Once again, Vincent's aching joints dragged him into full wakefulness.
This time, it wasn't his shoulders and elbows so much as it was his ankles and knees. As he hauled himself down from his bunk, he remembered what Darin had said about him being 'coltish' and resolved to ask Thaelan if that would have any impact on his training.
If there were any 'silver lining' to be found in the situation, it was that his rather insistent 'morning wood' went mostly unnoticed in light of the aches and pains throughout his body.
* * * * *
"Good morning, Vincent. How are you doing this fine day?" Vlad asked in an unusually cheerful mood.
"Pain. Shot. Now." Vincent said wearily.
"I take it the growth spurt is in full swing. Get up on the biobed for me so that Dr. Raul can note your progress, then I'll get you something for the pain." Vlad said as he hurried away.
Vincent slowly got up onto the biobed as he wondered if this must be what it feels like to get old.
While Vlad was out of the room, Vincent looked around the sickbay at all the Environmental Control people. He didn't know much about the biobed displays and what all the little blips and boomp-boomps meant, but he had the sense that the biobeds were doing the majority of the work, keeping these people alive.
"Good morning, Vincent. Vlad tells me that you're feeling a bit achy this morning." Dr. Raul said cheerfully.
"Everything hurts." Vincent said simply.
"Let me see what we've got here." Dr. Raul said as he activated the biobed's display.
Vincent waited and cautiously watched the doctor's expression carefully. Doctors didn't always tell you everything, but if you watched, you could sometimes see it in their eyes when they saw something that concerned them.
"This is really very interesting. I haven't had much of an opportunity to see adolescent bone development before." Dr. Raul said as he examined the readings.
"I'm happy to be a learning experience." Vincent said dryly, then hopefully asked, "Can you give me something for the pain?"
"Yes. Of course." Dr. Raul said with a smile, then nodded at Vlad to proceed.
Vlad immediately injected Vincent's neck with a hypospray.
"It appears that due to your level of physical activity, your diet, the vitamin supplements we've been giving you and, of course, your early onset puberty, that your body is being given everything it needs to achieve its maximum growth potential." Dr. Raul said happily.
"Yeah. Okay. But does it have to do it all this week?" Vincent asked miserably.
Dr. Raul chuckled, then said, "In a few minutes, the pain medication should take effect, then you should be able to function normally."
"You know that I usually work out in the morning. But it's never been this bad before. Am I still okay to work out, or should I give it a rest for a few days?" Vincent asked as he could feel the aches in his body starting to subside.
"That's entirely up to you. If you feel like working out, I see no compelling medical reason that you shouldn't. But if you don't feel up to it, then take a day or two off." Dr. Raul said simply.
"Thank you, Doctor. I'm feeling better. I just wanted to be sure that I wasn't going to strain or pull something if I worked out." Vincent said as he sat up on the bed.
"I suppose that it's slightly more likely that you'll overextend your muscles and ligaments, but the possibility isn't so great as to preclude you from engaging in your exercise program. However, a few warm up exercises might prove to be beneficial." Dr. Raul said clinically.
"Yeah. Okay. Thanks for the pain meds. I'm feeling better now." Vincent said as he hopped off the bed.
"In light of the severity of your pain, you should probably stop by sickbay before you go to bed. It's likely that, for the next week or so, the aches and pains caused by your growth spurt may interfere with your sleep. I'll make a note in your file so we can give you something to help you sleep soundly through the night." Dr. Raul said professionally.
"Yeah. Thanks." Vincent said back, close to his usual, energetic self.
* * * * *
"Good morning, Vincent. How does this morning find you?" Thaelan asked pleasantly as he approached Vincent doing his stretches.
Vincent responded by rolling onto his shoulders, then into a hand-stand which he held for a moment before performing an elegant walk-over which brought him to his feet.
"I'll take that to mean that you are feeling well." Thaelan said with a smile.
"Yeah. But I needed to ask you about something before we start." Vincent said seriously.
"What might that be?" Thaelan asked curiously.
"I'm in the middle of another growth spurt. From what Darin said, my hands and feet look like they're growing faster than the rest of me. Is that going to cause any problem for my training?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Yes, potentially it could. But it may actually be of benefit to you in the long term." Thaelan said thoughtfully.
"How's that?" Vincent asked cautiously, since he couldn't think of any way that being 'out of proportion' could be of benefit.
"Varying the length of your stride and reach of your arms as well as the changing weight of your extremities will allow you to become accustomed to adapting to a variety of differing circumstances in your fighting technique." Thaelan said seriously.
"Right." Vincent said in confirmation, then without warning, moved in to attack.
* * * * *
Even though the show they put on was not as much of a surprise to the others in the gym as it used to be, it still drew an audience.
Vincent was so used to it by this point that the crowd gathering went without notice until a point, about twenty minutes into their training, when someone stepped out of the crowd and approached them. He didn't know if they needed to suspend their sparring in case the visitor might have something important to tell one of them.
However, all Vincent's speculations were put on hold the moment that the intruder moved to attack him.
Vincent immediately recognized his new combatant as Ensign Barnhill, from security, but had no idea why she had joined their fight, much less, why she was fighting on Thaelan's side.
It seemed like there was no possibility for him to defend against a two-on-one attack, but somehow his training to date allowed him to defend himself just the same, whether the attack was coming from one opponent or two.
"Withdraw." Thaelan called out a few minutes later, as he fell into his primary defensive posture.
Vincent automatically stepped back and did the same.
Finding herself without an opponent, Ensign Barnhill took a step back and waited to see what was going to happen.
"The moment you went on the defensive and stopped trying to attack, the outcome was a foregone conclusion." Thaelan said sternly.
"But I can barely get a hit in on you, there's no way I could beat two of you at once." Vincent said defensively.
"So long as you believe that, it will most certainly be true." Thaelan said coldly.
Vincent realized what Thaelan was saying, then looked at Ensign Barnhill curiously.
"Ensign Thaelan asked Lieutenant Simms if he knew of anyone who might be willing to help out with your training." Ensign Barnhill explained with a smile.
"I might have done better if I'd been expecting it." Vincent said with a glance at Thaelan.
"Do you believe that, in the future, your opponents will always announce who you will be fighting?" Thaelan asked simply.
Vincent broke into a smile, then said, "I guess not."
"Considering that this was an unexpected event, you defended yourself well. But what you should take away from this exercise is the realization that you can defeat yourself before your opponent has the chance." Thaelan said instructively.
"Got it, Thaelan. This sounds like one of those things that I've got to 'know' inside me instead of something that I can decide to do in my head." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"I believe that is correct." Thaelan said with a slight nod, then looked at the clock before continuing, "It appears that our time is concluded."
As they walked toward the changing rooms, Ensign Barnhill turned to Vincent and said, "I'd really like a chance to fight you, one on one."
"Yeah. As long as it's one on one, you got it." Vincent said with a smile, before turning to go into the men's changing room.
* * * * *
As Vincent left the changing room, he noticed that his uniform was feeling a little bit snug in the crotch. He tried to adjust it, so that he could be more comfortable, but the jumpsuit uniform seemed to be intent on giving him a wedgie.
He was finally able to tug and stretch it enough to make it work for the moment, but he resolved himself to the fact that later in the day, he would have to track down Crewman Duckworth and talk to him about getting some new uniforms made.
As he was walking into the mess hall, he realized why he was feeling a little bit down. It was coming up on the time when he would normally go to visit Tracey and the guys in sickbay. Now that they had reached the Coffelt base, there wasn't any need for him to do that anymore.
* * * * *
After making his breakfast selections, which ended up being above and beyond what would be considered a 'normal' breakfast, Vincent made his way to the table where the Deflector Control crew were gathered.
"Good training this morning?" Joe asked with a smile as Vincent approached.
"Could have been better." Vincent said as he took his seat.
"Woah! I can understand about being a 'growing boy', but that's a lot of food!" Rad said when he saw Vincent's plate.
"Yeah." Vincent said before taking a bite.
"What's wrong?" Joe asked with concern.
"I just didn't do as good as I should have in training this morning." Vincent said before shovelling in another bite of food.
"I did not expect you to anticipate the new direction in our training, nor did you react badly. It is necessary for you to be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and I feel that this was the best way to introduce that concept." Thaelan explained patiently.
"Yeah. I know. I just feel like I should have done better." Vincent said half-heartedly.
"As with all things, it takes time." Thaelan said simply.
Vincent gave a noncommittal snort, then took a long drink of his coffee.
"Are you guys all ready for a long day of repairing systems?" Joe asked into the uncomfortable silence that followed.
"Actually, I am. I love working on the bridge, but I've really missed you guys in Deflector Control." Darin said honestly.
"Me, too." Vincent said quickly between bites of food.
"Slow down or you're going to get a stomach ache." Joe said as he noticed the speed at which Vincent was clearing his plate.
Vincent stopped, then quietly said, "Yeah. I guess I don't have to hurry. The guys aren't in sickbay waiting on me anymore."
"You're going to miss them, aren't you?" Joe asked sympathetically.
"They're my friends." Vincent said honestly.
As Joe was about to say something, Vincent regretfully continued, "I know. It's part of being in Starfleet."
"That's true. But try thinking about it another way." Joe said in a leading tone.
Vincent looked at him curiously.
"It's worth it, isn't it?" Joe asked seriously.
Vincent thought for a moment, then reluctantly admitted, "Yeah. It was better to have met the guys and been their friend than never to have met them in the first place."
"And another great thing about being in Starfleet is, you never know when you might run into them again. You end up having lots of really good friends all over the universe." Rad said frankly.
Vincent thought about Lehman, Benny and JonJon, then about Tyce and Tyber. Finally he nodded his agreement.
"Good God! Where do you put it all?" Rad asked when he noticed that Vincent had nearly finished his plate of food.
"I burn a lot of calories." Vincent said with a grin, then hurried to finish off his last few bites of food.
"If that's the case, then I may not need the rest of the crew today. I think Vincent's fueled up enough to refit the deflector control systems all by himself." Joe said teasingly.
"Yeah, but it might go faster if I have help." Vincent said before finishing his coffee.
"Now that you've wolfed down all that food, you get to sit and watch the rest of us finish our breakfasts." Rad said with a grin.
Vincent looked at him with surprise at the suggestion, then matter-of-factly said, "I'm going for seconds."
* * * * *
"Okay, Joe. We've got everything laid out and all the work assignments are made, just like you wanted. Are you sure that you don't want us to stay for awhile and help out?" Lou asked seriously.
"No. But thanks for offering. The plan is for Alpha and Beta to work through these lists of repairs and hopefully to finish them. If, for some reason, we don't, then Gamma gets to pick up our slack. Once everything's done, then we're going to dig into running detailed diagnostics to be sure that every possible issue in every deflector control system has been corrected." Joe finished with a smile.
"Sounds lovely." Lou said dryly.
"It's not so bad. At least you might get the honor of lording it over Connie that you ended up having to do the work that his team couldn't finish." Joe said devilishly.
Lou seemed to consider for a moment before saying, "Yeah. Okay. That works."
"I thought it would." Joe laughed, then continued, "You guys have a good sleep."
"Thanks, Joe." Lou said warmly, then added, "I stand relieved."
"I have control." Joe responded as he took her seat.
* * * * *
"All consoles showing normal function. Where do I start?" Vincent asked as he stepped away from station three.
"Hold on for just a minute. Chief Morgan is sending a few people down to help us out. He's meeting with them now, and he's going to send them down to us as soon as he's finished." Joe said seriously.
"We don't need any help." Vincent said honestly.
"Even if they don't do anything more than hand you tools, I'm sure that their help will make things run a lot faster and smoother." Joe said frankly.
Vincent thought about that for a moment and reluctantly agreed.
* * * * *
"Ensign Andrews, Crewman Davis, Crewman Chilton and Crewman Hepsiba reporting as ordered, Sir." The young officer said as the group stopped just inside the door of deflector control.
"At ease. I assume that Chief Morgan already told you what you'll be doing here, today." Joe said professionally.
"He told us that we would be providing supplemental help in restoring your systems, Sir." Ensign Andrews said smartly.
"Fine. Then let me explain. I'm going to team each of you up with one of the Deflector Control personnel. There's a lot of work to be done, so just follow their lead. I see from your files that Crewman Chilton has some experience with working on consoles, so you'll be teamed with Ensign Thaelan. We've got quite a mess on our first console, so it could take some time to get that all sorted out. Crewman Hepsiba, you'll be working with Ensign Cooper. Crewman Davis, you'll be working with Crewman Winters. Ensign Andrews, you'll be working with me." Joe said seriously, then looked around to see that everyone understood his orders.
"I have a padd for each team with your assignments already loaded. When you complete each assignment, contact deflector control and let us know, so that we can begin the diagnostics on that system. If you run into any unforeseen difficulties, be sure to report it immediately. A delay in one repair may impact the timeline for the other systems, so we'll need to be aware of your progress." Joe said firmly, then surveyed the teams again, just to be sure that he hadn't lost any of them.
"The sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be finished. Let's make it happen." Joe said, then started handing out padds.
* * * * *
"Crewman Davis? I'm Crewman Winters. You'll be working with me today." Vincent said seriously.
The wide-eyed look of surprise on Crewman Davis' face was almost enough to make Vincent laugh, but he knew that it wasn't the time or place for that.
After a moment to look at their assignments, Vincent said, "It looks like we're going to start out by crawling around in the jefferies tubes for a while. Let me get my tool kit and the replacement parts, then we'll be ready to go."
The crewman stood and stared stupidly as Vincent gathered the things he would be needing.
The thought came to Vincent that somehow, over the past few months, he had gone from being 'the new guy' and 'the kid', to being a fully trusted and respected member of the deflector control team.
"Come on." Vincent said as he shouldered his tool bag and started for the door.
"I can carry that for you... Sir?" Crewman Davis finished uncertainly.
Vincent laughed and said, "When I'm working on the bridge, I'm an acting Ensign. So if you see me up there sometime, you might have to call me 'Sir'. But down here, I'm just another crewman, so you can call me Vincent, if you want."
"I can carry your tool bag, if you want, Vincent." Crewman Davis said as they walked.
"Sure. You'll probably be handing me tools so it'll make sense if you carry it." Vincent said as he handed his tool bag over, then thought to ask, "What's your first name?"
"Okay, Clyde. We've got to replace about six control circuits before we get to do anything interesting. How are you with control circuits?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I know a lot more about them now than I did when we started this tour." Clyde said frankly.
Vincent laughed, then said, "You and me, both."
* * * * *
It was a surprise when Vincent realized that as he was doing his work with Clyde, he kept a running monologue going of what he was doing and why. Clyde seemed to be absorbing his every word and on a few occasions broke in to asked some salient questions.
After some consideration, Vincent realized that the other members of Deflector Control had all gone out of their way to do exactly the same thing for him. With every assignment, with every 'chore', they were teaching and training him, passing on their knowledge and experience to him. Now he was getting to pass along that same knowledge and experience. It somehow seemed right.
After finishing the fifth control circuit and reporting in, Vincent noticed that Clyde seemed to be wanting to say something, but was fighting not to.
"What's up?" Vincent asked curiously.
"I just... It's an honor to work with you." Clyde said quietly.
"Huh?" Vincent asked in confusion.
"I saw you on the Federation News and thought how incredible it was that I was serving on the same ship as 'The Hero of Kimber'. Now, I'm here, actually working with you." Clyde said in amazement.
"I'm just a crewman, the same as you." Vincent said simply.
"You're a hero." Clyde said seriously.
Vincent rolled his eyes, then said, "If you want to look at it that way, all the members of the Yorktown crew are heroes. The only difference is that everyone else didn't have the Federation News telling people about it."
"But you went into that reactor..." Clyde started to say.
"Yeah, and just about anyone else on this ship would have done exactly the same thing, if they knew it would save hundreds of lives. That's why we're out here and not sitting on Earth where it's 'safe'." Vincent said frankly.
Clyde didn't seem to be getting it, so Vincent continued, "You think I'm a hero? Well, I think you're a hero. In fact, you may be more of a hero than I am because you're out here, taking a chance and risking your life, just because you know that it'll make people's lives better. You don't have big ceremonies and the Federation News telling you how great you are. You get up every morning and go to work because you know that it needs to be done."
"Thank you, Vincent. I can't think of myself that way, but it means a whole lot to me to know that you do." Clyde said softly.
Vincent smiled at the answer, then said, "Let's go, we've got one more control circuit job to do before we get to the good stuff."
* * * * *
"Crewman Winters to Deflector Control."
"Go ahead, Vincent."
"We've finished replacing the R-3 interconnect line, that's number twelve on our list." Vincent said professionally.
"Good work. We'll start the diagnostic. Why don't you guys go ahead and take lunch?" Joe asked pleasantly.
"Sounds good. I'm starving." Vincent said happily.
"How could you possibly..." Joe began to say, but trailed off as he ended the transmission.
"It's time for lunch." Vincent said as he put his communicator away.
"That was quick. I feel like we've only been working for a few minutes." Clyde said with surprise.
"Yeah, it's like that in deflector control sometimes. But we more than make up for it on the slow days." Vincent chuckled as he led the way.
"I guess in engineering that there's enough grunt work to be done that we don't get a lot of time to be bored. But still, it doesn't usually fly by like today did." Clyde said frankly, then looked at Vincent strangely.
It took a moment for Vincent to realize that he was, once again, tugging at his crotch, trying to get his jumpsuit to release it's stranglehold on his groin.
"I need to get a new uniform. This one's getting too tight. The real pain is, I have to have them specially made for me. That takes time." Vincent timidly explained.
"How is it for you, I mean, being smaller than everyone else?" Clyde asked curiously.
Vincent was surprised, and somewhat relieved, that Clyde was finally becoming comfortable enough with him that he was able to ask such a question.
"It's not too bad. I mean, I have to sit on the edge of the chair to be able to see the whole control panel. And there are times when I have to stand up to hit some controls that the other people can do when they're sitting down. Besides that, I'm usually able to do the same as everyone else." Vincent said frankly.
"I can't even imagine how it must be for you. When I was your age, all I was worried about was getting good enough grades so that my parents would buy me the bike I wanted." Clyde said wistfully as they entered the lift.
"Oh, thanks. That reminds me, I've got some studying that I need to do after work." Vincent said seriously, then looked up as he said, "Engineer's mess."
Clyde was looking at him with either question or concern.
The lift started its descent as Vincent continued, "As soon as I get my next day off, I've got a major test, like a final exam."
"Ouch. On top of everything else, you've got to worry about schoolwork, too?" Clyde asked in amazement.
"Most of the time when people ask me about how someone my age can be in Starfleet, I just kind of blow it off and tell them that 'age is just a number'. But I think that having school on top of everything else really does make it more difficult for me than for the average crewman." Vincent admitted quietly.
When the lift doors opened, they automatically walked out as Clyde said, "I know a few guys who've taken extra classes while they've been serving. But that was only a few classes. I can't imagine taking a full class load and doing a full-time job at the same time."
"It helps that I'm allowed to go at my own pace. If I'm really busy at work, I can let my school work go for a little bit. But when things calm down, that's when it gets kinda tough, because I usually just want to stop for a while and relax, but if I give in and do that, my school stuff will never get done." Vincent said honestly as he led the way to the serving line.
"Wow. Look at that! We haven't had any fresh fruits and vegetables for a while." Clyde said happily.
"Yeah. I never thought I'd miss them." Vincent chuckled.
"I guess the Coffelt base was able to resupply us with more than just control circuits." Clyde said as they moved forward in line.
"I know they provided us some medical supplies that we'd run out of, but I didn't even think about food." Vincent said honestly.
When they advanced in the line to the point where they could start making selections, conversation stopped.
* * * * *
"Can I ask you a question?" Clyde asked once they had settled in at a table.
"Sure. Ask me anything." Vincent said casually.
"I'm always trying to keep up with new stuff, you know, the latest advancements, so that I'll know what's going to be coming our way. Something I saw a little while ago was the 'Winters Transporter Retrieval Method'. Is that you?" Clyde asked cautiously.
Vincent laughed, then said, "Sort of. I didn't come up with it or anything, Ensign Radovanovich from transporter control did. But I was the one stuck in the transporter, so he named it after me."
Clyde stared at Vincent in horror at the announcement.
Vincent recognized the expression and quietly said, "Yeah. Just about every other person that I talk to about that tells me that it's one of their biggest fears."
"You could have died." Clyde whispered.
"Yeah. But that was at the tail end of the whole Kimber IV thing. I could've died about a dozen different times, that day." Vincent said honestly.
"How do you do it?" Clyde asked in wonder.
"I wouldn't do something dangerous just for kicks. There has to be a really good reason for me to put myself at risk. But once I've decided that something needs to be done, I just put all of that behind me. I'm like, 'it's decided, let it go' and I don't worry about it anymore. Then I go ahead and do what I need to." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"So when you decide to commit to an action, you consider that decision as final and don't go back and agonize over it?" Clyde asked carefully, to confirm that he understood.
"Yeah. I do my best to think things through before I decide to do them, but once I've decided, I move on to the next thing." Vincent said seriously.
"I don't know if I could do that." Clyde said quietly.
"It's what works for me. That doesn't mean that it will work for anyone else." Vincent said with a smile.
"No. I think it's a really good way of looking at things. I just don't know if I could keep myself from looking back and second guessing my decisions." Clyde said thoughtfully.
"Oh, I look back and second guess myself all the time. But that's usually when all the excitement is over and I have time to stop and think about it." Vincent said seriously.
"Do you regret any of your decisions?" Clyde asked curiously.
"Most of them." Vincent chuckled.
Clyde looked at him with surprise.
"It's really easy to look back and realize what you might have done differently. I usually don't regret what I did as much as I regret not being smart enough to realize that I could have accomplished the same things a lot more easily." Vincent said honestly.
"But when you're in that moment and you have to make a decision, you do. And you follow through with it. I think that may be what makes you 'The Hero of Kimber'." Clyde said frankly.
Vincent shook his head, then said, "With the situation I was in and the decisions that I made, I could have turned out to be nothing more than another name on the list of people who didn't survive. The Federation News invented 'The Hero of Kimber' based on what happened to me. It's not who I am, it's what they did to me."
"Are you upset about it?" Clyde asked cautiously.
"They asked me before they did anything. And if I understand it right, they didn't really have to. So, no, I'm not upset about it. But sometimes it's a little bit uncomfortable." Vincent said honestly.
"I'm sorry if I'm making you uncomfortable by asking about it." Clyde said shyly.
"No, Clyde. You're fine. You're talking to me like a real person. I don't mind that at all. It's when people treat me like I'm some kind of a celebrity that things get weird for me." Vincent said honestly, then realized that they had both finished their food while they had been talking.
"Are you ready to go back?" Vincent asked as he gathered his dishes.
"Oh, um, yeah." Clyde said in surprise at the change in subject.
As Vincent stood, he had to stop and forcefully tug his jumpsuit down.
"Maybe we should stop by the quartermaster's office and get you a new uniform." Clyde suggested quietly.
"I wish I could, but they have to make my uniforms special." Vincent said in a voice that was close to a growl.
"Do we have a few minutes so we can do that now? I hate to see you being so uncomfortable." Clyde said honestly.
"Let's drop these off, then I'll see if Crewman Duckworth is free to take my measurements."
* * * * *
"I can't believe that I need another one so soon. You just made me a new dress uniform yesterday." Vincent said miserably as he held his arms out.
"Yes. When I took those readings, I did some checking." Crewman Duckworth said slowly as he carefully scanned Vincent, then motioned for him to put his arms down.
"Checking for what?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"I had to verify what sizes of replacement uniforms we had in stock. What I found is that, if you're willing to put up with your uniforms being a tad loose to begin with, that you should be able to wear the smallest of the standard crewmen jumpsuit uniform sizes. I may need to hem up the cuffs a little bit for you... although, from the look of these readings, I may not. You're shooting up like a weed." Crewman Duckworth finished with surprise.
"A weed. Wonderful." Vincent said dryly.
"Like I said, I checked the quartermaster's office yesterday and they have several small uniforms in stock. I guess they don't have too much demand for them. From here on out, you can just requisition a new one whenever you need it." Crewman Duckworth said happily.
"Would you mind it if I came back to you to get the Clan Short crest added on? I don't think I'd do a very good job if I tried to do it myself." Vincent admitted shyly.
"It would be my pleasure, Vincent." Crewman Duckworth said with a smile.
"Thanks, Brian. I'll probably stop by with a couple new uniforms after my shift." Vincent said quietly before leaving.
* * * * *
Vincent opened his communicator and seriously said, "Vincent to Deflector Control."
"Back from lunch?" Joe guessed.
"That's kinda up to you. I need to stop by the quartermaster's office to requisition a new uniform. But if we're in a real rush, I can do it after my shift." Vincent said carefully.
"You outgrew your uniform since this morning?" Joe asked incredulously.
"I think it was the breakfast that did it." Vincent said with a smile.
"Go and do what you need to do. Just let me know when you're ready to work." Joe said casually, and a smile could be heard in his voice.
"It won't be long."
* * * * *
As Vincent stepped out of the quartermaster's office, he said, "I need to make one more quick stop before we go back to Deflector Control."
"To change into your uniform?" Clyde asked curiously.
"Make that two more stops." Vincent said as they stepped onto the turbolift.
"Sickbay." Vincent said to the ceiling of the lift.
"Is something wrong?" Clyde asked with concern.
"No. But something will be if I don't do as my wife says and stop by sickbay before I go back to work." Vincent said frankly.
"It's hard to believe that you have a wife." Clyde said honestly.
"Yeah, for me, too. But the good way." Vincent finished with a smile.
The lift doors opened and Vincent led the way out, walking toward sickbay with purpose.
* * * * *
As Vincent walked into sickbay, T'Lani was waiting just inside the door.
Clyde watched as Vincent turned his head, giving access to his neck. T'Lani immediately pressed a hypospray to his neck, then gently turned his head and gave him a kiss.
It wasn't the most passionate kiss Clyde had ever seen, but it was definitely more than a peck.
Once the kiss was finished, Vincent smiled at his wife, then walked out of sickbay at the same determined pace he had entered with.
* * * * *
"Deck G, Section D7." Vincent said as they entered the lift.
"I think you have a really cool life." Clyde said into the silence.
"Thanks." Vincent said with a smile.
* * * * *
They got off the lift and continued on in silence as Vincent led the way to his cabin.
When they walked inside, Clyde looked around curiously.
"Did you expect Tonka toys and coloring books?" Vincent asked with a smile.
"No... maybe. I don't know what I expected. But it wasn't for your cabin to be exactly like mine." Clyde said honestly.
"I may do some different stuff, but I bet that my day-to-day life isn't really all that different from yours." Vincent said frankly.
"Except that you've got a wife." Clyde interjected with a grin.
"Well, yeah. Except that." Vincent smiled, then went into the lavatory to change.
* * * * *
"Vincent to Deflector Control." Vincent said as he and Clyde left his cabin.
"I'm glad you're back. Report to Deflector Control." Joe said seriously.
"Is there a problem?" Vincent asked with concern.
"No. But Chief Morgan wants to do an inspection to see where we stand with our repairs. He's sending a team down to check us out." Joe explained carefully.
"We'll be there in a minute." Vincent said seriously, then quickly added, "Winters, out."
* * * * *
When Vincent and Clyde walked into deflector control, they noticed that only Joe and Ensign Andrews were present.
"Where is everyone?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Still at lunch. You two were the first to go." Joe said frankly.
"Is there anything we need to do before the inspection team gets here?" Vincent asked as he looked around.
"No. We can't be in the middle of anything while they're checking the systems, that's why I'm calling everyone back here when they've finished their lunches." Joe said honestly.
"I'm showing a slight heat buildup on the bridge station." Ensign Andrews said from the third console.
"It always runs a little hot." Vincent said automatically.
Joe smiled at Vincent's answer, then turned his attention back to the main console.
The door opened, then Darin and Crewman Hepsiba walked into deflector control and looked around curiously.
"Chief Morgan's going to check our progress." Vincent told them quietly.
"Thanks. Vincent, this is Natalie." Darin said in a low voice.
"Nice to meet you, Natalie. Darin, this is Clyde." Vincent said as he introduced his companion.
"It's nice to meet you, Clyde." Darin said pleasantly.
"Excuse me, but are you Ensign Cooper?" Clyde asked cautiously.
"Yes. That's right." Darin answered slowly.
"Are you the Ensign Cooper that designed the 'Cooper Bridge'?" Clyde asked with anticipation.
"It wasn't just me. The whole team contributed to the Cooper Bridge, but yes, that's me." Darin said shyly.
"I read the technical specifications of that backward and forward. It took me forever to understand it, but... how did you ever come up with such a brilliant way to extend and interconnect the shield generators?" Clyde asked excitedly.
"Vincent and I had been talking about the Yorktown's power conduits and how to do a seamless power transfer right before I beamed down to Kimber IV. So, when we were in the situation where we had several independent shield generators, it made me think about applying the same reasoning to the modulation of the shield harmonics to make them work in tandem." Darin said, as though the path of his reasoning were obvious.
"I never in a million years would have thought of that." Clyde said in wonder.
"You never know until you're in a situation like that, what you'll come up with. We were all grasping at straws, trying to find ways to help the colonists. I happened to have grasped at this one." Darin said frankly.
Further conversation was interrupted by Ensign Thaelan and Crewman Chilton walking into Deflector Control.
"Good. I'm glad you all got back before the engineering team arrived. I didn't want to have to call you back from your lunches." Joe said happily, then continued, "If you'll all be patient for just a few minutes, as soon as Chief Morgan has evaluated our progress, we'll get back to work on the repairs."
"I don't understand why they're doing this now." Darin said honestly.
"Because sometimes a plan works better in theory than in practice. Chief Morgan wants to see where we actually are and what we're planning to do next. If he feels that we need to make some adjustments to our overall plan, this is the ideal time to make those changes." Joe said seriously.
Vincent slowly nodded his agreement, then turned when Chief Morgan walked into the room, followed by six officers.
Everyone stood back and watched as Chief Morgan went to the main, then instructed his people where he needed them to go and what he needed checked.
* * * * *
"Well, everything seems to be shipshape and bristol fashion." Chief Morgan finally concluded.
"Thank you, Sir." Joe said respectfully.
"I've made a few notes that you might want to take a look at, but otherwise, carry on. It looks as though you've got everything well in hand." Chief Morgan said seriously, then led his inspection team out of the room.
"So, we passed?" Vincent asked with a grin.
Everyone waited as Joe reviewed what Chief Morgan had left for him. Finally, he looked up from his work and said, "It wasn't really that kind of an inspection. Chief Morgan just wanted to be sure that the work we've been doing is coordinating properly with what's being done in other departments."
Vincent nodded soberly as he waited to be told what to do next.
"Your work assignments have been updated, mostly due to Chief Morgan wanting to shift the time frame. So, this time, get in, make the repair, note it on your padd, then move on. If all the departments can stay on task, we're hoping to be able to disembark tomorrow morning, at the beginning of Alpha shift." Joe said seriously.
Vincent was surprised by the announcement. The last that he had heard, they were planning on staying at Coffelt for at least a few more days.
"Let's do it." Joe said firmly.
Vincent glanced to his side to see that Clyde was ready to go, then headed for the door.
* * * * *
"We're really going to be on the bridge?" Clyde whispered in awe as they rode the lift.
"Yeah. We've got two control circuits to replace up there. From what Susan's told me, they're kinda hard to get to, so this could take us a few minutes." Vincent said seriously.
"This is my second tour on the Yorktown and I've never been on the bridge before." Clyde said quietly.
"It's just another duty station. Don't freak out about it." Vincent said calmly.
The look on Clyde's face reminded Vincent very much of his first time visiting the bridge, under much the same circumstances.
"The Deflector Control panel's over here." Vincent said after giving Clyde a moment to gawk in wide eyed wonder.
"How is it to be back in deflector control, Ensign Winters?" Debbie asked with a smile when she spotted him.
"It's almost like I never left." Vincent said with a grin, then motioned for Clyde to walk with him to the Deflector Control bridge station.
Vincent hit a few keys on the console, only to receive a discordant buzz in response. He frowned as he went down on one knee and said, "Hex decoupler."
Clyde dug through the tool bag for a moment before coming up with the requested tool.
After releasing the access panel, Vincent called out, "Tester."
When he felt it being pressed into his hand, he had to shift around onto his side to get it where he needed it.
"It's no wonder this thing runs hot. These circuits couldn't be packed in here any tighter." Vincent muttered as he fought to make contact with the test points.
"Shit. It's still powered." Vincent said as he backed out of the panel.
Clyde accepted the tester from him and watched as Vincent took the communicator off his belt.
"Crewman Winters to Deflector Control." Vincent said seriously.
"Deflector Control, go ahead." Joe answered immediately.
"The Deflector Control bridge station is refusing commands and won't shut down." Vincent said gravely.
"Let's see what we can do from here. Hold on." Joe said quickly.
"What's wrong?" Clyde whispered.
"Do you ever get to do repairs on consoles in engineering?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Not really. Most of my work has to do with the conduits in the nacelles. I don't get to work with the small stuff too often." Clyde said honestly.
"Well, it looks to me like this reworked control circuit failed. If we can't get it to power itself down, like it's supposed to do, then we'll have to do a hard shutdown of the entire console. Since we're in orbit, it's not as big a deal as it could be, but it makes it a lot more likely that we could have a cascade failure when we power it back up." Vincent explained carefully.
"So the whole console could burn out?" Clyde asked carefully.
"Yeah. And then we'd have to replace all those burned out parts. It'll take hours." Vincent said darkly.
"Sorry Vincent. You're going to have to pull the plug." Joe said regretfully.
"Got it. Wish me luck." Vincent said in resignation.
"Every single day." Joe said warmly, then quietly added, "Deflector Control out."
Vincent closed his communicator then began to work his way into the access port under the console, so that he could reach the primary power connector.
"Do you need me to do anything?" Clyde asked quietly.
"Yeah. If this thing starts going 'hiss' or 'boom' or anything like that, grab my ankles and pull me out, would'ja?" Vincent asked playfully as he stretched to reach the connector.
"I will. I promise." Clyde said with a halfhearted smile as he waited anxiously.
Clyde nearly jumped a foot in the air when, all of a sudden, the entire Deflector Control console display went black.
"Hand me that tester again, will you?" Vincent asked irritably.
Clyde hurried to place the requested item in Vincent's outstretched hand.
"With the power being completely disconnected, there shouldn't be any way that anything in here should be storing a charge. That's why I'm testing." Vincent said instructively.
"Huh?" Clyde asked in confusion.
"If this thing was working the way it should, we wouldn't be fixing it. Because of that, I'm testing to be completely sure that I'm not going to get zapped if I try to unseat this control circuit." Vincent said seriously, then handed the tester out.
"Sounds good to me." Clyde said frankly.
"Hang on, this thing is really wedged in here." Vincent said past gritted teeth.
"Do you need my help?" Clyde asked cautiously.
"I can barely fit in here. I don't think there's any way that you'd be able to." Vincent said with effort.
After a few more seconds, Vincent finally triumphantly said, "Got it!"
Clyde smiled at the achievement.
"Here." Vincent said as he handed the faulty control circuit out.
"Are you ready for the replacement?" Clyde asked as he took it.
"I wish." Vincent chuckled, then seriously added, "I've got a backup in here, too."
Clyde put the faulty control circuit away and waited for whatever Vincent needed him to do next.
* * * * *
"Well, here it goes. Are you ready?" Vincent asked seriously after making sure that both the replacement circuits were properly seated and connected.
"What do you need for me to do?" Clyde asked cautiously.
"Be ready to grab my ankles and pull." Vincent said frankly.
"Really? I thought you were joking about that." Clyde said anxiously.
"I was the first time, but now, I'm about to power this thing on. If it's gonna go poof, this is when it's gonna do it." Vincent said seriously.
"I'll be ready." Clyde promised.
"Here it goes." Vincent said as he connected the power.
There was a long dramatic silence, then the sound of the internal systems booting up.
"Thank god. I really, REALLY didn't want to have to rebuild one of these things today." Vincent said as he withdrew from the access panel.
"Have you had to do that before?" Clyde asked curiously as he automatically held out the hex decoupler, so it would be available when Vincent needed it.
"No, but I've seen it done. Twice. It sucked." Vincent said as he fastened the access panel door into place.
When Clyde didn't respond, Vincent glanced to see what had caught his attention and found him with a look of frozen horror.
"What's wrong?" Vincent asked, then followed Clyde's gaze to Commander M'Butu who was standing about a foot away.
"You were voicing your displeasure about something, Crewman?" Commander M'Butu asked sternly.
"Yeah. I was telling Crewman Davis about how lucky we are that the console came back on after a hard reboot. I've seen two consoles completely rebuilt and it didn't look like it was much fun." Vincent carefully explained.
"Let's just say that I've had to rebuild more than two." Commander M'Butu said seriously, then leaned down and quietly said, "It sucked."
Vincent grinned at the admission, then glanced over to see how Clyde was doing.
Clyde was in nothing less than a state of shock.
Vincent could tell from his vantage point that Clyde hadn't peed his pants, but he was betting that it was a very near thing.
"So, this one's up and running?" Commander M'Butu asked as he offered his hand to help Vincent to stand.
"Yes. Normally, I'd run diagnostics before I moved on, but we're on a pretty tight timetable today, so Lieutenant Bowers will be taking care of it, this time." Vincent said as he accepted the Commander's hand and was pulled to standing.
"By the way, before I forget, you'll be expected on the bridge for Alpha shift, tomorrow." Commander M'Butu said seriously.
"Aye, Sir." Vincent said professionally.
Commander M'Butu glanced at Clyde, who still had the stunned look frozen on his face.
"I think I broke him." Commander M'Butu whispered to Vincent.
"It's okay. I've got this. I'm good at fixing things." Vincent said with a grin.
* * * * *
"Come on." Vincent said as he gathered everything into the tool bag.
"I'm sorry." Clyde whispered as he started to come back to himself.
"It's okay. But we need to get to our next job." Vincent coaxed as he led the way off the bridge.
Once aboard the lift, Vincent casually said, "Deck R."
Clyde's expression was filled with a mix of anxiety and confusion.
As the lift began its descent, Vincent turned to Clyde and said, "Commander M'Butu was just playing. He isn't upset with us."
"I just froze." Clyde said distantly.
"Yeah." Vincent agreed, not knowing what else to tell the man.
"How do you do it? I mean, you work on the bridge almost every day. How do you work around the captain and Commander M'Butu without freaking out?" Clyde asked distantly.
"You just get used to it." Vincent said simply.
Clyde looked at him with question, obviously wanting to know more.
"Listen. Sometimes there are things that you just have to do. You may not want to, but you know that you have to do them. I never really had that much trouble talking to the captain or Commander M'Butu. My thing is getting up in front of people and talking. I don't like it. I don't want to do it. But that doesn't matter. Sometimes you have to make yourself do it anyway." Vincent said frankly.
* * * * *
By the time the lift doors opened, Clyde seemed to have calmed down quite a bit.
"What are we doing now?" Clyde asked absently as he looked around.
"There's an R-cell that we have to check out. Environmental control did a patch job on it last week and we have to go ahead and do a real fix, now that we have the parts to do the job right." Vincent said seriously.
"Couldn't we have done this when we were down here before?" Clyde asked as they walked down the seemingly endless hallways of battery reserves.
"The one we did this morning was a lot more important and needed to be done right away. Besides, it's possible that someone else wouldn't be able to do another repair job until it was finished. I think the one we're doing now is like the backup of a backup." Vincent said thoughtfully, then stopped as they arrived where they needed to be.
"Decoupler." Vincent said seriously.
Clyde got out the requested tool, and as he was handing it to Vincent, he said, "It always makes me nervous, working on these things."
"Good. That's just how you're supposed to feel about them. We need to be extra careful with the battery reserves. They're dangerous." Vincent said frankly as he opened the access panel.
"So I'm not just being stupid?" Clyde asked carefully.
Vincent laughed at the question, then said, "No. If you're not careful, these things bite and bite hard. Will you give me a static band?"
"Yeah. Here." Clyde said as he handed the band to Vincent.
"Go ahead and put yours on, too. I'll wait." Vincent said as he efficiently got his static band into place.
"Are you going to want me to work on it?" Clyde asked cautiously as he fitted his static band.
"Probably not, but you've got to have your static protection on every single time you do anything with these things. There's too many ways you can get zapped." Vincent said frankly.
"Okay. I'm ready." Clyde said nervously.
* * * * *
"How was your day, Vincent?" Connie asked when he saw Vincent and Clyde walking into Deflector Control.
"Busy." Vincent said as he walked to the supply locker to restock his tool bag.
"Did you get a lot accomplished?" Connie asked curiously.
"We finished our list. And we still have fifteen minutes to spare." Vincent said cheerfully.
"That'll make our jobs a lot easier. Since you guys were able to get the majority of the grunt work out of the way, that'll leave us free to focus on the detail work." Connie said honestly.
"You can have it. I'd rather switch out circuit boards than all those itty bitty isolinear chips." Vincent said honestly.
"It's a labor of love." Connie said with a grin.
"Did you notice any problems while you were repairing the systems?" Joe asked seriously.
"No. The only thing that didn't go as expected was the bridge station, and that ended up working out alright." Vincent said honestly as he put his, now fully stocked, tool bag back into his locker.
"Good. Then you two are free to leave." Joe said with a smile.
"Is there anything we can do to help the other teams?" Vincent asked curiously.
"No. They each have their own lists and they're all finishing their last few tasks. Just go and enjoy the rest of your day." Joe said quickly, then turned his attention back to the multiple active screens on the main.
Vincent could see that Joe was busy, but he waited until Joe looked at him again before offering the padd that he was carrying.
Joe accepted it and smiled as he said, "Have a good evening, Crewman Winters. It was good to have you back."
"It was good to be back. Thank you, Sir." Vincent said formally.
Despite the formality, Vincent understood what Joe was really saying. It was his way of expressing his pride and acknowledging the level of skill Vincent had attained during his tour of service, thus far.
"Are you ready to call it a night?" Vincent asked as he turned to Clyde.
"I guess so." Clyde said uncertainly.
"Come on." Vincent said with a smile, then led the way out of Deflector Control.
* * * * *
When Vincent got back to his cabin, he realized that he didn't have anything demanding his immediate attention.
T'Lani was working, and probably would be for quite some time. Darin was either still working in Deflector Control or was with Rad, in either case, he wouldn't need Vincent tagging along. Of course, Tracey and the guys were down on the planet, and as much as he would like to spend some time talking with them, it was time to leave them to settle back into their lives.
After sorting through his options, he decided that rather than doing yet another review of his schoolwork, he would reread the texts that Joe had recommended to prepare him for his officer's exam. He collected his new uniforms and dropped them off with Crewman Duckworth before moving on to what would turn out to be the majority of his evening.
While a quieter venue might have been preferable in other circumstances, this day Vincent needed food more than quiet. He went to the engineers mess hall and loaded a plate for a between meal snack... actually, a between meal meal, then settled in to lose himself in the minutiae of Starfleet codes and regulations.
* * * * *
Although Vincent was aware of the ebb and flow of people having dinner in the mess hall, he was able to keep his attention focused on his lessons and had a long and very satisfying study session.
When he felt that he couldn't continue on, and had finally reached a good stopping point, he gathered his things and made his way to sickbay, so that he could get his pain medication and sleep aid before retiring for the evening. As before, T'Lani gave him a shot and a kiss, then sent him on his way.
While it was still a bit early for him to be going to bed, he had decided that once he was in his cabin, he wouldn't be going out again that evening.
* * * * *
As Vincent was changing into his sleep pants, getting ready for bed, he realized that he had officially outgrown them. The fabric was stretched to the point that it was too uncomfortable for him to sleep in.
Although it was against regulations to do so, Vincent decided to sleep in just his underwear. He could have changed into his workout clothes and worn them to bed, but he honestly didn't want to have to fool with changing out of them the next morning, putting them in the fresher, then putting them back on. And besides, it was to the point where they were almost as tight as his sleep clothes. It wouldn't be very long at all before he would be forced to replace them, too.
* * * * *
When Vincent finally settled into his bed, with a padd of study materials in hand, he paused for a moment to enjoy the sensation of cool clean sheets against his bare skin.
He seemed to always be in a rush, or so exhausted from his day of work, that he didn't have a spare minute or two to stop and enjoy such a thing.
It might have been a side effect of the pain medication relaxing him or possibly it was just because Vincent had taken the time to stop for a moment, but for whatever reason, a swell of feelings rose up in him that couldn't be denied.
Masturbation or meditation, those seemed to be the only two options available to him.
His hand drifted down to his groin and encountered a mound of turgid flesh. It had become his habit to automatically dismiss such an event and tell himself that he would deal with it later, when he had more time.
Now, it was later.
He had the time.
Deep within him, there was still something telling him that he shouldn't, although his logical mind couldn't come up with a single reason as to why not.
As his hand slid under the elastic of his underwear, any resolve that he might have been building crumbled.
The meditation option had not been selected.
He scrunched his eyes tightly shut as his sense of touch became the center of his world.
Thought gave way to instinct as he slid his underwear down his thighs to afford better access.
The world slipped away as he was lost in sensation.
* * * * *
The sound of the door opening caused Vincent to wake suddenly.
His heart seemed to skip a beat as he checked to verify that he wasn't exposed.
Fortunately, the blanket was covering him and there was no evidence in view of his previous activities.
"Go back to sleep. It's just me." Darin said as he quietly walked into the room.
"Did you and Rad have a good time?" Vincent asked curiously, then broke into a yawn.
"I think we were both too tired to be very good company, but yeah. It was nice to spend some time with him after the long day we had." Darin said casually as he sat down to take off his boots.
"Do you have a spare pair of sleep pants that I can borrow? Mine are too small." Vincent asked, only just realizing how groggy he felt.
"Sure. But you should be able to get some that'll fit you better from the quartermaster." Darin said as he walked to his cabinet.
"Yeah. I meant just for tonight. It'd be just my luck, the one night I decide to sleep in just my underwear and we'll have an emergency or a drill or something." Vincent said frankly.
"Here you go." Darin said as he set a pair of sleep pants on the side of Vincent's bunk.
"Thanks." Vincent said gratefully, then grabbed the pants so he could pull them on under the covers.
"Just before Rad got off work, they got word that our plans have changed. It seems that we're going to be heading to Vulcan before we continue on to Earth." Darin said casually.
"Do you know why?" Vincent asked curiously as he tried to get the too big sleep pants into some sort of a comfortable configuration.
"Not really. But Rad was guessing that it's so that we can ferry some supplies and personnel to Earth, since we'll be going there next." Darin said frankly.
Vincent thought for a moment, then said, "Yeah. I guess that since we got resupplied, there's no reason that we have to go 'straight' to Earth."
"And Vulcan's not that far out of our way, what's another day or two?" Darin asked frankly.
"Yeah. I wonder if we'll be stopping, I mean, like, for a few days?" Vincent asked speculatively.
"No one said anything about how long we'd be there. Did you have something that you wanted to do while we're there?" Darin asked curiously.
"I've been planning to take my big test for the third standard course of study on my next day off. To do that, I'll have to have an officer proctor the exam and it'll take all day and all kinds of stuff. It's kind of a pain. If we've got the time, it'd be a lot easier on everyone if I could just go to the Vulcan Academy of Science and take my test there." Vincent said honestly.
"You're working on the bridge tomorrow. Ask Commander M'Butu about it. The worst that will happen is that he'll tell you we can't do it. Then you can just go ahead and take the test the way you were planning to."
"Logical." Vincent said with a grin.
Darin smiled at the response, then said, "I'm beat. Go back to sleep."
"Yeah. Goodnight." Vincent said as he snuggled down into his pillow.