Vincent slowly opened his eyes in the dim light of the storage room of Deflector Control and felt a sense of contentment and well being wash over him.
The night before had turned out to be relaxing and fun for everyone. Before joining the crew of the Yorktown, Vincent wouldn't have thought that a group of adults and young teenagers could have enjoyed the same party, but Benny and Lehman were both having just as much fun as any of the adults present. Even Fizgig seemed to be caught up in the festive atmosphere and was enjoying the attention of so many unfamiliar people.
As Vincent came more awake, he turned his head and saw Benny asleep in the sleeping bag next to his.
Since they first spoke in the tunnels under Kimber IV, Benny had treated him with kindness and respect.
Back on Earth, Vincent had never had a friend like Benny. Most of the kids he went to school with were too busy with other things to take notice of him. Those who did notice him apparently didn't like what they saw because they never tried to get to know him.
Vincent sat those darker thoughts aside and focused on the warm feeling of being surrounded by warmth in his sleeping bag in what was probably the best place in the universe to be. He was between Benny and Darin in a room filled with people he loved... and who loved him.
A movement caught Vincent's eye and he smiled as he saw Fizgig walking down the row of sleeping bags like a night watchman, making sure everyone was safe and secure.
Vincent raised his hand to draw Fizgig's attention.
When the dog saw the movement, he happily bounced across the uneven surface of the sleeping bag to give Vincent a sloppy morning greeting.
Vincent fought to keep from laughing aloud as he snuggled Fizgig and enjoyed his enthusiastic attention.
The thought came unbidden to him that this might be the last time that he would be doing this.
As much as Vincent wanted to hold on to the incredibly peaceful sensation that he had awoken with, the reality of the situation finally set in.
There was no way to know how long it would take to get the colonists settled into their new homes, but today would mark the beginning of the end of their time being together. After this day, nothing would ever be the same.
After a while longer playing with Fizgig, Vincent finally got up and pulled on his jumpsuit uniform.
Since his growth spurt, he had outgrown all the clothes he had brought with him from Earth. The only things he had to wear were the new uniforms that Crewman Monahan and Ensign Collins had made for him.
That wasn't really a problem, since he didn't need to wear anything else while he was aboard the ship.
In fact, it worked out pretty well because Vincent was able to give all his civilian clothes to Lehman who arrived on the ship without anything at all.
"Good morning Vincent, you're up early." Lou said gently as he walked into the main room of Deflector Control.
Vincent began to say 'Good Morning', but the only sound that came out of his mouth was a wheezy little squeak.
Lou smiled at the sound, then glanced at the main console.
Vincent cleared his throat and tried to speak again.
This time no sound came out at all.
Lou noticed and the amused expression fell off her face.
Vincent reached into his pocket and pulled out the throat spray that Dr. Perry had given him the night before.
He sprayed some into his mouth and swallowed, then tried again.
One tiny little squeak was the only sound that came out of his mouth.
"Maybe you should go to sickbay and get checked out." Lou said with concern.
"Yeah." Vincent whispered with difficulty.
"I'll let Joe know where you went if he wakes up before you get back." Lou said seriously.
"Tell Thaelan..." Vincent whispered, then winced at a sharp pain in his throat.
"I'll tell him that you probably won't be able to work out with him this morning." Lou said quietly.
Vincent nodded, then started walking toward the door.
Lou watched him go, then shared a concerned look with Judy.
"Good morning, you are T'Lani's husband, are you not?" A young man asked in a friendly tone and Vincent could detect a definite Eastern European accent.
Vincent vaguely recognized him as someone he had seen before, but couldn't remember if he'd ever been formally introduced. The young man was just someone whom Vincent had briefly noticed working in the background on some of his visits to sickbay.
"I am Nurse Stepanov, but you may call me Vlad if you like. What can I do for you this morning?" The young man asked pleasantly.
"Can't talk." Vincent fought to whisper then winced as a sharp pain, like a hot needle, stabbed in his throat.
"Please get on the biobed and I will perform some preliminary scans." Vlad said as he moved to the biobed's controls.
Vincent nodded and obediently climbed up on the bed.
"I am a Nurse Practitioner... do you know what that is?" Vlad asked casually, as he looked at the scan results, then keyed in another inquiry.
Vincent shook his head.
"It simply means that I am a fully qualified nurse, but I also have some additional training so I may attend to certain minor illnesses and injuries. In a case such as yours, I am fully qualified to diagnose your condition and prescribe medication if it is warranted." Vlad said as he watched the monitor.
Vincent nodded that he understood.
"Your vocal cords are seriously swollen. But I suppose that is of no surprise to you." Vlad said, as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
Vincent shook his head.
"Are you having pain?" Vlad asked, seriously.
Vincent raised his hand and held his thumb and forefinger a centimeter apart, attempting to convey 'a little bit'.
Vlad started keying in another inquiry on the terminal at the head of the bed, then a moment later he said, "I see here that Doctor Perry has already given you something to help soothe your throat... I am afraid that there is little else that can be done at this point."
Vincent looked at the nurse curiously, wanting to ask for more information, but not wanting to further aggravate his tender throat.
"If you would like for a doctor to tell you what I have just said, I can awaken Doctor Raul. He is the physician on call for this shift and it would be no inconvenience." Nurse Stepanov said sincerely.
After a moment to consider, Vincent shook his head.
He knew that the problem with his throat obviously wasn't anything that was dangerous or life threatening. There was no logical reason that Doctor Raul should be awakened just to tell him the same thing that Doctor Perry had already said.
"Do you have need of more throat spray?" Nurse Stepanov asked seriously.
Vincent reached into his pocket and pulled out the container of throat spray that Doctor Perry had given him.
"Yes. That should last for a while. If you keep using that throat spray and don't try to use your voice, your vocal cords will probably be back to normal by tomorrow or the next day. Since only a doctor can declare you unfit for duty, you will need to come back after 07:00, Doctor Perry can assess your condition and determine your fitness for duty at that time." Nurse Stepanov said professionally.
Vincent slowly nodded, as he thought about the possibility that he might have to be off duty.
As nice as it would be to have a day off, it felt like he was getting more time off than anyone else in Deflector Control. Most of the time it was for medical reasons, but that didn't change the fact that his crew mates had to work just a little bit harder because he wasn't there to do his part.
"Unless you have further questions, you are free to go." Nurse Stepanov said as he devoted his full attention to Vincent's pensive expression.
Vincent realized that Vlad was waiting on him and quickly shook his head to indicate that he didn't have any other questions.
"Come back if you have any pain or if anything happens that concerns you." Nurse Stepanov said seriously.
Vincent nodded, then gave a 'thumbs up' for good measure.
Nurse Stepanov smiled then said in a low, conspiratorial voice, "This may not exactly be medical advice, but I believe hot chocolate would feel very good on your sore throat."
Vincent smiled at the suggestion and nodded, as he got off the bed.
"Have a good day Crewman Winters." Nurse Stepanov said respectfully, then went back to his duties.
Vincent slowly walked out of the sickbay, carefully considering what he wanted to do.
"Good morning Vincent. Lou said that you were up in sickbay. Did everything go okay?" Lehman asked from behind Vincent in the serving line.
Vincent knew that there was no way he could explain what happened with his nearly nonexistent voice, so he nodded his agreement.
"Is it okay if we have breakfast with you? Benny and I woke up early and you were already gone so we decided to come down and have breakfast early so we could find JonJon and ask him what's going on with the colony." Lehman rambled cheerfully.
Vincent smiled and nodded, realizing that he might not need to speak at all with Lehman around.
"Are you alright?" Benny asked with concern.
Vincent nodded casually at Benny, then moved up in the serving line.
"According to what Lou said, we should be reaching the new colony any time now." Lehman said with excitement.
"But that doesn't mean that we'll get to see it." Benny said in a tone of warning.
"I know. It could be a couple days or even a couple weeks before regular people like us get to go down. I'm just saying that it's great that we're almost there! It's not something that we're 'going to do' anymore. It's something we're 'doing'. We're almost at our new home." Lehman said happily and was almost bouncing.
Vincent smiled at Lehman's excitement as he made his breakfast selections.
"What do you think the Deflector Control team will be doing? I mean, will Vincent be able to come and look at the new colony with us when it's time?" Lehman asked curiously.
Benny thought for a moment, then said, "I really don't know. The last time we set up a colony was a couple years ago and it was a lot different than it is now. I didn't really get to know any of the crew and... I don't have any idea of what they'll have to do."
"Oh..." Lehman said quietly, then continued, "I just hope that Vincent can come with us. That'd make it like it was his home too, if he was there with us the first time we got to see it."
Vincent considered Lehman's words as he made his way to the drink station and poured himself a large cup of hot chocolate.
"That looks pretty good, I think I'll have one too." Benny said, then proceeded to pour himself some hot chocolate.
Vincent smiled, then picked up his tray and walked to an empty table.
Benny and Lehman walked to the table a moment later, then Lehman snapping his fingers drew Vincent's attention.
"Come on Fizgig, we're over here. I got you some bacon." Lehman said cheerfully.
"Don't let JonJon find out that you're feeding Fizgig from the table." Benny said in a tone of warning as he sat down.
"I know, but I think he deserves a treat for being so good." Lehman said frankly.
"Some of the food that people eat isn't good for dogs. You wouldn't want to make him sick would you?" Benny said, as he looked down at Fizgig with concern.
"Oh, I didn't think of that. I wouldn't want him to get sick." Lehman said honestly.
Vincent took a sip from his hot chocolate, then tried to speak.
"The ship's..." were the only words that Vincent got out before his voice failed again.
Benny and Lehman looked at Vincent with concern.
Vincent tried to mouth the word 'store' to his friends, but no sound came out and they couldn't understand.
"Lou said that you were having trouble talking, but I just kind of thought that they'd have you fixed by now. I mean, they let you go." Benny said hesitantly.
Vincent shook his head and his frustration at being unable to speak was obvious.
"If you want, I could help." Lehman offered uncertainly.
Vincent looked at Lehman with question.
"You know, read your mind and kind of speak for you... It would be easy and I wouldn't mind doing it." Lehman said shyly.
Vincent thought for a moment, then nodded his agreement.
Lehman leaned over in his chair a little, then placed his fingertips on the side of Vincent's face.
Benny looked from Vincent to Lehman with question.
"Oh, okay. Vincent said that there are dog treats in the ship's store that Fizgig would probably like." Lehman said as he took his hand away.
"Oh right. I've looked at that stuff with JonJon a few times. I should have thought of that." Benny said absently as he continued to look at Vincent with concern.
"Are you going to be able to work today?" Lehman asked Vincent curiously.
Vincent shrugged and it was evident that he would like to be able to speak so he could explain.
Lehman put his hand over Vincent's for a moment, then nodded that he understood.
"He's got to go back to sickbay sometime after 07:00 so Doctor Perry can check him out. She'll decide then, if he can work or not." Lehman said to Benny quietly.
"I bet he won't be able to work if he can't talk." Benny said frankly.
Lehman was still touching Vincent's hand and looked at him with concern.
"He really wants to, because..." Lehman began to say, then felt Vincent's mind calling to him, asking him not to finish the sentence.
Lehman looked at Vincent curiously, then nodded that he understood.
"This isn't as easy as I thought it would be. I'm not only getting the things that Vincent wants to say, I'm getting the thoughts and feelings behind his words, too." Lehman said in concentration.
"So Vincent is thinking something different from what he's saying?" Benny asked curiously before taking another bite of his food.
Lehman continued concentrating as he looked at Vincent.
Finally he said, "That's not really it. I'm just not good doing telepathy this way. Usually when my people touch someone we get everything, all at once, then we take on their personality and act and think and feel just like they would. It's kind of confusing for me to be getting all of Vincent's thoughts and feelings and consciousness and subconscious and his link with T'Lani all at once and... it's all fluid..."
Vincent looked at Lehman seriously for a moment, obviously trying to make Lehman understand something.
After a moment of concentration, Lehman hesitantly asked, "Are you sure?"
Vincent nodded with certainty.
Lehman seemed to be concentrating for a moment longer, then slowly took his hand away from Vincent's arm.
"What's going on?" Benny asked curiously.
"Well, Vincent said that it would be okay if I went ahead and spoke for him like I was planning to, but I could do it the way that I'm comfortable with." Lehman said uncertainly as he looked at Vincent with question.
Vincent nodded to Lehman that he had explained it well.
"I don't get it." Benny said, then noticed that, at some point during their conversation, he had eaten all his food.
"I just did a telepathic imprint of Vincent and he said that I can go ahead and talk for him like I was going to, but instead of telepathically reading his words each time he wants to say something, I'll just use his imprint to answer the way he would if I were him... does that make any sense?" Lehman asked cautiously.
Benny chuckled and said, "I'm not really sure. I think I kinda get what you're saying, but, well, not totally."
Vincent touched Lehman's arm for a second, sending one brief, specific message.
"Right. If you'll ask Vincent a question, we'll show you how it works." Lehman said seriously.
Benny thought for a moment, then looked Vincent in the eyes as he asked, "If you don't have to work today, what are you planning to do?"
"Well, if Daddy Joe doesn't have anything for me to do, I'll probably hang around with you guys and see if there's anything I can do to help you get ready to move down to the new colony." Lehman answered in a tone of voice that was definitely Vincent's.
"Hold on guys, that's just weird." Benny said, as he held up a hand.
Vincent and Lehman both giggled at Benny's expression.
"I'm used to you two looking alike, but Lehman's voice and... I don't know... expressions? Whatever, you're different and I can tell you apart without even thinking about it. But when Lehman just did that, it was just freaky. He *was* you." Benny said as he looked Vincent in the eyes.
"Yeah. He's a Chameloid. That's kinda what they do." Lehman said with Vincent's voice.
"He's right." Lehman then said in his own voice.
Benny looked at Lehman uncertainly.
"My people can *become* the people we're imitating. We can experience their thoughts and feelings, their hopes and dreams. We can experience what it's like to be that person, frozen in that moment in time." Lehman said carefully.
"Wow. It sounds so... big. Like you could get lost in it." Benny said in consideration.
"It can happen, but I think that the same thing can happen to any telepath. There's always a danger of going too far. Maybe that's why Chameloids do a *flash* of a person's personality instead of a full, deep scan. With a flash there's a lot less chance that I'll lose myself while I'm *being* Vincent. I guess I never really tried continuous contact before so I didn't really understand that." Lehman finished thoughtfully.
"That's just too freaky." Benny said with a shake of his head.
"It's normal for me." Lehman said with a shrug.
Vincent glanced at the wall and noticed the time.
Lehman noticed the movement, then said in Vincent's voice, "I've still got a little while before I need to go to sickbay. Let's go down to the ship's store and get Fizgig his treat."
Benny looked from Lehman to Vincent with confusion for an instant, then said, "Oh, um... yeah. And I want to pick up a camera while we're there. I need to take lots of pictures for my family."
"Well, it looks like we're all finished eating. We'd better hurry so we'll have time to go to Cyril's office. I want to be sure that JonJon isn't making himself sick by forgetting to eat." Lehman said in Vincent's voice.
Benny looked back and forth between the nearly identical pair, then nodded his agreement.
Lehman and Vincent exchanged an amused look at Benny's reaction, then all three began to gather their breakfast dishes.
"Hi Cyril, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we just came up to check on JonJon." Lehman said seriously as he led the way into the room.
"He and Jenn are asleep. They worked through the night and decided that they had enough time to take a nap before we arrived." Cyril said as he looked across the room to where Jenn and JonJon were snuggled together, side by side.
All three boys smiled at the sight, noticing that both Jenn and JonJon had contented smiles on their faces as they slept.
Fizgig began to shift around in Lehman's arms and obviously wanted to get down.
Lehman wasn't sure if he should take the chance that Fizgig would wake the pair, but soon realized that Fizgig wasn't going to give him a choice.
It was difficult for Lehman to keep hold of Fizgig's squirming body long enough to get him safely to the floor.
As soon as Fizgig was released, he ran to the sleeping pair of androids and snuggled between them.
"He missed JonJon." Benny whispered quietly.
"Yeah." Lehman agreed with a contented smile at the tender sight.
"Cyril, will you make sure that JonJon and Jenn don't forget to eat?" Benny asked with concern.
"Don't worry. Roger and I will see to it." Cyril said with assurance.
Benny nodded, then looked at Lehman and Vincent with question, silently asking what they were going to do next.
Lehman looked a the clock on the wall, then said, "It's still a few minutes before Dr. Perry will be in sickbay. Why don't we go down to the ship's store and get Fizgig's treat and your camera?"
Benny glanced at Fizgig, who was now fast asleep between JonJon and Jenn.
"Yeah. That sounds like a good idea." Benny said gently.
"Do you think Fizgig would like this?" Lehman asked hesitantly as he held up a small bag of rawhide chips.
"Yeah. He liked his rawhide bone. I think he'd like that a lot." Benny said speculatively.
Vincent was wandering around the store, just glancing at things without any particular purpose in mind, when something caught his eye.
Even though Vincent wasn't usually interested in jewelry, the cobalt blue teardrop pendant suspended on a gold chain seemed unusually beautiful to him.
As he took the necklace down off the display rack, Benny walked to his side and asked, "Did you find something nice for T'Lani?"
Vincent smiled at the question, then slowly shook his head.
Benny remembered that Vincent couldn't speak, so he looked at the necklace again and tried to imagine who Vincent had in mind.
"Darin?" Benny asked cautiously.
Vincent's smile got bigger as he shook his head again.
Benny's eyes narrowed in concentration as he began to take the guessing game as a personal challenge.
"Daddy Joe?" Benny asked slowly.
Vincent was obviously enjoying the game and gave Benny a big toothy grin as he shook his head again.
Benny's gaze became distant as he muttered, "It's not for me or Lehman."
Vincent shook his head, trying to restrain his grin.
"Lawrence?" Benny asked speculatively.
Vincent's grin broke through again as he shook his head.
Benny went silent as he tried to consider who else Vincent might want to buy a gift for.
"Okay, I got Fizgig some rawhide chips and a squeaky toy for when he gets down to the colony." Lehman said happily as he approached the pair.
Benny glanced at the selections, then said, "Yeah. I think he'll like those."
"You should buy that Vincent. Deacon will love it." Lehman said casually as he looked at the necklace in Vincent's hand.
"Deacon?" Benny asked as he looked at Vincent with question.
"Yeah. The color of the necklace would look great with his eyes." Lehman said as he moved a little bit closer to see the pendant better.
Benny thought back to the one time he had seen Deacon on the comm, then looked at the necklace consideringly.
After a moment, Benny finally said, "Yeah, I should have thought of that."
"Let's pay for this stuff so we can get Vincent to sickbay. It's already after 07:00." Lehman said as he looked at the clock on the wall behind the checkout counter.
"I've got mine." Benny said as he held up a small digital camera.
Vincent held up the necklace.
"Let's go." Lehman said and led the way.
"Good morning Vincent. Nurse Stepanov told me that you were in earlier." Dr. Perry said cheerfully as she gestured toward the first biobed.
Vincent automatically climbed up on the bed and waited for her diagnosis.
After a moment of looking over the readings, Dr. Perry looked at Vincent and quietly said, "While you were sleeping, your vocal cords had a chance to completely relax and the swelling became more pronounced. Believe it or not, this isn't a bad thing. It's just the natural healing process after putting excessive strain on your voice for a number of hours. I'd guess that by this time tomorrow, you'll be completely back to normal."
Vincent nodded that he understood, then looked at Lehman expectantly, hoping he would ask the question that was foremost in his mind.
"Is he fit for duty?" Lehman asked carefully.
Dr. Perry considered for a moment, then said, "There is no medical reason that he should be declared unfit for duty. Of course, it will be up to his commanding officer if he can make accommodations for Vincent's inability to speak."
An expression of relief came over Vincent's face at the declaration.
"Thank you Doctor Perry. Vincent really didn't want to be declared unfit for duty again." Lehman said shyly.
"I could tell from his expression." Dr. Perry said with a small smile.
Vincent looked at Lehman with an urging expression, then glanced at Dr. Perry with question.
"Can Vincent have a minute to talk with T'Lani?" Lehman asked cautiously, not entirely sure if that's what Vincent wanted him to ask.
"I'm sorry, she's getting the last of the supplies ready for transport to the colony site. We're going to have to set up an entire medical facility with only our standard stock of supplies." Dr. Perry said frankly.
"No problem. He can talk to her through their bond, it just would have been nice if..." Lehman stopped at the feeling of Vincent's hand on his arm.
"Oh, right. Sorry. It's hard for me not to say everything that's on your mind." Lehman said shyly.
"You three go on now. We have quite a bit to do today." Dr. Perry said with amusement.
Vincent hopped down off the biobed, then noticed Lehman's look of apology directed at him.
Without hesitation, Vincent draped a casual arm around Lehman's shoulders and gave him a quick hug.
Benny smiled at the action, and could tell by the look on Lehman's face that, even without telepathy, he would have understood what the hug meant.
"Good morning guys. You're up awfully early this morning." Joe said cheerfully before taking a sip from his cup of coffee.
"Yeah. I think Lehman and I were excited about arriving at the colony today and couldn't sleep. And Vincent always gets up early." Benny finished with a shrug.
Joe smiled at the statement, then asked, "Would you three like to join us for breakfast?"
Before Benny could answer, Lehman said, "We already had breakfast, but Vincent needs to ask you something before you go to work."
Joe's only response was to look at Vincent with question.
"Um, I'm sure that Lou already told you that when Vincent woke up, he couldn't talk." Lehman rambled.
"She said he was going to sickbay. Is everything alright?" Joe asked with concern, just realizing that Vincent wasn't speaking at all.
"Yeah. Dr. Perry says that Vincent is just fine and completely fit for duty..." Lehman said seriously as he looked into Joe's eyes.
"...but..." Joe prompted, pretty sure that he already knew what was coming next.
"...but he can't talk, so it's up to you, if he can work today or not." Lehman said, then before Joe could say anything, he quickly continued, "Vincent really wants to work, and I already said that I can stay with him and talk for him if he needs me to."
Joe smiled peacefully at Lehman's willingness to help Vincent by speaking for him. It also made him proud to know that Vincent wanted to be allowed to work, even though he had a legitimate excuse to be off work for the day.
"Actually, Vincent's inability to speak wouldn't be much of an obstacle. We already have a procedure in place for accommodating a hearing impaired member of the team. That could easily be adapted for this situation. There is only one problem..." Joe trailed off.
Vincent looked at Joe with question, obviously anxious to know what the problem was.
"What is it?" Lehman asked in Vincent's 'mature' voice.
Joe smiled at the action, then said, "Vincent would have been off duty today anyway."
All three boys, plus Darin and Thaelan who were sitting at the table, looked at Joe with question.
"We should arrive at the colony any minute now. The standard procedure for our department in this situation is to do a full systems check, then maintain a skeleton crew while we are in orbit. I was thinking that Thaelan and I could split the shift, each taking four hours. Darin and Vincent would take communicators and be 'on call' for their regular duty shifts." Joe said frankly.
"Why?" Darin asked before he could think better of it.
"Because while the ship is in orbit of a peaceful planet, someone just has to be manning the station in case something unexpected comes up. The rest of the team is on call if they're needed for anything, but realistically, after the systems have all been checked, there's nothing left to do. We'd be stuck staring at each other, shift after shift, until we're ready to leave orbit." Joe said to the group.
"And we will likely be in orbit of the new colony for weeks." Thaelan added with a nod of approval at the plan.
"Right. There's still the possibility that we might be needed to do something to help get the colony settled, but realistically, we can't predict if and when our help will be needed. We just have to wait until someone calls on us." Joe said frankly.
"It sounds like you've been through a situation like this before." Darin said speculatively.
Joe smiled as he said, "Rarely is there a mission that requires the services of every department on the ship. It would be a colossal waste of man power to have everyone on every shift sitting around with nothing to do. So when we have some down time like this, we take the opportunity to enjoy a little time off."
Everyone around the table seemed to be in agreement that it was a good way to deal with the impending 'down time'.
"So at 08:00, we will take our stations, do our system checks, then if nothing needs to be done, Darin and Vincent will be on call for the rest of the day." Joe said with a smile.
Vincent nodded his approval of the arrangement.
"Oh, and Vincent." Joe said as an aside.
Vincent looked at Joe with question.
"When you sign onto your station, go to the accessibility options and set it up for text alert functions. That way you can text message anything you want to say to any of us almost as quickly as saying it aloud." Joe said with a smile.
Vincent nodded that he heard and was happy to know that, if the need should arise, he would be able to perform his duties.
The change in the hum of the ship's engines drew everyone's attention.
After a moment of silence, Benny quietly asked, "Are we there?"
There was another long moment of silence before Joe quietly said, "Yes. I think so. Let's go."
Everyone seemed to be in agreement and after the group that had been eating had finished clearing their plates, the entire group headed to deflector control,
"Is it okay if we hang around here for a few minutes? You know, just to find out what's going on?" Benny asked uncertainly.
"Of course. I had a feeling that you guys would be around at least until Vincent was free to leave." Joe said as the group walked off the turbo lift.
Benny smiled at the statement, then casually draped an arm around Lehman's shoulders.
A momentary look of surprise came over Lehman's face.
Vincent noticed, then watched as the expression became one of wonder and finally absolute peace.
Tears began to glitter in Lehman's eyes, and Vincent had to force himself to turn his attention back to where he was walking.
As the group walked into Deflector Control, Vincent considered what little he knew of Lehman's past.
Vincent realized that Lehman had spent a portion of his life, years of his life, knowing without a doubt that he didn't matter to anyone, anywhere in the universe.
He contrasted that against his own life and suddenly understood that no matter how bad things had ever been with his family, there was never a time when he had to wonder if he was loved.
Even after his mother's death, his Daddy Joe and a lot of other people had been there for him. He never had to experience the feeling of absolute solitude and isolation that Lehman had endured for years.
"Console status?" Joe asked quietly, breaking Vincent out of his distant gaze.
Vincent blinked, then hurried to station three to sign on.
He initiated the level two diagnostic that he wanted, then went to the accessibility menu and turned on the text feature that Joe had told him about.
After receiving the results of the diagnostic, Vincent keyed his message into the text area on his console.
A strange sound, something like a little bell ringing sounded from the main.
Vincent turned to look and saw his text message, "All consoles operational." displayed like a movie subtitle on the large screen of the main.
"It looks like you don't need me after all." Lehman said as he looked at the message.
From the tone of Lehman's voice, it was obvious that there was no profound, deeper meaning to his words. It was just a casual comment spoken in the moment. But the words themselves caused Vincent to react.
Vincent stood from his station and walked to Lehman's side.
Lehman looked at Vincent with question, surprised that he didn't already know what Vincent wanted.
Vincent took one of Lehman's hands and held it firmly as he telepathically sent, //I need you Lehman. All of us need you. We will always need you because you're part of our family.//
Lehman was shocked as much by the telepathic declaration as he was by the emotions that boiled underneath the words.
"Whatever he just said, goes for me too." Benny said quietly from Lehman's side.
Lehman looked up at Benny with tears in his eyes.
"Systems and sub-systems show all clear." Judy said from station two.
"Power systems all green." Darin called from station one.
"Lou and Judy, have a good day and enjoy your rest. Darin, if you'll grab a communicator, you're free to go." Joe said with a smile.
Darin walked to the rack of communicators and casually said, "I've got one."
Thaelan nodded that he had logged it out under Darin's name.
"Call if you need me for anything." Darin said, then left the room.
"Vincent, if you'll take a data padd and log it on as a tablet workstation, we'll be able to call you if we need you for anything and you can text message us if you need something." Joe said professionally.
Vincent looked at Joe curiously for a moment, then took out a data padd and tried to log it in as Joe had said.
After a moment, Joe walked to his side and said, "You'll need to back out, you're in the wrong shell."
Vincent puzzled over what Joe was talking about for a moment, then held the padd out where Joe could access it himself.
"The word processor is the default shell of the padd. It's actually a tablet computer that is capable of performing other functions, most people just don't need them." Joe said, as he worked through different menus and finally brought up a screen on the padd that Vincent had never seen before.
"This mode will work best for you to use while you're unable to speak. You can either text message us or use the text-to-speech program to send us a message using a computer generated voice." Joe said, as he pointed out the various features.
Vincent looked at the controls, then quickly typed something.
A moment later the computer generated voice of the padd said, "Wow."
Joe chuckled at the response, then said, "Why don't you three go see what you can find out about what's going on?"
Vincent typed on his padd, then held it out as it said, "Okay."
Joe chuckled and shook his head with amusement.
"Let's go see if JonJon's awake yet." Benny said happily.
Vincent nodded his agreement, then pressed a button on his padd.
The group had spent most of their time wandering around the recreation deck talking to the various people they encountered.
There was an atmosphere of such joy and anticipation that it was almost like being at a festival.
JonJon and Jenn were now awake and once again hard at work trying to make the job of settling the colonists as simple as possible.
Although Vincent could use the padd he had been carrying to speak if he needed to, he found that it was actually better to have Lehman speak for him. The computer generated voice of the padd couldn't convey any sort of emotion.
A tone from the padd that Vincent had been carrying drew his attention.
He quickly typed in "Crewman Winters here.", then pressed the button to transmit.
"Crewman Winters, please come to my office, immediately." Captain Byrne said firmly.
Vincent typed, then transmitted, "Yes sir."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Lehman offered quietly, fairly certain that Vincent would refuse.
Rather than type his response, Vincent nodded.
"I'll stay down here and see if I can find out when we're going to be able to go down to the colony." Benny said, seriously.
Vincent nodded, then thought of something that he wanted to say.
He lifted his padd to type, but before he could finish, Benny said, "I'll be sure to watch after JonJon and Fizgig."
Vincent chuckled as he lowered his padd.
"Go on, the captain's waiting."
Vincent walked into the captain's office with Lehman at his side.
The captain looked at Lehman curiously for a moment, but before he could say anything Lehman hurried to explain, "Captain Byrne, Vincent can't speak right now. His voice is completely gone, so I came with him to talk for him."
Captain Byrne looked at the two boys for a moment longer, then said, "Very well. Crewman Winters, a situation has arisen on Earth involving your Clan, an attack of some sort. I can't say that I know very much about what is happening, but I have been ordered to break orbit and immediately conduct you back to Earth at the best possible speed."
Vincent's mind whirled as he considered the statement. Thoughts of Lawrence immediately filled his mind as his heart began to race.
"What about the colonists?" Lehman asked quietly.
Vincent was surprised by the question, but then realized that Lehman was right. If they left now, the colonists might have to wait for another month before they could be settled into their new home.
"It is unfortunate that things have worked out this way, but Starfleet Command believes that it is of paramount importance that Crewman Winters be delivered to Earth with all due haste. There is also a security concern... apparently, we have no way of knowing if the group that attacked Clan Short might have operatives among the crew of the Yorktown or the colonists." Captain Byrne said gravely.
Vincent looked at Captain Byrne helplessly, not even knowing what question he would ask if he had his voice.
"Captain, will you please not do anything until I get back? I have an idea of how we can do this without having to make the colonists wait." Lehman said urgently as he turned toward the door.
"Please wait a moment." Captain Byrne said seriously, then keyed his comm.
Lieutenant Simms, will you come to my office?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.
"Yes sir." Lieutenant Simms answered immediately.
At Lehman's curious look, Captain Byrne said, "The people who might want to cause harm to Crewman Winters might easily mistake you for him. It will be necessary for security to accompany both of you for the time being."
Lehman reluctantly nodded his agreement as Lieutenant Simms hurried into the room.
"Lieutenant Simms, will you please conduct this young man where he needs to go? When you return, we can see to finding these two young men more permanent escorts." Captain Byrne said seriously.
"Yes sir." Lieutenant Simms said professionally.
"Come on." Lehman said urgently, then led the way out of the room.
Vincent watched helplessly as they left, then turned to look at Captain Byrne with question.
"Perhaps we should attempt to contact your clan to get a sense of what is going on." Captain Byrne asked carefully.
Vincent gratefully nodded his agreement.
Captain Byrne pressed the button on his comm panel, then said, "Lieutenant Patterson, will you please establish a secure diplomatic transmission directed to Clan Short headquarters on Earth?"
"Right away sir." Debbie said quickly.
Vincent tried to remain calm as he thought about Lawrence and all the Clan members who had been willing to act as his fathers.
"I have your call, Sir." Debbie said quickly, then the screen of the captain's terminal changed to the Clan Short crest.
Captain Byrne turned the screen so Vincent could see it easily, then opened the transmission.
A boy whom Vincent didn't recognize was on the screen, looking extremely serious and there was a look of intense ferocity in his eyes.
"I am Captain Leland Byrne of the USS Yorktown. I am calling on behalf of Crewman Vincent Winters who is here with me, but due to a medical condition, is unable to speak. Could you assess us of the situation?" Captain Byrne asked seriously.
"All hell is breaking loose here!"