~Close your eyes, click your heels together three names and repeat after me, There's a disclaimer here.... there's a disclaimer here.~
Shrouded in darkness, his eyes closed tightly, he moved rough, unbridled hands over the flesh beneath him. It was smooth, warm, responsive to his touch, eager to please him, grant him an escape from the limbo he existed in. He pumped into her harder, shielding himself from the unfamiliar scent, the alien moans, concentrating only on his own release, his own satisfaction. His body shuddered, waves of unrestrained pleasure lashed over him, causing his heart to beat as it once had, warm blood to replace the ice in his veins. In a weakened heap he fell on top of her, his mind regaining control of his body, his sham of satisfaction collapsing.
He rolled off of her, wanting nothing more then to tell her to go, leave his office, come back the next time he felt the need. But even he hadn't become that cruel. When she curled into him, he stroked a gentle hand over her silky shoulder, pretending to bask in the afterglow as she was. Her hands tangled in his chest hair, her breath kissed his skin, the fragrance of her hair reached his nose and caused his blood to run cold.
"You should get going." He whispered, masking how urgent it was that she leave him now, give him time alone to lick his wounds, forgive himself for falling prey to his physical urges. She drew a breath to answer, the chirping of his communication terminal silenced whatever she'd planed on saying, and gave him the out he needed.
"Make yourself scarce," He said, lifting his shoulder off the floor, jarring the head that rested on it with more force then he'd planed. She seemed unaffected, his callous behavior rewarded with a soft kiss on his lips.
He tugged on his pants, tossed on his shirt, and waited until he was sure she was safely out of sight before accessing the lights, and the communiqué.
"Deanna." Not surprised as her face, bitter and consistently unemotional appeared on the screen.
If it was possible, her eyes grew colder, looked him over suspiciously, never mentioning what he was sure she knew.
"Have you taken care of the house?"
"No, I was hoping to see my son first."
"He isn't home, he's at a friends, and I won't be able to get out of here for a couple hours," She paused, her eyes surpassing cold began to launch icy daggers that still managed to pierce the shield he'd built around his heart.
"You've been gone.... how long this time.....a month, I don't think another couple hours is going to hurt you. I want the house sold."
Ok, she had a point, his trips had been getting longer, those that should have taken only days, he'd managed to finagle into weeks.
"Fine, but I'm not sure this is the right thing." His voice unveiled emotion, he inwardly cursed it for betraying him.
"If you don't want anything there I'll have Beverly sell it!" Her voice elevated, teetering on the shrill insistent nagging he'd grown to expect, and learned to avoid.
"I'll take care of it." He replied, gripping the arms of the chair so tightly his knuckles grew white.
That was it, she was gone, terminated the communication as easily as she'd terminated their life together. But then she really hadn't terminated it, neither of them had, they were still married, still playing mom and dad for their son, still playing the happy couple, at least for those who didn't know them well.
"I'm leaving now."
The outlet for his physical needs announced her departure and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Bye, you were incredible." He recited his perfectly rehearsed good bye, and punctuated it with a look of sincerity he'd mastered over the years.
She kissed him, then smiled, the genuine smile of a lover. It bothered him, shellacked another layer of guilt over this tarnished mask he wore.
Riker lowered his head, gathered his coat tighter around his neck, protecting himself from the icy rain. The walkway to the house was longer then he'd remembered, every step taking more courage then the last. He tried to ignore the rows of yellow roses that lined the path, but as if they felt shunned by his lack of attention, they spiraled on the stormy winds, there silky petals, falling at his feet and sticking to his damp skin.
Only four steps led up to the stained glass door, four steps he'd at one time taken all at once, four steps now that seemed like four thousand.
He remembered running up those steps, crashing through the front door and wrapping his arms around his life. But now those same steps would only lead him to a chilling, lonely memory of what once was. Swallowing his memories, his intense need to turn away, lie to Deanna again, tell her he'd taken what he needed, he stepped up.....Once, twice, three times, almost changing his mind again on the fourth step.
"It's just a house." He persuaded himself, taking the final step, the one that would force him to face again what he'd tried so hard to escape.
He gripped the handle of the door like a man, a man who'd captained the star ship of the federation, a man who had faced death hundreds of times, and feared nothing. But with the dread of a child, afraid of the monsters under his bed, he released it again.
"There's nothing here I want." He said, his mind instantly rejecting what he'd said, propelling his hand to rest again on the door handle.
With a deep breath he twisted it, leaned against the door, and pushed it open with his shoulder. It seemed to groan in protest, moan in warning, he disregarded it, and stepped inside. The air was cold and stagnant, his castle of hopes and dreams reduced to a crypt of nightmares, and despair.
He walked quickly through the living room, his footprints disturbing the thin layer of dust that blanketed the floor. Leaning against the arched doorway to the kitchen, he tried to remember, tried to resurrect the sounds of laughter, the discussions of life and futures that had once drawn him to this room like a magnetic force. Silence, the hollow sounds of an empty, lonely house slaying any hopes he'd had for a lapse in his pain.
He moved back through the living room, keeping his misted eyes forward, ignoring the portraits on the walls, and the tokens of his life that sat undisturbed throughout the room.
Stopping at the bottom of the winding stairwell he clenched the banister with a white knuckled grip and stared ahead of him. An inner voice, loud and brash warned him to turn back, but a fainter one, that seemed to play in repetition in the air drew him forward.
The knife in his heart twisted, deepening his open wounds as against his better judgment he glanced into the master bedroom. He turned away from the perfectly preserved shrine to his past, years of happiness suffocated beneath a thin layer of plastic. He turned his gaze to the vacant room across from it, they'd allowed Jacen to take his old things to the new home, or house, to him it was far from a home. It was more like an asylum, a fruitless way, a stupid way, to move on without ever having to look into the eyes of the past. But Deanna had insisted, and his own guilt, his own anger and fears had pushed him to agree. He'd hoped that she was right, that starting over was what they needed, but putting a fresh coat of paint on a crumbling surface hadn't been able to save the structure.
With more resolve then he thought he had left in his emotionally drained body, he wrapped an unsteady hand around the handle of the door at the end of the hall. It squeaked as it turned, as he breached the seal that had been placed on it over a year ago. The door opened, a backwash of pain and memories hitting him with a physical force that caused him to fall back, his knees to buckle. He steadied himself on the wall, forcing away the nausea that was threatening him.
From where he stood he could see her bed, untouched by the year that had past, it urged him forward. He crumbled on top of it, desecrating the pink satin with his tears. Her dolls looked at him, wide eyes and painted smiles watching as this hulk of a man shrunk and withered into a sobbing child.
"She's not coming back." He choked, swiping an angry hand over the porcelain doll that mocked him, taking pleasure in the shattering sound as it struck the night stand, and crumbled to the floor. He rolled to his back, through blurred vision he watched the replica of the Enterprise that stood guard over her bed. A liquid chuckle infiltrated his sobs of grief, it dripped with the irony that this replica was all that was left of his life in starfleet. The counsel had thought he could serve them much better at the academy, a polite way of saying we can't trust you to do your job, your obsession with your daughter is hindering your performance. He resigned his commission instead, giving up his exploration of the stars, instead focusing all his time and thoughts on finding his little girl. That, like the rest of his life hadn't turned out the way he'd planed. There were no clues, no evidence, no leads to follow that would help him, it was as if she'd vanished in a puff of smoke; one moment safe in her bed, the next gone without a trace.
He sat up, swung his feet over the side of the bed and peered out the window. The rain outside continued to torment the roses that climbed the trellis, there fragile blooms knocking against the glass as if they were begging him to save them. He moved to the window, opened it, and snatched a bloom in his hand. Handling it with the reverence one would give to the dead or the dying he placed it the small ivory vase on the desk.
"For you Breeze," He said, stepping back and smiling, knowing if she could see, she'd be smiling too. Briana Riker had been born eight years ago next week, she'd swept into their lives a month early, born on the Enterprise instead of the carefully planned home birth they'd mapped out. Geordi had managed to get a message to the surface, cut through the heavily guarded negotiation chamber he'd been spending his days and nights in. He'd been able to get back to the ship just in time to see seven pounds, five ounces of heaven enter the world. From the moment he'd looked into her jet-black eyes, stroked a finger over her pink, and wrinkled cheek, she'd captured his heart, and walked away with a piece of his soul.
Jacen was the son he'd always wanted, Briana, or Breeze as she duped herself when she was a little under two, was the daughter he didn't know he'd wanted until he'd wrapped her in his arms.
He stepped back further, stumbling over the chest that peeked out from under the bed. He sent it a spiteful look, not only for disturbing his tranquil memories, but for being the source of his strained relationship with Deanna.
On one knee he knelt in front of it, an unsteady hand pulling it from under the bed, and lifting the lid. Narrowed eyes moved over the things Deanna had packed away that day, the day she'd blamed him for Briana's disappearance. The memory sent a chill up his spine. The woman that had only looked at him with a gentle understanding, an unconditional approval, and the deepest of commitments, transformed; her hatred and contempt slashing over him with razor sharp claws that took whatever had been left of William Riker. And then his own anger had bubbled to the surface, the result; a heated exchange of accusations, cruel insults, words that could never be revoked, severing a love he'd thought was eternal.
He smashed the side of his fist on the cover, it slammed shut, splintering the hand painted wood with a loud crack. He considered destroying it, taking out his frustrations and anger on the delicately painted chest. He inhaled, a deep, soothing breath, its release came in unsteady bursts, that temporarily eased his temper.
When Deanna packed this chest, before the war erupted, she'd taken great pangs to stow the things she'd felt were important, the treasures she'd wanted to keep. He didn't agree with her decision to sell this house, rid themselves of any physical reminders of Breeze.
<Someday she may want these things> He thought, snapping the lock closed, and grunting as he lifted it off the floor. <And for once, I'm going to have what she needs.>
As Will pulled into the parking accommodations for The Jagged Edge, he knew it was a mistake, that stopping at a bar, even with reason, was only going to give Deanna more cause to give him shit when he got home. He shutdown without giving himself anymore time to evaluate the repercussions, and stepped out of his vehicle.
<Five minutes Riker, that’s all it will take.> He thought, trying to convince himself even as he leaned his shoulder against the heavy door. He nodded to the overly pumped man that awaited him as the door creaked opened, and moved his eyes over the room. Spotting an empty seat at one of the smaller tables behind the stage he made his way to it, ignoring the shoulder slaps and familiar greetings that weren’t really meant for him, but for the man he was looking for.
"Obliteration." He ordered, smiling at the barmaid who hardly allowed him time to sit before taking his order.
His drink was presented to him within seconds, accompanied by a suggestive smile and a few choice words of how much she seemed to need physical contact. He mask his chuckle, instead tilting his head and eyeing her with a "we’ll see" look that sent her away with a throaty laugh.
He had to admit there was an ambiance to this place that caused his blood to run a little hotter, his heart to beat a little faster, and his mind to drift away for a moment.......Or maybe it was just the acidic burn of the Obliteration he’d downed. He smiled to himself and scraped his empty glass against the grooves of age embedded in his table, watching halfheartedly as the singer took the stage; her voice, low and breathless fit perfectly with the surroundings. He took a minute to admire her, her electric-blue dress setting off her flawless, milky skin and the curls of liquid fire that cascaded over her shoulders.
<This must be Tom’s draw.> He thought, accepting the offer of another drink that was offered to him.
He watched the barmaid walk away, (not a painful thing to do), and startled slightly as the man he was looking for slid into the seat across from him.
"I’m finding this encounter a bit disconcerting." Tom grinned, only allowing his gaze to be pulled from the singer to Will for very short periods of time.
"Sorry." Will said, following Tom’s gaze to the stage, since it was obvious he wasn’t going to be granted his full attention, "I just need a quick favor Tom."
"Sure, whatever you need."
Will wrinkled his brows, the answer, and his brother’s unlikely obsession with this fiery redhead stirred him to study her a bit more closely. But it wasn’t the curvaceous figure of the woman that held his eye, it was the young man sitting at the table in front of the stage.
"Is that a Manarian?" He whispered, leaning closer to Tom.
His question awarded him Tom’s momentary attention, an affirmative nod, and narrowed eyes that soon returned to the stage as the singer wrapped up her melody of songs. Just for an instant Will forgot why he was here, and became more then interested in why the Manarian humanoid had left his own world, let alone found himself in a sleazy bar like this.
<Must be the mirrors on all the walls.> he thought, unaware he was shaking his head and blatantly staring at the jewel-studded, heavily made-up gentlemen. He’d learned more then he’d ever needed to know about this race about seven years ago while he was still captaining the enterprise. Three months of having several of the planets dignitaries onboard the ship while they partitioned for admittance into the federation had been more vanity, more self-absorption then he’d thought any life form was capable of. But when the federation had forced him to work with these mirror addicts (as he’d begun calling them), and he'd spent another two months on their planet, bargaining for the rights to their Tiraian alloy, he’d almost turned in his pips. Breeze’s birth had been the only positive that had come out of the futile negotiations, the rest had proven, as he’d predicted, a waste of Enterprise time.
"What do you want?" A finger snap in front of his face pulled him from his thoughts and drew his eyes to the disturbed blue gaze of Tom.
"Sorry." He answered, "I take it your obsession moves beyond the redhead?"
"Just a little." Tom grumbled, " and you’re being here, especially with that wide eyed, openmouthed gawk is screwing me up."
Tom didn’t wait for Will to respond, or for him to apologize again, leaning forward on the table he answered the question Will hadn’t yet asked.
"You want me to buy the house, consider it done." He said, his features softening with a deep understanding.
Will considered asking how, why, but what was the point, Tom was willing to help him no questions asked, and he was more then willing to let him.
"Thanks." He said, nodding his head, reinforcing his willingness to accept Tom’s offer.
"Sure...... now get out."
"K," Will said, drawing to his feet, casting one long look to the Manarian, and the rather confused and shifting gaze of the redhead, "Take it your little accomplice doesn’t know about me, she’s looking a bit setback."
Tom smiled, a devilish smile, "Maybe she’s just considering the possibilities."
"Yea, that’d be my guess." He said cynically, slapping Tom on the shoulder and heading towards the exit.
The warped wooden door creaked shut behind him, he leaned against it and let the misty rain blow against his face. Part of him, a large part, felt compelled to go back inside, become involved in whatever Tom Riker and his security team were up to. But a small part of him, the part that still held out hope that he and Deanna had a chance at a life together pulled him away from the door, and into the foggy night.
<God, I don't want to lie to her again.> He thought, licking his lips, tasting the salty spray of the ocean that mixed with the cool mist.
<Maybe I won't have to, maybe this time it will be different.>
Deanna Riker shed the clothes that seemed to reek with the problems she'd dealt with today and tossed them on the chair to be cleaned later. It was ironic in a way that she spent her days, and quite a few evening counseling others, instructing them to be honest with their feelings, not shirk the stressful problems that stem from being a part of Starfleet.
Reaching into the closet, her hand brushed against his shirt, his favorite shirt, the one he would be looking for tonight when he got home.
"Home," She whispered under her breath, wishing this was a home. With a tug, she pulled the shirt off the hanger, crumpled it in her hands, and brushed it against her face.
Inhaling deeply, a tear fell from her eye, unwanted, and certainly hopeless, they refused to give her peace. Drawing another breath, his scent surrounding her, she could almost remember perfection. With a grief-stricken hand that trembled with guilt and despair she hung the shirt up, refusing to dwell on it. She knew he blamed her, for Briana's disappearance. She shivered remembering his eyes that day, the placid blue, the look of eternal adoration transforming into a dark, almost black look of disappointment and rage. She'd also spoken in anger, thrown venomous remarks, tried to lay blame on anyone, anything that could alleviate her guilt over losing her daughter.
Briana, or Breeze as he called her was his life, Daddy's little girl in every sense of the word. Will had wanted a son so badly, when Jacen was born, his joy, his pride had been almost tangible. But Briana's birth, unexpectedly to her at least, had hit him harder, and more profoundly then she'd ever thought possible. It was almost as if when their eyes had met, father and daughter had established a bond that was beyond explanation. She tugged on some clothes and sat down like a rag doll on the end of the bed, calming the ghosts of memories that haunted her mind.
She knew he'd be home soon; calling her name, and as always, his voice, familiar and soothing would wrap around her like a warm breeze. It was always the same, she’d be filled with hope that their lives would somehow be miraculously repaired. She’d answer his call, she’d go to him, but invariably he’d smile a certain smile, wrinkle his brows a certain way, or repeat a phrase that reminded her of Briana, and her hopes of ever being able to be near him without remembering would be dashed. She sighed, long and deep, then gasp at the acute sting that shot up her back. Her hand instinctively reached behind her, her head turned, but her eyes closed, her body numbed, her consciousness faded to black.
A disgusted burst of air left Will's lips as he shutdown in the driveway outside his home. The entire house was dark, not even the motion sensitive lights of the drive seemed to want to welcome him.
<Maybe it's better this way,> He thought, reaching under the seat beside him and pulling out the palm lantern he kept for emergencies. This wasn't the first time he'd returned home to find Deanna had conveniently scheduled something or another that would interfere with her seeing him. Every time it happened he'd tell himself he wasn't going to be hurt, but he could already feel the heavy ache in his chest, and the burn in his throat. But then this pain wasn't nearly as severe as the one he felt when she looked at him, or could hardly look at him, as if she despised him so much, the sight of him physically nauseated her.
Opening his door he stepped out and shined his light into the back of his vehicle.
"Least I can get this in without her seeing it." He said, unlocking the hatch, lifting it and pulling Briana's chest out.
Deanna had suggested he use the guest house for his study when they'd moved into this rickety old house, saying he'd have more privacy. As always he'd bowed down to her wishes, avoiding an argument at all costs, but he knew her real motivation was to keep him as far away from her as she could. Truth was he didn't want privacy, he enjoyed hearing Deanna's movements, Jacen's constant interruptions, and the annoying volume he used when listening to his music.
Propping his leg on the bench outside the door, he rested the chest on his knee, and reached for the door handle. The door swung open as his fingers brushed against it, the unlocked and ajar door immediately kicked his suspicions into overdrive.
As quietly as he could he placed Breeze's chest on the creaky old bench and dimmed his lantern. Maybe he'd spent too many years onboard starships, but shrugging off anything even slightly out of the ordinary was something he'd never been able to do. Snaking a cautious hand around the door frame he accessed the lights before pushing the door open further.
"Son of bi...." He grumbled, stepping inside, darting his eyes over the shambles in front of him before a surge of panic lashed over him.
Without thought, without grabbing a weapon, he sprinted towards the house, the sound of his feet slapping against the white pebbled walkway drowned out by his heart as it pounded in his ears.
Stopping just short of the back door, he listened for a moment before twisting the antique knob with a sweaty hand and opening it slowly. The door creaked, just like everything in this chilling old house, he shushed it with a reprimanding wave of his hand. Turning in a full circle he shined his light over the kitchen, noting everything in its place he pushed open the door that led to the living room.
His heart rate slowed, finding everything in tact in all the rooms he entered. Starting up the stairs he took two steps at a time, moved to his son's room, turned on the light, and released a shaky sigh of relief when he found it empty.
"Thank God," He said to himself, relaxing his shoulders and turning on the light in the hallway, the comfort of the light further easing his fears. Taking a half step around he spotted the silhouette on their bed, he moved towards it, stumbling over the things that were strewn on the floor.
"Deanna!" His voice shot up, his hand reached for the pulse in her neck; it pumped loud and strong against his fingers.
"Deanna!" He repeated with a gentle shake.
His third attempt to wake her was met with a soft moan and what sounded like his name.
"Don't move," He cautioned, accessing the light by the bed. It cast its usual romantic glow as she called it, but did shit when it came to examining her.
"I'm fine Will." She whispered in a groggy voice, sitting up, ignoring his insistence that she stay still.
"Where's Jacen?" He asked, brushing dark wisps of hair from her face, scrutinizing her features as best he could.
"At a friends. I.....I must have fallen asleep."
He didn't mention the fact that their bedroom was in as much chaos as his study, and that she probably hadn't fallen asleep, but had been drugged. Instead he pressed a kiss against her forehead and drew her to him, momentarily forgetting their circumstances.
For almost a full minute she relaxed into him, her face buried in his chest, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist.
"What happen here?" She said suddenly, interrupting the moment, pushing away from him, her eyes widening as they moved over the room.
"I don't know, somebody was looking for somethin, that's for sure."
"What?" Her voice trembled, her eyes sought his, looking for an answer and a reassurance, once again he couldn't offer. In an effort to avoid her imploring look, he crawled across the bed, his hand resting on something thick and sticky before he was able to turn on the other light.
"This is blood," He noted, massaging his fingers together before bringing them to his nose.
With a wave of his hand he accessed the light, a look of horror he couldn't quite prevent crossed his features as he noticed the amount of blood that soaked the sheets. His eyes followed the crimson stains, a bloody trail that led to Deanna's shirt; her pink pastel blouse a deep burgundy. With an urgent jerk he pulled the fabric up and away from her skin.
"What are you doing?!" She snapped, batting his hand away from her blouse.
"The bottom of your shirt is soaked with blood, can't you feel it?"
She shook her head and reached her hand to her back, "It's numb, I can't feel anything?"
"Take it off Deanna."
She didn't hesitate in following his suggestion, without unbuttoning it she tugged it over her head.
He ignored her, running one hand, then both over her bloodstained, but uninjured skin.
"Do we still have the med-scanner from the Enterprise?" He lifted his eyes to hers, "Because I don't see anything that would have caused this."
"Maybe the blood belongs to whoever did this."
He nodded.... Unable to hide his doubtful expression he lifted from the bed and hurried into the bathroom. Opening the cupboard, he caught a glimpse of Deanna in the mirror, her hands massaging her legs apprehensively, her eyes glistening with confusion and obvious fear. The image awoke an eerie sensation in him, an intense feeling, a dull memory that caused him to outwardly shiver.
"Are you all right Will?"
<Are you all right Will?> Her question revolved in his mind, the feeling increased, his stomach churned, beads of icy sweat dripped down his back. He squeezed his eyes closed tightly, trying to look beyond the misted pane of glass his mind was showing him, see beyond the foggy distortion.
"Will." The anxious voice was accompanied by a gentle touch on his arm.....Almost instinctively he lashed out at it, spinning around, he clenched his fist.
"Don't touch her!" Tumbled from his lips with a venomous growl, his readied fist just missing her face as she ducked out of the way.
"What are you doing!"
Her face, angry and confused broke through his foggy memory.
"I....I thought I was somewhere else......I don't know.....delayed adrenaline rush maybe."
"Delayed adrenaline rush?" Her brows raised incredulously, "You tried to hit me."
"I wasn't swinging at you.... I was.... I was swinging at somebody else....somebody who was threatening.... somebody else." He blew out a defeated breath, "Maybe it was the drinks I had earlier combined with coming home to this......"
"When did you have drinks?"
<Shit,> He thought, chastising himself for the slip. He straightened his shoulders and waited for the bomb to drop. Amazingly it didn't, she didn't bother asking again, and the soft look of concern in her eyes held.
"We should scan the blood and call the authorities .....and then you should rest.....I'm sure today was difficult for you." Her tone suggested sincerity, her eyes, though unable to hold his for long, sang the same tune.
"You're right," He answered, offering her a weak attempt at a reassuring smile.
Trying to mask his unsteady steps he practically back stepped into the bedroom, keeping an ever watchful eye on the mirror as if it held the answer to his worst nightmare.
Tom Riker slouched further down in his seat and cursed under his breath. His narrowed and suspicious blue eyes followed the Manarian male as he pushed away from his table, obviously uninterested and unimpressed with his partner's stunning good looks. For two months he'd been conducting surveillance of these unlikely visits from the Manarians, he'd more or less assigned himself to the job since no one else seemed to find it odd. He had nothing more then a nagging feeling that something about their renewed interest in Earth wasn't right, the same feeling he'd had when the federation bent over and kissed their egotistical asses to be awarded the rights to Manara's alloys. The tiraian would have been a breakthrough in starship construction, fortifying the hull to withstand most any attack, even with loss of shields. That was assuming they were actually able to manufacture the substance. He'd been on the planet once before it was shut off to off-worlders, and he could see no way that the planet's environment would supply them with the metals they were waving in front of Starfleet's face.
He ran a hand over his head, tousling his hair and nodded discreetly to Erin as she took the stage again. He considered ordering another drink, but when the Manarian accompanied by a young blond woman stood up and began to leave the pub, he decided to follow. Hovering in the doorway long enough for Erin to see his intend and the bizarre couple to turn the first corner he stepped out into the misted night. He plunged his hands in his jacket pocket, breathed in the crisp air, and attempted to appear as nonchalant as possible. He'd never bothered doing this before, after all the guys sex life was his own business. Even though from what he understood about the race their sexual techniques were different then humans, and he honestly wasn't sure why, or how these guys were capable of screwing these incredible women, or why in hell theses incredible women would want to be screwed by a guy that was prettier then they were. He shook his head as he turned the corner, preventing his mind from painting him any pictures.
He stopped, turned his head from right to left, then looked again in front of him at the empty street.
"Dam-" His word was choked off by the arm, or better yet, tree trunk that wrapped around his throat.
"What do you want?" The voice definitely fit the arm, low and deep, it boomed over the deserted street.
"I....wa." He choked, reaching his hands up, trying to prevent the pressure on his throat, "Can't talk...." Squeaked from his mouth.
"You're in the way."
<Who is this goon?> He thought, knowing by the size he sure wasn't Manarian, and by the increased pressure on his throat he wasn't really looking for answers to his questions. With both elbows and the heel of his right boot he kicked back, striking the monster in the stomach and if he wasn't mistaken the groin. The man stumbled back, but only slightly, his arm easing around Riker's throat. Riker dropped down, his head slipping out of the man's grasp, he rolled on the ground, then scrambled quickly to his feet.
"Whoa, hold on!" Tom said, raising his hands as this gorilla disguised as a man approached him, "I was only taking a walk."
"You are lying!"
The growl came simultaneously with a swing of a fist. Riker dropped again, rolling away with a groan as his body struck the pavement.
"You're pissing me off now." He warned, rolling his eyes at himself as he basically threatened the guys navel. Running away would have been Riker's best bet, but then he'd never know why this guy was bent on hurting him.
"You must die now......I am sorry."
If it wasn't for the fact that he feared having his extremities ripped from their sockets he would have laughed at the childlike innocence of the beast's apology.
"Nqa'Chuq!" Tom snarled, bending at the waist and barreling forward. His head slammed into the man's stomach, his arms latched around the guys waist, using all his body weight and then some to throw him off balance. It worked, the guy lurched back, his bulk slamming him with a harsh crack against the stone walk, and cushioning Riker's fall. For a fraction of a second Riker was in control, but two sharp blows to the man's face was all he could get off before he was thrown to his back. His groan was suffocated by the single hand that squeezed his throat, he choked and battled under the man's weight, his attempts slowing as his body demanded a breath.
About the time he'd decided this was it, he'd lived a fairly long life and there were far worse ways to die, the grip on his throat slipped. He gasped, the breath he inhaled knocked from his lungs as the beast fell in an unconscious heap on his chest.
"Wher....the hell were you!" His reprimand to Erin losing it's impact as it sputtered from his lips on a hoarse whisper.
"I had to finish my song."
"Your---s-ong?" He rumbled, the human stasis field rolling off him with Erin's help. He breathed deep, massaged his throbbing throat and tried to think of the most painful way to kill her.
"So, who's husband is that?" She asked matter-of-factly, looking down on him with a half smile as if he was basking on the beach instead of struggling to recapture his life.
"Ya know," Scratched over his throat, he cleared it, hoping to rid his voice of its squeaky tone, "I'm a goddamn old man.... I don't bring you along for your charm and good looks, I bring you along so shit like this doesn't happen to me."
"I did exactly what you told me," She said defiantly, "I became a red head, used these stupid breast enhancers, which by the way I hate, sang smoky songs and played nice with the Manarian......You never said I had to protect you from irate husbands."
"Get off that! He's not an irate husband, but I'm an irate boss, an...."
"You're right, he's not." She interrupted, kneeling beside the man, "This necklace is the same one the gentlemen in the bar was wearing."
"Well he sure as hell isn't Manarian, but you're right, that's a Machite stone." He scooted towards her, unwilling and unable to stand up. Machite was a reflective gem, swirled with colors that changed to flatter the wearer.....Not surprisingly the big goon's was black.
"Chanar's was black also, with a trace of burgundy, just like this one."
He could almost see the wheels spinning behind her emerald eyes, "Don't even say it, just for once put all your mystical beliefs to bed."
Erin was a Naja, a race admitted to the federation only in the last few years, her kind were extremely intelligent, technologically advanced, but for a reason he couldn't quite comprehend they still believed in all the mystical mumbo jumbo of their ancestors. He'd gotten use to it since hiring her and had learned to cut her off before she developed any convoluted theories.
"I know what we have to do!" He said, taking her by the arm, pulling her away from the body and into the twenty-fourth century instead of the tenth, "I think I know how we can get on Manaria."
"How?" She asked, her heavily made-up eyes flashing with doubt.
"We're wasting our time here on Earth, they're not going to let their guard down here.....I say we smuggle ourselves in when this... what did you call him, leaves."
"Chanar....and how to you suggest we do that?"
"Cargo hold, we'll just be excess baggage."
"Bullshit!" She snapped, pulling her arm from his hand.
"Hey, I'm the boss, and I say we can do it."
"I don't care if you're God, I'm not going!"
"Sure you are.....trust me, I have a plan."
Will flinched as the door to his study slammed shut with a jarring force.
"I'm sorry!" He called to the closed door, closing his eyes as the picture on the wall fell to the floor and shattered.
"So stupid Riker!" He chided himself, smashing his fist on the desk.
For the past two hours they'd spent time with the useless local authorities, time in the hospital where they'd prodded Deanna for what seemed an eternity looking for the source of the blood. She was tense and scared when they could find no injuries on her and the blood had proven to be hers. It was the first time since Breeze's disappearance she'd needed him, actually looked to him for support.
"And then what do you do, suggest bringing Tom Riker's security team in on it.....Jerk, jerk!"
Deanna only tolerated Tom, his lifestyle, his choice of professions, and his constant suggestions that Will join him in the business, only a few of her complaints about him. But her aversion to him had intensified since Breeze's disappearance, sometimes he wondered if it was because she hated him so much, she was merely projecting it to Tom......He knew she couldn't look at Tom, and when she did it was with the same haunting expression she awarded him.
<At least she didn't notice Breeze's chest.> He thought, lifting from his chair and moving outside to retrieve it.
He placed it on the floor and plopped down in front of it.
"This has been a really shitty day, wonder if it will make it better or worse to go through it?" It only took him a second to decide that worse was impossible.
He opened the cover apprehensively and ran his hand over the small blanket on top before pushing it aside. He found himself smiling as he lifted the doll hidden beneath it.
"Hello Anna." He said automatically.
The doll's large blue eyes stared back at him, he ran his hand over her ebony hair and shook his head. He couldn't even remember where the doll had come from, or a time when it wasn't at least in the same room as Breeze. Acknowledging the doll had become part of his life; when he came home, he'd kiss Anna, after kissing breeze, if he brought a gift home, he always brought one for Anna as well. Maybe it was silly, but he remembered one time picking up a rock from one of the planets the Enterprise had visited, then remembering he'd only taken one and beaming down to get another....Geordi had never let him live it down, and Data was probably still busting a circuit trying to understand. He sat Anna down beside him and smoothed her dress, hesitating before reaching for the holo-frame and activating it. The proudest smile he'd ever seen beamed back at him as Breeze held up her first fish; one any respectable fishermen would have thrown back before anyone saw how small it was. He found himself smiling again, broader this time.... He knew nothing would ever rid him of the constant ache he felt inside, but being around her things somehow made him feel better, not worse as he'd thought.
Two unmarked computer chips caught his eye, taking Breeze's picture and the doll with him he moved to his desk and sat down. Giving each a place of honor beside his computer he accessed the chips. Birth records, baby moments, medical reports, he studied them for a minute, then pressed back in his chair, still reading the entries of her birthday.
"That's odd." He leaned forward again, a few taps clearing up the muted text on the screen. But as he looked closer he could see it wasn't cleared up....It was an old trick, a bit like painting over a masterpiece to disguise it, it never worked; In his years with the federation he'd seen it tried, but only by very primitive species.
In moments he'd eliminated the fake, still wondering why anyone would want to hide birth records ......He read them as they were meant to be, and then again, and then again.
"This can't be right." He whispered, his fingers dancing over the controls. He was no medical marvel, but he knew enough about blood typing to know Breeze couldn't be type A if he and Deanna were both O. Running a preliminary DNA overlay he felt his heart rate increase, he shot a look to the closed door as if he could see through it and pin Deanna with his gaze. She'd never do this, something was wrong, he'd known Deanna forever, and the fact that he wasn't Breeze's father, it wasn't even worth addressing, it was completely insane.
He stared at the screen, then looked at the door, the screen, the door, the screen, the door.
"No way," He finally said, rolling his chair away from the desk, "I'm not slapping her across the face with this, not now, not ever!"
"Who are you talking to?"
He startled and snapped his head around, "Deanna!"
"Myself, I'm talking to myself." He watched her eyes drift to the open chest on the floor and scan the contents. As quickly as he could he shutdown the computer and deactivated the holo behind him.
"Are these the things you took from the house?" Her voice was calm, too calm, he shifted in his chair and considered knocking the doll under the desk. Before he could answer her, she knelt down, pulled a quilt from the chest and held it to her cheek, "I remember this.....this was Admiral Picard's grandmothers ....right?"
"Deanna, are you all right?"
"Of course," She replied, lifting her eyes, momentarily meeting his, then looking at the doll on the desk, "Hello Anna."
Will's brows shot up in disbelief, then furrowed as she walked over and picked it up.
" I ...." he hesitated, afraid that speaking might break whatever was happening here, "I was afraid...."
"That I'd be angry you brought them home," She shook her head, "I hope you remembered to say hello to Anna."
Her eyes finally rested on him, staring back at them he knew immediately why this was such a smooth encounter.
"Did you take the tranquilizer the doctor gave you?"
"Enough to give me the strength to clean up the blood in the bedroom."
"I told you I'd take care of it, why put yourself through that?"
She waved a limp hand, dismissing his statement, and placed the doll carefully back on the desk.
Will looked away from her, finding her lack of emotions more disconcerting then her out of control ones.
"Maybe you should go to bed Deanna. I'll walk you up to the house." He stood up and took her by the arm, his attempt to guide her to the door vetoed by a weak jerk of her arm that pulled it from his hand.
"I'm not some cold-hearted woman ya know....She was.... IS my daughter!"
<Yea, but is she mine?> Crept into his thoughts before he could stop it.
"I know, I only meant that you looked tired, and ma....."
"I came here to tell you," She interrupted, wiggling out of the way of the hands he tried to touch her with, "I talked to the O'Briens and they're going to keep Jacen for a couple days."
"I also was thinking about what you said.....about getting help." Her glassy eyes drifted, her expression, so placid, never wavered.
"From Tom?" He asked under his breath, afraid if he were wrong he'd upset her.
"NO.... not Tom, Beverly."
<Beverly!> He thought, <she'd know if the birth records had been tampered with, she was the attending physician.>
"But isn't she serving a stint on the Enterprise due to the virus on Malta 2."
"That's not far from here Will....If something happened to me up there," She tilted her head towards the house, "Beverly will find out what it was."
There was that look again, the one she'd had while dealing with the doctors and authorities earlier, the one that meant she needed him to support her.
"Deanna, I'm sure she's busy, and Captain La Forge may not want us onboard."
There, he'd said exactly the opposite of what he'd planed, he inwardly cursed himself.
"Will... I have to tell you something."
Maybe he was jumping to conclusions based on his findings, but her simple statement felt like he'd taken a blow to the stomach. For a second he just stared at her hand as she gestured to the couch, finally, getting hold of himself, he took a few steps and flopped onto the overstuffed cushions.
"I probably should have told you this before," She began, "But I th..."
"Maybe now isn't the time to share secrets Deanna, you're not yourself..." His words trailed off as he saw the determination in her half open eyes, he drew a deep breath and prepared himself for the worst.
"What happened tonight.....it's not the first time it's happened to me."
His defeated postured stiffened, "What are you talking about, you've woken up in a pool of blood before?"
"No..." She chewed her lip in frustration, then shook her head, "Never mind."
"Never mind!" His voice shot up and he had no intentions of staying calm for her sake, "Tell me now Deanna...I don't care how hard it is to explain, or even if it upsets you to talk about it.....Just say it!"
"Don't yell at me." She said, standing up, her body swaying.
"Fine, I won't yell, just sit back down before you fall down."
He could tell she was getting groggier, her eye lids fluttered, her arms hung loosely at her sides. A soft tug on her wrist brought her back down on the couch.
"How has this happened before, and when?"
"On and off for the past two years.."
"Two years?!" He snapped, instantly catching himself and holding up a hand of apology, "And what happens?" He questioned, curbing his sharp tone and rolling his shoulders to relax them.
"I get a sharp pain at the base of my spine, like a jagged piece of glass was cutting my skin....and then, and then I wake up.... but when I wake up I feel frightened, like something horrible just happened." Her eyes misted, goose bumps raised over her arms, "I thought it was a dream.... a nightmare.. until tonight when I saw your reflection in the mirror and watched your reaction."
The hairs on Riker's neck bristled, he ran a hand over them, tranquilizing his own memory, forcing himself to concentrate on hers.
"Go on." Was the best he could do, he laid his hand over the one she held in her lap.
"Your dark eyes, the angry and helpless tone in your voice, the way you lashed out with your fists....I'd seen it all before, night after night, in my dreams....those were the images that I couldn't call up.....until then all I could remember was the feelings." She laid her head down on the back of the couch, her heavy lids covering her eyes.
"Deanna," He whispered, squeezing the hand he held, "Deanna!"
"Great.... just great." He stood up and covered her with the quilt beside her.
"And you thought this day couldn't get worse." He whispered to himself, massaging his hands over his arms, stilling his fear and replacing it with logical thought.
Sitting back down at his desk, he cast a look over his shoulder before activating his communication screen. "You'll kill me in the morning I'm sure, but I'm cashing in on that favor Tom owes me."
"Age doesn't matter."
Tom chuckled, and looked down at the woman whose arms were wrapped around his neck.
"In the heat of passion, in the confines of the bedroom, our pleasures are all the same."
"That's probably true," He answered, taking her wrists in his hands and untangling them from his neck, "but eventually I'm gonna have to climb out of that bed, and maybe its me, but I'm not willing to help my lover with her homework."
"I don't have homework!" She answered defensively, momentarily losing the sultry look she was shooting for.
"Maybe not, but you did last year......And what about Ensign Adonis, you think he'd appreciate the fact that you're doing your boss." He continued chuckling as he moved away from her.
He'd be lying to himself if he said he wasn't flattered by Erin's advances, and he'd even considered it once or twice in a weak moment, but she was too good at her job, the best he'd ever seen, there was no way he was going to risk losing her just to get laid by the most beautiful women he'd ever met.
"He's a boy, you're a man."
"There are those who would argue that I'm afraid." He shot a smile over his shoulder and watched her red wig fall to the floor: her natural hair, as black as midnight fell over her shoulders.
"My parents taught me we're all one with the cosmos." She said, dropping her breast enhancers beside the wig.
"I doubt they meant that literally," He grinned, rolling his eyes and opening the drawer in front of him.
"Humans are such an irrational species, so many rules to govern simple decisions."
"Yea, " He snickered, "And you're the epitome of rational, or was that someone else on the drive home who tried to convince me Chanar was a werewolf."
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Pretty much, yea." He said flatly, "So if it wouldn't be too much to ask could you do your damn job and help me."
"Why....What are you doing?" She asked.
He saw her reach for the zipper of her dress, since he knew her cultures views on modesty, and he wasn't willing to relinquish his thought processes to a less logical part of his anatomy, he turned away from her.
"I need synthetic skin, if we're going to Manara I can't have a hairy body, and since I'm not willing to tolerate the re-growth of my chest hair, this will be the easiest way."
"And your facial hair?"
He could almost see the tickled smile on her face, unconsciously he scratched his fingers over his beard, and tried to act like it didn't really matter, "I guess I'll have to shave it."
"Oh, can I do it?"
He heard her footfalls moving towards him, and he didn't appreciate the eager tone in her voice, "If you're not dressed, don't come over here!"
"Another human absurdity." She sighed, "your kin...." The chirping of the communication terminal cut her off, "I'll get it!"
"Like hell you will." He snapped, spinning around quickly, "that's all I need is a naked women answering my messages."
"Yea, I bet that'd stir up the masses." She said sarcastically, parading her perfectly proportioned twenty something body in front of his NOT twenty something eyes.
"Get lost." He demanded with a wink, stabbing his thumb over his shoulder.
She smiled sweetly, maybe a little seductively, then ducked into the back room.
Tom accessed the communication as he sat down, a bit surprised when Will's face, pale and unusually shaken appeared on the screen.
"What's wrong with you? Christ, you look like you've seen a ghost."
Will waved good bye to Jacen and Miles as he pulled out of the O'Brien's drive, feeling a little better after seeing his son and knowing Deanna was safe with Keiko. He'd woke up this morning with Deanna's head on his chest, the familiar scent of her hair in his nose, and for a fraction of a second he felt whole again. That was until Deanna woke up and began second-guessing what she'd told him last night. Sometimes he found it hard to believe she was the same women he'd met on Betazed, the same woman he'd served with for so many years. Her ability to face her own feelings, positive or negative had been something he'd admired about her, but now the same woman who'd taught him to be honest with himself spent most of her life preventing herself from feeling anything. But then until yesterday, when he'd been forced to go to the house, confront his past instead of hiding from it, he'd been guilty of the same thing. At least she was talking to him, still insisting on seeing Beverly, he hoped that meant she wasn't going to shut herself off to reality again.
He chuckled to himself, admitting he'd done nothing but try and bury the disturbing feelings he had about the medical reports he'd found in Breeze's chest. He wasn't even sure he was going to ask Dr. Crusher about it, she was too close to Deanna, and if she thought that even for an instant he thought Deanna may have cheated on him...He groaned at the possibility of being on the receiving end of Beverly's temper.
He pulled into the drive of the old house, it didn't look nearly as intimidating under the vibrant blue sky, even the yellow roses seem to sparkle in the sunlight and bow there heads in welcome on the gentle breeze. Tom's vehicle was already in the drive, and the front door was open. His mobile communication unit chirped as he stepped onto the drive, he accessed it and sat back down.
"Geordi." He said, smiling widely at the Enterprise captain.
"Just Riker, not Captain." He corrected, looking past Geordi to what he could see of the familiar ready room.
Will rolled his eyes, old habits are hard to break he figured, deciding not to correct him; besides, it felt good being called Captain again.
"Have you made any headway with the virus on Malta?"
"Dr. Crusher has isolated it, seems it was just a strain of influenza, harmless, until it comes in contact with the genetic pattern of the Maltize, she's pretty sure she's found a way to counteract the effects."
Will nodded, feeling a bit nostalgic and a little jealous of the life Captain LaForge was living.
"About your request Captain, you don't have to ask permission to visit the Enterprise, you and Deanna are always welcome onboard."
Gerodi smiled his easy and infectious grin; Will returned one he hoped was as sincere.
"Thanks Captain, I'll let Deanna know, and we'll contact you before we leave."
"Looking forward to it."
"So am I Geordi, so am I."
The transmission terminated and for a brief second Will stared at the screen wistfully.
Drawing his eyes away and stepping out of the vehicle he spotted Tom in the doorway, the expression on his clean-shaven face inspiring him to pick up his pace.
"What?" He asked, craning his neck, trying to see past his brother.
"Looks like you've had some unwanted guests here as well." Tom stepped out of the way and motioned inside.
Will took a half step inside and stopped short, the house that had been a perfectly preserved shrine to his past was now littered with overturned furniture, broken statues, even the carpet had been pulled from the floor.
"What the hells going on?" He asked distractedly, walking all the way inside.
"I accessed your computers inventory, ran it through my scan......Nothings missing except a chest of Breezes."
"That's not missing, I took it yesterday, it's at the house." He stumbled over a large vase on the floor and kicked it forcefully, the translucent crystal shattered against the wall, tiny diamonds of glass rained over the ransacked room.
He half listened to Tom talk about the scans he'd run while he'd been waiting for him, mumbled a few yes or no answers to his questions, and continued to stagger around the downstairs. He lifted his foot to start up the steps, feeling a bit like someone had strapped weights around his ankles, a firm hand on his shoulder stopped his progress.
"The whole house is the same, there's no reason for you to go up there."
He jerked his head around, prepared to fire off an angry jab at the patronizing tone in Tom's voice, the young women in the doorway stilled him.
"I'm sorry to interrupt." She said, stepping uncertainly inside, her wary look directed at Tom.
"What are you doing here, I said I wouldn't be long."
As the young woman moved closer Will recognized her as the women from the bar the night before, at least he thought he did. Nothing about her was the same, her hair, her body, even the way she carried herself, but her eyes, the greenest he'd ever seen gave her away.
"I just thought you'd like to see this." Her posture relaxed once Tom's expression lightened, she smiled at Will as she handed Tom the Vid-news clip.
Tom considered it for a second, shook his head and handed it to Will. Will glanced down at the screen and read the print, his grip tightening on the tiny computer.
"Are you sure she's the same women?" He heard Tom ask.
Will lifted his eyes to Tom and tipped his head questioningly.
Tom glanced at the screen in Will's hand and released a troubled breath, his normally detached and self-assured expression, tense and unsettled. "Looks like Deanna wasn't the only one that woke up in a pool of blood last night, cept this lady wasn't so lucky."
Will shuffled up the drive to the house, veered around it and headed down the walk that led to his study. Deanna wanted to leave as soon as possible, actually now was the word she'd used, but he'd persuaded her to wait long enough for him to make arrangements with the office. Just another lie to add to the growing pile he'd already told, he was becoming so accomplished at the little eggshell dance he did around her, sometimes he offered a lie without even considering sharing the truth. But this lie seemed necessary, even in a state of wedded bliss he wouldn't have told her he was going back to the house to get a computer chip that suggested she might have been diddling the junior officers.
He screwed up his face at his own thought, swept a hand through his hair, and blamed that tasteless thought on spending too much time with Tom. Another reason why he'd wanted to stop here, check his computer before he headed to the shuttle bay, find out if Special Agent Tom had come up with any information on the young woman's murder.
He'd been so lost in his own thoughts he stumbled over the first step. The angry curse he prepared to fire off at the cracked and splintered stairs froze in his throat. A shadow passed in front of the door, the floor inside the study squeaked as whoever was inside took slow steps around the room. Not willing to risk stepping on the creaky steps, one long stride brought him up to the porch, he sidestepped cautiously to the window. Looking quickly, then ducking back, convincing himself that his imagination wasn't working on overtime, he tried to think. The guy was small, dressed completely in black and was hunched over Breeze's chest, gloved hands digging through the contents. He darted his eyes over the porch, not much in the way of weapons, not much in the way of anything; a gardening trowel, rusted, and bent at the tip seemed to be his only option. He picked it up and hoped like hell if it was pressed against an unsuspecting intruders back, it'd feel a lot like the barrel of a disrupter. He rolled his eyes, peeked inside, making sure the man hadn't moved and crept towards the door. He halted the step he'd begun to take, his foot hovering above the floor as he heard the man's footfalls inside. A cautious look around the partially opened door gave him the opportunity he needed, he hesitated only for a moment as the hooded man wrapped his hand around Anna and pulled her from the desk. Three quick sprints brought him in and gave him the chance to slam the metal of the trowel against the man's back.
"Don't move!" He demanded. The man froze and raised his hands beside his head, his gloved hand still hanging on to the doll.
"Who are you!" Riker said, thrusting the trowel tighter against the man's back.
The man stayed silent, not flinching at the added pressure Riker was putting on him. Will opened his mouth to speak, and lifted his hand, prepared to turn this unknown around, unveil this mysterious intruder. A noise behind him caused him to snap his head around, his movement stopped by the blow and the searing pain to his lower spine. It was like someone had detonated a bomb in his body, the agonizing pain escalated, burned up his back like a raw electrical charge and exploded in his brain. His body shuddered, nausea coursed through his stomach, lights, bright, and blinding flashed in front of his eyes, and like a puppet without a string he crumbled on the floor, helpless and withering in agony. He knew it was a nerve punch of some kind, he'd had one before, but never this severe. Unable to move, or even call out, all he could do was watch as the two intruders disappeared through the door, Breeze's doll tucked securely under the smaller man's arm.
<Calm down Tom, don't think about it.> Tom Riker closed his eyes and tried to focus on anything but where he was. He'd never liked tight places and being packaged inside a crate with Erin's body on top of him, an inability to move, or for that matter breath caused the knots in his stomach to twist tighter.
"I remember when I was a little girl, " Erin whispered, unaffected by the tight space, "My brother told me a story about this man that wanted to escape from prison, he decided the best way to do it was to sneak out in one of the coffins of the dead inmates...."
"Shut up, I'm very uncomfortable, I'm sweating, and if they don't bolt this cargo hold soon and I don't get out of this coffin...."
Erin laughed, silently, but he could feel her chest moving up and down against his.
"Anyway," She continued. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and released a strained breath, trying to keep in mind that she really was the best.
"He gets this idea, shares it with the caretaker, they work it out, and the next death this guy crawls into the coffin and gets buried." Her hair brushed against his face, he spit it away and considered kissing her, but the reward of her momentary silence wouldn't be worth the dues he'd be paying after they got out of here.
"And he's feeling kinda like you are now, hot, trapped, his heart throbbing in fear as time ticks away and the man doesn't come to dig him up...."
"Anyway the reason he didn't come is because he was the one in the coffin, he was the guy....."
Tom heard the grinding then the loud pop as the bolt latched, sealing them in the cargo hold.
"Push up on the box, knock off the lid!"
Erin did as she was told, the lid fell to the floor, and with a bit more force then necessary he pushed her off him. Erin stumbled back, her foot catching the side of the crate she fell backwards on the floor. He halfheartedly raised his hand to catch her, but it was pretty much after the fact, and only because of the frosty look in her emerald eyes.
"It's not like you didn't deserve that or anything." He grinned, wiping the sweat from his face with his sleeve.
"I was only trying to keep your mind off your fear." She answered, smacking his hand away and standing up.
He shook his head and began pulling the stabilizer spikes out of the box beside them, understanding a bit better why she'd flunked out of psychology.
"This should keep us safe when they de-pressurize the bay, it's only rebirth we have to worry about, once they enter warp, the bay will re-pressurize ......Hopefully," He added, tightening the connections between the spikes.
"Hopefully?.... and what if it doesn't?" Her voice elevated as the engines ignited and rumbled like thunder through the interior of the hold.
"Then your brains are going to ooze out of your eyeballs." He waggled his brows and watched her mouth drop open, "Don't worry, you'd be dead before that happened."
He turned away to hide his smile, and initiated the frequency that would activate this artificial environment he'd created.
"You remembered to muddy the transmission to Will, right?" He asked the question, and motioned behind him for her to step inside this six foot by six foot enviro-tent.
"Yea, I did, but I still don't understand why you don't want him to know where we're going...."
"I just don't want him involved that's all, he's got enough problems, besides, anything I found out from the authorities he could find out himself." With a tap of his finger he reinforced the amber beam that sealed them inside.
"Except you took it upon yourself not to tell the officials that this Sandra Parker left the Edge with a Manarian, and then you took the Machite stone you found at the scene....that was wrong ya know."
"I know and I feel terrible about it." He replied sarcastically, settling on the floor in the center of the field and arching his brows, encouraging her to do the same.
"I don't suppose you'd like to share with me what it is about this murder that's really bothering you, besides this personal vendetta you seem to have for Manarians." She sat down in front of him, her knees against his and pinned him with one of her stares, the ones she thought were intimidating.
He chewed his lip to mask his smile and massaged his hands over his thighs, not sure if what he thought was worth sharing.
"Come on Tom, tell me." She said, intimidation overridden by sweet persuasion.
"It's the blood," He said, stroking his fingers thoughtfully over the stubble that had already grown in on his chin, "seems to me that with eight lacerations to the back there wouldn't be a need to bring in additional blood..." He hesitated when he saw her thick brows raise in surprise.
"What does that mean?"
"It means the lady was drinking Obliteration at the Edge the night she was killed, but the blood splatters on the walls, the light fixtures, even some that had soaked into the sheets showed no signs of alcohol."
"So it wasn't her blood?" She asked, her eyes as dark as evergreen, her brows wrinkled in confusion.
"Oh no, it was her blood all right, it just wasn't her blood from that night."
Will paced the shuttle bay, still fighting the pins and needles aftermath of the nerve punch, and the anger he was feeling towards his brother at the deliberate scramble he'd put on his transmission. The first thing he'd done when his body had decided to cooperate with him was access his computer, it'd taken him less then thirty seconds to recognize the ruse Tom had tried to create. At first he didn't understand, but after finding the machite stone on the walk, obviously dropped by one of the intruders, he better understood.... If Deanna's attack and the young woman's murder had in anyway implicated the Manarians, Tom would be all over it in a heartbeat. With an unsteady hand he pulled the Machite from his shirt pocket and rolled it through his fingers; the color instantly shifted with his touch, a single blue burst, like a shimmering star sparkled on a rich burgundy background.
"Least something's never change." He mumbled, tossing the stone in the air, snagging it, then tucking it back in his pocket.
Wearing the Machite stone around your neck was a custom on Manara, it was presented on ones arrival to the planet and expected to be worn at all times. He never fully understood its significance, something about the unique picture it presented of its wearer, a mirror into the soul, or something. To him it was just a rock, a rock that his entire crew had been forced to wear in the negotiations with the Manarians.
He darted his eyes around the deserted bay and checked his chronometer, wondering what was keeping Deanna. For someone who wanted to leave yesterday she was running more then fashionably late. He snatched the two bags he'd packed, deciding to stow them, familiarize himself with the shuttle before Deanna arrived. He was pleased Geordi had thought to get them a private shuttle, being chauffeured by someone else had never appealed to him.
The hollow sound of the hatch activation echoed through the bay, a smile tugged at his mouth, unlikely, but certainly welcome for a change.
He withdrew the half step he'd taken inside and turned around to greet her.
"Everything all right, you're kinda late."
"Fine, it just took me awhile to explain to Jacen why he couldn't come along......You know how much he loves the Enterprise, almost as much as his father."
He nodded slowly, apprehensively, taken back not only by the trace of a smile on her face, but the fact that she'd mentioned his feelings for the Enterprise without any bitterness in her tone.... after all that's where'd he'd been the night Breeze had been taken, not home as he said he would be. He raised his hand and gestured inside, not willing to tempt fate by making any further comments on the way he was feeling about returning to the Enterprise.
He watched her step inside and followed behind, taking his seat in the pilots chair. With a flick of his finger he sent the transmission that they were ready to leave, leaned back in his chair and turned to Deanna. He felt guilty, excited, relieved, and more then a little confused, but worst of all he didn't know what to say to her....his wife, the woman that had been a part of him for the greatest chapters of his life, and he felt like a man on a blind date.
"I feel very hopeful about seeing Beverly." She finally said, turning her head towards the view screen as the bay doors thundered open.
"Me too." He answered, activating the controls before reluctantly dragging his eyes from her profile.
"How is it no one ever thinks about a bathroom," Erin tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, and glared at Tom, "Haven't you ever noticed that, stakeouts, Bajorian fighters, hiding out in a cavity the size of my......"
"Maybe most people are more concerned about getting their ass kicked in situations like that, did that ever occur to you?" Tom rolled his eyes and patted the floor beside him, "Why don't you just relax, redirect your external needs, let your mind drift to that inner place you're always talking about...ya know, the one where the white deer frolic in the meadows of brightly colored petals and lif...."
"Oh shove it in your inner place!" She snapped.
"I'm sorry you got sick Erin, I didn't consider how rocky the ride would be down here...." He offered the apology out of desperation, it wasn't like her to be so grumpy and the horrendous time she'd had during rebirth was the only reason he could think of why she would be acting this way.
"It's not your fault, I'm sorry I'm being such a bi...." The hand she raised in apology jerked behind her, reaching for the wall, bracing herself against the sudden rock of the ship, "What the hell was that, did we hit something?!"
The ship lurched again, the sharp tilt slamming her to the floor. Tom scrambled to his feet, staggering against the unsteady shaking and the intermittent jolts that rattled the bay.
"I don't think so, that was a phaser hit, somebody's shooting at these clowns." With one hand he helped her to her feet, then stabbed his finger towards the ventilation system, "Get the weapons, we get our asses kicked, we get our asses kicked, but I've seen these guys in a dogfight and I'm not sitting around while they lose."
She nodded an agreement, holstered her phaser and tossed one to Tom, following him up and inside the vent.
Luckily, the Manarian cruisers were small, built to only accommodate a crew of four, finding their way to the cockpit, or close to it, should be fairly easy. He crawled as fast as he could over the dimpled metal, stopping short each time the ship was struck. He could already smell the familiar stench that accompanied an engine burnout, and hear the high-pitched whine of the overloaded systems. Just ahead he saw the red and white grating of the cockpit access, the gold warning lights acting like a beacon inside the dark tube.
The ship pitched again, but this time it didn't roll with the aftereffects, "Son of a bitch," He mumbled, "Tractor beam, hang back." He ordered, inching guardedly towards the golden lights.
Before he reached the access grate he heard the sound of transporters. There was a momentary delay, then the hum and the blue bursts of a phaser cut through the gold light of the alarm.
He shuddered as she whispered his name, he knew it was barely audible above the screeching engines and the sound of the alert, but to him it seemed to echo through the tube. He crawled backwards towards her, felt the tug on his ankle encouraging him back further, then understood and followed as she guided him down a connection he hadn't seen before.
He heard a grate being pushed aside, then the sound of Erin's drop onto the floor beneath them. He followed behind her, catching his balance as he hit the floor and drawing his weapon quickly.
"Look a bathroom." He whispered, tilting his head to the door beside him, and pushing her behind him as he slowly made his way towards the muffled voices ahead.
Erin latched her hand in the waistband of his pants and followed closely behind. He'd never understood why she did that, whether she was afraid of what they'd encounter, or afraid he'd desert her and leave her in his wake.
A haze of gray-black smoke billowed through the circular door ahead, he fell in beside it and poked a cautious head inside. The body of Chanar and the gorilla that had attacked him lay dead on the floor, Chanar's chest still blistering from a close range phaser burst.....A man and women stood in front of the console, their weapons on the chairs beside them, their hands moving over the ship's controls.
He felt the tug on his waistband and heard Erin take a breath to speak, he gagged her with an irritated wave of his hand and stepped inside.
"Step away from the console!"
The couple startled and spun around, the lanky man making a grab for his phaser.
"Don't!" Tom warned, gesturing with his phaser for them to move out.
"Tom." Erin whispered, "Let's not start something, let me try to talk to them, explain why we're on a......"
Erin's desire for diplomacy was cut off, the lean man with one clean kick knocked Tom's weapon from his hand before he could react. The next sharp kick caught Tom in the chin, sending him stumbling back with a crack against the bulkhead. He held on to his footing, but the next blow came so quickly it slammed him to the floor.
Tom lifted himself up, out of the corner of his eyes he was sure he saw Erin deliberately drop her weapon at her side before engaging the young women. The man continued inflicting his precisely timed blows, his hands and feet moving so fast even rolling out of the way of the punches was becoming impossible. Tom felt his teeth rattle as his cheek cracked into the wall, he crawled towards the pilot's chair and pulled himself up, shocked as he watched Erin stagger under the woman's attack This is what she did best, he'd seen her take down a Klingon with one perfectly placed blow, and yet she was struggling with this tiny woman.
Through fuzzy vision he spotted his phaser on the floor and hoped he could take another assault without losing consciousness. He moved in a half circle, then lunged, the man's palm met his chest and knocked him back. Tom staggered, positioned himself, and fell to the floor on top of the phaser. With one fluid motion he gripped the phaser beneath him, rolled to his back and fired without hesitating, the man stiffened, then fell. He saw the woman falter, repositioned himself, and prepared to fire.
Erin shot in front of the woman. "No Tom, don't shoot!"
Her voice was weak and winded, but her expression spoke volumes. Tom kept his weapon trained over Erin's shoulder, matching the force of Erin's desperate expression, with his inflexible rage. He gripped his phaser tighter as this woman, the same woman that had been kicking the shit out of Erin only moments before, looked shocked and rested a hand on her shoulder.
Erin turned towards the woman voice, mumbled a few words he couldn't understand, then rested her hand on the women's stomach and nodded questioningly. The women smiled, nodded back, glared at Tom and moved towards the man on the floor.
"Hey.... Hello......what the hell's going on!?"
"She's pregnant Tom."
Erin knelt beside him, rested her hand on his wrist and forced him to lower his phaser.
"How do you know that, she doesn't look pregnant to me." He gave the woman a quick once over with his eyes and shook his head.
"She's Naja, her wrists have the crystal symbol of new life." Tom looked towards the woman, now noticing the features that were similar to Erin's, and the ruby colored marks on the insides of her wrists.
"So, is it normal for your kind to try and kill each other?" His sarcastic chuckle lapsed into a cough, he patted his hand against his heaving chest and stared at her through hooded eyes.
"They didn't know, they thought we were helping the Manarians I'm sure."
"Helping them what?"
Erin shrugged, "I don't know, if you hadn't shot her mate we could have asked them."
"If I hadn't shot her mate I'd be dead, or haven't you noticed the fact that all the blood shed around here is mine." He brushed his sleeve over his mouth, wiping the blood away, then held it up to her to punctuate his words.
"Does it hurt?"
"Only if I choose to breath" He grumbled, his hand dropping to the ache in his side, "Now what'd ya think, can we strike up a conversation soon, find out why a passive race like yours is going around frying people's hearts."
"Tell me again where we're going?" Tom walked distractedly beside Erin, still wondering how the hell he'd been coerced into coming here to Naja instead of continuing on the crippled ship to Manaria. Crawling along at sub-impulse had sounded much better to him then setting down on Naja and fixing the damaged ship, that was until he'd stepped onto the planet. Using his most vivid imagination he'd have never been able to create a planet as beautiful as this one, Erin's little inner sanctuary was obviously drawn from her home planet. It wasn't just the perfect blue of the sky, or the lush landscape, or even the way the Naja had woven their advanced technology, their intricate structures to harmonize with the magnificent beauty of the planet, there was a feeling here, an intoxicating serenity that he couldn't quite explain.
"I'm going to prove to you that the pool of remembrance is not a crock of Sehlat shit, as you so eloquently put it."
He shrugged a shoulder and smiled as she settled on the ground and took off her shoes.
His eyes moving over the tanned legs that flashed from under her dress, he followed the smooth curves until they disappeared under the ivory fabric, his mind insisting he solve the puzzle of how much further they went, and how incredible it would be to find out.
"Tom, you're drooling, does that look mean you've changed your mind about....."
"No," He interrupted, "It means I'm old, not dead, now cover up those perfect legs before more then my imagination springs to life."
She rolled her eyes in her typical 'humans are so primitive' way and gestured to his feet, "Take off your shoes."
He sat down and followed her orders without question, mostly to avoid an explanation. Her answers were always long and detailed and he honestly didn't care, finding out what motivated the young couple to slay the Manarians in cold blood seemed more important.
They'd told Erin that the pool of remembrance had showed them that the product of their love, the unborn child had been conceived in a brutal and barbaric act that tarnished the seed the couple had planted. None of it made sense to him, but the man's anger and the woman's fear were real, there was no denying the emotions that had almost physically projected from the young couple.
"OK, I'm ready to have my memories probed." He said, the creases around his eyes deepening with the skeptical look he offered her.
"You must be open to the possibility or the memories of your heart will stay silent."
"How'd I know you were going to say something like that." He said with a shake of his head, taking the hand she held out to him. He liked the way it felt as it slid into his, soft and warm, her hair brushed against his shoulder, its scent carrying to his nose, he released a frustrated breath.
<I gotta get the hell off this planet before I do something I regret.>
He could hear the water before it came into view, but as they broke out of the grove of trees his eyes came to rest on this mystical pool.
"Well that's not what I expected." He observed, watching the muddy water trickle over the jagged stones and dribble into the churning, filthy water at the bottom, "Sure as hell doesn't fit in with this Utopia you live on."
She smiled, a mysterious smile and tilted her head towards the pool, "Clear your mind before you look into your reflection."
He tugged his hand from hers and stared at her for moment before approaching the pool, feeling a bit foolish for even trying this.
The rippling water stilled as he bowed his head over it, the brown diluting to beige, to white, to crystal clear before he could take a breath. He looked away from the image that stared back at him, a younger Riker, himself, maybe twenty years ago. He tossed a look above him, waved a hand over the image that still looked up at him, then turned to Erin.
"That's not me."
"It is how you see yourself in your heart. Look again, don't turn away, don't try to understand."
He turned back and leaned his hands on the cool rocks that surrounded the pool, hesitating for a moment before looking down again.
"Deanna," He whispered, feeling almost guilty has the intimate pictures played over the surface of the water, "I don't love her anymore, not like that." He wasn't sure who he was talking to, himself, Erin, or whatever was displaying what he'd rid himself of years ago.
He leaned closer as the image changed, a baby, not more then two sat cradled in a woman's lap, he could hear her soft singing, feel the love that radiated from her.
"That's my mother, I have no memories of my mother."
"You do now."
Erin's voice and the touch on his shoulder drew him reluctantly away from wherever he was, he turned his head to her slowly, and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Do you believe me now." Her hand brushed his cheek, "Tom...."
"That was weird," He said, opening his eyes, "How'd you do that?"
"God, you're hopeless." She sighed, shaking her head in disgust.
"Come on Erin, it was a neat trick, but I don't think it's an excuse for murder, and that's exactly what your little friends did up there." He tipped his head towards the sky, "I'll wait until I've heard what your mother turned up on her med scans, besides I'd like to meet your mother."
"Why can't you believe anything that you don't understand?"
"I didn't say I didn't believe it exactly, I'll just believe it more if your mother backs up the masters of pain's story." He smiled and nodded his head, hoping she'd drop the mystical talk and take him back to med-center.
She gave him a measuring look, her intense expression finally giving way to a crooked smile.
"OK, let's go see my mother, and on the way you can tell me about your obsession with your brother's wife."
Will checked the chronometer on the console.
<One more hour.> He thought, drumming his fingers against his thigh, and staring blurry eyed out the view port. He'd been worried about being alone with Deanna, about finding things to say, the right things, his worries had been unnecessary. Deanna hadn't stopped talking since the shuttle had left the bay, it was as if someone had pulled a plug and released every thought, every emotion she'd been feeling for years. Her moods had shifted with each thought she'd shared, wistful memories about Betazed, a nervous tickle over their reunion on the Enterprise, an unlikely jealousy over his affair with a hologram in his past, which he was certain he'd never shared with her, to how much she'd missed him when they decided he remain on the Enterprise while she took the children to Earth. His head was pounding, this landslide of brutal attacks and soft surrenders threatening to bury him alive.
"Deanna, stop this!" He snapped, grinding the heals of his hands into his tired eyes.
She stopped mid sentence, "What?"
Dragging his hands over his face he turned to look at her, her expression genuinely shocked by his rather heated request.
"Stop talking, I don't know what's going on with you, but just stop talking."
"Why, what would you like to do?"
He knew that voice, that tone, rich and suggestive, he flopped his head back on his chair. <God, is she doing this on purpose.>
He shook his head in answer to his own question.
"Do you remember the night Briana was conceived?"
Her voice, the feelings he felt from her shifted again, but this question caused him to raise his head and arch his brows.
"Of course I do." He answered, his own memories of the not so romantic circumstances played through his mind. It was while the Manarian's were onboard the Enterprise, and finding time to brush his teeth had become a chore, spending time with Jacen and Deanna was out of the question. Satisfying the constant demands of the Manarins was a full-time job, not to mention the toll their selfish behavior had taken on his crew, tempers were short, ship's functions were being overlooked, and there were times he'd considered separating the ship, jettisoning the saucer section as far away from him as he could. And that's where Deanna had found him that night, sitting on the battle bridge, planning his escape. It had been over three weeks since he'd been with her, and he'd assaulted her with the lust of an over sexed adolescent, when the call came in for him to report to the bridge, his call to duty, Deanna's frustrated curse, and his own body's need for release prompted him to ignore it and pump into her harder.
"Yep, best three minutes of my life." He said with a chuckle.
Deanna's brows knotted, a frown replaced the nostalgic smile on her face.
"What?" He asked, "You told me you got pregnant the night of the dinner in honor of president Vadan."
"I did, but that was one of the most romantic evenings of my life." She folded her arms across her chest and sagged back in her seat.
"I'm sorry, of course it was romantic, I didn't mean it wasn't."
<But it wasn't.> He thought.
"You looked so handsome." She began.
<I looked like shit, what is she talking about?>
"The flowers, the music, you made it all so perfect. I figured you were trying to make up for the quickie on the battle bridge earlier."
"Deanna," He turned in his chair and rested a hand on her arm, "We didn't m....."
He stopped himself, the look of hurt in her eyes freezing his need to understand what in hell she was talking about.
"We didn't what Will?"
"We didn't.....we didn't make up our minds that breeze was conceived then, could have been on the battle bridge."
"I like to believe it was later, after the dinner."
<I don't,> He thought, calling up a crooked smile and patting her arm reassuringly.
"Well?" Tom Riker shot an impatient look over his shoulder, then returned his eyes to the controls of the Manarian Cruiser.
"It's working..... will you relax."
"I'll relax when I find out if I'm right."
The chirping of the computer as it processed Erin's request grated over his nerves, actually since leaving Naja everything was grating over his nerves. But nothing more then what the hell the Manarians were up to. Erin's mother's original tests on the unborn child had turned up nothing, but her tests on the woman had; a tiny implant embedded in the spine at the base of her skull had proven impossible to remove without further study, but it had prompted her to remove the embryo, and run her tests directly on the unborn child. Those tests had turned up something else, a perfectly healthy twelve week old fetus, definitely Naja, DNA match on both the man and woman, but an added element had been embroidered into the child.......Manarian DNA. Erin's mother couldn't explain it, only that it had occurred at the time of conception, but it was such a trace amount it wasn't even manifesting itself in the cell tissue found in the amniotic fluid.
"You were right Tom, Sandra Parker served on board the Adelphi during the negotiations with the Manarians." Erin paused, brushed her hair away from her face, and turned to face him.
"She was flight control officer until a nervous breakdown ended her career ......Tom, she tried to kill herself after the disappearance of her son."
"I knew it!" He said, slapping his fist in his palm, "Goddamn Manarians."
"Well I still don't get it, why would the Manarians want to incorporate their DNA with other races."
"Not any other race, only those they find pleasing." He gestured to the chair beside him, and waited until Erin dropped into it, " Manarian's will stop at nothing to achieve perfection, using other life forms to further enhance their species, serve as incubators for their initial pairing until they can take the children they've perverted and use them as breeding stock.....Sounds just like the bastards to me."
"Wouldn't it make more sense for them just to have sex with the life form they choose?"
"Except it's not one race their using, it may not be a race at all, they could be looking for individuals, certain traits......Who the hell knows." He growled, slumping back in his chair, "I do know that they don't give a shit about anything but themselves."
He watched Erin wring her hands, shift uncomfortably in her seat, and finally pin him with a wide eyed expression.
"Why do you hate them so much Tom?"
"It's none of your business, don't ever ask again!" His voice echoed with anger, a hostile anger he tried to reign in as her eyes widened, "Let's just say we all have secrets." He added, with a well rehearsed smile.
"You just have more then most I guess." She said.
"No," He shrugged, "just that one."
"And the one where you covet your brother's wife."
"I explained that." He said, knowing she was only teasing, trying to lighten his mood the only way she could.
"Saying it's hard to explain, isn't explaining."
"Sorry, it's the best I can do, but I'll tell you a secret." He whispered, tapping the controls, increasing the cruisers speed, then turning back to face her, " Right now I'm glad I'm the one that got stuck on Nervala IV.... I don't envy Will his life, and to be honest I think Deanna's a little nuts."
"She's nuts Beverly!" Will swept a hand over his tousled hair, and fell onto the couch in Beverly's quarters.
"I think your exaggerating Will, Deanna's been through a lot over the last year and I'm sure this recent attack has only intensified her distress."
Beverly settled in the chair across from him with her usual amount of a calm and folded her hands in her lap, "I'll try to figure out what happened to her, in the mean time she just needs you to be there for her."
He inhaled a deep breath trying to silence the anger that rumbled inside him in response to her simple comment.
"Ya know," He said, sitting up and leaning forward, "ever since Breeze disappeared, I can't tell you how many times people have said that to me. Deanna needs you.... you have to be strong for Deanna. I can't do it anymore, I won't do it anymore." He fell back on the couch, his head flopping on the cushions behind him, he stared at the ceiling, and continued, "Breeze was my daughter too." He heard his own self-pity, and for a moment he let himself feel it instead of tucking it away. He lifted his head slowly and stared back at Crusher's concerned face, "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be there for someone else when you're falling apart?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do," She answered flatly, "and I'd share it with you if I thought that's really what this was about.....This isn't like you."
"Isn't like me.... or isn't like Captain Riker........You don't even know me Beverly."
Beverly leaned back and matched the look of contempt he held her with.
"Is this why you came here, to pick a fight?" She arched her brows in challenge, her unimproved poker face betraying the smile she was trying to hide, "because if you search your memory you should already know your going to lose."
He smiled, an unconvincing smile, and shook his head, "I'm sorry, no.... I don't want to fight. I've had enough fighting to last me the rest of my life."
"Will, what's going on, I've never seen you like this." She stood up and sat beside him, "Come on, tell me, it can't be that bad."
"It's Breeze," He said, fighting to keep his voice steady, "Beverly I don't think she's my daughter."
"That's ridicules, how could you even think that." She vaulted to her feet, her eyes already starting to burn with the fiery look he'd expected.
"Damn it Beverly!" He snapped, grasping her wrist, stilling her next remark, "for once in your life can you just sit down, shut up and not say a word till I'm finished."
President Vadan stroked a reflective hand over his chin, appreciating the smooth, subtle texture of his skin. His eyes narrowed as he turned away from the mirror and looked out the palace window at the dim light of the planets tiny sun. The apricot rays filtered through the gray haze of the planet, the crystals that made up the planet's surface glowed with a deep scarlet hue, retaining the heat the planet needed to survive. He spun around as the doors to his chamber slid open, stepped forward and adjusted the folds of his flowing robe.
"Have you found her?"
"Not yet." The man's eyes dropped to the floor, "But we will."
"And how do you intend to do that......You should have killed Captain Riker and continued the procedure on his wife. We have no way to track her, and your fumbled attempt has aroused Riker's suspicions again."
"One of our operatives on Earth sent a message saying perhaps they'd gone to the Enterprise."
"I knew this was a mistake!" Vadan scolded, waving a long, thin finger in the air, " The chancellor's decision to involve Riker and his wife in the amplification will be the destruction of it."
His aid agreed silently, and moved towards the door as the president settled on the couch.
"Wait." Vadan ordered softly, "I think it's time we dealt with Mister Riker."
He nodded to himself, a satisfied smile tugging on his red lips.
"Move the children and the others to the catacombs, initiate the holo-shield over the planet and send a communiqué to Starfleet...... Tell them I've had a change of heart about sharing the Tiraian, but I'll only negotiate with the X captain of the Enterprise."
"Yes Sir," The man bowed his head and backed towards the door, "There are rumors that Thomas Riker has been digging around again."
"He's driven only by the need for revenge, and has no way to get on this planet" Vadan waved his hand in a dismissing gesture, "It's Captain Riker we need to worry about.... and the instability he's displayed over the past year may be the answer to ridding ourselves of him, his feeble quest to find his daughter, and a perfect way to regain custody of his wife."
Damnit Tom, where the hell are you?" He said to himself, falling back against his chair, and running a frustrated hand over his beard.
He hadn't thought there could be anything worse then finding out that he wasn't Breeze's natural father, but finding instead that somehow he and Deanna had been violated by a race he'd busted his ass to help came as more of a blow then any nerve punch he'd ever endured. Beverly's reassurance, her hope that perhaps it was the Manarian's that had taken Breeze had raised his hopes for a microsecond, that was until he remembered he was going to have to tell Deanna........He had no idea how, or even if he'd be able to tell her. Beverly had agreed to do her exam on Deanna now, give him some time to think. But thinking was quickly becoming impossible, half his mind was spinning with hope that his little girl was alive, the other half was filled with more rage then he'd thought he was capable of. He knew Starfleet wouldn't help him, not with the circumstances of his resignation and the sparse evidence he had to present them......He needed Tom's help and he already knew Tom's suspicion's about the Manarians.
He tapped a pensive finger against his lips, a smile pulled at them.
Feeling only slightly hopeful, he punched a few key switches on the terminal control and waited until he heard the voice and saw the face of Tom's assistant blink on the screen.
"Maralyn is that you?" It wasn't hard to make his voice sound desperate and unsettled, but to intensify the effect he garbled the voice only transmission a bit more.
"Tom, I'm getting voice only....are you all right?
"No, I'm in trouble...I need help!"
He watched the woman's face shift from concern to doubt in the blink of an eye. He checked again to make sure he wasn't sending a bearded image of himself.
"Damn it, do you hear me!" He practically growled this time and continued waxing and waning the static he was sending. He realized after a second what she was doing, running a voice pattern trace, he smiled to himself.
"OK Tom, what do you need!"
"I need you to relay all the information I've logged on my surveillance of the Manarian's to my brother......" He increased the static again just for good measure, " He's onboard the Enterprise, send it priority one to Captain Geordi LaForge, transmit through Security One, do not go through Star Fleet..." He severed it immediately, and hoped she was as smart as she was beautiful.
<Crusher to Riker>
Will instinctively raised his hand to his chest, checked himself and hit the terminal beside the desk.
"I'm on my way Beverly, is Deanna all right?"
<She's fine Will, She'd just like to have you here.>"
Already on his feet he returned an acknowledgment and headed quickly to the door. The uncomfortable tension that burned across his shoulders tightened, overridden by out and out pain as he accessed the door.
One long stride took him into the corridor, his hasty exit almost knocking the captain of the Enterprise off his feet.
"Sorry Geordi." He apologized, resting both hands firmly on the captain's shoulders, "I guess I should watch where I'm going." He added, stepping past him, continuing on his way to sickbay.
Will cast a look over his shoulder in response to Geordi's voice.
"You have a communiqué from Earth."
Will stopped, turned and studied the young man's face, only raising a questioning eyebrow in response. Maralyn couldn't possibly have sent the information he'd requested, not if she'd used Security One as he'd requested, and the look on Geordi's face suggested concern, but also a trace of amusement.
"It's Admiral Dears." Geordi finally said.
"What the hell does he want?" Riker's arched brows furrowed, he stepped back towards the starship captain, masking the vile feelings even the mention of the Admiral's name stirred in him.
Riker blood seemed to be the drink of choice for this overstuffed Starfleet Admiral, his run ins with the man had started just before his appointment as Captain of the Enterprise, an appointment the admiral had fought tooth and nail to prevent, and had progressed through his stint as Captain, to the end of his career with the federation. The counsels decision to reassign him to the academy after his deliberate disobedience of a direct order hadn't been enough to satisfy Dears, he'd requested a court martial and called in a lot of favors to gain support from a few others on the counsel.
"I had it sent to your quarters." Geordi said, gesturing to the closed doors beside him.
"You didn't have to come all the way down here to tell me Geordi." Will said, tapping the access controls for his captain.
"I know, but after hearing what he had to say I thought I'd enjoy watching him squirm when he asks you for the favor he's requesting."
Riker choked a laugh, "A favor.....from me.....well, this should be interesting." He stepped inside, "Just let me contact sickbay, Beverly and Deanna are waiting for me, then we'll see how long it takes for me to refuse the Admiral."
"As much as I'd like to hold on to my body hair, and also have unrestricted access to the planet.....I can't put a hell of a lot a stock into your mother's assurance that we can get on the planet from the polar region." Tom offered Erin a sidelong glance and continued his long range scan of the planet Manaria.
"My mother wouldn't put me in jeopardy, she'd never say there was a base if their wasn't!"
"I'm sure she wouldn't," Erin's elevated tone and the disgruntled breath she released inspired Tom to give her his full attention, "but the planets been off limits for almost a year, and the polar region has never been explored, not even by the Manarians."
"Have you ever heard of the Antilon Virus, the one that practically wiped out the Manarians."
Erin paused and seemed to consider what she was about to say.....That picture in itself made Tom shift in his chair. The woman never thought before she spoke, let alone structured her sentences in any kind of lets try to have it make sense order.
"What?" He grumbled impatiently, "and don't tell me she learned it from the mud god."
"No, actually my mother was one of the doctors Starfleet assigned to the planet." The words tumbled from her mouth so quickly he thought he'd misunderstood.
He'd studied Starfleets clandestine attempts to cure the ailing race at the academy, unfortunately most of those they'd sent to the planet to help had fallen victim to the plague, but then that wasn't what was really bothering him.
"That was over seventy years ago!" He blurted.
Erin's nose wrinkled, a glimmer of a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth, "I know....I told you once my people age differently then yours."
"Differently was a bit of an understatement then, wasn't it Erin........Shit, how old is she, for that matter how old are you......No, no..." He reconsidered his question, "don't tell me, I don't want to know, in our particular relationship I'm going to stick with the ignorance is bliss idea."
"That idea does seem to work best for you." She said.
He couldn't help staring at her, scrutinizing her more closely then he normally permitted himself to. Her eyes shimmered, her smooth cheeks flushed, she bit the inside of her bottom lip, masking the playful smile she tried to hide.
"OK," He said, shaking his head, clearing his throat, mentally reconfiguring the weapons system of a Marquis ship, anything that would stop him from thinking what he was thinking, "I guess all we have to do now is find away to make us look like an unmanned vessel."
He was more then aware of the penetrating gaze she had on him as he moved his eyes over the ship, thinking, tapping restless hands against his thighs, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand, and not the fact that Erin was probably well over twenty one and all his cold showers for the past year had been for nothing.
"I know what we can do!" He spun his chair around and snapped his fingers, "And it might even work."
<We need your help Riker, and the counsel is willing to reinstate your rank and all the rights and privileges that accompany it if you'll agree to help us.>
Will leaned back against the wall of the turbolift and smiled at the recollection. If it weren't for the circumstances he seemed to be trapped in, he would have loved nothing better then to have to told the Admiral exactly where he could stick his rights and privileges. He'd derived some pleasure out of the admirals uneasy expression, the way each word he'd spoken seemed to cause him physical pain, and he figured that would have to pacify the anger he felt for the wrinkled old man......His wife and his daughter came first, and Starfleet had just opened the door for him to do exactly what they'd reprimanded him for doing over a year ago, except they didn't know it.........He was more then willing to play patty-cake with President Vadan if it gave him a chance to explore whatever secrets they were hiding. As for Admiral Dears, once he found his daughter, completed his assignment and found some kind of peace with Deanna....He had every intention of using his new rights and privileges to bust the admirals balls at every opportunity.
He stepped out of the turbolift as they doors shushed open, a few steps brought him to sickbay. He drew a deep breath and stepped inside.
"Will." He followed the sound of Deanna's voice, and located the two women in one of the secluded examination rooms.
"What happened?" He asked, moving in front of them, his gaze falling only on Deanna. Her skin was unusually pale, her eyes darker then he'd ever seen them, looked frightened and held his. For an instant he thought maybe Beverly had shared the results of Breeze's med-scans, but he was certain she wouldn't do that, not without him present.
"What did you find Beverly?"
"I ran a scan of the site you both suspected and found nothing that would have caused the blood loss you both described."
"But?" Riker said, nodding encouragingly.
"I did however find a small imperfection in the spinal column at the base of her neck.....I may have overlooked it if Deanna hadn't mentioned the headaches she's been having for the last few days in response to the memories and the emotional shifts she's been experiencing."
<Hasn't done much for my head either.> He thought, remembering the bizarre conversations in the shuttle.
"I ran an inner nuncial series on the side of caution, and I think I've figured out the source of her headaches........Whatever was implanted at the base of her neck appears to have completely deadened certain portions of her brain....from the readings it seems certain portions of her Thalamus haven't been stimulated for over a year."
"And what could accomplish that?" Riker asked.
"I'm not sure," Beverly said, plunging her hands deeply into the pockets of her lab coat, "Eltro-pulse, certain drugs....I don't know....I do know that removing whatever it was so suddenly has overloaded her sensors, so to speak......I've given her a sedative to slow her brains activity until the unused nerves can adjust to the RAS impulses they're receiving."
"How do you feel Deanna?" He asked, his questioning eyes moving back to Deanna.
"Physically I feel fine, a bit sleepy......emotionally I feel like I'm going to explode ....Will, what happened to me?"
"I don't know, but I do know I'm going to find out soon." He trailed his finger over the line of her jaw and called up a confident smile, "Why don't you get dressed, we have to talk."
She nodded, and accepted his help in getting off the bio-bed.
He watched until she disappeared into the other room before leaning closer to Beverly.
"I have to tell her Beverly, I think she needs to know before we arrive on Manaria."
Beverly drew a breath to speak and arched questioning brows.
"Another long story.....I'll fill you in later."
"Will I don't think you should tell her, not now........I know you think Breeze may be alive somewhere on Manaria, but until your sure, until you find out what the Manarians have done to......"
"It doesn't matter Beverly!" His voice rose, each word saturated with anger and desperation, "All that matters is that there's a chance my daughter is alive... I don't care if it's a one in a million chance, it's a goddamn chance, and the most hope I've had in the last fourteen months. And I will share it with Deanna!"
"And what if you're wrong Will?" Beverly said.
"I'm not wrong!" He added, his resolve staggering, "I can't be."
"Sir our sensors have picked up a vessel on final approach." The young Manarian looked away from his sparkling control panel and met the narrowed eyes of his commanding officer.
"Final approach cadet, and you're just picking it up?"
"Yes Sir, it's attempting to dock in the Polar region."
The young man's long painted nails played over the side panels of his display.
"It's a Manarian cruiser, ships system are fluctuating ......No life signs."
The older officer rested a hand on the cadet's chair, and stared momentarily at the screen.
"Use the tractor beam to bring it down, contact the guard stationed at the base, tell him to secure it and we'll send someone out in the morning."
The single guard stationed at the Polar dome severed the communication and
flipped a universal gesture at the blank blue screen. He grumbled to himself as
he pushed away from the desk and peered out the Plexiglas dome, watching the
sky, and the ivory pulse that launched from the surface. The wind outside the
warm enclosure blew with menacing force, lashing ice and snow against the panes
of glass, creating powerful down bursts that spiraled threateningly over the
path that led to the flight bay. He cast a narrow-eyed glance to the heavy
jacket that hung beside the door, then looked down at the smooth lily white
skin of his hands. Reluctantly he retrieved the jacket, threw it over his
clothes and began to tie the hood over his head. He stopped abruptly and turned
towards the rumble outside, watching disgustedly as this ship that was forcing
him to venture into the cold settled on the ground. From the ship to the base's
control panel his heavily made up eyes shifted, finally sett!
ling on the three black switches on top of the chrome panel. With a
self-satisfied chuckle he shed the jacket, tossed it on the floor, and
activated the third switch from the right. The howl of the wind instantly fell
away, the ice and snow outside slept peacefully on the ground.
"They'll never know." He mumbled to himself, punching the button beside the
door and stepping outside. The holo-generated environment was still in tack,
snow blanketed the ground, the glaciers in the distance still stood guard like
crystal sentinels around the base, only the temperature changed; he smiled to
The ship's alarms carried over the snow, he drew a weapon on the side of
caution and ran his hand over the scarring on the side of the ship. He didn't
hesitate before opening the hatch and stepping inside, eyeing the ships systems
that all seemed to be sparking with life. He noted the phaser burns on the
walls, and the speckling of blood on the floor, he tightened his grip on his
weapon and stepped closer to the cockpit controls. The navigational controls
chirped loudly, the weapons alarm announced its impending launch, the hum of
the transporters sounded behind him, and the opti-cable sizzled and hissed from
beneath the panel. With an irritated swipe he began shutting down the systems,
appreciating the silence and breathing a sigh of relief as each one fell silent
with his commands. He turned his attention to the only sound remaining and
rested a hand on the transporter controls. Pushing up slowly, he stopped short,
noting the readouts that flashed on the screen. Repositionin!
g himself, and targeting his weapon on the transport platform he continued his
movement to release the beam. The gyrating sparkle of blue and white light
began to take shape, worried and gripping his weapon with both hands he never
noticed the simultaneous beam that activated behind him.
"Hey, shit head, over here!"
The guard spun around, saw a grinning face, but never had time to react to the
phaser blast that struck him in the chest.
Tom waggled his brows and grinned at Erin, who still seemed dazed and slightly
"Who'd a thought?" He said with a shrug, "I should send a thank you note to
Montgomery Scott and whoever the jerk was that beamed Will off Nervala."
"What?" Erin said, recovering the weapon that lay beside the guard and moving
back beside Tom.
"Never mind, I'll explain another time." He said, cocking his head towards the
"What about him, we can't leave him here."
"Good point." He agreed, tugging the lightweight man off the floor and slinging
him over his shoulder, "Now can we go?"
Will paced and talked, talked and paced, every so often sending an inquiring
look to Deanna. He'd lost control of his emotions hours ago, his throat burned,
his chest ached, his body was drained, and any tears he'd needed to shed had
long since dried under his swollen eyes. He stopped in the middle of the room
and again looked at his wife, she hadn't moved, her expression had never
wavered, her hands were folded calmly in her lap, her shoulders relaxed, her
eyes staring blankly past him, through him, everywhere but at him.
"Deanna, have you heard anything I said?" Keeping his voice down, not venting
the anger and frustration he was feeling was easy, though right now he wished
for a sudden surge of adrenaline, a burst of energy that would give him the
drive to shake her, force her to acknowledge what he'd said.
"Deanna." He repeated, stepping over the glass table in front of her and
flopping down hard on the couch beside her.
"I hear you Will, you don't have to shout."
Flat calm, her dry eyes still focused in front of her, she finally spoke, the
hauntingly distant sound of it trailed up Riker's spine like an icy finger.
"I'm hardly shouting Deanna, but considering all that I've just told you,
sedative or not, being the bastard that I am I thought you'd feel something."
He managed to put some bite in his words, secretly hoping, wishing she'd at
least lash out at him, hit him, something that would let him know she was in
"I do feel things, things you could never understand."
"Not if you don't tell me I can't." He rested his head on his arm and closed
his eyes, easing the pain that throbbed in his temples.
He felt her shift her weight beside him, the movement prompted him to half open
his eyes. He raised his lids further when he saw her looking at him, a piercing
gaze that caused a surge of panic to sting his heart.
"What, just say it Deanna."
"You said someone tried to hide Briana's birth records, cloak whatever the
Manarian's had done to our unborn child."
"Yea," He responded, lifting his head, "I think it was the nurse that assisted
in the delivery.....she was Manarian, and Beverly said she remembered asking
her to do it because she was too excited about Breeze's birth."
Deanna looked down at her lap, then returned her eyes to his and shook her
head, "It wasn't the nurse Will, it was me, I camouflaged the birth records."
<It wasn't the nurse Will, it was me, I camouflaged the birth records.>
Will tightened his grip on the glass that was pressed against his lips, Deanna's confessions, repressed memories, whatever they were continued to gyrate through his mind, challenging him to contain the rage that was boiling inside him.
He had exploded with her initial confession, shooting to his feet, prepared to fire off a years worth of anger, and pent-up frustrations, slap her across the face with the same disdain she'd shown him. But the haunting look in her eyes, the expression of guilt on her ashen face had called all his rage back, where he'd bottled safely inside him. She'd described the memories as being on the outside looking in, as if she was watching herself through a window or a mirror, the obstruction of glass preventing her from reaching inside, stopping herself from doing what she knew was wrong.
Her description had aroused his own memories of the disturbing emotions he'd felt the night of the attack, but after watching Deanna, tears streaming from eyes that seemed to witness everything, every horrific detail, he was thankful that it had only been emotions he'd felt, and not the images of bloody procedures, unexplained actions, and agonizing pain.
He downed the remainder of the liquid in his glass, leaned his head back and let the acidic burn slide over his throat, and explode with a peppery fury inside his chest.
His body shivered with the effects.
He turned his head towards the bedroom, a soft stream of ivory light illuminated his wife's sleeping form, he envied her for her sleep, and wished he could fall into a place void of thought. But from the restless twitching, and constant turning he'd watched Deanna do since moving her into the bed, he knew even behind closed eyes, her silent demons were clawing at her.
Without looking away from her, he pulled the narrow bottle off the table and poured the amber liquid into the glass in his hand. Deanna mumbled in her sleep; his name, muffled objections, even sobs escaped her, the sobs mixing with his name. A black anger rumbled inside him, growing louder, more dangerous, it seemed to bleed through every pore in his body. His glass shattered in his hand, the biting pain numbed by the cool liquid, he watched his blood fall like tiny teardrops on his pants.
"If I find out the Manarians are responsible, " He whispered, retrieving the Machite stone from his shirt pocket, "I'll will kill the en......"
Deanna's call, soft, but no longer under the spell of sleep silenced his vindictive promise.
"Are you all right?"
"Fine, Fine." He fumbled to pull his shirt over his head, wrap it around his hand, stop her from seeing him. An alcoholic haze slowed his reaction, he stumbled as he got to his feet, not moving fast enough to stop her from getting up.
"Fine, fine." He called again, stopping short as he looked away from his hand and saw her standing in the doorway, her eyes frightened and concerned dropping to his blood stained pants, and the white shirt that betrayed his secret with crimson streaks.
"Will, what happened?"
"Nothing, nothing.....I just cut myself, it's nothing.....I wissh just going to clean it up." He cringed as his voice betrayed him too, he watched Deanna's eyes move to the empty bottle on the table.
"Let's go." She said, wrapping a firm hand around his wrist, taking full advantage of his lack of strength.
"I can do this." He winced as she unwrapped his hand and gently held in under the light spay of warm water in the bathroom sink, "Deanna, please, stop worrying about me....I'm fine."
"Fine people don't have glass embedded in their hands, nor do they bleed all over the floor."
"This is trivial.... you need you rest."
"Trivial appeals to me right now Will."
Her voice sounded almost normal, like it once had, but shadows of fear still loomed over her ashy complexion.
He jerked his hand away.
"I'll call Beverly," She threatened, taking custody of his right hand, and reaching for his other.
He fisted it tighter.
"This ones fine."
She didn't speak, but her eyes, dark, demanding reached through his black anger. Hesitantly he relaxed his fist, allowing her access to his hand.
"Machite, where did you get this?"
As if the stone were hot she touched it and drew away, finally her cautious fingers returned and snatched it from his hand.
"I found it.....in the walk from the study." He watched the stone in her hand fade to gray, brighten to a vibrant purple and finally dim to a pale lavender, dappled with teardrops of turquoise, "I stumbled on some intruders in the study.....They were going through Breeze's things, they took......"
"Anna, they took Anna....didn't they Will?"
"This is the hottest goddamn Polar region I've ever been in." Tom tossed the guard on the floor of the Plexiglas dome, and sealed the door behind them, "Don't suppose you can read Manarian?"
He tossed a look to Erin, and returned his eyes to the colored panels of the system displays.
"No, but this looks interesting."
He ran a frustrated hand over the alien control panel and turned around to face her.
"OK, I'm game if you are." He said, moving beside her and looking down the hole she was standing over, "I don't think we should jump though."
"Maybe this says ladder." She observed, tracing her hand over the symbol above the hole, and pushing the button.
"Or not." Tom said, feeling the floor begin to vibrate.
Snaking a hand around Erin's waist he stepped back, tugging her with him. The edges of the hole rounded, the floor around it seemed to liquefy, dribble over the rounded edges, and finally solidify.
"A slide," He said, looking down at the spiraling chute, the sheer glass shimmering in the light, and then disappearing into the darkness below, "I'd a preferred a ladder."
"It'll be fine, we can control the speed." Erin smiled, her green eyes radiating with that damned sense of adventure she seemed to thrive on, he rewarded her enthusiasm with a groan.
Snatching the knapsack she'd dropped on the floor, he dug out the lantern and shined it into the hole, but even the highest beam didn't cut through the blackness to the bottom.
"OK, lets go." He tossed his pack over his shoulder, sat at the top and braced his feet and hands against the smooth sides. He scooted forward and waited for Erin to fall in behind him.
Tom's boots squeaked against the thick glass chute, sliding against the smooth surface. Once again he tightened his grip on the edges and pressed his palms against the sides, slowing his decent.
"Tighten the beam." He said, hoping his eyes hadn't deceived him, that there really was an end in sight. He heard Erin fumble with the lantern behind him, and immediately felt the smack of her boot in the small of his back.
He flinched at the sensation and squinted his eyes downward.
"It's shallow though, look at the sand spits." Erin's response came just as her body weight slammed into his, "Sorry.....again." She offered
Tom didn't respond, but eased his grip, anxious to get to the bottom. He stopped at the edge and folded his feet in front of him. His eyes followed Erin's beam as she shined it over the water logged room.
He seized her hand and pushed it back, "There....a door." He thrust his hand in the direction of the beam, the shimmering light reflecting off....."Eyes," Tom said, raising a hand to silence Erin. With his own hand, he maneuvered Erin's, stopping the fine, bright beam on the intruder in the doorway, "Breeze," He whispered, his voice cracking.
"What?" Erin's hushed response scratched over his raw nerves.
Tom looked again....
A vacant doorway..
"Nothing, I thought I saw....nothing." He answered, squinting again towards the door, tears blurring his vision.
Will pretended to stare at the information he'd received from Tom's assistant, knowing Deanna was behind him, staring at him, her questioning eyes seemed to burn into his neck. He wished she'd go to sleep, he didn't like what he was feeling, and he sure as hell didn't want to discuss it with her. He felt angry, betrayed, and not by the Manarian's, but by Deanna. He knew it was irrational, she had no control, why did he keep thinking she should have fought harder.
He heard Deanna get up and walk towards him, her hands, cool and soft slipped around his neck. He outwardly flinched at the sensation, her hands fell away.
"Do you still love me Will?"
"Of course I do, you're the mother of my children."
"Beside like that....do you still love me." She walked around him and leaned on the desk beside him.
He looked at her, wanting nothing more then to tell her yes, of course I love you, everything will be fine, but he couldn't. His anger rumbled like a distant storm inside him, the dark clouds of hurt and hate casting shadows on everything but his darkest primitive emotions.
"I can't talk about this right now, lets wait, deal with our problems after we find Breeze." The smile he called up must have been loaned to him by the same devil that had been controlling his life for the past year, he took her hand in his, and hoped she'd accept it as the most he could offer tonight.
Tom stomped his foot against the milky white stone under his feet, trying to deaden the pain in his calf. The water they'd run through had been crawling with sand crabs, he'd slowed his pace for a only second, his punishment, the fiery burn in his leg.
"We'll you let me look at it Tom," Erin whispered, "It won't make you less of a man, only less of an idiot."
"There isn't time for you to spit on my leg, chant over it, or whatever the hell you think can do to kill the pain." He grinned at her, and wiped the sweat away that was forming over his brows. But she had that look, he called it her fire and brimstone look, the one that meant she wasn't fooling around, and if she had to use physical force she would. Knowing all too well that if she saw fit she could kick the living shit out of him, or lock him in one of her death holds before he had time to react, he shrugged a shoulder, and agreed.
"Fine....play witch doctor, I don't care."
He watched her break one of the larger, sharper crystals that hung like daggers from the catacomb ceiling, and outwardly cringed as she moved toward him. A breath of relief escaped him as she veered around him and headed back to the watery chamber they'd come from. He tossed a look over his shoulder, and returned his attention to the catacombs, and the eyes he was certain he'd seen illuminated in the doorway. But there'd been no footprints in the grainy white stone that blanketed the floor, but even now he couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching them. He looked cautiously around the first corner, a narrow passage crossed in front of him, it appeared deserted, and unfortunately endless..
Erin's faint, almost invisible footfalls sounded behind him, he turned towards them.
"What are you doing?" He asked, blinking the sweat away from his eyes, staring at Erin and the wiggling sand crab on the end of her makeshift spear.
He slid down the cave wall willingly, the burn in his calf was getting stronger, and seemed to be moving upward to his thigh.
Erin clutched the thick fabric of his pant leg in her hands and with a single jerk tore it away.
He would have been impressed if it weren't for the festering open wound that appeared to be chewing its way up his leg, exposing muscles and tendons, his blood actually appearing to boil.
"Christ, it hurts a hell of a lot more now."
"Now do you understand why I wanted to tend to it." She said, a self-satisfied smile on her lips, unaffected by the disgusting injury on his leg.
She thrust the crystal dagger into the stone floor, the squirming crab gave up his struggle, his tiny tentacles curling into its body, it became still. Erin tugged it off the dagger, cracked its shell and tossed it aside.
Tom's face twisted with disgust, watching her tear open the body, dig through some odd intensities and finally come away with a mass of blue-green eggs that still pulsed in the palm of her hand.
"You're not putting that on my leg."
"Not exactly ...." The look on her face said it all.
"No way Erin.....I'm not putting that in my mouth."
He was a bit surprised when she didn't get annoyed and instead gestured to the wound in his leg, "See how it's traveling upward, destroying the tissue," She said, "Where do you think it will go after it travels above your thigh."
He swallowed hard, closed his eyes and held out his hand, "Give me the goddamn eggs."
Without thinking he popped them in his mouth and swallowed, wiping the stringy jelly off his lips.
"They taste good.... consistency leaves something to be desired, but they taste like......"
His words trailed off as he realized the burn in his leg was gone. His gaze fell to his wound, he watched openmouthed as the bubbling blood fell flat, tiny green threads emerged from the wound, wiggled over the skin, soothing and healing, then dropped to the cave floor and slithered away.
"I don't even want to know what the hell just happened there, but I would like to know why you know all this useless stuff." Leaning against the wall of the cave and accepting Erin's help, he stood up.
"More often then not, the keeper of the poison also holds the cure."
"Right....OK." He titled his head towards the corridor he'd been peering down earlier and slung his pack over his back.
The air got thicker, wetter, the further they walked down the endless passage, the trickle of water that dripped over the now black walls seemed to echo in the stillness. He gripped his phaser tightly in his hand, the hairs on his neck bristled, he noted Erin's expression, her rigid hold on her weapon, he wondered if she felt the same thing.....that they weren't alone. A dry wind filtered down the passage, it carried the scent of smoke and chemicals and left a bitter taste on the back of his tongue.
A doorway with jagged edges as though it'd been blown open came into view on the right wall. He tipped his head, moved closer to the sides of the cave and hedged towards it, stopping, and listening, before silently ordering Erin to stay put. Guardedly, weapon in front of him, he moved his head, then his body in front of the doorway, his mouth fell open. Glass containers, casket like boxes, lids open, exposing their contents, lined the walls of the empty room. But it was the box on the wall directly in front of him that held his attention; a woman, blond, beautiful, obviously alive, her chest rising and falling rhythmically caused his chest to tighten.
He wasn't willing to step inside, move closer without knowing first if the room was being monitored. He heard Erin step beside him, gave her a sidelong glance and gestured to the woman that had caught his eye with his phaser.
"That's Sandra Parker, Tom." Erin's whispered revelation mingled with the buzz of a transport beam. Tom spun around, prepared to fire, but it was too late, three Manarians, one President Vadan, had already materialized behind them......The two guards beside him trained their weapons on Erin.
"Mister Riker," Vadan said, his eyes moving over Erin, "I see we've given up on half-breeds."
Tom flinched, the sudden jerk of anger motivating the guard to tear Tom's phaser from his hand, and follow suit with Erin.
Tom said nothing, only stared at him, his stance rigid, only his fingers twitched at his side.
"She's very beautiful." Vadan stepped towards Erin, reaching for her cheek with a cupped hand, "skin tones a little darker then we prefer, but I find her much more agreeable then that Bajoran whore you tarnished our planet with."
"Touch her, I'll kil...." Tom's warning was cut off as the ceiling broke away, grainy dust, and pebbles clouded the passage, a few larger boulders fell on the guards as if someone had aimed them.
Erin stumbled as Tom tried to pull her away, his brief hesitation allowing Vadan to latch a hand around his ankle. He tried to kick it away, but Vadan with a shocking display of power pulled his leg out from under him.
"Erin," He choked, getting his bearings, shifting positions and throwing himself on top of Vadan.
Hands trembling with rage wrapped around the president's throat and tightened. Erin jumped in beside him, phaser in hand, "No Erin!" He ordered, watching the president's breath sputter, his face redden, a perverse satisfaction consuming him. Vadan's hands reached desperately for his throat, struggling against Tom's grip, pulling, clawing at his skin. Tom heard a guard groan behind him, followed by Erin's phaser, the dead weight of the guard crashing down on him.
His hold on Vadan faltered.
Painted nails lashed like claws over his face, cutting through his skin like tiny shards of glass. Tom jerked out of the way, his injured leg hitting the stone floor, his hand reacted instinctively, breaking away from Vadan's throat, and tearing the Machite stone from his neck.
"Holy shit!" Tom fell back with a startled curse, eyes wide, staring at the mass of decomposing flesh that pulsed beneath him.
Vadan roared, angry curses slipped over a slit in his sunken face, the veins beneath his jelly-like skin throbbed as he struggled to stand on legs supported by some kind of stasis brace.
Erin's phaser discharged, Tom staggered to his feet, pieces of Vadan's skin clinging to his hands, he wiped them against the cave wall, gagging on the repugnant odor.
"Uncle Tom!" The voice, childlike but demanding sounded above the continuous phaser beam Erin had directed on Vadan, "You can't kill him, RUN!"
He didn't wait for more encouragement, snagging Erin, he towed her behind him, moving towards the voice and the familiar little girl hanging from the ceiling overlay.
Breeze, slow down." Tom reached out in front of him and tried to snag her ankle, but with the speed of a Caldorian eel she slithered over the jagged stone, staying just out of his reach. He cursed under his breath as his head smacked against the low ceiling of the tunnel, a fine mist of yellow dust falling in his eyes.
"Brianna Rose Riker!" His whispered use of her full name stopped her, and with the agility of a contortionist she turned around in the tight space to face him.
"Now is not the time for a reunion Uncle Tom." Her finger raised in warning, her black eyes flashed a similar message, "Just follow me."
In pure Will Riker tradition he'd expected her to make it an order, but instead, she smiled, one of those crooked little mischievous smiles that seemed to run in the Riker family.
"OK," He relented, ignoring Erin's giggle behind him.
Following behind a seven year old, one more then anything he wanted to hug and kiss and take away from this place, didn't really sit too well with him, but then he tried to remind himself she was a Riker, and he'd been pretty damn resourceful even at that age, of course he'd also spent a lot of time in med-units. He groaned to himself and crawled to catch up with her.
He heard a grinding, the sound of rock against rock and tried to see through the filtered lightening up ahead. Breeze had stopped, he picked up his pace and caught up with her just as she dropped through the hole she'd apparently opened.
He hung his head over the edge, grinned at the little girl smiling up at him and moved his eyes over the room she stood proudly in the middle of. It was a child's room, canopy bed with ruffles of pink lace, dolls and toys thrown over the shiny spread. The carpet was thick and lush, vines of yellow roses trailed up the walls, there scent filling the room.
"Come on!" She encouraged, waving an arm up to him.
Tom shook his head. No matter how perfect the room looked, it was still a cell, and jumping into the center of a room that was undoubtedly monitored wasn't in his agenda.
"Come on Uncle Tom, it's safe.....Trust me."
That line sounded vaguely familiar, to Erin too apparently, her chuckle sounded from behind him. "I take it you two spent a lot of time together."
"Yea, that's what worries me," He mumbled, taking a deep breath and lowering himself into the room below. Catching his balance he turned in a complete circle, noting the small monitors in the walls, just has he'd suspected.
"OK little girl, what did you do to em?" He asked, getting on his knees and opening his arms to her.
"They see what I want them to see, I reprogrammed them to play back times when I'm behaving as I should."
"So what is that ten minutes of footage?" He teased, knocked off balance by the enthusiastic arms she wrapped around his neck. Feeling his hands against her tiny body, her smooth skin against his cheek, the backwash of relief he hadn't had time to feel crashed over him. He kissed her hair, her face, her hands, hugging her, pulling away to look at her, and drawing her close to him again.
"I missed you Uncle Tom," She said, kissing his cheek and scratching her nose, reacting to the harsh stubble on his face, "How's Daddy......Is he still mad at me?"
Tom's visual evaluation of her came abruptly to an end, "Mad, he's not mad.....Sad, and he misses you....why would he be mad?" Tom startled slightly as Erin dropped to the floor behind him.
"She's a pretty one Uncle Tom."
"Yea, she is," He answered inattentively, casting a quick glance up at Erin, "Now tell me why you think your dad would be mad?"
"When we left, to help the Manarian's, mommy said he'd never understand, that he'd be angry we left him alone with Jacen."
"Mommy?" Tom said, keeping his voice calm, trying to compose questions that wouldn't frighten her, "When did you see your mommy?"
"I can see her anytime I want, but I can't talk to her or touch her anymore, or the process won't work."
Tom shared a look with Erin, and stood up, taking Breeze by the hand he led her to the bed.
"I know your Daddy's not mad, he loves you, you know that." He nodded his head until she hesitantly nodded hers, "Good," He smiled, "Now, do you think we could see your mommy."
Breeze slipped off the bed, and walked to a tiny screen embedded in the wall.
Tom looked up at Erin, "Holo-grams you think?"
"See," Breeze said, pointing at the screen and the image on it, "She's sleeping now...she sleeps a lot."
Tom walked to the screen and studied it, it was a woman, but from her sleeping position it could have been any women. He was more interested in why and how these bastards had used Breeze's love for her parents to manipulate her into god only knows what. "Why do you suppose your Mommy wants to help the Manarians?"
"Because it's our fault that they're sick, I just wish they'd hurry up......I don't like being alone all the time." Her bottom lip quivered, "I wish I'd stayed with daddy sometimes."
Tom looked away, vying for control of his own emotions, stabilizing his anger and confusion, "I want you to see your Daddy, and I think I know how you can......I just need you tell me everything you know about the process, and how it's your fault that the Manarians are sick."
She eyed him with a look much like her mothers, one of those dark searching expressions as though she were reaching inside him, gauging how much of what he said was true.
"Hey, come on Breeze," He said, kneeling in front of her, "Trust me."
"The nurseries and the women?" President Vadan adjusted the Machite stone on his neck and turned an inquiring eye to his assistant.
"All secured Sir. Mr. Riker must have had another accomplice."
"I am tired of Mr. Riker!" A high-pitched anger infiltrated Vadan's voice, he drew a breath, returning his eyes to the mirror in front of him, he ran a hand over the lines of rage that had tarnished his face.
"If they're in the air-shafts or the tunnels they could elude us for days."
"We don't have days, we have only hours before the Enterprise arrives," He studied his image thoughtfully, a malicious smile breaching his pensive features, "Initiate a protective stasis field around the children and the women, flood the tunnels and airways with Nizine."
"You heard me, that will take care of Riker and his companions, and after the Enterprise leaves we'll locate their bodies by the smell of their rotting flesh." He laughed to himself, satisfied that that would be the end of one of his problems.
With an overly dramatic turn, his glistening robes rustling behind him, he moved to the balcony on the far-side of the room and stared down at the shimmering marble floor of the great hall. Massaging his hands over the inlaid jewels that adorned the balcony railing, he waited until his aid had finished delivering his order before speaking again.
"Sever the Riker child's access to her mother and bring the synanoid to the Crimson chamber .....I think the Captain and his wife should be treated to our finest accommodations after the dinner."
"Yes Mr. President, and the Machite stones?"
"Shuttle them ahead to the Enterprise, Captain Riker is a very strong man, the longer he comes in contact with the chemical the more likely it will be we won't have to interfere, that the Captain will seal his own fate."
The simple change in the Enterprise engines roused Riker from sleep, his gaze dropped to his chest and the woman that was draped over him. He had no idea how their discussion about their love for each other had lapsed into a heated, almost primal love making session, but he found himself smiling at the recollection.
Gently, and very quietly he repositioned her and slid off the bed.
He found himself staring down at her, it'd been so long since he'd seen her like this, he'd forgotten how perfect she was. Last night his feelings had been raw and untamed, he'd been too busy devouring her to appreciate her flawless beauty. But now, he watched the shadows paint pictures over her bare skin, listened as her breath slipped from her lips with a peaceful sigh, and smelled the scent of her that still lingered on his skin. The sensations generated a feeling, one he hadn't felt in almost a year, a memory of his life when she was at the core of his universe, when there was no satisfaction in anything, if she hadn't been there to share it. The feeling made his heart ache, with a shake of his head he moved to the small portal on the far wall, and looked down on the blue-green planet below. An undertow of rage pulled sadness and regret down into the depths of his soul where he intended to keep them, at least until he'd paid back the Manarians in spades.
A blue-white light sparkled in the other room..... the hum was familiar, he walked towards it. Stepping into the living room, the light dissipated, he smiled at the delivery. Starfleet uniforms were folded neatly on the chair, the pips of a captain adorning the charcoal collar. The new uniforms were entirely black, the jacket quilted at the shoulders, only a thick red band of red on the cuffs marking his Command department. He tugged one off the chair, two shimmering gold chains fell at his feet, Machite inlays adorning the triangular pendent.
Bending over, an angry hand snatched the larger, more elaborate chain off the floor. Holding it in the palm of his hand he watched the colors shift and blend, the vibrant blue burst manifesting itself before the background changed from orange, to fiery red, to rich chocolate brown. He stared at it and waited, waited for the deep burgundy he'd always seen before, but the stone fell silent.
A tickle between his shoulder blades intensified, feeling a bit like someone had poured Garanian bolites down the back of his robe. He ignored the itch as it turned into a pain, and tossed the stone on the chair, retrieving the other Machite he'd found on the walk, from the coffee table. The stone instantly shifted, blending into the familiar pattern of shape and color he'd expected, he followed suit with the one that had been sent for Deanna......same results.
He shook his head and chewed his lip thoughtfully before tapping the communicator that lay on top of one of the uniforms.
"Riker to Crusher."
<Crusher here, what is it Will..... Is Deanna all right?> He heard sleep in her voice, checking the chronometer he understood why.........
"Sorry Beverly, I didn't realize how early it was."
<I'm a doctor Will, this isn't the first time I've had my sleep interrupted. Now tell me, is Deanna all right?>
"Deanna's fine.....I just need a scan run on something, can you meet me in sickbay?"
"Of course, I'm on my way.........Crusher out."
He was amazed and more then pleased that she hadn't rushed him with questions. Snagging one of the uniforms from the chair he headed to the bathroom, sending a narrow-eyed look of vengeance towards the Machite pendant on the chair.
"The readings are diminishing Tom." Erin looked away from the tricorder she'd been studying, "Guess they think we're dead."
"We would be if we'd been in the shaft," He whispered, trying unsuccessfully to free himself from the ironclad grip Breeze had on his shirt.
He smoothed a hand over the sleeping child's dark curls, and physically untangled her fingers from his shirt. She shifted, even in sleep, afraid she'd wake up and they'd be gone. She mumbled a protest as he slipped out from under her, he stayed seated on the bed, massaging his hand over her back until her breathing steadied.
"How long until the shafts are safe again?" He glanced up at Erin, and the peculiar smile on her face, "What?"
"I don't know," She shrugged, "I just never pictured you in Daddy mode before."
"Uncle mode," He corrected, "Daddy mode incorporates husband mode.....I find Uncle mode much less complicated."
She rolled her eyes, a much more familiar smile playing on her lips, she tapped a few commands into the tricorder. "I'd say about two hours.......why, where are we going?"
"I don't know, somewhere......away from this planet of the damned."
"What about the kids?" Erin settled on the floor at his feet and looked at him. Her eyes were dark and held a cold anger, one he completely understood, but that looked so out of place with her delicate features.
"We'll get em out," He assured her, "I think I have a better understanding of what's going on since listening to Breeze, and possibly a way that we can waltz off this planet, take the kids, and not have to worry about any interference from Vadan and his mutants."
"Then she must have told you more then she told me."
"Nope, actually I have you to thank for what I'm thinking........You and your sand crab guts."
He pushed up off the bed, ignoring Erin's questioning eyes and walked slowly to the computer relay in the wall.
"Be nice if we could tap into internal communications, find out what's going on beyond these four walls." He studied the chrome plate below the communication link, and screwed up his face, chiding himself for not bringing the tools from the cruiser, "Damn thing looks like it's welded to the wall. I need something I can wedge between it."
"Or you could use my tools," Erin waved the sleek metal pouch in front of his face, jerking it out of the way when he reached for it, "If you tell me what it is that you've got figured out."
"How bout I tell you while I use them?"
"K." She answered, kneeling beside him and handing him the pouch.
Tom opened it, eyed the four basic tools, groaning when none were designed for what he needed.
"Breeze said there were seventeen children...." He began, choosing the Micro-optic drill from the casing, "...only three are kept in sealed rooms like Breeze....One human, one Betazoid...." He flinched back as the drill sparked against the chrome, redirected the spiraling beam and continued, "and Breeze, two thirds human and one third Betazoid."
He paused and blew on the bottom half of the circle he'd drilled between the wall and the plating. When the chrome cooled he wedged his fingers inside. With a sharp jerk he tugged the plate away and stared at the wires inside.
"And that means what Tom.......that those are the children they've picked, or the ones they've rejected."
"I'm going with picked," He said, running his fingers over the colored wires, following them to each of their circuits, finally snapping one away, "None of the kids have the same lineage as far as Breeze can tell, and the oldest is over eighteen....means they've been working on this for awhile......I think they're looking for the keeper of the poison as you put it." He shielded his eyes as he used the laser torch to split the wire he'd chosen and spliced it with another while it stilled glowed with heat.
"You think they're curing themselves, that their present physical condition was caused by some sort of virus."
He held the side of his hand to his lips, silencing Erin as muffled voices sounded through the reconfigured link. He leaned closer, obviously his workmanship hadn't been perfect, but enough that he could hear sporadic voices. For a moment he just knelt there, ear pressed against the comm, his hand still hovering in the air, keeping Erin quiet.
He finally nodded.
"Mud god is smiling on us honey," He said, his brows raising, a lopsided grin breaking over his face, "The Enterprise is in Manarian space, and I know exactly how we're going to get out of here."
He watched Erin's features shift from confusion to doubt in the blink of an eye.
"Trust me. I'd never put her in any danger," He tipped his head to Breeze, "and none of it will work without her help. So for once, take my trust me as a genuine promise."
After a moment Erin nodded.
He winked, trying to assure her again, "Go wake up Breeze, if she's lucky, and her Dad did what he told me, she may be back with her parents by tonight."
Will stared at his reflection in the mirror, the snug fitting black jumpsuit and contrasting royal blue jacket of the new dress uniforms fit him like a glove. He tugged on the high collar for the ninth or tenth time, his frown deepening.
<Why do I feel like I'm being strangled?>
He cleared his throat and tried to ignore it, accepting the fact he'd been out of uniform for quite awhile. He reached for the Machite pendent that he'd draped over the back of the chair beside him and slipped it over his head. The colors shifted, finally falling into the pattern he'd learned to expect. He just hoped Beverly was right, that she'd gotten rid of the chemicals it had been treated with. She hadn't been able to id the chemical, but she was able to ascertain that it was being absorbed through his skin, releasing endorphins that seemed to intensify his negative emotions. Why of course, was still in question, but he'd managed to talk her into not acting like a dutiful officer and reporting it to the Enterprise captain. Hopefully this, for once, would give him the jump on whatever the Manarians had planed for him.
The smell of Deanna's perfume drifted to him, he turned his head, wondering how long she'd been standing there.
"You look beautiful Deanna."
He meant it, he really did, but somehow his compliment came out sounding more like a concerned question. The gown did look beautiful, the iridescent turquoise silk hugging her body, accentuating her silky shoulders, and working in perfect harmony with the Machite stone that fell against her throat. But her face looked tired, and pale even through the make up she'd used to try to hide it.
He understood why she didn't acknowledge his compliment, and was simply leering at him, he hadn't been exactly discreet about scrutinizing her.
"This dinner tonight, it's not mandatory ......why don't you stay here and rest."
"I might." she said.
His brows instinctively shot up, that was hardly the response he'd expected, but it was the one he'd hoped for. He didn't want her anywhere near the Manarians ever again, if he'd thought he could throw her on a shuttle and send her back to Earth that's exactly what he would have done.
She kicked off her shoes and sat down on the edge of the couch, hesitantly he sat down beside her.
"If she's down there I'll find her...." he said, "then we can recover."
"Recover?" Her voice was flat, distant, he wondered if it was because he'd been unable to tell her he still loved her.
He wasn't sure what he could say, how much he wanted to say........This new hope that Breeze was alive had taken hold of him with a tangible force, eclipsing everything else in his life, but he also knew even if he brought his little girl home, it wouldn't heal all the wounds. Recovery seemed to be the most he could hope for.
"Recover," he reiterated, laying his hand over hers, "and we will ya know, just like we always do." Sounding convincing wasn't difficult, he believed it in his heart.
"You're right......we will."
Again she threw him with her response, considering the jackass he'd been for the past year, he hadn't expected her to agree so quickly, but more importantly he'd hadn't expected to see her commitment to it so clearly in her eyes.
"We'll find Briana Will," she whispered, "but this time, lets do it together."
A smile broke easily over his face, and not just because he finally understood that she'd been holding out the same hopes that he had for the past year. But because for the first time in what seemed an eternity, this woman beside him was someone he knew, someone he trusted and someone he loved.
He nodded and squeezed her hand.
"If we're gonna do it together, then maybe I should tell you everything I know."
Deanna opened her mouth to reply, the flashing of the communication terminal interrupted.
Will jumped to his feet, "And after I read this," he said, "I may have more to go on."
Will beamed down to Manaria with the first group of Enterprise crew members, minus his wife. The vid-news clip he'd requested on a hunch, had proven just what he'd thought......Joshua Parker was being held in the slaying of his x-wife. Between Tom's records and his own investigation he'd found out that Sandra had been a part of the initial team involved in the Manrian negotiations, and that she was also the mother of a missing child.....But until Beverly had found the drug in the pendant, and had wondered out loud why anyone would want him to feel such detrimental emotions.....it hadn't occurred to him.
President Vadan's voice carried over the courtyard, his voice reaching him long before the president stepped into view. Will squinted against the setting sun that glared off the gold pillars of the palace, and took a few steps forward, meeting Vadan and his aid just as they stepped under the arbor of hanging flowers that adorned the marble walkway.
"Mr. President," he said, bowing his head.
He held his bow longer then he'd intended, using the time to will away the violent anger he was feeling.
"It's a pleasure to have you on our world again, and I'm certain this time we'll be able to come to terms we can both agree on."
"I hope so Sir."
"I'm sure of it Captain."
Vadan's gaze continued to drift over Will's shoulder, nodding to the other Enterprise crew, but Will knew that wasn't what he was doing.
"I do hope your lovely wife will be joining you. We've prepared the crimson chamber for you....I believe that was her favorite."
Will swallowed hard, this was the toughest poker game he'd ever played.
"She's not feeling well, she'll be staying on the ship."
"Ah, I'm so sorry......she's such a charming woman."
Vadan's voice, calm and completely collected did nothing to fool Will, if this had been a poker game, he'd a called on the spot and walked away with the whole shooting match, he was sure of it.
"My aid will show you the way, I must greet the other guests."
<Sure ya must.>
Riker smiled through clenched teeth, nodded and followed Vadan's aid, flipping a look over his shoulder as the next group of Enterprise personal beamed into the courtyard. The seven new guests were quickly greeted by Vadan, Will watched for a moment, especially interested in the tiny blue-eyed blond that stood beside Doctor Crusher.
Will bolted the door to his chamber, slumped into the large wing backed chair in the corner and waited. They wouldn't be monitoring Deanna, which would hopefully give her access to the behind the scene workings of this clandestine little culture. He on the other hand wasn't so lucky, and not completely comfortable leaving it up to her, but until he was certain this elaborate gala was under way, he had no choice but to wait and hope.
He groaned at the sharp rap on his door and drew to his feet, shuffling his way to the door, and opening it only slightly.
"Can I help you?" he said, surprised by the young woman that stood outside.
"May I come in?"
Riker shrugged and opened the door further, gesturing inside. The Manarians were not one of those races that sent 'company' to their guest, yet this scantly clad woman, with her provocative smile, mane of untamed blond curls, and inviting green eyes certainly seemed to be just that.
Then it hit him, those eyes, the greenest he'd ever seen.
"I know you, you're Tom's partner......Erin, right?" He stumbled over the words, his eyes darting over the room as if Tom might fall down from the ceiling at any moment......which with Tom wasn't out of the question.
"That's right," she said, her provocative smile falling away, "I'd like you to come with me."
"Why, what is he up to?"
Erin shifted, she seemed either edgy or afraid to tell him anymore.
"Tom must have told you I won't help him just for the hell of it, so ya better give me a good one."
She twirled a strand of her hair around her finger, a smile bright enough to overshadow the sun spread over her fragile features.
"It seems our newest partner won't help us," she said timidly, "least not until her Daddy tells her it's the right thing to do."
"Daddy?" he choked, the simple word increasing his heart rate until it pounded loudly in his ears, "Where.....where is she?!"
How much further?" Will reiterated the question for at least the tenth time in the last hour and half, and gripped the handle of the disruptor Erin had given him tighter. His palm was damp, it slipped against the smooth metal, he rolled his shoulders, trying to shake the unlikely feeling that burned across them.
"Not much further." Erin smiled, a sympathetic smile.
He nodded, watching her, gauging her. He had no reason not to trust her, she was Tom's partner, and he'd learned over the years that Tom Riker was one of the few people he could trust, and yet his shoulders felt like someone had welded a laser drill in his back, that his muscles and tendons were being pulled tighter in its spiraling beam.
They turned the next corner, the corridor was dark, darker then any of the others they'd been through, but somehow familiar. That's what kept eating at him, they'd been walking for over an hour, and yet the music from the ballroom had never changed... never louder, never softer, it was as if he hadn't really moved at all.
"Erin," he whispered, "are you sure you know where you'r...." His words fell off, his nose wrinkled as the smell of burning flesh reached it.
"Get back against the wall!" Erin shouted, seizing his hand with a harsh grip, forcing his disruptor to fire into the ceiling.
"What the hell are you doing?" he snapped, ignoring the fine mist of dust that fell from the ceiling.
"I thought I saw something......Up there." She jabbed her finger ahead of them.
"Stay here." he said, moving cautiously in the direction she'd given him. He took only a few steps before he stumbled over the source of the smell.
"Oh God," he groaned, kneeling beside the faceless body on the floor. Its chest still bristled red-orange from a disruptor blast, the face only a mass of flesh and blood, the bone structure completely obliterated.
A blinding light flashed over the cave wall, a booming voice followed.
"Stay where you are!"
Riker shoot to his feet and took a step back, raising his hands as the armed Manarains came into clear view.
"Will, what happened?" It was Beverly's voice, she stepped from behind the guards as she spoke, her eyes moving between him and the body on the floor.
Her face dropped, twisted with disgust as she sank to her knees, "What the hell happened?"
Her voice was pained, and angry. He opened his mouth to tell her he had no idea and closed it immediately. Gagging as he recognized the turquoise dress, and the scorched curls of blond hair.
"Oh my God.......Deanna....." His knees buckled, the disruptor falling from his hand, he reached for the wall, bracing himself as his body gave way.
"This was just fired...." The guards voice was muffled, barely filtering through the haze of grief and confusion that hung over him.
"That's not possible.....What you're suggesting isn't possible!" It was Geordi's voice, uncharacteristically panicked and angry.
"Do you have another explanation Captain, there doesn't seem to be anyone else here."
"Will, talk to me.... what happened?"
"I wasn't alone." He thought he heard himself speak, but it seemed lost in this muted reality......The accusations and questions, the hands, some rough, some gentle, the sound of his footsteps, the music of the orchestra all blended into one horrendous nightmare that raked over his nerves, and escalated into a black rage that cracked over him with the raw power of an exploding star.
"I didn't do it!" His voice bellowed with an unnatural roar as strong and powerful as the strength he used to free himself from the guards hold and tear the Machite stone from his throat.
"It was YOU!" With the force of a thousand men he lunged at President Vadan, knocking him off his feet and coming down on top of him. Wrestling against those that tried to pull him off, he wrapped trembling hands forcefully around Vadan's throat. Riker's eyes flashed black, curses spit like venom from his mouth, refusing to release Vadan's neck, even as he was being pulled off of him.
"Let go of me!" Riker shouted, attempting to fight back even against the federation crew members that tried to restrain him.
"He's insane!" Vadan choked, "If you don't arrest him Captain LaForge, then my people will handle this!"
The ballroom fell silent as Vadan staggered to his feet, targeting Captain LaForge with an icy look as he moved towards him.
"Hold up there pilgrim!"
The familiar voice broke Vadan's stare and caused Will to stop struggling.
Tom Riker, with nothing less then an arrogant swagger walked across the marble floor and stopped just short of Vadan.
"Arrest him as well, he's a trespasser on our world!" Vadan's guards reacted immediately to the order, rasing their weapons at a very unaffected Tom.
"I wouldn't do that.......You shoot me, I might drop these." Tom opened his clenched fists, displaying two sealed glass cubes.
"You heard me, arrest him!"
Tom chuckled, fumbling one of the cubes, allowing it to drop, and snagging it before it hit the floor.........Vadan gasp, as did the other Manarians.
"Now that I'm certain you know what's inside the cubes, I'd like to strengthen my position by asking someone to hold them for me." Tom jerked his head at the door.
"What the hell are you doi...." Will's question fell off, his eyes falling to the three children that entered the room, and zeroing in on one.
"Breeze!" He pulled against the guards that held him, freeing himself with one desperate jerk and sprinting across the floor.
"Hi Daddy, I'm on a mission."
Riker's vision blurred, his body trembled, his heart felt like a battering ram was being thrust against his chest. He knelt down in front of her, pulled her against him and held on as if his life depended on it.
"It's OK Daddy, don't cry, Uncle Tom and I are gonna kick their egotistical asses."
A liquid chuckle escaped him, he drew back only far enough to look at her. Far enough to capture another mental picture, replace the tattered, tearstained one he'd carried around for the last year.
He wasn't sure if the angry voices around him had ever subsided, or if they'd just filtered into this perfect moment, but without releasing Breeze, he turned his head to Tom.
"My little girl is being held at gunpoint.....would you care to explain.......Uncle Tom."
Breeze giggled, the sound of it, even amidst the Enterprise personal taking control of an obviously terrified race of people caused his face to break into a smile.
"I'm not sure your mother would be pleased that you're in cahoots with Uncle Tom." His smile fell off, a dagger of grief piercing his heart.
"It's s'ok Daddy, she said she'd overlook it this time." She waggled her brows in true Riker fashion and nodded her head proudly.
"Deanna's fine Will.....She's with Erin and the other children," Tom squatted down beside them, "I just happened to stumble across a little blond with a very familiar accent while we were gathering up the kids," His eyes drifted to Breeze, "You still wanna handle this kid-o?"
Will watched, confused and momentarily speechless as Breeze accepted one of the cubes from Tom.
"Whoa, hold on......what is she handling?!"
"I'll be fine Daddy......Trust me." She wiggled out of his hold and moved out of his reach in one slick maneuver.
"What the hell's in that thing?" Will asked, jumping to his feet, following behind his daughter.
"Antilon Virus." Tom answered, loud enough to draw Vadan's eyes to his.
Will stopped just behind Breeze.
"You are a very bad man," Breeze said, holding out the cube to Vadan.
Vadan flinched, trying to step back.
"If you don't tell Uncle Geordi and my Daddy what you've done, how to make the mommies wake up, I'll open this.......No one I love will die, but you might." She spoke with a firm resolve that far surpassed her years.
"She's only a child.....this is all a ruse, a ruse created by Tom Riker to achieve the revenge he so desperately needs." Vadan's eyes darted nervously between the Enterprise crew members.
"I knew you would lie." Breeze said, fumbling with the plastic covering to the cube.
"No......Don't open it!" Vadan cried, "I'll tell you everything.....Just take her away from me."
"I can't believe we've been home for a week and they haven't fought yet." Will sat down beside his wife on the cushioned porch swing and shook his head at Breeze and Jacen. The swing squeaked, just like everything in this rickety old house, but lately the same sounds that only a week ago had caused his hair to stand on end, now sounded more like a warm lullaby.
"Enjoy it Will, I guarantee it won't last." The smile that she held while she looked at the children lapsed into a frown as she pulled her eyes to his, "Did you talk to Geordi?"
"Yea," he answered, inhaling deeply and letting it out slowly, "They've found homes for the kids whose mothers didn't fit the Manarian's needs, and Starfleet is looking into making arrangements for the synanoids, apparently they've proven to be just as sentient as you and me....." He shook his head, something he'd been doing a lot of lately. Creating disposable life forms, thinking, breathing beings capable of feeling pain all used in the name of research......Bred for no other reason then to be destroyed. It seemed so barbaric, but even in his own cultures history he'd read about scientist that felt no remorse in playing god to a lesser species, and that's apparently how the Manarian's saw the noids.
"And the virus mutation?" Deanna asked.
"It was just as the Manarin's thought, caused by our interference in the plague that riddled them seventy years ago. Apparently there was a mass grave for those that died of the plague, the Manarians opened it with the intend of finding out the root of the original virus, but when the DNA scans were run and several different life forms were found in the crypt, they found the mutation, and better understood what would have been a natural progression in their lives was worsened because of our interference." Will shifted, and draped his arm over the back of the swing.
"So, they embroidered their DNA with a child from each race to find the carrier of the poison .......Why didn't they just ask for our help?" Deanna's head flopped on Will's chest, a defeated breath escaping her.
"To them, we're nothing but an inferior species....it's a bit like us swatting a fly .....,"
"......Speaking of pesky bugs." Will said, tipping his head towards the couple walking towards the house.
"Uncle Tom!" Breeze's voice echoed through the yard, her exuberant greeting almost knocking her Uncle off his feet.
Will smiled at Deanna, watching as Tom, Breeze slung like a sack of flour over his shoulder, and Jacen running along beside him came closer.
"I found these, they're pretty ratty looking, wasn't sure if you wanted to keep em or throw em away?"
"Throw em away." Will said, flinching as Deanna smacked his arm.
"Wait a minute....I recognize that voice, belay that order Tom......We've gotten kinda use to these two."
"Suit yourself," Tom answered, dumping Breeze on Will's lap, and tossing Jacen in behind her, "We just stopped by to make this delivery and say good bye."
"Good bye?" Deanna sat up, her eyes misting.
Will's brows raised at the unlikely sadness in Deanna's voice.....Tom's brows reacted similarly.
"I'll be back, " Tom grinned and slipped his arm around Erin, she instinctively leaned into him, her arms wrapping around his waist, "I've had enough virtual bullsh-- pooh-pooh for awhile, thought I'd go to Noja, get in touch with myself, and anything else I can get in touch with."
Tom leaned down and kissed Erin, achieving the results Will knew he was shooting for, a pleased smile from Deanna, and two very adamant yucks from Jacen and Breeze.
"Hey, I can't spend my whole life welding the sword."
"Don't touch it Will." Deanna said, interrupting his snide remark before he'd opened his mouth to say it.
"What?" he asked, his expression exuding innocence, "The kids are right here, what do you think I am."
Tom cleared his throat and squatted in front of Breeze, "Stay safe Lady Breeze.....I love you."
Breeze wiggled off Will's lap, "I love you too," Her arms wrapped around his neck, "don't screw this up Uncle Tom, Erin's the prettiest one yet."
"I'll try not to." He pulled back and kissed her cheek.
"Watch out for your beautiful mom, and your aging father Lord Jacen." He added, crumpling Jacen's hair, kissing Deanna's cheek, and tossing a thumbs up to his brother before reestablishing his hold on Erin.
"OK pretty lady," he whispered, "I'm ready to lay down the sword now."
"I suggest bringing it, just in case." Erin grinned, a provocative grin that held Tom in a heated trance as they moved away from the house.
"Uncle Tom's in love." Breeze said, scooting back up on her father's lap.
"Or something like that," Will answered, tossing a look to Deanna.
"Uncle Tom is *not* in love!" Jacen's opinion sounded loudly, and drew Breeze's narrowed eyes to his.
"Yes he is!" Breeze retorted, slipping off Will's lap and planting her hands firmly on her hips.
"No he's not!" Jacen scoffed, making use of his size and hovering over Breeze.
"Is too......and you don't know anything....you're just a dumb boy."
"Look up *dumb* in the dictionary......*girl* is the first definition!"
"Will, aren't you going to intervene?" Deanna's eyes widened.
"I kinda like it Deanna," he said, sliding closer to her, using his arm to draw her to him, "I finally feel like I'm home."
end......please request answers to any and all holes:-)