when you're ready and we'll have a long talk about what happened. I will swear to you that I will see to it that what happened to you will NEVER happen to another of my children." The Reverend Mother Myscendria said with icy venom.
Lehman nodded his agreement slowly.
"You may say the words and we will act as your hands." J'Laad said seriously.
The Reverend Mother seemed to calm, then said in a clear firm voice, "I, the Reverend Mother Myscendria, do bestow the most ancient relic upon Lehman, my lost child."
Tyce placed a necklace around Lehman's neck then, on impulse, gave him a firm hug.
"Child. Now that the time has come, the two of us can change our world." the Reverend Mother said in a distant voice.
"Not just the two of you. He'll have all of us." Vincent said as he walked to Lehman's side.
"Yes. We are one." Oscar said as he walked to Lehman's other side.
The Reverend Mother Myscendria's mouth fell open at the site of a Saurian and Human both vowing their allegiance to one of her children.
The tears started streaking down her cheeks as she stared at the unbelievable sight.
"It is a new age." Tyce said in a whisper.
She absently nodded at the statement.
"We still have two more to go. Do you want to watch?" Tyce asked gently.
"Yes. Please." The Reverend Mother Myscendria said in an absent voice.
"JonJon. Do you want to be next?" Tyce asked curiously.
"I don't understand. I don't have a race or a species. I don't have a people." JonJon said quietly.
J'Laad chuckled at the statement and said, "You should have prepared him for this."
"I couldn't say anything in case I was wrong." Tyce said in an aggravated tone.
The screen came alive to show a rather common Human looking man wearing a strange necklace with '001' printed on it.
"Norman. Do you remember when I told you of the Holy Ones?" Tyce asked happily.
"My memory functions have not been impaired. I'm sure I remember the conversation in more detail than you do." Norman said, almost sounding playful.
Tyce chuckled and said, "Then you remember what I said might happen one day, in the third age."
"That five would rise from the dominant races to promote the advancement of all the peoples in the universe." Norman said casually.
"One of your people was chosen. This is JonJon, he is an Android." Tyce said happily.
"An Android was selected to represent one fifth of the universe?" Norman asked with actual surprise.
"He will represent all Androids, artificial intelligence and cybernetically enhanced species to protect their interests and rights." Tyce said firmly.
"I would like to have the opportunity to interface with JonJon when time permits. Our people are facing something of a crisis." Norman said seriously.
Tyce and J'Laad shared a look of concern at the statement, but before either could think of what to say, JonJon quietly asked, "Who is he?"
"Norman is the leader of an Android civilization. You could consider it the Android home world." Tyce said quietly.
JonJon's eyes went wide as he looked at the screen with wonder.
"JonJon, before I approve of your placement as our representative, would you please answer one question?" Norman asked seriously.
"Sure, if I can." JonJon said cautiously.
Norman nodded, then asked, "What is the greatest pain that one can feel?"
"To know that you serve no purpose." JonJon said without hesitation.
"I approve of your placement. Please contact me at your convenience." Norman said firmly, then disconnected the transmission.
"It works for me. Here you go JonJon." Tyce said as he placed a necklace over JonJon's head.
Oscar, Lehman and Tyber all pulled JonJon into a hug of congratulations as Vincent stepped forward.
"Do you want to do it?" Tyce asked carefully.
"I'm not doing it. You do it." J'Laad said as he backed away.
"How about we do 'odds and evens', wouldn't that be fair?" Tyce asked hopefully.
"I'm Gorn. I don't care about fair. I'm not doing it. I'll initiate the transmission, but I'm not talking to her." J'Laad said firmly.
Tyce hung his head in defeat, then muttered, "Do it."
"Most ancient. Most Holy. We seek your counsel." Tyce said in a small voice.
"Why doest thou seek my counsel." the ancient Vulcan woman asked in an icy firm voice.
"The third age has come and the five have emerged. One of your children has been chosen." Tyce said, trying to keep a tremor out of his voice.
"Bring the child forward that I might see." she said coldly.
Vincent walked before the view screen and stood silently.
Before Tyce could introduce him, the Vulcan woman slowly said, "Crewman Winters of the house of Surak. Doest thou seek my approval?"
"No ma'am." Vincent said as he tried to remain calm.
The arch of one of her eyebrows was her only response.
"I am the child of three worlds. I am here. I am the one who was chosen to do this. There is no other." Vincent said in his most logical voice.
A long moment of silence fell over the room as J'Laad and Tyce looked at each other with question.
Finally the ancient woman said, "Your statement is logical. I accept that this child is the voice of federations, unions and alliances. He will receive the benefit of my position that he may have access to the doors that remain locked to others."
Vincent bowed reverently to the view screen.
Tyce brought the last necklace to Vincent and placed it over his head.
"Live long and prosper, Vincent Winters." the elderly Vulcan woman said in an almost peaceful tone.
"Peace and long life, T'Lar." Vincent said in his most respectful voice.
J'Laad disconnected the transmission, then seemed to wilt with relief.
"You did great Vincent. I've never been able to say anything to her that met with her approval." Tyce said with a relieved smile.
Before Vincent could answer, the group of boys swallowed him up in a hug.
"Our work here is done. It's time for us to begin our separate journeys." Tyce said to the group.
"Um, before we go. What are these?" Lehman asked as he held up his necklace.
"Just keep them with you and when you meet a new race of people, the necklace might open a door for you that would otherwise be closed." Tyce said carefully.
"But what are they?" Vincent asked as he examined the flat clear crystal on his necklace.
"These are the last physical remnants of the last universe. The stones each of you carry and the archive were kept safe by a race that have ascended beyond a physical form. When the new universe came into being and the new races began to emerge, they established the Holy Ones and provided them the insights to guide their people through the first age." J'Laad said distantly.
"So what each of you is wearing is something that predates all matter in this universe. Having these necklaces is proof that you are in league with forces beyond our understanding." Tyce said quietly.
All the boys looked at their necklaces with awe and wonder.
"Come now. This chapter is closed. It's time for us to get on with our adventure." Tyce said as he gestured toward the door.
"Will there be any way for us to keep in touch?" Vincent asked with worry as he looked at Oscar.
"I will provide you the secure subspace frequencies to be able to stay in contact. And with the necklaces, you will even be able to visit." Tyce said with a smile.
"I'd like to see your home world Oscar." Vincent said with a smile.
"When you come to visit, we will have a feast that my people will be speaking of for centuries." Oscar said with a smile.
"Sounds good. If you ever come to Earth, I'll see if I can get Commander Dodds to have a cookout. I think you'd like his brisket." Vincent said with a slightly sad expression creeping into his voice.
"Please do not be sad. You will be in contact regularly. The five of you are one. You will never be without each other." J'Laad said reassuringly.
Vincent reluctantly nodded, then walked to Tyce's side.
"The shuttle bay is right down here." Tyce said, as he started to walk.
"No. It's over there." JonJon said as he pointed.
"JonJon is right, Holy One. You should listen to the young ones or your reputation as 'all knowing' could suffer." J'Laad said with a giggle.
"I am all knowing, I just have a lousy sense of direction." Tyce said with a playful smile as he followed JonJon who was leading them to the shuttle bay.
"I was beginning to get worried. Is everything okay?" Commander M'Butu asked with concern.
"Everything is fine, Commander. Would you take Tyber and me to the Mangeon so we can continue our journey. The Gorn fleet and the Okudai ships will be departing as soon as we are aboard." Tyce said seriously.
"Is there anything I need to do as far as protocol before leaving the ship?" Commander M'Butu asked carefully.
"Just use their automated system. When you have cleared the ship, you will be in control of the shuttle. Do not contact them by voice or use sensors." Tyce said as he relaxed back into his chair.
Commander M'Butu nodded, then went to the front of the shuttle to get them underway.
"Do you think we'll see each other again?" Vincent asked with concern.
Tyce smiled and said, "Yes. I know we will. Your new duties will no doubt intersect with those of Tyber. The five of you will be drawn to the places in the universe where you can do the most good."
"I'm going to miss you both." Lehman said quietly.
"I know. But the restrictions on contact with outside races does not apply to Tyber anymore. You can call him whenever you like. You can call both of us." Tyce said gently.
"I'll do that." Vincent whispered as he felt that he was about to lose something very precious.
Commander M'Butu's voice on the intercom called, "We will be docking with the Mangeon in approximately one minute."
"What about your stuff? Don't you need to get your things off the Yorktown?" JonJon asked in a worried tone.
"No. Oluf would have taken care of that while we were aboard the Gorn ship. There's no putting off what has to be done. It's time." Tyce said, as the shuttle jolted slightly.
Commander M'Butu walked through the shuttle and pressed some controls at the back before opening the door.
Vincent realized that they didn't go into a shuttle bay but were docked at the side of the ship.
Lehman, JonJon and Vincent each took a turn hugging Tyber and wishing him well before allowing him to walk toward the back of the shuttle.
"Tyce." Vincent said as tears welled in his eyes.
"Come here." Tyce said and pulled Vincent into a hug.
Vincent felt that the hug somehow wasn't enough and moved to give Tyce a firm kiss.
The kiss was brief, but filled with meaning.
Finally the kiss broke and Vincent pulled back and looked into Tyce's eyes.
"You'd better get back to T'Lani so you can stay in balance." Tyce said with a teasing smile.
"And you'd better get back to Audge." Vincent said with a grin.
Tyce seemed surprised by the statement for a moment, but rather than dispute it, he simply nodded slowly.
"Call me with those frequencies. I don't want to miss a single day of talking to you." Vincent said firmly.
"I'll attend to it as soon as I'm settled into my new quarters." Tyce said with a gentle smile as he walked toward the back of the shuttle.
"Ready?" Tyce asked Tyber who had been waiting for him.
Tyber glanced back into the shuttle where all his new friends were watching.
Reluctantly, Tyber nodded.
"Let's see what new adventures the universe has in store for us." Tyce said with a smile as he put an arm around Tyber and guided him off the shuttle.
Vincent was sitting silently, looking out the view port of the shuttle when all the Gorn and Okudai ships began to move in unison.
He watched as the entire fleet went into warp in one synchronized burst.
"It's like what Eliam said, this isn't an ending. It's a beginning." Lehman said quietly from Vincent's side.
"I know. But it still hurts." Vincent said as the tears he had been restraining began to fall.
Lehman considered what he should say to comfort Vincent, but finally concluded that any words would just get in the way.
Vincent felt Lehman's arm come around him and hold him gently as the tears blurred the vision of where his friends had departed.