CSU: Frontier

Chapter 07: Can Someone Help Me?

Benny broke out of Chief Morgan's arms and stood in front of Lieutenant Simms with his arms outstretched, blocking him from firing at Vincent.

"Vincent? How are you feeling?" Rad asked with disbelief.

"Um... Okay I guess, I just feel kind of heavy... like I'm wearing a mask or something and I can't open my eyes." Vincent said in confusion.

"Let me see what I can do for you." Dr. Perry said as she hurried to Vincent's side.

"Who's that?" Vincent asked in confusion as he stretched his arms out in front of him.

"I'm the Yorktown's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Perry. Would you please hold still for a minute so I can see how you're doing?" She asked slowly.

Vincent put his arms down and said, "Sure. What happened to me?"

"If you'll hold still for just another few seconds I'll see if I can find out." Dr. Perry said as she carefully scanned him with her medical tricorder.

Lieutenant Simms adjusted his phaser back to the 'stun' setting then put it back into the holster on his belt.

Benny reluctantly put his arms down, but continued to watch Lieutenant Simms' every move.

"Crewman Winters, have you ever had a sunburn?" Dr. Perry asked carefully as she continued to scan.

"Yeah, sure. Once when my dad took us out on a boat I fell asleep and I had my feet propped up and I got sunburned on the bottoms of my feet. I couldn't go to school for a whole week because I couldn't walk." Vincent rambled.

Dr. Perry chuckled, then said, "Well, when you're sunburned, you know how your body gets rid of the damaged skin by causing it to peel off?"

"Yeah." Vincent said hesitantly.

"Well my young Crewman. It seems that you've just received the equivalent of a few hundred sunburns. That weight you're feeling is just damaged skin gathered on the surface. I'm happy to say that besides that, you're perfectly fine." Dr. Perry said with a smile.

"So my eyes are just scabbed shut?" Vincent asked carefully.

Dr. Perry considered the question for a moment, then said, "Sure. That's as good a way to describe it as any. Let's get you to sickbay where we can make you comfortable. I'd like to get you on a biobed to do some more detailed scans. It will just take a minute to get a gurney for you."

"I can walk if someone will help me." Vincent said quietly.

"I'll help you Vincent." Benny said and ran to Vincent's side.

"Benny? How did you get here before me?" Vincent asked in confusion.

"Well, I guess even though you're little enough to fit through a conduit pipe, you're still too big to fit through a transporter beam... you got stuck in there for a while." Benny said as he took hold of Vincent's hand and guided it to his arm.

"Oh. Okay." Vincent said in thought.

"If you gentlemen will follow me, we'll go to sickbay." Dr. Perry said with a relieved smile.

"Wait, I thought I heard Rad a minute ago... Is Rad here?" Vincent asked as he stopped in his tracks.

"I'm right here Vincent." Rad said happily.

"Will you tell Daddy Joe that I went to sickbay and that I'm okay? I don't want him to be worried about me." Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sure thing Vincent. I'll tell him right now." Rad said peacefully.

Vincent nodded, then gripped Benny's arm, letting him know that he was ready to go.

* * * * *

The people in the hallway stood back and stared in horror at the naked boy covered with misshapen flesh that looked like it was rotting off his body.

"Are people staring at me?" Vincent asked as he heard people stop talking as they went by.

"Yeah." Benny said honestly.

"Why? Do I look really bad?" Vincent asked with concern.

"Yeah. You look like ninety pounds of chewed bubble gum." Benny said frankly.

"Oh." Vincent said in thought.

"And you're naked." Benny added.

Vincent stopped in his tracks at the statement.

"Crewman Winters, we're almost there. If you're worried about being exposed, standing in the hallway isn't going to make it any better." Dr. Perry said, trying to fight down a chuckle.

"Don't worry about it Vincent. You look so gross right now I don't think anyone's even noticed that you're naked." Benny said as he placed Vincent's hand on his arm again.

"Um... Okay. I guess that makes me feel better." Vincent said slowly.

Benny chuckled at Vincent's statement.

"Where are we?" Vincent asked curiously.

"Walking from transporter room three to the sickbay." Dr. Perry said then turned as they reached the sickbay door.

"Oh, I see, we're on the same deck. I got the feeling that you were taking me the long way around." Vincent said as he was led into sickbay on Benny's arm.

"Yeah, we just wanted to show you off." Benny said playfully.

Vincent wasn't capable of making any facial expressions in his condition, but for some reason, Benny was fairly certain that somewhere under there, Vincent was rolling his eyes.

"Would you help Crewman Winters onto the bed?" Dr. Perry asked as she gathered some medical instruments.

Benny tried to guide Vincent up on the bed, but wasn't having much luck.

One of the medical assistants that had followed them from the transporter room stepped up and helped get Vincent onto the bed.

"Let's see what we've got here." Dr. Perry said as she turned on the biobed.

Dr. Perry looked carefully at the biobed's reading's and said, "I don't know exactly what your friend 'Rad' did back there, but whatever it was took care of the radiation. I can't find any trace of it."

"Are you going to be able to fix Vincent to like he was before?" Benny asked hopefully.

"Let me see one thing before I answer. Crewman Winters, you may feel a pulling sensation on your arm. Let me know if it causes you pain." Dr. Perry said, then picked up a pair of forceps from beside the bed.

"Okay." Vincent said reluctantly.

Dr. Perry took the forceps to the edge of the loose misshapen flesh on Vincent's arm and began to pull on it gently.

"That feels weird." Vincent said as she began to pull the damaged skin up and away from the layer of pale skin underneath.

Dr. Perry carefully pulled the skin up just a little bit more.

"That hurts." Vincent said through gritted teeth.

Dr. Perry stopped pulling at the skin and held it up like a flap.

"Young man, come over here." Dr. Perry said to Benny insistently.

Benny hurried around the table to Dr. Perry's side.

"I want you to look at this and tell your friend what you're seeing." Dr. Perry said seriously.

Benny leaned in to get closer, then said, "The Doctor is pulling up the scabby skin on your arm and there's new skin underneath. It's not scarred or anything."

Dr. Perry released the piece of damaged skin and allowed it to fall back into place.

After a moment of consideration, Dr. Perry said, "Crewman Winters, from what I can tell of your condition, you're going to be perfectly fine. While it would be possible for me to remove the damaged skin right now, it would be a time consuming task and I'm afraid that other patients would have to go untreated for their injuries while I was working on you. So in the interest of providing the best possible care for the most people, I would like to delay the procedure until those most in need are taken care of. Do you understand?"

"Yeah. I'm not hurting or anything, so it's okay." Vincent said carefully.

"Thank you Crewman Winters. I promise that I'll get you taken care of as soon as possible." Dr. Perry said with a gentle smile.

"Do you think you'll be able to get it taken care of tonight? I have to be at work at 04:00." Vincent asked quietly.

"For the next three days at least, you are officially off duty. That's an order Crewman." Dr. Perry said firmly.

"Yes Doctor." Vincent said with disappointment.

"Dr. Perry? Can I stay with Vincent? Y'know, to be like his eyes and hands until he can do things for himself?" Benny asked hopefully.

Dr. Perry gave Benny a smile and said, "That sounds like an excellent idea. In fact, if you two will follow my instructions for Crewman Winters' care exactly, I might authorize him to leave sickbay tomorrow... with your help of course."

"That would be cool. Then I could go to deflector control and find out how everyone is doing." Vincent said quickly.

Dr. Perry motioned for a medical assistant to come to her.

"Please find Crewman Winters a bed in the convalescent ward. Oh, and get him a gown."

* * * * *

"Ensign Radovanovich, would you care to accompany me down to the colony to deliver the good news in person?" Chief Morgan asked with a smile.

"I'd love to." Rad said happily.

Chief Morgan looked around the transporter room and casually said, "It seems that our transporter technician has run off."

"Oh. I forgot about him." Rad said suddenly.

Chief Morgan went to the comm panel and casually said, "Ensign Bergman to transporter room three."

"I'd better clean this up before we leave." Rad said, then began to set the transporter controls back to their regular settings.

Chief Morgan nodded, then pressed the comm again and said, "Chief Morgan to Captain Byrne."

"Go ahead Chief." Captain Byrne said immediately.

"Crewman Winters has been retrieved from the transporter. Dr. Perry says that he's in good condition, although his appearance is a bit... disconcerting at the moment." Chief Morgan said carefully.

"How so?" Captain Byrne asked cautiously.

"He appears to have a covering of dead skin over the majority of his body. Dr. Perry explained that it was something like a peeling sunburn. He didn't seem to be in any pain." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"I'm sure I'll get a report from her soon. Good work." Captain Byrne said with relief.

"I'd like to request your permission to beam down to the colony with Ensign Radovanovich to deliver the good news to Joe and Oliver in person if I may." Chief Morgan asked hopefully.

Captain Byrne chuckled and said, "You two have earned it. Permission granted, and be sure to pass on my congratulations."

"Yes sir." Chief Morgan said happily.

The doors opened to reveal Ensign Bergman looking timid and apologetic.

"He's going to be fine." Chief Morgan said firmly.

Ensign Bergman looked at Chief Morgan with disbelief.

"Terry, all the damage that you saw was to the surface of his skin. He's really going to be okay." Rad said assuringly.

"Really?" Ensign Bergman asked, not able to believe that the thing he saw was alive and well.

"Yes. Really. You can go to sickbay and check on him for yourself... when your shift is over. Right now we need for you to transport us down to Commander M'Butu's location." Chief Morgan finished seriously.

"Chief... I'm sorry. I know I didn't react well..." Ensign Bergman said in a repentant voice.

"I understand Ensign. Take your experiences today and learn from them. Ensign Radovanovich has had to face a situation like this before and was able to take what he learned from that horrible tragedy and use it to save Crewman Winters." Chief Morgan said instructively.

"Thank you sir. I'll do that. Whenever you're ready I'll transport you down." Ensign Bergman said as he walked to the transporter's controls.

Rad and Chief Morgan walked to the transporter and took their positions on the pads.

Chief Morgan gave a nod to indicate that they were ready.

"Thank you for trusting me to do this Chief Morgan. I really appreciate it." Ensign Bergman said, then energized the transporter beam.

* * * * *

"Wow, this place is really packed." Benny said as he led Vincent to the edge of the bed the medical assistant indicated.

"Yeah, it sounds like it." Vincent said as he felt the edge of the bed, so he could get into it.

"You look really funny wearing that gown." Benny said as he helped Vincent onto the bed.

"What do I look like?" Vincent asked curiously.

Benny thought about it for a moment, then said, "Just imagine the Toxic Avenger in a little white dress."

Vincent thought about the description, then broke into a fit of giggles.

"Is he going to be okay?" The man in the next bed asked with concern.

"Oh yeah, he just looks nasty and gross, but underneath this crust he's just fine. The doctor says that he'll be back to normal in a few days." Benny said with cheer.

The man looked uncertain but tried to accept the explanation.

"My name is Benny, what's yours?" Benny asked casually.

"Channing. It's nice to meet you."

Vincent sat up and turned toward the voice.

"Channing? It's me, Vincent."

"Vincent?" Channing asked in horror.

"Yeah. How are you doing? Are you feeling better?" Vincent asked with concern.

"Oh, yeah. I'm fine. The doctor just wants to keep me here for one more day to be sure." Channing said as he looked at Vincent cautiously.

"I'm off duty for the next three days. But Dr. Perry said that if I do everything she says today, that tomorrow maybe she'll let me leave sickbay." Vincent said happily.

"What happened to you?" Channing asked with concern.

"Can I tell him Vincent?" Benny asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Sure." Vincent said and laid back on the bed to listen.

"For the past couple months we've been having some really bad storms. They just seemed to get worse and worse. I didn't know it back then, but the Council lost contact with the Federation about a month ago. Anyway, about three weeks ago we got hit by a storm that didn't stop. There was lightning and hail and really bad high winds. I guess about the second or third day of the storm, a tree came down on the main storehouse where we keep most of our food and supplies and stuff and then it caught fire. By the time we were able to get the fire put out, nearly everything had been destroyed." Benny said in thought.

"Hey, I thought this story was supposed to be about me." Vincent said playfully.

Benny laughed and said, "I'm getting to your part, I just wanted to set the scene."

"Okay..." Vincent said in a playful hesitant voice.

Channing smiled at the boys' banter.

"Okay, so we were all stuck with just the food we each had in our own homes. The council told everyone to bring their food to the town hall and we'd use it to feed everyone... it was pretty good and really cool to have everyone there at once. It was like all of us were one big family." Benny said carefully, then noticed Vincent.

In his condition, Vincent was incapable of making any kind of recognizable facial expression. And his eyes were completely hidden by the mask of dead skin... yet somehow Benny just knew that he was getting 'the look'.

"Don't look at me like that Vincent, I'm getting to it." Benny said impatiently.

Vincent didn't move a muscle, but inside he was laughing at the statement.

"Okay, so yesterday the AGREC building... I don't know what it stands for, it's something about farming... anyway, the wind just picks the whole thing up and drops it right on the power station." Benny said seriously.

"Okay, it sounds like we're coming to my part." Vincent said reluctantly.

Benny nodded and said, "Well, we can't get into the power station to shut it down. It's leaking radiation and we figure it's about to go critical and blow up and kill us all."

Channing turned in his bed, completely enthralled by the story.

"So they figure that since the control room is like, in the belly of the building, it probably survived and if someone could get in there, they could shut it down. But then they realized that there just wasn't any way to do that. Even if we didn't have a major lightning storm trying to kill us if we stepped outside, you'd need some major heavy equipment to get in there." Benny said frankly.

"Wake me up when you get to my part." Vincent said in a serious voice, then broke into giggles.

"My part first, then yours." Benny said with a chuckle, then continued, "So one of the councilmen pulled up the plans to the building and found out that there were underground conduit shafts that carried the power to the town. They thought they could go down into the tunnels and just crawl right into the control room and shut the thing down, but when they went down there they found out that it was too narrow for any of them to fit through."

Channing nodded for Benny to continue.

"Well, I was in the town hall because.... well, because my home was destroyed by the storm. I wasn't there when it happened, but I guess the wind just caved the whole house in and my parents and my sister were in there..." Benny said reluctantly.

Vincent felt around blindly until he found Benny's arm, then patted his way down until he found Benny's hand and took it into a firm hold.

Benny took a moment to choke down his tears, then said, "The council said that since I'm skinny, I could probably fit through the tunnel. They told me how to shut down the reactor then took me down into the tunnels. I tried to squeeze in there, but no matter how hard I pushed, I just wouldn't fit. Anyway, that's when the Yorktown showed up and called us. Commander M'Butu came down and we told him what was going on. He called the ship and they did some tests or sensor readings or something, then they said that transporters wouldn't be able to function in the radiation. Someone would have to get in through the tunnel. That's when Commander M'Butu looked like he was about to throw up."

Channing looked at Benny with surprise.

"All he said is that the Yorktown had a crewman smaller than me. Then he went to talk to someone, I'm pretty sure it was Vincent's Daddy Joe." Benny said in thought.

"So I went down into the tunnel and tried to clear out as much of the mud as I could from down there to help whoever they sent down." Benny said carefully.

Vincent let out a very obviously fake snore.

Benny smiled, then started to tickle his ribs.

After a minute of playful wrestling and tickling, Benny said, "Then they sent Vincent down... I think he should tell you his part."

"I went in, turned it off, came out, then this big old pervert made me get naked then hosed me down with freezing snot." Vincent said in an aggravated tone.

"You suck at story telling." Benny said flatly.

"Yeah. But I've got a cute butt. You said so." Vincent said triumphantly.

Channing couldn't help but laugh at the scarlet blush that crept up Benny's face.

"Anyway, after Vincent got back to the town hall, he beamed up to the ship. But the radiation or the storm or something made the transporter lose part of his signal. So even though it got him, it didn't know how to put him back together." Benny said uncomfortably.

"You mean he was lost in the transporter?" Channing asked in horror, that being one of his biggest phobias.

"Yeah. But Ensign Radovanovanovich was able to put him back together." Benny said happily.

"You gave him an extra 'van'." Vincent said in thought.

"I did?" Benny asked curiously.

"Yeah, his name is Radovanovich, you gave him an extra 'van'." Vincent said seriously.

"Oh well, he earned an extra 'van' for what he did today." Benny said with a smile.

"I'll tell him you said that." Vincent said playfully.

"So what happened?" Channing asked curiously.

"Oh, so Ensign.... the Ensign does all this really high level programming stuff, then hits the button and the transporter sounds like it's trying to pull a heavy load up a steep hill." Benny said in thought.

"Nice simile." Channing said with a smile.

"Thank you." Benny said proudly, then continued, "Then Vincent comes out of the transporter looking all chewed up and gooey."

"Thanks." Vincent said dryly.

Benny stood from the edge of the bed where he'd been sitting, then walked to Vincent's side to look closely at him.

"Is something wrong?" Channing asked with concern.

"No. I don't think so. He's just drying out. I think that's supposed to happen. When he came out of the transporter he was all gooey, but now he's getting crunchy." Benny said as he looked carefully at Vincent's skin.

"You make me sound like a candy bar." Vincent said with a smile.

"More like a prechewed jerky stick." Benny said in a teasing voice.

"Channing, if I asked you really nice, would you hit him for me?" Vincent asked hopefully.

"Sorry Vincent, I can't... Doctor's orders. But maybe you can talk to Chance about it when he comes in to visit." Channing said with a smile.

"Yeah, then you're gonna get it." Vincent said playfully in the general direction of Benny.

Benny smiled and sat back on the edge of the bed and said, "How about if I just don't call you a prechewed jerky stick anymore."

"That'll work." Vincent said in triumph.

Channing glanced at the boys, then rested back with a contented smile.

* * * * *

Commander M'Butu looked up with concern at the transporter beam forming beside him.

When he saw who it was, all thoughts of evacuation and tornados left his mind.

"He's going to be fine." Chief Morgan said with a glorious smile.

"Thank God!" Commander M'Butu said in a gust of relief.

Chief Morgan chuckled with delight as he nodded his agreement.

"Is he really okay?" Commander M'Butu asked hopefully.

"Well, he looks a little worse for wear, but from the way Evelyn was talking, he'll be just fine in a few days." Chief Morgan said carefully.

"Out with it Richard, what's wrong?" Commander M'Butu said firmly.

"He's perfectly healthy and in no pain. The only after effect seems to be a layer of damaged skin over most of his body that is quite... disturbing to look at. You'll need to talk to Evelyn to be sure, but from what I saw of him, I believe he's going to be just fine." Chief Morgan said seriously.

Commander M'Butu nodded, then noticed Rad standing beside Chief Morgan.

"Thank you Ensign." Commander M'Butu said sincerely.

"I'm just glad that Vincent's going to be okay. I thought for a minute that it didn't work." Rad said honestly.

"I'm going to expect a very detailed report from both of you about what caused the situation and how you resolved it. I believe that there are a few people at Starfleet who will be very interested." Commander M'Butu said speculatively.

"Oliver, do you think we might be able to tell Joe now? I'm sure he's quite concerned for his student." Chief Morgan said seriously.

"Come off it Richard. Joe is that boy's father. I don't care what any court paper or DNA test says, all you have to do is be looking into his eyes when you say Vincent's name to know it's true." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

Chief Morgan chuckled and said, "Quite right Oliver. Should we go tell him now?"

Commander M'Butu smiled and said, "He's upstairs. Come on."

* * * * *

"Pssst. Benny." Vincent whispered.

"What?" Benny whispered in return.

"Could you sneak out and get me some food? I didn't eat lunch today and I'm really hungry." Vincent asked hopefully.

"Why don't I just ask Dr. Perry if I can go get you something? She seemed nice. I don't think she'd mind." Benny asked seriously.

Vincent thought about it for a moment, then said, "Okay. If you want to do it that way."

"I'll be back in a few minutes. Don't go anywhere." Benny said with a smile.

Vincent knew the eye roll was wasted because Benny couldn't see it, but still felt that it had to be done.

"Are you really okay Vincent?" Channing asked from the next bed.

Vincent turned to face Channing's voice and said, "Yeah. I mean, I was scared back when I was on the planet because I thought that the radiation might kill me, but now... I'm fine. I mean, I feel okay and I know as soon as Dr. Perry has time to work on me she'll fix me back to like I was before."

Channing thought about the words, then said, "Vincent, you saved my life and that makes me feel like, not like I'm in debt to you, but like we have a special bond or something. If you're feeling afraid or alone or anything like that, I'm here for you. I'll listen to what you have to say and I'll honestly care."

"Okay. I do have a question for you. But you don't have to answer it if you don't want to." Vincent said carefully.

"Ask me anything you want." Channing said seriously.

"What's your first name? Everybody calls you Channing." Vincent asked with a smile.

Channing laughed and said, "My first name is Ellery."

"Oh. That's um... really.... um..." Vincent said brokenly.

"Yeah, that's what I say. My parents hated the name too. But my grandmother Channing just had to have me named after some guy we're related to from the 1800's that no one ever heard of." Channing said sourly.

Vincent giggled and said, "I never really liked the name Vincent before I came on the Yorktown. But now that I've heard everyone else's names, I don't think mine's so bad."

"Dr. Perry says that it's okay. Is there anything you especially do or don't like to eat?" Benny asked as he walked to the bed.

"Um. Not really. Just the usual stuff. If it's really bad for me, I'll probably love it. Just no milk to drink. I don't like milk." Vincent said seriously.

"No milk. Got it. I'll be back in a few minutes." Benny said, looking unsure about leaving Vincent alone.

Channing looked Benny in the eyes and gave an assuring nod, saying without words that he'd watch after Vincent.

Benny smiled and returned the nod before hurrying out the door.

* * * * *

Joe looked up and icy fingers of dread crept up his spine when he saw Commander M'Butu, Chief Morgan and Rad approaching... without Vincent.

"How is Vincent?" Darin asked desperately before Joe could find his voice.

"He's going to be fine." Chief Morgan said assuringly.

Joe wanted to be happy about the news, but couldn't help asking, "Going to be?"

Rad walked to Joe and pulled him into a tight hug before saying, "He's got some dead skin covering a good portion of his body, but he's really okay. Dr. Perry says that underneath it he's just fine."

"Thank you Rad." Joe said in relief as tears started streaking down his cheeks.

"Really?" Darin asked hopefully.

"Yes Ensign, Crewman Winters came through the experience wondering what all the fuss was about. When you transport to the ship you can see for yourself." Chief Morgan said peacefully.

Joe released Rad from the hug and gave him a grateful smile.

As Rad stepped away, Darin pulled him into a hug and said, "Thank you for saving Vincent. He was my first friend on the Yorktown."

Rad gladly returned the hug and realized just how good it felt to hold Darin in his arms.

"I'm glad I could help." Rad said quietly into Darin's ear.

Darin felt an involuntary shudder run through is body at the sensation of the warm breath on his ear.

Rad noticed the shudder and hoped it meant what he thought it did.

Susan and Jimmy were hugging each other in complete joy at the good news.

Commander M'Butu and Chief Morgan looked on with satisfaction at everyone's happiness.

"I suppose while I'm here I should check on the status of the shields." Commander M'Butu said to Joe with a casual smile.

"They're fine. The synchronized harmonic matrix that we've established is as stable as any shield configuration that I've ever seen. I think we've really accomplished something significant here Oliver." Joe said frankly.

"I think you're right. When this is all done, your team should get together and write a very detailed accounting of what you did here today. I get the feeling that there are some people at Starfleet that are going to be very interested in this new way of using the portable field generators. If I'm right, the new data bridge that you've developed will be standard issue on every Starship and Star base by the end of the year." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"We'll get right on it Commander. I have a feeling that you're right." Joe said in thought.

"And you should think of a name for it. As the inventors of the thing, you get the honor of naming it." Commander M'Butu said with a smile.

"The Cooper Bridge." Joe said without hesitation.

Darin looked at Joe with wonder and said, "I didn't build it, everyone worked on it."

Joe smiled at Darin's expression and said, "We'd be here huddling under shields, each one in a different building if it weren't for your idea. We all worked to construct the bridge, but without your idea, none of the rest of it would have happened."

"Then it should be called the 'Winters Bridge' because it was Vincent who inspired me to think about the shields like this." Darin said firmly.

"I'm sure Crewman Winters would appreciate the sentiment, but I agree with Lieutenant Bowers. Accept this honor and do your best to live up to it." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

"Yes sir. I'll try." Darin said in thought.

"Besides, I was going to name my transporter retrieval method after Vincent." Rad said with a smile at Darin.

"That sounds like a good idea." Commander M'Butu said in a considering voice.

Rad looked at Commander M'Butu with surprise, then said, "Wait. You're just saying that because my name is so long and difficult to spell, aren't you?"

"Yes Ensign, that is correct." Commander M'Butu said seriously.

* * * * *

"Could I talk to you for a minute?" Lieutenant Simms asked quietly as he walked to Benny's side in the serving line in the Mess Hall.

Benny felt a momentary spark of fear when he recognized the Security Officer, but it passed when he saw the concerned expression in Lieutenant Simms' eyes.

"Sure. I'm just getting some food for Vincent." Benny said hesitantly.

"Benny, what you did in the transporter room was very brave." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

Benny looked at Lieutenant Simms with question.

"Standing in front of me when I was about to fire my phaser. I could have killed you." Lieutenant Simms said with concern.

Benny nodded that he understood, then said, " Vincent risked himself to save all our lives. I couldn't let him be killed. Besides, I promised his father that I'd watch out for him."

"Where are your parents Benny?" Lieutenant Simms asked quietly.

"Dead. Our house caved in and... I wanted to help search for them but... the people in the town hall wouldn't let me. Then the whole thing with the reactor happened and I was the only one old enough and skinny enough who could help." Benny said in thought.

"I'm sorry... Benny, after all this is over I think there may be something I can do to help you." Lieutenant Simms said seriously.

"Help me? How?" Benny asked quietly.

"From what I've seen of you, you're brave and loyal. I think you would be an excellent candidate for Starfleet Security. You don't have to decide right now, but if that's something that would interest you, I can talk to a few people to help prepare you for entry into the academy. I would be honored to sponsor you and help you however I can." Lieutenant Simms said as he looked Benny in the eyes.

"I... yeah. I'd like that." Benny said in disbelief.

Lieutenant Simms shook his head and said, "Your life is in upheaval right now. Wait for things to settle down and see what other opportunities you have. Then when you're ready, think about it and let me know."

Benny hesitantly nodded.

Lieutenant Simms smiled and patted him on the shoulder as he said, "Now you should get Crewman Winters his food. I'm sure he's hungry after the day he's had."

Benny smiled and said, "Yeah. And thank you. I'll really consider it."

Lieutenant Simms smiled again, then walked away, leaving Benny with a variety of food selections before him.

* * * * *

"Crewman Winters, you have an incoming priority one transmission from Earth." Ensign T'Lani said as she pulled a video monitor on a swing arm away from the wall and adjusted it to be focused on Vincent.

"Do you know who it is?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"No. I was just told that it was a priority message for you from Earth." T'Lani said seriously, then asked, "Are you ready to receive the transmission?"

"Yes, thank you." Vincent said as he sat up a little straighter in the bed.

There was a long moment of silence, before Vincent finally said, "I can't see whoever it is. You'll have to talk to me."

"I'm sorry Vincent. I... I wasn't prepared for the sight of you." A voice said in a hesitant tone.

"I don't know.... Cory? Is that you?" Vincent asked cautiously.

"Oh, yeah. I'm sorry Vincent. The sight of you just shocked me a little. The report that I received didn't mention your... condition." Cory said reluctantly.

"I'm fine Cory. I guess I look bad, but I'm really okay." Vincent said honestly.

There was a long pause before Cory finally said, "When Starfleet received the reports about today's incidents, they contacted the Clan to let us know that you had been injured. I've been given a brief overview of what happened."

"One way of looking at this is that you did a very brave thing and saved a lot of lives. No matter what else happens, I'm very proud of what you did today." Cory said in a firm voice, obviously wanting to stress that he really meant it.

There was another long pause and Vincent felt a sense of apprehension growing in him. He could tell that Cory was building up to something.

"Another way of looking at it is that the people we trusted to train you to become an officer and see to your well being used you and were willing to sacrifice you for their own benefit." Cory added in an emotionless voice.

Vincent was stunned by the statement and couldn't think of any way to respond to that.

"I realize that things aren't always as they appear on the surface. I'm not there to investigate this and don't have any way of finding out what happened for myself so I don't feel that I should make the decision about what should be done next." Cory said in a considering voice.

Vincent could tell that whatever Cory was going to say next would most likely hold the key to his future.

"The Enterprise has been diverted to your location to help in the evacuation efforts. Rory will be there within two hours to talk to you and everyone else involved. Please try to understand that we're responsible for doing what's best for you, even when it isn't what you want. We don't want to shelter you from life or keep you from realizing your dreams, but at the same time, we have to be sure that you aren't being exploited."

Vincent heard Cory take a deep breath, as if bracing himself for something difficult.

"If Rory decides that it's in your best interest to be taken out of the mentoring program and brought back to Earth, I will support his decision completely." Cory said firmly.

Vincent's mouth fell open in shock at the statement.

"It's okay if you hate me for doing this Vincent. I'd rather you be alive and hating me than dead and thinking I'm really kewl." Cory said in a pained voice.

All Vincent could manage was a nod that he understood what Cory was saying.

"Short out." Cory said, then the transmission went silent.