The force of the rifle barrel against Commander Riker's cheek sent him stumbling back. The red clay walls of the cell crumbling as his body slammed against it, the cool dirt clinging to the warm blood that trickled from his temple.
"I said where is he?" The voice echoed from inside the black armor of his captor, eyes shielded behind dark red Plexiglas scanned the four corners of the cell.
"I'm not my brother's keeper, you're the guard around here." Biting back the pain that throbbed through his entire body he pushed himself off the wall with a bruised hand.
"He will not get very far." The jagged nose of the rifle pressed against Riker's chest, icy cool metal drawing hot blood as it twisted into his skin.
"How do you know, he could be light-years from here by now." A slow and nasty smile spread over Riker's face, his eyes momentarily raising to the ceiling above the guard.
The guard reacted instinctively, his hidden eyes and his weapon shooting above him.
"Big mistake.... asshole!" Tom Riker's voice and the blast of a laser pistol came simultaneously.
Will stepped back as the scarlet beam caught the guard between the vulnerable opening between the chest plate and helmet, the smell of burning flesh filling the small cell as the beam ricocheted inside the helmet, dropping the guard almost instantly.
"Shitty way to go." Will grumbled, kneeling quickly on the floor and pushing the rock away that shielded most of his brother.
Tom pushed out of the small tunnel they'd dug in the wall and smiled, "We're good."
"Not that good, took us almost a month to pull it off and we're not out of here yet."
"Your such a pessimist."
Snapping the guards weapon off the floor, Will tipped his head towards the door, "Realists." He corrected.
From what the two had been able to tell since they'd both been tossed into this cell, this single guard was solely responsible for both of them......Either their captors didn't consider them much of a threat, or they were tucked away so deeply in the middle of nowhere, escape wasn't even an option.
Poking his head cautiously out into the vague lighting of the corridor, he looked in both directions and shrugged. Nothing, the corridor was as silent and deserted as it seemed to be from inside the cell.
In the past month, twice a day, each of them had been taken from their cell and returned less then an hour later. The outings were all the same, a dimly lit room, a metal chair, and hundreds of questions that neither of them could answer. It was as if these voices in the dark were deliberately asking them anything and everything that would give them reason to use the retinal lasers and the anti-pulse to cause them excruciating pain, and there were time he'd have given up everything he knew just to stop it.
The corridor narrowed, through the thin walls the echo of boots against metal carried down the dusty passage. The door ahead, the one both knew from their excursions led to the hanger bay glowed with a faint green light.
"Doors open?" Tom's whisper rumbled behind him, he nodded over his shoulder, the convenience of it heightening his anxiety. The blood red metal doors had always been closed, the hum of ship's engines had been the only way they'd ascertained what was concealed behind them.
"That's a Maquis interceptor." Will whispered over his shoulder, pulling his covert gaze away from the well lit hanger bay.
Tom's frown deepened, "Bullshit, no way is this the Maquis."
He followed Tom's gaze to the weapon he gripped in his hand, a Jem'Hadar rifle, and understood his incredulous expression. Nothing fit together in this place, the questions, the weapons, the unfamiliar uniforms of the guard, and now the Maquis ships..... everything was as unlikely as this alliance he'd formed with Tom.
He shrugged, "Let's do it."
"How many dark knights?"
"Four," Will answered, "Stay put, I'll set it."
Without waiting for the argument he knew was coming he tumbled past the hanger door and moved a few hundred yards further down the corridor. He had to jump to reach the first of the three silver rungs embedded in the wall, his feet slipped against the clay, sending pieces of the wall to the floor. The dirt contacting the metal floor thundered through the corridor.
<Shit,shit!> The profanity that continued to reiterate through his mind intensified as the sound of hurried footfalls sounded from inside the bay. Getting his footing on the first rung he jerked the Plexiglas covering away from the panel beside it, withdrew the contents and pulled the switch above it.
"Now!" He screamed the warning to Tom before pulling the mask over his face and firing on the metal plate below it. The alarm, loud and shrill combined with the low hiss of phaser fire filled the corridor....His feet pounding against the metal floor he watched Tom struggling to hold onto the breath he held in his lungs. The bolts from inside the bay ended abruptly, he roughly jerked a mask over Tom's face and ignored the glare in his eyes.
He was figuring on less then a minute before the system reset was activated and the oxygen supply was returned to the bay, the whizzing sound above them told him his calculations were close. Punching the switch on the wall, the door that led to outside of where ever the hell they were sounded ominously through the bay.
Leaving the choice of ships up to Tom he ran backwards, keeping his rifle aimed at the entrance, and the familiar sound of the armored footfalls approaching.
"Punch it up!" He barked, jerking his mask from his face as the oxygen from outside filled the bay. He fired a few wild shots to the hanger entrances, sealing the doors before following Tom inside one of the large ships.
"Anybody ever tell you you run like a goddamn old lady!" Tom grunted, spanking the ship's controls and sending Will back with a smack against the bulk head.
Sinking into the seat beside Tom, he ignored his comment and watched the planet fall further below them. "Why aren't they coming after us?"
"They can't." Tom grinned, one of those confident grins that had just the opposite effect on him, "I ignited the plasma on liftoff, probably melted the whole damn bay."
"Are you nuts?!" Those three words had left his mouth more in the last month then in his entire life. But there was a time for reckless, and a time for structure, and their different ways of thinking had kept them both alive, and more importantly........ sane.
Tom raised his brows, his arrogant smile now nothing less then a shit-eating grin, "It's in my genes."
Will kept a watchful eye on the ships monitors, even if Tom had destroyed one bay, there had to be others. Caution and suspicion were in his genes, and even though the warning screen remained dormant, his own internal alerts flashed loudly.
"Maybe they're tracking us?" His eyes still lowered to the panels of the ship he sent a sidelong glance to Tom.
"I don't think so." Tom's demeanor had changed drastically, it was obvious he was just as shocked that they'd gotten away so easily, "Maybe they're not tracking us because the entire ship is booby trapped ......Take the helm, keep the speed steady."
Will watched as Tom slid out of his seat and ducked his head under the ship's control panel. He eyed the coordinates on the screen and locked them in his memory..If they got out of here without dying he had every intention of coming back, finding the home of the black knights, and personally kicking all there asses.
"You can increase the speed," Tom said, his voice muffled from under the panel, "And that's about all you can do." he added, his hand squeaking against the leather of the pilot's chair as he pulled himself into it, "We cut the engines, we go boom."
"That doesn't make sense.......why?" Will wiped his hand over the blood and dirt that had dried in his beard, "They could have killed us there."
"Maybe it's not us they want to kill, maybe its wherever we choose to set down."
"There isn't much here," Will said, redirecting the Navigation controls, "If someone hadn't ignited the plasma, this piece of shit would have gotten us here." He ran a finger over the white grid on the screen and shared a look with Tom.
"Deep space nine," Tom shook his head, "That's a long shot Will, doesn't make sense."
"And booby-trapping every ship in the bay does......You said yourself it couldn't be the Maquis.....and the weapons were Jem'Hadar."
"I could have been wrong," He didn't like the way Tom was stroking his beard, from personal experience it was never a good sign. "the detonator on the explosive ......it's Cardassian, I've seen it before .....I can't disarm it."
"What the hells going on?" Will slid down in his chair, three factions all deliberately exposed to them, obviously to guise their real captors identity, "We gotta find a planet, beam out of here and destroy this ship."
"That's a good idea, cept the transporters have been sabotaged."
He followed Tom's gaze to the melted circuitry in the archway behind him, "Well that sucks."
"We'll think of something, we just gotta hope we don't run into anyone with a tractor beam who thinks we're the bad guys," Tom's eyes fell to the screen below him, reacting to the faint buzz that sounded, "Somebody really hates us."
"Drop down and back, maybe they've got better things to do." Will reached up beside him and activated the viewscreen, the change in trajectory sending his stomach into his throat, "That was smoo..." His jab at Tom's piloting skills fell off as the silver hull of the approaching ship filled the small viewers.
"Great," Tom grumbled, his lip curling in disgust, "I got a better chance of banging every women in the quadrant then getting rid of that meddling captain of yours."
"You're not going to be banging anybody again if you don't help me with these communications." He caught the look on Toms face and freed a heavy sigh.
"Having been in the terrorist position before, my theory would be, case we found out about the detonator we couldn't warn anyone." Tom offered the unnecessary explanation, avoiding the real silent question, the one unfortunately they both knew the answer to.
"I'll set the system to feed back on itself." Tom pushed out of his chair, an uncharacteristic expression of sadness, marked with fear touching his features. Will nodded, his eyes fixed on the Enterprise E as if he could see inside her hull.
"Hey," Tom stepped back, "We can't take a chance, we let em get much closer we could take her with us."
Will half smiled wondering which *her* Tom was referring to, the massive starship and its crew, or the single betazoid that probably sat on the bridge.
"The Maquis ship is radiating a high level ionic shell." Captain Jean Luc Picard stared at the class three Interceptor on the Enterprise view-screen and shook his head slowly.
"Hail them." His order spoken softly, it barely carried over the rumble of the impulse engines. Behind his thoughts he heard his tactical officer carry out his order, but his mind concentrated only on why a two-man ship would deem it necessary to jam the starship's sensors, and appeared to be deliberately avoiding them.
"No response Sir."
"Mr. Data," He turned only briefly to his acting first officer, "Jack up the Enterprise frequency, use a Theda-ban 27 scramble."
An order to use a Romulan sensor frequency to scan the Marquis ship would have brought either an objection or a devious smile to his missing first officers lips, but Commander Data carried it out without expression or thought.
<Funny how the simplest things are those we miss the most.> He thought.
"I am getting limited access to ship's system only," Data's hands and eyes moved over the console in front of him, "It is curious Sir, the ships power appears to have been deliberately rerouted to feedback on itself, and yet the shield harmonics have been heightened.....," Data stood up quickly, "Captain, the ships shield frequency phase rotation matches the nutation the Enterprise used to confuse the Borg."
"Are you certain Command...."
"Captain!" Counselor Troi, flushed and breathless, looking as if she'd run a marathon, instead of the few hurried steps it had taken her to come to stand beside Commander Data interrupted, "Captain.....I'm sensing Commander Riker. I know it's Will."
If belief came from only the look of conviction in her black eyes, or the certainty in the tone of her voice he would have locked a beam on the tiny ship immediately. But unfortunately, the war and the terrorist acts of several factions made it impossible for him to risk locking on to a ship that appeared to be deliberately duping them.
"Is he alone?"
She was silent for a moment, her eyes closed, he noted the tremble in her hands she tried to hide by fisting them.
"Yes, he's alone......I'm not sensing anyone else." He rested a calming hand on her shoulder, his calm, his effort at comfort seemed to do no more then agitate her.
"Is he conscious, can you communicate with him?"
"I'm trying, he's afraid." Her voice broke, the composure that seldom fell began to dissolve with the tears that streaked over the blush in her cheeks.
Damming the emotions her desperation generated, he scanned only unemotional eyes over the bridge. "If the ship explodes while under our tractor beam how severe will the damage to the Enterprise be?"
"Substantial, it is likely the condensed feedback would perforate the shields."
Picard's sigh, long and deep caused Deanna to step closer, her unspoken plea sealing his decision, "Ready phasers, target the Interceptor's shields only......Data, monitor the ship's status, I want sixty seconds to get the Enterprise away from here if she decides to blow." He tapped his communicator, "Transporter room, lock on to the life sign in the Maquis ship as soon as the shields go down and beam it to the Enterprise. Have a security team standing by. I'll be in transporter room three," Unable to return the liquid smile Deanna offered him he took a step past her and stopped, "Would you care to join me counselor?"
"I thought they were suppose to be the finest crew in the fleet!" Tom skidded to the view port, narrowed nasty blue eyes at Will and smacked a hand against the power relay.
"Well they're not too bright then, why the hell are they moving closer, they must have picked up the feedback?" He shot a look to the screen, " I'm gonna slow the transfer, give em more time."
Will continued fluctuating the shields, ignoring Tom's mumbling about the ignorance of starfleet officers. The pins and needles that had ignited across the back of his shoulders trailed up the back of his neck, he rolled his shoulders and watched Tom do the same.
"They're powering up!" Tom snapped, massaging his neck, his lips curling in disgust, "Talk to her, can't you talk to her, tell her to power down or something!"
He nodded and closed his eyes, the silent call he sent to her answered only by the sound of Tom's breathing and the impatient shifting of his weight beside him. Angry with himself, irked that Tom had felt her too, his eyes shot open, "If you think it's so easy you do it!"
"Why would I do it, she's your lover!"
"Shut-up, I can't think!"
"Then you'll fit in with the rest of the Enterprise crew cuz their not thinkin either!" The ship rocked. Tom gripped the back of the pilot's chair with one hand and yanked the transfer conduit free, his eyes constantly dipping to the explosive below the console.
Will watched the fine blue pulse target the ship, the eyes he was preparing to close in anticipation opened wide, "Drop the ships power to minimal, they're doing a surgical strike! Pretty clever for a bunch of idiots." he added.
Tom's retort, possible apology never left his lips, the catch and release of the familiar transport beam tugging Will out of the rumbling ship and freeing him into the gentle vibration of transporter room three.
There was no time to touch her, run past the security guards and take her in his arms, but even as he stumbled off the transport platform, eyes fixed on his captain, performing his duty, he felt her presence like a warm hand against his soul.
"Destroy the ship, back the Enterprise away.....far away!"
The broad smile that seldom graced his Captain's face gave way to the same look of stern urgency he was certain played over his features.
"Did you copy that Commander?" There was a momentary delay between Picard's question and the response from the bridge.
"The ship's power has stabilized, I can see no reason to...."
"The ship's armed Data!" Riker interrupted the android's collected accounting of the ship's condition, his bruised fist clenched at his sides, he nodded an adamant affirmative to his captain.
"We are detecting no such device."
"Damnit Data.....destroy the ship!" He heard his own voice, loud and panicked, Deanna's hand against his arm and the incredulous look on his Captain's face forcing him to take a breath, collect himself, "I'm telling you Captain."
"Will, are you sure......Maybe you were unconscious, only thought....." He dropped his gaze to the woman that had played through his mind for the past month, the single memory that had kept him sane, and frowned, "I wasn't unconscious, we rerouted the power, created the feedback to protect you." If his captain wouldn't believe him, at least he knew she would.....She'd feel his conviction, convince Picard he wasn't dreaming.
"We....Was there someone else onboard the ship?"
"No," he shook his head impatiently, "I meant I......Captain, the safety of this ship depends on you...." Riker, his eyes swollen and bloodshot turned his pleading gaze from one to the other....Picard's expression unreadable, Deanna's relief clouded with concern.
"We'll look into it Will." Picard nodded, and for an instant Riker felt his shoulder's relax, "Lock a tractor beam on the Maquis ship, send a two man team over to investigate."
"NO!" He heard his warning only as a distant echo in his mind, an echo that sounded behind the pounding of his heart, beyond the haze in his mind that sent him crashing into darkness.
"It's only been five days Captain, I'm not sure he's ready for reinstatement." Counselor Troi, hands folded composedly in her lap sent a sidelong glance to Beverly Crusher before focusing her full attention on her Captain.
"Your psychological evaluation suggests just the opposite." Reaching for the PADD on the right of his desk he pulled it towards him, lowered his eyes, then raised them, eyeing Counselor Troi with a perplexed expression.
"He's still very distracted Sir, trying to come to grips with his memory loss is very frustrating for him."
"I'm sure it is, but it's only a fraction of his memories he seems to be struggling with....his recollection of the events leading up to his escape are quite vivid." He'd spoken to Commander Riker several times since his return, reviewed Beverly's evaluation and spoke with several other members of his crew, it was only Counselor Troi that seemed set on keeping his first officer off the bridge; and though he didn't like what he was thinking, he feared her personal relationship with Will could be affecting her judgment.
"Deanna," Beverly intervened, sending a fleeting glare his way, "His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous..."
"What about the explosive he insisted was onboard the ship?"
"Deanna," Crusher laid a hand against her arm, "It's very likely after what he'd been through that once he escaped, the adrenaline he'd been existing on cut out.....His losing consciousness in that situation would be normal....He may have no memories to restore."
Picard leaned back in his chair, the leather cool against the palms of his hands he allowed for what appeared to be a silent form of communication between his chief medical officer and Commander Troi. He watched Troi's shoulder's relax and drew a deep breath, "Counselor, the threats against Earth's defensive grid have forced the federation to recall the Enterprise. Under the circumstances, I could use my first officer on the bridge where he belongs," he paused, gauging her reaction, "Is it your contention that Commander Riker is unfit for command?"
Her eyes fell to her lap and she fumbled with a loose thread on the cuff of her uniform, he permitted her the time she appeared to need to answer his direct question.
"No Sir," she finally said, "I don't believe the repercussions of his capture will in any way affect his performance."
"Very good," he replied, a smile of relief crossing his features, returned by doctor Crusher, but not the ship's counselor.
"Has Starfleet come up with any information on what happened to Will?"
"Actually Counselor, I'm expecting Commander Riker any moment. I'd like to discuss that with him privately before I share it with the rest of the crew," he leaned his arms on the desk and folded his hands with a calm he didn't feel, "Our first concern right now must be the defensive grid."
"Of course.....I understand Sir." Her words, calm and professional completely contradicted by the challenging look in her eyes.
"Let's just say Commander Riker's abductors may be behind this new threat," he offered the trace information, hoping to tone down the contention in her eyes, the arch of her brows telling him he'd done just that, "Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to put my first officer back on the duty roster."
"Yes Sir." Beverly's grin, bright and pleased somehow managed to punch through the Counselor's serious expression, a smile bringing the light back into the Betazoid's eyes.
He stood as both women rose from their chairs and headed for the doors. The chimes sounding through the ready-room just prior to the hiss of the doors opening.
Will's brows raised, startled to see the two women leaving as he entered, "Ladies," he grinned, nodding to both before stepping inside and turning his attentions to his captain, "Captain, am I early?" Even as the doors hissed shut behind him Will could feel Deanna's gaze sizzling over the back of his neck.
"Not at all number one....Please sit down."
He sat only on the edge of the chair, eager to hear if he'd been reinstated and anxious to learn what Starfleet had found out.
"How are you feeling?" Picard's simple question caused his muscles to tighten, the lack of expression on his captain's face making it impossible to read him.
<Damn her.> he thought, his mind jumping quickly to the conclusion that Deanna had vetoed his reinstatement. She'd been acting strange since he'd been back, more like his mother then his colleague or lover, constantly reaching for something that wasn't there, as if she wanted to anger him.
"Great!" he answered, shifting uncertainly in his chair.
"That's good, because your bridge duty will begin at 0700 hours tomorrow."
"Yes!" His return a bit more exuberant then he'd planned drew an understanding chuckle from Picard, "thank-you Sir."
"Pleased to have you back, I am however limiting your duty shifts to four hours for the first few days. The situation back home will call for peak performance."
Riker's smile fell, leaning forward on his knees he massaged his thumb thoughtfully against his palm, "Has the federation reached any conclusions as to who's behind it.....does it have anything to do with my capture?"
"We're not certain, we relayed the coordinates you gave us to the Ghandi, there findings were perplexing at best. The base had been recently leveled." Picard pushed one of the PADDs in front of him towards Will.
Will eyed it carefully, scrolling through the findings, "Borg sir?"
"That's what someone would like us to believe. It appears whoever is behind this has managed to implicate every enemy the federation has ever faced. Starfleet Intelligence is using all their means to get to the bottom of this. They'd like to meet with you before we reach sector 001."
He nodded. He'd already begun logging all the factions he remembered being exposed to, and the questions he'd been asked. Since Starfleet had changed all his access codes upon his capture, even if they had been able to extract any information from him, as of this moment it would all be invalid. One of the reasons he had to believe that this covert enemy was someone with little knowledge of federation procedures.
"Aries will be arriving sometime in the next three days. Apparently this branch of operatives was i ......"
"Tom." Will grumbled under his breath.
"Tom Riker, Tom Riker is an Aries operative." He was looking at his captain, but speaking mostly to himself. Picard's sudden posture shift pulling him from his thoughts.
"How do you know that?"
"I don't know," he said, dragging a hand over his face, holding his Captain with a penetrating look of confusion, "but I know, Tom Riker is the operative."
Tom Riker groaned as his pack slid off his shoulder and hit the wooden floor of his apartment with a loud thud. Leaving a trail of clothes behind him he shuffled through the loft into the bathroom. Placing his phaser on the ledge above the shower, he turned on the water and stepped under the stream. It was hot, almost hotter then he could stand, but he let it beat against his face for an instant before pressing the heels of his hands against the cool wall and watching days worth of grim spiral down the drain.
<Why do I do this?> he thought.
Seldom did he question the decision he'd made years ago when he'd left the Gandhi to serve another branch of Starfleet. He knew the reputation the F.I.A. had generated for him had made him less then popular in the quadrant. But it had also served to make him a man without a cause, and a man without a cause could be trusted by anyone. No one ever suspected that Thomas Riker was still dancing to the federation's beat, not even most of the federation. His first assignment to deep space nine had clinched his reputation, and afforded him a pretty lonely life.
He tilted his head, a noise, almost invisible behind the splashing water prompted him to snag his phaser from the shower ledge and spin around, "Son of a....what are you trying to do?" His phaser still gripped tightly in his fist he dipped appreciative eyes over the woman in front of him. Melina, just Melina, he'd figured once he'd learned to pronounce her last name it'd be time to move on, that was two years ago, and he hadn't found any reason to learn, or move on.
"Drop the towel Mel." he said, gesturing with the phaser before putting it back up on the ledge.
"Where the hell have you been?" She turned her head sharply, the sudden movement sending the moon pearl comb in her hair flying, a waterfall of liquid mahogany falling over her tanned shoulders. She shook her head, briskly blowing the hairs away from her face, hazel eyes that sparkled blue-gray in the light betraying her stern expression.
"The armpit of the galaxy, with the scum of the universe." he admitted, snatching the knot in the front of her towel with one hand and dragging her under the warm water, "You smell so much better then they do." he added, deriving pleasure from the moan she freed as he devoured her neck.
"Wait." the hand she pressed against his chest was about as convincing as the sound of her voice, "I have to tell you something first."
"Are you screwing someone else?"
"Of course not." she said, pushing him back against the shower wall, her body tall and sleek flush with his.
"Then I don't care..it can wait." His voice practically a growl, low and broken it rumbled from deep in his chest. He leaned his head back against the shower wall, the towel falling to the floor with a splat, he relaxed into the soft, but demanding hands that kneaded over the muscles in his shoulders, trailed over his chest, and finally snaked around his lower waist.
"What is that?" It took a second for the change in her voice, and the shift in her touch to register. By the time he opened his eyes, she was kneeling beside him, one hand killing the water, the other killing the mood, as lovers hands degenerated into Med-tech hands.
His obscene comment stuck in his throat as looked down on her, the simmering blue-gray lust in her eyes now a pale smoky brown, "This is a plasma burn......A bad plasma burn."
"What?" He wrenched his neck, trying to look over his shoulder, look down to the area on the back of his right hip she was so fascinated with, "I can't feel it." He watched her get up, tug a robe off the back of the door and disappear into the bedroom. He'd been burned by plasma once before, pain was excruciating, something you couldn't just shrug off. He twisted his arm and looked at what remained of that scar, after seven years the sensation still fresh in his mind.
"It looks like its been treated." She walked back into the room, tricorder in hand, and motioned him out of the shower.
"You must be wrong, that's not the kind of pain you forget."
She ignored him of course, god forbid she should listen to him when she had that trusted little box to rely on. She batted his hand out of the way as he tried to feel for himself, "This was severe, about four weeks old and it's been treated with electro-pulse therapy," She stood up slowly, "Where the hell were you again?"
"No way!" He jerked the tricorder from her hand, "I know where I was.... shit, my knuckles are still bruised from trying to fit in." He held out his hand for her to see, but never removed his eyes from the tricorder readouts. He shook his head, the letters on the small screen began to blur and a haunting little tickle spiked up his neck, "Come on," he jerked her by the wrist and pulled her out of the bathroom, "Get dressed, we're going to the bullpen, I wanna see Lund."
"Wait...wait....wait.....WAIT!" The increased tone of each wait, combined with a two-handed tug on his arm forced Tom to turn around, meet Melina's adamant refusal to go with him.
"What?" He twisted his wrist from her hand, "Talk to me, I can talk and dress at the same time."
"Lund's not here, that's what I tried to tell you earlier. He's been trying to reach you for days."
"Why," he answered, his voice muffled as he tugged his shirt over his head, "He knew where I was." He held out a questioning hand, withdrew it, and moved to the closet, the antique wooden doors squealing against the wood floor as he opened them, "where are my boots?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know what, where my boots are, or why Lund forgot he sent me to Jaier?" Behind him he heard her feet lightly slapping against the floor. Kneeling on the closet floor he dug through the abundance of female shoes, wondering why in hell anyone person could possibly need so many.
"Here." He didn't hear her word, only felt the light tap of his boot tip against the back of his head. Without getting up he crawled around to face her, his boots fell with a thump beside him.
"He's gone to the Saturn outpost, that's all I know."
"I stopped there on my way in, he wasn't there." He pulled on his boots and struggled to pull his pant legs down over the shiny black leather, "did look like some kinda shit was gonna hit the fan there though." He hadn't given the increased security and the over abundance of military personnel much thought at the time, considering how the war was going, the tightened forces seemed only logical to him.
"There's a communiquť on the COMM," she said, squatting in front of him, her robe opening slightly, reminding him it had been over a month since he'd had her, and it didn't look like it was going to happen any time soon, "It's encrypted."
"Shit." He considered yelling at her, telling her she should have tried a little harder to tell him what she'd started to earlier, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. If it weren't for this unexplained plasma burn he'd have probably screwed the transmission in favor of sex too.
"I'm sorry." She offered, picking up his clothes off the floor, deliberately shielding her face from him. He understood that too, showing his disappointment wasn't in his nature, but he felt it as strongly as she did.
"Don't worry about it," he said, snagging her wrist, forcing her to look up at him, "I might not have to go anywhere, and under the circumstances it might be safer for the federation if I don't."
She shook her head, her nose wrinkled in confusion.
He brushed the damp hair that clung to her cheek away from her face, "I don't remember getting this burn, and who knows what else I don't remember.....Under the circumstances, until we find out what happened to me.......I'm a security risk." He kissed her unresponsive lips and pulled away to look into her eyes.....Pensive and stormy, he arched his brows in question.
"I'll arrange a medical work-up." she practically whispered.
He nodded to her suggestion, but something told him there was more she wanted to say. He let it go as she turned away and moved towards the door, he'd find out what Lund was up to first, then he'd figure out what was spinning behind those ever changing translucent jewels.
"Wow," Deanna supported herself on her elbow, her eyes still glassy, her cheeks glistening with jewels of sweat, and smiled, a sated and wistful smile, "That was primal."
"It's been a while, you're lucky I didn't eat you alive." His growled chuckle deepened the flush in her cheeks. He sucked a labored breath, pulled her face to his, and whispered a kiss against her mouth. He wasn't about to admit it to her, but considering the pain he was still fighting, and the thousands of thoughts that were churning through his mind he'd amazed even himself. She feathered a few kisses over his jaw and his chest, and finally laid her head against his shoulder, her contented sigh tickling over his chest like a warm tropical breeze.
She'd been fine since his reinstatement, her constant questions and concerns had fallen away, and with them the arguments that had plagued them since his return. He had to admit he was more then amazed that after only five days of recovery Starfleet had seen fit to return him to the bridge, he wasn't sure that was the decision he'd have made under the same circumstances. He figured the threat against Earth had tipped the odds in his favor, the need for a seasoned officer, outweighing the possible security risk his abduction might pose.
"I love you Will." Through a haze of thoughts her words filtered in, relaxed, he closed his eyes and returned a silent reply, infusing it with the emotions his words could never relay.
"Are you asleep?" He felt her head lift from his chest, cool air replacing moist heat.
"No why?" A crooked glib smile and a waggle of his brows followed his question, his assumption that she was hinting at another round fell away with the look on her face, "What?"
"I thought I felt something."
"I was trying to thought send......maybe I'm out of practice." He stroked a finger along her jaw, waiting for her frown to lapse, the lines between her brows to ease.
"Maybe," she said, relaxing ever so slightly, "The sense was very passionate, bordering on erotic."
"Then I'd like to take credit for it." He grinned, "I must be hungrier then I thought." The hand he traced over the arch in her back and the rounded curve of her ass weaken the potent gaze she was pinning him with, the same hand, rougher and more demanding retraced its path eradicating the frown completely as her body relaxed against his.
Will relaxed against the turbolift wall and nodded to himself, his first bridge duty had been uneventful, but even so he'd found it exhilarating, almost as exhilarating as his inexhaustible partner from the night before. Seemed his life was quickly returning to normal, and even with the threat against Earth's defensives he was deriving a comfort from it.
He pushed off the wall as the lift-doors opened to his designated floor and stepped off. The corridor that led to shuttle bay three was fairly lifeless, he hoped the bay would afford him the same consideration. Aside from this nagging suspicion that Tom Riker was the Aries operative assigned to his case, his lapse in memory was the only thing still gnawing at him. It was possible Beverly was right, that he'd lost consciousness, or his body had become disoriented after the strain of his ordeal, and his memories were sporadic at best. But he couldn't see any harm in trying to jog them, and with the Marquis ship in the shuttle bay, what better way then to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak.
He hesitated in the doorway to the shuttle bay and surveyed the personnel. Two ensigns hovering over one of the federation shuttles were the only personal he could see.....He folded his hands behind his back, nodded as the two looked up at him and continued towards the Maquis ship.
With a wave of his hand he accessed the hatch, the two doors simultaneously opened, one up, one down, the ship's hinges grinding loudly. He shot a look over his shoulder, the ensigns too busy to notice.
"What a piece of junk." he mumbled, stepping inside and eyeing the well worn cockpit. He remembered this, the sabotaged transporter connections, the burned circuits of the communications system, even the service relay was exactly what he'd seen when he'd commandeered the ship. On his hands and knees he crawled under the console to the spot below the pilot's chair where he'd been certain there was an explosive, and ran a tricorder scan over the surface. He was sure the same scan had been run a hundred times before, yet he still found himself frowning when only the metal's compounds blipped over the screen. He grumbled a few curses under his breath, chiding himself for not giving the Enterprise crew enough credit and pushed himself up. Giving the cabin one last visual check he stepped back into the bay and sneered at the hull of his ship. The stern of the silvery hull was charred with plasma burn, he shook his head, wondering how he'd managed to make it this far with a burning coolant leak. He ran his hand over the flaky surface, the cool burn to his skin forced him to jerk it away.
"Shhit." He grumbled, roughly brushing his palm against his pant leg, ridding himself of the soot, then shaking his hand to alleviate the tingle. He knelt down, the sensation fading, and used the edge of his tricorder to knock some more of the charring from the hull. It looked like two layers to him, a standard plasma residue, shelled in some kind of deep brown glaze.
"And no one noticed this?" he said to himself, scanning the elements, then repeating the procedure.
"Is something wrong Commander?"
"Geeze Data," he snapped, rolling his eyes at the android above him, "you should learn to take heavier steps."
"I am sorry, it was not my intent to startle you."
"It's all right Data," he said, patting the android's upper arm, "take a look at this, did anyone else get these re...."
<Picard to Riker.> His captain's voice cut in, he held up a finger to Data and tapped his communicator, "Riker here sir."
"Report to my ready-room Commander."
"On my way." Riker responded to Picard's no nonsense request then returned his attention to the android, "Take a look at this readouts Data, let me know what you make of it."
"What do you make of it?" Tom Riker stood up, and dusted the gravel off his knees. The scarring he'd found on the belly of his ship may have gone unnoticed if he'd followed his usual procedure and allowed the Aries technicians to overhaul his ship. But Lund's urgent order for him to report to the Saturn outpost, and more importantly his lack of interest in his memory lag had forced him to run a check on the ship himself.
"Well?" he urged, staring impatiently at the top of Melina's head.
"Well, I don't see how this can be." She handed him the tricorder and took a step closer to the iridescent hull of his ship, "maybe you just skirted it?"
"Not likely since I was on the other side of the quadrant," he said absently, looking once more at the seven elements on the tricorder screen, then staring out at the night sky. The scent of the cool night air carried through the bay, sweet smells of fall mixing with the potent smell of greasy dirt that filled the bay. He stepped closer to the door, looking up intently at the starry indigo sky as if the reflective nebula he knew was out there could somehow silently answer his questions. "Diathadon isn't found anywhere else?" His question was spoken to the night, cool air and Mel's warm breath against his cheek startling him from his thoughts with a chill.
"That we know of," she challenged, turning as the engines of another ship in the bay engaged, vibrating the ground under their feet, "And wouldn't you be dead?" she added, returning him her attention.
"I'd like to think if anyone could outmaneuver the Razor's Edge it'd be me." His cocky remark and his sly smile were meant to ease the frown on Melina's face, unfortunately it seemed only to darken it.
"I'd like to think that you're not going to try."
"I can't, I got a rendezvous with a starship I hoped I'd never have to set foot on again." His smile waned and his mind drifted. Being assigned to Will and whatever shit the stilted first officer had got himself into left a nasty taste in his mouth......Lund's reasoning only bittered the flavor. <Commander Riker's lying I want you to prove it.> Lund's comment had adhered itself to his mind and continued to haunt him. He wasn't fond of Will, but he couldn't buy into that theory.
"What's he like, your brother?"
"He's a damn good looking man." He flicked a finger under her chin, and attempted to appear at ease with her question.
"I don't know," he thought about for a minute, "I really don't know.....but I'll tell you one thing, he'd never lose his boots, probably got em logged by color or day of the week in his closet."
He was happy when she didn't press him any further and instead gripped his upper arms in her hands and kissed him softly, "Don't go looking for trouble."
"Who me?" He smirked, returning a far more intimate kiss before stepping back, "You'll relay the medical scans?"
He considered telling her he'd miss her or asking her to join him or worse yet admitting how he felt about her, instead he stepped inside his ship silently and tossed a wink over his shoulder.
"I know what I saw Deanna!" Will Riker's voice three octaves above where he'd planed tossed the tricorder on the couch and spun around, daring her to explain Data's readings.
"Will, you obviously misread the data." She moved closer to him, unaffected by his raging temper and the ironclad look of certitude he was trying to pin her with.
"I know what I saw, and Diathadon was one of the elements. I saw it with my own eyes.....God Deanna I even felt the effects." He held out the palm that had been exposed to the residue, if for no other reason then to remind himself that he'd actually felt it.....Doctor Crusher's scan of his palm had turned up nothing, and right now his best defense was accusing Data of lying.
"Let me ask you something?" Snatching the tricorder off the couch she sat down and silently suggested he join her.
Reluctantly he slouched on the couch beside her and flopped his head over the back cushion, "I know what you're going to say. Your going to tell me that federation tricorders don't scan for diathdon residue unless specifically programmed to do so." He chanted the sentence with a nasty scowl, catching a glimpse of the smirk on her face out of the corner of eye, "Don't gloat Deanna." he said, holding the velvety look in her eyes, finding it very difficult to continue challenging her. He flopped an arm over the back of the couch, hoping she'd take the silent invitation to move closer.
"I know it's frustrating for you not knowing what happened," She finally slid closer to him, tucking her legs beside her she draped an arm over his stomach and rested her head against his chest, "I'm sure once we arrive at the Saturn Outpost and yo....."
"That's another thing that's bugging me," he interrupted, "If it's so damn crucial we get there, why haven't we broken warp six?" He felt her shoulder shrug against his chest. He released a heavy breath and drew in another, the faint scent of her perfume catching in his nose, and like the purest of sedatives he felt his shoulder's relax.
"Maybe it has something to do with Tom?"
"What did you say?" He felt the shock like a hot knife in his chest, but his voice was riddled with disbelief.
"Nothing," she answered, pushing up on his chest, her brows wrinkling, her eyes showing no signs of deceit.
"You said Tom......Maybe it has something to do with Tom?" As far as he knew, his meeting with an Aries operative was to be kept between him and his captain, and even Picard didn't know if Tom Riker was to be assigned to him.
"Will, I never said that.......Why would I even think about Tom?"
He drew back almost defensively, "I don't know Deanna, why don't you tell me?"
The subtle drop of the ship's engines from warp to impulse tugged Will from a deep sleep. Kicking his feet out from under the blanket he attempted to ignore the empty pillow beside him. This was the third night in a row the left side of the bed had been unoccupied by Deanna, and the third night in a row he'd convinced himself not to go to her. Their conversation days earlier about Tom Riker had degenerated into an out and out battle, a battle he was still in the dark about. His questions to her had had more to do with the ship, his nagging suspicions that something wasn't quite right. But she'd somehow turned the tables on him, slapping him across the face with every aspect of his personality that bothered her, every mistake he'd ever made, as if she was deliberately trying to alienate him. But there'd been something so hollow about everything she'd said, he couldn't explain it, even though her anger reflected itself in her voice, her posture, even the tears that had welled up in her eyes, he couldn't feel it, and his lack of response only seemed to anger her more. He swung his feet over the side of the bed and stared at the trace silver lightening of the bathroom. He had several hours until his duty shift began, but the slowing of the Enterprise suggested they'd arrived in sector 001, his presence might be needed earlier. Walking with a slow shuffle to the bathroom, he programmed only a cool stream of water and stepped under it. The cool water against his warm skin tinkled over his body, the scent of the soap further decaying the crust of sleep that still loomed over him. He closed his eyes as the shampoo rinsed from his hair, his shoulders relaxed, the faint hum of water in his ears blocking the hum of the transport beam.
"You alone in there?"
He startled at the voice, his eyes opening, he blinked away the sting of the lather and groaned. "What the hell are you doing in my bathroom?!" He glared through the muted glass of the shower door and snapped the water off.
"This seemed like a private place, and one that would afford me a way to talk to you without betraying myself."
Will rolled his eyes and opened the door, noting the transport beacon embedded in Tom's belt. The question of how he'd managed to get onboard, undetected and most likely without permission became relevant. "Get out." he said instead, jerking a towel from the rack and wrapping it around his waist.
" Nothin I haven't seen before." Tom Riker's arrogant grin, exactly as he remembered it, agitated him more then it had ten years ago.
"I've been reading your account of what you say happened to you," Tom's eyes dipped to the PADD in his hand, continuing with his investigation as if they were sitting in the observation lounge, "I'd like to hear it in your own words."
"Are you nuts?" Will's grumbled question stirred an eerie chill to sweep up his spine. He watched Tom draw a breath to answer him and cut him off, "Don't tell me, it's in your genes right?"
"Exactly." Tom responded without missing a beat, but his expression faltered, a momentary confusion reflecting itself in his eyes. Will let the uncanny sense of deja-vu slid, and stepped out of the shower in front of the mirror, his back to Tom.
"How is it my abduction was tossed into your lap?" Seeing Tom's reflection in the mirror behind him, even with the trace differences in their appearances was somehow more disconcerting then facing him head on. He arched his brows, reiterating the question silently, and watched Tom's frown darken.
"Because," Tom said, his voice hushed, a certain amount of misgiving evident in his voice, "They're looking to hang you by the nugs."
"What?" Will turned slowly, "Who?"
"They think you're lying ......Your buddies in starfleet, I'm suppose to prove it." Tom's eyes once again returned to his PADD.
Will stared for a moment at the top his head, and snorted a chuckle dripping with bitterness. "And telling me that will help you, how?" He walked out of the bathroom, unraveling the towel from his waist, he used it to dry what little moisture was left on his body and tossed it aside. He heard Tom's boots click against the bathroom floor then dissolve into low thuds as he moved closer to him.
"Actually I wasn't going to tell ya, I didn't believe what my superior said, but the thought of bringing you down a peg or two appealed to me."
Tom's low key, almost impassive air shook him a little, but he'd be dammed if he'd let it show. He tugged on his pants and sat on the edge of the bed to face him, "And what changed your mind......good conscience?
"Hardly," he said dryly, "That plasma burn scar on your back, where'd ya get it?"
"What are you talking about?" His hand instinctively reached behind him, exploring his back even as he moved back into the bathroom.
"It's odd, it's not in doctor Crusher's medical report.......Hard to believe she'd miss that?" The PADD clicked against the porcelain sink as Tom sat it down and proceeded to tug his own shirt over his head, "Case ya can't see it in the mirror, it looks just like this." Tom turned and partially dropped his pants, revealing the puckered pink and gray scar on his hip.
"How'd you get that?" Will asked, staring at the scar, then reading the med-scan on the screen.
Tom shrugged, buckled his pants and retrieved his shirt from the floor, "Wouldn't have noticed it myself without the help of a special friend," His insolent grin returned, "You celibate now?"
He understood the innuendo, the thoughts it spawned twisted his gut tighter. "I don't suppose you have a theory?"
"Nope, but I'm working on it."
"What you're driving at is a little nuts ya know."
"Yep," Tom nodded, still completely unaffected, "Ya ever hear of the Razor's Edge?"
Will swallowed, his throat suddenly dry, "Yea, why." he answered cooling, still unwilling to completely trust Tom. This ship and its crew were the people he should be depending on, and even with the curves they'd thrown him, forming an alliance with Tom Riker turned his stomach.
"I found diathadon resin on the hull of my ship, thought it was odd. Didn't see any mention of it in your report though," Tom walked out of the room and flopped into the chair in the corner, his legs kicked out in front of him, his arms draped over the sides, he appeared a man without a care in the world, "Was also wondering why it took this new improved Enterprise ten days to get here from sector 461?" Will heard the additional accusation, muffled through the bathroom wall, and for a moment he just stood there thinking.
"Ok," he finally answered, drawing a deep breath before moving to stand in front of Tom, "I'll tell ya what I know, but I'm not screwing my friends."
"If they're your friends." Tom said, his expression, steady and damning never wavered
For a half hour Will paced and talked, recounting every event he remembered and even those the Enterprise crew had suggested were only assumed. Tom's eyes never moved from the PADD in his hand, his only response was the hum of Tom's information scrolling over his screen.
"Ya know." Will finally stopped beside Tom's chair, "I hate to throw logic into this little conspiracy theory you seem to be building, but sinc...."
"Then don't. Just let me do my job."
"Your job is to prove that I'm a liar."
"No," Tom grunted and placed the PADD on the arm of the chair. "Those are my orders, my job is to understand why your crew has seen fit to give a different account then you have, and why my superior is seeing fit to ignore the fact that I could be a security risk. Director Lund would just as soon shoot one of his own then risk a breech and yet I can disappear for weeks and return with no memories of a plasma burn, and no idea how my ship got charred by a substance only found on the other side of the quadrant from where I allegedly was." He leaned forward on his knees, so confident with his ludicrous theory Will had to bite back a smile. "And do you know why," he continued, "Because they already goddamn know where we were, their objective seems to be to keep it from us."
Will snorted a laugh, "I don't know exactly what it is you do, but you've been doing it too long, you've lost total control."
"Have you read the bridge account of your recovery?"
"Yea, several times."
"Humor me and read it again, and keep in mind the type of ship you were on." He handed Will the PADD and slouched back down in the chair, his undaunted conviction almost as palatable as the PADD in his hand.
Hesitant that he might be drawn into Tom's twisted thinking he read the account carefully, backtracking several times to make sure he understood each bridge officers observations.
"Do you see it?" An impatient breath and the increased tapping of his boot against the carpet followed Tom's question, "Whether you were conscious or unconscious or somewhere in between you couldn't have done what they say you did."
He was right, Data said the ship was being deliberately forced to feed back on itself, but at the same time that the shields were being manually manipulated, the power surges were being lessened. Unless he had arms that were seven feet long he couldn't have done it alone, someone else had to have been on the ship.
"If somebody else was on that ship, what happened to them?"
"Simultaneous beam out maybe, cloaked ship?" Tom's head tilted thoughtfully, his vague smile displaying his pleasure that Will finally understood. " might explain what happened to that explosive you were so bent on the existence of. We should get going," he added, slapping his hands against the arm of his chair and standing up.
"Get going, get going where."
"Razor's Edge, seems as good a place to start as any."
"Are you nuts, I can't just go AWOL on a Tom Riker hunch." He couldn't help chuckling, "you haven't even proven anything, except maybe I wasn't alone on the ship, it's hardly grounds to launch a crusade against the federation."
"Suit yourself." Tom stood up and tucked his PADD in the pocket of his jacket. "Iíll file my report and be on my way. Good Luck Will," he added, his thumb hovering over the transport cuff.
"What report!" Tomís deadpan expression, unemotional tone and cavalier posture were far from threatening, but to Will every mannerism was peppered with it.
"Nothing conclusive, just my findings on unauthorized and scrambled transmissions sent from your computer." He tipped his head towards the flashing terminal. Will narrowed his eyes at the Cardassian lettering on the screen. "And of course the tap into the Enterprise bridge logs and subsequent deletion of the findings."
"You son of a bitch." Willís tempered flared for only an instant, he smacked his hand against the Comm terminal and severed the breech in his system. "Theyíll never believe it."
"I know." Tom shrugged. "I figure it will only take em about five months to trace the transmission, figure out it was ruse to set you up. Should fuck up your life for awhile though."
"And yours when they figure out it was you."
"Not like I havenít been in that position before, Iím not concerned." Tom smiled one of those slow, smug grins he knew too well. "How about you."
Determined not to let Tom Riker get the better of him, Will shrugged and smiled the same smug grin. "Iíll handle it."
"Good." Tom touched the transport cuff then stopped, "And just so ya know, I tapped Deannaís terminal too..... much more fun being dragged through the mud with a beautiful woman." He continued his transport before Will could respond.
Willís long angry steps down the curved corridor of the Saturn outpost matched the glare on his face and forced more then one officer to hedge away from him as he moved to Director Lundís office.
It had been over an hour since Agent Tom had left his quarters yet he hadnít heard anything from his captain, he had to assume that meant either Tom had had a moment of good conscience or heíd been detained. As far as he was concerned Tom didnít have a conscience, which meant he was detained; giving him an opportunity to intercept the report before it was filed.
"Two can play spy games," he thought, pausing outside Lundís door in response to the muffled voices inside and their topic of conversation.
"What about the Rikers?"
He could only assume it was Lund's voice he heard; low and flat, the typical monotone of an Aries operative. But the other voice, the one that responded with, "Theyíve served their purpose, eliminate them." was more then familiar and just as unemotional.
<Captain, > he thought, leaning against the wall straining to hear the two voices that had lowered to whispers.
The hiss of the lift doors behind him forced him to give up his position, turn away from the office with only the fragments of the conversation heíd been able to hear. He nodded nonchalantly to the young officer that stepped past him and walked calmly until the young man entered the office across from Lund. His slow steps evolved into a slow trot and finally an outright run as he made his way to the flight-bay to warn Tom.