ONE

Captains Log Stardate 2835.6 The USS Maverick is in orbit around Dalanta. The Dalantians submitted an application to become part of the Federation of Planets. Their application was approved and the Maverick was chosen to deliver the new ambassador and her entourage. The Dalantians have offered shore leave to the crew and I have granted it. First Officer Wilmington and myself will remain onboard and the crew will be permitted shore leave in shifts.

Captain Larabee ended his log and looked up at the view screen. Dalanta's blue and gold coloration filled the screen. The Captain had researched the planet and discovered their chief export was dilithium crystals. They were also listed as a pleasure resort. The planet boasted natural hot springs, hiking and mountain climbing. Chris was disappointed he wouldn't be able to take leave. He hadn't been mountain climbing, on a real mountain, in years. Granted he had a program on the holodeck but it wasn't the same. The challenge of climbing a real rock face and pitting your skills against the elements was missing. Also the safety protocols made it next to impossible to be hurt. Except if you were Lieutenant Tanner. Vin was notorious for by-passing the protocols. Being a Vulcan made it tough for him to be injured, but Chris worried every time he stepped into the holdeck.

As if he knew the Captain was thinking about him Vin turned in his direction. He smiled, then turned back to his console.

"Let me guess," Commander Wilmington commented. "You were thinking about him?"

"Yes," Chris said shaking his head.

"That is really spooky," Buck said with a smile.

Chris had to admit it was rather odd. The first time Vin stepped on board to become part of his crew Chris had felt the connection between them. Their silent communication drove the other five officers of the main crew crazy. Counselor Sanchez couldn't figure out how it worked but it intrigued him. Josiah figured that since humans had raised Vin, he was more comfortable with them than any other species. That was another thing that interested Josiah as well as the chief medical officer lieutenant Jackson. Vin didn't act like a typical Vulcan. He showed emotions and had one hell of a temper. Chris was watching the two youngest of his front line officers when his chief of security, Lieutenant Commander Standish, called him.

"Captain, Ambassador Calter wishes to speak with you," Ezra said, standing behind his security console.

"Put it on the screen," Chris said as he stood and pulled the short jacket into place.

"Captain Larabee," Calter greeted. "This is Viceroy Rulan."

A being stepped into the field and Chris smiled. The Dalantians were bird like in appearance. They had feathers for hair and their eyebrows were a soft down. The Viceroy reminded Chris of a falcon, all browns and grays. He also knew that they were fierce warriors and that their frail appearances could be deceiving.

"Viceroy Rulan, it's a pleasure to meet you," Chris said.

"The pleasure is mine Captain," he said with a bow. "The Dalantian people extend to your crew the privilege of shore leave."

"On behalf of the crew I accept," Chris said. "With pleasure."

"I look forward to meeting some of your crew," Rulan said. "The Ambassador informs me that a Vulcan is part of your crew. Is this correct?"

"It is Viceroy," Chris answered. He could see Vin trying to hide behind his console.

"I would be most pleased to meet him," Rulan beamed. "I hear they are a most intellectual race and very disciplined."

Vin shot Chris a pleading look. Buck tried to a hide a smile at Vin's desperate expression.

"Viceroy, I think there is something you should know," Chris said. "Lieutenant Tanner isn't your typical Vulcan. He was raised by humans and acts more like a human then a Vulcan."

"I see," Rulan frowned. "So he isn't disciplined and controlled like a Vulcan?"

"Let's just say Lieutenant Tanner is unique," Buck said laughing.

"A who is this?" Rulan asked.

"Viceroy Rulan, may I introduce my first officer Commander Wilmington," Chris answered.

"A pleasure to meet you," Rulan smiled. "I would still like to meet your Vulcan. Can you please join me for lunch?"

"We'd be honored to Viceroy," Chris agreed.

"Splendid!" he beamed. "I will see you in an hour."

The screen went blank and Buck laughed at Vin's expression.

"Captain, I can't meet the Viceroy!" Vin protested.

"Sorry, lieutenant, you don't have a choice," Chris sighed. He knew Vin wasn't comfortable with strangers. "The Dalantians haven't met many races so it's natural for them to be curious."

"But I'm not a Vulcan!" Vin protested.

"If you ain't, then what are you doing with them elf ears?" Buck teased.

"You know what I mean!" Vin said angrily. "Aw Hell!"

Buck burst out laughing at Vin's response. JD watched in silence. Sometimes he couldn't believe how the senior officers treated each other. Vin had turned back to his console and looked busy. Ezra was at the security console trying, unsuccessfully, to hide his smile. Chris just shook his head. JD decided to come to Vin's rescue.

"Captain," JD said. "me and Vin were supposed to go rock climbing."

"I know Ensign, and you'll get your chance, after lunch," Chris said. "Vin I want you in dress uniform. You too, Ezra, you'll be accompanying us."

"Captain I must protest," Ezra began.

"I don't want to hear it," Chris commanded. "You'll be going with us. You're both dismissed to get ready."

Vin headed for the turbo lift followed by a grumbling Ezra. Chris sat down in his command chair and thought Why me?

Chris walked into the transporter room an hour later to find Vin and Ezra waiting for him. Ezra was trying to fasten the high tight collar of Vin's dress uniform. Vin wasn't making it easy by squirming like a five-year-old. Chris smiled as Ezra told him to be still. Vin obeyed and Ezra was able to hook the collar. Chris noticed the long tunic style of the dress uniform made Vin appear even skinnier. Most officers hated this uniform. It was uncomfortable and its long style made it appear feminine. Chris noticed that Ezra's uniform was immaculate and well tailored. The gold and black of security complimented Ezra. Chris turned to Vin and saw that his slanted eyebrows were drawn together in a scowl. He decided that he better head down before Vin could rip off is uniform.

"Are you ready gentlemen?" Chris asked.

"Of course Captain," Ezra said.

"No," Vin said sullenly.

Chris moved to the transporter pad and Ezra dragged Vin over to stand next to him. Ezra nodded to the transporter chief and a familiar hum filled their ears as they disappeared from the ship to reappear in a garden. Once the tingling from the transporter stopped they looked around and saw Ambassador Calter and Viceroy Rulan standing by a fountain with their bodyguards.

"Captain Larabee," Calter said. "May I introduce Viceroy Rulan."

"A pleasure to meet you," Chris said placing his right hand over his heart and bowing. Vin and Ezra followed his example.

"I am flattered that you know the proper greeting for my position," Rulan smiled in delight.

Rulan walked around the three officers looking at them. Chris and Ezra's short hair revealed their ears but Vin's long hair covered his. The Viceroy moved closer to Vin and pushed his hair away revealing his pointed ears. Chris watched Vin flinch but he didn't pull away.

"Ah the Vulcan!" Rulan exclaimed. "I'm pleased to meet you."

"I'm honored to meet you also," Vin said with a bow.

"Come," Rulan said grabbing Vin's arm. "Let me show you around."

Vin looked towards Chris and glared. Chris smiled as they followed behind.

"I'm sorry Captain," Calter apologized. "I just casually mentioned you had a Vulcan as part of your crew. I never expected him to want to meet the Lieutenant."

"It's alright Ambassador," Chris said. "The experience will be good for him."

"It would appear Mr. Tanner has met his match when it comes to curiosity," Ezra commented.

"Yes, the Dalantians are very curious," she agreed. "I hope Lieutenant Tanner can be discreet in his answers."

"Don't worry," Chris assured her. "Vin won't break the Prime Directive."

When the Viceroy was done showing them around he led them to the reception hall for lunch. Chris noticed that the Dalantians came in every color imaginable. Ezra commented to the Viceroy that the females were most attractive. This pleased him as well as some of the females that heard his comment. Chris had to agree> The females had long hair feathers while the males' were short. They also seemed very delicate in appearance.

During lunch a pale blue female joined them. She was introduced as Tulara the First Concubine. Chris knew they could have up to three concubines but the first was the favorite. They sat talking and eating for awhile when Chris noticed Tulara staring at Vin. He almost burst out laughing when she ran her fingers through Vin's hair and he blushed. Tulara became alarmed when Vin's complexion became a darker shade and tinged green. Ezra had to excuse himself from the table as Tulara began to fuss over Vin causing him to blush even more. Vin could hear Ezra laughing around the corner and Chris knew that he would get revenge on Ezra back on the ship. The Ambassador finally rescued Vin and explained what happened. Tulara apologized to Vin and called to one of her attendants. A very pretty purple female walked over and Tulara whispered in her ear. The attendant bowed then left and they resumed their lunch. Ezra returned and apologized for his hasty departure. Tulara engaged him in a conversation while Rulan talked with the Ambassador. Chris glanced at Vin and saw Vin starring down at his plate trying not to draw attention to himself. The attendant returned carrying and animal that appeared to be a cat. The feline was about ninety pounds and was tan with darker brown stripes. The thing that surprised Chris was that the frail looking female carried the cat with out effort. Tulara took the animal from her and showed it to Vin.

"This is a Muralan, a native feline we have domesticated into pets," Tulara explained. "This is why I petted your hair. It seemed to be as soft as Lila's and I was curious. Forgive me?"

"Sure," Vin smiled. "No harm done. Can I see her?"

"Of course," Tulara said handing the feline to Vin.

The feline took an instant liking to Vin and began to lick his face and knead the front of his uniform. All the females laughed along with Rulan and Tulara. Vin wasn't sure if he had done something wrong and looked at the Ambassador. Calter was as confused as he was.

"It's alright, Vin, you did nothing wrong. Rulan said. "Lila has claimed you as her own. It would appear all of my females have taken a liking to you. Well, visitors I have enjoyed our lunch but I must get back to work. Ambassador, if you will join me?"

Rulan stood and clapped his hands. His bodyguards came to attention while the females gathered behind them. The purple female took Lila from Vin with a smile and waited for Tulara. Tulara bowed to them then turned to Vin and ran her hand through his hair and smiled. Rulan laughed and walked off with the Ambassador. The guards moved in around them and the females followed. Vin turned a deadly look to Chris and Ezra.

"Either of you says a word and I'll kill ya," Vin said as he stalked away.

Chris looked at Ezra and knew the crafty security officer would tell the others as soon as they were back aboard. They followed Vin and he waited for them by the fountain. Chris notified the ship to beam them up. The transporter chief adjusted some dials ad the three officers materialized on the transporter pad. Vin angrily walked off pulling at the collar of his uniform. Lieutenant Standish smiled and followed after him. Chris knew the incident would be all over the bridge as soon as Ezra got back up there. He didn't have to worry about it leaking to the general crew just to their small inner circle. He just hoped Vin would be a good sport.

The Captain thanked the chief and followed his officers. Vin usually took the others teasing in stride but Chris knew you could only push him so far. Vin was usually so easy-going that the others forgot Vin had a temper. Chris walked back to his cabin nodding to the other crewmembers as he passed. When he got back to the cabin he gladly removed the dress uniform and hung it up. If he knew Vin, the Vulcan had probably thrown it across his cabin to land in a pile of other uniforms. Chris had been to Vin's quarters twice and had watched as he hastily picked up various items thrown around the room.

Once Chris was dressed in the standard uniform, he headed for the bridge. He was surprised to see he had beaten Vin. Ezra, he noted was at his station busily at work. As he walked to the command chair Buck handed him the rotation list for shore leave. The crew would go down in shifts and Chris wasn't surprised to see Vin and JD's name at the top. Shore leave would start the next morning. They would be orbiting Dalanta for five days, which would be plenty of time for every one to take leave. Chris heard the turbo lift doors open and Vin walked out and over to his console. The female Ensign got up and smiled at him then headed off the bridge. Vin took his seat and ran a check on his console. His slender fingers flew over the board making minor adjustments. Chris was reading the day's reports when he heard a soft meow coming from Buck. Chris just closed his eyes and thought here we go. Buck continued a little louder and Chris glanced at Vin. Vin seemed to be ignoring Buck and he glanced at JD. JD had his shoulders hunched trying not to be noticed. Finally Vin turned around with a quizzical look on his face.

"Commander, I'm curious," Vin began. "Is that a new mating call? If it is I'm sorry to inform you that it won't work since there are no females on the bridge at this time."

JD burst out laughing and Chris could hear Ezra chuckling softly behind him. Buck knew when he was beat and laughed with the others. Vin turned back to his console with a wink to Chris.

TWO

The next day Chris held a meeting for the first shift going on shore leave. Buck followed him down to the transporter room and watched JD and Vin as Chris spoke. He could see JD was eager to be gone and wasn't really listening to the Captain. Vin, on the other hand, was listening to everything he said. Vin took everything Chris said seriously. He never disobeyed an order or broke any of the rules. Vin might bend them but he would never disobey them. When Chris was finished he motioned Vin and JD over. JD rolled his eyes and stepped off the transporter pads. The Chief sent the others down to the planet.

"You boys try to stay out of trouble," Buck warned.

"Aw, come on Buck," JD said. "We're not kids!"

"You are to me," Buck said. "Now you make sure you listen to what Vin tells you."

"Yes Dad," JD scowled.

"Now, Vin, you make sure he washes behind his ears and takes a nap," Buck instructed.

"Why would I make sure JD washes behind his ears?" Vin asked confused.

"Buck quit fussing," Chris said. "Vin, ignore him he's just teasing JD."

Vin shrugged and went back to checking his gear. Sometimes he just didn't understand Buck. Chris watched as Vin checked the equipment. He was meticulous with everything, checking his gear and JD's twice. Chris noticed they were both wearing lose fitting all-weather overalls. He knew that they were made from a special material that didn't snag or get caught while climbing. They had picked light colors since the Dalantian sun was hot. JD was in tan and Vin gray. They also had on flexible climbing shoes. Vin stopped checking the gear and frowned.

"What is it?" Chris asked.

"I'm not sure if we have enough food," Vin answered.

"Damn, Vin, you packed enough for ten days," JD complained impatiently. "Can we go now?"

"Go on Vin, "Chris smiled. "You've got enough."

"Besides if you need more you can always contact the ship," Buck reasoned.

"You did pack a medical kit right?" Nathan asked as he walked in carrying one.

"Oh Man!" JD cried. "Not you too!"

"If you don't trust me taking JD just say so!" Vin said annoyed.

"Easy, Vin we trust you," Chris said. "They're just teasing."

"Sorry, Vin," Buck said clapping him on the back. "I trust you."

"Really Buck, if you don't want me to take JD I won't," Vin said sincerely.

"Vin!" JD protested.

"Go, Vin, take JD with you," Chris commanded. "That's an order."

JD smiled knowing Vin would obey orders. Vin grabbed his pack and JD followed him onto the transporter pads. This was going to be great. He'd never been on leave with Vin before and they were going to have a great time rocking climbing. JD waved to Buck as the transporter started. The last thing Chris saw was the smile on Vin's face. Through the bond he sensed from Vin the feeling of responsibility and gratitude that they trusted him with JD.

"You have to stop teasing him like that Buck," Chris admonished. "Sometimes he just doesn't understand."

"I know," Buck said. "Why do I have the feeling this might have been a mistake?"

"Everything will be fine, Buck, you'll see," Chris said as he headed back to the bridge.

+ + + + + + +

JD and Vin appeared in the courtyard where Vin had met the Viceroy. This was also the transportation hub for the city where they could catch a ride out to the rock formation called the Aerie. Vin watched their gear while JD made arrangements for transportation. When he was finished, he joined Vin over by the fountain.

"Another hovercraft is leaving in thirty minutes," JD said as he handed Vin a ticket.

JD sat on the edge of the fountain and looked around the courtyard. The odd yellow flowers reminded him of sunflowers. That is until an insect landed on the petals and the flower closed trapping the insect. JD looked across the courtyard to see a large feline running in their direction. No one else in the plaza seemed alarmed but JD had never seen a cat that big.

"Ah Vin," he called nervously.

"What?" Vin asked.

As he turned the cat pounced on him throwing him to the ground. JD didn't know what to do and was about to call the ship when he realized Vin was laughing.

"It's alright JD," Vin said sitting up. "This is Lila."

JD was about to pet her when a female Dalantian came running towards them. When she got closer she scolded the cat in a language that was all whistles and chirps. Vin stood up as Lila climbed off. The purple female was the servant he had met the other day.

"I beg pardon," she said in broken Terran.

"It's OK," Vin said.

"Yeah no harm done," JD said.

Lila began rubbing against JD's legs and he would have fallen in the fountain if Vin hadn't caught his arm.

"Guess she like you too," Vin smiled.

"She is very affectual," she said.

"I think you mean affectionate," Vin said.

"Yes, forgive, please," she laughed. "Your words are very soft."

"Hard," JD smiled. "Our words are hard."

"What are you called?" she asked pointing to JD.

"JD."

"Me Skala," she smiled. "You go crawling?"

"Climbing," Vin corrected. "We're going to climb the Aerie."

"Very hard," she frowned. "Maybe climb something softer."

"We can handle it," JD said with confidence.

Vin sat petting Lila while JD talked with Skala. She was eager to learn new words and they laughed together when she used the wrong ones. The hovercraft arrived and they said good by. She waved to them as they moved away. The drive out to the formation would take an hour, so Vin decided to take a nap. JD watched the planet's odd vegetation through the window. The trees outside of town were huge and JD was surprised to see structures built amongst the upper branches. Once past the trees, the terrain switched to a flat plain covered in lush purplish grass that swayed in the breeze. In the distance JD could see a large rock formation and he guessed that was the Aerie.

A half-hour out of the city they came to the first hot spring. A resort was built close by and JD could see it was very popular. Hovercrafts of every description could be seen parked there. Most of the visitors were Dalantian but JD noticed a few Starfleet uniforms also. Past the resort more of the plains were seen and JD decided to take a nap. JD felt like he had only been asleep for a short time when he felt the hovercraft come to a stop. Vin sat up and talked to the driver. He explained they needed to be picked up in two days. The driver agreed and they got out. The driver wished them good fortune as he drove away. They shouldered their packs and headed for the rock.

"I figure we can get to the top by lunch," Vin said. "We can eat up there then come down and camp. There's a hot spring on the other side."

"Sounds good," JD said.

They hiked around to the hot spring and set up camp. After the tent was up they put on their climbing gear. They double-checked each other's harnesses before heading out. The last items Vin pulled out were two helmets and he threw one to JD. They decided to free climb with Vin climbing first since he was stronger. Vin slung the ropes over his shoulder and headed for the base of the formation. JD followed, buckling on his helmet. Vin inspected the face of the rock. When he was satisfied, he reached for the first handhold and began to climb. As Vin climbed he played out the rope. When he got to twenty-five feet, he found a hook sticking out of the rock. The brochure said all climbers must use pitons provided. The Dalantians wanted to preserver the formation as much as they could. Vin hooked the rope to it and continued climbing. JD saw Vin hook the rope to the piton and he held on to the end. If Vin fell JD would be able to stop his fall. When Vin got to the second piton, he anchored the second rope and threw it down to JD. JD tied off the first rope to be Vin's anchor then hooked the second rope to his harness and began to climb. The Pinnacle was 325 feet tall and by mid morning they were at the half way marker. Vin hooked the rope at the half way mark and looked down at JD's progress. He could see JD about fifty feet below him and he was doing fine. Vin looked up for his next handhold and resumed climbing. JD stopped to take a rest. He glanced up and saw Vin at the half way marker. When he was rested he searched for his next handhold. JD over estimated but realized it too late. JD tried desperately to hold on but he could feel himself losing his grip.

"FALLING!" he yelled.

Vin heard JD's cry and grabbed his rope. He was still close to the last piton and braced himself. JD fell thirty feet before he was painfully stopped. When he hit the end of the rope, the harness jerked painfully and he slammed hard against the surface. JD was dimly aware of someone calling his name. As his head cleared, he heard Vin call.

"JD! Answer me!"

"I'm alright," he called back.

JD opened his eyes to see he was looking straight down towards the ground. He maneuvered around to grasp the rope so he could pull himself around to face the mountain. Vin sagged in relief when JD finally answered him. It had been a few minutes and Vin was afraid JD was unconscious. He also discovered JD was heavier then he looked. Once JD finally got himself turned around he climbed up to the nearest piton and hooked the harness to it. He felt the rope go slack and knew Vin had let go.

"You sure you're alright?" Vin called down.

"Yeah I'm fine," JD said. "Keep going."

Vin waved down and resumed climbing. JD waited a little while longer to catch his breath. His right side was killing him. He had slammed up against the rock hard. JD was pretty sure nothing was broken but it sure hurt. When he was sure he could continue he started after Vin. They climbed for another two hours when Vin reached the top. He pulled himself over the edge and sat down. Vin anchored the rope holding JD just in case he fell again. A few minutes later JD's helmet popped over the edge and he climbed over. Securely on top, they both lay back staring up at the sky. After JD caught his breath he sat up and looked around.

"Wow!" he exclaimed in delight. "Look at the view!"

"It's great," Vin said as he sat up and removed his helmet.

Vin ran his fingers through his sweaty hair and looked towards the city. It was small but very visible in the distance. JD removed his helmet and stood up. Vin joined him and they explored the top of the Pinnacle. It was 100 feet wide and 200 feet long. They could see larger mountains in the far distance with snow covered peaks. Vin found the grass plains fascinating from their vantage point. They could see the grass swaying in the wind and as it did it would change colors from a pale blue to a deep purple. JD soon got bored watching and looked around some more. He went to the far side where he could see their camp. Farther back from the camp was a series of rocks that look like the backbone of some ancient animal. They weren't worth climbing but JD could see caves all along their sides.

"Hey, Vin look," JD said calling him over.

Vin got up and walked over to JD. He saw the caves and smiled.

"You thinking what I am?" JD asked.

"Yup," Vin smiled. "Looks like we're going to explore some caves tomorrow."

"Vin. Look... did you see that?" JD asked as he pointed back to the caves.

Vin looked again and saw beings wandering out of one of the caves.

"Looks like someone else had the same idea," Vin said. "Come on, let's eat. I'm starved."

Vin pulled various food packets out of his pack and they ate lunch overlooking the plains. They rested for a short while then decided to head back down before it got too late. Vin walked over to the ropes. He had pulled them up and they were coiled by the edge. Vin tied each of them to a piton then threw them over the side. JD came over to him and they both hooked the ropes to their harness to rappel down the side. They both put on their helmets. Vin gave JD a mischievous look.

"Last one to the bottom cooks diner!" he announced as he fell over the side.

JD jumped and began to rappel down. He realized he didn't stand a chance when he saw Vin was facing towards the ground and running down the side of the rock. Vin got to the bottom first and waited for JD. Once he was on the ground he gave Vin an odd look.

"You're crazy," he said.

"Maybe a little, but it was fun," Vin smiled.

Vin hit a button on his sleeve and the ropes came tumbling down the side of the cliff. They coiled the ropes then headed back for camp. Vin stowed the gear inside the tent while JD went looking for firewood. Vin came back out of the tent carrying a change of clothes for each of them. When JD came back he threw his clothes at him.

"Come on let's go take a swim then soak in one of those hot springs," Vin said.

JD followed Vin to the pool. Vin stripped down to his briefs then jumped in. Once he was in the water he pulled them off and threw them on shore. JD smiled as he stripped down. It was odd to see that Vin was modest about his body. Buck always joked about it and he was surprised Vin had never gotten mad. Once all his clothes were off JD jumped in also.

'Damn!!!!" JD yelped as his head broke the surface. "That's cold!"

"I wasn't expecting that either," Vin laughed. "It must be fed from under ground."

"Forget this," JD complained. "I'm going in one of the hot ones."

JD got out and walked over to one of the smaller pools. He stuck his toe in and found it pleasantly warm. This pool was much smaller and he lowered himself into it. He was surprised to find the sides were smooth and seats were carved into them.

"Hey Vin!" JD called "This one's nice."

JD closed his eyes and pretended to relax. He heard Vin get out of the pool and walk over. When he heard Vin get into the pool he opened his eyes.

"This is nice," Vin said. "They must have figured after climbing people would soak in one of the pools. I wonder if they're all carved with seats?"

"Probably," JD sighed in contentment.

Vin glanced at JD and noticed the huge bruise on his side as he leaned back.

"Oh damn!" Vin said running his hand over the bruise.

"OW!" JD protested.

"Buck's going to kill me," Vin sighed.

"No he won't," JD reassured him. "Besides he'll never know. You can just hit me with a hypospray when we get back to camp and it will be fine by morning."

"I can't," Vin said quietly. "I forgot the medical kit."

JD started laughing. After all the preparation on the ship Vin actually forgot something. Vin confessed he didn't want to call the ship for it because he didn't want to be lectured about it. JD said it wasn't necessary, that he was only bruised. Besides, the hot spring was making it feel much better. They soaked in the pool until the sun started to go down. JD let Vin get out first and get dressed. After Vin left to go back to camp JD got out and dried off, then got dressed. When he got back to camp Vin had a fire started and they cooked dinner. After dinner they sat around the fire talking. Vin went into the tent and came back with a bag of marshmallows.

"Oh wow!" JD said as he hunted a stick. "I didn't even think of those."

"I read about them in a book," Vin said. "What do you do with them?"

"Here I'll show you," JD said.

JD explained that you put them on the end of a stick and roasted them over the fire. Vin gave it a try but lost the first two in the flames. JD smiled and told him to hold it a little further away. Once he got the hang of it Vin roasted one to perfection then took it out of the fire. JD watched as he tentatively tried it. JD had already eaten four of them. Vin smiled in delighted after he ate it then roasted some more. After he'd had six JD took the bag away.

"Maybe we better save some," JD suggested. "Some people can get sick from eating too many."

"Really, why?" Vin asked.

"Um, I'm not sure," JD said

Vin shrugged and went to wash up. Sometimes Vin's questions came out of nowhere. JD wasn't as good at answering them as Chris or Ezra was. Sometimes Vin and Josiah could start talking about something and Vin would just ask all sorts of questions. JD just figured he didn't have the patience to answer them. JD washed up also and they both crawled into the tent to go to sleep.

The next morning they woke early and broke camp. When everything was packed they sat down to a cold breakfast. When they were finished they shouldered their packs and headed for the caves. Vin figured they were about two hours from the camp. As they hiked Vin asked JD about living on Earth. Vin had never been there and was curious. JD tried to answer his questions as best he could. As they got closer to the hills they saw the first cave. When they came up to it they peered in and saw it was shallow and didn't go very far back. They decided to check out some of the others. As they were walking Vin saw something up ahead and he pulled JD behind an outcropping. JD was about to question him when Vin put his fingers to his lips. He watched as Vin shrugged his pack off and he did the same thing. Vin looked around the edge of the rock keeping out of sight. JD did the same thing and they were both surprised at what they saw. Cardassians.

Vin signaled for him to stay close. JD followed Vin as he sneaked around the rocks towards one of the larger caves. A group of Cardassians and Dalantians were out front talking. Inside the cave, Vin could just make out wooden crates. He motioned to JD and they moved closer. When the group turned their backs, they snuck into the cave. Vin moved further back before he decided to look in one of the crates. He pried open the top with his fingers. When he looked inside he cursed softly.

"What is it?" JD whispered softly.

"They're producing Metagenic weapons," Vin answered. "They were outlawed by the Federation. Their genetic altering properties were too devastating."

"That they were," said a Cardassian. "But they serve our purpose."

The Cardassian raised a rifle and Vin pushed JD out of its line of fire. Vin felt the blast hit his side and he cried out and crumpled to the floor.

"VIN!" JD cried.

He ran to the fallen Vulcan but stopped when he felt a tearing sensation across his chest. He looked down to see what looked like claw marks. JD looked up to see a Dalantian standing in front of him licking his fingers. Thatís when he noticed their fingernails were actually talons. He was about to rush the Dalantian when he felt a blow to the back of his head and the world went dark.

CONTINUE

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