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Chapter 21

Hoshi entered the Armory and, not seeing Malcolm working with the rest of the crewmen, she entered his office area. When he didn't notice her presence, she cleared her throat. He looked up and paused for a moment as if surprised by her visit, then stood to welcome her.

"Ensign, it's good to see you. Please have a seat."

Hoshi closed the door behind her and lowered herself into the chair on the other side of Reed's desk.

"'Ensign, Malcolm?"

His cheeks colored. "My apologies, Hoshi. I guess I'm in work mode."

"You're looking better."

"Thank you. Every day I'm feeling stronger."

"I brought you a data file."

He looked at her questioningly.

"It contains two data transmissions. As you probably know, the communication system is being upgraded, so I downloaded these items to a file so you could see them immediately. One is from Lyn and one is from your brother."

Withdrawing a data file from her pocket, she handed it to Malcolm. Their hands touched during the exchange and for a brief moment, time stopped.

He cleared his throat to hide his emotion. "You didn't have to bring this down, Hoshi. I could have come to you."

"It was no problem. Crewman Casey is monitoring the upgrade. Besides I think he likes me...ah...you know...a lot...and the feeling isn't mutual. So it was good to be able to leave the bridge." Hoshi rose to her feet. "I'll leave you alone to view the messages."

"You don't have to leave, Hoshi," he said, rising as well.

"I appreciate that, Malcolm, but I think you should have some privacy. If you like, I'll be taking a late dinner break. Perhaps we could speak then?"

"Actually, I'd appreciate it if you would stay."

"You're sure?"

"Please."

Hoshi moved her chair over to the other side of the desk so they could both see the videos. Popping the data file into his terminal, Malcolm chose to listen to Lyn's message first.

The image of a very happy Lyn Piedmont greeted him.

"Malcolm, I didn't have time to speak to you directly, but I wanted to let you know how much we appreciate what you've done for us.

"A few weeks ago we heard from Michael's lawyers. Not only did Michael relinquish all rights to Kyle so Harold could adopt him, but he set up a trust fund for him." Lyn's eyes glistened with soon-to-be shed tears. "We won't have to worry about Kyle's education now; it's quite amazing!" Lyn looked up and scooted over on the bench she was seated on to make room for her husband and son.

"Malcolm," the other man began, "I know we haven't spoken before but I can't possibly let you know how much this all means to me. I've always loved Kyle like a son, and now we can be father and son legally as well." The big man also looked like he was going to cry. "Next time you're back on Earth, I'd love to meet you. Maybe we could take in a baseball game or something. It's your call." Harold grinned and nodded his head.

Hoshi wrapped one arm around Malcolm's shoulders and gave him a comforting squeeze. Looking somewhat embarrassed, Malcolm smiled at her.

"Kyle, wave bye-bye to your uncle," Lyn prompted. The boy's chubby fingers flapped at the camera.

"Attached to this message you'll also find those pictures of Kyle you wanted. We'll send you more from time to time. Thanks again, Malcolm, and if there's anything we can ever do for you, please let us know."

The new family smiled into the camera just before the screen went black. Clicking on the attachments, Malcolm soon saw the smiling face of his nephew. One picture showed Kyle at the park and another dressed up for Halloween as a bear. He closed the pictures and clicked on the next message.

"They sure look like a happy family. Kyle is just adorable," Hoshi said. "I suppose I should tell you that when you took that call from Lyn a few weeks ago, I thought for sure she had been an old girlfriend. I'm afraid I was a bit jealous." She removed her arm from around Malcolm's shoulders and gave his hand a squeeze.

"Jealous?" Dare he hope she cared about him more than being just a friend?

"Yeah." Hoshi giggled. "Let's see to the next message."

"Sure."

Malcolm queued the next item to play. He wasn't sure what to expect, but it wasn't a newsfeed from the Associated Space Press.

An older man with salt-and-pepper hair dressed in a brown suit addressed the camera. "Welcome to the ASP Evening News Report. Tonight we'll bring you the last report from Michael Leighton from the Starship Enterprise. As I'm sure you know, Michael's been providing print and video reports from the Starship Enterprise over the past several weeks. I'm sure we've all learned a lot from the previous reports and have enjoyed getting to know the crewmembers of Enterprise, not to mention the special report on that remarkable alien rescue mission. Tonight, Michael provides a glimpse of one more member of the Enterprise crew. Someone he's known personally for a very long time. Michael?"

The next view was of his brother perched casually on the edge of what Malcolm could only surmise was his desk. He was dressed in a tweedy grey-blue jacket, grey shirt, and dark grey-colored slacks. He smiled at the camera and began. "Thank you, William. I should begin by telling our viewers that this report was not one I had originally planned when I left Earth to join the Enterprise crew. As such, some of the video you will see will not appear as professional as those you've viewed in the past. Nonetheless, this report is probably the most important one I've made to date. Not only has this crewmember exhibited extreme professionalism and integrity, but I've learned a great deal from him -- most importantly, responsibility. This is his story."

The video, accompanied by piano music, showed clips of Malcolm's life on the ship. Enterprise's armory officer was shown working on the bridge, interacting with his fellow officers and looking spit and polished; sweaty and dirty in the armory as he worked on his back underneath the torpedo launcher; and in the mess hall with a food tray in front of him and his dataPADD propped open as he slept with his head next to it on the table.

Michael finally appeared on the video again. "As you may have noticed, the individual you just saw bears a remarkable resemblance to yours truly." The reporter grinned. "He's actually my twin brother, Malcolm Reed. Growing up, we fought and argued for what seemed all the time. Actually, he'd tell you that he grew up, and I stagnated." He paused and shook his head. "Malcolm would be right. But I would hope that during my time on his ship that I've managed to mature just a little bit. Oh sure, I'll probably always be getting into trouble, and I'm sure from time to time, he'll be disappointed with me, but I would hope he'll finally be able to look at me with some type of respect, for I know I've come to respect him. Malcolm," Michael gave the camera a sloppy salute, "until we meet again. This is Michael Leigh...er Michael Reed reporting for the ASP. Back to you, William."

Hoshi found that Malcolm was looking stunned. He was looking at the now blank screen and was clutching her hand as if it were his anchor to reality.

"Thank you for sharing this with me," Hoshi said, her voice soft and comforting.

Malcolm turned to look at her, his cheeks wet with tears. "I'm glad you stayed. It means a lot."

"It's what friends do for each other."

Each looked at the other wishing, but afraid to say, that perhaps they could be more than friends.

The End

Again, a special thank you to Kathy Rose for writing the news article about Trip and Malcolm's experiences on Risa. Kathy you are the best! This story wouldn't have seen the light of day without your assistance and support!