NIGHTMARES AND DREAMS
Disclaimer: Three days ago I received a letter from Paramount turning all rights to Star Trek over to me. I was granted all creative licensing and was informed that Will and Deanna are now mine to do with what I wish………then I woke up.
Alas, Paramount is still Lord and Master of all things Trek. I think I’ll go back to sleep now. Spoilsports.
The soft sounds of Bach filled the room. The lights were dimmed to a soft romantic glow. For the two people lying entwined in each other’s arms, nothing existed outside their own private universe. A universe created by the love they shared.
Deanna Troi and Will Riker slept peacefully as the USS Enterprise-E continued its journey through the stars.
Deanna came awake slowly, stretching with feline grace as her eyes flickered open. Leaning up on one elbow, she gazed lovingly at the man beside her. She marveled at how innocent and boyishly vulnerable her beloved looked in sleep. She smiled to herself, imagining how Will would react to being labeled as anything less than completely confident and self assured.
Deanna glanced at the chronometer on her bedside table, and groaned. 0600 hours. She and Will were due on the bridge at 0700 sharp to begin alpha watch.
Deanna ran her index finger down Will’s bearded cheek, hating to wake him up, but knowing there was no alternative.
Will’s eyes opened slowly and a welcoming smile drifted across his face. “You certainly are a beautiful sight to wake up to,” he whispered, sleep still evident in his voice.
Deanna smiled, “Good morning, Imzadi.” She leaned down and molded her lips to his in a passionate kiss that had Will instantly awake and groaning hungrily.
With a light laugh, Deanna rolled away from his ardent embrace. “No time for that, my love. We have less than an hour to shower, dress and grab some breakfast before we report for duty.”
As Deanna tried to get out of bed, Will’s arms wrapped around her from behind. He turned her around in his arms. “We have plenty of time,” he whispered against her mouth, pulling her back under the covers.
Deanna placed a dish of Eggs Benedict in front of Will before sitting down to her own breakfast across the table from him. They had exactly ten minutes to eat before they were due on the bridge.
Their early morning “ritual” had become a regular occurrence in the past seven months. Surprising enough, they had never once been late for a shift.
Taking a sip from her mug of hot chocolate, Deanna smiled innocently at Will. “So, when are you going to tell me where we are going on our shore leave?”
Will grinned playfully, “When we get there.”
Deanna stared at him intently, not saying a word.
Will laughed “Stop trying to read my mind, Deanna. You are not telepathic, remember?”
Deanna threw her napkin at him. “With you I am. Usually. When did you get so good at blocking me?” Deanna pouted slightly.
“About 12 years ago,” he responded dryly.
“Aw, c’mon, Imzadi, tell me where we are going. How am I supposed to pack if I don’t know what sort of clothes I need?”
“No, Imzadi, it’s a surprise. And don’t go trying to wheedle it out of Beverly, either.”
“Beverly knows! Will, this is completely unfair! Can’t you give me a little hint?”
Will just smiled enigmatically. “Sorry, you are just going to have to wait. Drives you crazy, doesn’t it?”
Deanna’s somewhat rude response was drowned out by the captain’s voice over the intercom. “Picard to Riker.”
Will tapped his combadge “Riker here”
“Number One, please report to the bridge at once. Bring Counselor Troi with you.”
Will raised his left eyebrow. Although the captain was aware of Will and Deanna’s relationship, he had never eluded to it on official channels. “On our way, Captain”
Deanna placed their breakfast dishes in the replicator. “I wonder what’s up”
Will shrugged as they headed out the door. “Maybe he decided it was a waste of time to contact us separately.” Will smiled again as he waited in the corridor for Deanna. “Ready, Counselor?”
Deanna slipped unconsciously into a professional demeanor. “Ready, Commander.”
“What are the coordinates of the alien vessel, Lt. Blackwell?” Captain Jean-Luc Picard paced in front of his chair impatiently.
The young lieutenant at conn checked the readings again. “Bearing 274 mark 5, Sir. They seem to be dead in space.” She turned her head toward the captain in concern.
Picard tugged at his tunic in a gesture that has been jokingly referred to as “The Picard Maneuver”
The turbo lift door opened, delivering Commanders Troi and Riker to the bridge.
“Situation, Sir?” Riker asked as he and Deanna took their seats.
“We received a distress call from an unknown vessel that appears to be adrift, Number One.” Picard turned to the android sitting stoically at the ops panel. “Life signs, Mr. Data?”
Data tapped a few controls on the console in front of him. “Very faint, Captain. Humanoid. However, life support is failing.”
Riker pinched the bridge of his nose and glanced at Deanna. She smiled slightly, giving him her silent support. “How long do they have?”
Data consulted his panel again. “One hour, twenty-three minutes, and 16.2 seconds, Commander.”
Picard took his seat. “Go to Yellow Alert. Helm set course for their coordinates, warp 7.” The captain tapped a control on his right. “Picard to sickbay.”
“Crusher here, Captain.”
“Doctor Crusher, we are on our way to intercept an apparently damaged vessel. The crew may be in need of medical attention. Please have your staff prepared.”
“Acknowledged, Captain. Crusher out.”
Within minutes the Sovereign class starship was in range of the unknown vessel. Picard stood up, once again tugging on his tunic. “Mr. Data, status.”
“All systems are off line except life support. There is heavy damage to the outer hull. The distress signal is still being broadcast on all frequencies. We are reading faint life signs, Sir.”
Riker leaned forward in his seat. “Are they conscious?”
“Unknown. All attempts at communication have failed. Whether due to damage or the lack of consciousness is impossible to determine at this time.”
Will turned to Deanna. “Counselor, are you sensing anything?”
“Fear, anger, an overwhelming sense of helplessness,” Deanna shuddered. “Intense pain. At least some of the crew is awake and very much aware of their situation.”
Riker stood up quickly and moved toward the turbo lift. He tapped his combadge. “Dr Crusher, Commander LaForge, report to transporter room three. Lieutenant McClure, you’re with me.”
Security Chief Thomas McClure stepped into the turbo lift behind his commanding officer. Will met Deanna’s eyes and winked.
~Be careful, Will, ~ Deanna sent.
~Aren’t I always? ~ Echoed in her mind as the turbo lift’s door closed.
The Enterprise away team materialized on what seemed to be the bridge of the crippled vessel. Weapons drawn, they began to make their way through the rubble, looking for survivors. The smell of burned electronics permeated the air.
Beverly Crusher opened her tricorder and began scanning for life signs. “Over here!” She stepped over what was at one time a command console and knelt down next to a semiconscious male. She performed a quick scan and looked up at Will Riker in surprise. “He’s human, Will. Both legs are broken and he has a serious concussion.”
Will knelt down beside the injured man. “Can you hear me? Where is the rest of your crew?”
The man stirred slightly. “Only…one…other…” His voice was raspy and full of pain. “My...sister…Jaina…She…was…in…her…cabin… when… we… were…attacked.”
Will looked at the doctor, startled. “Beverly, get this man to sickbay. We will find his sister. Riker to LaForge.”
“LaForge here, Commander.”
“Geordi, what is the status of this ship’s systems?”
“Extensive damage has been sustained to all main systems. The technology is unfamiliar, but I believe we can repair the damage, given time. Unfortunately, life support seems to be on auxiliary power and is failing rapidly. I estimate that we have approximately ten minutes of oxygen left.”
“Understood. Away team to Enterprise.”
“Go ahead, Number One.”
Riker stood up and began scanning for life signs. “Captain, Dr. Crusher is beaming back to sickbay with an injured man. There is one other person still unaccounted for, and we have less than ten minutes of life support left. The rest of us will stay behind to locate the missing girl.”
Within seconds, Dr. Crusher and her patient disappeared in a transporter beam.
Riker turned on his flashlight, and moved quickly into what seemed to be the living quarters. Time was of the essence now. Will stepped over fallen conduits and scorched furnishings. “Hello, is anybody there?” Will shone his flashlight around the room, listening intently for the slightest sound. His tricorder readings were showing definite life signs in the vicinity. As the beam from his flashlight passed over the center of the far wall, Riker saw movement in the shadows. He moved that direction rapidly.
Lying on the floor, her lower body trapped beneath the remains of a replicator unit, was the second most beautiful woman Will Riker had ever seen. Her raven black hair was matted with blood and stuck to her head, and her face was a mass of bruises; nevertheless, Will could see her obvious beauty. He knelt beside her quickly. “Can you hear me?”
The young woman’s voice came out a raspy whisper. “Yes. Where is Jacen?”
Will brushed her blood soaked hair back gently. Jaina winced in pain. “Shh. Hold still and be quiet. We will have you out of here in no time. Don’t worry about your brother; he has been taken to our ship.”
Jaina tried to sit up. “Who are you?”
Will pushed her gently back down. “Commander William Riker of the Federation Starship Enterprise.”
Jaina sucked her breath in sharply. Will, assuming she was in pain, immediately tried to move the rubble off her.
Will Riker is a rather strong individual; however the heavy piece of machinery was too much for him to budge on his own. Riker tapped his combadge. “Riker to LaForge. Geordi, I need you in the living quarters right away. We have a woman trapped and in dire need of medical attention.”
“On my way, Commander.”
Will spoke gently to the young woman beside him, “Hang in there, sweetheart. Help is on his way.”
Seconds later, Geordi LaForge came through the door. “We have to hurry, Sir. Life support will not last much longer.”
Will grunted and gestured toward the wreckage. “The sooner we get this off of her, the sooner we can get out of here.”
Working together, Riker and LaForge were able to free Jaina in just a few minutes.
Thomas McClure stepped through door. “Commander, the rest of the ship is empty.”
“Very good, Mr. McClure. Let’s get the hell out of here. Riker to Enterprise. Lock on to my signal and transport myself and one other directly to sickbay. Then beam the rest of the away team back.”
“Aye, Sir” answered the disembodied voice of the transporter chief.
Less than a second passed before Will felt the familiar tingling of the transporter beam.
The small ship rocked under the force of a torpedo blast. Jacen gripped the console in front of him, trying to keep his balance. Fire erupted behind him as another panel exploded. “Jaina, get up here.” He yelled to his sister. “Shields are at fifty percent and the engines are failing. I don’t know how long I can keep her together.”
Another blast hit, knocking the power out completely. Seconds later, auxiliary power kicked in, restoring functionality.
Jacen, an expert pilot, struggled in vain to outmaneuver the Warbird that was determined to blow them apart. His small personal transport vessel was no match for the massive piece of machinery hounding it.
Jaina ran through the door with a fire extinguisher, deftly putting out the many blazes around her. “Jacen, we can’t fight them! We have to get out of here!”
“I’m trying, Jaina! How far are we from our destination?”
Jaina consulted a panel to her left. “Approximately five minutes. We’re not going to make it.” Jaina hated the sound of panic in her voice. She had been taught better. She knew better. She had been trained extensively for this mission, they both had. She had actually expected something to happen. She had not, however, anticipated a Warbird.
As if reading her mind, Jacen turned to her with a tight smile. “Relax, Sis. We have come too far to fail now.” He turned his attention back to the panel in front of him. “I’m rerouting power to increase the engine efficiency. We just have to outrun them for a few more minutes. As soon as we reach our destination, we will be home free; so to speak.”
A shadow crossed Jaina’s face. “Will we?”
“Of course we…” Jacen’s voice trailed off. Jaina turned to see what had caught her brother’s attention, and gasped in amazement. A brilliant blue light flashed across the forward view screen.
“Oh my Gods! We made it!” Jaina’s whispered exclamation was filled with awe. “Jacen, we’re here.” She watched the wormhole open in front of them like a giant mouth, ready to swallow them.
“Let’s hope we get through it before that Warbird blows us to smithereens.”
Jaina suddenly brought her left hand up to her throat. She squealed, sounding like she was in extreme pain. “Jace! My locket! It’s gone.” Jaina spun around and raced through the door, headed for her cabin. “I have to find my locket!”
Jacen snapped his head in her direction. “What? Jaina, are you crazy? Get back in here.”
As the young man jumped to his feet, intending to follow his sister, the personal transport ship was once again hit by enemy fire. Jacen was thrown against the flight control console and doubled over, as he heard a crash, then a scream of horrific pain, coming from the room behind him. “Jaina!”
Trapped beneath a large piece of machinery, Jaina bit back another scream of pain. “I’m fine, Jacen.” She lied. “Just get us through that wormhole!”
Jacen pulled himself back into his chair and quickly punched a few buttons on the console, activating the autopilot and an automated distress signal on all known frequencies. If they did make it through the wormhole, that is about as far as they would make it. Jacen hoped there would be someone on the other side to hear.
The craft was just seconds from the wormhole. Another volley of shots came from the enemy Warbird. Fortunately, the blast was enough to propel them into the wormhole. Unfortunately, the final hit was also enough to throw Jacen over the flight control station and head first into the view screen. The young man was unconscious before his body hit the floor.
Jaina woke up with start, her scream dying in her throat as she looked around in confusion. Where was she? She tried to sit up. Pain shot through her head like a lightning bolt. She could not prevent the scream that escaped her lips this time.
“Lie still. You sustained multiple injuries. We were able to patch you up pretty well, but you are going to be miserable for a few days.”
Jaina turned her head slowly toward the soft voice. A pretty redhead stood over her with a friendly, concerned smile on her very familiar face. No, it can’t be! Jaina thought to herself, closing her eyes. This is not happening. Jaina opened her eyes again, and groaned. The smiling woman was still there. “W-where am I?” She whispered, afraid she already knew the answer.
Beverly Crusher ran a tricorder over her patient’s body. “You are on the USS Enterprise. We answered your distress signal and rescued you and your brother. I’m Doctor Beverly Crusher.”
Jaina moaned. “Jacen? Where is Jacen?”” Jaina tried to sit up again.
Beverly pushed her gently back down. “He’s in the next room over. Do not worry. He will be fine in a few days, same as you. You can see him soon. Right now you both need rest.”
Jaina shook her head frantically, causing herself more pain. “No, I need to see him right away. We made a horrible mistake! We shouldn’t be here!” Jaina struggled weakly.
Beverly gave the young girl her most stern “Doctor” look. “Jaina, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to have to sedate you. I’m sorry, but you cannot get out of this bed yet. You are much too weak.”
Jaina moaned. “Please, you don’t understand…”
Beverly smoothed the girl’s hair back gently. “What is it?”
Jaina opened her mouth to answer, but was interrupted by a soft, melodic voice behind the doctor. “Beverly, are you ready for lunch?”
“Almost, Deanna. I just need to check on my other patient.” Beverly patted Jaina’s hand and pulled a blanket over her. “Now I want you to get some sleep, ok?” Beverly turned away to leave, affording Jaina a view of the dark haired woman standing in the doorway.
Deanna’s eyes met Jaina’s from across the room. Jaina whimpered softly and turned her head away. Deanna narrowed her eyes in surprise, sensing the most peculiar combination of both elation and fright, briefly, before she lost all sense of the girl.
Beverly turned back toward the bed. “Jaina?”
Tears leaked out of Jaina’s tightly closed eyes. “Leave me alone. Please? If I can’t see my brother, then I just want to be left alone.”
Beverly injected a dose of painkillers into Jaina’s arm via a hypospray. “Ok. This will help you sleep.”
Beverly walked toward a door leading to the other critical care room. “I’ll be right with you, Deanna.”
Deanna barely heard her friend. She was too busy staring at the young girl lying on the bed. Although the girl looked vaguely familiar, Deanna was sure she had never seen her before. So why then, did she give Troi a feeling of recognition and unease?
Ten Forward was bustling with activity when Crusher and Troi arrived. They made their way through the crowd to their customary table, catching Guinan’s eye as they passed. Guinan nodded slightly, acknowledging their presence as they took their seats.
Beverly smiled ruefully. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m starving! It feels like a century since breakfast.”
Deanna laughed slightly. Her mind was still occupied by the strange encounter in sickbay. Why had Beverly’s latest patient reacted so strongly to being here?
“Deanna?” Beverly waved her hand in front of her friend’s face. “What’s up with you? You haven’t heard a word I’ve said.”
Deanna turned her attention back to her lunch companion. “I’m sorry, Bev. I was just thinking about that girl. She seemed very… distraught”
Beverly shrugged. “Well of course she is, Deanna. She went through a traumatic experience.”
Deanna inclined her head thoughtfully. “I know that. It’s just that I sensed something strange. It was not directed at the attack on her ship, but more on being here on this ship. She seemed terrified.”
Beverly picked up her fork as Guinan set their food in front of them. “She’s in an unfamiliar place. I would be frightened too. Although,” she said thoughtfully, spearing a delicate piece of fish and placing it in her mouth. She took the time to chew and swallow the succulent seafood before continuing. “I did notice something very unusual. Their DNA suggests they are mostly human…”
“Mostly?” Deanna interrupted.
Beverly took a slow drink of her iced tea. “MMM-HMM, there seems to be a part of their genetic make up that is not human, but I can’t tell what it is.”
Deanna tapped her fingernails on the table. “But Will said…”
“What did I say?” A wonderfully familiar voice asked from behind Deanna.
Deanna smiled up at him as Will came around her chair and kissed her softly. “Hi,” Will whispered, smiling into her fathomless black eyes.
“Hi, yourself.” Deanna whispered back.
Rolling her eyes, Beverly pushed a chair toward Will with her foot. “Have a seat, Commander.” Beverly shared a look with Geordi, who had walked up behind Riker. “I swear these two act like it’s been years since they last saw each other.” Secretly, Beverly thought it was adorable how wrapped up in each other her two best friends were.
Laughing, Geordi sat down. “Well they do have a lot of years to make up for.”
Will turned his chair around and straddled it. “Stuff it, Doc.” He said good-naturedly. He swiped a stuffed mushroom off Deanna’s plate and popped it in his mouth. Then took a long drink from her glass.
Deanna took her drink back. “Get your own.”
Riker just grinned. “No thanks, I’m not hungry. So what were you ladies talking about? I heard my name, so it must have been something extremely exciting.”
Deanna made gagging sounds as Beverly rolled her eyes again.
“Deanna, tell me the truth,” Beverly said with a smirk. “How do you sleep in the same bed with him and his ego?”
Deanna’s giggle turned into a full-fledged laugh when she saw the stricken look on Will’s face. “I make one of them sleep on the floor.”
Geordi choked on his synthehol. “Which one?”
Deanna began to answer, but Will shot her a stern look “That’s enough, Counselor.”
Deanna forced the grin from her face. “Yes, Sir, Commander, Sir!” She mocked.
Unable to help himself, Will began laughing, too.
After a few minutes had passed and they had attracted the attention of everybody in the room, the four friends finally settled down.
“Seriously, you two seemed to be having an intense conversation when Geordi and I came in. Is there anything wrong?”
Deanna shook her head. “No, I guess not. We were just talking about the two people you pulled off that ship. Bev was saying that they appear to be mostly human, but weren’t you telling me that their technology is definitely not Federation?”
Will picked up Deanna’s hand and absently began to rub his thumb over her knuckles. “It’s not Federation or any other technology that we are familiar with. Right, Geordi?”
Geordi nodded enthusiastically. “Exactly. I can almost understand it; it has the same basic principals as our warp core, yet it seems so far more advanced than what we have. The question is where did it come from?”
Beverly had a thoughtful look on her face. “And how did these two human kids get it?”
Sickbay was silent except for the gentle hum of medical equipment and the soft shuffling of feet as the “ship’s night” crew busied themselves caring for the few patients that required around the clock care.
Jaina lay awake in her bed, watching the shadows play across the walls of the too quiet room. Turning her head to the left, she could see a light shining from under the CMO’s office door. Beverly Crusher must be working late.
Jaina sighed. How had things gotten so messed up? The events of the last few days ran through her mind in a jumble of confused emotions. They had succeeded in the first phase of their mission, albeit not in the way they had planned. Being here, on this ship was something she and her brother had not anticipated. All the worse case scenarios they had run through in training had not covered what to do in the event they were disabled by a Warbird then rescued by the USS Enterprise.
Jaina sighed again. She wondered if her brother was feeling the same trepidation she was feeling. She really needed to speak to him privately.
Under normal circumstances, communicating with her brother would not have posed a problem; however, Jaina did not dare open her mind. The danger was too great.
Jaina heard no sound coming from the nearby office. She sat up slowly and slid out of bed, dizziness and pain forcing her to grip the side in panic. She had never felt this weak before. She took several deep, calming breaths, waiting for the weakness to pass.
Jaina inched quietly to the door separating her room from her brother’s, listening intently for any sound from Dr Crusher’s office.
Beverly Crusher sat behind her desk, with a PADD in her hand. On the PADD were the DNA results on her two newest patients. Beverly was perplexed. The siblings were obviously human; however, like she told Deanna earlier, there was part of their DNA that was decidedly not human. Beverly had cross-referenced their unknown DNA against every known species, with no conclusive results.
Beverly punched a few commands into her PADD. Data flashed across her screen. Beverly sighed. Nothing new. All tests inconclusive.
Beverly threw the PADD down in disgust. She pinched the bridge of her nose tiredly and was considering calling it a night, when she heard a noise from outside her office. It sounded like somebody was moving around inside Jaina’s room. A soft whimper of pain followed the shuffling.
Concerned, Crusher walked to the door and peered out. Jaina was not in her bed. Beverly moved into the room. Beverly turned her head sharply toward the adjoining room. Shadows played across the wall, almost invisible in the faint illumination from the overhead lights. Somebody was definitely moving around in there. Beverly crept silently to the door. She at first heard nothing, however, within seconds, Jaina’s melodic voice floated on a whisper through the open door.
“Jacen, wake up.” The young girl urged. “Jacen, I need to talk to you.” The rustling of sheets followed her plea. “Jacen…”
“W-What is? Jaina? What’s the matter? Where are we?” Jacen’s voice was groggy with the affects of the sedative the medical staff had given him.
“Oh, Jace, thank the heavens you are awake.” There was obvious relief in the girl’s voice. “We are on the USS Enterprise-E, and we are in serious trouble.”
“The E! How did we get here? All I remember is activating the distress call right before we went through the wormhole.”
“The Enterprise must have picked up the distress signal. We were rescued by none other than William Riker, himself.” Jaina’s voice was filled with an obvious distress that Beverly could not fathom. Why were they so scared? They acted as if they knew Commander Riker personally, yet Will had made no mention of a previous acquaintance.
“Jacen, what are we going to do? If they find out about us, everything will be ruined!”
“Jaina, calm down! There is no way they can find out! We were very careful to mask our true heritage. The only thing any scan will show is human DNA.”
Jaina took a deep, calming breath. “That’s true, but you know how smart they are. Especially Will and Deanna. They will figure it out eventually.”
“So? They will not figure it out in time. Look, Sis, we know that we arrived at the correct coordinates, which means the Enterprise will be heading for Earth soon. All we have to do is lay low until we get there. Then everything else will proceed as planned.”
“You’re right. I guess I am making too much of this. At least this way we will not have to waste time trying to locate them. We will already know exactly where they are at all times.”
Jacen looked at his sister closely. “Something else is bothering you Jai. What is it?”
Jaina sat down on the edge of his bed. “Oh, Jacen! It’s just so weird being here! The first person I saw when I woke up was Beverly. Then before I could adjust to that shock, in strolled Deanna. My heart leapt into my throat.”
“How do they look? I must admit, I was really hoping to see more than just Will and Deanna on this mission.”
Jaina’s voice took on a soft loving quality. “They both look wonderful. It was… amazing. You’ll probably get a chance to see Beverly tomorrow.”
In the doorway, hidden in the shadows, Beverly Crusher had a perplexed look on her face. How could two people she had never seen before know her? Silently, Beverly walked out the door and headed toward the turbo lift. Who were these people? What were they hiding? How did they know members of the crew?
Beverly stepped off the lift and headed to her cabin. She made a mental note to speak to Deanna and Will first thing in the morning. It seemed they had a bit of a mystery on their hands. She just hoped it was not a dangerous mystery.
“I just don’t understand why you won’t tell me where we are going.” Deanna took a bite of her breakfast and looked at Will expectantly across the table.
Will grinned. He loved to tease Deanna. “Because it is a surprise. You know: a surprise. I know something that you don’t. That’s kind of the point.”
“Aw come on, Will. I know that we are going to someplace on Earth. Our refit at McKinley corresponds perfectly with our scheduled shore leave.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Really? That proves nothing. We could be taking a transport to Mars, for all you know.”
Deanna picked up their empty plates and placed them in the replicator. Will could be so stubborn sometimes. He was probably taking her to Alaska and was afraid to tell her. Deanna shivered. He knew she hated cold weather. He would not dare make her spend two weeks in his childhood home. Deanna grinned suddenly. Yes, he would. That would be just the kind of thing that would appeal to his sense of humor. Deanna turned around sharply, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. “We’re not going to Alaska, are we? Please tell me we’re not going to Alaska.”
Will frowned sternly. “Deanna, it hurts me deeply that you think so little of the place where I grew up. How would you like it if I always shuddered at the mention of Betazed?”
“That’s ridiculous! How could anybody shudder at the mention of such a beautiful planet?”
“I can think of at least one reason,” Will said dryly as he moved toward the bedroom to change into his uniform.
Deanna frowned. “What reason would that be, Riker?”
Will stuck his head out the door. “Your mother!” Will grinned and ducked out of the way as a vase flew past his head.
Minutes later Will returned to the living area, fully dressed, and looking every inch the fine officer he was. Deanna felt her breath catch in her throat. There was something about a man in uniform-- especially this man-- that made her skin tingle.
Riker caught her stare, and a slow smile lit his too handsome face. “I know what you’re thinking.” He advanced on her, closing the distance between them in two quick strides.
Deanna held up her hands at arms length, as if to ward him off. “Will, behave yourself. We don’t have time for this.”
Rather than deterring him, her outstretched arms afforded him the means by which to pull her into his embrace. “There is always time for this.” He whispered, as his mouth descended to hers.
Deanna’s half-hearted protest died as their lips met. She marveled at the pure white-hot sparks that leapt between them whenever they touched. Deanna wondered how she had survived all those years without this all consuming fire that burned deep into her; heart, body, and soul. Then she was pressing herself against him, returning his kiss with fervor, and all thought fled.
So engrossed in each other were they, that the door chimes rang three times before the insistent sound penetrated the passionate fog that clouded their minds.
Deanna ended the kiss with a groan. “The person on the other side of that door is going to die a slow and painful death.”
Will chuckled. “I’ll see who it is. You should probably go get dressed. You look a little…ah…rumpled.”
Deanna looked down. Her loose fitting sleepwear was literally hanging off her shoulders, barely covering her. With a squeak, she hurried into the bedroom, closing the door behind her.
When Deanna emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later, she found Beverly sitting at the table, sipping a cup of coffee, deep in conversation with Will.
“Hi, Bev. What brings you by this morning?”
Beverly glanced up and smiled warmly at her friend. Deanna could sense worry behind the Doctor’s outward cheerfulness.
“Good morning, Deanna. I stopped by because I needed to talk to the two of you about our young guests.”
Deanna sat down in the vacant chair next to Will. “You mentioned before that there was some question concerning their genetic makeup?”
Beverly nodded, her pretty face puckered in a frown. “As I was telling you yesterday, they are mostly human. Whatever other race is mixed in there is not being identified by any known tests.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t we technologically capable of identifying all known species?”
“Usually, yes. I spent half the night trying to figure it out. I’m completely baffled, even more so after over hearing a conversation between the two of them.” Beverly took a deep drink from her cup, wondering how to begin. Deanna sensed her friend’s nervousness and confusion.
Beverly took a deep breath. “I haven’t had a chance to speak to Jacen, he’s been sedated, but Jaina seems truly terrified. Deanna, yesterday you sensed that she was extremely upset about being here. After hearing their conversation last night, I am convinced that you are right. Jaina said something about everything being ruined if they are found out.”
Deanna looked at Will with fear in her eyes. “Found out?”
Beverly nodded and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “That’s not all. Jacen reassured her that their true heritage is too carefully masked for us to find anything.”
Will stood up. “We should be discussing this with the rest of the senior staff. I’m going to call the Captain.” Will reached for the commbadge on his shirt.
“Commander, wait.” Beverly said urgently. “Sit down. There’s more.”
Will lowered his arm and sat down. “I’m afraid to ask.” Deanna took his hand, squeezing gently, giving and needing strength.
“Will, Deanna, they seem to know the crew, the three of us in particular.”
“So you see, Captain, Jacen and Jaina are hiding something, and they are terrified of being discovered.”
Beverly Crusher finished her briefing and sat back in her chair.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard looked around the conference table, meeting the eyes of each of his senior staff before moving on to the next.
“Obviously, we have a mystery on our hands. Dr. Crusher, do we have any reason to believe they are dangerous?”
Beverly shrugged. “I don’t know, Captain. They’re just kids. Sixteen Standard years old at the most. They seem more scared than anything.”
“Being scared does not mean they are not dangerous. It’s apparent that they are up to something.” Will turned to Deanna. “Counselor, do you sense anything from them?”
Deanna shook her head, obviously distressed at her lack of empathic insight. “Nothing. I think they are in some way blocking me.”
“Blocking you? Doesn’t one need to be telepathic or empathic to effectively block someone?” Picard asked.
“Not necessarily, Captain. Some non-telepaths can be taught to condition their minds.” Deanna smirked at Will. “If Riker here can be taught, anyone can.”
“Very funny, Counselor.” Will responded dryly. “The point is: it is possible they were trained. It is also possible that the missing piece of their DNA puzzle is a telepathic race.”
Picard nodded, staring across the room thoughtfully. “I agree, Number One. Doctor, now that we know their heritage has been masked, your job is to find a way around the concealment.”
Picard turned to his Chief Engineer. “Geordi, what have you discovered about their vessel?”
“Not much, Captain.” Geordi replied. “Data and I have been tearing it apart piece by piece. The only thing we know for sure is the technology is not Federation. The warp drive is similar to our own, but it seems to be much more advanced. Some of the technology is basic; it could be used by any race. The rest, well, it’s not like any design I’ve ever seen.”
“Nor I, Sir.” Data said. “I have cross-referenced the schematics against that of every known race. It does not match any.”
Riker pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. “So what we have here are a couple of kids of an unknown origin, using equally unknown technology, who may or may not be a danger to this crew. Does anyone else feel a headache coming on?”
With a quiet chuckle, Deanna patted his hand reassuringly. “Don’t forget that they seem to know this crew personally and are able to block my empathic abilities.”
Captain Picard stood up. “We have our work cut out for us. Geordi and Data, keep trying to get some answers from their ship. Counselor, I want you to talk to them. See if you can get any information from them.”
Picard moved toward the door. “I’ll be in my Ready Room. We will reconvene in twenty-four hours. I expect some more answers by then. Dismissed.”
Data, Geordi and Beverly followed the captain out, leaving Riker and Troi alone in the conference room.
Standing up, Will took Deanna’s hand and pulled her out of her seat. “I have bridge duty. Meet me for lunch later?”
Deanna kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Of course. I will meet you in Ten-Forward at 1400 hours. I have an appointment in two hours. Until then, I’m going to pay a visit to our mysterious guests.”
“Deanna, I don’t want you to be alone with them until we know more about them.”
“Will…” Deanna began to protest.
Riker looked at her sternly. “No arguments, Deanna. Until we know who they are and why they are here, I think it would be best if we take the utmost caution. They seem to have the strongest reaction to you.”
“Really, Will, I can take care of myself.” Deanna’s voice had a slight edge to it that Riker chose to ignore.
“That is an order, Counselor.” Will knew he was pushing his luck, but he was adamant about keeping her safe.
“Yes, Sir!” Deanna returned sarcastically, turning on her heels and walking out the door without a backwards glance.
Will sighed as he left the conference room behind her. He walked onto the bridge just in time to see the turbo lift close behind her. He had a feeling there would be hell to pay later.
Deanna angrily stomped down the hall. Will Riker had to be the most irritating person she had ever met. How dare he pull rank on her! Well, if he thinks he can get away with interfering with her professional duties, he was in for a big surprise!
Deanna paused in front of the door leading into sickbay. She took a few deep, cleansing breaths, trying to get her emotions under control. She would not allow her personal conflicts to interfere with finding out what Jaina and Jacen were hiding.
Now completely in control of her emotions, Deanna stepped through the door. Jacen was sitting in a chair beside Jaina’s bed, holding her hand as Alyssa Ogawa ran a tricorder over the young girl. Three heads turned toward her as she entered. Alyssa’s reaction was normal. However, from the other two Deanna sensed an odd mixture of fear, sorrow and pleasure, then nothing at all. The force of the mental block had Deanna staggering backwards.
Alyssa stepped toward Deanna. “Counselor, are you alright?”
Deanna centered herself with great effort. “Yes, Alyssa, I’m fine.” She walked forward slowly, stopping at the foot of the bed. “Alyssa, I would like to speak with your patients for a few moments if you don’t mind.”
Alyssa put away her tricorder. “Not at all. I was just finishing up my examination.” She smiled at the siblings. “You two are healing nicely. A few more days and you will be as good as new.” Alyssa moved to leave the room. “Counselor, don’t tire them out too much, Jacen needs to get back into his own bed soon.”
Deanna smiled at the pretty young nurse. “Don’t worry, Alyssa, I’ll take good care of them.” Then remembering Will’s “order”, Deanna said, somewhat grudgingly, “Alyssa, could you ask Dr. Crusher to join me please?”
Alyssa inclined her head in agreement. “Certainly.”
Alyssa exited. Seconds later, Beverly entered the room. She was surprised to see Jaina staring at the counselor with a look of longing on her beautiful face.
Beverly smiled at her patients. “Good morning. How are you feeling this morning?”
With effort, Jaina looked away from Deanna. She returned the Doctor’s smile somewhat shakily. “Fine, Doctor.”
Beverly took a seat to the left of the bed. Deanna remained standing. “Good morning, Jacen, Jaina. I’m Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi.” The staff thought it best that Jacen and Jaina not be aware that they were suspected of anything. “I would like to talk to you about how you came to be with us.” Deanna’s voice was soft and soothing, the sort of voice one would use when trying to put a patient at ease.
Jacen spoke for the first time. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Counselor. I’m not entirely sure what it is you want to know. We were already questioned by your security officer regarding the attack on our ship.”
Deanna watched the young people closely. Jacen was cool and completely in control. Jaina, however, was a different story. Deanna did not need her empathic sense to know that the young girl was nervous and jumpy. “We can start with why you were in a remote section of space by yourselves. Where did you come from? Where were you heading?”
“We were headed to Earth. We have family there. It has been a while since we last visited them. We have no idea who attacked us or why.”
Deanna noticed that he did not answer her question regarding their origination. She was also sure he was lying about not knowing who attacked them.
“Jaina, you have been very quiet. I know this must have been extremely traumatic for you. Is there anyone we can contact for you? Your parents or maybe the relatives you were planning on visiting? I’m sure they are very concerned about your whereabouts.”
Jaina jumped as if she had been hit. Tears welled up in her eyes and began rolling unchecked down her face.
Deanna shared a surprised look with Dr. Crusher as Jacen gently comforted his sister. He looked at Deanna with pain in his somewhat familiar blue eyes. “I’m sorry, Counselor. This is very hard on my sister. You see, our mother recently passed away. My sister has not had an easy time dealing with her death. They were very close.”
Deanna put her arm around Jaina in a comforting embrace, and was surprised when Jaina latched on to her tightly, crying in great, gasping sobs.
“I’m sorry for your loss. What about your father?”
Jacen’s face became an unreadable mask. “I’m afraid it would be quite impossible to contact our father. He is completely out of touch. Losing our mother as completely devastated him. Counselor, I’m sorry, but we are completely on our own.”
Geordi LaForge ran his tricorder over a section of twisted, scarred bulkhead again. The readings were the same as before. He whistled softly. “Data, look at this.”
The android peered over his friend’s shoulder. His face twisted in vague semblance of surprise. Data had still not completely gotten the hang of matching emotion to facial expression.
“You can say that again.” Geordi stated.
Geordi made no comment, not quite sure if Data was attempting to make a joke or was just being Data. One could never tell with the android.
“Data, we need to show this to Commander Riker immediately.” He said instead, running the tricorder reading again, just to be certain.
“Agreed.” Data tapped his commbadge. “Data to Commander Riker.”
“Riker here.” Came the disembodied voice of the First Officer.
“Commander, Geordi has discovered something about the alien vessel that may be of interest to you. Could you join us in hanger bay one?”
“On my way. Riker out.”
While waiting for their CO, Data and Geordi continued to examine the extensive damage on the personal transport.
Moments later, Will Riker entered the hanger bay. “What have you got for me, LaForge?”
“Commander, we were running scans of the damaged areas, trying to ascertain who attacked this vessel. Look at this tricorder reading.” LaForge handed the tricorder to Riker and waited patiently as surprise, and then incredulity passed over the First Officers face.
“Are these accurate?”
Geordi nodded. “Yep. I ran the scan three times to be sure. The damage on this vessel was definitely done by Romulan Disrupter fire”
“Sir,” Data began, sounding as perplexed as Data is capable of sounding. “We scanned the entire sector, no warp signature was found. Romulan or otherwise.”
Will felt his headache getting worse. “Now we have a phantom Romulan Ship? This is getting better all the time.” Will was getting very frustrated. He truly disliked being in the dark about anything, especially when the possibility of Deanna being hurt existed.
“This is ridiculous! These two people could not have just appeared out of thin air. I want a full sensor scan of this sector, check for anything out of the ordinary, no matter how minute the possibility.”
Data and Geordi exchanged a look. They had never heard him quite so angry before. “Aye, Commander, we’ll get right on it. If there is anything out there to find, we will find it.”
Will’s voice sounded harsh to his own ears. He immediately felt contrite. It was not his intention to take his frustration out on his friends. He softened his voice. “I know you will. I have the utmost confidence in you. Keep me posted.” Will turned to leave. He paused in the doorway, and turned back around. “Geordi, Data?”
The grin on Will’s face was reminiscent of his usual jovial personality. “Don’t work too hard. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to beat you at poker tonight.”
“I don’t know, Beverly. I think I am more confused now than I was before I spoke to them.”
Deanna leaned back in her chair with a sigh and rubbed her temples. She was not having a good day. On top of her less than successful session in sickbay, she could also feel Will’s frustration as acutely as her own. It was giving her a headache. She briefly considered blocking him out; however, although she was angry with him, he was her rock. She needed him in her head as much as she needed to breath. It was that simple, and that complicated. Hell, when it came to being head-over-heels, completely in love with Will Riker, everything was complicated.
Beverly waved her hand in front of Deanna’s face. “Deanna. Are you in there?”
“Huh? What?” Deanna sat up in her seat. “Oh, sorry, Beverly, I guess I drifted off there for a minute.”
Beverly smirked. “Obviously. I won’t ask what-or who- you were thinking about.” She teased. “I was asking if you think Jacen was lying earlier.”
Deanna gave that careful consideration. “I’m not sure. I could not get a clear perception from either of them to know if they are being truthful about visiting relatives on Earth. It’s plausible, but my intuition tells me that there is more to it then that. When Jaina started crying, she let her guard slip enough that I got a clear picture of her grief. I believe the part about their mother being dead was the truth. Her grief was too genuine to be contrived. However, that still does not answer the question of where they come from, or how they know us. Moreover, I cannot get it out of my head that Jacen looks vaguely familiar to me. Not in the sense that I’ve met him, but that maybe he resembles someone I do know.”
Beverly considered this. “Maybe the son of an old friend? Maybe they do not know us personally but have heard of us from a mutual acquaintance?”
Deanna shrugged. “Possible. They could be related to someone I know on Betazed, that would explain their mental capabilities. However, that would not explain the alien technology or why they feel they need to hide their heritage. It also does not explain why they were attacked.”
Beverly nodded in agreement. “Or what any of this has to do with us.”
“Exactly.” Deanna sighed again. “I’m just going to have to speak to them again, try to find a way around the block they have put up. Maybe get them to trust me with the truth.”
Beverly shook her head. “I don’t know if that would be a good idea, Deanna. They seem to have the strongest reaction to you. You could be placing yourself in a dangerous situation.”
Deanna bristled. “Now you sound like Will. He would not even let me talk to them alone today. He insisted that someone else be in the room when I went down there today.”
Beverly laughed. “So that’s why you’re mad at him. Is Will playing big bad Commanding Officer again?”
“Yes! It’s not funny, Beverly! He actually ordered me to have someone else present when I talked to them.”
Beverly laughed again. “It’s hilarious! I can see it now. He tried to be reasonable, and when you resisted, he made it an order, right?”
Deanna huffed. “He was not being reasonable. He knows I can handle myself. He had no official reason to object. His reaction was completely personal.”
Beverly rolled her eyes. “Well, of course it was! Deanna, he loves you. He doesn’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I know that. I just wish he would trust my judgment. My intuition tells me that while Jacen and his sister are hiding something, they present no danger to anyone on this crew.”
“But how can you know for sure?”
Deanna shrugged “I can’t. It’s just something that I feel. The few times I have been able to get any sort of sense of them, I have felt fear, sorrow, helplessness, elation and uncertainty, but nothing malicious. You said yourself that when they spoke of us, they spoke with fondness. I don’t know who they are, or what they have planned, but I do believe that they mean us no harm.”
Will Riker walked tiredly down the corridor; giving a distracted smile to anyone he passed. Riker was not one to normally give into fatigue or physical pain, however, at this moment, all he wanted was a hot meal, a cold drink, and a soft Deanna Troi in his arms.
“If she is even speaking to me.” He mumbled to himself, earning him a strange look from a passing lieutenant. She had been ignoring him all day, and she had cancelled their lunch date. Will imagined that she would have a few choice words for him. Will sincerely hoped she had calmed down. He really was in no mood for an argument. He acknowledged to himself that she had every right to be upset, but damn it, arguing with a Troi was not something one did while dealing with the mother of all headaches.
He stepped into his cabin, surprised to see that Deanna was not in the living area. He stepped further into the room, allowing the door to close behind him. “Deanna?” He received no answer. He walked into the bedroom. The room was empty. “Computer: Location of Counselor Deanna Troi.”
“Counselor Troi is in her office.”
Will sighed in relief. She must have had a late appointment.
Will changed out of his uniform and into civilian clothes. With a yawn he laid down on the bed, intending to only rest for a few minutes. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
That is how Deanna found him an hour later. She sat beside him on the bed and watched him sleep. His handsome face was relaxed and smiling, as though he was having a pleasant dream. Deanna reached out to him in her mind, smiling as she got a clear picture of his emotions. Erotic. Sensual. Deanna felt a flutter in the pit of her stomach. The last of her previous anger faded away and was replaced by a desire so strong, she felt weakened by the sheer force.
Deanna leaned down and pressed her lips against his. She felt his arms go around her as he began to wake up.
Deepening the kiss, Will rolled over, taking her with him so that they were lying side by side. Will pulled away slightly, breaking the heated kiss. “Hi.”
Deanna placed her hand on his face, lovingly rubbing his bearded cheek. “Hi.” Her voice was a breathless sigh.
“Does this mean you’re not mad at me anymore?”
Deanna buried her face in his neck and nodded.
Will’s arms tightened around her. “Too bad,” he teased. “I was looking forward to a rip-roaring fight, followed by lots of making up.”
Deanna laughed softly. “Yeah, well, if you ever pull rank on me like that again, you will get your fight. I make no promises on the making up part.”
Will sighed. “Deanna, look at me.” Deanna lifted her head to stare into his serious blue eyes. “I can not stand by and allow you to put yourself into a dangerous situation, even if it means pulling rank and giving you a direct order.”
Deanna sat up. “Will, we put ourselves in potentially dangerous situations on a daily basis. It’s part of the job; it’s who we are. You have to trust my instincts, trust me. It’s not fair for you to play our personal relationship against our professional.”
“Deanna, you can’t ask me to risk you. I won’t do it. You mean too much to me.”
Deanna sighed angrily. “You don’t get it do you? We are Starfleet. Risk is a big part of that. There are going to be times when we both have to face the possibility that one of us may not come back from an away mission. Don’t you think I understand how you feel? I have lived for years with the horror of watching you transport off this ship, knowing that I may never see you again. Do I beg you not to go, or demand that you take someone else with you? Have I ever used my position as ship’s counselor to prevent you from going on an away mission? No, I haven’t, and we both know I could. I decide who is mentally capable of performing their duties. As much as it kills me to even consider losing you, I would never allow my personal feelings to hamper your duties. Today, there was no cause for you to insist that I not be alone with those two kids. Answer me this. If it had been any other member of this crew, would you have made the same order?”
Will considered this for a moment. “Probably not.” He conceded. “I would have told them to be cautious and to use their own judgment.” Will sat up, and reached for her, pulling her into his arms. “I’m sorry. There is just so much that we do not know, and every answer we get leads into more questions. Nevertheless, I should have trusted you. You’re right; I was allowing my personal feelings to interfere.”
Deanna snuggled against him, putting her head on his shoulder. “You’re forgiven, this time. Try not to let it happen again.”
Will chuckled. “Yes, Counselor.” His arms tightened around her again. “So did we just have an argument?”
“Can we make up now?”
Deanna slipped her hand inside his shirt, rubbing against his bare skin invitingly.
“Give it your best shot, Commander.”
Will leaned forward to kiss her, stopping just before their lips met. “Deanna, could you really deem someone unfit for duty? Because, I was thinking, there are times when I would love an excuse to get out of bridge duty…”
Deanna rolled her eyes. “Shut up and kiss me, Riker”
Will did so, happily.
In the still darkness of sickbay, a young girl tossed in her bed, in the throes of a nightmare. Her beautiful face twisted in a grimace of remembered agony. An excruciating pain that was not her own.
Jaina had had this dream before, countless times. In her sleep she heard her mother scream. The horrific sound tore through the house, ripping into the souls of everyone present. She saw herself, and her father and brother, running toward the sound. She could feel the panic in them. She remembered the aching fear that had gripped them all.
The dream changed, became surreal, as the inner guilt she felt took over her subconscious. She ran and ran, the hallway becoming longer and longer. She did not remember this hallway being quite so expansive. The faster she ran, the further away the torturous sounds became. At last she reached the open doorway, barely a step in front of her father. Her body was thrown backwards as she slammed into an invisible force. Prevented from entering the room, she watched helplessly as her beloved mother writhed in agony on the floor.
“Mama… Mama… Mama,” she whimpered, both in dream and out.
“Jaina…” her mother’s voice called. “Jaina…” the voice called again, changing into her brother’s voice. “Jaina, sweetheart, wake up.” Her brother shook her gently, penetrating the nightmare.
Jaina woke up suddenly, tears rolling unheeded down her cheeks. In desperation, she reached for her brother, wrapping her arms tightly around him. Her body shook with grief.
“Shh. It’s OK,” Jacen whispered tenderly, rubbing her back in comfort. “Was it that dream again?”
Still whimpering, Jaina nodded against his chest. “Jacen, it was awful. Mom was in so much pain, and I couldn’t reach her. I just stood there, watching her. I felt so helpless. How could anyone do that to her? She never hurt a soul.”
Jacen pulled away slightly, taking her chin in his hand and tilting her face up. “Jaina, listen to me. I know how helpless you felt, watching our mother die and not being able to stop it. I felt the same way. But we will stop it. We have the power to prevent it from ever happening, and we will.”
Jaina pulled away from her brother and wiped her eyes. “What if we are too late? What if it has already happened?”
“It hasn’t. We planned this too well.”
“But, Jace, what if we were wrong? What if they were wrong?”
Jacen laughed slightly. “Have you ever known any of them to be wrong?”
Jaina’s answering smile was weak at best. “No.”
“Then trust them.”
Jacen sat down and wrapped his sister into a tight hug. They held on to each other for a long time, neither saying anything. Both desperately hoping their trust was not misplaced.
“I’ll see your ten and raise you twenty.” Riker tossed a few chips in the center of the table. He looked over the top of his cards, no expression on his face at all.
Geordi whistled softly. “Too rich for my blood. I fold.” He folded his hand and laid it face down on the table.
Play passed to Data, who immediately threw in a few chips, “I see your twenty, and raise you ten more.”
“Careful, Data. He hasn’t had a bad hand yet this evening.” Geordi warned his friend.
“This is precisely why I am staying in.” Data answered reasonably. “The odds are that he is bluffing this time.”
Will smiled confidently. “Don’t be so sure of yourself, Data.”
Beverly and Picard both folded, bringing the betting around to Deanna. She studied Will silently for a moment. He shot her a grin, knowing exactly what she was trying to do.
~Give up, Imzadi~ he sent to her with an ease that had only recently developed. ~Not even you can tell when I’m bluffing. ~
~Don’t be so sure of yourself, Commander~ she shot back silently. Deanna picked up several chips and added to the growing pile in the center. “I raise you twenty.”
Once again, Will raised the stakes another twenty.
Data looked from the stoic features of Riker to the serene features of Troi. After a few seconds of deliberation, he folded.
Deanna raised the stakes yet again, passing the decision back to Will. He studied the shrinking pile in front of Deanna for a moment before judiciously meeting her bet, and raising again.
The other players sucked in their breaths with anticipation.
With a devilish glint in her eyes, Deanna called.
Will smiled broadly and fanned out his cards. Four aces, king high.
Geordi gaped. “I’ll be damned. He wasn’t bluffing.”
“C’mon, Counselor. Let’s see what you got.” Will taunted unmercifully.
The look on Riker’s face was priceless as Deanna slowly fanned out her cards on the table. A straight flush. With a wide grin, Deanna scooped her winnings up. Beverly cheered. A small smile creased the captain’s face.
Will stared at Deanna with open-mouthed astonishment. “I don’t believe it.” Deanna had never beaten him at poker before.
Deanna batted her eyelashes and blew him a kiss, causing the other players to laugh heartily.
“A lucky hand. That’s all it was.” Will mumbled. Suddenly he grinned. “I must be rubbing off on you, Deanna.”
With a roll of her eyes, Deanna got up from the table. “Winning sure does make one thirsty,” she taunted. “I think I’ll get something to drink.” She stepped away from the table and went to the replicator.
Will turned around. “Don’t get too used to winning, Deanna. One lucky hand does not compensate for years of …” Will’s voice trailed off as Deanna suddenly clutched her head, moaning in pain and doubling over. “DEANNA!” In a flash, the players were out of their seats, rushing toward the counselor. Will reached her a split second before Beverly did, just in time to catch her as she began to fall to the floor, unconscious.
Beverly immediately took control. She tapped the commbadge on her shirt. “Medical Emergency in Commander Riker’s quarters. Will, get her over to the sofa.”
Will carried her over and gently laid her down. He brushed her hair out of her face. Confusion and fear were evident in his face as he softly whispered, “Deanna, wake up. C’mon, Imzadi, open your beautiful eyes.”
Beverly gently tapped him on the shoulder. “Will, you need to move out of the way and let me examine her.”
Reluctantly, Will stepped back, allowing the doctor access. Without any medical equipment readily at hand, Crusher had to rely on old-fashioned methods. She felt Troi’s pulse, finding it steady and strong. She loosened Deanna’s clothing, allowing her to breath easier. “Her pulse is fine, and she seems to be breathing alright.” Crusher turned to look at Will. “As she been experiencing any headaches or dizziness lately?”
Will shook his head. “Not really. She had a slight headache earlier, but she attributed that to the stress she has been under.”
The door opened, and Alyssa rushed in, carrying a medical kit. Beverly immediately took the kit and pulled out a tricorder. “Thanks, Alyssa,” she acknowledged absently, intent on running a scan over the prone counselor. “I can find no medical reason for her to be unconscious.” She took a hypospray from the kit and added a dosage of medicine. “I see no danger in waking her up.” She pressed the hypospray into Deanna’s neck and administered the drug with a soft whoosh. A few seconds later, Troi woke up and looked around at the concerned faces staring down at her.
“What happened?” Deanna tried to sit up. The motion caused a sharp pain to shoot through her head like an electrical pulse. She moaned and lay back down. “My head is killing me.” Her eyes met Will’s. She saw the mixture of fear and relief in his eyes. “Will?” She whispered weakly.
Beverly stepped back so that Will could kneel beside the sofa. “I’m here, Imzadi.”
“What happened?” she asked again.
“Why don’t you tell us, Counselor?” Picard spoke for the first time. “You suddenly doubled over as if in pain, and passed out.”
Deanna disliked the disadvantage of lying prone on the sofa. She looked imploringly at Will.
Sensing her need Will put his arm around her, lifting her gently into a sitting position and taking a seat beside her.
Deanna leaned against him gratefully. “I don’t know what happened, Captain. I was standing at the replicator when I felt something enter my mind. It was like someone, or something, was crying out. Then I felt the most agonizing pain I have ever felt. The next thing I know, I’m waking up here.”
Beverly administered another hypospray into Deanna’s neck. Within seconds, Deanna’s head stopped hurting. “Deanna, I would like you to come down to Sickbay for some tests.”
Deanna began to protest. “Is that really necessary, Beverly?”
Beverly looked at her sternly. “I could make it an order.”
Deanna shared a smile with Will. “That won’t be necessary, Doctor. I’ll come willingly.”
Picard knelt down in front of her. “Counselor, you said it felt like someone was calling out to you. Do you know who?”
Deanna shook her head. “Captain, I’m not sure it was directed at me specifically. I felt extreme terror and grief, and someone cried out. It felt like someone was in great emotional turmoil. Then the pain kind of slammed into me. I can’t explain it.”
Alyssa stepped forward. “Excuse me, Captain.” She began tentatively.
Picard turned to face the young woman. “Yes Lieutenant, what is it?”
“Sir, I don’t know if this has any bearing on what happened to Counselor Troi, but just before Dr. Crusher called me, I heard crying coming from Jaina’s room. Evidently, she had a nightmare, and her brother was comforting her.”
Will insisted on accompanying Deanna and Beverly to sickbay. Deanna protested half-heartedly, assuring him there was no need for him to worry. In truth, she was relieved that he stubbornly refused to stay in their quarters. She was feeling shaky and a bit scared. She was grateful for his comforting presence, needed his strength.
Jacen was sitting on Jaina’s bed, talking quietly to his still distraught sister, when the three officers entered the room.
Beverly immediately went to her patients. “I hear we had a bit of excitement down here. Are you alright, Jaina?” Beverly’s voice was soft and soothing.
“Yes, Doctor. I just had a bad dream.”
Doctor Crusher patted her comfortingly. “Do you have nightmares regularly?”
“Ever since my mother died. I dream of her death.”
Will stepped forward. His voice was not nearly so nice. “Do you always project those feelings onto others?”
Jaina jumped. “W-what do you mean?”
“I mean Counselor Troi. She felt your emotions intensely” Will’s voice was harsh. “She was physically affected by them.”
Jaina shot a glance at Deanna and quickly looked away. “Physically?”
“She experienced intense pain that caused her to lose consciousness. Care to explain how?”
Seeing Jaina pale visibly, Deanna immediately stepped to Will’s side. She touched his arm gently. ~Go easy on her, Will~ she implored mentally.
In her emotional state, Jaina must have forgotten to protect herself mentally. Deanna could sense her. ~She is extremely grief stricken. Seeing her mother die was devastating to her~
Suddenly, something nudged at Deanna’s sub conscience. She was almost able to pinpoint the strange vibes she was receiving, when just as suddenly she lost all sense of Jaina.
Jaina stared at Commander Riker, numbly. “I-I’m s-sorry. I can’t explain it.”
Will forced himself to calm down. His tone was softer when he spoke again. “Jaina, I know this is difficult for you. I am truly sorry for your loss, but I would like an explanation as to why your dream affected the counselor so drastically.”
Jacen spoke up, saving his sister from having to answer. “Commander, with all do respect, isn’t Counselor Troi an Empath? It doesn’t seem odd at all that she would feel something as intense as what my sister was feeling.” His voice was smooth and reasonable. His logic was difficult to argue with.
“Granted. Feeling intense emotions is not unusual, however, that does not explain why she experienced physical pain from someone she is not mentally linked with.”
Jacen shrugged. “I cannot explain it. All I can do is offer an apology.”
Jaina took a deep calming breath. If Deanna had been watching her, she would have been surprised to see Jaina obviously trying to center herself.
However, Deanna’s attention was not on the girl, but her brother. She stared at him, perplexed. His tone of voice and mannerisms were very familiar to her, yet she was at a loss as to why.
Realization niggled at the back of her mind, but she was unable to decipher it. Once again she had the feeling that there was something disturbingly familiar about Jacen.
The silence was deafening after the officers left the room. Jaina turned to Jacen with terror in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, only to close it again when her brother gave her a warning look.
Jacen listened intently until the echo of footsteps slowly faded away. He then turned to his sister, silently signaling that it was now safe to speak.
“Jace, what have we done? Did you see the pain in her eyes? We have to get out of here. I can’t stand to be the cause of any agony for her, not anymore.”
Jacen laid a calming hand on his sister’s arm. “Jai, we don’t know that your dream caused her blackout. It could be a coincidence.” Jacen was the voice of reason, but Jaina could hear the uncertainty behind his confident words.
“Oh, c’mon! You don’t believe that anymore than I do. She experienced the horror of my dream. I transferred that pain onto her.” Jaina pleaded, near tears. “Jacen, we need to get out of here. We can steal a shuttlecraft and take off for Earth.”
“Be reasonable, Jai! Even if we could get access to a shuttlecraft, we would never get off the ship with it. Besides, I’m not sure that either of us could fly one.”
Jaina made a face. “That’s true.” She sighed. “Jace, what if we made the wrong decision? What if coming here was a mistake?”
“Jaina, we can’t think like that. We can’t second-guess ourselves. We can’t turn back now. We’ve come too far.”
Jaina shivered as a horrible thought entered her mind. “What if we can’t get back? Our ship is damaged pretty badly.”
Jacen smiled confidently. “I can fix it. As soon as I can get out of sickbay, I’ll try to convince them to let me help repair it.”
With a far away look in her eyes, Jaina smiled for the first time in days. “I hope so, because Dad is going to be livid when he finds out what we have done.”
Jacen chuckled ruefully, “In more ways than one.”
Candlelight. Soft music. Chocolate covered strawberries and vintage wine. The setting was conducive to a night of romance. The perfect atmosphere for two lovers to entwine themselves in each other’s embrace and cast the rest of the universe into oblivion.
Will planted tiny kisses along the graceful line of Deanna’s neck, inching his way slowly downward. His hands caressed her soft body through her loose fitting garment. He lifted his mouth to her ear, and bit the delicate lobe gently. “I love you, Deanna.” He whispered against her skin.
His lover’s lack of response brought Will’s head up with a snap. “There must be something wrong with my technique,” Will teased. He lowered his head to her breast, nuzzling and kissing her through the silky fabric. Still Deanna did not move.
Will sighed. “Deanna, what’s wrong?”
Deanna raised her head in surprise. “Nothing. Why?”
Will looked at her incredulously. “Why? Deanna, your mind has been so far away, I might as well be making love to a mannequin.”
Deanna sat up, pushing out of his arms. “I admit I’m a little distracted, but it’s not that bad, is it?” Deanna moved to the edge of the sofa and ran her hands through her tangled hair.
Will moved until he was sitting behind her, his legs on either side of her, and pulled her back against him. He lifted her hair and nuzzled her neck.
“No, it’s not that bad. You just don’t seem too interested in being romantic tonight. Want to talk about it?”
Deanna sighed. “It’s Jacen and Jaina. Or more precisely, Jacen. I just cannot get past the feeling that he reminds me of someone. I feel as though I should know him.”
Will rubbed her temples lightly, massaging away the tension. “Who does he remind you of?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know! I can’t put my finger on it.”
“Maybe we should go talk to them again. Force some answers from them.”
Deanna shook her head. “I don’t think it will do any good. They’ve been very well trained.”
Will leaned back against the sofa cushion. “What I don’t understand is that while they are apparently up to something that involves us, you are adamant that they have no malicious intentions. So…”
“…If their objective is not to harm, then why all the secrecy?” Deanna finished for him.
“Exactly. You mentioned that they have been very well trained, mentally. You are a very strong Empath. Isn’t there some way you can get past their barriers?”
Deanna shook her head in frustration. “I don’t think so. My mother probably could. I’ve never had the same mental discipline as a full Betazoid.”
The wistfulness in her voice did not escape Will’s notice. He refrained from commenting. Now was not the time to go into that obviously still sore subject.
“It’s too bad your mother isn’t here.”
Deanna grinned impishly. “Will, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever heard you express a desire to see my mother.”
Will smiled back. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Deanna leaned back against his chest, taking comfort in his strong embrace. She no longer wanted to think about her mother, or two mysterious kids, or anything except Will.
Deanna turned around, getting to her knees. She pressed against him, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him passionately.
Will groaned with pleasure against her lips. His hands moved possessively over her, heating her flesh with his touch.
Will tore his mouth away from hers; trailing hot wet kisses across her cheek to her ear. “Imzadi…” he breathed huskily against her ear, causing liquid fire to race deliciously down her spine.
Deanna pulled away slightly. Their gazes locked. The naked desire she saw in his eyes mirrored her own. She marveled at the intensity of the need she felt. Deanna wondered if she would ever get enough of him.
Standing up with her held tenderly in his arms, Will moved toward the bedroom.
“Never…”was her last coherent thought.
Jacen sat by his sister’s bed, keeping watch over her as she slept. Her beautiful features were relaxed in what he hoped was a peaceful slumber. It would be nice if she could enjoy a few hours of sleep, uninterrupted by nightmares.
As he kept a silent vigil, he toyed with a medical tricorder, making a few adjustments.
Jaina’s suffering was the primary reason he made the difficult decisions he had. He possessed a traditional feeling of protectiveness for his “little” sister. His father called it the “Big Brother Syndrome.” His mother called it being his father’s son.
Jacen grinned. Jaina called it annoying. Throughout their lives, she was constantly reminding him, with no small amount of disgust, that being five minutes older did not give him the right to dictate her life.
Jacen remembered once when he had objected to someone his sister had been “seeing”. Jaina had gone to their mother in tears, begging her to make Jacen stay out of her private life.
Their mother just smiled in amusement and said “Get use to it, Little One. You have been cursed, and blessed, with your father and brother. They don’t know how to be any other way.”
Jacen could remember the look that had passed between his parents. It was a look filled with tenderness, shared secrets, and promise. The bond his parents possessed had always baffled him. Sometimes, they would just sit and stare into one another’s eyes, not saying a word, at least not verbally. Jacen and his sister knew that during those times of serene silence, their parents were speaking volumes.
The four of them had been so happy. Their small quarters, as well as their house on Earth, had always been filled with love, laugher, and cherished friends. Then his mother had gotten sick, and Jaina’s nightmares had started.
Jacen snapped out of his reverie, and wiped away the tears he did not remember shedding. He made a few minor adjustments to the modified tricorder and stood up, pocketing the instrument. He took a deep breath and headed quietly for the door. The stubborn determination he had inherited from his father took control. He snuck through the door, watching for signs of discovery. With one last look at his sleeping sibling, he left sickbay, striding decisively down the hall.
Jacen stole silently along the corridor, keeping a watchful eye on his surroundings. As he neared his destination without passing a single crewmember, he sighed gratefully. He never appreciated the deck plans his father insisted he learn, until now. He bet his father never imagined just how useful those lessons would prove to be. He grinned, enjoying himself despite the danger.
He crawled on his hands and knees through a Jeffries tube toward the hanger bay. Instinct alone carried him forward. If only his father could see him now, he thought wildly. He laughed harshly at the irony of his thoughts. Regardless of how their mission turned out, their father was going to skin them alive when they got home, if not sooner.
Within minutes, Jacen reached the hanger bay. He looked down from his vantage point. He could see his ship in one corner, on the other side of the bay. Jacen swore. Between him and his destination were at least four maintenance workers. Well, no one said it was going to easy.
Jacen waited impatiently for an opportunity to escape the narrow tube. Unfortunately, the chance did not present itself until almost an hour later.
The minute the last crewmember left the bay; Jacen lowered himself out of the Jeffries tube and onto the floor. He ran hurriedly across the room, reaching his ship in seconds. Anger flared inside him when he saw the damage. His beautiful little ship was a mess.
Jacen pushed his anger to the back of his mind and climbed aboard. He groaned. The interior was almost as bad as the exterior. It would take months to repair her; months he did not have. Resigned to the loss of his vessel, Jacen began gathering the items he needed. He took the “borrowed” tricorder from his pocket and connected it to the main computer. He gave a silent thanks to the engineering staff when the computer came on line with minimal effort. They must have been very busy. He just hoped they had not yet had the opportunity to access the logs. Not that they would be able to decipher the encryption. A small, self-satisfied smile crossed Jacen’s face. Deck plans were not the only things he had been taught.
Within minutes, the download was complete, and Jacen was hurrying back to the Jeffries tubes. Not once did he look toward the door. If he had he had, he would have been surprised to see yellow eyes staring at him with curiosity.
Jaina was awake and sitting up when Jacen returned to sickbay.
“Where have you been?” she demanded with concern.
Jacen sat on the edge of her bed. “I went down to see our ship.” Anticipating her next question, Jacen continued. “I’ll never be able to repair her in time. That damn Warbird did too much damage. A few minutes more and we would have been destroyed.”
Jacen was glad to see the anger that crossed his twin’s face. Anger was much more preferable than the paralyzing fear that had been there recently. He needed his sister to get her control back if they were to succeed.
“Damn them!” she spat harshly. “Why couldn’t they just leave us alone? What is so important? What did Mom know about them that was so horrible they felt the need to kill her?”
“I don’t know. When have any of us been able to detect the Kreptins motives for anything? Since the day the Federation first came in contact with them, the entire race has been an enigma.”
Jaina smiled wryly. “Well, I can tell you one thing. They are either very brave or very stupid.”
Jacen looked at her quizzically. “Why do you say that?”
“They stole a ship from the Romulans. How much dumber can one get?”
Jacen laughed. After a few seconds, Jaina joined in. It felt good to laugh again. Lately, there had been nothing to laugh about in their lives.
Jaina sobered abruptly. “Jacen, without our ship, how are we going to get home?”
Jacen had already considered that dilemma. “I downloaded the data banks onto a tricorder. When the time comes, I should be able to modify a shuttle to the correct specifications. The only problem is getting our hands on one.”
Jaina rolled her eyes. “Oh, well that should be easy enough. Starfleet just leaves them lying around for anyone to use.”
Jacen shook his head with a slight smile. “You sound and look just like Mom when you do that.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Jaina changed the subject. “We need to start making plans. I heard the medical staff discussing shore leave, which means we should be at Earth soon.”
Jacen nodded. “In about 12 hours if my calculations are correct. I asked the computer for the Stardate earlier. I have a plan.”
“I’m afraid to ask,” Jaina teased.
Jacen made a face at his sister. “Most of the crew is going on shore leave during the refit; however, they won’t leave for at least twenty four hours after we dock at McKinley. So here’s the plan…”
The twins talked well into the night, quickly changing the subject whenever anyone approached. By ship’s morning, they were ready to put their plan into motion.
Riker stepped off the turbolift onto the bridge to begin alpha watch. “Good Morning, Commander Data.” He greeted the android cheerfully.
“Good Morning, Sir. The night passed relatively uneventfully. We will be docking at McKinley in four hours, twenty three minutes and seventeen point five seconds, right on schedule.”
“Very good, Mr. Data. I relieve you. Computer, begin alpha shift.” Riker took the center seat.
Data turned and left the bridge. Will settled in, anticipating a few quiet hours of bridge duty to keep his mind off other things.
Beverly grunted as she crouched into a deep knee bend. Sweat glistened on her forehead. She acknowledged grudgingly that she was not as young as she used to be. Her early morning exercise routine was getting increasingly more difficult.
Back on her feet, she walked over and grabbed two towels and two bottles of water. She turned and handed one of each to her companion.
“Thanks,” Deanna said, taking a big swig of the cold water. “So, what are your plans for shore leave?”
Beverly shrugged. “I don’t know. I have no real plans. I thought I might go to Paris for a few days.”
Deanna grinned playfully. “Paris, huh? I wonder why? Do you suppose the captain will be going home for a few days?”
Beverly swatted her friend with her towel. “Jean-Luc has nothing to do with it. I haven’t been to Paris in years, that’s all.”
“What about you and Will? Are you still planning to take leave?”
Deanna nodded, taking another drink. “Yes. Although he still will not tell me what he has planned.” Deanna gave her friend a serious look. “I’m not sure what we are going to do about Jacen and Jaina. We cannot leave them on the ship during the refit. We have no concrete reason to detain them on the surface either. They said they were headed to Earth to visit relatives, and we have not found anything to contradict them. They will of course have to stay in San Francisco while the incident is being investigated. However, once we get there, the situation will effectively be out of our hands.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Beverly exclaimed. “Doesn’t Command know we are personally involved in whatever it is they are doing?”
“Yes, they know. Admiral Ross feels that it would be in our best interest to continue with our plans, as if nothing has happened. He feels that for our own safety, it would be best if we remove ourselves from the situation. He promises to keep us informed of any developments.”
“Keep us informed?” Beverly stated in disbelief. “So what are we supposed to do? Sit back and forget about it?”
Beverly huffed. “God, I hate bureaucrats.”
Deanna laughed, completely in agreement. She was bothered more than she cared to admit. She could not get past the feeling that she was missing something vital about the whole situation.
“Come on, let’s go have breakfast before I perish. I have about a million things to do before we leave tomorrow.”
Three hours later, Deanna stepped into the Observation Lounge for the regular morning staff meeting. She met Will’s eyes as she crossed the room. She flushed slightly at the image he projected into her mind. She hated when he did that; it was so distracting.
~Behave yourself, Commander. ~ She sent, gently reminding him they were on duty.
Will just smiled innocently as she took her seat beside him. They turned their attention to the captain as he began to speak. “Good morning. Now, I understand that everybody is anxious to begin their shore leave; however, there are still a few minor details that need attending. You have already been given your individual responsibilities in regards to the refit. I expect everyone to complete their assignments before transporting to the surface.”
Geordi spoke up. “Excuse me, Sir. What about our two guests?”
“Our young guests are to be transferred to headquarters, along with their vessel. We have been taken out of the equation.”
Geordi shook his head vehemently. “Sir, that is not a good idea. Data saw Jacen in the hanger bay last night, and I found something this morning that has me baffled. I think you should see it.”
Deanna’s heart leapt into her throat. She did not think she could handle any more “surprises”.
Picard looked at Geordi. “What is it, LaForge?”
Geordi held up an object that he had been holding. Deanna could see that it was pendant on a gold chain. “While cleaning up the wreckage, I found this.”
“A locket?” Beverly asked, confused. “What’s the big deal? It probably belongs to Jaina.”
“Look inside.” Geordi said. He handed the locket to Captain Picard.
Picard opened the clasp. His eyes widened. Wordlessly, he passed the jewelry to Riker.
Deanna was shocked by the reaction she felt from Will. “I don’t understand. Where did they get this?”
Deanna reached for the locket. “Will, what is…Oh my god.” Deanna dropped the necklace as if it burned.
Beverly picked it up, and gasped. The small heart shaped pendant contained two pictures, one of Deanna and one of Will.
Beverly looked at Deanna, noticing that her friend had gone deathly pale. “Deanna?”
Everyone’s attention turned to the counselor.
“Deanna?” Will took her hand. “Sweetheart, are you alright?”
Deanna said nothing. She just sat there with a look of devastation on her colorless face.
Will squeezed her hand tightly. “Come on, Deanna. Talk to us.”
“It just hit me.” She whispered dully. “I just realized who Jacen reminds me of.”
“Who, Counselor?” Picard asked, already afraid he knew the answer.
Deanna turned to face her Imzadi. The look in her eyes gave Will a jolt.
Deanna’s voice was a raspy croak. “You, Will. He reminds me of you.”
Will shook his head in denial. “No. That’s not possible.”
Deanna just looked at him wordlessly.
Picard jumped out of his seat. “I have had enough of this. McClure, go down to sickbay and escort them up here now. I want answers and they will give them to me. I’m tired of these games.”
Picard began to pace. His agitation apparent in his movements. He faced Deanna. “Counselor, do you realize the implications of what you just said?”
Deanna nodded weakly. “Yes, Sir.” Her voice shook violently.
“It makes sense,” Beverly stated.
Will rounded on her. “No, it does not make any sense!”
Deanna laid her hand on his arm. “Will, think about it. It would explain a lot. How they know us. How they have the capability to block me. The obviously advanced technology.”
Will closed his eyes in misery. Deanna could feel, and understood his terror.
“Deanna, they said their mother was dead.”
Deanna swallowed painfully past the lump in her throat. “Yes. They did.”
Will shook his head again. “No. I won’t accept that. I can’t.”
The intercom chirped, effectively interrupting any response that might have been made.
“Lt. McClure to Captain Picard.”
The security chief’s voice was hesitant. “Sir, the kids are gone.”
The entire senior crew, save Data, who was commanding the Bridge, rushed into Sickbay. Jean-Luc Picard immediately turned to Thomas McClure. “Lieutenant, I want answers, and I want them now. What do you mean they are gone?”
“Sir, when I arrived on the scene, I found Nurse Ogawa unconscious on the girl’s bed, and the kids were gone.”
Beverly rushed to her nurse’s side. “Alyssa, what happened? Are you alright?”
Beverly immediately picked up a tricorder and began scanning the younger woman.
“I’m fine. I was examining Jaina when Jacen came up behind me and ejected something from a Hypo. The next thing I know, I am waking up to find Lt. McClure. I am so sorry. I don’t know how he got the hypo.”
Riker took charge. “McClure, I want a ship wide search to commence now.” McClure immediately left the room, calling his colleagues in the process. Will turned to Alyssa. “Lt. Ogawa, how long ago did this occur? Why were you the only one here?”
Alyssa checked her chronometer. “About ten minutes, sir. I am the only one on duty. Most everyone else has left for the surface.” Will paced across the floor, his agitation clear to everyone in the room. “Riker to Bridge.”
“Data here,” came the disembodied voice.
“Commander Data, I want an emergency shut down of all transporters, nobody is to leave this ship without clearance.”
“Acknowledged. Transporters have been shut down.”
Will tapped his COMM badge again. “Riker to McClure.”
Will ran his fingers through his hair. Frustration, fear, and anger radiated off him in waves that slammed into Deanna. She felt weakened by the force of his emotions.
“Status, Mr. McClure,” he bite out harshly.
“Commander, I have my entire staff searching every deck. Transporter room two is the only one being used today. I am headed there now. I have people checking the logs from the other rooms. So far there have been no unauthorized beam outs.”
“Understood. Keep me posted. Riker out.”
Deanna stepped to Will’s side and gently placed her hand on his arm, trying to calm him. His emotions were jumbled, and unclear. Anger, hurt, fear, disbelief, frustration. Deanna felt them all from Will.
Will brushed past Deanna without acknowledging her touch. Deanna reached out to him mentally, brushing his mind with gentle, loving caresses only to recoil in surprise when he threw up a mental block. She gave him a startled look. His face was etched in stone.
Will strode angrily to the door. “I’ll be in transporter room two.” He bit out angrily.
Will hurried down the hall toward the turbolift, seething inside. He had never been so angry in his life. The worst part was, he was not sure exactly who he was angry at. Jacen? Jaina? Fate? Himself? Deanna? No, not Deanna. He knew he hurt her when he shut her out. He had not meant to, but he just could not stand to look into her eyes and see his own gripping fear. He could not accept what was staring him right in the eyes. It had to be a trick. Those two kids could not possibly be whom they appeared to be. If he allowed Deanna in right now, he would have to give in to the raging emotions inside. Riker stubbornly resisted the urge to hide him and Deanna away and lose himself in her comforting embrace. He had to solve this mystery. Jacen and Jaina were playing some kind of game, and he would put an end to it. He did not know how or why, but he stubbornly told himself that there had to be a logical, and probably nefarious, explanation. The alternative was unthinkable.
Will entered the turbolift just as his combadge chirped. He slapped at the medallion. “Riker here.”
Data’s voice came over the open channel. “Sir, I am showing an unauthorized beam out from transporter room three.”
“What? I ordered all transporters shut down!”
“All transporters were shut down, Commander. Somebody overrode the system. Two people were transported.”
“Lock on and bring them back!”
“I am attempting to, Sir. There are too many people in that general vicinity to get a positive lock.”
“Keep trying. Riker out”
Will swore. How the hell did they breach the computer? Will changed his destination. “Transporter Room Three,” he told the computer.
While the turbolift delivered him to his destination, Will reported back to Picard the latest news, asking him to meet him in the transporter room.
“Understood, Number One. I’ll meet you there.” Picard closed the open channel and turned to Troi. His counselor looked like she was about to faint. “Counselor, are you alright?”
Deanna shook her head to clear it. She felt empty. That is the only way she could describe the feeling she was experiencing in the face of Will’s intentional block. Empty. “I…” Her voice came out as a squeak. She had to clear her throat and begin again. “I’m fine, Sir. Or I will be. This has all been a bit of a…shock.”
“I imagine it would be. Remember though, as of yet, we have not been able to confirm our suspicions. We could be wrong.”
Deanna shook her head, “We’re not. I can feel that we are not. It’s the first bit of clarity that I have felt since they arrived.”
“Nevertheless, before we jump to any conclusions, we must find them. Come with me.”
Picard turned to leave the room, Deanna following behind.
Riker was standing behind the transporter control console when Picard and Troi entered the room. “Status, Number One.”
Will looked up from the console. His eyes met Deanna’s. He smiled slightly and opened his mind, telling her without words that he was sorry.
Deanna was warmed by his gesture. She could feel immediately that while his emotions were still very volatile, he was now in complete control. She returned his smile with one of understanding.
“Jacen is a smart kid. He not only was able to override the lockout, but he has also managed to mask their destination. I’m trying to access the logs now.” Will’s voice held a note of admiration, and incredibly, a slight touch of pride.
After a few minutes of manipulating the controls, Will was able to access the hidden information. “Here it is. The last persons to transport went to…” Will’s voice trailed off abruptly. “Damn it!”
Picard moved to his side, looking at the information on the screen. “What is it, Number One?”
Deanna read the information, looking at Will in confusion. “Florida? I don’t understand.”
Will pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “It seems we are going to have some uninvited guests on our shore leave.”
Deanna’s eyes widened. “You mean…”
“They have arrived practically on top of the beach house I reserved for us.”
The atmosphere inside the Captain’s Ready Room was heavy with tension. Picard sat behind his desk, conversing with Admiral Ross via subspace.
Deanna sat on the plush sofa, wringing her hands and watching her lover pace in front of her. She did not need her empathic abilities to read him. His movements were sharp, his muscles tense. His mind was once again open to her, but he was projecting a “don’t touch” aura. Although she could understand his attitude, it still hurt. She was feeling the same emotions as he. She yearned to wrap her arms around him and allow his strong embrace to take away the pain.
“I’m sorry, Admiral, I can not agree with that. You are suggesting that I put two of my best officers in danger.”
“Jean-Luc, these kids are obviously here for a reason. It’s not just a coincidence that they went to the same place Commander Riker and Counselor Troi are planning to go.”
“Right. So we send a security detail down to bring them back.” Picard argued reasonably.
“Then what? Do we lock them up somewhere? Hide them, Riker, and Troi away indefinitely? Counselor Troi herself stated that she believes there is no danger from them. So, whatever the danger is, if there is any, will be coming from an outside source. We have no idea from where, but these kids do. Forewarned is forearmed. We need to find out what they know. In order to do that, we need to find them. The best way for that to happen is for Riker and Troi to continue with their plans. Jacen has already proven to be very resourceful. If we send a security detail, we may never find them.”
Picard tried again. “Admiral…”
The Admiral interrupted. “I’m sorry, Jean-Luc. The Council has decided. Don’t worry; we will be stationing security personnel in the vicinity. Riker and Troi will not be completely alone in this.”
The subspace conversation continued for a few minutes. Picard tried to change the Admiral’s mind, to no avail. After several attempts, Picard gave up. He bid the admiral goodbye and closed the channel.
Picard sighed and turned to his officers. “Will? Deanna? What do you think?”
Deanna thought carefully before speaking. “Sir, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive. However, I think Admiral Ross is right. Besides, I really don’t want to spend my days in fear of the unknown.”
“No!” Will exclaimed angrily, shocking the other occupants of the room. “I’ll do this on my own. I don’t want Deanna anywhere near the situation.”
“Will, don’t pull that overprotective nonsense on me.”
Will turned on her, fury flashing in his eyes. “Nonsense? How is it nonsense that I want to keep the woman I love safe?”
Picard cleared his throat loudly. “I think this is a conversation best had alone.” He moved toward the door. “Feel free to use my ready room for as long as you need to.” His voice was dry as he exited the room.
Barely waiting for the door to close behind the captain, Deanna exploded. “This is not about keeping me safe and you know it, Will Riker! You know as well as I do that they won’t hurt me.”
“No, I don’t know that, and neither do you. We have no idea what they are planning.”
“Will, they are our…”
Will cut her off. “They are not!” He yelled. “I do not for one minute believe that.”
Deanna looked incredulous. “How can you say that? How can you doubt it? After finding pictures of us in Jaina’s locket?”
“That proves nothing. Those pictures are recent. They could have gotten them anywhere.”
Deanna tried to be reasonable. “For what purpose?”
Will stalked around the room in silence. Why wouldn’t she listen to him?
“Who knows? That is what we need to find out. That is why you need to stay out of the way. Until we know what their agenda is, we have to perceive them as a threat. You will not put yourself into that position.”
Deanna shook with barely concealed fury. “Another order, Commander?”
Will’s hands clenched at his sides. “Damn it, Deanna! Don’t you dare start telling me again how risk is part of the job. This is not about Starfleet. This is personal.”
“Exactly! This is why I need to be there. It’s my life too, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand back and watch you deal with this -whatever it is- alone. I know Jacen and Jaina are not going to hurt either of us. I feel it. Can’t you trust me?”
Will dropped onto the sofa and buried his head in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. He was silent for a several minutes. Deanna felt his emotions warring inside him. When he spoke at last, his voice was once again calm and even. “Deanna, of course I trust you. I trust you with all my heart and soul, but you are allowing your newfound faith in these kids to cloud your common sense.”
Deanna’s voice was cold. “And you are allowing your fear to cloud yours.”
Deanna turned to the door.
“Deanna, wait. This conversation isn’t finished.”
Deanna gave him a long look filled with anger and pain. “Yes, it is. Will, I’m going with you, whether you like it or not. So get over it.”
With that, Deanna turned and left the room.
With an exhausted sigh, Jaina fell backwards onto the bed. “Whew. I can’t believe we made it. I honestly did not believe we would make it off the Enterprise.”
Jacen stood at the window, warily peering out. Only when he was convinced they were not being followed did he relax his guard. He turned away from the window and gave his sister a cocky grin. “Never underestimate your big brother, Jai. I planned our escape perfectly.”
Jaina rolled her eyes. “You sound just like Daddy.”
“Yeah, he’s brilliant too.”
“‘Brilliant’ is not the word I was looking for.” Jaina teased with a laugh.
Jacen joined his sister on the bed. He was relieved to see her back to her old self. The trauma of late had really taken a toll on her usually “bubbly” personality.
Jaina suddenly sat up, her expression serious. “Jace, we left my locket on our ship. Do you think they found it?”
Jacen shrugged, unconcerned. “Does it matter? I knew when we woke up on the Enterprise that we would not be able to keep our identity a secret. They have been suspicious since they first saw us. If they haven’t figured it out yet, they will soon. Who knows, they may decide to err on the side of caution and cancel their vacation. Then all we have to do is lay low and wait for the Enterprise to leave orbit. If they don’t show up here in Florida, then the incident won’t happen, and our mission will be complete. Albeit, not in the way we planned.”
Jaina stared at her twin disbelievingly. “You can’t possibly believe that Will ‘The Thrill’ Riker would ever err on the side of caution. Especially if they found my locket.” Her facial expression changed to one of mournful resignation. “They’ll be here.”
Jacen could do nothing but agree with Jaina’s prediction. “So much for Plan B. Why don’t we get something to eat and discuss Plan A?”
Jaina’s eyes lit up. “Chocolate?”
Jacen just shook his head, used to his sister’s passion for the confection. “How about some real food first? You may have chocolate for dessert.” Standing up, he pulled her to her feet.
“How about the other way around?” Jaina asked hopefully.
Jacen sighed with adoring patience. “Jai-Jai, chocolate is not a main course.”
Jaina’s lower lip protruded into an exaggerated pout. “And they call Florida a paradise.”
Expecting fireworks, Will was surprised to hear cheerful humming when he entered the quarters he shared with Deanna. Perplexed, and a slight bit leery, he walked into the bedroom.
Open luggage was lying on the bed, clothes neatly inside.
“Deanna, what are you doing?”
Deanna smiled. “Why, Will, what does it look like I’m doing? I’m packing for our trip.”
“Imzadi…” Will began, a hint of warning in his voice.
Deanna ignored his tone. She held up two very slinky bathing suits. “Which one of these should I pack? Purple or gold? Maybe I should take them both. We might even get some actual relaxation in after we clear up this little mystery.”
Will took the practically nonexistent clothing from her. “Deanna, you’re not going.”
“Like hell I’m not.” She returned mildly. She took the suits back and put both into her suitcase.
Will sighed in frustration. “I really wish you would be reasonable about this.”
Deanna brushed past him, going to the closet to continue picking out clothes. “We are not having this conversation again, Commander.”
Will swore viciously. “Deanna, stop doing that! Can’t you understand that I just want what’s best for you?”
Deanna’s outwardly calm mask crumbled. “Who the hell do you think you are to decide what’s best for me?”
Will held up his hand. “Deanna, please…”
“No, Will. Do you honestly expect me to stay on board the ship, or in San Francisco? Why? So I can wait and worry? So I can spend my days and nights wondering what’s going on? Wondering if you are alive or dead? Is that what’s ‘best for me’? To suffer needlessly?”
“You’ve already suffered, Deanna. Or are you forgetting that you passed out cold as a result of Jaina’s nightmare?”
Deanna sat down on the edge of the bed, tears welling in her eyes. “I haven’t forgotten anything. Not the horrible agony, not the terror in her eyes, and most especially not the fact that she has pictures of us that I have no memory of taking.” Tears coursed freely down her face. “Will, don’t make me stay. I have to see this thing through. I can’t let you face this alone. Please don’t ask me to.”
Will crossed the room and sunk to his knees in front of her, pulling her gently into his arms. “Alright, you can go.” He stroked her hair as she cried against his shoulder. “But, you have to promise me you will be very careful.”
Deanna stiffed. “Only if you promise to do the same.”
Will had a feeling he was making a terrible mistake. His arms tightened around her. “I’m not letting you out of my sight for a minute.”
Deanna laughed, her good humor returning. “OK, but we may not get anything accomplished that way. That much togetherness usually gets us, umm…distracted.”
Will shook his head with a smile. “You’re incredible, you know that?”
Deanna kissed him quickly, and then jumped up. She continued with her packing. “So, how do we go about finding them?”
Will shrugged. “I have a feeling they won’t be too hard to locate. My guess is they plan to stick pretty close to us.”
Within seconds, the transporter occupants left the perfectly regulated environment of the Enterprise, and materialized into the blazing sunshine of Florida. The humidity was suffocating. Deanna’s light, loose-fitting clothing suddenly felt sticky and cumbersome.
“Gods, it’s hot!” She glanced at Will. “Did you know it was going to be this hot?”
Will grinned. “Welcome to Florida in July.”
Deanna groaned. “How can you stand this? You come from Alaska, for crying out loud!”
“Imzadi, look around.”
Skeptical, Deanna looked at her surroundings for the first time. She inhaled sharply and stared in wonder, her discomfort instantly forgotten. It was…well beautiful was too mild a word. Palm trees swayed gently in the warm summer breeze. The uncompromising sun shone brightly on the white sand of the beach, giving the illusion of diamonds glittering in the light. Foam capped, blue green waves licked gently at the shore. A seagull glided low over the water, making the entire scene a picture of perfection.
“Wow,” Deanna whispered reverently. She turned in a slow circle to face the charming row of houses lining the coast. “Which one is ours?”
Will wrapped his arms around her from behind and pointed to the left. “Second one down, the one with the porch swing.”
The pretty little cabin charmed Deanna with its quaintness. She leaned back comfortably in Will’s embrace. “It’s incredible.”
Will took her hand and began walking toward the house. “Wait until you see inside. My parents used to bring me here on vacation before my mother died. We were fortunate enough to get the same cabin.”
Deanna looked at him quizzically. “Isn’t it dangerous to be this close to the ocean? These houses do not seem to be too sturdy.”
“Hundreds of years ago that was true. Hurricanes made living this close risky. Fortunately, with our technology we can dispel any potentially dangerous weather patterns before they become a threat.”
Deanna gave him a rueful smile. “If only we could dispel other risky situations as easily as a hurricane.”
Will opened the door and gestured for her to proceed him over the threshold. “We could if certain dark-haired counselors weren’t so damn stubborn.”
“Don’t start, Will.”
“I mean it, Will!”
Will exhaled in frustration. “Are we going to argue the entire time we are here?”
Will considered that for a moment, before shrugging. “Oh well. I would rather fight with you than be peaceful with anyone else.” The grin he gave her was obscenely sexy and all male.
Deanna’s insides melted into a warm, gooey puddle. It was decidedly unfair that he could make her weak with just a glance. She shook her head. “You’re something else. Half the time, I don’t know whether to kiss you or slug you.”
Laughing, Will picked her up and spun her around. “Admit it, you love it!”
Deanna joined in his laughter. “Put me down, you nut. You’re making me dizzy.”
Will stopped spinning, but did not loosen his grip. “Kiss me first.”
Deanna complied. “Now let me go.”
“Never.” He responded, setting her back on her feet.
Deanna moved out of his arms and looked around. The room was tastefully furnished and comfortable. The décor was done in accents of cool, airy pastels. The furniture was wicker and the walls were decorated with beautiful watercolor landscapes depicting everything from pink sunsets to majestic wetlands. “You’re right, Will. This is very nice.” Deanna dropped onto a comfortable looking loveseat and sighed in pleasure as her body sunk pleasantly into the overstuffed cushion. “I have to admit, Imzadi. You picked the perfect vacation spot. I would love to spend the entire two weeks just lounging on the beach. Too bad we’re not going to be able to.”
Will joined her on the sofa. “Oh, I don’t know about that. I have been thinking. It would probably be best if we go about our business as if nothing has happened, at least for a few days. If we seem nervous or wary, Jacen and Jaina may stay in hiding.”
Deanna grinned suddenly, giving him a teasing look.
Will raised his eyebrows. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Can I believe my ears? Did Will Riker just admit that I might have been right?”
Will rolled his eyes and smiled sheepishly. “Yes. I admit that you were right.” Deanna’s smile widened. “But, that does not mean that I’m going to relax my guard one bit. I will be making every effort to find, and get the truth out of those two, even if I have to choke it out of them. And don’t think I’m going to allow you to do anything by yourself.” He warned sternly.
Deanna shivered mockingly. “OOH, I love it when you get all macho on me. Don’t worry, Imzadi. The plans I have for this vacation are much more enjoyable with two people.”
Will looked interested. “Really? Why don’t you explain these plans of yours in a little more detail?” He leaned closer, running his hand up her thigh possessively.
Deanna shivered for real. “You see it’s like this…” Deanna molded her lips to his in a kiss that sizzled, sending them both into a realm of pure pleasure.
Several long minutes later, she pulled away enough to whisper. “Get the idea?”
Will growled crudely. “I’m getting something."
The outside world ceased to exist as love and desire took control, blocking out everything except the heaven they felt in each other’s arms.
Neither of them noticed their every move was being carefully observed by two separate, but equally interested parties.
A woman cloaked in darkness nodded simply. “I know.”
Her companion smiled, his expression eager and self satisfied. “She’s perfect for our needs. We will have no difficulty getting her to do what we want.”
The woman looked at him in reproach. “Don’t be over confident, Krael. She may be an easy conquest, but her lover will not be.”
Krael shrugged, unconcerned. “That makes no difference, Serot. Once we have the Empath in our control, it won’t be long before we have that pathetic planet of hers bending to our will, and subsequently, the entire Federation.”
“And her companion?” Serot asked.
Krael’s smile was menacing. “If the esteemed Commander gets in our way, I’ll kill him.”
Jaina turned away from the window, “I know. I could feel them the minute they arrived.” Jaina moved into her brother’s arms, hugging him tightly. “Jace, I’m scared.”
Jacen rubbed her back, trying to comfort her. “I know you are, Funny Face,” he whispered, hoping the seldom used childhood nickname would coax her out of her fear.
His gentle teasing worked. Stepping out of his brotherly embrace, she gave him a slight smile. “Do you think the others are here as well?”
“According to our sources, they probably have been here for a while. I’m sure they have already put their plans into motion.”
“So the game begins.” Jaina said dully. “Jacen, can’t we just go to Will and Deanna and tell them the truth? We can end this before it even begins.”
“Jai, you know we can’t do that. We cannot let them know what is going to happen. We have to do this on our own.”
“But, what if we can’t? What if they get to her before we can stop them?”
“Funny Face, trust me, will you? Trust yourself. We have discussed every possible scenario. We will succeed.”
Jaina wished she had her brother’s confidence.
The wind howled around her, sounding sinister to her frightened ears. She ran faster, tripping over branches and slipping on wet ground. The sound of footsteps pounded behind her, coming closer. She looked over her shoulder frantically, terror carrying her further into the marsh. Her foot caught on an unearthed root and she sprawled face down into the mud. She cried out as agony shot through her body. She lay whimpering on the ground, too frightened to get up. The footsteps got closer. She could hear voices now, screaming at her in fury. She forced herself to get up. She had to get away. She began running again, trying to be more mindful of the pitfalls around her. She heard a voice coming from somewhere ahead. She almost collapsed in relief when she recognized the voice. He had come for her! She knew he would.
She could see him now, silhouetted in the moonlight. His beloved face was shadowed, but she knew it was him. She ran faster, desperate to reach him. Her pursuers were drawing closer. From behind her, she heard the familiar sound of an energy weapon being fired. She sucked in her breath, expecting to feel searing pain, and was surprised when none came. Then to her horror, she watched as her beloved fell to the ground.
“WILL!” Deanna sat straight up in bed, breathing heavily.
Lying beside her, Will came awake instantly. “Deanna? What is it?”
Deanna’s body shook with remembered terror. Fear gripped Riker. He sat up and put his arms around her trembling form. “Deanna, what happened?” She gave no indication of having heard him. “Imzadi, talk to me. Come on, sweetheart, snap out of it.”
His frantic voice penetrated her mind. She threw her arms around him and held on, crying in relief. “Oh, Will. It was horrible. Somebody was chasing me, and I couldn’t reach you in time.”
Will cooed soothingly. “Shh, it’s alright, I’m here. Couldn’t reach me in time for what?”
Deanna shuddered against him. “They shot you. I heard a weapon fire, and thought they were going to shoot me, but they got you instead.” Deanna could not prevent the tears that rolled freely down her face.
“It’s alright. It was just a dream.” Will cupped her tear streaked face gently, tipping it up to look into her eyes. “See, I’m fine. It was only a dream.”
Deanna shook her head frantically, “No, Will. It was more than a dream. It felt more like a premonition.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“I don’t know! Imzadi, I’m…” Deanna stopped talking abruptly. She cocked her head to the side as if listening to something.
Deanna’s face took on a strange look that frightened Will.
“Deanna?” he repeated. “What is it?”
Deanna’s voice was soft, filled with amazement. “I can hear them, Will. I can hear them talking. They’re close by.”
“Who? The pursuers from your dream?”
Deanna shook her head and smiled. “No, not them. Jacen and Jaina. I can hear them. Jaina’s crying.”
Will jumped out of bed. He quickly began to dress. “Where? Where are they? Can you tell?”
Deanna got up and grabbed her clothes, her earlier terror subsiding. “Not exactly, but they are close. Very close.”
“Can your sense of them lead us to where they are?”
Deanna thought for a minute before nodding. “I think so. I can feel them intensely, in a way that is usually only possible with you or my mother.”
Will did not want to think of the implications of that! “Fine. Let’s go. It’s time we got some answers.”
Jacen held his crying sister until her body stopped shaking. “There, all better now?” He asked when she pulled away.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Jaina’s voice shook slightly.
“What happened? Another nightmare?”
Jaina took a deep breath. “Yes, but not mine.”
Jacen looked at her, his eyes narrowing sharply. “What do you mean?”
“It was her. She was having a nightmare. I could feel it, and it woke me up.”
Jacen dropped his head into his hands. “Oh, gods. That means…”
“That our mental blocks are useless now. Somehow, her subconscious broke through them.” Jaina finished, her voice shaking with emotion. “This means they will probably find us any minute now, and lying will be pointless.”
“Damn right it is,” came a voice from the doorway. Jacen and Jaina turned toward the voice, not the least bit surprised to see Will Riker standing there, Deanna right behind him.
Will and Deanna moved further into the room. “Why don’t you start explaining? The truth this time.”
Deanna did not need an explanation, she already knew. She knew as soon as she walked into the room.
Jacen sighed, resigned. “What would you like to know?”
Deanna gripped Will’s hand tightly in her own. “How about starting with your last name?” She whispered, needing to hear it from them, needing Will to hear it.
Jacen and Jaina shared a look. They stared at each other for an eternity before Jaina nodded.
Jacen faced his parents bravely. “Riker. Our last names are Riker.”
Deanna had to hold onto Will to keep from falling during the horrible silence that followed Jacen’s words. The emotions of her three companions were staggering. They assaulted her senses with their intensity.
Will stared at Jacen, dumbstruck. “No. I don’t believe you. I don’t know what kind of game this is, but it stops right now.”
Deanna tried to reason with him. “Will, it’s true. He’s not lying.”
Will shook his head in vehement denial. “No, it can’t be. It’s impossible.”
“Will, come on, look at them! Jacen looks just like you!” She turned to Jaina. The young girl was crying again. Deanna went to her, not sure of what to do, but instinctively knowing the girl needed her. “Jaina.”
Jaina threw herself into her mother’s arms. She did not care that this Deanna Troi had no memory of her. She did not care that she knew little about the woman her mother was in this time. All that mattered to Jaina was that after long months of soul shattering grief, she had her mother back, and she would take her in any form she could.
Deanna sat on the edge of the bed, rocking the distraught girl as she sobbed.
Watching them, Will allowed himself to accept the truth. He turned furious eyes on Jacen. “Why, damn it? Why are you here? How?”
Jacen met his father’s glare with one of his own. “Which answer do you want first? How, or why?”
Will slammed his fist into the wall, causing Deanna and Jaina to jump. “Don’t be glib with me, boy. Just answer the question.”
Jacen opened his mouth to give a sarcastic reply, and then thought better of it. After all, the angry man in front of him was his father.
“We came here to save our mother’s life. That’s all I’m prepared to tell you.”
Will’s face reddened in anger. “That’s not good enough!” He yelled.
“Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you anymore. The timeline…”
“To hell with the timeline! I want to know what you are hoping to save Deanna from, and I want to know now.”
By this time, Jaina had stopped crying. She watched the argument with great interest. Seeing her brother going toe to toe with a younger version of her father was fascinating. Suddenly she laughed.
Three heads turned sharply in her direction. Jacen spoke first. “Jai, what is so funny?”
Jaina held her stomach as it ached, trying to control her mirth. “You are! The last time I heard the two of you argue like that, was when you hid Daddy’s trombone in the Jeffries tube.”
The ridiculousness of the situation diffused the bulk of Will’s anger. He shook his head ruefully. He could not believe he was actually standing there arguing with someone whom, to the best of his knowledge, was not even conceived yet.
Deanna felt Will trying to get a hold on his anger. She sent warmth to him through their bond. He relaxed visibly. ~Thanks~ he sent back.
He smiled at his newfound daughter, noticing for the first time how much like Deanna she looked. He could not believe he had not seen the resemblance before. “My ‘bone? Why would he do something like that?”
Deanna laughed. “He probably got tired of hearing you butcher ‘Nightbird,’” She teased.
Will ignored her. He turned to Jacen again, his voice even. “I can understand your concern for the timeline, but we really need more information. Especially if Deanna’s life depends on it. Obviously, her life is not in immediate danger; otherwise, the two of you would not exist. You said yourself that her death was recent. Relatively speaking.” Will’s voice cracked. It was difficult for him to talk about Deanna’s death, now or in the future.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but…”
Jaina spoke, interrupting her brother. “Jace, I think we should tell them as much as we can. The four of us working together is bound to be more effective than just you and I.”
Jacen turned to his sister, annoyance showed clearly on his face. “Jaina Troi! We’ve discussed this before. You know we can’t.”
Deanna raised her eyebrows at this. “Troi?”
Jaina nodded with a smirk. “You gave me that name to appease Grandmother. She was quite upset when you took Daddy’s last name instead of the other way around.”
Jaina got up and went to her brother’s side. “Be reasonable, Jacen. We cannot expect them to accept what they already know and just go blindly about their business. We have to at least tell them what we are trying to prevent!”
Jacen gave in. “Alright, but no more little anecdotes about the future. We discuss only the immediate situation. Agreed?”
Jaina smiled in satisfaction. “Agreed.”
With a sigh, Jacen faced his father, who was now sitting on the bed with his arms around Deanna. The sight heartened Jacen. It felt good to see them together again. It felt good to see her alive and well. Deanna’s future death had taken quite a toll on Jacen as well as Jaina.
“Let’s move into the other room, and we’ll talk. I don’t know about anybody else, but I am hungry. I’ll fix us something to eat while we talk.” He turned to leave the room.
Will, Deanna, and Jaina followed. Will could not help yelling after his son, “Can you cook?”
Jacen threw a cocky grin over his shoulder. “Better than you.”
Deanna chuckled. She knew it was ridiculous, giving the seriousness of the situation, but she suddenly felt light hearted, freer than she had since the day they pulled the kids off their disabled vessel.
“Where did they go?” Serot yelled. She pierced her companion with a murderous look.
Krael bristled at her tone. “I don’t know. They were here earlier. They must have left while I wasn’t watching.”
“And why, may I ask, were you at any time not watching?” Serot demanded.
Krael shrugged nonchalantly, “I got hungry. What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s not like they are gone for good. They are supposed to be here for two weeks.”
“Oh, well that’s a comfort!” Serot shot back sarcastically. “I guess we can over look your complete incompetence this time.”
Krael got a deadly glint in his eyes. “Watch yourself, Serot. You forget who you are dealing with here.”
Serot took a cautious step back, out of his immediate reach. She knew she should not have hired someone of his reputation for this mission. He may prove to be more than she could handle.
Krael’s diabolical smile concerned Serot. “Don’t worry so much, Serot. I have everything under control. The Betazoid bitch will not get away from us.”
Deanna took a hearty bite out of the omelette Jacen had prepared for her. Jacen was right; he was a better cook then Will.
They ate in silence for a moment, each engrossed in his or her own thoughts. Finally, Will pushed his plate away and said, somewhat harshly, “Alright. Start talking.”
Deanna shot him a reproachful look. ~Will, please, give him a chance~
Will nodded in response to her mental urging. He forced himself to soften his tone. “I’m sorry. I would appreciate any information you are willing to give.”
Jacen had not missed the silent exchange between his parents, nor the effect it had on the older Riker male. He smiled inwardly. Through out his life, many a disagreement had been diffused in a similar fashion.
Taking a deep breath, Jacen began. “It’s not easy to explain. The full details are sketchy, even to us.”
Deanna smiled gently at him, giving him encouragement. “Just try. Maybe you can start by telling us how you got here.”
Jacen was reluctant to discuss any of the details. Seeing this, Jaina spoke. “A temporal wormhole.”
Will started. “A what?” he asked incredulously.
Jacen sighed, slightly annoyed with his sister. If she was not careful, she would end up saying too much. “A temporal wormhole. Very rare, very unpredictable. Our starship was studying one when Mom got sick. That’s how we knew where it was located. And that is all I’m going to say on that subject.” He looked defiantly at his father.
Will inclined his head in acceptance. “Fair enough. You said your mother got sick,” Will forced the words out. “What can you tell us about that?”
Jacen hesitated, unsure of how much to say.
Jaina exhaled loudly. “Come on, Jacen, just tell them.”
“Fine. However, everything said here has to remain between us. Temporal interference is a highly dangerous undertaking.”
“Then why did you come here?” Will demanded. “Why didn’t you leave things as they were?”
“How can you ask that? Could you do it? Could you just let her die and not do anything?” Jacen ran his fingers through his hair in a gesture so like Will; Deanna almost smiled. “What am I saying? Of course you could. You did.” His voice was laced with bitterness.
“Jacen, that’s not fair!” Jaina admonished, horrified. “Daddy doesn’t even know…” Jaina stopped abruptly.
Will looked at her with interest. “Know what, Jaina? That the two of you came through time to change the future? Of course my future self doesn’t know, he would have never allowed it, would he?”
Jaina did not answer.
Will pushed. “You snuck off and did this on your own, didn’t you?”
“We had help,” Jaina mumbled.
“From who, Jaina?”
Deanna gasped. “Beverly? Beverly Crusher? Why?”
Jacen answered for his sister. “Because she felt guilty that she couldn’t prevent what happened. So we convinced her to help us. She did so reluctantly.”
Will had had enough. “I’m only going to ask this once. Why did you come back to before you were born to prevent something that is going to happen in the future? Why now, why this time frame? And what the hell does this have to do with Beverly?”
“We chose this time because this is when the events that lead to Mom’s death begin. And the reason we are doing this is because it’s our fault she dies.”
Deanna stared at her future son. He actually believed what he was saying. They both did. Jaina’s face was shadowed in grief again. Deanna’s heart went out to her. She would do anything to take away that heart wrenching sorrow.
Deanna swallowed past the lump in her throat. “How is my…” She could not say the word. “…illness…”she amended, “your fault? You are not born yet.”
Jacen sighed. “It’s a very long story. Mom,” Jacen stopped when he saw the look on Deanna’s face. “Deanna? I’m not even sure what to call you. I know this is awkward for you, to suddenly have two practically grown children. It’s awkward for us, too.”
Will spoke, with a gentleness that was surprising, considering his mood, “Maybe we should stick with ‘Will’ and ‘Deanna’ for now.”
Jacen nodded his agreement. “There is so much you don’t know, and I’m not sure how much I can feel comfortable telling you. This has been very difficult. All our lives, we have been raised within the rules of Starfleet and the Prime Directive. Temporal Noninterference is as important then as it is now, maybe more so since the discovery of the temporal wormhole. It wasn’t easy for me to make the decision to come here, even harder to convince Beverly and…” Jacen stopped abruptly.
Will raised his left eyebrow with a smile. He had no reason to be amused, but he was nonetheless. “And who, Jacen? Which other of our friends did you con into helping you?”
Jacen looked miserable, like a guilty child caught sneaking cookies before dinner. “Well, you see, Beverly helped a lot with the history lessons and the medical stuff, but we needed someone who could make some, shall we say special, modifications to our ship.”
Jacen nodded again. “And Wesley.”
Riker looked very interested now. “Wesley Crusher?”
Jaina broke in with a grin. “Don’t forget about Data.”
Deanna choked. “DATA!”
Will shook his head, not sure whether to be appalled or amused. “Beverly, Geordi, Wesley and Data? Is there anyone else involved? No, let me guess, Picard?”
Jaina shook her head vehemently. “Oh, no. Uncle Jean-Luc would never have approved.”
“Uncle Jean-Luc? No, never mind, I don’t want to know.”
Will got up from the table and began pacing around the room. “There had to be more to the story than two kids who missed their mother for them to get involved in something as volatile as time-travel. How about if we stop all the hedging and double talk and get down to the facts?”
Deanna agreed. “Jacen, you said that it is your fault. Why?”
Jacen said nothing for a long time. He wrestled with his conscience. He promised Beverly and the others he would not interfere with the timeline, outside of undoing what he and his sister had caused. Telling his parents about the Kreptins at this point could change things more than was wise. More than anything, Jacen wanted to follow his father’s example in regards to a life in Starfleet. The rules set forth by the Prime Directive were not just words for Jacen; they were a way of life. To jeopardize that…
On the other hand, Jacen thought defiantly, to hell with the rules, his precious mother’s life was worth more to him than anything.
He took the plunge. “About five years ago, our time, the Federation encountered a previously unknown race, the Kreptins. From the first, relations with them were precarious. They are a violent, warlike people, much like the Klingons, only much worse. They are devious and bent on domination. They believe they are superior to all other life forms, and are…were…determined to ‘take over the universe’, as cliché as that sounds.
We…our ship…were the first to make contact with them. They attacked on sight, neither knowing nor caring who we were. Their weapons are highly advanced. We almost did not survive the encounter.”
Jacen stopped talking for a moment, remembering things that were unpleasant and better left unsaid.
“I still remember how frightened Jaina and I were. We were so young, and although we had spent our entire lives on a Starship, that was the first time we experienced anything so hostile. You were both on the bridge, and we were alone in our quarters. Miraculously, the ship survived the attack, with minimal loss of life. I remember thinking at the time how fortunate we were to have such a great captain, because surely it was his quick thinking that got us out of the situation.” Jacen smiled at Will, letting him know without words just who that captain was. “Jaina and I bragged for days at school. Anyway, it wasn’t until later that we discovered that they had allowed us to escape.”
Deanna held out her hand to Will, who was still pacing like a madman. He took her hand in his and squeezed gently. “Why did they let you…us…go?”
“Well, while they were attacking us, they were also doing a scan of the ship and all its inhabitants. They found someone in their search that they wanted to keep alive, so they ceased fire.”
Jacen and Jaina shared a look. They seemed to be communicating silently. Deanna puzzled this over in her mind. Their mental capabilities were extraordinary, given their limited Betazoid heritage. Being only one-quarter Betazoid, they should not have been able to communicate telepathically with such ease. She made a mental note to ask them about it later.
“Go on,” she urged. “Whom did they find of such interest?”
Jaina cleared her throat nervously, “You.”
Serot stalked angrily around the room. “They have been gone half the night! Where could they possibly be at this time of night?”
Krael smiled dryly, “Is that a rhetorical question, or does it require an answer?”
Serot glared at him with murder in her eyes. “You would have an answer if you had been doing the job you were paid to do. Where are they?”
Krael shrugged. “I don’t know. Having passionate sex on the beach, maybe?”
“For this long? Impossible! Besides, we have already checked the beach. This is ridiculous.”
“What are you so worried about? We have days before our transport ship arrives in orbit.”
Serot stormed, “I am not going to report to my superiors that we lost them on the first day! I am not waiting for the transport ship. We move tonight.”
Krael grinned. “If they ever return.”
“Oh, they’ll return, and when they do, that bitch is mine.”
Deanna reached deep within, trying desperately to center herself. Her ragged emotions threatened to spill over, engulfing her in a tidal wave of fear, anguish, and uncertainty. She was not sure how much more she could take.
“At the risk of sounding repetitive, why me?”
Jacen’s visage was grim. “We are not entirely sure. It was not until the end that we discovered that they had singled you out personally. I have so much more to tell you. Maybe after you hear the rest, we will be able to puzzle it out together.”
Deanna shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know what insight I can give, but please continue.”
“After that initial ‘battle’, the Kreptins seemed to appear everywhere. Attacking transport ships and small space stations, even a few planets. The Federation Council was baffled. All attempts at communication were simply ignored or violently opposed. They opened fire on every ship they encountered, with the exception of our ship. It was though they purposely left us alone. We considered ourselves fortunate. The Council considered it fortuitous. They decided that our apparent immunity granted us an advantage. We were dispatched to determine a way past their advanced defenses. That was a huge undertaking. Jaina and I spent all of our free time in engineering, helping to remodulate the weapons array to match their shield harmonics. We…” Jacen stopped speaking. Will was looking at him incredulously. “What?”
“The two of you were working in engineering?” Will questioned. “Just how old are you?”
“We’re seventeen.” Jacen admitted.
Will was startled. “Both of you? Twins?”
Deanna was not surprised. The fact that they shared a womb explained their heightened mental capabilities. Even centuries ago, on Earth, twins were known to have extraordinary mental and emotional links. Add to that the natural tendencies of their Betazoid heritage…
Deanna was, however, surprised when another thought occurred to her. “Wait a minute. Do you mean to tell us that at the age of twelve you had access to Engineering?”
Will whistled softly. “I’m impressed.” He laughed slightly. “The last time I saw something like that was when Wesley first came aboard the D.”
The twins colored slightly. “Wes was fourteen,” Jacen stated. His voice held a slight touch of arrogance. “He and Jaina have the same IQ. Mine is slightly higher.”
Jaina snorted. “What the boy wonder here hasn’t mentioned is the fact that having the last name Riker pretty much gave us free reign to do anything we wanted.”
Jacen ignored his sister. “Anyway, as I was saying. We worked for months trying to get past their defenses. All the while, the Kreptins continued their attacks. They were like the pirates of ancient Earth, pillaging every ship that had the misfortune of crossing their path. They raided small, sparsely populated planets, taking prisoners and raping the land of its natural resources.
After several months of studying their methods, we were finally able to formulate a defensive strategy. We were able to down one of their ships and take prisoners. It was then that we discovered why they allowed our ship a wide berth. We held two of their officers in the brig, determined to discover something useful. Mom was given the dubious assignment of trying to put together a psychological profile. She spent a lot of time in the brig, talking to them, trying to get a clear sense of them. The most peculiar thing happened. Their health began to deteriorate. They got weaker and weaker as the days went by. The medical staff was baffled. They could find no reason for them to be dying. One of them did die. The autopsy showed severe neurological deterioration. Upon further examination, Beverly discovered a part of their brain that was unlike anything she had ever seen. It had the same basic makeup as our paracortex, but was different, almost like an anti paracortex.”
Deanna blinked. “Excuse me?”
Jacen shrugged. “I don’t know how else to describe it. The same area of the brain that gives us our telepathic or empathic abilities seemed to have an adverse effect on the Kreptins. Rather than enhancing their brain, telepathic activity destroyed the tissue, slowly eating away at their gray matter with every mind probe.”
All color drained from Deanna’s face. She gripped Will’s hand tightly. “So, essentially, I killed him.”
Jacen’s eyes flashed with anger and a touch of remorse. “Yeah. You were so shaken by the knowledge that you had inadvertently caused his death, you never went near the brig again. It did not matter that they had killed thousands of innocent people by that time; you were determined not to cause our other ‘guest’ any more harm.” Jacen paused briefly, allowing Deanna a few minutes to assimilate this. “We were able to find out a lot through study of the dead Kreptin’s brain. We estimated that while your empathy caused a gradual decline, a strong telepathic connection could cause an almost instant death for them. The Council decided to use this knowledge to our advantage. They appealed to Betazed for help, and stationed at least one Betazoid on every starship.”
Deanna shook her head in denial. “No. I cannot believe that any of my people would knowingly, willingly, consent to committing such an atrocity.”
Jaina, quiet through most of the story, softly interjected. “Please, don’t misunderstand. It was not the Federation’s intentions to destroy the Kreptins. Having telepaths on every ship was for defensive purposes only. Starfleet immediately tried to open negotiations again. The objective was to come to peaceful terms with them. The Kreptins refused to discuss any terms. They continued to attack. Unfortunately, Beverly’s hypothesis was correct. As soon as they came into range, the Kreptins began dying. Finally, they retreated. They virtually disappeared. We never did figure out where their homeworld was.”
Deanna rolled her head on her shoulders, trying to work out the tension in her neck. Will automatically stood up and began massaging her shoulders with his strong, yet gentle hands. He regarded his son intently. He knew there was more to the story. A feeling of dread formed in the pit of his stomach. He had a feeling he did not want to hear the rest.
Jacen was tired. Tired of talking, tired of bringing more horror into his parents’ life with every word he spoke. The worst was yet to come, he was not sure he had the strength to tell it. He so desperately wanted to stop right there. He could not stand the thought of seeing his mother go through the telling of her own death. He turned and met his sister’s eyes. Gentle understanding shone from their luminous depths. ~I know it hurts, Jace, but we have to finish this. ~
~I know we do, but I’m not sure I can. ~
~Do you want me to tell the rest? ~
Jacen actually smiled at that. ~No, Funny Face, I don’t really want you to go through it either. I will tell them~
Deanna watched the silent exchange with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Like Will, she dreaded the rest of the kids’ story.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Jacen began again. “We heard nothing more from them. Life went on. We actually began to think the whole incident had been a bad dream.” Jacen laughed mirthlessly. “Bad dream is right. Approximately a year and a half ago, Mom began having nightmares.”
“What sort of nightmares?”
“I don’t know. She-you-never remembered what the dreams were about. You would wake up in the night screaming. When questioned, you were never able to give any details, only a vague recollection of intense emotions.”
Deanna leaned her head against Will, whom was still rubbing her shoulders. She remembered the dream she had earlier in the evening. She shuddered.
Jacen rubbed his eyes wearily. He was silent for several minutes, inwardly wrestling with his own demons. When at last he spoke, his voice was an emotionless monotone. It was if he had blocked the entirety of his feelings, not allowing them to surface. Deanna recognized the defensive posturing for what it was. “Soon after the nightmares began, headaches accompanied them. I remember how alarmed we were. The more intense the dream, the stronger the headache. You brushed it off, insisted that you were fine. You were so damn stubborn. You would allow Beverly to run a few tests, but you flat out refused a neuroblock. The two of you argued about it on several occasions. You began to change, became distant and withdrawn. We knew that the strain from the dreams was getting to you, but you rejected all offers of help. One day, Jaina and I returned to our quarters after school to find you unconscious on the floor. You were in a coma for three days.”
Will abruptly stepped away from Deanna and stormed across the room. He stared blindly out the window as Jacen continued with his story.
“Dad freaked. We had never seen him so terrified before. While you were unconscious, Beverly ran a battery of neurological tests. She discovered an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the paracortex.
During the coma, you continued to have nightmares. Beverly was able to monitor them. She discovered that the inflammation increased after each one. She tried everything she could to induce a dreamless state, but the nightmares continued. When you finally woke up, Beverly insisted that you be taken to Earth to under go treatment at Starfleet Medical. Dad agreed. We returned to the house we kept in San Francisco. Jean-Luc pulled strings and had Bev transferred planetside. You underwent every treatment known to the Federation. Beverly brought in the finest neurologists from Betazed. Even Grandmother tried to establish a link, hoping to break the cycle. Nothing worked. The nightmares increased, started coming in the form of visions while you were awake. The headaches worsened. Beverly tried desperately, but it was hopeless. We finally had to face the truth. The dreams were killing you, and there was no way to stop it.”
Will leaned his head against the windowpane in anguish. He barely noticed when Deanna approached him, slipping her arms around his waist. He felt numb. He could not accept what he was hearing.
After years of being apart, they had finally found their way back into each other’s arms. He would not, could not accept losing her. Now, or twenty years in the future. No, damn it! His mind screamed. He wanted-needed-forever. Anything less was unthinkable.
He turned in her arms. Will enveloped Deanna in his embrace and held on tight. He wanted to breathe her in and forget everything else. He wanted to scoop her up and disappear into the night, going as far away as possible. He wanted to hold her until the fear in him subsided. He felt wetness on his face and shirt and realized they were both crying. Will’s body shook uncontrollably as Deanna whispered feeble words of comfort in his ear.
The twins observed the tender scene through tears of their own. Deanna’s death played through their minds, a fresh open wound that would not heal.
Jacen decided in that moment that there would be no more talk of her death. Deanna and Will had heard enough, maybe too much. He reminded himself of Jaina’s own nightmares. Nightmares that started almost immediately after Deanna’s death. Events that had scared the hell out of him, terrified him with the thought of losing his precious sibling also.
As if reading his mind, Deanna pulled away from Will to regard her children with tear drenched eyes. “Are Jaina’s nightmares related to what happened-will happen-to me?”
“No,” Jacen said softly. “Although we thought so at first. After the first one, which came about a week after your death, Beverly immediately started scans. She found no evidence of the same inflammation and there weren’t any headaches. Beverly diagnosed them as being a result of the trauma of seeing you die. She said it’s not unusual for a child to experience nightmares after a parent’s death.”
The psychologist in Deanna agreed. “Well, that’s something to be thankful for. The dreams will subside in time, as your mind begins to accept the loss.”
Jaina’s tear soaked eyes flashed with determination. “They’ll stop before then. We will end this before it begins.”
Will joined them at the table again. He was once again in control of his emotions. “Yes. Why don’t we discuss your little trek through time, and how it fits in here.”
Jacen hedged. He knew what they had done was the correct action, but how to explain? How to make them understand? Tampering with the past was something one did not take lightly, regardless of the reasons. Guilt set heavy inside his chest. If it had not been for his own carelessness, they would not be in this predicament. “Are you sure you want to hear any more of this tonight? It’s late and everyone is exhausted, physically and emotionally. The rest of the story can keep until we get a few hours of rest.”
Will exploded. “Do not patronize me, kid. So far you have told us nothing of why you are here. You implied earlier that the events you just described started here, now. I’m not leaving this room until I know what to expect.”
Jacen, just as stubborn as his father, refused to back down. He gestured to his mother and sister. “Look at them! How much more do you think either of them can take in one sitting?”
“I can’t protect Deanna if I don’t know what it is that I’m protecting her from.”
“You don’t have to! I got us into this situation; I will be the one to get us out. I promise I’ll tell you the rest, but I need a few hours. We all do.”
“You will tell me, now!” Will’s hands clenched into fists.
Deanna laid a restraining hand on his arm. “Will, stop. Jacen is right. We have all been through an emotionally draining couple of hours. I, for one, don’t want to hear anymore right now. I can’t.”
Will shot her a disbelieving look, “Deanna, you can’t be serious…”
Jaina interrupted, her voice soft and gentle. “Daddy-Will-in our discussions with Aunt Bev, she remembered talking to Deanna two days from now. This means we have time. A few hours of rest will not change anything, but it will be of great benefit to us all if we take the time to deal with what has already been revealed.”
Will regarded his daughter thoughtfully. God, she was so much like Deanna. She had the same beauty, the same gentle grace. He felt his heart began to melt. He looked at Jacen. The younger man looked the way Will felt. Obviously, Will thought wryly, Jaina also had her mother’s ability to turn Riker males into blubbering masses of gelatinous goo.
He sighed in tired resignation. “Alright, I give up. I can’t fight you both.” He smiled at Jacen. “Do they always gang up on us like this?”
Jacen returned his father’s smile with an enigmatic one. “You’ll find out.”
Will stood in the doorway, watching his Imzadi sleep. Beside her, curled into a tight fetal position, lay Jaina. Seeing the two of them together put a lump in Will’s throat and filled him with a sweet tenderness that he had never felt before. Until very recently, Will had not given too much thought to the future. Now he knew his future held marriage to Deanna, and two amazing children. A sense of rightness filled his soul. He found that he was greatly looking forward to rearing Jacen and Jaina, to spending his life with Deanna at his side. If they make it through the next couple of days, he thought.
Will felt Jacen standing behind him. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Jacen whispered.
Will smiled his agreement. He turned away from the scene, inclining his head toward the living room, indicating that Jacen should follow.
Will went straight to the small wet bar. He poured two healthy shots of whiskey. Turning, he handed one to his son.
Jacen raised his eyebrow in surprise.
Will shrugged. “You look like you could use one.”
Jacen took the proffered glass. “Thanks.” He laughed. “Remember this when I’m fourteen and suffering from my first hangover.”
Will laughed. “I thought there wasn’t going to be any future anecdotes.”
Jacen threw himself across a chair. He downed his drink in one quick swallow. “I consider that self-preservation. I was grounded for a week.”
Father and son sat in compatible silence for a long time. Both were preoccupied with their own thoughts. Both were alert to every sound around them, listening intently for anything out of the ordinary.
After a while, Jacen spoke. “I’m glad you decided to stay here tonight. I was hoping we could discuss the rest of this with out either of them hearing. Jaina is holding up pretty well, but I would prefer if she did not have to relive it again. I don’t think Deanna needs to hear the rest either. At least not all of it.”
Will knew Deanna would be livid, but he agreed. “This hasn’t been easy on you either,” he commented.
“No, it hasn’t, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. However, I am a Riker. You know as well as I do, we do not cower in corners. We fight back. Especially when it comes to them.” He motioned toward the bedroom.
Will smiled slightly. “You know, kid, I think I’m going to like you.”
Jacen let out a small, tight laugh. “Well, that’s good, all things considered. Anyway, sit back and relax. It’s story time again.” Jacen closed his eyes for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts. Will waited patiently for him to begin.
“I have no real proof of the rest of this. We are going mainly on supposition. There are a lot of details that Jaina and I don’t know. After Mom died, we tried to get back to a normal routine. You went back on active duty; the three of us rejoined our ship. Nothing was the same. We had lost our rock, our anchor. Nothing seemed right anymore. I’m not sure who was hurting more, you or Jaina.” Jacen’s face became wistful for a few seconds then cleared. “Anyway, I’m digressing. Things did begin to resemble normalcy after a while. About six months after Mom died, we were called back to the region where the temporal wormhole had been found. It seemed that the alarm beacon you had ordered placed went off. The objective was for the beacon to alert Starfleet in case anyone decided to use the wormhole.”
“Apparently, someone did.” Will observed.
“Apparently. When we reached the coordinates, we found traces of a warp signature. We were quite surprised to discover it was the Kreptins who had come through the hole. We were equally surprised to find that it had not been the first time. Starfleet had failed to mention that about a month before Mom started having those nightmares, the Kreptins had entered the wormhole from our end. We were on a mission at the time, and the powers that be did not deem it important enough to contact us. You wanted to destroy the wormhole immediately. You recommended to the council that it be destroyed so that no further incursions could happen. They did not agree. They felt that it should be left alone, at least until we could surmise where the Kreptins were going and why. We began researching it immediately. We found nothing. We found no evidence that they had tampered with history at all. We could not even determine where-when-they had gone. The wormhole is not very stable. They could have gone anywhere, to any time. Through numerous probe launches, and extensive research, we had just begun to develop a method of accurately pinpointing where the wormhole opened. We were in the beginning of developing a tracking system that would allow us to travel through the wormhole toward a specific destination. We had not yet come up with a way to accurately make a return trip.”
Will thought about this, his mind churning. “Could the Kreptins have somehow gotten a hold of the research?”
“It’s possible. However, even if they had, they would have had no way of knowing exactly where the return trip would take them.” Jacen looked thoughtful. “That would explain why they came back through over a year later.”
Jacen walked over to the wet bar and pour two more drinks. He handed one to Will silently. “Thanks. You better go easy on this stuff. I’m not holding your hand through another hangover.”
“Two months ago, we encountered a Kreptin ship again. This time they did not open fire. It seemed they wanted to talk. In true diplomatic form, you invited them to beam over to our ship, assuring them, somewhat bitterly, that there were no Betazoids aboard.”
Will smiled wryly. “I bet that was an interesting conversation.”
Will raised his eyebrow. “How would you know?”
Jacen smirked. “I was hiding in the conference room.”
Will rolled his eyes. “It figures. What did they want to discuss?”
“Peace, believe it or not. They wanted to make amends for their past actions. They said they had come to a point in their lives where they wanted to coexist with their ‘neighbors’ peacefully. You promised to discuss matters with the Council, and to set up a conference. You invited them to stay as guest on our ship. They accepted. I confess that I did not believe them. I do not have Mom’s empathic abilities, but there was something about them that just did not seem copasetic. Jaina and I decided to spy on them, to see if we could catch them in a lie.”
Jacen fell silent. After a few minutes, Will grew impatient.
“Well? What did you discover?”
“We were right. They had no interest in peace. They purposely chose our ship. Their objective was to see if Mom was still alive.”
Jacen closed his eyes in misery. “We heard them talking about her. Their exact words were ‘Our mission is complete. The empathic bitch is dead.’”
Deanna stirred in her sleep. She awakened slowly, immediately sensing that something was wrong. She opened her eyes and looked around in confusion, wondering what had awoken her. Then she heard it. A soft whimpering outside the sliding glass door. Jaina was not in the bed beside her.
Deanna got up and padded quietly to the door. She did not want Will and Jacen to hear her going out. Silently, she slid the door open and stepped out. It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She saw Jaina sitting a few feet away. Deanna went to her daughter. She knelt down beside her, putting her arm across her shoulders.
“I’m alright. I just needed some fresh air. I had another nightmare, and did not want to disturb you.”
“I’m surprised I did not pick up on it.”
Jaina shrugged. “This one was not as intense as the others. Maybe having you beside me lessened the dream somehow, took its power away.”
“Maybe. Do you want to talk about it? It might help.”
“Sure, why not? It couldn’t get any worse.”
Deanna stood up and held her hand out to the girl. “Come on, let’s go for a walk.”
Jaina looked worried. “Should we? I don’t think we should go too far from the house. Dad and Jacen will freak.”
“Don’t worry about it. We won’t go far. Besides, you said we have at least a few more days.”
Arm in arm, the two women began walking down the long stretch of beach. Behind them, in the shadows, two pairs of eyes followed them. One filled with hatred, the other with maniacal glee.
Will sat in stunned silence for several long seconds. “I don’t understand.”
“Neither did we. We listened in complete shock, as they continued to talk about Mom’s death as if they had orchestrated the entire thing. We heard only bits and pieces after that. Nothing they were saying made any sense to us. They spoke of revenge and control. They mentioned Earth and we heard ‘wormhole’. We also heard paracortex, and something like ‘too bad we were unable to infect the entire pathetic race’ We went back to our quarters and talked about it long into the night. We were reasonably sure that they had for some reason traveled through the wormhole, to sometime in our past, and infected mom with something. However, it did not make any sense. First, why would they? Secondly, we had not been back to Earth in a very long time, before the nightmares started. We did not want to go to you with this. We did not want to bring you any more pain. Therefore, we went to Beverly. She was, needless to say, baffled. Then she got this queer expression on her face. She started talking about an incident that had happened many years before. She told us that while on shore leave in Florida, Deanna was abducted.”
“This trip,” Will stated.
Jacen nodded. “Yes. Her recollection of the events was hazy. She said that Mom was abducted and you rescued her, but not before her abductors tried to take control of her mind.”
Will ran his fingers through his hair. “For what purpose?”
“We don’t know. Beverly didn’t know. She said Mom had no memory of what had happened while she was being held. She said…”
Jacen stopped speaking because his father had a look of panic on his face. “Dad? What is it?”
Will did not answer him. Inside his head, he heard Deanna screaming. ~Imzadi! Help me!~ Echoed through his mind. He got a sensation of horror and agony.
Seconds later, Jacen got the same sensation, from his sister.
They spoke in unison, terror ripping through them both. They headed toward the bedroom at a dead run, only to find it empty.
Will’s heart stopped when he saw the empty bed. Frantically, he searched the room with wild eyes. His gaze landed on the open door leading to the patio. He swore viciously. “Where are they?”
The horrific scream that pierced the quiet night prevented Jacen from answering. The Riker men rushed through the door, running toward the heartrending sound.
Jacen was the first to see the women. Deanna and Jaina were struggling valiantly against their attackers. “There!” he yelled. Not waiting for his father, Jacen ran full force toward his mother and sister.
Will was right behind him. The distance that separated him from his Imzadi stretched on endlessly. Will felt like he was moving in slow motion. The sight of Deanna struggling against the arms that held her, the sound of her frantic screams, ripped through Will’s soul.
Deanna kicked backwards violently, her foot slamming into her assailant’s shin. Her unseen foe grunted in pain. Deanna took advantage of his momentary distraction to shove herself forward, driving her elbow into his stomach as she bent over, trying desperately to break his hold. The second his grip slackened, Deanna took action. Spinning, she slammed her fist into his jaw, and swung her leg around to trip him in one fluid motion. He doubled over, allowing Deanna the opportunity to step out of his reach. Deanna reared back. Thankful for all the time she had spent in the gym with Beverly, Deanna brought her leg up in an impressive high kick. Her foot caught her opponent under the chin. His head snapped back on his shoulders as he stumbled backwards, hitting the ground with a loud thump.
Will stumbled forward, the wet sand making forward motion difficult. “Deanna!” He screamed into the dark night. He and Jacen were drawing closer, but the distance between them was still great. Will cursed himself. In his desperate attempt to reach them, he had neglected to bring his phaser.
Breathless, Deanna turned her attention to Jaina, just in time to see the young girl break free of her own attacker. “Mom, run!” Jaina screamed. Deanna grabbed her daughter’s hand and pulled her forward. They turned and ran as quickly as they could, hampered as they were by pain and wet sand. They heard a scream behind them, but did not slow their pace.
Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of a weapon being fired pierced the air. Jaina felt Deanna falling forward, almost pulling her down also. Jaina caught her mother in her arms, landing heavily on the ground under the weight. “Mom! Deanna!” Deanna did not respond to Jaina’s pleas. Tears began to roll down Jaina’s face. She looked frantically toward her brother. She could feel his terror as acutely as her own. She heard her father scream her mother’s name.
Another shot was fired. Jaina slumped over.
Pain slammed into Jacen, causing him to lose his footing. Will grabbed his arm, preventing him from falling. They ran faster, almost reaching Deanna and Jaina.
Unfortunately, they were not close enough. The darkly clad assailant stepped forward, and tapped a device on her arm.
Will and Jacen watch helplessly as the three woman disappeared in a flash of blue-green light.
“What the hell were they doing outside?”
Jacen watched his father stomp angrily around the room. The older man looked like he was ready to explode. Not that Jacen could blame him. He was on the verge of erupting himself. He was not sure whether to be angry or terrified, or both. He could not believe his sister had been careless enough to venture outside. What had she been thinking?
Seconds after Deanna and Jaina had dematerialized; the other assailant had also disappeared. Will and Jacen had searched the area extensively, trying to find some clues. Empty handed, Will rushed back to his cabin. He immediately went into command mode, calling security and ordering a sensor sweep of the area. He then called air traffic control and had them begin a search for any unidentified vessels in orbit. So far, nothing had turned up.
His current pacing was a result of waiting for a return call from Picard in San Francisco.
“How much do you intend to tell Picard?” Jacen inquired.
Will stopped pacing. “Only the barest of facts. I would rather not open a temporal can of worms at this point.” Will slammed his fist into the wall. “Damn it! What were they thinking?” He shouted, echoing Jacen’s thoughts.
Jacen did not answer. There were no answers. There was no time to sit and ponder the workings of a Troi mind. It would take a millennium of deep thought to even get an inkling.
Jacen bolted straight up in his seat. Thought. That was it. Jacen closed his eyes and opened his mind. He searched the inner recesses of his psyche, looking for the essence that was distinctly Jaina.
Will resumed his pacing. Impatience and anger warred with fear and helplessness. It went against every instinct he had to just sit and wait. Wait for word from security. Wait for Picard to get his message. Wait for…
Will stopped suddenly, taking notice of his son’s facial expression. Will had seen that look countless times, on Deanna’s face. Jacen was trying to connect with his sister. Will nodded approvingly. He had tried to do the same himself, however, his mind was too cluttered to create a link.
From the far corner of the room, a beep sounded. Picard, finally. Will moved quickly to the desk and sat down in front of the computer. “Incoming transmission for William T. Riker. Authorization required.”
“Authorization Riker One-alpha-delta-two-Charlie.”
“Processing. Transmission complete.” Picard’s features replaced the Starfleet insignia. His face was etched in a worried frown. “Number One, what the hell is going on? The message you sent could be labeled cryptic at best. What is this about Counselor Troi disappearing?”
Will scrubbed his hands down his face tiredly. “I apologize for the abrupt communication, Sir. Deanna and Jaina have been abducted.”
“Abducted! How? By whom?”
“I would prefer not to discuss the details on an open channel. It would be best if you were to meet me here.”
Picard bristled slightly at the almost commanding tone of his first officer’s voice. He opened his mouth to protest, however, the haunted look on Will’s face stopped him. Instead he sighed. “Very well, Will. I will be there within the hour. Picard out.”
The channel closed, the screen reverting to the familiar insignia. Will turned in his chair to see Jacen watching him, a solemn look on his handsome face. “Were you able to contact Jaina?” He asked, although the expression on the younger man’s face was answer enough.
Jacen shook his head, confirming his father’s suspicions. “That does not necessarily mean anything. Our link has never been very strong over long distances. What about you?”
Will sighed in disgust. “I’ve tried. However, like you and Jaina, Deanna has to be in close proximity for me to initiate a link. In order for me to communicate with Deanna, she is going to have to be able to initiate it. I can feel her presence, so I know she is alive. I suppose we’ll have to take comfort in that.”
Jacen’s face twisted into a wry smile. “Small comfort.”
“Yeah. Well, at the moment, that is the only thing keeping me sane”
Consciousness returned slowly. With awareness came intense pain. Deanna moaned. Where was she? Deanna looked around, allowing her eyes to adjust to the faint light overhead. From her prone position, the counselor could not see much. The room was bathed in shadows. She seemed to be in a small cell. The “bed” she was on was little more than a slab of stone covered with a very thin mattress.
A soft moan called Deanna’s attention to the other side of the room. A dark form lay curled on another slab. Jaina.
Deanna sat up gingerly. Her whole body screamed in agony, as if protesting even that slight movement. Deanna’s hand throbbed. She tried to bend her wrist. She swallowed a scream. Her hand was broken.
Another moan came from the other bed. Gritting her teeth against the pain and dizziness, Deanna hobbled over to her daughter. “Jaina,” she whispered hoarsely. “Jaina, wake up.”
Jaina thrashed in her sleep, whether in pain or in the throes of another dream, Deanna could not be sure.
Deanna shook her gently. “Come on, Jaina sweetheart, wake up.”
“Mama. Mama.” Jaina whimpered, still deep in slumber.
Deanna rubbed her hand across Jaina’s forehead, her touch as gentle as she could make it. “Shh. I’m here, Jaina. I’m right here.”
Jaina’s eyes flickered open. Her vision cleared and she stopped thrashing. The relief in her expression was palpable. “Mom?”
Deanna smiled gently. “Yes, Jaina, it’s me.”
Jaina sat up slowly, putting her hand to her head.
Deanna helped her into a sitting position and settled onto the stone next to her. “How do you feel?”
Jaina smiled weakly. “Like I have been shot out of an airlock.” She looked around the unfamiliar room. “Where are we?”
“I don’t know.” Deanna answered. “We seem to be in some sort of cell.” She gave her daughter a measured look. “Jaina, who were those…people? Are they Kreptins?”
“Yes. I don’t understand though. Aunt Beverly distinctly remembered talking to you before you disappeared. Three days from now.”
Deanna looked thoughtful for a minute. “This means, the events have already taken a new turn. The Kreptins must have known something was amiss, so they acted early. Now they have both of us, instead of just me.”
Jaina actually grinned slightly at that. “All the better for us.”
Deanna stared at her. “How do you figure?”
“Well, Jacen and I were really unsure of how to proceed, because we had no idea how we were going to get close enough to help. Now we have an inside advantage. We do not know the exact details, but we do know where Dad found you the first time around. With Jacen helping Dad, and me here to help you, we’ll be just fine.”
Deanna hated to damper Jaina’s enthusiasm, however…
“Jaina, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you say that you don’t know exactly what happens? Or what they want? Also, time has already slipped into a new stream. There is no guarantee they are going to follow the same course of action.”
Jaina’s smile withered. “That’s true.” Her face brightened again. “Of course that also means, that from here on out, ANYTHING could happen. We can improvise!”
Feeling much better, Jaina jumped up and began pacing the floor. Deanna watched her, bemused. She wished she could share in the girl’s optimism. There were just too many variables. Deanna studied her daughter, opening up her mind to the girl. She sensed that behind the optimistic façade, Jaina was just as scared as she herself was.
Jaina stopped pacing abruptly. “Can you communicate with Dad telepathically? I have tried sending to Jacen, but I am not getting an answer. I think I’m too far away. Your bond is stronger.”
Deanna opened her mind, sending a thought along the bond she shared with Will.
~Will? Can you hear me?~
Will looked his captain straight in the face and lied. “We do not know as of yet who abducted them or why.”
Jean-Luc Picard gave his first officer a measured look. He knew Will was not being completely honest with him. He debated whether or not to call him on it. He looked at Jacen. The teenager’s resemblance to Will was remarkable. He knew he was facing temporal interference, he knew he should be demanding answers and doing everything in his power to curtail any further time displacement. He shifted his gaze to Will then back to Jacen. The look in their identical blue eyes scared the hell out of him. He decided immediately that he would keep quiet and trust that his first officer knew what he was doing. Years of experience had taught him to have faith in Will Riker. He had never let him down before.
“What do you have planned?” He asked quietly.
Will sighed in relief. He was grateful the captain had obviously decided not to press the issue. “We really do not have anything planned yet, Sir.” He answered honestly. “The events that Jacen described based on the memories of …” Will hesitated. He probably should not mention any names. “…a friend, have already taken a different turn.”
Jacen spoke up. “We knew only vague details of what happened-is happening. When and where. The where is the same, however the when has changed.”
“I have notified security and air control to be on the look out for any unidentified vessels in the area. We are also conducting full sensor scans of the area. Problem is, they could have beamed to just about anywhere.”
Picard stared out the window thoughtfully. After a few minutes of silent deliberation, he turned back to Will. “Well keep me posted as best as you can. If there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“I appreciate that, Captain. However, I think it is best that you know as little as possible. The repercussions could be enormous.”
“Be that as it may, Number One, do you really think you can handle this on your own?”
Will raised his left eyebrow. “I’ve successfully completed many rescue missions, Sir.”
Picard’s visage was grim. “Granted. However, may I remind you that this is not a typical search and rescue? Your personal involvement with the subject creates an added risk to the situation.”
Will opened his mouth to protest, then stopped abruptly without uttering a sound. He felt a familiar tingling in his mind. “Deanna?” He whispered hoarsely.
Jacen and Picard simultaneously stepped forward. “Will?” Picard said, concern apparent in his low voice.
However, Will did not appear to hear him. His eyes glazed over slightly as he turned his thoughts inward, reaching for the beloved sensation he so desperately hoped for. ~Deanna?~
~Will, can you hear me?~
Will smiled. ~Yes, Imzadi. I can hear you.~
He could feel her relief. ~Will, I’m scared.~
Will tried to send reassurance through their link. ~I know you are. Hang in there. We will find you. Are you hurt? Is Jaina hurt? Can you tell where you are?~
~We are fine so far. A little soreness. I think my hand is broken from where I hit him. I cannot tell where we are. We are being held in a small cell, but it does not feel like a ship. I think we are still on the surface.~
~That’s good. Is there anybody else around?~
~The only one I’ve seen is Jaina. I cannot sense anybody else around. I think they are blocking me.~
~I’m not surprised. Knowing what we do about your affect on them, it stands to reason that they have devised a way to combat that.~
Deanna was silent for a moment. ~Will, somebody’s coming. Oh, God, no! Imzadi, help me!~
Without warning, the link was broken and Will lost all sense of Deanna. ~Deanna! Imzadi!~ his mind screamed. There was nothing. “Deanna!” He cried vocally. The suddenness of the loss was staggering. He felt his legs give out and he started to crumble. Only Jacen’s quick movement prevented him from hitting the floor.
~Yes, Imzadi. I can hear you. ~
Relief washed over Deanna. She caught Jaina’s eye and nodded slightly. ~Will, I’m scared. ~
The reassurance Deanna felt from Will wrapped around her like a warm blanket. ~I know you are. Hang in there. We will find you. Are you hurt? Is Jaina hurt? Can you tell where you are? ~
Deanna watched as Jaina paced around the room, agitation radiated from her body in droves.
~We are fine so far. A little soreness. I think my hand is broken from where I hit him. I cannot tell where we are. We are being held in a small cell, but it does not feel like a ship. I think we are still on the surface.~
~That’s good. Is there anybody else around?~
Deanna listened intently to her surroundings. All she heard was an eerie silence. ~The only one I’ve seen is Jaina. I cannot sense anybody else around. I think they are blocking me.~
~I’m not surprised. Knowing what we do about your affect on them, it stands to reason that they have devised a way to combat that.~
Suddenly from the other side of the cell door, Deanna heard the distinct sound of footsteps. ~Will, somebody’s coming.~
Jaina heard the footsteps also. Panic crossed her face as she sat beside Deanna and gripped her hand.
The door opened slowly. A humanoid woman entered the room. Deanna was surprised at the hatred she felt from the woman.
She was not entirely sure, but she thought that this woman was the one who had attacked them.
Jaina gasped, the sound coming out as a strangled whimper.
Deanna looked at her sharply. She opened her mouth to question Jaina’s response, but was distracted when another humanoid entered the room.
Deanna recognized him immediately as her attacker. The large Kreptin male had a fist shaped bruise on his face.
Deanna smirked slightly, momentarily gratified by the damage she had inflicted, however small.
Her amusement died quickly when she saw the hypospray in his right hand.
He advanced on her slowly, silently, a maniacal smile on his face.
Jaina jumped up, placing herself in front of her mother. “Leave her alone!” She screamed.
The female grabbed Jaina’s arm and shoved her forcefully. Jaina fell, her head slamming into the hard floor with a loud crack.
With a strangled cry, Deanna lunged for her daughter. Her forward momentum abruptly halted by a strong hand clamping onto her arm.
Deanna struggled against the vise like grip that held her.
“Keep struggling, bitch!” The Kreptin taunted with sadistic amusement. “I love a good fight.” He twisted her arm painfully.
Deanna’s face filled with horror, tears welling in her eyes as the hypospray descended toward her.
She felt the hypospray against her neck. As her vision blurred, her last thought was of Jaina, lying prone on the floor as though dead.
~Oh, God, no! Imzadi, help me! ~ She cried out in agony as her world went black.
Abruptly, Will’s link to Deanna was broken. One moment she was there, then Will felt the most agonizing pain he had ever felt, then nothing. The force of the sudden void was staggering, bringing Will to his knees.
Jacen stepped forward, grabbing his father under the arm, preventing him from hitting the floor. He motioned for Picard to help him. Together they guided Riker to the sofa.
Will shrugged away from them. “I’m fine!” He barked forcefully. He slumped onto the sofa and closed his eyes. He took several deep breaths, trying to draw upon the inner strength he was so well known for. He felt helpless, emotionally drained, but he would be damned if he fell apart in front of his captain, or his son.
Picard, watching his first officer’s expressive face, saw the exact moment Will regained control.
Will opened his eyes. The difference in his countenance was startling. Where just a moment before there was fear and desperation, Picard now saw anger and determination.
Riker stood up abruptly, and strode across the room to the computer on his desk. “Riker to Security.”
Jacen and Picard exchanged a concerned look while Will barked orders at the security officer who was unfortunate enough to be the one on duty. They both wanted to know what happened, but neither said a word. They knew Riker would tell them when he was ready.
Will stood in front of the desk for several moments after ending his conversation. His posture was ridged, his hands clenched into fists at his side.
The tension in the small room was thick. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved. Picard and the younger Riker allowed Will the time he needed to wrestle with the demons in his soul.
Abruptly, the deafening silence was shattered by the sound of fists slamming down on to the mahogany desk.
Will spun around. His companions were startled by the ferocity in his eyes. He stalked around the room, anger radiating from him with every step.
Picard had had enough. “Will, talk to us. What happened?”
Will stopped pacing. He sat down on the sofa again, his body still ridged with tension.
Silence reigned for several long moments. Will stared at Jacen, not really seeing him. After an eternity, his face cleared. When he finally spoke, his voice was calm. “Deanna was talking to me. She believes they are still on the planet.”
Jacen straightened in his chair. “How can she tell? Where are they? Are they alright?” He fired questions at his father rapidly, not waiting for an answer before asking another.
Will held up his hand. “Wait. Slow down. A starship moving through space has a distinct feel. Deanna has been on enough ships to know whether or not she is on one. She said they were in a holding cell of some sort. At first she gave the impression they were both fine.”
Picard’s eyes narrowed. “At first?”
“Someone came in, and Deanna got very scared. It felt like she was in pain. She cried out for help, then the connection was broken abruptly.”
Jacen’s eyes widened in fright. “Oh, God! Is she all right? Can you feel her? Is Jaina all right?”
“I don’t know!” he snapped, frustration evident in his harsh voice. “I don’t know if she is alright. I feel nothing but emptiness. I don’t think she is dead. I think I would know if she were.”
Taking a deep breath, Jacen closed his eyes for a few seconds. He looked his father in the eyes and asked, “What do we do now?”
“We find them.” Will stated flatly. “I have to believe they haven’t gone far. If they are still planet side, they would have to be in a sparsely populated area. That narrows it down slightly. I need you to tell me the rest of the story. I want to know everything that you know.”
Picard stood up. “That is my cue to leave. Keep me posted as much as you can.”
Will regarded his captain. “Sir, you don’t have to leave.”
Picard smiled slightly. “Plausible deniability, Number One. I don’t want to hear anything I can be forced to testify to in a court-martial hearing.”
Will stood. “Fair enough. I’ll walk you out.”
They walked to the door. Picard turned around and gave Jacen a stern look. “Young man, I hope you know what you are doing. I hope the end results are worth the risk you have taken by coming here.”
Jacen met Picard’s stare with a determined one of his own. The memory of his mother’s agonizing death pierced his soul. “It will be, Sir. No risk is too great.”
Satisfied, Picard turned and left the cabin, Will right behind him.
When Will reentered the cabin a few moments later, Jacen was standing at the wet bar, pouring two drinks.
“You seem to be getting quiet a taste for alcohol.” Will commented dryly.
Jacen turned around, holding two glasses. He handed Will one and gestured to his own. “Mine is fruit juice. Completely non-alcoholic.”
They sat down in the same positions they had been earlier in the evening. Will sipped his drink slowly. He did not want to sit and talk. He wanted to be out scouring the area. However, he knew the best way to help Deanna was to get as much information as he could.
“So, what happened after Beverly told you about this?”
Jacen sighed. Like his father, the thought of remaining idle did not sit well with him. “We surmised that the Kreptins had gone through the wormhole and abducted Deanna in this time frame. We still had no idea why. Like I stated earlier, we never knew why they singled her out.”
Will thought about that for a moment. “Why did they choose this time frame?”
Jacen shrugged. “I have no idea. I don’t think they chose this time specifically. The wormhole is very unstable. Data hypothesized that they exited the wormhole well before now, and laid in waiting, watching and planning. We have no idea what happened exactly. Like I said, Mom had no memory of the events. What ever they were attempting to do was curtailed. You were able to find them. I firmly believe that they intended to kill her in this time period. If you hadn’t stopped them, they would have.”
Will ran his fingers through his hair. “This means that if we don’t find them, Deanna could die, now.”
Jacen nodded stiffly. “And Jaina and I will cease to exist.”
“You are still here. So, she has to still be alive.”
Jacen hung his head. “I hope so. It really doesn’t work that way. Jaina and I are from the time stream that was. The moment you pulled us off our ship, timed slipped into a new stream. If we don’t succeed, we will never be born, but I don’t think the current manifestation of us will simply vanish.”
Will looked at him with a mixture of pride and disgust. “You can’t just let me grasp at straws can you?”
Jacen smiled slightly. “Sorry. Anyway, when Jaina and I realized that they had changed history, and it was our fault, we started planning our own trek through the wormhole. We convinced everybody to help us, promising that we would interfere as little as possible.”
Will sat up straight. “Hang on. That is the second time you have implied that you were somehow responsible for this. What exactly do you mean?”
Jacen cringed. This was the part he had been dreading. “You heard Jaina say earlier that we had free reign of the ship, right? Well, I’m not too proud of it, but we were, I guess you could say, brats. We wandered the ship as if we owned it. While we were holding the Kreptins in the brig, Jaina and I would go down there to…umm…taunt them. Especially after the one died. We wanted to see if we had the same effect on them that Mom did.” Jacen saw the look on Will’s face. “Yeah, I know it was a horrible thing to even contemplate. But at the time, we were righteously indignant because of all the deaths that had occurred. We felt that we had the right to punish them for what they had done.” Jacen sighed again, disgusted with himself. “I know now how stupid we were. You see, we spent a lot of time down there. We even bragged about how the federation was using Betazoids to stop them. We also freely talked about the wormhole. Saying stupid things about going through the wormhole and destroying the Kreptins before they could begin to attack our ships.” Jacen’s voice was filled misery and contempt, focused inward. “The Kreptin we were holding was eventually released. She must have made it back to her people. Jaina and I had unknowingly, in our extreme immaturity and thoughtless stupidity, gave the Kreptins a great idea. We set in motion the events that killed Mom.”
“Put her on the table.” Serot ordered, gesturing to the long metal slab in the center of the crude medical facilities.
Krael, carrying an unconscious Deanna in his arms, moved to do the woman’s bidding. None too gently, he dropped her on the table. “Serot, this is a waste of time!” He grumbled. “We should just kill her and be done with it.”
Serot eyed her “patient” with hate in her eyes. At last, she was in the presence of the woman who had destroyed her life. Anger burned a hole in her. “No. Killing her would be too easy. She, and her entire race of murderers, needs to suffer as greatly as we have.”
Krael snorted derisively, “We? Don’t you mean you?”
Serot’s eyes flashed ferociously. “She will pay for what she has done to me! They will all pay! I am doing this for our entire race.”
Krael could not care less about Serot’s need for revenge. Nor did he care about something that would not happen for twenty years. Krael was a mercenary, with a thirst for blood. He was hired to do a job. A job he did with great skill and no conscience. If his bosses wanted someone alive, they stayed alive. If they wanted someone dead, all the better.
Serot on the other hand, had made this assignment a personal vendetta. Krael had nothing against revenge; however, one tends to not think clearly when personal feelings were involved. To Krael’s way of thinking, Serot at made a grave error by acting early. Now they had to hide and wait for there transport to arrive. Krael did not like the odds. There were too many opportunities for failure now. If there was one thing Krael hated, it was failure.
“Serot, what exactly do you plan to do with her until our ride gets here? We don’t have the necessary equipment with us. What about her young companion? Where did she come from? The empath and her lover were supposed to be on a romantic holiday.”
“I don’t care what happens to the other one. You can kill her if you like, after we get this one to our ship.” Serot walked over to a small cabinet and pulled out a vial. She held it up for his approval. “I brought a sample with me. I intend to inject her with this. We will begin the treatments immediately.”
Krael looked at the vial with interest. “What is in there?”
Serot filled a hypospray with the liquid from the vial. “It’s a neuroblocker. It will inhibit her paracortexal activity.” She pressed the hypo into the empath’s neck, administering the drug.
“To what purpose?” Krael asked, interested despite himself.
Serot smiled in satisfaction. “It will serve three purposes. One, she will not be able to communicate telepathically with anyone. Two, she will have no effect on us. Three, it will prepare her mind for the treatments that will begin on the ship. Very soon she will be completely under our control.”
Serot put away the hypospray. She looked at Deanna with disgust. “Get her out of my sight. Take her back and put her with her friend.”
Krael picked the unconscious woman up roughly. “Why can’t I kill the other one now?”
Serot smile again, her lips twisting evilly, “Because she may prove to be useful. I think I might like to have a conversation with her, find out who she is and what she knows. She looks vaguely familiar. Don’t worry, Krael, I believe you will enjoy the kind of conversation I have in mind.”
Jaina moaned softly. She opened her eyes, and blinked. What happened? She realized she was lying on the floor in the cell. Then she remembered. Mom! Jaina sat up too quickly. Pain shot through her head, bringing tears to her eyes. She brought her hand up to the back of her head and winced when she felt the stickiness. When she pulled her hand away, she gasped. Her hand was covered in blood.
She pulled herself onto the bed, being careful not to move too quickly. She looked around the room. Deanna was not there.
Tears rolled down Jaina’s face. Now what was she going to do? She was supposed to protect her mother and had failed. Again.
Jaina wiped the tears away angrily. “Jaina Troi! Get a hold of yourself.” She had to think. She had to plan. There had to be a way to get out of the cell. There had to be a way to get in touch with Jacen and Will.
Calmer now, Jaina considered her situation. It seemed reasonable that the Kreptins would eventually bring Deanna back to her cell. Jaina did not know what they had planned, but she was sure they did not intend to kill Deanna right away. From what little bit Beverly could tell them, they had tried to use Deanna’s mind for some unknown purpose. Therefore, Jaina just had to come up with an escape plan.
She shifted on the bed and gasped again. First she had to do something about the pain in her head. She wanted to lie down, but she was afraid to. She knew nothing about head injuries. She wished Aunt Beverly were here. Hell, she wished anybody would show up.
Jaina closed her eyes and cleared her mind as best as the pain would allow. She concentrated hard, focusing all her thoughts on her brother. She had to reach him. She knew the chances were slim, but maybe, just maybe, she was close enough to get through.
Jaina focused harder than she ever had in her life. ~Jacen!~
After several minutes of extreme effort, Jaina sighed in frustration. “It’s hopeless!”
The fruitless efforts had done nothing more than increase the throbbing in her head.
“Think, Jai, think.” Jaina whispered to herself. Jaina struggled not to given in to the hopelessness she was feeling. It wasn’t fair! She was just a kid. She should not have to carry this big a weight on her shoulders.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” she admonished herself in disgust. Now was not the time for childish self-pity. Jaina had been raised on starships. Starfleet was in her blood. She had learned to recite the Prime Directive when most kids were learning the alphabet.
She and Jacen had spent more time in the Engineering and Science departments than they had in school. Jaina had never resented her unusual education. To her, it was as natural as breathing, part of who she was. They had never taken serious advantage of it. Except that one time…
Jacen figured that having a high IQ did not necessary mean always being smart.
Guilt and fear clawed at her heart. By now, Jacen would have told Will the rest of the story, including their part in it. She shuddered. She could only imagine what her father’s reaction was. In that moment, she was almost glad she was not there to share in the wrath.
It’s not as if they meant for any of this to happen, she rationalized while she busied herself tearing a makeshift bandage from her shirt. How were they supposed to know the Kreptin in the brig was even listening to their taunts? They were not even serious. As angry as they were at the time, they were not seriously trying to hurt anybody. They knew their minimal abilities were no danger to their captive.
Jaina knew she was making excuses. In hindsight, they should have never gone down to the brig in the first place. This entire mess was their fault, intended or not. Any doubt she had previously had about that was erased the minute she got a good look at her captor. The Kreptin they were now being held by was the very same one they had taunted in the brig.
Jaina ripped another piece of cloth from her shirt and pressed it against the back of her head, staunching the flow of blood. She wrapped the long strip around her head, trying it off. It was not much, but it would do. She felt a little woozy, but was reasonably sure she had not lost that much blood.
Her injury now temporarily dealt with, Jaina settled back against the wall and closed her eyes. There was no point in beating herself up at this point. What’s done is done. Now she had to concentrate on preventing it from happening.
~Jacen, can you hear me?~ She tried again, not really expecting an answer.
“You did what!” Will yelled, surging to his feet and sending his glass spiraling to the floor.
Jacen immediately went on the defensive. “You heard me! It is our fault Mom died. That is the main reason we decided to come through the wormhole.”
Will stood over his son, shaking with rage. “Of all the stupid, irresponsible things I have ever heard…”
Jacen shot to his feet, meeting his father’s eyes, unflinching. “Say what ever you want. Trust me, you couldn’t possibly say anything I haven’t said to myself already. I know it was stupid. I wish we had never done it. But it’s not like we intended for this to happen.” Jacen flared, unknowingly echoing his sister’s thoughts.
“You did not mean for it to happen! Oh, well that makes it alright.” Will stated with cold sarcasm.
Jacen shoved past his father. He stalked across the room. Turning around, he tried to reason with Will. “Of course it does not make it right! We were stupid, immature kids. We were angry.” Jacen felt tears well in his eyes, and wiped them away angrily. Riker men did not cry, especially in front of other Riker men. “Don’t you think I would give anything to go back and change things? Hell, isn’t that what I am doing? Yell at me if you need to, but none of that matters now. It happened, and we can’t change what we did. But we can make a difference. If we put aside your anger and my self loathing, we can, and will, fix things!”
Will forcefully reined in his temper. Jacen was right. When he spoke, his voice was calmer, much to Jacen’s relief. “Fine. You’re right. What’s done is done. We need to concentrate on finding them.” Will sat back down, motioning for Jacen to do the same. “Remind me to ground you when you get back to your own time.”
Jacen smiled slightly as he took his seat. “I’ll be sure to do that. In the mean time, we need to come up with a plan.”
Riker nodded in agreement. “I assume that the two of you had some sort of plan. Or were you just going to wing it?”
Jacen closed his eyes tiredly. “Yeah we had a plan. We were going to try to prevent them from taking her. Of course, now that they acted earlier than we expected, that plan is kind of shot all to hell, isn’t it?”
“Did you have some sort of contingency plan?”
Jacen looked his father square in the eye. “I don’t know what good it will do us at this point, since they changed the rules, but Data and Geordi remembered where you found them. Of course, that was after the damage had already been done. You were able to get to her before they decided she had outlived her usefulness, but not before they had injected her with the chemical that ultimately caused her death.”
“Which means we will probably be able to find them in the same place, but by then it will be too late.” Will swore viciously. “So we come full circle. They still hurt her, and she still dies.”
“Well, I’m hoping it will not come to that. If we can get to them before they get off planet, we may have a chance.” Jacen looked away for a minute. “There is one other thing you should know.”
Will eyed him warily. “What?”
“After we went to Aunt Bev with our suspicions, she ran another autopsy on Mom. You see, after you rescued Mom, Beverly examined her, but found only slightly elevated activity in her brain. She wasn’t overly concerned, because Deanna seemed fine, and she just assumed it was the after-effects of the Neuroblocker they used on her. Anyway, she ran another autopsy, and this time was able to pinpoint a synthetic chemical in the paracortex. It’s not something she would have found without dissection. That’s why she found nothing while Mom was alive. Beverly was able to develop a cure.”
Will started. “Excuse me?”
Jacen’s mouth twisted derisively. “Ironic, isn’t it? The cure was found, but too late. In actuality, it could not have been found if Mom hadn’t died.”
“So what are you trying to tell me here?”
Jacen took a deep breath. “Now that we know what we are dealing with, we can, or more precisely, Beverly can, reverse the effects. She gave us detailed instructions on what to tell her present self. If we do not get to them before they start their ‘treatment’, Jaina and I have the knowledge necessary to save her.”
Will shook his head. “That sounds too easy. What’s the catch?”
Jacen hung his head. “The procedure she would have to undergo is very risky. She would survive the procedure, but it could potentially have side effects.”
“What sort of side effects?”
Jacen could not meet his father’s eyes. “The treatment involves a low level radiation that could leave her sterile.”
Jaina stood precariously on the stone “bed”, her hands running over the wall. Her nimble, sensitive fingers felt every crack, every bump, searching for anything out of the ordinary. An opening, a secret passage, a loose stone that could be manipulated. In the seemingly endless wait for the Kreptins to bring Deanna back, Jaina had searched every inch of the tiny cell. So far her effort had proved futile.
With a frustrated sigh, Jaina sat back down. Not because she was ready to give in, but because her aching head was beginning to swim.
There was a way out. Jaina just had to find it. She had to think logically. Of course, Jaina thought with a self-depreciating grimace that may be asking too much. Jacen was the logical one. She was the emotional one. They were like too halves of a whole. Not that Jacen was cold, or unfeeling. He could be very emotional if he wanted to. Logically, if Jacen could be emotional, she could be logical. Jaina smiled at the ridiculousness of her thought patterns.
Think logically. OK, she reasoned, the Kreptins had acted early. Which probably meant they knew something was amiss. They were still on Earth. Which means the Kreptins were probably stuck there until their transportation off the planet could arrive. That put them at a disadvantage. They were on an unfamiliar planet. Jaina decided this was just the advantage she and her family needed. If only she could communicate with Jacen, they could coordinate an escape plan.
Jaina knew that although she would keep trying to reach her brother, she could not rely on that. She had to figure out a way to get Deanna and herself out on her own. No, she amended. Not on her own. She had her mother. Her bright, beautiful, wonderfully alive mother. Jaina was determined that Deanna would stay alive for a long time to come, no matter what it took.
Jaina jumped slightly when the door opened. The male Kreptin stepped through the door, carrying Deanna. He dumped her on her bed.
Krael leered at Jaina suggestively, then turned to leave the room.
The second the door closed and locked, Jaina jumped up and went to her mother.
“Mom? Deanna?” Jaina shook her gently, fear clogging her throat. She seemed so still. Jaina felt for a pulse, sighing in relief when she found one. She shook her again. “Come on, wake up.”
After a few minutes, Deanna began to regain consciousness. Her eyes flickered open. “Jaina?”
Jaina smiled and helped her into a sitting position. “How do you feel?”
Deanna shook her head, as if to clear it. “Fuzzy.” Deanna concentrated for a moment then a frightened look crossed her features.
Jaina took her hand. “What is it?”
Deanna swallowed hard. “I have no sense of anything.” She touched Jaina’s face. “You are like an empty page to me. What have they done to me?”
Jaina’s heart leapt into her throat. Had they begun to inject the chemical already? “Probably some sort of Neuroblock.” Jaina was surprised at how calm her voice sounded.
“I feel lost. I haven’t felt this way since we encountered a race of two-dimensional beings that blocked my abilities.”
Jaina tried to reassure her. “Your empathic sense will return as soon as the drug wears off, I’m sure. In the mean time, we need to find a way out of here.”
Calming herself, Deanna looked around. “There doesn’t seem to be an escape route in this room.”
Jaina agreed. “I’ve searched every square inch of it, there isn’t. We are going to have to find a way to over power them the next time they come in. We have to get away before their transport shows up. If only I could communicate with Jacen.”
Deanna smiled wryly. “We could always wait until this drug wears off, and hope I can send to Will before they inject me with more.”
“We may not have time. The next time they come in here, we need to jump them or something. Get a hold of a weapon.”
“Easier said than done,” Deanna replied absently. She was staring at Jaina’s head. “Nice bandage, but it needs redone.”
Deanna stood up and began to tend to Jaina’s wound. Jaina pulled away from Deanna’s gentle hands. “We don’t have time to deal with my head. We need to think.”
Deanna ignored her and continued. “You think, while I clean this up. It’s looks terrible.”
Jaina winced as Deanna hit a tender spot. “Hurts like hell, too.”
Deanna cleaned the blood away as best she could, then rewrapped Jaina’s head with a bandage made from her own clothing.
Jaina leaned back and closed her eyes. She once again pictured her twin in her mind and projected outward. ~Jacen?~
Not really expecting an answer, Jaina almost fell off her seat when she received one.
Will sat there, too stunned to speak. “This just keeps getting better and better.” He thought.
“Any more little bombshells for me?” He asked sarcastically.
Jacen pretended to consider for a moment. “Well let’s see. Mom dies, it is my fault, I came back to save her, the cure might cause me and my twin sister never to exist. Nope, I believe that just about covers it.” His voice was equally sarcastic.
Will was silent for a moment. “You know she will refuse to take that chance.” He stated quietly, almost to himself.
“I know. That’s why if it comes to that, you can’t let her know the risks.”
Will said nothing. What could he say? He knew what Jacen was proposing would never work. Will knew Deanna too well to think otherwise. They would just have to find them before the Kreptins had a chance to do anything.
“Where were they when I found them?”
“On route to Betazed. We believe they intended to infect the entire race, killing them all. You stopped them before they could make it. You were able to catch them about half way between here and there.”
Will considered this. “If their technology is so far advanced, how did I stop them? Our current capabilities are no match for theirs.”
Jacen shrugged. “To be honest, I really don’t know. Geordi and Data told us that you were not too forthcoming with the details. You gave an ‘official’ report, but otherwise refused to talk about it. We were unable to access the official records. Jean-Luc could have gotten them, but we really did not want to involve him in our plans.”
Will regarded his future son closely. He could feel anger rising in his throat, almost choking him. “Damn you! Do you have any idea what you have done? Did you stop to consider the consequences before you came through that wormhole? You messed with time, you involved our closest friends, and for what? Is this what you had in mind? Because if we do not find them before they get off Earth, there are only two ways this can end. Either Deanna still dies in twenty years, or you and Jaina are never born. Great planning!”
Jacen cringed at his father’s words, but refused to cower. “Get off my back! How many times do I have to admit that I screwed up? I’m trying to make it right. Maybe instead of sitting here yelling at me, you can get off your sanctimonious ass and help me find them before it’s too late!”
Will’s face turned red with fury. “How dare you! If it wasn’t for your childish prank, we wouldn’t be in this situation!”
Just as angry as his father, Jacen snapped back. “How dare you sit there in judgment of me? Put yourself in my position. Imagine watching her die, and then finding out that you caused it. Can you honestly say that you would not travel to hell and back to change things? Don’t you understand? I do not care about my own life, so long as she lives. Jaina feels the same way. We made some mistakes along the way and things are not turning out according to plan, but we can still save them! Admit it, you would do the same thing in our position. After all, this is your IMZADI we are talking about.” Jacen stopped yelling, suddenly out of words.
Jacen’s outburst robbed Will of the ability to speak. He could not deny his son’s words. He knew Jacen spoke the truth. Will would do anything necessary to save Deanna. However, knowing the truth did not make it any easier to face the possible consequences.
The Riker men were saved from further conversation by an insistent buzzing from the other side of the room.
“Hopefully, that is some good news.” Will stated as he got up to answer the call.
Jacen slumped in his seat, feeling deflated. As angry as he was, he knew Will was right. Guilt weighed heavily on Jacen. He allowed it to take hold for a moment, and then forcefully pushed it aside. He would have plenty of time later to face the implications. Though he did not relish the idea of destroying his own existence, he was being honest when he said he would readily do so. His biggest regret was Jaina. It was her life hanging in the balance as well. It hurt to think that his precious twin may never have a chance to live.
Will was deep in conversation with security. From across the room, Jacen could only make out part of what was being said.
Jacen was considering joining his father, when he felt a familiar tingling in the back of his mind.
Jacen could barely “hear” it, but it was there. The sweetest sound he had heard in a long time. His sister’s voice. ~Jaina?~
Jaina jumped. Excited, and feeling a new sense of hope, she gripped Deanna’s hand tightly. “I got him!”
Deanna said nothing, obviously not wanting to break Jaina’s concentration.
~Jacen? Oh, thank the Gods! You would not believe how good it is to hear your voice.~
~The feeling’s mutual, Jai. Are you alright? Is Mom alright? We were terrified when Dad lost contact. What happened?~
~The Kreptins came in and took Mom out of the room. She is back now, but they drugged her. She has no empathic sense.~ Jaina decided not to mention her head injury.
~Oh, no. Have they started the treatments already?~
~I don’t know. I don’t see how. I doubt they have the necessary supplies here on Earth.~
~Jai, can you tell where you are? Is there anything that can help us find you?~
~No. There are no windows in this cell, and they have not let me out. Listen, the next time they come in, Mom and I are going to try to get away from them.~
Jaina could feel her brother’s trepidation. ~Do not do anything stupid. I don’t think they will kill her, but they have no reason to keep you alive.~
~Don’t worry about me. Tell me what has been going on there.~
To Jaina it felt like Jacen was hesitating. ~Dad is livid. I had to tell him the rest of the story.~
Jaina closed her eyes. ~Oh, Gods. So he knows everything?~
Pain and misery slammed into Jaina, forming a hard knot in the pit of her stomach. ~I am so sorry you had to deal with that alone. Was it horrible?~
~About like we expected. However, let’s not dwell on that now. Dad has security searching the area. He is speaking to them now. Who knows? They may be closing in on you right this very minute.~
Jaina smiled at the feigned optimism she felt from her brother. ~Here’s hoping. ~
Jaina fell “silent” for a moment. She glanced at her mother. Deanna was watching her with an expectant look on her face. Jaina smiled, trying to be reassuring. “Jacen says they have security searching for us.”
Deanna bit her lower lip. “How is Will? I know he has got to be frantic. Have Jacen tell him we are fine. He might actually believe it.”
Jaina nodded. ~Jacen? I don’t know how much longer we can communicate. My sense of you is not very strong.~
~I know. Hang in there, Jai-Jai. Everything will be alright. We will find you.~
~Jace, the Kreptin that has us is the same one that was in our brig.~
~I’m not surprised. I guess that pretty much erases any doubts we had about our own guilt, huh?~
Jaina could barely “hear” her brother anymore. ~Jacen, I’m losing you. Tell Dad we’re fine. I love you, Jace.~
Jacen’s voice was fading from her mind. ~I love you too, Jai.~
~Jacen, I’m so scared. Please hurry.~
Jaina felt tears well in her eyes as the connection to her twin was broken.
Deanna put her arm around her. Jaina leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder as the tears coursed freely down her face.
After several moments, Jaina sniffed and sat up. “Jacen said Dad just received a call from security. He thinks they may be close to finding us.”
“Well, that’s good news isn’t it? So why are you crying?”
Jaina refused to meet Deanna’s eyes. “I’m so sorry. You will never know how sorry I am. This is all my fault.”
“Nonsense.” Deanna scoffed gently. “How can this possibly be your fault?”
Jaina opened her mouth to speak, to confess all. No words came out. She found that she could not bring herself to tell her mother the truth. “It’s not important now. Just promise me that when this is all over that you will try not to hate us too much.”
Deanna gripped Jaina’s chin in her hand and turned her face up until their eyes met. “Jaina, I don’t know what this is all about, but I can assure you that I could never hate you, and I am greatly looking forward to watching you grow up.”
With Deanna’s last words, Jaina could feel her heart splitting open. She could not help but believe that Deanna was wrong. There would be a day in the near future when Deanna would find that she could hate both of them.
Completely engrossed in his conversation with Jaina, Jacen did not notice that Will had finished speaking to security and was now sitting across from him, highly impatient.
Will’s conversation with security was encouraging. They had spotted a suspicious compound tucked into a small clearing on the outer edge of the Everglades. The building had once been a research facility that had long since been abandoned. However, there were indications that the old structure was once again being used. Security wanted to investigate immediately. Wanting to be there himself, Will ordered them to stand down until he could arrive. Now he was impatiently waiting. He was anxious to get going, however, he recognized the look on Jacen’s face. He had seen it often enough on Deanna. If Jacen was in communication with Jaina, Will did not want to interrupt him.
Moments later, Jacen’s expression cleared, and he blinked in surprise at his impatient father. “What happened?”
“Security thinks they found them.”
Wasting no time, Jacen jumped out of his seat. “Let’s go!”
Will stood also. “Hang on! What did Jaina say? Is Deanna ok?”
Jacen was half way to the door. “They are doing as well as can be expected. The Kreptins drugged Deanna and took her out of the room. That is why you lost contact. Jaina says when they brought her back, Deanna was still unconscious.”
Will swore violently. “And?”
“She’s awake now, but she has lost her abilities. Probably a neuroblocker.”
Will swore again, remembering the last time Deanna lost her abilities. Will knew his Imzadi had to be feeling lost and uncertain. He pushed Jacen out the door. “Come on. We have to hurry.”
“We’ve been discovered.”
Serot spun around and stared at her partner in disbelief. “Excuse me?”
Krael’s eyes flashed with fury as he stalked around the room, circling Serot like a predator. “You heard me! The Betazoid’s lover has Starfleet Security crawling all over this area searching for us. I have been watching them. Not more than half an hour ago, they spotted something that made them suspicious. It seems that this complex has been abandoned for a while. They feel it is unusual for it to seemingly be in use now. They rushed off to report their findings. Now I wonder who they plan to tell?” The mercenary’s voice dripped with sarcasm.
“Damn it! We have got to get out of here before they come back.” In a frenzy, Serot began rushing around the room, gathering items as she went, trying to clean up all evidence of their habitation. “How much time do we have?”
“How the hell am I supposed to know? This is all your fault. You are the one who insisted that we grab her early. We have two days before our ship arrives. Where exactly do you plan to go?”
Serot continued her haphazard packing. “We’ll cut through the swamp and head for the rendezvous point.”
Krael exploded. “Are you insane? You want to drag two prisoners through an unfamiliar swamp? Even if we don’t get lost, or attacked by one of the hideous creatures that inhabit this area, taking that route adds at least twenty kilometers to our journey. Cutting through the swamp is taking the long way around.”
Serot sighed in disgust and frustration. “I know that, Krael. However, we would be too easy to spot if we take a more direct route. They are too close now as it is.”
Krael stepped threateningly close to Serot and gripped her face harshly. “And whose fault is that, my dove? You just couldn’t wait, could you? Your thirst for revenge is going to get us both killed.” He squeezed her face, hard. “Maybe I should save Starfleet the trouble and kill you myself.”
Serot jerked away from him. She turned her back, not wanting him to see the fear in her eyes. She laughed harshly, striving to sound nonchalant. “Get over yourself, Krael. You are not going to kill me. That would leave you solely responsible for our prisoners. Face it, Krael, I hold all the cards.”
Krael spun her around forcefully. He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her forward, bringing her face to within an inch of his. “Don’t push me, Serot. You would not like to have me for an enemy.” He spat out. With a sound of disgust, he shoved her away.
Krael stalked to the door. “I’ll go prepare our ‘guests’ for travel.” He left the room, slamming the door.
Serot stared at the door silently, her body trembling with anger and fear.
In the darkness of the tiny room, Jaina lay awake, staring at the ceiling. She was tired, but could not escape into sleep. Not that sleep was much better than the nightmare she was living. She pondered the warning Jacen had given her earlier. He was right. The Kreptins had no reason to keep her alive. What if they decided to kill her rather than take her with them? Jaina shivered at the thought.
From across the room, Jaina heard a soft whimpering. Concerned, she got up to investigate.
Deanna was sleeping fitfully. She tossed in her sleep. Jaina surmised she was having another bad dream. Although Jaina had picked up on Deanna’s dreams previously, that had been the older woman’s doing. The drug the Kreptins were using on her hampered her synaptic responses, even in slumber.
Deanna thrashed again, moaning louder. Jaina placed a hand on her mother’s shoulder, shaking gently. “Deanna, wake up.”
Deanna continued to sleep, caught up in the throes of the nightmare. Unable to awaken her, Jaina sat by her side, cooing softly, trying to convey comfort into Deanna’s subconscious.
Several minutes passed. Deanna woke up with a start, choking back a scream. Sitting up, she looked around the room, not really seeing anything.
Jaina took her hand. The older woman was trembling. “Deanna? It’s alright. You’re alright. It was just a dream.”
Deanna shook her head. “No,” she whispered, her voice cracking. “It was more than a dream. It felt so real. Almost like a premonition.”
Jaina put her arms around Deanna, hugging her close. “Was it the same dream you had before? The one you had right before you found us?”
Deanna nodded, still feeling the anguish of the dream. She leaned against her daughter gratefully. It seemed strange to Deanna to have a child comforting her. She knew that it should be the other way around. She should be the strong one. In a few minutes, she thought. In a few minutes she would get a grip and be the adult again. At that very moment, it was nice to have someone else be strong. Besides, she thought ruefully, she had a lifetime ahead to dry Jaina’s tears and chase away the demons. She suddenly remembered holding Jaina just like this earlier. Maybe at this point the best they could hope for was equal parts strength and need.
“It was the same, down to the last detail.” She spoke in a whisper, as though talking louder would somehow validate the horrible images.
“Do you want to talk about it? What happens in the dream?”
Deanna shook her head and pulled away from Jaina with a sniff. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“It might help,” Jaina said gently.
“No, it won’t.” Deanna took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She reached deep inside, trying to find her center. She tapped the back of her neck softly. When she found her center, her opened her eyes. “The only thing that will help at this point is getting out of here.”
Their practically identical eyes met and held. After several minutes, Jaina nodded decisively. “Right. So we need to come up with a plan.”
Jaina stood up and began pacing the room. “We can’t be too far away from the guys. I cannot communicate with Jacen over long distances. My guess is we are still in Florida.”
Deanna agreed. “Sounds reasonable. I think that those two are the only ones holding us. If we can get the advantage next time they come in here, we might be able to escape.”
“Then all we have to do is figure out exactly where we are and find our way back to Jacen and Daddy.”
Jaina stopped pacing just in time to catch the smile that touched Deanna’s lips. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Deanna said, trying to erase the amused smile. “It just sounds strange to hear Will referred to as ‘Daddy’”
Jaina gave her a quizzical look. “Why?”
Deanna shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I have just never given the idea of us having children much thought. We haven’t been back together that long. Thinking about it now, I suppose I can picture Will as a father. I can imagine him being pretty good at it.”
Jaina smiled at that. “He’s the best. Jacen and I are very fortunate to have the best parents in the universe.”
Deanna colored slightly, both embarrassed and touched. She grinned again. “You’ve had him wrapped around your little finger your entire life, haven’t you?”
Jaina rolled her eyes. “No more so than you do.”
Deanna laughed. “And on that note…”
Jaina sobered. “Right. So, how strong do you feel? Do you think you can jump one of our capturers?”
“I don’t know, but I can give it one hell of a try.”
Jaina sat down; her young face full of determination and a slight bit of excitement. “OK, great, so here’s the plan…”
Krael stopped in front of the cell door. This assignment was getting out of hand, he thought angrily. He could not for the life of him understand why Serot insisted that they take both prisoners. The young one served no purpose whatsoever. It would be smarter just to kill her now and leave her body behind as a message to those damn Starfleet officers. Krael smiled as he opened the door. Maybe he would kill her anyway, just to get a rise out of Serot.
When he stepped through the door, he was surprised. He did not see either woman. He stepped further into the room.
“Hey, ugly!” He heard from behind him. He spun around, just in time to receive a foot in his face. He staggered back, rubbing his jaw. He looked at the petite brunette with hatred.
“You have a very bad habit of hitting me in the face, bitch.” He snarled as he lunged toward Deanna. He never reached her. From behind him Jaina, who had been hiding under the stone bed, made her move. With a vicious yell, she charged, slamming her foot into his back. With a grunt of pain, he turned around, bringing his fist up, catching Jaina squarely across the cheek. Jaina staggered back and hit the floor, dazed.
Before either woman could react, he grabbed Deanna around the neck. Krael twisted around until he was behind her, his heavy arm across her throat.
Jaina, still dazed, tried to get up. She made it as far as her hands and knees when she froze in fright. Krael had his free arm extended toward her, a phaser-like weapon in his hand.
“Don’t move.” He warned her. He squeezed his arm, increasing the pressure on Deanna’s trachea. Deanna gasped for breath. “Say goodbye to your friend,” Krael sneered close to her ear.
The Kreptin had his weapon pointed directly at Jaina. Point-blank shot, there was no way he could miss. Deanna screamed silently. The pressure on her throat was rapidly causing her to lose consciousness. With the last bit of strength she possessed, she brought her right arm up, knocking into the arm holding the gun just as Krael began to fire. A burst of energy shot out, missing Jaina by mere inches. Deanna slammed her other elbow in his stomach as hard has she could.
“Jaina, run! Go get help!” She gasped, trying to break free of the arms that held her.
“No! I’m not going without you.” Jaina cried. She lunged at Krael. She grabbed his arm, trying to wrestle the weapon away from him.
The distinctive sound of another energy weapon came from the doorway. The energy beam slammed into Jaina. She slumped to the floor.
Krael turned around, still holding Deanna in a suffocating grip. Serot stood in the doorway. “Enough!” She spat. “We don’t have time for this.” She leveled the gun at Deanna and fired. Deanna went limp in Krael’s arms. He loosened his grip, allowing her to fall to the floor.
Serot stepped forward and pressed a hypospray to the Betazoid’s neck. She then moved to Jaina and injected her with the same substance.
Krael rubbed his sore jaw. “Serot, when we are done with this one, I’m going to enjoy killing her.”
“Shut up and help me. I’d like to be long gone before they wake up, or before their would-be rescuers get here.”
Krael stepped over the prone body, kicking her hard in the side as he went. He left the room, coming back a few minutes later with four lengths of rope. Tossing two to Serot, he began securing Deanna’s hands and feet. “I don’t see why we have to take the other one. We should just leave her here.”
“She might prove to be useful. Besides, she looks familiar, and I intend to keep her alive until I figure out why.”
Will stepped into the clearing and approached the security officer waiting for him. In the distance, behind a cluster of trees, he could see a group of rather large, run down buildings.
“Bobby, what do you have for me?”
Commander Robert Hackman turned to his old academy friend. “Will. To be honest, not much. There has been little activity from the complex. We have had it under constant surveillance since we contacted you. About an hour ago, one unidentified humanoid went into the building on the far east side, however has not come back out. There has been no definitive proof that we have found Commander Troi’s abductors.”
“Fine. I want you to remain on watch. I would like ten of your best people to accompany me. I’m going in.”
The security officer hurried off to get the people the commander required.
Will paced anxiously. He was impatient to get going. He was sure that he would find Deanna in one of the dilapidated buildings.
Five minutes later, Hackman returned, two brawny men behind him. Both men carried two phaser rifles. “Commander Will Riker, this is Lt-Commander Joshua Briggs and Ensign Richard Halms. The finest security officers on my team. The rest are standing by.”
Will took the extra rifles from the men, handing one to Jacen and keeping one for himself. “Thank you, Bob. Alright, men, listen up. We will approach the complex from the west side. Be careful, and watch for traps. We do not want to set off any sensors and alert them to our presence. Once inside, spread out and search the area. Keep your communicators active. I want to be alerted the minute anyone or anything is found. Briggs, Halms, and Jacen are with me. The rest of you break into two teams.” Will studied Starfleet’s finest for a moment, then turned to his son. “Ready?”
Jacen nodded decisively, relieved to finally be doing something. “Aye, Sir. Let’s do it.”
The twelve men approached the buildings in absolute silence. The only sound to be heard was the soft croaking of frogs in the nearby marsh. They moved to the west end, alert to their surroundings. Will walked in front of the group with Jacen, both men scanning the area with tricorders, on the lookout for traps as well as life signs. They found neither. Jacen and Will approached the door cautiously, motioning the others to stay back. Will examined the access panel. The mechanism was at least twenty years old. Will figured it should not be too difficult to bypass. “Stand back.” He ordered Jacen. Will pointed his rifle at the panel and fired, burning a whole in the cover and exposing the inner workings.
Jacen grinned. “Well that’s one way to do it I guess.” He handed his rifle to Will. “Allow me to do the rest.” He pulled the cover the rest of the way off. Within twenty seconds, the door slid open.
Will whistled softly, impressed. “Not bad, kid.” He handed the rifle back.
Will motioned the security personnel forward then entered the building, Jacen behind him.
The first thing Jacen noticed upon entering the building was the musty smell of disuse. The second thing he noticed was Jaina. “I can feel her.”
Will turned his head sharply in Jacen’s direction. “What?”
Jacen had a slightly distracted look on his face. “Jaina. She’s nearby. I can feel her.”
Jacen shook his head. “I can’t tell. Close.” He studied the room they had entered. The room was small, more of an entryway, with three exits. “That way, I think.” He said, pointing to the door directly in front of them.
Riker faced the teams. “One team head north, one team head south. My team will head east. Move out.”
The three teams split up, each going through a different door.
The door Will’s team entered led to a long hallway, about five feet wide. On either side of the hall were a series of doors, spaced about twenty feet apart. Will surmised that they were old laboratories. None of the doors were locked, and all the rooms looked the same. Lab stations sat in the middle of the room. On either side of the room were stone shelves, covered with beakers and test tubes of various shapes and sizes.
They searched every room, getting tricorder readings from each. To Will’s frustration, they found nothing of interest. So far, the building appeared to be nothing more than what it actually was, an abandoned research facility.
Will’s combadge beeped. “Riker here.”
“Commander,” said the voice of Lt. Jenkins, the leader of the search team that had gone north. “We found what seems to be an operating room.”
“Not unusual in a research facility, Lieutenant.” Riker responded mildly.
“Yes, Sir. However, there is evidence that this one has been used recently. Tricorder readings show Human DNA on one of the tables. Minute quantities of course, probably epidermal.”
Will felt his pulse quicken. “Understood.” He answered, surprised when his voice came out steady. “Good work. Keep searching.”
Will and Jacen shared a hopeful look before silently continuing their own search.
They were nearing the end of the corridor and about the twentieth identical room, when they received a surprise. Not only was this door unlocked, but it was also open. Will stepped over the threshold. He immediately noticed the difference in the room. Unlike the other rooms, this one contained no lab station in the center. The slabs on the far walls were the same, except instead of being covered with lab equipment, they were covered with thin mattresses.
Jacen laid a hand on his father’s arm. “Will, they were here. Not long ago. I can feel Jaina’s essence all over this room.” Jacen spotted a small stain on the floor. He knelt down, running his tricorder over the spot. “Oh, Gods,” he moaned.
Will knelt beside him. “What? What is it?”
“It’s blood. Human blood.”
Will closed his eyes. “Jaina?”
Jacen shook his head. “Difficult to say for sure. Since they both have Human DNA, both of them would read as human without more sophisticated testing.”
Will stood up. He slapped the combadge pinned to his shirt. “Teams two and three report.”
Jacen tuned his father out as he searched the rest of the room. On one of the beds, tucked between the mattress and the wall, he found a small crystal bead. He recognized it immediately. He stepped to his father’s side. Will was just finishing his conversation with the other teams. Jacen could clearly see his frustration. “The other teams found nothing further. The entire building is deserted.”
Briggs stepped forward. “How is that possible, Sir? We were watching the entire time. We saw someone enter the complex, we did not see anyone leave.”
“I don’t know!” Will yelled, his anger getting the best of him.
Jacen stepped between the two men, calling Will’s attention to the bead in his hand. “Look at this. This is Jaina’s.”
Will took the small bead and examined it. “Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure. It’s part of a hair ribbon I had made for our sixteenth birthday. She wears her hair in a braid when she is sleeping, with this woven into it. It was hidden between the mattress and the wall.”
Will looked thoughtful for a minute. “Do you think it being there was accidental, or is she trying to leave us a trail?”
Jacen shrugged. “I don’t know. All I do know is that I felt her nearby; still do actually. They couldn’t have gotten too far.”
Will agreed. “Briggs, Halms, gather the rest of the teams and begin scanning the area.”
“Aye, Sir.” The security officers left the room to carry out Riker’s orders.
Jacen sighed and sat down on one of the beds. “OK, now what?”
Will ran his fingers through his hair, obviously agitated. “Now we find out which direction they went. When we do, you and I, along with a Briggs and Halms, will set out on foot. At the same time, I will have Hackman continue to search the area with sensors. We will find them. I guarantee it.”
Serot huffed, breathing heavy as she dragged the rope behind her. Krael had better hurry back and take on his share of her current burden, she thought angrily. Attached to the other end of the rope was a makeshift wooden sled. Upon the sled lay the Betazoid and her young friend, gagged and bound to the long pole that made up the base of the contraption. The sled had been Krael’s idea. Serot would have preferred to obtain a vehicle of some sort. However, Krael had insisted that a vehicle would be too noisy and too easily spotted. Serot thought that Krael found some perverse pleasure in watching her struggle with pulling the sled behind her.
Serot supposed he was right. On foot they could hide in the marsh or phase out like they did to sneak past the Starfleet officers. Serot touched the device on her arm with a certain amount of fondness. Her own invention, the phase band was similar to the Romulans' Interphase Generator, but on a smaller scale. It fit around her wrist like a bracelet. Upon activation, the wearer, and anyone she was touching, phased out of this dimension and into another, effectively becoming invisible. Unfortunately, it was not strong enough to phase a vessel, even a small one. The logical thing to do was transverse the swamp on foot.
Logic aside, Serot wished Krael would return from his scouting trip so that he could pull the sled for a while.
Completely engrossed in her own thoughts, Serot paid very little attention to her prisoners.
Deanna eyes blinked open as she began to awaken. Where was she? Deanna slowly turned her head to the side, trying to ascertain the current situation. Her arms were tingling painfully, pulled as they were above her head and tied to what seemed to be a small log. The ropes that held her were too tight, cutting off circulation to her hands. Deanna’s mouth felt dry, her lips chapped. Not surprising, she thought, considering the gag that was soaking up all the moisture from her mouth. Trying to ignore her chapped lips and desperate thirst, Deanna turned her head slowly in the other direction. Jaina lay beside her, equally bound, still unconscious. At least she was still alive, Deanna thought in relief.
Deanna swallowed a scream of agony as her body was bounced over a rough bit of terrain.
Suddenly, Deanna realized she could SENSE another presence. She craned her neck, trying to see behind her. The female Kreptin. Deanna could sense that she was very angry. Deanna SENSED it. Her abilities were back! Deanna rejoiced silently. She closed her eyes again, feigning unconsciousness. The longer it took for her captors to realize she was awake, the better chance she had of contacting Will. She turned her thoughts inward and concentrated hard on Will.
~Will? Imzadi, please hear me.~
Nothing. Deanna tried harder, putting all her energy into her task. After an excruciatingly long period, she heard an answering call. She almost wept in relief.
Will’s answering voice was music to her ears. ~I’m here, Imzadi. Are you OK?~
~No! I’m tied to a pole and being dragged through the woods. I don’t know how long we have before they drug me again. Where are you?~
~Jacen and I are at the complex you were being held. I’m sorry, Deanna. We got here too late.~
~Not your fault. Will, Jaina is still unconscious. They blasted her pretty hard. I think it’s better that she is unconscious. If she were awake, she would be in a lot of pain.~
~Probably. Deanna, can you tell where you are? Can you lead me in the right direction?~
~I think we are in the Everglades. It’s really marshy here. I can see sawgrass on either side of this path we are on.~
~What direction are you headed?~
Deanna opened her eyes for a moment and looked at the sky. ~We are headed away from the sun. To be honest though, I have no idea what time it is, so I can’t tell if we are headed east or west.~
~It’s late afternoon, which means if you are headed away from the sun, you’re going East.~
Deanna smiled tiredly. ~East, good. Come get me now, huh? I’m tired and I want to go home.~
~Hang in there, Imzadi. I’m on my way.~
~Some vacation, huh? Traipsing through the swamp at the mercy of an obviously homicidal maniac. Not my idea of fun.~
~Worf would probably enjoy it.~
Deanna groaned. ~I knew there was a reason I broke up with him.~
Deanna could feel Will’s chuckle. ~Good a reason as any. Try to get some sleep, OK? I can feel how tired you are. I promise we will find you.~
Their connection began to weaken as Deanna began to fall asleep. ~You better. I love you, Will.~
~I love you too, Deanna~ she heard just before drifting off to sleep.
Will sighed as he felt Deanna’s presence slowly drift away. He wished they could keep the connection, such as it is, open. He felt more secure when he heard her “voice”. However, he knew she was too weak to keep up constant communication.
Jacen approached him, still holding the phaser rifle. “How are they?” He asked.
Will shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “Coping. They are tied to something and are being dragged. Jaina is still unconscious. Deanna thinks they are headed East through the swamp. How the hell did they get away from here without being seen?”
Jacen shrugged, impatient. He wanted to get moving. “Transported, maybe? The female seemed to have some sort of device on her arm.”
Will shook his head again. “Possible, but it does not make sense. If they could transport, wouldn’t it be easier to go directly to wherever they’re meeting their ship? Why go through the swamp?”
“Who cares? They are in the swamp and we know which direction they are going. Can we go now? We can move much faster than they can.”
“Relax, Jace.” Will admonished, unconsciously using the nickname. “We will go, but we need to prepare. We cannot go blindly into unfamiliar territory. We need to coordinate with security and learn as much about the area as possible. We won’t do Deanna and Jaina any good if we get lost.”
Will went to Commander Hackman. “Bobby, I need everything you can pull up about the Everglades, including a map of the entire area and any possible destinations. We need to know the most likely place for them to meet a ship.”
Ten minutes later, Will had a comprehensive history of the wetlands. Jacen stood behind him, reading over his shoulder.
The information was extensive, spanning hundreds of years of facts. The area known as the Everglades, dating back to the end of the Ice Age, at one time spanned the lower half of the state, reaching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and extending Northward to Lake Okeechobee. The majestic wetlands consisted of not only marshy areas populated with Sawgrass, but also thick forests and was at one time the home to thousands of species of birds and other creatures. In the Nineteenth Century, as Florida’s population began to grow, the people of the era believed the swamp to be an uninhabitable area and essentially a “waste of perfectly good land”. By the mid-Twentieth Century, the Everglades had been all but destroyed. The Government of the time tried to preserve what was left of the once expansive wetland. They created “Everglades National Park” making a small section protected. However, the damage had been done. By the early Twenty-First Century, when the Everglades Restoration Act was enforced, the Everglades had shrunk to less than half of it’s original size, the ecosystem was all but destroyed and thousands of species were extinct. Those species that remained were highly endangered and were not expected to survive. The Florida Panthers, once numbering in the thousands, were reduced to less than thirty by the year 2000.
The Federal Government began a comprehensive plan to restore the Everglades, reestablishing the water flow and returning a large portion of the surrounding area to its original state. By the Third World War, the Everglades had doubled in size, the American Crocodile was no longer endangered, and the panthers had tripled in number.
Jacen sighed in disgust. “A thousands of years old Ecosystem virtually destroyed in less than a hundred years. Our ancestors had a lot of mistakes to answer for, didn’t they?”
Will agreed. “The Glades is once again the thriving Ecosystem it once was, and descendants of the Miccosukee and Seminole people still live in what was once the Big Cypress Preserve.”
Jacen picked up the map Hackman had provided. “Look here. There was at one time a highway that spanned the Everglades, known as Alligator Alley. The remnants remain. The Alley is surrounded on both sides by marsh, but is probably the driest route through the area. My guess is that if they are on foot, this is the most likely route. Anything else would require a boat.”
Will perused the map thoughtfully. “The people living in this area have strived to make it a simple way of life. Very little modern technology is used. In an effort to maintain the culture and stability of the Everglades, there is a very strict no fly zone enforced. The residents of this area travel in old-fashioned Airboats and canoes. We can obtain one if necessary. I agree that this is probably the route they are taking, but we cannot discount the possibility of crossing the marsh.”
Will turned to Hackman. “Bobby, I want your people to continue making sensor scans. Keep in touch through communicators. Anything else would be in violation of the Everglades Protection Act. Jacen and I, along with Briggs and Halms, will go on foot.”
“Sure thing, Will. Good Luck, and be careful.”
Will gestured to Jacen. “Ready?”
Jacen nodded. “Why can’t we fly over? We could find them in no time and be done with it.”
“The ecosystem is still too delicate. Although not as harmful as the engine fuel they used to dump over the ‘Glades, even the slightest exhaust from our impulse fusion reactors can cause extensive damage.” Will and Jacen moved away, preparing for their journey.
Hackman called after them. “Will!”
Riker turned around. “Yeah?”
Hackman grinned. “Watch out for ‘gators.”
When Deanna awoke again the sun was beginning to set, turning the western sky a beautiful mixture of pink and orange.
The first thing that Deanna noticed was that they had stopped moving. The second thing she noticed was pain. Her entire body was stiff and sore from being held in one position for so long. She tried to move, rotating her shoulders and flexing her leg muscles. Her muscles screamed in agony at the abuse.
To Deanna, it felt like she was leaning up against something. She wiggled her fingers and was surprised when her numb appendages brushed another body. Jaina.
Deanna turned her head slowly, looking around. They seemed to be in a small clearing.
Directly in front of her, approximately a hundred meters away, lay a rough semblance of a path. To her left, Deanna could see thick forest. To her right, the clearing expanded about fifty meters, before being swallowed by trees. In the waning light, Deanna could see two silhouettes two-thirds of the way across the clearing. She sensed hostility. She could not hear any words, however, based upon their gesturing, and the emotions she was sensing, she surmised that her “hosts” were arguing.
Deanna felt a stirring against her back. Jaina was awake. She was frightened and in pain. Deanna closed her eyes and sent comforting thoughts toward her daughter.
Deanna jumped slightly. She had not considered being able to communicate telepathically with Jaina. ~Hi, Jaina. How you feeling?~
~Sore. Deanna, where are we?~
~I don’t know, sweetheart, but it looks like we have stopped for the night.~
~Have you been able to contact Will?~
Deanna smiled. ~Yeah. They found the complex. They know which direction we are headed. They are on their way.~
Deanna felt Jaina moving. ~What are you doing?~
~ Trying to loosen the ropes. If we work together, we might be able to get untied.~
Deanna moved her hands until she had a grip on the ropes. She felt for the knot. She could not tell whose binds she was manipulating, hers or Jaina’s.
While they worked on their restraints, the women kept up a running dialogue in their heads.
~Wonder what they are arguing about~
Deanna shrugged mentally. ~I don’t know, but the longer they argue, the longer it will take them to notice that we are awake. Jaina, I’m going to try to contact Will again. Do you think you are strong enough to project a long distance? I would like to try to send the guys an image of our surroundings.~
~It’s worth a try.~
Deanna and Jaina closed their eyes and concentrated. Deanna could feel the exact moment when her thoughts merged with Jaina’s, sending a clear picture outward. Warm satisfaction washed over Deanna as their call was answered.
All four remained “silent”, not conversing, just allowing the quadruple melding to bring comfort and hope.
On the other side of the alcove, Serot and Krael were engaged in a heated exchange of words.
“What do you mean we are being followed?” Serot yelled. “How could they have located us already?”
“I didn’t say they had located us.” Unlike Serot, Krael was perfectly calm, even amused, as though he was enjoying himself. “I said they are headed in the same direction we are. They are about six hours behind us.”
Serot fumed. “Why haven’t you taken care of them yet?”
Krael shrugged, unconcerned. “I will, when it becomes necessary.”
“Damn it, Krael! This is not a game!”
“No, it’s not. However, you are the one who got us into this situation. Because you could not wait, we are here. I might as well enjoy myself. The hunt is the best part of any kill.”
Choking with anger, Serot stomped across the clearing. It was then that she noticed that the Betazoid was awake. Serot seethed. The current circumstances were not her fault. Serot knew exactly where the blame lay.
Completely beyond reason, Serot approached the object of her hatred. Serot kicked Deanna in the side. Deanna cried out. “Bitch! This is all your fault.” She ranted, continuing to kick Deanna.
The sound of breaking bone accompanied a solid kick to Deanna’s arm. Serot did not notice. Blinded by rage, she did not stop. “You killed my husband.” She screamed. “You took away everything that was important to me.”
Jaina screamed. She could feel her mother’s agony. Realizing they were still linked to the guys, and that Will could feel Deanna’s injuries, Jaina quickly closed her mind.
“You will pay for the pain you have caused me! Your entire race will pay!”
Deanna tried to move away from the assault, tried to whimper out a denial.
Serot did not stop her attack, not even when her victim lost consciousness.
Krael stepped forward, grabbing Serot’s arm. He pulled her away. “Serot, stop! You have plenty of time for this later. We have to get moving again before our shadows catch up.”
Serot stopped struggling. She kicked Deanna in the head one last time. When she turned to face Krael, she was calmer. “You’re right.” She walked over to her pack and pulled out a hypospray and two doses. She went first to Deanna and injected her with more Neuroblocker, then reloaded and pressed the hypospray roughly to Jaina’s neck.
Within minutes, Jaina dropped off into oblivion.
Will slapped at his arm in frustration. His team did not seem to be getting any closer to their quarry. It had been hours since he lost contact with Deanna, and the only thing they had to show for their efforts were mosquito bites.
Disgusted, he turned to Jacen, who was scanning the area with a tricorder. “Find anything?” His voice was harsher than he had intended, but he was beyond caring. It was the middle of the night; he was drenched in sweat from a sultry heat that had not abated in the six hours since sunset; and his whole body ached with a pain that was not his.
Jacen did not answer his father. Instead he moved a few feet ahead, his tricorder trained on what seemed to be a path. “Will, look at this.” Jacen knelt down and examined the rough path. “I think they went this way. The tracks are definitely bipedal, and it looks like something was being dragged behind them.”
Will dropped to his haunches beside Jacen. “Deanna said they were tied to a pole and were being dragged. These markings are just like the ones we have been following for hours. What about the tricorder? Are you picking up any lifeforms?”
Jacen gave his father a look. “There are massive lifeform readings. Alligators, birds, panthers, various other wildlife.”
Will rolled his eyes. “Human lifeforms, Jacen. Any human or Betazoid life?”
“Plenty of human life. I can’t tell if it is them, or the native inhabitants.”
Will grunted angrily and stood up. “Some help you are.”
Jacen snorted. “As if you could do better. I have tried filtering out all wildlife and strictly human readings. However, I have not found any distinctive signs of a Betazoid. We are obviously not close enough for the tricorder.” Jacen began moving down the path. “I suggest we go this way.”
Will motioned for Briggs and Halms to follow. The four men turned onto the path and continued forward.
“Briggs, Halms, I want you to scout ahead. Report anything suspicious.”
The two-man security team moved forward, leaving the Rikers to follow behind, constantly scanning the area.
Will and Jacen walked in silence for several minutes. Finally, unable to stand the quiet, Jacen spoke softly. “How are you feeling?” He asked, referring to the pain he knew his father was experiencing.
Will shrugged. “The pain has dulled. Either Deanna is feeling better, or she is unconscious. Probably the latter.”
Jacen looked at his father. “You are amazingly calm.”
Will thought about that for a moment. “I have to be. If I allow myself to think about it too much, I’ll go insane. She was being severely beaten. I felt every bit of it before Jaina broke the connection.”
Jacen sighed sadly. “I know. I felt it, too. When I get my hands on those bastards, I’m going to kill them.”
Will kept a tight reign on his emotions, seething inside. “Not if I get to them first.”
With nothing left to say, they fell silent again.
The path they were on widened as they moved further ahead. Will looked around, not really interested in his surroundings. Tall sawgrass lined one side of the “road” The other side was a thicket of palmettos and royal palms. Frogs and crickets called out, breaking the otherwise complete silence. Above, the full moon made flashlights virtually unnecessary.
Will supposed the entire area had a quiet beauty about it. A serenity that one did not find elsewhere. He thought that under normal circumstances, he would probably enjoy exploring the region.
Ensign Halms approached from the path in front of Will. “Commander, about half a kilometer ahead is a small clearing in the woods. It looks like it might have been used as a campsite recently, however is now abandoned. I think you should investigate.”
Will nodded to the younger man. “Very well, thank you, Ricky.”
Will and Jacen followed the Ensign Halms quickly, reaching the clearing in just under ten minutes.
Will walked the perimeter of the campsite, his tricorder open and scanning. Jacen followed suit around the interior.
“Will, I found something!” He shouted a few minutes later.
Will hurried over. “What is it?”
Jacen held up a small round object. “Another bead from Jaina’s hair ribbon. They were definitely here.”
“Briggs, Halms, search the area. I want to know which direction they went.”
Jacen pointed to the ground. “Look here. See the markings on the ground? It looks like someone was sitting here.” Jacen ran his tricorder over the area. “Minute traces of Human DNA are showing up. I think it’s blood. One or both of them are still bleeding.”
Will swore. He closed his eyes in misery, once again feeling the memory of Deanna’s pain.
Briggs called to him from the path. “Sir, I found some tracks. It looks like they are headed East again. The tracks seem to be about five hours old.”
“We are gaining on them.” Will stated. “But not fast enough. Come on, Jace. We need to keep moving.”
As they moved forward, both men were occupied with their own thoughts. Will was thinking about what he would do to the Kreptins when they found them. Jacen was wondering if they would find them before they decided to dispose of unnecessary baggage, namely Jaina.
Deanna blinked her eyes open and bit back a scream. She was once again tied to the sled, her broken arm pulled above her head and secured to the log. She turned her mind inward, desperately trying to block the excruciating agony.
She realized that she could not sense anything. She was once again drugged.
Deanna thought about what the Kreptin female, Serot, had revealed. She had accused Deanna of killing her husband. So, that’s what this was about. Serot must have been the one in the brig. Deanna could not fathom how. Had the Kreptins used the wormhole also? Jaina must have known, Deanna thought. Obviously, there was a lot more to the story than Jacen and Jaina had revealed to her. She hoped Jacen told Will the rest.
Deanna felt remorse welling up inside her. She was genuinely sorry for the part she had played-or would play-in the death of Serot’s spouse. Although, if she was completely honest with herself, after the horrible abuse Serot had inflicted, she probably was not feeling as remorseful as she should.
As the pain became unbearable, Deanna forced her mind into a quiet place. A place of warmth and happiness, where she could focus on Will and their love. A place where she could escape from the horror she was living, at least for a short time.
Hidden behind a cluster of palmettos, Krael watched his prey. The four humans were making good time, he thought, amused. It would not take them long to catch up with Serot. Krael briefly considered leaving them alone. He could stay back and allow them to catch Serot, and then watch the show. He immediately thought better of it. He would not get paid if he had nothing to deliver, and if there was one thing Krael cared about, it was getting paid.
Of course, that did not mean he could not have fun first. Krael was enjoying the game. Staying one step ahead of his pursuers, alternating between predator and prey. They had no idea he was watching them. He could take out the four of them before they could even sound an alarm.
No, Krael thought. He would not kill the Commander and his young companion yet. The others, however, were unnecessary participants in this battle of wills.
Krael leveled his disruptor at the security officers and fired, dropping them both before either could react. Krael smiled as Riker spun around in alarm. A shot from the human’s phaser barely missed Krael.
With maniacal amusement, Krael made a slight adjustment to his disruptor and fired again. Twice. Both humans dropped, stunned. Just because he had decided not to kill them yet, did not mean he could let them catch up too quickly.
Krael smile in satisfaction and hurried forward to meet Serot.
Deanna was once again awake, and tied back to back to Jaina. She wondered why they had stopped again. Serot had to know that Will was not far behind.
Deciding to not question her good fortune, Deanna twisted her good arm, trying to undo the ropes. She gritted her teeth, trying to ignore the pain. She felt Jaina’s hands moving beside hers. Together they labored, almost working the ropes free.
Krael stepped from the bushes. He saw that Deanna and Jaina were awake and approached them.
“Well, what do we have here? Look, Serot, our little friends are awake.”
Serot sneered. “Leave them alone and give me some good news for once.”
Krael knelt in front of Jaina. He ran his finger down her face. “Oh, don’t worry, Serot. Their would-be rescuers will not be coming for them.”
He moved around to Deanna. “Maybe I shouldn’t have killed them. Maybe I should have brought them back here. We could have put on a show for them.” He leaned closer and whispered in Deanna’s ear. “I bet I’m better than he was.”
Deanna whimpered. Will. Oh Gods, no. Without her empathic sense, she could not tell if Krael was lying or not. She cringed away from him.
Feeling her mother’s distress, Jaina tried to struggled free. “Leave my mother alone!”
Serot whipped around to face Jaina. “Mother!” Serot’s face reddened as realization dawned. “I thought I recognized you. You are the little brat from the future.” Serot sneered. “Did you come back to save mommy? How sweet! To bad you failed. Now, what should we do with you?”
Serot’s eyes glimmered evilly as she considered the possibilities. She looked at Deanna. “I promised I’d make you pay for what you’ve done. Now what would be a suitable punishment?" Serot nodded to Krael. “Krael, the brat is all yours, have fun. Make sure it’s horrible. I want mommy dearest to see it in her head for the rest of her pathetically short life.”
Delighted, Krael untied Jaina and jerked her to her feet. Jaina clawed at his face. “Let me go!”
Deanna flinched in revulsion as Krael’s mouth clamped down on Jaina’s. Deanna struggled with her ropes, which were loosened considerably without Jaina attached.
Jaina squirmed and kicked as Krael shoved her to the ground. He straddled her, squeezing her breast painfully. Jaina spit in his face. He slapped her.
Free of the binds, Deanna leapt up and threw herself at Krael.
Serot was faster. She grabbed Deanna by the hair and yanked. Deanna fell to the ground, landing on her broken arm. She screamed. Her arm throbbing, Deanna struggled to stay awake.
Helpless, Deanna watched in horror as Krael ripped Jaina’s shirt, baring her to the waist.
Jaina screamed and thrashed. Her movements seemed to excite Krael. He thrust his hand between her legs as his mouth clamped onto her naked breast.
With her last ounce of energy, Jaina brought her knee up hard into Krael’s groin.
Momentarily disoriented, Krael rolled to his side, freeing Jaina.
Jaina shoved herself away from him and tried to reach his weapon. However, Krael was more angry than hurt. He reached the disruptor before Jaina could. Without hesitation he fired. Jaina fell to the ground.
Deanna began to scream as tears flowed hotly down her cheeks.
“I’m telling you, Krael, this is a very bad idea.”
“Relax, Serot. We are both tired and need rest. We will be perfectly safe here. It will probably be hours, maybe even days before anyone notices that Riker is missing. By the time they pick up the trail, we will be long gone.”
Deanna came awake slowly, hearing the Kreptins talking even before she opened her eyes. Where was she now? Deanna scanned her surroundings. The room was dank and bathed in shadows. Through the grimy window to her left, Deanna could see dawn approaching.
She was alone. The angry voices that had jarred her into wakefulness came from the other side of an old-fashioned wood door. She was also untied, Deanna noticed, apathetically. Not that it really mattered. Her arm was broken and lay limp at her side. Her entire body throbbed from the battering she had been subjected to. Deanna doubted she could move even five feet.
Deanna found herself not caring. If she could move, what would be the point? Where would she go?
Grief flooded her chest, choking her. She could not get the image of Jaina’s lifeless body out of her mind. She closed her eyes, willing the picture away. Behind her eyelids Deanna saw Krael kicking Jaina’s motionless form.
Tears spilled unchecked down her face. She deeply mourned the loss of the daughter she had barely known. The daughter she would likely never have, because even if she made it out of this nightmare alive, Will was…
Deanna choked on a sob. Will was probably dead also. Krael had said as much, and she had no reason to doubt the bloodthirsty mercenary.
Deanna no longer cared what happened to her. She had lost her children, her Imzadi, and her empathic sense. What reason did she have to continue fighting?
Heartsick and dejected, Deanna crawled weakly toward the mattress in the corner.
As the waxing sun crested the horizon, bringing with it a new day, Deanna Troi lay on a filthy mattress, sobbing uncontrollably, physically and emotionally broken.
Will Riker groaned as consciousness returned. What happened? The last thing Will remembered was hearing a shot and seeing Ensign Ricky Halms vaporized. He remembered firing his own phaser in the direction of the shot; then nothing.
Jacen! Will scrambled into a sitting position, looking around. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw his son lying a few meters away. However, Will realized with regret, there was no sign of Briggs.
Standing gingerly, his chest sore from the energy blast, Will stepped over to Jacen. Will knelt down and ran a tricorder over the young man. He was alive. Will shook him gently. “Jace? Come on, son, time to get up.”
Heavily stunned, Jacen was slow to respond. After several minutes, he opened his eyes and sat up with a groan, rubbing his chest. “What happened?”
Will smiled weakly. “My thoughts exactly. Somebody shot us. Halms and Briggs are gone. Vaporized.”
Jacen shook his head to clear it. “Why are we still here?”
“Good question. Judging by the strength of the blast that hit Halms, our assailant had to of hit us with a mild stun setting. I sincerely doubt it was a mistake, or poor aim”
Jacen grunted angrily. “He’s toying with us. Trying to slow us down.”
Will agreed. “Seems that way. What I don’t understand is why? He obviously could have killed us.”
Jacen shrugged and got to his feet. “I don’t know. Maybe this is a game to him. Maybe he gets some sadistic pleasure from watching us struggle. Kreptins are not known for their human sensibilities.”
Will rolled his eyes. “Really? Hadn’t noticed.”
Jacen began scanning the area. He found trace biological residue of their companions, confirming their suspicions regarding the fate of the security officers.
“So, now what?” Jacen asked Will after a moment of silence for their fallen comrades.
Will silently scanned the horizon with his naked eyes. The sun was just beginning to rise. He nodded decisively. “We continue forward on our own, quickly. We have a lot of time to make up. I estimate that we were out for about 2 hours. I just hope they are not too far ahead of us.”
Jacen looked worried. “I hope they haven’t reached their destination yet.”
Will did not comment. He gathered his survival pack, and strapped it on. Without a word he began walking east. Jacen hefted his own pack and followed, jogging slightly to catch up.
Without either of them talking, the terrain stretched on endlessly. An hour into their hike, the path narrowed, becoming little more than a rough overgrown trail. The thick vegetation made walking abreast impossible. Jacen stepped into line behind Will, allowing the older man to take the lead.
They trudged forward, brushing low-hanging limbs aside and stepping over
protruding roots. Jacen kept his tricorder constantly working, scanning for
lifeforms, both humanoid and reptilian.
Jacen ducked as Will shoved a branch out of the way, causing in to swing back, directly at Jacen. He swore as his foot sunk into a marshy section.
“Sorry.” Will called back.
Jacen grumbled as he pushed past Will. “I think I should take the lead for a while. Maybe hit you with branches.”
Will muttered something about “ungrateful brat” under his breath.
Ignoring Will, Jacen tackled the overgrowth ahead. Breaking free of the vegetation, Jacen stepped into a small clearing, and stopped abruptly.
Not realizing Jacen had stopped, Will barreled into his back. “What are doing? Why did you…?" Will trailed off. He spotted the reason for his son’s sudden immobility.
With a strangled cry, Jacen snapped out of his paralysis and began running.
“Jacen, wait!” Will yelled to no avail. Will watched with horror as Jacen dropped to his knees beside his sister’s body.
When Serot entered the room, Deanna was still weeping. Serot smiled, insanely gratified.
“How does it feel to lose everything? Hurts don’t it?” Serot grabbed a handful of Deanna’s hair and pulled, forcefully tilting her head up. “Feels like you have nothing to live for right?”
Deanna did not answer, could not answer. She knew Serot was baiting her, purposely trying to heighten Deanna’s grief. Deanna reached deep within, trying to call up the will to fight back. She would not give Serot the satisfaction of knowing that she had won. If her objective was to punish Deanna, then she had succeeded. Deanna had no desire to live, no reason left to fight.
“I’ll bet you think the worse has happened, right? Nothing I do now could possibly hurt more than what I have already done. I could kill you this very minute and you would not care.”
Silently, tragically, Deanna agreed.
“Well guess again, bitch. I am not done with you yet. You think losing your lover has been torture? I have only just begun. You are going to experience the horror of watching your people destroyed. And when I am done, you are going to beg me to kill you.”
Serot continued, not realizing her taunts were giving the heartbroken Betazoid a reason to survive, a reason to fight. The Kreptins could not be allowed to harm Deanna’s home planet, or its inhabitants. Deanna met Serot’s eyes, allowing her feral determination and hatred to be seen. She would get away, she would stop them, Deanna promised herself.
Her own turmoil no longer mattered. All that mattered was protecting Betazed, and she would, or die trying.
A small ounce of forgotten defiance welled inside Deanna. She jerked her head free and spit in Serot’s face.
Anger and surprise lined Serot’s features. She slapped Deanna, sending her reeling backwards, knocking her head painfully on the floor.
Deanna did not move as wave after wave of nausea washed over her. She would not vomit, she determined fiercely. She would not give Serot any more satisfaction.
With her eyes tightly closed, Deanna waited until she heard the ancient door close behind Serot before she gave into the nausea.
A long while later, Deanna weakly leaned against the wall, panting.
Deanna realized that her abduction was not just about her, but the entire Betazed race. They wanted to use Deanna to punish her people for something that would not happen for twenty years. Deanna could not allow that to happen. Regardless of her personal losses and despite her current uselessness, Deanna knew she had to find a way to escape. She was alone now; it was up to her to stop the Kreptins.
First, she thought, tears already beginning to fall, she would cry one more time for her Imzadi.
“Jacen! Wait!” Will yelled. Jacen either did not hear him, or chose to ignore the command. The young man dropped to his knees beside his unmoving sister, tears already welling in his eyes. She looked so still, lifeless.
“Jaina,” he whispered hoarsely, gathering her motionless body into his arms. Jacen brushed his hand across her face, moving her hair out of the way, desperately looking for signs of life.
Will hunkered down beside him. His tricorder hummed, sending data across its small screen. Will breathed a sigh of relief. “She’s alive.” He pulled Jaina out of Jacen’s embrace and rested her gently on the ground.
Jacen did not move. He seemed oblivious to his father’s words. Will shook him. “Jacen, did you hear me? She’s alive.” Will examined the unconscious girl carefully. His heart clenched painfully, shattering at the sight of her battered body. Her head was wrapped in a makeshift bandage, obviously made from her own clothing. Her hair, as well as the bandage was matted with blood. Her face and arms were a mass of bruises. Her clothes were torn and she was bare from the waist up.
Jacen finally came out of his trance. “She’s alive?”
Will nodded his affirmation, not looking up from his perusal of his daughter. “Yes. However, she is in bad shape. Hand me the medkit out of my pack please.”
Seconds later, the small field medical kit was placed beside him. He opened the case and looked dejectedly at the contents. He picked up a hypospray and a small vial, suddenly wishing Beverly Crusher was available. He searched his memory, calling up the emergency first aid training he had received. Starfleet insisted that all officers take basic first aid at the academy. Beverly forced the Enterprise Senior Officers to attend regular refresher courses. “I need to stabilize her. The energy burn is not too bad, no more than a heavy stun, however I’m concerned about the rest.” He loaded the hypo and injected a basic stabilizer. He then administered a light painkiller. “If we had time, I’d take her to a medical facility. I suppose this will have to do for now.”
Will handed Jacen a Dermal Regenerator. “I assume you know how to use one of these. You work on healing some of these abrasions while I search the area. I don’t want to wake her prematurely, so we may be stuck here for a couple of hours.”
Standing up, Will sighed in anger and frustration. “Damn it! We cannot afford to lose time!”
Jacen went to work with the D.R., disregarding his father’s outburst. He knew exactly how the older man felt. Concern for Jaina warred with the urgency they both felt to save Deanna. As much as Jaina needed the rest, every minute took Deanna further away.
By the time Will returned, Jacen had finished his ministrations and had set up a crude pallet for Jaina, covering her partial nakedness with a blanket. He sat by her side, watching the slight rise and fall of her chest. The girl had not yet regained consciousness, however, much to Jacen’s relief, she had gone from near death to a relatively comfortable sleep.
“How is she?” Will asked as he took a seat on the other side of their patient.
“Stabilized.” Jacen answered, relief and anger mixing in his tone. “Someone worked her over pretty well. I found a rather large contusion on her left side. It looks like she has been kicked. I would not be surprised if her ribs are broken.”
Will reached out and touched Jaina’s brow gently, lovingly. “She’ll be alright. As soon as possible we will get her some real medical treatment.”
Jacen shrugged, struggling for nonchalance. “It doesn’t matter. If we don’t find Deanna, it’s not going to make much difference anyway.”
Will was unsure how to respond, so he said nothing. The two men lapsed into silence. They sat there for an eternity, not speaking. Every few minutes one of them would survey the area. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, they continued their silent vigil at Jaina’s side.
Hours passed before their patience was rewarded. Jaina began to stir. Jacen felt her return to consciousness in his mind before seeing it with his eyes. He got to his knees and leaned over her as her eyes flickered open. “Jacen?” She whispered, her voice small and uncertain.
Jacen smiled reassuringly. “Welcome back, Funny Face.”
Jaina looked around in confusion. Seeing Will, she tried to sit up. “Dad?” She blinked a few times. “What’s going on? What happened?”
Jacen gently pushed her back down. “Lie still, Jai.”
Tears spilled out of Jaina’s eyes, running down into her ears. “I-I th-though y-you wuh-were d-dead.” She closed her eyes tight. “He told us he killed you.”
Jaina struggled into a sitting position, stubbornly pushing her twin away as he tried to force her back down. She realized she was not wearing a shirt as the blanket pooled around her waist.
Will touched her arm gently. “Jaina, you need to rest. We almost lost you.”
Jaina shook her head, wincing at the pain that slight movement caused. “No,” she rasped. She fought the dizziness that threatened. “I-I’ll buh-be f-fine.” Her voice shook as a sob rose in her throat. Her foggy brain cleared and she remembered the traumatic events prior to her being shot. She pulled the blanket back up, wrapping herself in its warmth.
Jaina’s entire body began to tremble as reaction began to set in, alarming her brother and father.
“Jaina, it’s OK.” Will soothed, misinterpreting her distress. “We are fine.”
“N-no.” she whispered hoarsely. “I-It’s not that.” Jaina stopped speaking abruptly when she felt Jacen probe her mind. She slammed a shield in place, not wanting him to see the images.
She was too late. “Damn him!” Jacen reacted violently to the sick images he had pulled from his sister’s mind. “I’ll kill that bastard!” His voice was harsh with barely controlled fury.
Confused, and concerned by the murderous glint in his son’s eyes, Will demanded, “What? What happened?”
Jacen saw the panic on his sister’s face, but was too angry to heed the pleading in her eyes. “He tried to rape her. The fucking bastard beat her up and then tried to rape her.”
Jaina was shaking uncontrollably now. “Jace, please!” She sobbed.
Jacen’s angry features softened as his sister’s pleas finally penetrated. He pulled her into his arms and rocked her gently, soothingly. His eyes, still full of fire, met Will’s.
“I’ll kill him.” Jacen’s eyes said.
“Not if I get to him first,” Will’s expression promised.
Deanna stared at the ceiling not really seeing anything. She had been in the same position for hours. As the day progressed, Deanna had stared at the same spot on the ceiling and plotted. She was determined to escape, to protect her people, but she felt no satisfaction or hope at the prospect of being free. She doubted she would ever feel anything but agony again.
Deanna also felt no remorse for what she had planned. In order to get away, she knew she would have to kill both Kreptins. Her plan was simple enough. She would find a way to get one of their disruptors and kill them. She was not yet sure how she was going to accomplish this feat. Nor did she care. She figured they had to sleep sometime.
Deanna knew she would probably end up getting herself killed for her efforts, but she did not care about that either. At least with her dead, the Kreptins would not be able to harm Betazed. There was no way in hell they would be able to get close enough to take control of a full Betazoid’s mind.
While the usually congenial counselor was contemplating murder, the neuroblocker had begun to wear off. Deanna was so engrossed in her bloodthirsty musings, she did not realize that she had her abilities back until she began to feel a familiar tingling in her mind.
Deanna gasped at the unexpected sensation. Will. She could sense Will! He was alive! Her heart leapt with joy and she wrapped her mind around the essence that was uniquely her Imzadi, basking in the sensation for several minutes.
With renewed purpose, Deanna reached out, calling to him. In her weakened state, she had difficulty making the connection, but she did not give up. Her efforts were rewarded when she felt his response.
~Hi, Imzadi. ~ His wonderful voice echoed in her mind.
Deanna laughed silently, her profound relief overwhelming her. ~Will, thank the Gods. I thought you were dead. He said he killed you, and I couldn’t tell for sure. I couldn’t sense anything. ~
~He is messing with our minds. He did shoot us, but only with a stun. How are you? I felt so much pain from you before. ~
Deanna brushed off his concern. ~I’ll be all right. My arm is broken, and I have a million cuts and bruises, but it’s not too bad. ~ Deanna closed her eyes in misery, not wanting to tell him the bad news. ~Will, Jaina is dead. They shot her. ~
~No, Deanna, she’s not. ~
Deanna’s eyes flew open. ~What? ~ She sent tentatively, afraid to hope.
~We found her. She is in bad shape, but she is alive. ~
Again, overwhelming relief. ~Is she OK? ~ Deanna was not talking about physical injuries.
She could feel Will’s hesitation. ~She will be, in time. She’s strong, like her mother. ~
Deanna smiled at his thoughts; then sobered. ~When this is all over, she will need to talk to a therapist. A traumatic experience like that can scar a person for life. ~
~Well, she knows a good one. ~
Deanna smiled again. ~Are you kidding? I’m going to need therapy when this is over. ~
Will chuckled. ~Deanna, can you tell me anything about your surroundings? ~
~I’m in a cabin. They have me locked in a room, but I’m not tied up currently. There is a window I might be able to slip through, but I’m too weak. With this broken arm, I’m basically useless. ~
~Never that. ~
~Will, I don’t understand. If Krael knows you are not dead, why is he being so casual about hiding in this cabin? He has to know you would have woken up by now. He does not seem to be in any hurry, and even told Serot not to worry~
~I don’t know. I think he wants us to catch up. ~
Deanna, the psychologist, gave that some thought. ~I think you are right. He shows definite signs of being a sociopath. ~
~You know, I’m going to kill him when we find you~
~Stand in line. ~
Deanna and Will “talked” continuously while Will, Jacen and Jaina continued their journey. They had to go slow, because Jaina was very weak, however, as the hours passed Will could feel Deanna getting closer. They were gaining on them.
As they continued to draw closer, the four of them began to feel a small measure of hope. As long as the Kreptins were foolishly lingering in the cabin, Will knew it would not be long before he reached them.
“Will, look!” Jacen said suddenly, near dusk, pointing northeast. In the distance, he could see what appeared to be a small hunting cabin, nestled in the trees.
Will Riker smiled in satisfaction when he saw the cabin. The small wooden structure was old, had probably existed for hundreds of years, and was surrounded on three sides by marshy woods. Will sincerely doubted he would have any trouble getting inside the building. He motioned silently to Jacen and Jaina, beckoning them closer.
“Jai, how are you feeling?” he asked tenderly. “Up to a little rescue mission?”
Jaina grinned saucily and tossed her head, looking so much like Deanna in that instant, Will’s heart turned over. “Piece of cake. Preferably chocolate.”
Will returned her grin. He felt Deanna’s laughter in his head. Good, she was still listening. ~Deanna, describe to me what you see outside the window. ~
Will nodded as he listened to her. “OK,” he said to his future children, “based on Deanna’s description, she is in a room on the east side of the building. We will cut through the marsh and approach the cabin from the rear. Jaina, you will move around to the east side and get Deanna out through the window. Take a phaser and the medkit with you. Jacen and I will move around to the front and take out the Kreptins.”
~Will, be careful. They will not be easy to beat. ~
~Don’t worry about me. Just be ready to help Jaina get you out of there~
“You two ready?” He asked verbally.
The twins nodded their affirmation. Silently, they began to sneak through the foliage, the men going one way, Jaina another.
Will grimaced as he sloshed through knee-deep stagnant water. He surveyed the area, analyzing the best way to proceed. Ahead, he spotted movement through the trees. He motioned to Jacen, pointing to the left.
Jace nodded and headed off in the direction Will had indicated. Within seconds, the dense trees swallowed him, taking him from Will’s sight.
Will continued forward cautiously, his keen ears listening for anything out of the ordinary. Another movement ahead caught his attention. Someone, or something, was laying in wait for him. Will had a good idea who it was. A smile of anticipation twisted his lips, giving him a lethal look. Will Riker was not one for being vengeful; nevertheless, he welcomed the opportunity to confront the monster waiting for him.
Intent on advancing forward stealthily, Will failed to notice the movement coming from behind until he heard the distinctive sound of a twig breaking. Will spun around in surprise. Krael had managed to circle around and behind Will and now stood in the shallow water with an evil grin and a disruptor; both trained on his prey.
“Well, what do we have here?” He taunted. “This is so sweet, almost like one of those sickening fairy tales I had the misfortune of reading while being stuck on this pathetic rock. The White Knight riding to the rescue of the damsel-in-distress, righteously vanquishing the dragon. Too bad the dragon will be the victor in this rendition.” He leveled the disruptor to Riker’s heart. “Such a shame I have to kill you now. I was really enjoying the game. I’d like to play some more, if I had the time. I’d especially enjoy describing to you what I did to your lovely daughter before I killed her, and what I plan to do with your lady-love.” His smile widened at the feral growl coming from Will. “Don’t worry, Commander, she won’t miss you for long.”
Will stood perfectly still, poised to leap out of the way of the disruptor blast that was sure to come. He fought his impulse to pounce foolishly at the bastard before him. Getting himself killed would not help Deanna.
From the bushes came a primal roar and a flash of motion. Both men turned in that direction, surprise widening their eyes. Jacen leapt from the trees and tackled Krael before the Kreptin could react. Using Krael’s shock to his advantage, Jacen shoved him to the ground and drove his fist into the alien’s face. Krael managed to bring the disruptor up between their bodies, but Jacen was too fast for him, knocking the gun from his hand. It went spiraling away and landed with a splash, about five feet away. Straddling the object of his anger, Jacen punched him again. “That’s for shooting at my father.” Another punch. “That’s for hurting my sister.” Another punch. “That’s for hurting my mother.” Jacen blindly pummeled Krael’s face, cursing him with every hit. Will stepped forward and pulled Jacen off the hired thug. “Jacen, that’s enough!”
Jacen stopped struggling. He wiped Krael’s blood from his fist and stood there, breathing heavy. He watched in fascination and admiration as his father pulled Krael to his feet, then plowed his own fist into his face. Krael’s head snapped back on his neck. He fell backwards into the water. Will spotted something in the water behind Krael. He pulled Jacen backwards, out of harm’s way.
Struggling to pull himself out of the water, Krael did not notice the alligator behind him until it was too late. The blood from his injuries seasoned the water, making him irresistible to the aquatic animal.
Will and Jacen turned their backs on the ear-piercing screams. They felt no remorse as they continued toward the cabin, the cries slowly fading into the night.
Deanna winced in revulsion, seeing Krael’s grisly demise through Will’s eyes. She shuddered. Though she was not the least bit sorry one of her tormentors was gone, she was sickened by the morbid way he died. Likewise, she could feel Will’s revulsion. She had a feeling she and Jaina would not be the only ones requiring counseling after this ordeal was over.
Deanna heard a sound from outside. She got off the bed and slowly, painfully, made her way to the window. Excitement and relief filled her battered body when she spotted Jaina drawing close.
The women grinned at each other through the glass. They tried to pry the window open, finding it locked tight. Jaina motioned for Deanna to stand back. Deanna stepped out of the way when she saw Jaina lift a phaser and point it directly at the glass.
Before Jaina could fire, Deanna heard a noise from the other side of the door. She frantically motioned for Jaina to stop, to hide. Jaina quickly ducked to the side, just as the door opened.
Serot entered, her face, as usual, full of fury. “Get away from that window!” She crossed the room in three quick strides and yanked Deanna away from the window by her hair. Deanna cried out.
~Deanna! What’s wrong? ~ She heard Will’s frantic voice in her head.
~Will, ~ She gasped painfully. ~hurry. She’s here; she’s in the room. Jaina can’t get in here alone. ~
~Hang in there, Imzadi, I’m coming~
“You empathic bitch! You’ve been more trouble than you are worth. If I wasn’t under orders to bring you back, I’d kill you here and now.” With her hand wrapped like a vise around Deanna’s unbroken wrist, Serot dragged her toward the door. “Come on, we are getting out of here.”
A disruptor pointed at her head, Deanna had no choice but to follow.
Serot paused momentarily and tapped a device on her arm. Seconds later, they disappeared from view, leaving Jaina staring through the grimy glass in surprise.
Will and Jacen made it to the front of the cabin, just as Jaina turned the corner at a run. “What happened?” Will demanded, more harshly then he had intended.
Jaina’s eyes were misty, as though she were fighting tears. “I was trying to get the window open when the other Kreptin came into the room. She grabbed Deanna’s hair and dragged her toward the door. Just before they left the room, Serot activated something on her arm and they disappeared.”
Will stared at his daughter, incredulous. “Impossible! I can still hear her in my head. I can still feel her close by.”
Will turned around and kicked the door. The wood splintered loudly as the lock broke. The three of them rushed into the room, finding it empty.
“Deanna!” He yelled.
~Will, I’m here. We are outside the cabin, headed east again. ~
~How! How did she get past me? ~
Will ran back outside and looked east. ~I can’t see you. Where are you? ~
~We are moving through the sawgrass. She is pulling me so fast I can barely keep my footing. ~
~Why can’t I see you? ~
Will could feel her amazement, her fear. ~I don’t know. But, Will, we walked through the cabin wall as though it was not there. ~
~Through? Like Geordi described that time he and Ro Laren were phased? ~
~Exactly. She has a bracelet around her arm. I think it might be an Interphase Generator of some sort. ~
~Can you get it away from her? ~
~I don’t think so. She’s got a disruptor. If she shoots me, you will never find me. Just keep heading east. Use our link as a guide. We can’t transport while phased, so she has to deactivate it eventually. ~
Not particularly liking that plan, but seeing no viable alternative, Will turned to his companions. “Do either of you know anything about the Kreptins having interphase technology?”
Jacen and Jaina looked at him blankly, then mutely shook their heads.
Will explained the technology briefly. “If I remember correctly, when Geordi was phased, he left traces of energy wherever he was, sort of a fingerprint. We can use the tricorder and my link to Deanna to track them. Let’s go.”
Will turned on his tricorder and hurried in an easterly direction, not waiting to see if his children were following.
Deanna cried out as she stumbled over an exposed root, jarring her already abused body. Serot jerked her painfully upright. “Shut up!” she hissed angrily. She forced Deanna along faster, keeping her hand gripped around the empath’s arm. They had been traveling in this manner for over an hour, Serot desperate to put distance between them and their pursuers.
To Serot’s amazement, the Starfleet officer seemed to have an uncanny tracking ability. According to the lifeform readings she had taken, he and his companions were barely a mile behind, and rapidly closing the distance.
How were they doing it? Being in a phased state should have made them impossible to track. Was it just dumb luck, or something else?
Deanna stumbled again and Serot knew she had an answer to her question. Cursing her oversight, she jerked her captive to a stop. Without loosening her hold, Serot rooted around in her pack until she found a preloaded hypospray.
“You thought I wouldn’t notice, didn’t you?” She sneered.
Deanna struggled, trying to break the other woman’s hold. Unfortunately, in her weakened state, she was no match for Serot.
With only minimal effort, Serot injected Deanna with another dose of neuroblocker. “Let’s see your precious boyfriend keep up now.”
Serot relished the despondency and terror that lined the empath’s face. She could see the suffering, the emotional and mental turmoil, and basked in it.
The bitter Kreptin woman began walking rapidly again, almost at a run, dragging Deanna with her. Time was of the essence now. They had to reach the rendezvous point. Her ship would be in communication range very soon.
They continued their pace for an hour more before Serot admitted that it would be necessary to slow down. Deanna was too weak to keep up their exhausting velocity.
Serot turned on her tricorder. A few beeps later, Serot swore violently. Rather than falling back, Riker had actually gained a quarter mile on them. At this rate, he would overtake them before her ship was in transporter range.
Serot saw red. “How? How is he doing it?” With her free hand, she slapped Deanna, hard. “Can your lover feel that?” She screamed. “Damn Krael and his games! He should have killed them.” She backhanded Deanna again.
Deanna cried out, too weak to do anything but take the cruel punishment.
Blood spilled from several open wounds as Serot continue her assault. She kicked, clawed and punched the helpless woman with a ferocity that bordered on insanity.
Will was in agony. Linked as he was to Deanna, he was aware of everything she was experiencing. He felt every punch, every kick.
Will and the twins had been following Deanna for hours in silence. Through it all, Will and Deanna had kept up a continuous dialogue in their minds. Will was aware that Serot had administered another neuroblocker, and had fully expected the link to be broken immediately.
Fortunately, the injection was not as fast acting as they had thought. He could feel the link weakening, but it had not yet diminished completely. Unfortunately, the still open link transmitted Deanna’s pain onto Will.
Will winced as another onslaught of shared horror slammed into him. He could feel Deanna getting weaker with every hit. ~Hang on, Imzadi.~ He pleaded. ~Don’t let her win. ~
Will sent every ounce of strength he had to Deanna. He could feel her beginning to close off, beginning to retreat within herself.
Jacen and Jaina rushed to his side as he staggered and fell.
“Damn it, Will, break the connection!” Jacen yelled, helping his father stand up.
Will jerked away from him fiercely. “No! I’m not letting her go.”
Will began to run, desperate to reach Deanna.
Jacen swore and moved to chase after him. Jaina grabbed his arm, staying his forward motion.
When he turned to meet her eyes, she shook her head. “Let him go, Jace.”
Jacen regarded his sister silently for several heartbeats. Although she uttered not another word, her eyes spoke volumes. In those fathomless depths, he saw all the pain, all the horror, and all the guilt he himself was feeling.
“Jaina, I have to catch him. He cannot go blindly ahead on his own.”
“He has to.” Jaina’s voice was ultra soft. “We have to let him. He does not need us right now. He needs to get to Mom before he goes completely insane, and with my injuries, we are slowing him down.”
Jacen reluctantly agreed. His sister’s silent suffering had not escaped his notice. She was hiding it well, but she was in a lot of pain. The frantic pace they had been keeping was necessary but tortuous on her battered body.
“As usual, you are right.” Jacen smile ruefully. “Don’t you ever tire of being right?”
With a slight smile of her own, Jaina linked her arm through the crook of his elbow. “Never. Why would I?”
Together, they continued forward with a hurried, albeit less frenzied, gait.
Deanna came close to losing consciousness several times as Serot pulled her along the muddy trail. Only the sheer force of her own self-preservation-and Will’s telepathic support-kept her lucid.
She had stoically endured the abuse for an eternity before Serot had finally ceased. Now she was once again being forcefully dragged forward to an as-of-yet unknown destination.
Deanna’s eyes were swollen and bruised, making sight difficult. She had to get away. She had to find the strength to fight back before it was too late.
Deanna could feel her link to Will slipping away. She knew it would not be long before the connection was completely lost. She had to act quickly. Without telepathy, there was no way Will would be able to find them as long as they were in a different plane of existence.
Through her blurred vision, Deanna spotted the phase device on Serot’s arm. That was her only hope. She had to get the armband off of Serot.
Deanna fought inwardly to gather what strength she had left. When the time came, she wanted to be ready.
Ten minutes or more passed before an opportunity presented itself. Serot stopped abruptly and pulled a handheld communicator from her bag. She busied herself trying to make contact with her ship, momentarily loosening her grip on Deanna’s arm.
Not a moment too soon, Deanna thought with a mental smile. Through their diminishing link, Deanna could feel Will coming closer. He had almost reached them.
Deanna closed her tender eyes and took a deep, agonizing breath. From deep within, she drew upon an energy that she hadn’t known she possessed.
In one fluid movement, Deanna simultaneously jerked her imprisoned arm free and tore the phase device from Serot’s arm.
Turning as quickly as her tortured limps would allow, Deanna began running back the direction they had come.
Deanna heard a furious yell behind her but did not stop. She ran blindly, screaming Will’s name in her mind.
Deanna tripped over a raised root, hitting the wet ground with a howl of pain as her body screamed in agony. Horrifically, the realization that she was living her nightmare crossed Deanna’s mind as her surroundings took on a surreal quality.
She stumbled awkwardly to her feet as her mind screamed a warning to Will. Stay back! Her mind cried out, but she received no answering call. She sensed nothing at all; the neuroblocker had completed its duty.
From behind, Deanna heard Serot drawing closer, yelling something Deanna could not decipher. Ahead, Deanna watched in misery as Will exited the trees at a full run. Only thirty meters separated the Imzadi couple.
Tears raced down Deanna’s swollen face as she screamed for Will to stop, to get back within the cover of the trees.
Will did not hear her. He continued forward.
Literally in a living nightmare, Deanna heard the unmistakable sound of Serot’s weapon firing. With a soul wrenching sob of denial, Deanna watched Will fall to the ground.
The world began to spin around Deanna. Darkness descended on the grief stricken Betazoid. Vaguely she was aware of the distinctive feeling of a transporter beam. Deanna slipped into oblivion seconds before she began to dematerialize. Her last sight was that of Jacen and Jaina bursting through the trees at a dead run.
“It’s about time! We have been trying to contact you for days. Why weren’t you where you were supposed to be?”
Serot hefted the motionless body in her arms onto a table without replying.
Her interrogator gasped at the condition of his patient. “What have you done to her? Serot, she is no use to us if she is dead.” He picked up an instrument and began repairing the damage done by his associate.
Serot snorted. “Don’t start with me, Jex. I promised to bring her in alive. I never promised not to hurt the bitch.”
Jex shot Serot a furious look. “Damn it, Serot. We can’t start the treatments with her in this condition. Now I have to waste precious time healing her.”
Serot shrugged, not really caring. “So you have a little more work to do. She deserved everything she got.”
Serot leaned against the wall and watched the surly doctor work. She was glad to be back among her own people. She hated Earth and the human race almost as much as she loathed Betazoids.
Now that she was back, she could begin to put the second part of their plan into motion. If the chemical she had helped to develop worked, it would only be a matter of time before they had the entire planet of Betazed under their command.
Long before Serot had come into contact with the hated half-Betazoid, she had been helping to develop a way to not only block the affect the Betazoid mind had on the Kreptin mind, but to also make their mental capabilities work toward the Kreptin’s advantage.
Losing her husband because of the dark-haired bitch on the table just made Serot more determined to destroy the entire race.
Serot was pulled from her reverie by Jex’s voice. “Serot, are you listening? I asked you where Krael is.”
Serot shrugged nonchalantly, not the least bit bothered by her “partner’s” demise. “I’m not sure. I was not there when he died, but it sounded like he was being torn apart by something. No big loss, really. He was worthless. Look at it this way, now we don’t have to pay him.”
If the doctor was appalled by Serot’s cavalier attitude, he did not show it. He simply turned back to his patient, and wisely changed the subject. “I am ready to administer the first dosage.”
Jex put away his instruments and picked up a vial from the counter. He loaded a hypospray and held it out to Serot. “Would you like to do the honors?”
Serot took the proffered instrument. “With pleasure.” She deftly administered the chemical. “How long before this begins to take affect?”
“A few hours. She will be unconscious through most of the initial effects. We need to hook her up to a synaptic monitor, so we can track the progress. The first few hours will be crucial for us to determine the exact results. Remember, this is the first test on a live subject.”
Serot nodded. “I know; I was there for every other test.”
“Then you also know that up to this point, we have only had non active paracortexal material to experiment on. We have no sure way of knowing how this will affect an active paracortex.”
Serot rolled her eyes. “That’s why we have her. Don’t worry, the simulations showed a very high success rate in most cases. If we fail, we kill her and go back to simulations. There are plenty of other Betazoids, we can always get another one.”
Jaina skidded to a halt as Deanna dematerialized. “Noooooooo! Mom!” She turned to face her brother, who was presently kneeling at their father’s side. “Damn it! If we had gotten here just a minute sooner, we would have had her.”
Jacen ran a tricorder over Will, barely listening as Jaina continued to rant. Jacen could find no reason for his father to be out cold. As best as the young man could tell, the shot had only grazed his arm. There was a large angry looking welt on Will’s arm, but that was it. He should be awake. Jacen raised his father’s head, and discovered the culprit. Below Will’s head was a rather large and bloody rock. Jacen surmised he must have hit his head in the fall.
Jacen pulled the necessary instruments from the medkit, finally noticing his sister’s ramblings. She was verbally beating herself and him up for being “inept.”
“Jai, shut up and help me. We have to wake him up.”
Surprised out of her rant by her brother’s harsh words, Jaina complied. She stepped to his side. “Is he all right?”
Jacen nodded. “He’ll be fine once we wake him up, but he will have a hell of a headache.”
The twins waited patiently while the drugs Jacen injected did their job. Minutes later, Will woke up with a groan. “What happened? Where’s Deanna?” Will shook his head to clear it, feeling groggy.
Jacen would not meet his father’s eyes. “She’s gone.”
Will swore violently, holding his painful head. “Gone where?”
“I don’t know. They beamed out seconds before we got here. My guess would be they are no longer on the planet.”
Jaina began to mutter again, essentially calling herself every horrible name she could think of.
Will listen for a few moments. He shared a look with Jacen and raised an eyebrow at some of the colorful terms that was spilling from his daughter’s mouth.
“Jaina, stop it.” He said tiredly. “This is not doing us any good. We are almost out of the no fly zone. We need to get to a ship.”
Jacen agreed, trying to dredge up a bit of optimism. “With a few modifications, we can have a ship that not only will surpass their top velocity, but will also be capable of compensating for their advanced technology.”
Will gave his son a sardonic look. “And how do you propose we do that?”
Jacen grinned. “I have all the specs on the technology we used to beat them in our time. I just have to make a stop at our cabin. Also, their top speed is equivalent to our warp eight. If we overclock a warp core, we can overtake them in a matter of hours.”
Will was impressed despite himself. His future children were constantly surprising him with their ingenuity. He wondered if this was an accurate representation of his future. Will they spend their childhood amazing their parents with their abilities? Will desperately hoped he would have the opportunity to find out. Now that the Kreptins had Deanna aboard their ship, there was nothing stopping them from continuing their nefarious plans.
Deanna heard voices. She struggled to surface from the layers of fog that clouded her conscious mind. She recognized one of the voices. Serot.
Deanna kept her eyes closed, not wanting to call attention to her semi-lucid state.
Deanna also recognized the distinctive feel of a moving ship. Her soul cried out in despair. She knew she was no longer on Earth.
Deanna half listened to the voices around her. She wondered what had become of Will and their children. She choked back a silent sob as she relived her nightmare-come-to-life.
Deanna began to feel disconnected, like she was floating outside her body. She had no sense of anything around her, although in truth, that did not surprise her.
Softly spoken words penetrated the haze somewhat, allowing Deanna to understand bits and pieces of the conversation.
“She will be waking up soon………No changes to her synaptic activity have been reported…………..increase……..dosage………blocking paracortexal functions ………… stimulate…………response…………seems to be working……………. Increased synaptic response………… interesting reading in paracortex.”
Deanna floated in and out of awareness as she tried to concentrate on deciphering the conversations around her.
The last thing she heard before slipping back into oblivion was “…………if …….. works……….need……… fully telepathic……… Set course………Betazed.”
From her vantage point at the glass, Serot could see down into the sterile cell. She watched as Troi paced the small room below. The monitor beside Serot beeped insistently as it feed on impulses being transmitted from the Betazoid’s brain.
A lab technician studied the readings with interest. “Her paracortex is responding just as expected to the treatment. Now is the time to attempt to establish a link. We need to ascertain how she reacts to suggestion.”
Serot maintained her position at the observation window. This part of the experiment had little to do with her. There was no viable reason for her to be there, except curiosity, both of a scientific and personal nature. As a scientist, she needed to see the results of the synthetic chemical she created. On a personal level, she had a need to see the petite woman below suffer.
She listened intently while her colleague, Lemoc, spoke a few simple commands into the computer. The computer would then translate these commands into vibrations that would be carried into the Betazoid’s brain. TXC, the chemical compound Serot developed, served as a reactor, converting the vibrations into brain patterns that simulated telepathic activity. The chemical reaction would make the subject susceptible to subliminal suggestions, in theory allowing the scientists to control her behavior.
Serot watched with satisfaction as Troi sat cross-legged on the floor, just as was suggested. Lemoc spoke another command, and the woman stood back up. She then scratched her nose. Serot rolled her eyes. She turned to face Lemoc.
“Alright, enough parlor tricks. Give her a real suggestion.”
Lemoc complied. He spoke a few more words. Both Kreptin’s watched in amazement as Deanna spoke, saying exactly what Lemoc told her to. “My name is Deanna Troi.”
“Very good. Now increase the strength of the wave.”
Lemoc did as Serot asked.
Suddenly, from the lower level came a pain filled cry. Lemoc and Serot rushed to the window. Below, Deanna Troi was clutching her head and moaning.
Lemoc turned back to the monitor. His fingers flew over the controls.
“What happened?” Serot demanded.
Lemoc shook his head. “I am not sure. Increasing the electrical impulse seems to have had an adverse effect on her. Synaptic activity is off the scale. I am also showing a slight change in the electro-chemical make up of her paracortex. I suggest we take her to the medical lab immediately. I want to get some more readings and compare them to the ones we took earlier.”
Jean-Luc Picard stepped off the turbolift into the small engineering room. Looking around, he spotted his First Officer immediately, standing beside a conduit, heavy into discussion with the young man at his side. Picard marveled once again at the similarities of the two men. The resemblance was so amazing; Picard wondered why it had taken so long for his staff to see it. He supposed the human mind was capable of turning a blind eye to that which should have been improbable.
He stepped to Riker’s side. “Number One, Jacen,” he greeted gruffly. “How are the modifications coming?”
“Captain,” Will returned the greeting. “We’re getting there, albeit not as quickly as I would like.” Will looked pointedly at his son.
Jacen raised both hands, as though in apology. “Hey, it’s not my fault. I’m dealing with outdated technology here. A lot of tweaking needs done to make the necessary changes. I also had to take the time to answer the million questions that Data had. He finds the whole thing ‘fascinating’.”
“Why don’t you stop talking and go help Data,” Will suggested, somewhat tersely.
Picard raised an eyebrow at Will’s tone as Jacen joined Data. The captain was bothered to see his usually unflappable first officer so…frenzied. However, he could understand Will’s frustration. He, too, was worried about Deanna. As much as Will was his right arm, the pretty, petite counselor was his left. He would not rest easy until Deanna was safely home once more.
He was not getting much rest now, easy or not. Between concern for Will and Deanna, the never-ending barrage of questions from his Chief Medical Officer, and dodging the Federation Council’s inquiries, the Enterprise’s captain considered it fortunate that he had time to breath.
He looked at his first officer with curiosity and a slight bit of censure. “Have you given thought to what you are going to do for a crew? The three of you cannot fly a Defiant Class starship yourselves.”
Will actually grinned, his natural sense of mischievous humor in the face of hardship shining through momentarily. “Actually, Sir, the council has graciously ‘donated’ a crew to the mission. Jacen, Jaina and I will man the bridge. The rest will have no knowledge of the exact details. They have been briefed for a routine search-and-rescue only. Call it the Council’s way of apologizing for their less than stellar security measures.”
Picard shared in Will’s amusement for a brief moment then sobered. “Won’t they wonder about the unfamiliar technology?”
Will shrugged. “Most of the changes are only detectable under very close scrutiny. And since, technically, the technology is Federation, the rest can be explained as a top-secret prototype, never to be spoken of. Data, of course, knows a pretty close adaptation of the truth, but he can be trusted never to discuss or try to use the knowledge he has gained by helping Jacen.”
Picard shook his head. “I still do not like it. We are bending the Prime Directive all to hell here.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time. Speaking of which, Jaina has some medical information she needs to share with Dr. Crusher, so that she can be prepared.”
The catch in Will’s voice did not go unnoticed by Picard. He pinched the bridge of his nose wearily. “Will, I’m not sure it would be wise to involve more people than we already have.”
Will met his captain’s eyes. The serious expression in his gaze spoke of unfathomable horrors. “Sir, I understand your concern, but it is necessary. At this point it could mean life and death. Not only for Deanna, but for Betazed, and possibly many other Federation worlds that have telepathic species.”
Picard narrowed his eyes. “Care to explain that?”
Will wearily inclined his head. “’I wish I could. I’m not being flippant or evasive here. I simply don’t know the answers you are looking for. I don’t know what these people have planned, the twins don’t even know exactly, but I do know that it’s not just Deanna they are after. She’s only the beginning. If we do not stop them, not only will Deanna die, there will also be serious consequences to our future. The future of Betazed in particular and the Federation in general.”
Picard was not completely convinced. “How can you be so sure?”
“I can’t answer that, Sir. I just KNOW. Some of the things Jacen told me about the future give credence to my theories. It does not make sense that this is all about Deanna. I can’t tell you any more than that. Please just trust me on this.”
Picard stared at Will for a few tense moments. Reluctantly, he nodded, accepting Will’s judgment. “OK, Number One. Jaina may speak to Beverly, but that has to be it. No one else is to hear anything.”
Will smiled gratefully, relieved that he had his captain’s support. “Thank you, Sir. You will not regret this.”
“I’m already regretting it, Number One.” Picard sighed. “Oh, well. It isn’t the first regret, and I’m sure it will not be the last. If you will excuse me for a minute, I’ll go contact the Doctor and have her come down here.”
Will watched his captain ample off then went to see what he could do to hurry the modifications along.
Three endless hours later, the ship was ready for departure, the unsuspecting crew was aboard, and Beverly Crusher had been briefed for her role in the coming events. Will knew the latter to be fact based upon the horrified expression on the redhead’s face.
Just before Beverly and Picard departed the USS Tyers, the doctor met Will’s eyes. She saw her pain and fear staring back at her from their bottomless blue depths.
“The newest readings, when comparing them to the old, show a definite inflammation of the paracortex. The anomaly directly correlates with the increase of electrical impulses during the latest experiment.”
Serot listened intently to the briefing. It seemed the TXC had an unexpected, though interesting side effect. “So what exactly does this mean?”
Lemoc shook his head. “Too soon to tell. The response seems to be similar to the reaction our mind has to telepathic activity. However, more tests will have to be done to determine just how closely related the two circumstances are.”
The object of their discussion lay motionless on a lab table. Wires protruded from several spots on her head, giving her a macabre look, reminiscent of the fabled Medusa of ancient Earth Mythology.
Serot stood quietly by as Lemoc initiated another experiment. He increased the electro-chemical impulses in her paracortex, stimulating the same synaptic responses they had achieved in their earlier experiments. He watched the read out on his computer screen with fascination. He noticed two highly unexpected results. First, as his “suggestion” was received, the REM activity in her brain heightened. He was for all intents and purposes giving the Betazoid woman “nightmares”. Even more interesting, with each stimulus, the paracortex enlarged slightly, as though hemorrhaging.
“Serot, look at this.” He increased the impulse stimuli another level. Negative REM increased significantly. As he suspected, the paracortexal damage also increased.
He decreased the impulses, turning it “off”. Their “patient” returned to a normal sleep state. The swelling in the paracortex decreased, but did not return to its original size or bio-chemical makeup. “While our chemical is ‘active’, we are able to give her nightmares, and are directly affecting her paracortex in the same way her normal abilities affect our mind. We’ve already established that her telepathic activity has no affect on us while she is under our control. I also suspect that the affect we are having on her will be at least twice as damaging to a full telepath.” He smiled at his colleague. “I think we have found an alternate use for TXC. Instead of using it just to control the minds of telepaths…”
Serot shared his smile and finished his sentence. “…We can also torture them with nightmares, and wait for their mental abilities to kill them, the same way it kills our people.”
Lemoc nodded. “Exactly. What do you think?”
Serot’s smile twisted demonically. “I think it is poetic justice. I also think I am going to enjoy torturing this one.”
The small room was dark and eerily quiet. At least it was quiet on a surface level. For the woman curled into a fetal position in the corner, the noise was deafening.
Deanna Troi pressed her hands against her ears, as if by doing so, she could stifle the voices in her head.
For someone who was only telepathic with a few select individuals, the riot of overlapping voices was startling. She had never been extensively trained on how to filter and organize the cacophony into a coherent-and bearable-harmony. Worse, still, she could not for the life of her fathom why the voices-the thoughts-were there to begin with.
Deanna battled internally to make sense of the jumble in her brain. She did not know why it was happening, but she did know that if she did not get control soon, she could very well go insane.
Slowly, she sat up and dropped her hands. She took several deep breaths and concentrated on isolating the voices into separate threads. She tried to remember all her mother had taught her. Don’t try to decipher all the threads of conversation at once. Every thought pattern was unique. The same technique that she used to pinpoint and separate the emotions of a ship full of individuals could be applied to what she was now experiencing. Weed out one particular strand and focus on it alone. Allow all others to fade into the background.
“Easier said than done, Mother,” Deanna whispered after several unsuccessful attempts.
“Try harder,” She could almost hear her mother admonishing.
Instead, Deanna focused her attention on the reason for her dilemma, rather than the dilemma itself. Why was she suddenly telepathic? How did she go from not having even her own natural empathic sense, to having a crowd in her head?
What were the Kreptins doing to her? Why were they doing it? Deanna knew Serot blamed her for her spouse’s death, knew she wanted revenge, but was her need for vengeance strong enough to want to destroy an entire race?
From what the twins had told her, just being in close proximity to a telepath was a death certificate to the Kreptins. However, Deanna knew her people would never knowingly harm anyone. If future Betazoids were aware of the affect they had, they would have gone out of their way to avoid contact. Deanna knew in her heart the adversity between the two races went deeper than the events Jacen and Jaina had described.
Deanna was not sure how, but she knew the Betazoid and Kreptin races had come into contact with each other long before her encounter.
There were so many questions, so few answers. Why her? Why now? Serot’s involvement may have been a personal vendetta, but there had to be a bigger picture.
Suddenly, without being aware of it happening, Deanna realized she knew the answers. While she was musing, the chaos in her mind had turned into distinct conversations. The words had begun to make sense. Strands of the various thoughts must have penetrated her subconscious, because as Deanna asked herself the many questions, she became aware that the answers were there.
Deanna closed her eyes and listened.
The Kreptins were from the future, not just her future, the far future. Over two hundred years.
In their own time, they were what could be termed as pirates, outlaws. They spent decades raping and pillaging other worlds, taking what they wanted from the planets, and leaving the population desolate and starving. The Federation could find no way to stop them, there were just too many. They were too wide spread. The Kreptins seemed to especially like destroying worlds that belonged to the Federation. They methodically invaded, planet by planet, and system by system, avoiding only a select few.
Much like in Jacen and Jaina’s time, the Federation discovered the systems that were left untouched were ones inhabited by telepathic or empathic species, though no one could understand why. It wasn’t until a small ship from Betazed happened upon a Kreptin ship that the reason was revealed. When the telepaths first detected the Kreptin vessel, scans showed over a hundred life signs. By the time they were within half a light year, subsequent scans showed no life.
The Betazoids of that time were highly more advanced mentally than in Deanna’s time. Though they did not like it to be known, and rarely ever exercised their ability, they had the power to control minds with very little effort. Their mental powers were so strong, that the Kreptins could not get within a light year of a Betazoid without being affected.
The Federation used this knowledge to their advantage. They finally had a way to curtail the Kreptins’ misdeeds.
The Kreptins retreated back to their own planet on the other side of the galaxy, as far away from Betazed as they could get. They began to develop a way to combat and prevent the deadly effect of the Betazoid mind. Many years passed, and their hatred of Betazed grew.
Serot, a brilliant scientist, successfully developed a synthetic chemical, TXC, which could, in theory, prevent the damage. She was convinced that TXC could also give the Kreptins the ability to control the minds of anyone they subjected to the chemical.
A plan began to form in their diabolical minds. Infect the Betazoids with the drug, take control of their minds, and use them to conquer their enemies. However, first they needed to test the drug on a live subject. A daunting challenge. How could they get close enough to the telepaths to abduct one? They knew they needed to get someone who was not a full Betazoid, but even a half-Betazoid in that time had amazing mental discipline. The risk was still too great.
Then they discovered an amazing phenomenon. A temporal wormhole.
The Kreptins spent the next ten years studying the wormhole, all the while keeping it hidden from the Federation. By the time they had the technology to accurately use the wormhole, their hatred had festered into obsession.
They used the wormhole to travel back to a time when the mental abilities of their enemies were significantly less advanced. Contact would still be deadly, but at a much slower rate, or so they thought. In their hunt for a half Betazoid, they soon discovered that while the proximity had to be much closer, contact with a full telepath still spelled almost immediate death.
Then Serot and her spouse were taken prisoner by a ship that had a half-Betazoid on staff. She turned out to be stronger mentally than they imagined an Empath could be. As a result of their incarceration, Serot lost her husband and gained a thirst for revenge. She decided at that moment, Deanna Riker would be the one.
After being released, Serot returned to her own time and began to plot. She knew her people would want to try again. She convinced them to do things her way. Go further into the past, focus on one Betazoid, study her life, and lay in wait for the opportunity to abduct her for their experiments. Her people agreed.
As Deanna sat alone in her cell, her head aching from information overload, she began to shake in terror and rage. The entire history of the Kreptin race washed over, image by image. She now knew the how and the why. She also knew that they had encountered an unexpected side effect. The TXC was going to kill her, was obviously what killed her in the future. If she did not find a way out of her current situation, it would kill her now.
Deanna knew everything the Kreptins knew. She knew how the wormhole worked, how the chemical worked, and their plan to use her to infect her own people by forcing her to administer the drug.
However, Deanna also knew two things the Kreptins did not. First, the TXC, which had been developed originally for future-mentally stronger-Betazoids, had given her the ability to read their minds. Second, they had greatly underestimated Will Riker. They would not win. Will did not know how to lose.
Deanna knew she could still die, however, she also knew that Will would move the stars to save her. And when he did, the Kreptins were going to wish they never discovered the temporal wormhole.
Deanna bolted upright with a start, momentarily disoriented. Something had awoken her, but she was not sure what. She focused on the thoughts of the crew. Something was wrong. The entire crew was frightened and frenzied.
Deanna narrowed her focus, searching for Serot’s mind.
The ship shook, and Deanna suddenly knew what was happening. They were under attack.
Deanna’s heart leapt with joy when she got a clear lock on Serot. The other woman was on the bridge. Deanna could “see” what was happening. A Federation ship was firing at them.
Will! It had to be. Deanna suddenly, crazily, felt like dancing around the small cell. She was giddy, and excited, and full of an energy that she had not felt in what seemed like forever.
Engrossed in her sudden exuberance, Deanna failed to notice that Serot had left the bridge in a hurry, until she was right outside the cell door.
Deanna backed up against the far wall as the door swung forcefully open. With hatred shining from her wild, insane eyes, Serot advanced on Deanna.
“Your lover is here. He seems to think he can save you. I wonder if he realizes his puny weapons are no match for our superior technology.” As she spoke, she continued stalking Deanna.
Deanna inched away, determined to make it around Serot and out the door. She waited for what seemed like the right moment then lunged forward. She ran for the door as fast as she could.
She did not make it. Serot whipped around and caught her by the hair, abruptly halting her flight. “Oh, no. You’re not going anywhere except the bridge. I want you to watch while we turn your lover into a million particles.”
Serot was too confident, too assured of her physical superiority.
Like an abused animal who finally had had enough, Deanna turned on Serot. She swung around with a feral scream; slamming her newly healed fist into Serot’s surprised face. Not giving the other woman time to react, Deanna let loose with a series of martial arts moves that would have impressed Will had he been there to see it. Deanna’s fists and feet made contact with several spots on Serot’s body.
Deanna was not a violent person by nature, but one would not know it by the amount of damage she was bestowing on her tormentor. Serot never had a chance to defend herself. Deanna fought relentlessly, crying and hurling verbal abuse as fast as her fists were flying.
Blood spurt from Serot’s nose as Deanna’s foot connected, breaking the fragile cartilage.
Serot managed to pull her disruptor out of its holster, but she never got the opportunity to use it. Deanna swung her foot around, knocking the weapon out of Serot’s hand. The sound of breaking bone gratified Deanna in a way that she would have found appalling under normal circumstances.
Both woman lunged for the disruptor, but Deanna was faster. She scooped the weapon up and pointed it at the gasping woman.
With fire in her eyes, and anger burning a hole in her chest, Deanna stared Serot directly in the eye. The disruptor shook in her trembling hands. “You enjoy torturing people? You want to watch me suffer as you destroy everything I love? Looks like the tables are turned now. What are you going to do now, Serot? Beg for your life? Go ahead and plead. I think I would enjoy that.”
Knowing her life was over, too hurt to defend herself, Serot spit at Deanna in one final act of defiance. She then squared her shoulders and stood there, pride preventing her from showing any weakness. “Go ahead and shoot me, bitch. I welcome death. Come on and kill me like you killed my husband. Push the button and vaporize me. You hate me and my people for what you perceive us to be? Murders and thieves? Kill me and become one of us.”
Deanna hesitated, her ingrained morality warring with the very real desire to put an end to the woman who had tortured her and her daughter. The woman who was hell-bent on destroying a peaceful , gentle race.
Deanna’s hesitation was just the opportunity that Serot needed. “You can’t do it can you?” She taunted. Serot looked at something over Deanna’s shoulder. “You should have killed me when you had the chance. You’ve made things so much harder on yourself.”
The ship vibrated again with the force of another attack, throwing both women off-balance. Deanna almost lost her grip on the disruptor. She struggled to right herself just as she felt someone approach from behind.
Serot stepped forward and ripped the weapon from Deanna’s hand seconds before strong hands clamped painfully on Deanna’s arms.
Serot nodded in gratitude at the two security guards. “Take her to the bridge. It’s time we ended this.”
“Dodge, Jacen!” Will yelled as a disruptor blast from the Kreptin vessel narrowly missed the outer hull.
Jacen gritted his teeth. “I am dodging!”
On the bridge of the USS Tyers, the Rikers fought to keep the small ship together as they fired upon their enemy.
Jacen was at the helm. He flew the starship like an expert, deftly outmaneuvering the Kreptins while Will manned tactical and Jaina simultaneously monitored communications and conducted sensor scans of the other ship, looking for Deanna.
Will’s hands flew across the tactical console, firing phasers at the slightly larger ship.
“I’ve found her!” Jaina yelled, excited. “She’s on the bridge.”
“Can you get a lock on her?” Will shouted anxiously.
Jaina shook her head. “Negative. With the shields up, ours and theirs, I can’t get a positive lock.”
Jacen punched commands into his console, and the ship banked to the right, escaping another blast by a narrow margin. “We’ll have to knock out their shields and lower ours. Will, what’s the reading on their shields?”
“Fifty percent and holding.” Will swore viciously. They were so close, but if they were not careful, they would either be destroyed, or destroy the other ship before they could beam Deanna off.
The two ships traded fire for several minutes more, both doing extensive damage to the other. The Tyers was down to sixty percent shields and had only a small array of quantum torpedoes left. Will knew if necessary, the forward section of the ship, which had eight torpedoes of its own, could be detached and remotely controlled, creating a very power weapon. They could release it and ram it down the Kreptin’s throat; destroying them, but Will would not even consider so drastic a measure until Deanna was safely aboard.
Finally, with one last burst from a quantum torpedo, the Kreptin’s shields dropped.
“Will, we are being hailed.”
Will’s eyes widened in surprise. “On screen.”
The viewscreen went from an exterior view of the Kreptin vessel to an interior shot of the bridge.
The first thing the three people on the bridge of the Tyers noticed was Deanna standing between two rather large Kreptins, being held tightly, as though to prevent escape.
Deciding to go with an appropriate Starfleet response, Will stepped forward.
“This is William Riker, representing the United Federation of Planets. You have committed an act of war against the Federation. You are guilty of abducting a Starfleet officer and I demand that you release her now, or face the consequences.”
On the bridge of the Kreptin vessel, Serot stepped forward. “Shut up, human. You are not representing anything except your own personal agenda, and I demand that you cease fire now.”
Will mentally threw away the rulebook. “Fine, you want to play it that way? Release Deanna now, and maybe I won’t ram this ship down your fucking throat.”
Will thought he saw Deanna smile slightly. He returned her smile inwardly, knowing that although she could not see it, deep inside she would feel it.
Serot sneered. “Better yet. Stop firing on us and maybe I won’t force you to watch us kill her.”
Will took a deep breath and signaled behind his back to the twins, praying he could play this hand to the end. He had only one quantum torpedo left. Not enough to be of any help if they couldn’t retrieve Deanna. “You have ten seconds to transport her to our ship before we open fire again.”
Serot laughed. “You must think I’m stupid. You’re bluffing. You would not purposely destroy your lover.”
Deanna grinned wildly. “Sure he would! One woman means nothing in comparison to an entire race.” She raised her voice and yelled at the viewscreen. “Go ahead, Will, blow this bitch to hell. Don’t worry about me.”
Immensely proud of his Imzadi, Will mentally crossed his fingers. It was all or nothing now. He hoped his children were as good as he thought they were.
“This is your last chance, Serot. Release her.”
Serot said something in her own language that Will did not understand, but took to mean “No”
“Fine. Deanna, I love you. Goodbye.”
Will stared at Deanna for several seconds before whispering “Fire.”
For the space of a heartbeat, time stood still. Will stared into Deanna’s eyes for a millennia. Everything he felt for her shone from his eyes. His expression was filled with fear and apology.
Then as though carefully rehearsed, the abbreviated bridge crew of the USS Tyers moved as one. In one fluid motion, three people acted, their hearts lodged in their throats.
Will turned his back on the viewscreen, ordering the computer to end transmission.
Jacen dropped what was left of their shields.
The very second the shields dropped, Jaina locked onto Deanna’s biosignature and activated the transporter.
All three held their breaths, not releasing them as they waited for her to materialize.
Blue-white light began to shimmer on the forward deck then began to fade again. With a squeal of horror, Jaina turned her attention back to the transporter controls.
“What’s happening?” Will screamed.
“I’m losing her. Boosting the transporter gain and increasing power to the Heisenburg compensators.”
The transporter signal flickered, growing stronger, then weaker again as Jaina struggled to compensate.
“Damn it, Jaina, get a lock on her!”
“I’m trying to!” Tears of frustration began to roll down her face. She angrily brushed them away and boosted the power once again.
The beam shimmered once more, and strengthened.
After several agonizing minutes, the beam leveled out and Deanna was standing on the deck.
Three bodies rushed forward to greet her. Will reached her first. He swept her into his arms and held on tightly as though he was trying to pull her inside his own body where she would forever be safe.
Deanna cried in big chocking sobs as their lips met in the most tender, most love filled kiss they had ever shared.
Then Jacen and Jaina were there, pulling her away from her Imzadi so that they too could cling to her comforting warmth.
Warning klaxons began to beep insistently, abruptly ending the happy reunion. Deanna tore out of her family’s arms and ran to the tactical station. The Kreptins were powering up, preparing to go to warp. “We have to stop them!” she yelled. “We can’t let them go through the wormhole.”
Too surprised by the fierceness in her voice to do anything but obey, Will, Jacen, and Jaina snapped to attention, taking their places at OPS, CONN, and communications respectively. Deanna fired the last torpedo just as the Kreptins went into warp, missing them by mere seconds.
“Jacen, quick! Feed in the coordinates of the wormhole.” Deanna ordered.
Will stood up, moving quickly to Deanna’s side. “Belay that order.” To Deanna, Will said, “Forget it Deanna. Let them go. We need to get you back to Starfleet Medical.”
“No!” Deanna cried. “They mustn’t be allowed to go through that wormhole. We have to stop them.”
Will tried to argue with her. “Deanna, your safe now, that’s all that matters.”
Jacen spoke up. “Dad’s right. We are too badly damaged to chase after them now.”
Deanna shook her head in denial. “Listen to me. We have to stop them. This isn’t about me, it never really was. The future of Betazed and possibly the entire Federation is on the line here. If they make it through the wormhole, this will start all over again.”
“Mom,” Jaina tried to reason, “They can’t navigate the wormhole. When they went through in our time, we had not yet developed a way to accurately make a return trip. As much damage as we did to them, they have no way of coming back through a second time, even if they could figure out how.”
“Jaina, you’re wrong. The Kreptins are from over two hundred years in the future. They are the ones that discovered the wormhole to begin with. They came through to your time, and ours specifically to destroy Betazed. If they reach home, it will only be a matter of time before they try again.”
Will took her by the arms and turned her to face him. “What are you talking about?”
Briefly, Deanna explained what had happened on board the Kreptin ship. She described her increased abilities and told them everything she had learned about the Kreptins and the wormhole. She explained that because the wormhole was not very stable, one could only travel back in time once every five years, the rest of the time it literally went nowhere, leaving anyone who tried to use it trapped in a space time void until it opened again. She also explained, somewhat impatiently, that traveling forward in time could only be done as a “return trip” and that anyone traveling to the past could only “return” to his or her point of origin.
“So you see, if the Kreptins go through the wormhole, back to their own time, they could easily wait out the five years, and then try again, going to any point in our past, or future. So could you kindly follow my order and set course for the wormhole before it is too late?”
Will did not hesitate. “Jacen lay in the coordinates and set course, warp 9. Engage!”
As the USS Tyers raced through space, the four people on the bridge had plenty of time to reflect. As Will and Deanna talked quietly, enjoying the simple pleasure of being together again, Jacen and Jaina puzzled over what they had learned.
After a while, Jacen turned to Deanna. “They knew about the wormhole all along? So this wasn’t our fault?”
Will looked at his son with a mixture of kindness and sternness. “No, I suppose it wasn’t. But that does not take away from the fact that your actions were childish and irresponsible. When you get back to your own time, you are both grounded indefinitely.”
Deanna gave them a quizzical look. “What are you talking about?”
Will patted her hand gently. “Never mind. You probably don’t really want to know. But remind me to be a little more strict on them as they grow up.” Will was joking, but Jacen and Jaina could both see the sorrow behind his eyes. The Kreptins had succeeded in damaging Deanna’s paracortex, leaving only one sure way to prevent them from taking control again.
The bridge fell silent as the four occupants became engrossed in their own thoughts.
“We are approaching the coordinates. The Kreptin ship is being detected about 1000 Kilometers off the port bow. They are about 2000 kilometers from the entrance to the wormhole. They are almost in firing range. They have dropped out of warp to enter the wormhole.”
Will nodded. “Slow to impulse power and hold this heading.” Will glanced from Deanna to Jaina. “Deanna, take over on tactical. Jaina, you take OPS.”
The Tyers dropped out of warp.
Jaina tapped in a few commands. “Sir, we are within visual range.”
They watched as the Kreptins inched forward on impulse power, waiting for the wormhole to open.
“Will, they know we are here. They are powering up weapons and turning around.”
“Shields up. Arm photon torpedoes.”
Jacen cleared his throat. “Sir, photon torpedoes are ineffective against their shields.”
“That’s why they are going to be used only for a distraction. Get up, I’m taking the helm from here.”
Jacen obeyed without question.
With the ease of the seasoned pilot that he was, Will expertly maneuvered the Defiant class ship as Deanna fired photon torpedoes.
Just as Jacen had predicted, the torpedoes had no effect. The Kreptins fired back, causing more damage to the already battered ship.
Jacen gritted his teeth as the ship rocked, causing him to lose his footing for a second. “Whatever you have planned now would be a good time to proceed.” His voice was that of a typically sarcastic teenager. “I could have done this.”
Will grinned, not the least bit concerned by his son’s insubordinate attitude. “Hush up and learn from the master, brat.”
With a few quick commands into his console, Will released the forward section of the ship, maneuvering it toward the Kreptin’s ship remotely. Will controlled the missile with little effort and a grin. He openly admitted to himself that he was showing off, trying to impress his son.
Within seconds, the fully armed capsule slammed into the side of the Kreptin’s ship at warp 8, tearing a hole in the side.
Will watched in satisfaction as eight quantum torpedoes detonated, blowing the ship to pieces just seconds from the wormhole.
Will turned to Jacen with a wink and a smirk. “Let’s go home, shall we?”
Will stood quietly in the doorway as Beverly Crusher examined Deanna. His heart ached with bittersweet longing. She looked incredible sitting there on a biobed. She threw back her head and laughed at something Beverly said. The musical sound vibrated through Will’s body, sending shivers up his spine. God, how he had missed that sound.
Will leaned his head against the glass as an overwhelming feeling of helplessness pooled into a choking lump in his chest. They had succeeded in rescuing her, and the immediate threat was gone, however Will knew the worst was yet to come.
Will knew Deanna was waiting for him, wondering what was keeping him. Her empathy had yet to return, would not return until the chemical flush Beverly had administered took effect. She had to be feeling lost and insecure.
Will resisted entering the room, knowing she would see the truth before he was ready to reveal it. How could he bring himself to tell her what he had to? How did he explain to his children that he HAD to tell her?
As though reading his mind, Jacen and Jaina approached from behind. They remained silent, leaving Will to deal with his inner turmoil in peace.
A few minutes later, Beverly opened the door and gestured for the three of them to enter.
Will squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. He plastered a cheerful smile on his face and walked into the room. “Deanna, don’t you think you’ve taken up enough of Beverly’s time? Sooner or later she is going to find out you are faking.”
Deanna returned his smile weakly. “You know me. I just like all the attention.”
Deanna studied Will thoughtfully for a few minutes. She knew him so well, better than he knew himself. No Empathic sense was needed to read him. Something was bothering him, something he did not want to talk about.
“We failed, didn’t we?” she asked quietly.
She saw the twins exchange looks. She was getting pretty good at reading them also. She could see that Jaina was hiding behind a falsely cheerful smile. “No, of course we haven’t failed. You are safe, and the Kreptins are gone…”
“That group of Kreptins is gone,” Deanna interrupted. “Nothing is stopping more from coming through the wormhole.”
“The wormhole must be destroyed.” Will said firmly. “You two have to go back to your own time and then destroy the wormhole.”
“Twenty years from now!” Jacen exploded. “We don’t have the time. Mom has to have the treatment!”
“No!” Will screamed. “It’s too risky.”
Deanna interrupted the brewing argument. “What treatment?”
The three people she loved most suddenly forgot how to speak. Deanna looked imploringly at Beverly.
Beverly looked pointedly at Will. Before either could speak, Jaina took the decision out of their hands. “In our time, before we came through the wormhole, Beverly did another autopsy and found a way to reverse the damage done to your paracortex, and eradicate the chemical.”
Will hung his head.
Deanna narrowed her eyes. “I don’t understand.”
Beverly spoke for the first time. “The chemical they used is a synthetic compound that has evaded your paracortex and if not removed will fester there like a cancer in remission. If the Kreptins reactivate the stimuli used to control it, it will begin to grow again and kill you. Just like in the future.”
Deanna swallowed hard, knowing there was more. “And you have a way to eradicate it? Completely?”
Beverly nodded slowly, looking miserable. Deanna did not understand her hesitation, it seemed like the perfect solution. “So let’s do it.”
Three voices spoke at once, two yelling “yes”, one yelling “no”.
Deanna stared at them, startled. She watched as emotion played across Will’s face. Finally, he spoke, his voice quiet and hoarse. “Imzadi, it’s not quite as simple as that. There are side-effects that you are not aware of.”
Jaina began to cry. “No. Will, please don’t.” She pleaded, her voice cracking from her tears.
Will touched her face gently. “Jaina, I have to tell her. She has to be aware of what could happen.”
Jaina cried harder. Jacen put his arms around her, resting her head on his chest.
Deanna looked from her distraught children to Will to Beverly. “What is going on? What kind of side effects? Will?”
Will looked at the floor, unable to answer.
Beverly turned to Deanna, her face gentle, and her voice heavy with emotion. “The treatment would require a low level radiation. I can keep it low enough not to damage your paracortex more, however even the smallest amount of radiation could, and probably will, cause sterility.”
Deanna just sat there for several minutes, stunned speechless, as Beverly’s words penetrated. She reached out and grasped Will’s chin, turning his face up to meet her eyes. The anguish on his face was clear. She turned her attention to Jacen and Jaina. Her beautiful children. How she looked forward to raising them. She could still die. The Kreptins could come back at any time, even earlier than they had the first time. Deanna did not want all this hell to be for nothing, but oh, to lose her children…
When she spoke, her voice was strong, determined. “No. I won’t risk it.”
Jacen exploded. “You have too! We cannot allow you to sacrifice your life for us.”
Deanna’s voice was gentle as she addressed her son. “I can’t. Don’t you see?”
“Then we will stay here.” Jaina insisted. “We will stay right here and you can have the treatment.”
Deanna shook her head. “No. The wormhole has to be destroyed.”
“We’ll destroy it from this end, right now.”
“Jacen, you have to go back through before it can be destroyed. Coming here has caused a rift in the space-time continuum, you have to go back to your own time to seal it before the ‘hole can be destroyed.”
Jacen remained stubborn. Typical Riker, Deanna thought. “That gives them twenty years to try again. What happens if they come back in five or ten years? We get to be alive, but lose you all the sooner?”
Deanna could be stubborn also. “That is a risk we will have to take. I am only one person. The Kreptins want to destroy all of Betazed, and I’m sure they will not stop there. The only way to prevent them for continuing their plans without completely destroying the time continuum is to destroy the wormhole from your end. Now my decision is final. I will not take the risk of never having you, nor will I risk my people.”
The Riker twins remained silent. They knew there was no point in arguing further. They had gambled against time, and had lost.
It was a somber gathering that met in the shuttlebay of the Enterprise a week later.
Jacen and Jaina had been hard at work in the week that had passed since that day in the medical lab. Jacen, with Data’s help had modified a shuttle with the necessary future technology needed to transverse the wormhole. Not that Jacen was too concerned. After discovering that the Kreptins used the wormhole on a regular basis, Jacen was sure it would deliver them to their own time, probably within a few hours of the time they had left.
Jaina had spent her time trying to convince Deanna to go ahead with the treatment. Her arguments fell on deaf ears. Deanna was adamant about her decision. No amount of cajoling or tears could change her mind.
Now the day had come from them to leave. The Enterprise, newly refitted, had arrived at the coordinates just minutes before. They were two light years away from the wormhole. Jacen and Jaina would board the retrofitted shuttle and continue the rest of their way on their own, so that the crew of the Enterprise would not be exposed to a phenomenon that was not to be discovered for another fifteen years.
Deanna and Will stood beside the shuttle as Jacen made a few last minute adjustments.
“Well, I guess this is it.” Jacen said quietly. He held out his hand to his father and was surprised, and touched, when Will pulled him into a firm embrace.
Jaina and Deanna stood a few feet away, their arms around each other, both openly crying.
“Shh” Deanna soothed past her own tears. “It will be all right, I promise.”
Jaina sobbed brokenly. “No it won’t. Please, Mama, please have the treatment. I don’t want to live the rest of my life without you.”
Jacen laid his hands on her shoulder, gently pulling her away from their mother. “C’mon, Jaina, it’s time to go.”
Jacen watched Jaina step into Will’s embrace before hugging his mother. “I wish you would reconsider.”
Deanna stepped away from him with a small smile. “I can’t. Please try to understand.”
Jacen walked away. The twins boarded the shuttle. Just before they shut the doors, he whispered to his mother, not sure if she heard. “I do understand.”
As the shuttle left the Enterprise, the last thing Jacen and Jaina saw were their parents, standing with their arms around each other, both crying as though they would never stop.
Jaina was still crying when they reached the coordinates of the wormhole.
Jacen shot her a look filled with anguish. “Jai, please, stop. There is nothing we can do about it now.”
Jaina sniffed. “Yes, there is.”
Jacen regarded his sister suspiciously. “What do you have cooking in that mind of yours?”
“Jace, we have a temporal wormhole at our disposal. As soon as we get to the other side, we can turn around and come back through. We can go back to before this past week and try again.”
“Jai, don’t be ridiculous. We failed miserably and almost got everybody killed. How many times are we going to keep going through the ‘hole?”
Jaina surprised her brother with her fierceness. “As many times as necessary.”
Jacen tried to reason with her. “Jaina, we don’t even know if we can go through the wormhole again. Remember what mom said about getting trapped in there?”
“I don’t care! I would rather spend an eternity trapped in a wormhole than go back to our own lives without Mom.” She gave her brother her most endearing smile, the one that usually had Deanna shaking her head in exasperation, and her father and brother bending over backwards to please her. “Please, Jacen, you know you want to try as much as I do.”
Jacen sighed. He really did want to try again. “Alright, Jaina. You win.”
Minutes later, the wormhole opened before them and Jacen guided the shuttle into the humongous mouth.
“Who knows?” He said with forced optimism, “Maybe she decided to do the treatment after all.”
“Jacen, if she did, we will never know. We won’t exist to come out the other side of this gigantic worm.”
However, they did reach the other side, and before they knew it, they were back in their own time. The first thing they noticed upon arrival was the looming form of the USS Titan, waiting for them.
Jacen banked right, intending to turn around and reenter the wormhole. He never made it. Before the small shuttle could make a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn, they found themselves ensnared by a tractor beam.
Standing on the bridge of the USS Titan, Captain William Riker watched as the old fashioned shuttlecraft carrying his two teenage children tried to reenter the wormhole. Damn it! He knew they would try something like this!
“Lock tractor beams on that shuttle and bring them into the bay.” He ordered.
“Aye, Sir.” The young man at OPS agreed.
The tractor beam locked on to the shuttle and began pulling it toward the ship. Will smiled as he pictured his son’s reaction. Sometimes that kid was too smart for his own good.
Will waited until the shuttle was safely aboard before turning to his tactical officer. “Commander Yeats, target the center of that damn wormhole and fire three Multi-Phasic Torpedoes on my mark.”
A few seconds passed. “Mark.”
The bridge crew watched in fascination as the wormhole exploded, leaving nothing behind save a few particles of matter and energy.
If any of them wondered why their captain had a highly satisfied, and relieved, smile on his bearded face, no one commented. They simply obeyed as he ordered. “Set course for the Darné system, warp 5. Engage”
“Commander Blackwell, you have the bridge.”
With that, Will Riker left the bridge, headed for the shuttlebay to welcome his children home.
Jacen was fuming as he disembarked from the shuttle. He wanted to hit something. The bay door opened and in strolled the object of Jacen’s anger.
Jacen strode purposefully to his father, anger making him speak before thinking. “Damn you! You’ve ruined everything!”
Will smirked. “Good to see you, too, Jace.”
“Why did you have to destroy it? We could have gone back, we could have tried again! You could have forced her to do the treatment!”
“Jacen, stop it!” Jaina yelled.
Jacen went on hotly, ignoring his sister. “All we went through for nothing! I’ll never forgive you for this!”
“Jacen, shut up,” Will stated mildly, not the least bit phased by his son’s outburst.
Jacen bellowed in fury and pulled back his fist, fully intending to deck his father. His fist never connected. Just as he brought his arm around, Jaina’s surprised cry brought him up short.
Stunned, Jacen let his arm fall to his side. His twin streaked past him and flung herself into Deanna’s outstretched arms.
“Mom! Oh, Mom. You’re alive!” Jaina sobbed brokenly, in happiness and relief.
Jacen gave his father a dumbfounded look. “I don’t understand. How?”
Will shook his head in mock rebuke. “You should have had more faith in your parents, Son.”
Jacen joined his sister in his mother’s embrace, all three laughing and crying simultaneously.
Will watched the happy reunion in contentment for several minutes, before joining them. His daughter stepped out of Deanna’s embrace and wrapped her arms around her father. “Hi, Daddy.”
Will smiled into her precious face. She really was the light of his life. “Hello, Princess.”
“I don’t get it. Did the Kreptins give up?”
Will’s eyes met Deanna’s over their children’s heads. Tenderness and love, for each other, and their brilliant children, passed between them. “No, they did not give up. They showed up five years ago, right on schedule. The events you described played out exact.”
Jacen narrowed his eyes. “Then how?”
Will grinned. “I told you to have more faith in us. Deanna had the treatment.”
Deanna spoke quietly, serenely. “Yes, I did. Approximately a week after giving birth to twins.”
Happier than she had been in a very long time, Jaina took both her parents by the hand and pulled them from the shuttle bay, gesturing for Jacen to follow.
“Let’s go back to our quarters and you can tell us all about it.”
Will and Deanna allowed themselves to be dragged along. As they moved down the corridor, Will called over his shoulder, “By the way, Jace? You are both grounded until you enter the academy next year.”
“Push, Deanna, come on you can do it. Just a little bit more.”
Captain Will Riker held his wife’s hand and whispered encouragement as she labored to bring their children into the universe.
“I can’t!” Deanna panted. “I can’t do this.”
Will brushed the sweat soaked hair out of her luminous eyes. “Yes you can, Imzadi. We’re almost done.”
Deanna shot Will a look full of fury. “What’s this ‘we’ stuff? I’m the one doing all the work.”
At the foot of the birthing chair, Beverly Crusher chuckled. “Hang in there, Deanna. It won’t be much longer now. I can see the head crowning.”
“Yeah, of the first one,” Deanna mumbled irritably.
Minutes later, Deanna was awarded for her work with a lusty cry. Her heart shattered into a million pieces then was put back together as Beverly laid Jacen on her chest.
“Congratulations, Mama, it’s a boy.”
Deanna shot her best friend a “no kidding” look as she stroked the tiny head pillowed on her breast. She felt peace steal over her.
The sweet serenity was abruptly broken minutes later as another contraction hit. Jaina was anxious to be born.
Will gently removed his newborn son from his comfortable position so that Deanna could deliver the baby’s sibling.
Within minutes, Jaina joined the universe with a fierce cry of her own, obviously not to be outdone by her “big” brother.
Beverly and the resident nurse took both children to be washed, weighed and measured. “Well done, Deanna.”
Deanna smiled weakly, exhausted. “Piece of cake---preferably chocolate.”
Hours later, the Rikers lay together in Deanna’s bed, holding their precious bundles gently.
“God, they are beautiful.” Will whispered reverently, smiling in wonder at his tiny son.
Deanna agreed wholeheartedly. “Imzadi, look at the two little miracles we created”
After three years of looking over their shoulders for another Kreptin attack, they could finally relax. Deanna would begin treatment to repair her paracortex as soon as Beverly--on board the Titan especially for the two separate but connected events--decided she was well enough.
Will whispered softly, speaking to his children. “You don’t know it yet, but the two of you saved your mommy’s life.”
Will and Deanna turned to each other and their lips met in a kiss of love, relief and complete devotion. As usual when they were together, the outside universe ceased to exist. They wrapped themselves in the life they had made, the life they had thanks to the two tiny souls they held in their arms.
~I love you, Imzadi.~ Echoed in both their minds.