The looks of shock on the faces of all the other journalists and reporters was priceless when the security guard had announced that she had been chosen to interview the kidnapped boy. But those looks slowly changed to anger because everyone assumed that she was unqualified and only chosen on the basis of her appearance.
If anyone had ever bothered to look deeper and find out about her education, they would have found that she had the training and studies to be fully qualified to conduct an interview. What she lacked was any practical experience. She had done her share of 'day at the beach' stories and other equally mundane things.
She hadn't ever done anything remarkable during her career, that was because no one had ever trusted her enough to give her a real chance... until now.
She had only recently come to the point where she was past needing to prove to her contemporaries that she was competent. She knew by now what people thought of her and that no matter how she tried, their opinions would not easily change. The years since college had finally taken enough of a toll that the only one left that she had to prove anything to was herself.
"I didn't have any idea that this was here." Her driver and cameraman said as he pulled into the visitor parking, where the security guard had instructed.
"It's beautiful. It looks brand new." She said as she looked at the large hospital before them.
"Do you think it's going to be dangerous? I mean, with the fence and the guards..."
"If you want to play it safe, work in the studio. Out here, we need to be willing to get our hands dirty."
"Candy, do you think you could do up the buttons on your blouse before you start trying to act all butch on me? It spoils the effect."
"Don't try to pretend that this cleavage didn't get us the interview. Face it, Irv, this is the price of admission. Just do me a favor and remind me to button up before you start the camera." Candy finished in a softer tone of voice.
"Whatever you say, Candy."
* * * * *
When Candy walked through the main door of the hospital building, she was greeted by a single little boy, staring up at her with wide eyes.
"Miss, um, Candy... I'm sorry. I don't know your last name. But I'm Vincent. I'm here to take you to Kennon." Vincent said as he stared at her enormous breasts.
"Would it be alright if we wait just a minute? My cameraman is on his way." Candy asked in a demure, slightly pouty voice.
"Yeah. There's no rush." Vincent said to her cleavage.
"Vincent, you're acting like a dork. Dylan said that I should come out here and help..." Thomas said as he walked down the hallway.
At the sudden pause in his speech, Vincent turned and saw Thomas staring in amazement.
"Candy said that there's a cameraman coming. He might need our help." Vincent said slowly, hoping to snap Thomas out of his wide-eyed, gawking state.
"Those things are freakin' HUGE!" Thomas exclaimed.
Vincent's mouth dropped open with surprise, then he turned and hurried to say, "I'm sorry, Candy. This is Thomas. He really isn't rude like that all the time."
"That's alright. I've had people say a lot worse things to me." Candy said with an amused smile.
"What's up with you guys? Dylan said that you're being rude to our guest." Lehman said as he dashed down the hall.
"We're trying to be nice. Honest. It's just not working too good at the moment." Vincent explained.
Lehman stopped and looked at Candy in wonder before cautiously asking, "How do you not tip over?"
"Yeah, way to be polite, Lehman." Vincent said with a roll of his eyes.
Just then, the outer door opened, revealing the cameraman carrying several different cases and a tripod.
"Let us help you with that." Vincent said quickly as he hurried to the struggling man's side.
It took a moment, but Thomas and Lehman also joined him, each taking one of the cameraman's bags.
"Is that everything?" Candy asked as she looked around.
"Yeah. Kennon's room is right down here." Vincent said as he started to lead the way.
"How many of you are there?" Candy asked as she looked at the three nearly identical boys.
"What?" Thomas asked curiously.
"It looks like you're identical triplets. Or are there more of you?"
"It's just us three, so far." Thomas said with a smile.
"This is it. Now, don't be too loud at first. Kennon's just had a treatment and it makes him sleepy. He's just waking up." Lehman warned as he stopped by the door.
"What kind of treatment?" Candy asked curiously.
"It'd be better if you asked Kennon. Come on." Lehman said quietly, then opened the door.
* * * * *
Candy walked into the large hospital room to find it nearly filled to capacity with a variety of people.
"Everyone. This is Candy. She's here to do the interview." Lehman said as he motioned for her to come further into the room.
"We just wanted to be here to see that Kennon's treatment went okay. We'll get out of your way now." A young boy with violet eyes said with a smile at Candy.
"Do you want me to stay with you?" A redheaded boy in a wheelchair asked the young man on the bed gently.
"No. I need to do this by myself."
"I'll be right outside if you need anything."
"Thanks, Rory." Kennon said gratefully, then watched as the majority of the people slowly walked out of the room.
"If he becomes fatigued, please suspend your interview and continue it at a later time." A Vulcan man said to Candy firmly.
"Sure. I'll try not to take too long." Candy said cautiously. She realized that the Vulcan man didn't seem to even notice her breasts.
"This is Solak. He's the Vulcan healer that's taking care of me." Kennon said from the bed.
"It's nice to meet you." Candy said as she looked at Solak carefully, trying to detect any reaction.
"Likewise. I believe you have an interview to conduct, so I will take my leave." Solak said simply, then left the room.
Candy turned her attention to the boy, no, the young man, on the bed. From the press release that the family had given, she had expected him to be much younger.
"No one introduced us. My name is Kennon Werner. I would shake your hand, but Solak wasn't able to get that part of the treatment done before you got here." Kennon said frankly.
"I'm sorry, what do you mean?" Candy asked curiously.
"I don't know how much you know about me, but I haven't been able to use my hands or legs or talk normally for about three years. Up to now, Solak's been working to heal what's wrong with me on a cellular level, but he wasn't able to do the adjustment so that I could talk until today. I wasn't well enough, yet. In fact, if you weren't coming to interview me, I think he was going to wait a couple more days to be sure that me being here on Earth wasn't going to cause me problems." Kennon said frankly.
"I can't even imagine how that must have been." Candy said quietly.
"Solak said that, this afternoon, or maybe this evening, after I've had a chance to rest, that he's going to do the treatment so that I'll be able to use my hands and arms again... well, maybe. It's not for sure that it'll work. My condition was pretty advanced." Kennon said as the tears welled in his eyes began to fall.
"Let me get that for you." Candy whispered as she walked to his bedside and dabbed his eyes with a tissue.
"Thanks. It's just that I've been sick for so long. I've been losing one thing after another until there was almost nothing left of me. Now, for the first time in years, I'm getting something back. I can't seem to stop crying about it." Kennon chuckled past his tears.
Candy smiled, then glanced behind her to see how Irv was doing.
"It looks like we'll be set up in just a minute. I'll try not to make this take too long." Candy said gently.
"I've never done anything like this before. What am I supposed to do?" Kennon asked as he looked at the camera.
"Just talk with me normally. I'll ask you a few questions and you do your best to answer them. If you don't know the answer, don't worry about it. Anything that isn't important will be cleaned up in the edit." Candy said assuringly.
"Thanks. It's just that I'm not used to talking to people anymore. In fact, Rory's the only person who I've really been able to talk to at all."
"Who is that?"
"The redheaded boy in the wheelchair. He has a condition similar to mine and he's receiving the same treatment that I am. So he knows what it's like and knows to be patient and to listen carefully. It's just been too hard for anyone else to understand me, so I stopped trying to talk to them."
"Once we see how this interview is received by the public, I could do a followup interview with him. From the sound of it, I bet he has an interesting story to tell."
"Rory and I will be going back to Vulcan in a few days. They don't have the medical equipment to treat us on Earth." Kennon said frankly.
"I may ask you more about that when the camera is rolling."
"Sure. You can ask me anything you want." Kennon said as he smiled at her.
"Irv, are you about ready?"
"I'm having trouble with the lighting. I'd really like to get one or two lights from the truck. After that, all that's left is your microphones."
"Open the curtain if you need to, but we need to get this finished so they'll have time to edit it. We don't want to have this held for the 11:00 broadcast."
"If I'm using natural light, you'll need to move to the other side of the bed or we'll have terrible shadows."
"Fine. Whatever. Just hand me the mics."
"Sure. And don't forget to button your blouse."
* * * * *
"This is Candy Borrits with an Action-4 News exclusive. I'm at Camp Little Eagle just outside of Orlando, speaking with Kennon Werner, who was supposedly abducted by Clan Short. Let's hear his side of the story." Candy said, then looked at Kennon expectantly.
"I wasn't kidnapped. I was being held against my will by my family and I asked for help. The Clan didn't abduct me, they rescued me." Kennon said honestly.
"According to court records obtained by Action-4 News, your family has had you declared non compus mentus, or incompetent and unable to make your own decisions. So why should we believe anything that you have to say?"
"Oh. I didn't know about that. But, I guess that if you believe the court, you shouldn't believe me. It's funny though, I never talked to a lawyer or a judge or even a psychiatrist. It's weird that they can declare that I'm incompetent without ever examining me or asking me anything." Kennon said seriously.
"Tell me, if you weren't kidnapped, what have you been doing since you left your family's house?"
"I've been focusing all my attention on the treatments that I've been receiving and trying to get well enough so that I feel like a real person again."
"How do you mean?"
"Since I got sick, and I mean, even before I lost the ability to speak, my family has treated me as a 'thing' to be taken care of. The doctors treated me as a case number and the nurses looked at me as a part of their job. It's literally been years since anyone treated me like a person. In fact, it wasn't until I got in touch with my cousin Xain, that anyone even considered that I might need help."
"Your family asserts that you were kidnapped. What do you have to say about that?"
"I don't mean for it to sound like my family were mistreating me. With my medical condition being the way it was, they were taking the best care of me that they could. But from my point of view, all I knew was that I was stuck in a little room in my family's house, unable to feed or dress myself. My condition was getting worse every day and I was nearly to the point where I just wanted it to end. But when I found my cousin online and told him what was wrong with me, he told me that his mother, my aunt, had died from the same thing, and that it was genetic. Ever since Xain's mother first got sick, his father has been working on a treatment and has recently been having some success with it."
"So couldn't you have told your doctors about the new treatment and avoided the abduction?"
"I tried. But you have to understand that my grandfather is a doctor. He's been taking care of me since I got sick. I know that he did the best that he could for me, but he absolutely hates Vulcans. When I told him about the treatment, he wouldn't even discuss it."
"Yes. My cousin Xain is half Vulcan. His father is a Vulcan Healer."
"So, if I may summarize; you developed a genetic condition. Your family took care of you, but would not consider allowing you to receive treatment because that treatment was administered by a Vulcan healer. Is that accurate?" Candy asked carefully.
"Yes. And I guess that since they had me declared incompetent, they even took away my right to request the treatment for myself. If it hadn't been for my cousin and the Clan, I would still be in that little room in my grandfather's house, withering away without any hope of recovery."
"I'm not here to judge, only to give you the chance to tell your story. But it seems to me that you're exactly where you need to be, so that you can get the treatment that you need, to improve your life." Candy said warmly.
"That's the best part. This isn't just a treatment to help me live better or give me a few more years of life. It's really a CURE. It fixes what's wrong with me, completely and forever." Kennon said happily.
Candy turned to look directly into the camera and said, "I'm at Camp Little Eagle outside Orlando with Kennon Werner, a young man who was abducted, or rescued, depending on who you ask. This is Candy Borrits for Action-4 News."
A few seconds later, Irv said, "We're clear."
"Did I do okay?" Kennon asked hopefully.
"You did great." Candy said with a smile.
"I really appreciate you being so nice to me. Thank you." Kennon said sincerely.
"Was I? I thought I might have stepped over the line once or twice." Candy said honestly.
"No. I just thought you were being professional." Kennon said frankly, then asked, "Were you serious about my family having me declared incompetent? Did they really do that?"
"According to the court documents, they did." Candy said simply as she took her microphone off.
"I always tried to believe the best about my family and give them the benefit of the doubt. But for them to do something like that... I'm just glad I'm out of there."
"I am, too." Candy said with a smile, then asked, "So you're going back to Vulcan, soon?"
"In a couple days. Rory and I can't be away for too long or we'll start losing ground on the treatments. From what they've told me, it'll probably take about a year to completely cure me." Kennon said regretfully, then quickly added, "But we'll still be able to come to Earth now and then for visits."
"I'd like it if you'd keep in touch and let me know how you're doing." Candy said gently as she leaned in and removed his microphone.
"Really?" Kennon asked with surprise.
"Sure. Maybe, if you're feeling up to it, the next time you're on Earth, we could go out and you could catch me up on how things are going with you." Candy said with a grin.
"Oh! Wow! That sounds great! Now I want to get better more than ever!" Kennon said with a grand smile.
"I have to go now. Besides, your doctor says that you need your rest." Candy said as she glanced over to see that Irv was nearly done packing up.
"Yeah. I am tired. But it's a happy kind of tired."
Candy walked to the bed and gave Kennon a slow, gentle kiss.
Kennon lay, frozen. Not that he could have moved that much if he wanted, but still, he was stunned into immobility.
When the kiss finally broke, Candy moved her lips to his ear and quietly whispered, "Sweet dreams."
Kennon couldn't say a word as he watched Candy walk over to Irv, then leave the room.
* * * * *
"So, how was the interview, did everything go okay?" Rory asked as he wheeled into the room, followed by about a dozen other people.
"Excuse me, everyone, could I talk to Rory alone for just a minute?" Kennon asked hopefully.
There were some concerned and confused looks as everyone but Rory turned and filed back out of the room.
"Is something wrong? Is there trouble?" Rory asked from Kennon's bedside.
"No. I mean, yes. But it's not what you think." Kennon stammered nervously.
"What is it?" Rory asked with concern.
"That reporter, Candy, she kissed me." Kennon said as he looked Rory in the eyes.
"Way to go!" Rory said with a grand smile.
"Yeah. Well... when she did that, I kind of, um... went off." Kennon muttered shyly.
"Huh?" Rory asked in confusion.
"I had an orgasm. I came in my pants." Kennon said in frustration, then quietly asked, "Can you help me get cleaned up, so no one else finds out?"
"Sure thing, Kennon. You know you can always count on me." Rory said with a smile, then asked, "Was the kiss really that good?"
* * * * *
"Kennon seems fine. I just remembered something that I need to take care of, so If you guys don't need me here for anything, I'm going over to the short compound." Vincent said, mostly to Lehman and Thomas, outside Kennon's door.
"Is it something you'll need help with?" Lehman asked with concern.
"No. It's just something that I meant to do, then forgot, and now I just remembered. So I'd better hurry up and do it before I forget it again." Vincent said honestly.
"Yeah. You'd better hurry up and go." Lehman said with an understanding smile.
"Have Manu call me if you need me for anything. You guys have fun." Vincent said as he stepped away to prepare for transport.
"We will." Lehman said as he glanced at Jordy with a grin.
"Manu, would you please transport me to the Short compound?" Vincent asked into his bracelet.
"On your command." Manu responded immediately.
* * * * *
When the sparkles cleared, Vincent found himself alone in the entry hall. He immediately felt like something was wrong or out of place. It took a moment for him to realize that the thing that seemed so unusual was that the house was quiet.
When he had visited before, the house had always been a bustle of activity, but now it was absolutely eerie in its silence.
Just as he was considering leaving, a noise down the hallway alerted him to the presence of another person in the building.
He cautiously walked down the hallway until the noise repeated. Finally, he found himself entering the kitchen.
* * * * *
The woman wasn't familiar to him. He had seen her around before, but didn't recall if they'd ever been introduced.
As he walked further into the kitchen, he finally remembered, "Helen."
She jumped and spun with a gasp at the softly spoken sound of her name.
"Sorry." Vincent shyly said.
"You just about gave me a heart attack." Helen said as she tried to catch her breath.
"I didn't mean to. I just wanted to ask you something." Vincent said as he tried to stay focused on his immediate task.
"Have a seat. I'll get you a cookie." Helen said as she turned to the countertop behind her.
"I probably shouldn't. I haven't had lunch yet." Vincent said in a conflicted tone.
"I bet you'll still be able to find room for lunch, when it's time." Helen said with a smile, as she placed a single cookie on a paper towel before Vincent at the kitchen table, then asked, "What's up?"
"I don't know if you can help me with this, but I've got this friend named MichaelAngelo. He's having kind of a hard time right now, him and his whole family." Vincent said before taking a small bite off the edge of the cookie. He smiled at the flavor. Nothing tastes like homemade.
"What are they having a hard time with?" Helen asked as she placed a small glass of milk on the table before Vincent.
He scrunched up his nose when he saw the milk, but rather than complain, he answered, "I don't know all of it, but the mom's been married a couple times, so some of the kids have different dads, and not all the dads treat their kids the same."
Vincent stopped long enough to take a bite of his cookie and drink a single swallow of milk.
"I can see how that could cause problems." Helen said with a nod.
"Well, MichaelAngelo is the middle kid. He's not old enough to do things on his own, but he's too old to be babied. And with all the other kids running around, I guess he feels left out." Vincent said honestly.
"When you have a large family, that can be a problem. With as many children as we have running around here, I'm always on the lookout for anyone who's looking left out or depressed."
After finishing his next bite of cookie, Vincent said, "I was kind of hoping that maybe Aunt Teri or someone could talk to the parents and let them know that it doesn't have to be like this. If they'll do some family counseling, maybe everyone can be happy and get along and... feel included and stuff."
"This sounds like something that I might be able to handle for you. If you can get me their contact information, I think us grown ups can have a chat about things." Helen said confidently.
"Do you have something to write on?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
"Just a second." Helen said as she got up from the table.
Vincent took the opportunity to finish his cookie and take another drink of the milk. He didn't quite finish it, but he drank most of it.
"Here you go." Helen said as she placed a spiral bound notebook and pen before him.
"Manu, can you give me MichaelAngelo's contact information?" Vincent asked as he picked up the pen.
Helen watched and listened as Vincent wrote down the information.
When Vincent was done, Helen quietly asked, "I'm curious. With as long as you've been away from Earth, how did you get to know someone on the West Coast?"
"MichaelAngelo's oldest brother, Rad, is a friend of mine, back on my ship." Vincent answered simply.
Helen smiled, then said, "Well, just leave this in my hands. I'll see that the family has everything that they need."
"Thank you, Helen."
"That's Aunt Helen, to you, young man." Helen said with playful sternness.
"Yes, ma'am, Aunt Helen." Vincent said, playing along with her, then thought to ask, "Is everyone else gone?"
"Yes. They're all at the memorial service in Charleston, except for Seth. He stayed behind to watch over Command and Control, just in case someone needs help." Helen said as she got up from the table and started working again.
"I'm going to go talk to Seth for a minute. Thanks for the help... and the cookie." Vincent finished with a smile.
"Please feel free to come and see me any time you're needing help... or needing cookies." Helen added with a grin.
"I'll do that." Vincent said with a smile as he left the room.
* * * * *
After a short visit with Seth to see how things were going and to get an idea of when the Clan members were expected back, Vincent decided to go back to Billy's house.
As the transportal sparkles began to fade, he was surprised to find Ace, sitting on the couch, looking at him.
"Hi, Ace. What's going on?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Nothing, right now. Everyone else went to South Carolina to a memorial service. But since I'm trying to keep a low profile, I thought it'd be best if I stayed here." Ace said simply.
"Bored out of your mind yet?" Vincent asked with a chuckle.
"Not really. The past month has been so crazy for me, such a struggle for survival, that being able to sit here where it's warm and dry with a full belly... It's been nice to have the quiet time to sit and appreciate it." Ace said thoughtfully.
"Would you like me to leave you alone for a while?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Ace smiled at the offer and said, "No. I think I'm done."
"Then how would you like to go up to the ship with me and visit with Geoff?" Vincent asked happily.
"Oh! Crap! I was going to talk to someone about helping Geoff..." Ace stopped suddenly, then looked at Vincent uncertainly.
"...helping Geoff..." Vincent said in a leading tone.
"If Geoff wants you to know, then he should be the one to tell you about it." Ace said with an apologetic look in his eyes.
"But maybe it's something I could help with." Vincent said cautiously.
"From what little I know about Geoff, he doesn't have many, or maybe any, people that he feels like he can trust. I really don't know if he'd mind if I told you or not. But I'm not going to take that chance." Ace said honestly.
"Yeah. I wouldn't want him to feel betrayed, even if we were trying to help him." Vincent said with a nod.
* * * * *
As Ace and Vincent appeared in Vincent's cabin on the ship, Vincent suddenly had a thought.
"Would you mind going to visit Geoff on your own? I just thought of something that I'd like to do, and it could take a few minutes." Vincent asked slowly.
"Sure. I guess. If I need you, Manu can call you for me." Ace said casually.
"Thanks." Vincent said with a smile, happy to know that Ace wasn't bothered.
"Please be aware that we will be having the midday meal shortly. As I understand Challen's treatment schedule, Geoff should be able to join you, if he so wishes." Manu said from above them.
"Thank you, Manu." Vincent said with a smile upward.
"I'll see you at lunch." Ace said before leaving the room.
Vincent walked to the terminal at the side of his room and sat quietly for a moment before he finally said, "Manu, I think it's time that I know about what's going on."
"What information would you like, Vincent?" Manu asked curiously.
"Start at the beginning. I need to know everything that you know about what happened to the Clan last weekend." Vincent said as he braced himself for what he was about to learn.
"The first reports have to do with a religious organization..."
* * * * *
Ace walked into the sickbay to find Geoff on the bed, with his eyes closed.
"How's he doing?" Ace asked quietly as he walked to Geoff's bedside.
"Although I am unaccustomed to working with Human physiology, it appears that the treatment is having the desired effect." Challen said with his translator voice.
"He looks different." Ace said cautiously, not able to pin down exactly what had changed.
"Yes. The purge of toxins has caused a persistent swelling in Geoff's lymph nodes to subside, giving his neck a more conventional appearance."
Ace looked at Geoff's neck and realized that it looked quite a bit smaller than it had. Although the swelling hadn't been noticeable before, the absence of it caused Geoff to look more slender.
"My treatment is concluded for now. We will have another session later in the day." Challen said as he walked to Ace's side to also look at Geoff.
"I don't know what to do to help him." Ace whispered as he looked at Geoff on the bed.
"Be a friend. The rest is up to him." Challen said frankly.
"I just want for him to be happy. And I don't see any way that's going to happen with the way that things are." Ace said as he looked at Challen with concern.
"Ace, if you would step outside for a moment, there is a matter I would like to discuss with you privately." Manu said from above him.
"You want to talk to me?" Ace asked cautiously.
"Yes. I have an idea, but I would like to discuss it with you before I present it as a viable option to Geoff." Manu said seriously.
"Call me if Geoff needs me for anything." Ace told Challen before walking to the door.
* * * * *
"As you may or may not know, the Soleen-Avalla people have no telepathic abilities." Manu said to Ace, who was standing in the hallway.
"Yeah. So?" Ace said cautiously.
"I overheard you talking in the bathing room when you discovered that Geoff is empathic." Manu continued.
"Yeah." Ace said slowly, prompting for Manu to continue.
"Given that Geoff feels so bombarded by the feelings of others, perhaps he would be more at ease and happier if he were to live on Soleena, the Soleen-Avalla homeworld." Manu said carefully.
"I guess he might." Ace said thoughtfully.
"I thought that I might submit to the elders the idea that if we had an empath amongst us, that we could call upon when dealing with other species, that it might level the playing field, so to speak." Manu said carefully.
"So, you're saying that Geoff's job would be to attend meetings with other species to tell if they're lying when they're negotiating." Ace said carefully.
"That is what I am proposing, yes. All of this is speculation on my part. I do not know if the elders, or even if Geoff would be receptive to the idea. But if everyone agreed, it might make Geoff's life quite a bit easier."
"Not having to block out everyone else's emotions all the time." Ace said with a nod.
"Do you think the idea has sufficient merit to warrant considering it seriously." Manu asked carefully.
"It might. But either way, Geoff's going to need training. " Ace said thoughtfully.
"I see no reason that he should be limited by that fact. He would be able to go to the New Hope colony whenever he wished and return to Earth from there to receive as much or as little training as he desires." Manu said seriously.
"And the elders could just call him home when they need him to sit in on some negotiations." Ace said with a nod.
"Yes. Were all to go according to our plans."
"I guess that we should talk to Geoff about all of this. If it's something that he's interested in, then maybe we could try. I mean, if the elders or Geoff says 'no', we're really no worse off than when we started, are we?" Ace asked as he looked upward.
"Might I suggest that you discuss it with him over lunch." Manu said quietly.
"Why at lunch?" Ace asked curiously.
"In the short time that I have known Vincent, I have come to greatly respect him. I believe that he should be included in the conversation, not only as a courtesy to him, but also to gain his valuable insights into the matter." Manu said frankly.
Ace smiled at the suggestion, then quietly said, "I've had a lot of time to talk to Vincent and get to know him. I agree with you. Including him in our plan might be the best way to make it work out in the long run."
"Geoff is awake, if you would like to speak with him now." Manu said quietly.
* * * * *
"How are you feeling?" Ace asked as he walked into the sickbay.
"Sad." Geoff said as he fought to hold back his tears.
"Why? Is something wrong?" Ace asked with immediate concern.
"Nothing new. But I don't think this is me... I'm feeling such despair. I don't know where it's coming from." Geoff said as a tear started falling down his cheek.
"Well, I'm right here, and I'm not feeling anything like that, so that only leaves Vincent." Ace said frankly.
"I don't know. It doesn't feel like him. It's so dark... so hopeless." Geoff said distantly as he tried to identify what he was feeling.
"We're the only humans on the ship. I don't know who else it could be." Ace said seriously.
"The Terra Main station, the McKinley station, one of the ships in orbit... It could be any of them. I can feel them all." Geoff said honestly.
"Can you tell how close the dark feelings are? I mean, can you tell if they're coming from here on the ship?" Ace asked cautiously.
"It doesn't work that way. They kind of tune in, like radio frequencies. I think those that are closer come through easier, but if the more distant ones are on just the right wavelength, they could come in just as loud and clear as you being right here in the room with me." Geoff said thoughtfully.
Ace nodded, then looked to Challen and asked, "Is it okay if Geoff goes with us to have something to eat?"
"Allow me a moment to scan him, first. Then you may go." Challen said as he programmed the biobed to do the requested scan.
"It is Vincent." Geoff said in realization.
"The dark feeling?" Ace asked to confirm.
"We've got to help him. He's giving up." Geoff said as he looked at Ace with watery eyes.
"Geoff, please be careful. You may be unsteady on your feet for a short time. But otherwise, you seem to be well. You may go and eat if you like." Challen said professionally.
"I'll be careful. Thank you, Challen." Geoff said as he carefully stood, with Ace's help.
"Let's go find Vincent." Ace said as soon as Geoff seemed to be stable enough to walk.
* * * * *
"I have notified Vincent that you are coming to invite him to go with you to lunch, and he wishes for you to meet him in the dining hall." Manu said as Geoff and Ace hurried down the hallway.
"If he's feeling bad, then we need to be there for him. He'd do it for us." Ace said decisively.
"Would he also consider your feelings and allow you a moment to compose yourself?" Manu asked seriously.
Ace stopped and looked at Geoff for a moment, then said, "Okay. But if he's not in the dining hall in just a few minutes, we're going to come down here and drag him out of his cabin."
Geoff looked away, then smiled.
"What?" Ace asked when he noticed.
"I could feel the change in his mood when Manu told him what you said." Geoff said with a smile.
"So, he's feeling better?" Ace asked cautiously.
"No. At least, not down deep in his core. But up on top, he's doing better." Geoff said thoughtfully.
Ace started leading them back toward the dining hall as he said, "I don't know how much training you're going to need. You seemed to be doing a pretty good job."
"Now that I know what it is that I'm feeling, it's not too hard to understand what the feelings mean. But before... I thought I was going nuts." Geoff said frankly.
"I can really understand that." Ace said as they arrived at the dining hall and entered.
* * * * *
As soon as they had taken their seats, Ace quietly asked, "Would you like to learn how to shield yourself from strong emotions?"
"Sure, but you're not an empath, are you?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"Nope. I don't have any special gifts like that. But I grew up around a lot of people who did and they taught me how to defend myself. So I know how to shield." Ace said frankly.
"So, if a telepath tried to read your mind, you could stop him?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"It depends on the telepath. I couldn't stop a really strong one. But I could at least put up a pretty good fight so he'd have to work at it." Ace said with a smile.
"Have you ever had to do that?" Geoff asked with concern.
"I've had to block a few low level telepaths, but no one's ever really tried to overpower me." Ace said casually.
"So, how can you teach me?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"Just look at me and try to feel what I feel. When I put the wall up, look at how I do it, then try to do the same thing." Ace said seriously.
Geoff nodded as he looked at Ace carefully.
A wash of benevolent emotions washed over Geoff and he smiled at the sensation.
Ace returned the smile, then very slowly and carefully began to erect a wall to contain his emotions in an internal place, closed off from public view.
"Wow." Geoff whispered as he fought to understand what he was seeing.
"My wall keeps things in, but if I understood it right, you can do exactly the same thing to keep things out." Ace said carefully.
"I'll try." Geoff whispered.
"Let me know when you're ready, and I'll give you something to feel." Ace said quietly, so as not to interfere with Geoff's concentration.
Internally, Geoff did 'something'. He couldn't tell if his barrier was keeping other emotions out or if he was so focused on maintaining it, that he couldn't hear them.
"Ready?" Ace asked quietly.
Geoff slowly nodded, not wanting to take the chance of breaking his concentration by speaking.
After a moment, Ace carefully asked, "Can you feel anything?"
"I don't think so." Geoff said weakly.
"Trust me, if you weren't shielded, you'd feel it." Ace said with a smile.
At that, Geoff let his concentration slip and his shields went down. He was immediately flooded with arousal and outright horniness.
Ace saw the blush rise up his face and stopped the flood of emotions.
"I've never felt anything like that." Geoff said breathlessly as he fought to get himself under control.
"What can I say? I'm a teenager." Ace said with an unrepentant grin.
"So am I, but I've never felt like that." Geoff said in wonder.
"I don't know what to tell you." Ace said honestly.
"Oh, my god. The medicine." Geoff said in realization.
"What medicine?" Ace asked in confusion.
"All that crap the psychiatrist was giving me. I think that on top of everything else, it also killed my sex drive." Geoff said angrily.
"Well, if that's the case, then by the time Challen's done with your treatments, you're going to have something new to play with." Ace said with a grin.
"How can you joke about this? Don't you see what this might mean?"
"I'm sorry, no. I don't."
"All those drugs they were giving me, supposedly to 'fix' me. It was all a lie! They were never trying to make me better. They were trying to make me calm and quiet, willing to do anything that they wanted."
"Do you really think so?"
"Well, they never figured out that I was empathic, so they weren't treating me for that. So far, everything that Challen's checked hasn't shown that anything else is wrong with me. So what were they treating?"
After a moment to think it through, Ace quietly said, "You may be right. And you may not. It's possible that they were honestly trying to treat what they saw as symptoms of a mental disorder. And the side effect of one of those treatments might have been a loss of sex drive."
"That's an awful lot of what ifs." Geoff observed.
"I'm just saying, it's over. Move on. I mean, yeah, I get that it sucked for you, but instead of being some drugged up, impotent zombie, you're healthy and have the entire future ahead of you. Why waste a minute of it being pissed off at people who didn't really care about you to begin with?" Ace asked belligerently.
"You know, if I couldn't feel how passionately you meant what you just said, I might want to fight with you about it. But, I can see your point. I guess it's just hard for me to deal with stuff like this. I feel like my emotions have been on hold since they started me on the drugs. Now, it's something like five years later, and I don't know how to deal with anything."
"I think you're doing okay. I'll let you in on a little secret. No one else knows much more about how to deal with their emotions than you do. All of us are kind of making it up as we go along." Ace said with a conspiratorial grin.
Geoff was surprised by the statement, but felt strangely reassured.
"Hey guys." Vincent said as he walked into the dining room.
"Vincent! How are you doing?" Ace asked anxiously.
"I'll be okay." Vincent said quietly as he took a seat at the table.
"What happened?" Geoff asked as he watched Vincent's expression carefully.
"Nothing. Don't worry about it." Vincent said as he fought to keep a neutral expression.
"Vincent, you're about two seconds away from breaking into tears. Whatever it is, you don't have to face it alone. We'll help you." Geoff said sympathetically.
"It doesn't matter, okay? What's been done is done. Now we just have to deal with it." Vincent said firmly.
"What's been done? What do we have to deal with?" Ace asked cautiously.
Vincent looked from Ace to Geoff and seemed to come to a decision.
"I don't know how much you guys know about what happened on Saturday, but I just asked Manu to tell me everything. It was a lot to take in and I'm still trying to make sense of it. There was so much pain and death for no good reason." Vincent said darkly.
Geoff felt a stab of emotional pain emanate from Vincent and worked to construct a barrier to protect himself.
"I don't know much about what happened. I've been on the road, trying to make my way to Florida for most of the past month." Ace said frankly.
Vincent nodded, then looked at Ace and quietly said, "I never imagined anything like this could happen..."
"Do you mind if I join you?"
"Come on in." Vincent said quickly, then turned to his companions and asked, "Have you both met Treep?"
"Maybe, I don't know. I can't remember." Geoff said to Vincent, then turned to Treep and quickly explained, "Everything's been moving so fast and I've been meeting so many new people all at once..."
"I understand. And, to my knowledge, we have not been introduced before." Treep chirped and his pendant translated in a surprisingly sympathetic voice. As he was talking, he was also filling a plate.
"Treep's the first officer on the ship." Vincent said seriously.
"I don't know how it is on one of your ships, but where I'm from, that's a really big job. There are lots of people who work their whole careers trying to get a job like yours." Ace said in an impressed voice.
Treep smiled at the words, then gently clucked, "There isn't nearly so much competition for positions on Soleen-Avalla ships, but personnel are still held to the highest standards. When I was younger, it was determined that my interests and talents suited me to be in a position such as this. So all my subsequent training was tailored toward that specific goal."
"Does that mean that you're going to be a ship's captain, someday?" Geoff asked with interest.
"Yes. My current position is to allow me to observe a seasoned captain at work and learn from him. When my training is complete and a position comes available to captain a starship, then I will be put forward for consideration." Treep said contemplatively.
"You look so young." Geoff said cautiously.
Treep smiled affectionately at him, then said, "In relation to other starship captains and first officers, I am. I have been promoted by virtue of my knowledge and skills, rather than by seniority."
Geoff watched Treep eating for a moment, then quietly said, "I always thought that being on a starship, going from place to place, would be so wonderful. I'd feel so free. But I don't have any talents or interests that I could use on a starship."
"Perhaps you have talents that you have not yet recognized." Treep said frankly.
Geoff gave a defeated shrug as he turned his attention back to his plate.
"You two should take some time to really talk about it. I bet that if you really tried, Treep could figure out something that you'd be good at doing on a starship, so you'd have a reason to be there." Vincent said honestly.
Ace looked at Vincent with surprise, then quickly added, "Actually, if you think about it, that would solve a whole lot of problems, all at once."
Geoff looked at Ace curiously at the unusual statement.
Ace looked Geoff in the eyes and said, "The Soleen-Avalla aren't telepathic."
It took a moment, but Geoff suddenly realized what Ace was suggesting.
"Huh?" Vincent asked in confusion.
Geoff smiled at Vincent's befuddled look and said, "Since I've been on the ship, we've figured out that I'm an empath. That's been the cause of most of my problems. The Soleen-Avalla aren't telepathic and I can't read their emotions, so being around them is really relaxing for me. I think Ace was saying that I should try to get a job on a Soleen-Avalla ship, so that I could be away from the constant barrage of emotions that's always hammering away at me."
Vincent stared at Geoff with surprise for a moment, then quietly said, "If you had told me, I would've shielded my emotions from you. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
Geoff smiled at the sincere words and said, "Like I said, we've only just figured it out. I know that you weren't trying to hurt me. And, if I'm going to be around people, I need to learn how to identify and process other people's emotions."
"Okay. But I'll shield my emotions from you when I'm around you, from now on." Vincent said gently.
Geoff looked at Vincent curiously and was surprised to sense an impenetrable barrier shielding him.
"Wow. NO emotion could get through THAT." Geoff said in awe.
"The only shielding I know is what I learned to protect me from telepathic scans. It's kind of an all or nothing thing." Vincent said simply.
"Doesn't that take a lot of concentration?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"No. It's like an on/off switch. When it's up, I feel it. But that's about it." Vincent said casually.
"Maybe the telepaths or empaths could teach you to do something like that." Ace suggested quietly.
"This is a Vulcan technique that my wife taught me. I'm sure the Clan knows about it and could teach you if you wanted." Vincent offered helpfully.
"Would you really like to be a member of our crew?" Treep asked thoughtfully, not aware that he was interrupting the prevailing conversation.
"Yeah. I've always loved space and starships. The part about being away from people's screaming minds would just be a bonus." Geoff said honestly.
"Treep, there is a matter that I would like to discuss with you privately, when you have the time." Manu said quietly into the room.
"I am free to speak now." Treep said simply.
Ace smiled, knowing what Manu wanted to discuss as he watched Treep leave the table.
Geoff looked from Ace to Vincent, then quietly said, "It's weird. You two are both shielding without even trying. It takes everything I've got to shield for even a few seconds."
"I learned my shielding from my wife, through our telepathic bond. So I didn't ever really have to practice with it or anything. It's always just been there, waiting for me to switch it on or off when I need to." Vincent said frankly.
"Where I grew up, most of the people I knew were telepaths or empaths. Before I even started kindergarten, my parents were teaching me about basic shielding. That was just something you did to prepare your kids for school." Ace said somewhat distantly.
"That sounds amazing. Where did you grow up?" Geoff asked curiously.
Ace blinked with surprise at the question and only just realized what he had let slip out.
"Ace is from a place that he can't talk about." Vincent hurried to explain.
"Why not?" Geoff asked as he looked from Vincent to Ace curiously.
Ace let his eyes drop to the table, but didn't answer.
"I'm sorry." Geoff whispered, then quietly added, "I guess I'm used to knowing what people are feeling and when to shut up. With you being shielded, I didn't get that I was hurting you by asking sensitive questions."
"It's okay, Geoff. This is my home now. I have to accept that things have changed and that no matter how much I don't like it, that's the way things are." Ace said as he worked to suppress his emotions.
Geoff stared at Ace for a long, silent moment, then quietly said, "I guess I should do that, too."
"No." Vincent said firmly, drawing both boys' attention.
At their combined, curious stares, Vincent explained, "Ace's stuff happened, and there's nothing he can do about it. It sucks, but he's right. He has to accept it. Geoff's situation is nothing like that. He doesn't have to accept anything. He can choose what he wants, and we can help him to get it."
"Vincent's right. The only thing you're really committed to doing right now is finishing your treatment so you'll be healthy and drug-free. After that, anything that happens is up to you." Ace said confidently.
"It's not as easy as that..." Geoff began to say, but Vincent interrupted.
"No one said anything about it being easy. We're saying it's 'possible'. No matter what you choose, you're going to have to want it and work for it. Life doesn't hand you very many opportunities. The ones it does, you gotta grab onto and hold on for dear life. For everything else, it's up to YOU to make it happen." Vincent said firmly.
"Last night, at the meeting, they talked about how you were out there doing the stuff that the rest of us are dreaming about... that's why, isn't it?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"Mostly, yeah. I mean, life handed me an opportunity. That was when I was given the chance to enter the Starfleet mentoring program. I didn't earn that or try for it or anything. It just happened. But what I did is took hold of that opportunity and since then I've done everything I can to make the most of it. I work hard and don't give up, even when things look impossible at first. You've just gotta keep at it until you find a way to make it happen." Vincent said with conviction.
"But what if life never hands me an opportunity like that?" Geoff asked cautiously.
The door opened to admit Treep, who had a gloriously happy expression.
"Geoff, I just talked to the council of elders and they approved my request to offer you a job." Treep chirped excitedly.
Vincent moved close to Geoff's ear and whispered, "Grab it."
* * * * *
Geoff stared in astonishment for a moment, then tentatively asked, "What kind of job?"
"Most of the time, you'd be a member of the crew, doing whatever needs to be done. But whenever we're dealing with mammal species, you'd be asked to attend meetings and let us know if we're being deceived or manipulated." Treep clucked cheerfully.
"But I don't know how to use my abilities." Geoff said anxiously.
"The elders understand that. You can take all the time you need to learn. We don't have contact with other species very often, so there's no need to rush your training." Treep said reasonably.
Geoff looked to Vincent and Ace to see their reactions.
"Unfortunately, there is a restriction that the elders have imposed." Treep said regretfully.
"What do I have to do?" Geoff asked anxiously.
"As a member of the crew, you would be allowed to visit Soleena when the ship returns to port. But since you are Human, they will not allow you to make a home there." Treep clucked quietly.
"Then where would I live?" Geoff asked in a small voice.
"You could consider your cabin on the ship your home." Treep said unenthusiastically.
"Or you could get a home at the New Hope colony." Vincent interjected cheerfully.
"But then I wouldn't be any better off than if I stayed here." Geoff muttered thoughtfully.
"Before you leave earth, we can be sure that your shields are strong enough so that you can be around people without it hurting you. So it won't be the same." Vincent said seriously.
"And you can expect to be spending the majority of your time on the ship. We make frequent trips to our outposts and colonies, so you won't be spending much time at New Hope." Treep said encouragingly.
"I live on a ship most of the time. It's not bad. But I think it'll be nice if you have a place, on a planet, that you can think of as 'yours'." Vincent said honestly.
"I don't know... I mean, it sounds kinda nice." Geoff said in a conflicted tone.
"If you accept the job, then change your mind, you'll be under no obligation to remain with us. We can take you to the New Hope colony and you can return to earth from there, if that's what you want to do." Treep informed him.
"So you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain." Ace said cheerfully.
"It's just hitting me. You're saying that I could live in space. I've always wanted to do that." Geoff said absently as he considered.
"Look at it this way, if you don't go for this, what else are you going to do?" Vincent asked reasonably.
"Live at the camp and dream about... doing exactly what you're offering me." Geoff said in realization.
"Right." Ace said with a smile.
"You're going to do it, aren't you?" Vincent asked hopefully.
"Yeah. I am." Geoff said in resignation.
"Good. Then we need to get with Challen to find out when you have time to go to earth." Vincent said seriously.
"What for?" Geoff asked in surprise.
"So we can get you some intensive empath training. We don't have a lot of time and you've got a lot to learn." Vincent said frankly.
"Yeah. I guess I'd better get started." Geoff said with a smile.
Ace looked from Geoff to Vincent and said, "Let's do it!"
* * * * *
After checking in with Challen to be sure that Geoff could leave the ship for a while and when he needed to be back, the three transported down to the planet.
"It sounds like everyone's back. Remember that they just went to a funeral." Vincent said seriously.
"A funeral? For who?" Geoff asked cautiously.
"You don't need that on your mind right now. Ask me later and I'll tell you what I know." Vincent said seriously as they walked into the family room.
"Hey guys. How are you doing today?" Aaron asked in a subdued tone.
"Hanging in there." Vincent said automatically.
"Hey! Aren't you Aaron Carter?" Geoff asked suddenly.
Aaron gave a weary smile and quietly said, "Yeah."
"I'm sorry. I just didn't expect to be seeing someone famous here!" Geoff rushed to explain.
"That's fine." Aaron said gently, then walked to Vincent and put an arm around him and pulled him into a quick hug.
Geoff was surprised by the action, but could feel the soothing comfort that emanated from their embrace.
"I'm glad you're here, Vincent. David and I worry about you." Aaron said gently.
"I know. And I can't even tell you how good it is to know that. For a long time I thought that no one cared about me at all." Vincent said as he returned the hug.
"Who are your friends? Would you like to introduce me?" Aaron asked quietly.
Vincent pulled out of the hug, then said, "Aaron, I'd like for you to meet Ace and Geoff."
"It's nice to meet you. I know that it can be intimidating being around all these people, but if you start feeling overwhelmed, come and find me." Aaron said, mostly to Geoff, since he wore such an anxious expression.
"We're just here to find someone to help Geoff with his empathic gift. Once we've got him all set up, we'll be leaving." Vincent said casually.
"We're having a clan meeting and a sleepover tonight. Aren't you guys hanging around for that?" Aaron asked cautiously.
"I can, but I don't know about the guys." Vincent said honestly, then looked at Geoff and Ace with question.
"Challen said that he doesn't need me back until tomorrow morning." Geoff said uncertainly.
"I should stay at Billy's. I'm supposed to keep a low profile." Ace said regretfully.
"I can talk to Cory and Sean and let them know not to draw attention to you or ask you a lot of stuff. They probably won't even ask why." Vincent said frankly.
"They already know, at least, some of it. They were there, this morning, when I talked to Terry about getting adopted." Ace said quietly.
"Then there's no problem if you stay. Just hang back and enjoy the party." Vincent said happily.
"And I can get Eli to help Geoff with his empathy thing right now, if you want." Aaron interjected cheerfully.
"Why Eli?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Because he looks bored." Aaron said frankly as he looked across the room.
Everyone followed his gaze to find Eli sitting alone on a couch with a distinctly bored expression on his face.
Eli turned his head and looked back at them, then smiled and nodded.
Geoff stared in confusion as he watched the boy, who had only one leg, somehow approaching unassisted.
* * * * *
"Who is Geoff?" Eli asked casually.
"I am." Geoff said timidly.
"You're straining your shields. Relax, I'm not going to scan you." Eli said gently.
"I just... Vincent and Ace thought it would be good if I got some training... but I don't know what to do." Geoff said nervously.
"Relax. Let's go into another room where it's more quiet and I'll help you get that shield of yours more stable and help you master some of the basics. Then, as soon as he's free, Tyler is going to join us. He's the head empath and he's the best one to give you the more intensive training that you'll need." Eli said with a smile.
Geoff nodded, then followed Eli across the room, occasionally glancing at him, trying to determine how he was able to 'walk' with only one leg.
"Well! Come on!" Eli called back toward the couch impatiently.
A prosthetic leg hopped up from beside the couch, seemingly of it's own accord, and bobbed it's way toward Vincent, Ace and Aaron.
"Don't worry, Leg. He's right over there." Ace said with a smile as he pointed toward the side door.
Leg immediately turned itself and started hopping toward Eli and Geoff, who were waiting in the doorway.
Vincent and Aaron looked at Ace with surprise, not even knowing what question they would ask if they hadn't been stunned into speechlessness. Both knew that Ace hadn't visited before and didn't understand his casual reaction to Eli and Leg.
Before they could recover, Ace quietly said, "I need to call Billy and let him know that I'll be staying here. I wouldn't want him to worry."
"Come on. I'll show you where you can make a call." Aaron said pleasantly.
Vincent smiled as he watched them go.
* * * * *
"How's Billy?" Vincent asked as Ace returned.
"Fine. I got the impression that him and Allen are going to have a 'date night'." Ace said with a smile.
"Good for them. Did you lose Aaron?" Vincent asked curiously.
"David needed him for something. He said he'd talk to me later." Ace said casually.
Vincent nodded, then smiled as he looked past Ace at someone approaching.
"Did you get all your stuff done?" Lehman asked as he walked up, with Jordy at his side.
"Yeah. Lehman, this is Ace. He just arrived here last night." Vincent said pleasantly.
"Wow. I didn't know that you had a twin." Ace said in surprise.
"A triplet, actually. You'll probably be meeting Thomas at some point today." Vincent said with a grin.
"Dylan and Thomas said that they have some stuff to do, but they'll be back." Jordy said casually.
"Good. I want for Ace to meet everyone while we've got the chance." Vincent said happily.
"Vincent and Lehman, would you mind if we copied your language skills into a telepathic language dump? We won't be scanning your thoughts at all, just language skills.." A voice called into their minds.
Vincent looked around and finally spotted Jacob looking back at him with question.
"As long as you give Geoff a copy. He's with Eli right now." Vincent said in Jacob's direction.
Jacob nodded and smiled that he had received the message.
"What are you talking about?" Ace asked in confusion.
"Sorry, Ace. Jacob just asked me something telepathically and I answered him aloud. I feel like it's rude to talk telepathically when I'm around other people, unless it's something really important." Vincent said quietly.
"And Jacob just asked if we'd share our language skills, so the whole Clan can use all the languages we've learned." Lehman added helpfully.
"Yeah. I want to make sure that Geoff get's Gorn and Eagle so he can talk with everyone on the ship without needing translation crystals." Vincent said happily.
"You can really do that?" Ace asked in wonder.
"Yeah. The Clan gave me a language dump before I left on the Yorktown. It really helped a lot." Vincent said seriously.
"I've always wanted to learn other languages, but when I tried, I didn't have much luck with it." Ace admitted weakly.
"Well, by the end of the night, you're going to know more languages than you'll ever need." Vincent said cheerfully.
* * * * *
"Ace! I'm glad you're here!"
After a moment to look around, Ace broke into a smile at Cory and Sean approaching him.
"I remember you saying that you were wanting to keep a low profile, so I didn't know if you'd be here today." Sean said with a smile.
"Vincent kinda talked me into it." Ace shyly admitted.
"Good job, Vincent." Sean said with a smile and a wink at him.
"If you've got a few minutes, we'd like to talk with you." Cory said seriously to Ace.
"Yeah, I guess." Ace said uncertainly.
"It's nothing bad, I promise. All the legal stuff is going fine and there aren't any problems at all, we just need for you to make a few decisions so that there won't be any surprises when you assume the official identity that we're creating for you." Cory said frankly.
"Go on. We'll be hanging around here all day. Just find me if you need me for anything." Vincent said with a grin at his new friend.
"Yeah. Okay." Ace said with a smile at Vincent, looking less nervous than a moment before.
"Jordy was just about to start introducing me around to all the people that I haven't met, yet." Lehman said cheerfully, then added, "Would you like to join us?"
"Sure." Vincent said without concern, then started walking with Jordy and Lehman toward the largest concentration of people, gathered around the video games.
* * * * *
Vincent felt an internal pulling and wasn't sure what it meant. The feeling was so vague that he dismissed it at first as being his imagination.
When the pulling happened again, he couldn't ignore it and closed his eyes to focus on the sensation.
A smile crossed his face as he realized what it was.
"How are you doing, Joel?" Vincent asked as he walked up to the timid boy.
"I felt that. Thank you." Joel said shyly.
"Felt what?" Vincent asked curiously.
"When you recognized our bond, it made you happy." Joel said past barely restrained tears.
"I guess it did." Vincent smiled in return.
A cheer erupted from the video game area and both boys looked to see what was happening.
When the cheers died down, Vincent quietly asked, "Would you like to go somewhere more quiet so we can talk?"
"Yeah. I'd like that." Joel said peacefully.
"You probably know this place a lot better than I do by now. You can lead the way." Vincent said warmly.
It took a moment for Joel to decide where he wanted to go, but he finally led the way out of the room.
* * * * *
It wasn't until they were inside the room that Vincent realized that it was the same room where he and Lehman had spoken to Joel before.
The same large animal was still there, apparently asleep.
Joel cuddled up to the animal and gave it a long hug, before looking back to Vincent and asking, "Is this alright?"
"It's great." Vincent assured him as he took a seat on a nearby sofa.
"I wanted to tell you again that I'm sorry about what happened with the Telan t'Kanlar. I didn't mean to do that." Joel said quietly.
"If anyone should be sorry, it's me. I reacted without thinking and I scared you. There's no excuse for that." Vincent said sincerely.
"I'm scared a lot, so don't worry about it." Joel said as he cuddled a little more into the big animal's fur.
"You know, out of all my brothers and fathers and friends, all over the universe, you're the only one I share this type of bond with. I think that if we'd chosen to bond, it would still be special, but since it happened by accident, like it did, that makes it even more." Vincent said with a smile.
"I think so, too." Joel smiled.
"Are you happy here?" Vincent asked curiously.
Joel blinked at the sudden change in subject and had to think for a moment to formulate an answer.
"Yes. I'm happy. But it's a lot more than that. I'm starting to feel 'safe', I think. My old life feels like a horrible nightmare that's slipping away in the light of day." Joel said distantly.
"Mine wasn't as horrible as yours, but it's fading, too. I'm glad that we were both able to get second chances." Vincent said honestly.
"I'm still scared, sometimes. I'm scared that I'll wake up and find that 'this' was a dream." Joel said quietly.
"I know that feeling." Vincent quietly admitted, then gently added, "But being around people that love you makes it easier to deal with it, when that happens."
Joel smiled and nodded his agreement.
"This is nice. I've been running around, trying to remember to do a hundred different things all day. It's nice to be able to just stop and talk and not have to worry about what else needs to be done." Vincent said frankly.
"I don't know everything that's going on, but from what I've heard, you do a lot of good. You make the universe a better place, wherever you go, just by trying to help when you can." Joel said thoughtfully.
"I bet it's no different than what you'd do if you had the chance." Vincent said warmly.
"But I don't help people. Everyone helps me." Joel said regretfully.
"Life is full of peaks and valleys. When you're on a peak, you can help others up to join you. When you're in a valley, sometimes you need someone else's help to pick you up and help you out. It's not you, it's life. The secret is to accept the help being offered, and to offer help when someone else needs it. If you'll do that, then no one stays stuck in a valley." Vincent said seriously.
Joel seemed to ponder that for a moment, then quietly repeated, "It's not me, it's life."
"Yeah. There's no reason to beat yourself up if you ended up in a crappy place for a while. Look at everyone in the Clan, all of them have been there, too. They either dug themselves out, or had someone help them out, but when it was all done, they went back to find other people who were struggling and helped them." Vincent said frankly.
"But what if I'm never strong enough or good enough to help other people?" Joel asked quietly.
"You don't get it. You don't have to be anything but yourself. You don't need to be stronger or better. But sooner or later you're going to see someone who needs help. When that happens, you'll either decide to try and help them or you'll move on, trusting that someone 'stronger' or 'better' will take care of it." Vincent said seriously.
"I wouldn't ever do that." Joel said in a trembling voice.
"Maybe not. But if you tell yourself that you're not good enough, you're not strong enough, you're not old enough... whatever... you can justify just about anything." Vincent said as he looked Joel in the eyes.
Joel thought for a moment, then quietly asked, "Do you think that I do that?"
"No. I'm just saying that that's what some people do. They don't even realize it when they're doing it, but they end up defeating themselves. And the funny thing is that when it comes to helping, all you have to do is just do your best. Even if it isn't enough, other people see what you're doing and join in, and before you know it, the problem that seemed too big to handle, is completely handled. So all that stuff about being 'strong enough' and 'good enough' doesn't matter. The only way you can fail is to choose not to try." Vincent said honestly.
Joel thought about the words, then slowly said, "I'll remember."
Vincent smiled, then quietly said, "I just wanted to share with you the stuff that I wish someone had shared with me. I had to learn a lot of this stuff the hard way."
"Thank you." Joel said with a warm smile.
Vincent smiled in return, then quietly asked, "So, now that you've had a little time to settle in and get used to things, how are you doing?"
"I'm doing very well. But so many things have happened, I've been a bit overwhelmed by it all." Joel said honestly.
"If you want, you could tell me about it. If there's something you don't understand, I might know what to do or who to ask or something to help you make sense of it." Vincent said honestly.
"That'd be great, but shouldn't you be spending time with the Clan? I mean, from what I heard, you don't get to visit earth that often." Joel said hesitantly.
"Don't worry about that. For you, I've got all the time in the universe."
* * * * *
Vincent and Joel had a nice long chat before Kevin arrived and joyfully whisked Joel away. Finding himself alone, Vincent took the opportunity to explore the short compound and spend a little quiet time, thinking things through.
Even through dinner, amongst all the members of the Clan, Vincent kept mostly to himself as he tried to make sense of the horror and tragedy of the past weekend.
It wasn't until later, when the Clan meeting was about to get underway, that Vincent felt a flutter of nervousness begin when he realized that in all likelihood, the whole group of them would be sleeping in the same room... together... naked.
When Cory started talking, all thoughts of nudity, and being exposed, drifted to the background as Vincent focused on what Cory had to say.
Most of the meeting was what he had expected. He was a little surprised, and happy, when Sean announced that Ace and Geoff were officially being inducted as members of the Clan.
Everyone listened intently as Geoff stood, with Ace at his side, and told his story.
When he was done, both Ace and Geoff sat down. A few curious looks passed around the room, but nothing was said about the fact that Ace didn't reveal his history.
When the meeting was nearly over, Jacob made an announcement about the updated language dump being ready.
Vincent's attention was drawn by two eagles who were squawking about wanting to go outside before the language dump was delivered.
Once the eagles were gone, Vincent felt the presence of a mass mind, a collaboration of telepaths, entering his mind. It was only a gentle touch and he was barely aware of it.
When it was done, Vincent couldn't really tell any difference. He supposed that he had the new language skills, just waiting, ready to be used. But he didn't have any conscious awareness of what languages they were.
As he was pondering about the language dump, a flurry of activity at one side of the room drew his attention.
A stack of pillows and blankets were being handed from person to person in sort of a bucket brigade. It seemed that most of the younger kids were anxious to get their nest set up.
"Is something wrong? You look worried." Joel said honestly, causing Vincent to jump with surprise.
"I um, yeah. I guess I knew that we'd be getting naked, but it wasn't real to me until just now. I don't know if I can do it in front of so many people." Vincent quietly confided.
Joel cautiously hugged Vincent and quietly said, "All that stuff you told me about only failing when you stop trying, did you believe it?"
Vincent took in a long inhale, then let it out slowly before saying, "Yeah."
Joel held Vincent's gaze and waited.
"I'll do it." Vincent said reluctantly.
"You don't have to do it for me." Joel rushed to explain.
"No. I have to do it for me. Thanks for reminding me, Joel." Vincent smiled and gave Joel one more quick hug before walking to join Thomas and Lehman as they were beginning to undress.
* * * * *
When Vincent got to his underwear, he suddenly stopped. Although he was determined to undress completely, for some reason, his nervousness was making him hesitate.
"Aren't you going to get naked?" A young boy asked Vincent curiously as he approached.
"I don't know, yet. Why?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Cause I wanna see your junk!" The boy said simply as he held Vincent's gaze.
Vincent was surprised by the frank statement, but also thought it was just how it should be. The boy was willing to express his honest curiosity without shame, or fear of reprisal.
"Sure." Vincent said, then slipped off his underwear.
The boy looked at Vincent's crotch for a moment, then said, "I bet that's gonna be a monster."
Vincent followed the boy's gaze and realized that while he had been focused on other things in his life, things down below had continued to develop.
He wasn't anywhere near Lehman's 'adult' proportions, yet. But he felt that, even among the older boys, he had nothing to be ashamed of.
* * * * *
"Glad to see you getting into the spirit of things." A familiar voice said from behind him.
Vincent turned to see not only Rory, but also Kennon, in matching electric wheelchairs.
"Hey guys! How is everything?" Vincent asked happily.
"Better and better." Rory said with a smile at Kennon, then glanced at Vincent's crotch before saying, "Vincent, right?"
"Great! So that's how you're going to tell us apart." Vincent chuckled.
Rory smiled and said, "You go with what works."
Vincent shrugged, then asked, "What's going on with you guys?"
"After my interview was broadcast on the early news, I was contacted by the police. All the kidnapping charges and stuff my family started were all dropped. The police asked me if I wanted to press charges against them for false imprisonment or anything like that. I told them 'no', but that I'd like to get a restraining order against them. I don't want to get revenge, but I don't want them thinking that, after what they did, that they'd be welcomed in my life." Kennon said frankly.
"That's good to hear. You look like you're doing a lot better." Vincent said happily.
"Solak was able to do another neural alignment, so I can use my hands. Of course, my arms are as weak as a newborn baby's so it'll be a while before I'm able to move a regular wheelchair like Rory does, but I'll get there." Kennon said confidently.
"Vincent, because of everything else going on, we weren't able to get here until just now. And Kenny is busy with Kevin, at the moment. We seem to be a little overdressed for the occasion. Would you mind helping Kennon get undressed?" Rory asked hopefully.
"Sure, but I don't know anything about... what do I do?" Vincent stammered.
"Kennon will tell you when he needs you to do something. I can help him with most things, but someone else has to help him with dressing and undressing." Rory said honestly.
"Once I get stronger, I'll be able to do it myself, I just need a little help right now." Kennon said timidly.
"Do you want for us to go to a bedroom or the bathroom to do this?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"We might as well do it here. We're gonna be sleeping naked with all these guys, anyway." Rory said frankly.
"Not just guys." Vincent said as he pointed to a small collection of giggling girls across the room.
"That's new!" Rory said with surprise.
"Do you still want to do it?" Vincent asked Kennon curiously.
"Sure. Rory's been telling me about the 'puppy pile' since I first arrived on Vulcan. Even if I only ever get to do it once, I'd really like to experience it for myself." Kennon said frankly.
"Why would you only get to do it once?" Vincent asked curiously, then noticed that Rory was leaning forward and taking off his shoe.
Vincent knelt down and started taking off Kennon's shoe as he waited for an answer.
"The Clan is for kids. I'm not really that much older than you guys, but legally, I'm an adult. I wouldn't even do it now, but I've missed out on so much in my life..."
"It's okay. I already cleared it with Sean and Cory. Tonight, you're just one of the guys." Rory assured him.
* * * * *
Although Vincent thought that he would be self conscious being naked around so many people, it ended up not being a worry.
When everyone started to settle in to sleep, people seemed to automatically team up, or pair off. There was the occasional trio and a few massive jumbles containing untold numbers of kids, but the important thing was that everyone had someone to hold them.
When Vincent noticed that Kennon was beside Rory and Ken, he didn't even think before asking, "Do you mind if I sleep here?"
Kennon turned with surprise.
"If you want to be alone, that's okay. I just thought I'd ask." Vincent said seriously.
"I've been alone enough, trust me on that." Kennon said frankly.
Vincent took that as an invitation and took a step forward before asking, "Do you want me in front of you or behind you?"
"In front." Kennon said quietly.
Vincent got down on the cushioned floor and was pulled into a gentle cuddle from behind.
"Do you mind if I hold you like this?" Kennon asked gently.
"No, that's fine." Vincent said as he started to relax, enjoying the feeling of being held, skin-to-skin.
"Thank you." Kennon whispered as he drifted into sleep.