Star Trek is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures Corporation. The
characters and various elements of the "Star Trek Universe," in which this story
takes place, are the property of Paramount Pictures. No infringement of their
rights is intended.
The story itself is my original work and is offered solely for the shared
amusement of fans. Any commercial use of this work or other distribution is
The brittle snap gave him only an instant's warning before the excruciating
wrench. His arms again bore the full weight of his body over the open maw of
the chasm. With the artificial gravity clawing at him, stretching his
overtaxed muscles to the limit of endurance, Riker grit his teeth and steeled
his grip, clinging to the sheer wall with nothing but the ferocity of his will.
His boots scrabbled defiantly against the smooth sides of the precipice and
found in the last moment before forfeit a seam between the plates. He braced
himself at the fullest extension of his arched foot and eased his arms
slightly. In the elongated seconds that followed, the chitter of the broken
ridge that had been his last foothold echoed ever more faintly down and down
and down the unending, inward-sloping wall.
"Number One? Are you there? Are you all right?"
The captain's voice sounded from the comm badge riding the crease in Riker's
tunic that had worked its way nearly under his chin.
"All right might be putting it a little strong--Captain, but--I'm still
here," he panted out to the crew monitoring his away mission from the bridge
of the Starship Enterprise.
Riker's brow, wet with sweat, brushed against the sleeves of his uniform as
he attempted to glance around him: nothing appeared in his limited field of
vision but the erratic flashes of the strange energy discharge that had lured
him out of the shuttlecraft, a move that he would regret until--his dying day?
"Data?" he called wearily into the open comm, "Anytime now."
A calm, precise voice answered, "I am attempting to open a large enough
passageway for the shuttlecraft, Commander. Hang on."
Sitting in the shuttlecraft on the other side of what they had hypothesized
was a partially opened bay door, Lt. Commander Data directed a laser beam at
the edge of the gap. Even if he had seen the ironic grimace that the words
"hang-on" had elicited, Data, the android pilot of the shuttlecraft, would not
have understood his unintended gallows humor. He had not understood, either,
what had prompted Riker to disembark the shuttlecraft and squeeze through the
narrow opening in the hatch plate that had impeded the shuttle's progress into
the huge central atrium that sensors had detected just beyond the impasse. Data
had argued--strictly in the intellectual sense of the word (for he had no
emotions to cloud his judgment)--that if anyone were going to investigate the
red flashes of light that beamed through the crack like the projector's lamp at
an ancient picture show, it should be he, an artificial life form better
equipped for the collection of data about this strange, hollow-cored,
artificial asteroid they had discovered. But Riker had smiled as he turned
back to the flickering light, his eyes alit too, but with curiosity. "You
realize, in just the time since we entered, the interior has developed M-class
atmosphere, temperature, and gravity, as though it were prepared to greet human
life forms. I'm going, Data. We'd only have to translate your numbers into
human terms anyway."
Well, perhaps. But there was no arguing that an android was better equipped
for unexpected hazards, like the collapse of the ledge from which Riker had
reported his view of a huge interior chamber whose walls were out-sized
hexagonal plates etched with veins like the circuits of a microchip and a
mysterious light energy creeping along the lines like luminous blood.
As he carefully melted away another half-meter of the partition to widen the
opening into that chamber, Data impassively considered Riker's colorful
description: a very human account that might have a very human accounting.
On the Enterprise bridge, Captain Jean-Luc Picard paced behind newly appointed
Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge. "How much longer until we can get a transporter
"I'm trying, Captain." LaForge worked with precise intensity at the aft
science console. "Any better now, O'Brien?" he queried the chief petty
officer in the main transporter room several decks below him.
"I'm sorry, sir," O'Brien's Irish accents carried the same anxiety. "There's
still too much electromagnetic interference. I can't get him locked."
Without even glancing up to meet the Captain's glared command, LaForge began
another alteration of the transport imaging scanners as the disembodied
dialogue from within the asteroid core twisted the atmosphere on the bridge
Riker's strained and weary attempt at humor: "Uh, Data? I'm getting a little
tired. I think I've hit the wall on this exercise."
Data's dead-pan reply: "I am working as quickly as possible, Commander, within
the safety parameters. A faster disintegration of the plate would destabilize
its composition and result in the negative consequence of your having no wall
Picard leaned down to LaForge. "Hurry."
Riker shifted once again, the ache in his body continuing to mount even in his
new position, probably because it had been the old position only three minutes
ago. He reflected that there were only so many arrangements of bone and muscle
and sinew that could be stretched over this particular configuration of
handholds and brace points. The irony was that the panels were studded with
spiky projections that would have made the whole structure a terrific
rock-climbing area--if only he'd been three meters tall. The rivets or brads
or whatever they were were spaced too far apart.
He stretched his legs to ease his arms, relief that lasted for few seconds
before other muscles cried out in pain. He was definitely going to see CMO
Beverly Crusher after this episode, one way or another, and he was beginning to
be afraid of that other. He was losing the battle to fatigue. Even his eyes
were becoming tired from the light flashes that played in the open chasm like
crimson lightning connecting panels across the void. The activity appeared to
be random, but wherever the energy touched, it fed the forked trails within the
plate walls. As a light trail arced into the panel below him, revealing its
branching threads and illuminating the emptiness beneath, he wondered what
would happen if the panel he clung to were suddenly to receive a charge.
"Data, how far down is it?"
"Scanning. . . . From your approximated position, Commander, twenty point
thirty seven meters to the edge of the convergence plane where the artificial
gravity reverses to the other pole."
Riker craned his head downward so suddenly it almost pulled his hand away.
"Data--where the poles reverse--is there an inversion field?"
"Scanning . . . . Yes, sir."
On the bridge, LaForge frowned at something in the tone of the overheard
exchange, and for a fraction of a second he was distracted by the thought of
the inversion field--a layer of weightlessness in which the opposite pulls of
the gravity fields canceled each other out.
"How deep?" Riker's voice was asking with peculiar urgency.
"Because of the hourglass shape of the atrium, the inversion field varies from
one half meter on the perimeter of the cinture to ten meters in the exact
"Okay." There was an audible breath and then, "I've got an idea. Just run
the equations for me, Data, okay? I'm going to push off this wall and dive for
the center. Check it now: ten meters should be a big enough cushion to
decelerate the fall. "
Picard whirled in his pacing and exchanged with LaForge a look of pure alarm.
"Your estimate is correct, sir," they heard the android reply. "A ten-meter
field will provide a minimally sufficient margin."
"Don't move, Will!" the captain barked. "We'll have you in transporter lock
in just a moment."
There was a heartbeat of silence.
"I think I'm about out of moments, Captain. The wall slopes in and it's
studded with spikes. If I fall from here, I'll bounce all the way down."
"Commander," La Forge countered, "if you don't hit that field dead center,
it's one bad bounce at the bottom."
Picard toggled the comm to speak to the shuttle alone. "Data? How long
until you can open that passageway?"
"I estimate another two minutes and five seconds, Captain."
LaForge squinted at the image still resolving on his monitor. "Come on,
dammit!" he breathed in undertone.
Picard opened the line again. "Commander Riker," he spoke almost
conversationally, "you will do me the favor of remaining where you are. I
would prefer not to have to explain to your next of kin how you managed to die
in a diving accident in deep space."
Something between a sigh and snort answered. "Diving. . . my next of kin would
understand. . . . It's falling that would be inexcusable."
Picard's jaw set. They weren't going to coax him out of it.
"Commander, please, just a little longer. The lock pattern is almost clear!"
Riker closed his eyes and concentrated. A memory of the quarry pool near his
grandparents' home filled his mind. . . a pit of limestone white as this cavern
was black . . . water below him, blue-green and sun-sparkled like opals, six
meters down to the surface, twenty-two meters deep . . . the rocky ledge the
older boys had dared him to jump from where the shadow of a barely submerged
pinnacle swayed in the ripples . . . bet you can't jump past it . . .
He flexed his foot in the metal seam of the wall panel. He straightened his
His head leaned back. His hands loosened.
. . . bet I can . . .
He pushed off.
LaForge looked up into a sharp pattern on his monitor. "O'Brien! It's clear!
The rushing air crescendoed in his ears. His arms extended, and he remembered
sailing right over the submerged rocks, the cool water waiting below, and the
incredible sensation: I'm flying.
"Target acquired!" O'Brien shouted. "Energizing!"
Falling faster and faster now toward the narrow junction of the hourglass, his
arms came round above his head reaching for the splashdown into a turquoise
His eyes opened in dark space and a fierce red bolt of light rushed at his
"Got him!" O'Brien's voice rang out. The entire bridge crew seemed to settle
slightly in a collective release of tension.
"Materialization cycle initiating," they heard the chief's confident report.
The captain gave his jacket an emphatic tug as he headed back to the command
LaForge exhaled his pent-up breath but still stared intently at the screen
monitoring the transport. "Verify the adjustment for the acceleration and--"
O'Brien had already checked the automatic sequence that compensated for the
transport of moving targets. Everything was correct. The familiar chiming
echoed in the buffers. The beam shimmered from the emitters and now he could
just make out the beginning of the human shape. But--
"--don't forget to reverse the vertical attitude," LaForge warned.
O'Brien stared into the blue haze of the beam. The human shape was that of a
diver, stretching for the water--upside down!
Materialization complete: O'Brien cringed as Riker fell headfirst onto the
Captain's Log : Stardate: 42005.2
En route to our mission in the Edvalin system, the Enterprise has paused in
the Oblese Expanse in order to investigate a solitary asteroid adrift in this
area of exceptionally low cosmic density. Initial remote scanning revealed
that the asteroid was not a naturally occurring satellite, but an artificial
construction of unknown origin and purpose. An Away Team deployed from the
Enterprise to gather information on this phenomenon has returned prematurely
due to an accident which interrupted the examination of the asteroid core. A
detailed report is awaiting Dr. Crusher's release of Commander Riker.
From the Engineering report, systems software reintegration of the main
computer is proceeding . . .
* * * *
Dr. Beverly Crusher checked the encephalographic monitor once again and nodded
in satisfaction. Electrocortical activity was completely normal now and
progressing toward a natural return to consciousness. The favorable prognosis
gave the red-haired doctor a moment to reflect that in spite of all the
technology, a twenty-fourth century physician was often just as proficient
using simple observation. Even without the elaborate readouts of the medical
computers, she could see that Riker's eyelashes had begun to flutter and his
hands flexed slightly. She smiled in anticipation of watching once again the
characteristic sequence of Will's elbows bracing, chin slanting upward to lead
the head and shoulders off the biobed, and finally the little "ow!" as his
brow, wrinkled with a frown, would bounce off the confinement field that she
had learned through experience was the only way to keep the restive First
Officer of the Enterprise from bounding out of sickbay without a doctor's
But this time was different. A shudder passed through his body and his head
tossed from side to side. The heart monitor toned at a sudden jump in pulse.
His eyes flew open and his hands, not his head, hit the confinement field in an
innate defensive gesture.
Dr. Crusher clicked off the field immediately and eased her patient back down
with the equally instinctive assurance of a human touch.
"Hey, easy there, Commander." She leaned over him with her medical tricorder.
He squinted back at her. "Doctor--" he said.
"Crusher," she smiled. "Want to try for something with a bigger IQ score?"
He responded with a vague smile that didn't really focus on her. His
attention was turned inward, as though his intelligence were groping along his
arteries all the way down to his fingers and toes assessing each connection to
the rest of his body.
She knew, of course, about the whole cliff-hanging drama and their catching
him in mid-fall. But now, she wondered if, in the moment before his impact on
the platform, he had been aware that he had been transported to safety--or had
he blacked out with the crash and the pain in the belief that his dive for life
had gone disastrously wrong?
Will Riker let out a long breath and his pulse steadied. Beverly flashed a
little light in one hand and pointed at the bridge of her nose with the other.
"Look right here now."
The red gleam of his retina reflected back at her.
He waited without asking, blank as the darkness he had fallen through.
She switched off the light and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. "A slight
concussion is all. I just wanted to make sure. When they brought you in, there
was so much synaptic activity, I thought for a second that perhaps the old saw
about your whole life passing before your eyes might be true."
"I think I was . . . remembering things," Riker murmured.
"You want to remember to hit the ground with your feet next--"
Someone cleared his throat behind Beverly.
O'Brien was standing in the threshold of the diagnostic bay. "Commander, I'm,
uh, really sorry, sir. . . about the way you, uh--came in. We-- I mean, I
--was so anxious to pull you in--that is, we all were, but--"
Riker hauled himself into a sitting position letting his legs drop over the
side of the biobed, making a ragged facsimile of proper address from a superior
officer to the technician who had brought him home head-first.
"Yes, sir?" The transporter chief stood there like a holographic character
who was expecting to be offered a blindfold and a last cigarette.
"Thank-you," Riker said simply.
O'Brien wasn't sure what to do with that.
"You . . . did a fine job," Riker said, "and I'm very . . . grateful.
The message took a moment to register, but finally the transporter chief drew
himself up with a renewed sense of confidence and vindication.
"Thank you, sir. Glad to have you aboard again. I just wanted to see that
everything was all right. Well, I'll be getting back to my station, then."
Backing out of the diagnostic bay, he started for the door, but he turned back
to add, "We're all grateful too, sir. You know, the coordinates we pulled you
from? They were pretty well off center in the inversion field. There was only
a meter and a half depth under you."
Riker was still staring after O'Brien's back when the sick bay door closed.
The pallor looked a shade worse. Crusher put a gentle hand against Riker's
chest. "Why don't you lie down and take a minute, Will?"
He shook his head, visibly gathering himself. "No, it's okay. I have to go."
"I'm sure the Captain can wait for the report. We can all stand to practice a
little patience. " She said it to remind herself not to slug O'Brien when next
she saw him. He certainly didn't need to lay out that last little bit of
information about how badly Riker would have crashed.
"No, thanks. I feel okay now. I'll just--" Riker boosted himself off the
table, and as his feet hit the carpet, something quite unforeseen happened.
His knees buckled, his legs folded, and he crumpled onto the floor.
Beverly was beside him in an instant squatting down where, sprawling on his
hands and knees, he had backed himself into a sitting position against the
Surprised herself, Beverly swept the tricorder over him. But the read-outs
all came back negative, at least for the things she feared. And then she
chided herself for by-passing the simple explanation.
"Okay, Will, it's all right," she said soothingly. "Apparently it's just
delayed stress reaction. No injury, no impairment, nothing hurt--"
except--looking at the color creeping into his face--his pride.
"Sorry," he said disgustedly. "I seem to have forgotten how to walk as well
as how to dive--not to mention how to wait--"
"Uh-oh!" she frowned at her tricorder.
"What? What is it?"
"Now I see what's the matter. Yes, definitely." She gazed at him gravely.
"It's Picard syndrome."
She smiled slyly. "A persistent condition characterized by excessive demands
on oneself. It's often accompanied by a denial of fatigue and characterized by
over- emphasis on emotional control. Commander Riker, I'm surprised you
didn't recognize it. You're usually the first to get on the Captain's case
when he starts exhibiting these symptoms."
That helped a little. A wry smile curved his mouth. At least she had eased
him through his self-consciousness. Lord! Men and their delicate egos!
He began to pick himself up, sitting back on his heels. "All right. Maybe if
I try a little harder--"
But he tumbled backward again--unbalanced by a tiny accidental brush of her
More than embarrassment, she could see fear and frustration and the desperate
way he tried to repress them. And now she was upset both at herself and at him
for expecting that his previous StarFleet career had inured him to such close
passes with death. And even so, who could say whether some element in this case
had made it the last straw? Just because he was Will Riker, did that mean he
was immune to the normal sensibilities of mortal human beings?
"You'll try harder--? Try harder? Are you listening to yourself, Commander?
For goodness sake, Will! You just told your body to jump off a cliff and
you're surprised it doesn't want to work for you any more? You'd never treat
the crew that way. Why do you do this to yourself?"
Though she wanted to shake him, she leaned even closer, gentle but earnest.
"Listen to me, Will. Your little escapade is trying very hard to speak to you.
Your body hears it, but that brain of yours is determined to refuse delivery.
You took a big risk. It almost killed you. It was a brave thing to do, but
you can let up now."
She stood up and extended a hand to help him off the floor. "Give Will Riker
a break, Commander. Data can prepare the report. You are to get some rest.
You're not indispensable--to anyone but yourself. "
Standing, he towered over her, but still managed to look a little smaller than
usual--and a lot less certain.
"You can keep a limited duty schedule," she said, "but I want you to take
time to relax during the next week and lay some of the burden of the world off
your shoulders. You don't have to be responsible for everything, everywhere
and every hour. Be frivolous; get in some recreation. And if it helps your
duty-oriented Star-Fleet-Code-of-Conduct sensibilities, consider it an order
from the CMO. Your only necessary duties are to see Deanna, and check-in here
daily. Your first priority till we arrive at Edvalin is to recuperate from
this little flyer of yours."
Under the circumstances that Doctor Crusher had described, Counselor Deanna
Troi was compelled to agree that the Enterprise's First Officer should be seen
for counseling whether he initiated the contact or not. It was just that under
other circumstances, which the Counselor herself had trouble describing, the
interview could potentially have an atmosphere as thick as water.
As she made her way down from her office to the senior officers' wing on deck
nine, she recalled how, a year ago, after gaining a coveted post on the
flagship of the Fleet, she had stood before her new captain and reluctantly
offered the information that she was already "acquainted" with his selected
candidate for First Officer. Picard raised an eyebrow; he was not slow at the
subtext, but he asked only if she felt that this would be an impediment to
carrying out her duties. She replied, no, that it was "all over years ago."
Since that first day on the Enterprise, she had come to realize that if she'd
had to respond to the question again, the answer would still be "no," but the
"all" would have to be heavily modified.
Will Riker had been her first, and, in truth, her only complete, all
consuming, unrestrained and irrevocable love. Betazoids had a name for that:
Imzadi. But she had taken another name that day in her duty oath-- Counselor
-- and it was the Counselor whom the First Officer needed to see.
Beside his door she paused and rethought a decision that she had only
struggled with in theory till now: as the Counselor, how deeply should she
read him? Explaining her empathic powers to her coworkers, she had likened her
special ability to perception of scent. She was aware always of the general
emotional states of people around her as though they each wore a fragrance, but
if she focused and concentrated, it became pungent, almost a taste, complex
like an oenophile's appreciation of wine. And yet, Will, because of their past
association, she could read in a way that could not be analogized except in
synesthesia, as though scent had infused and become touch inside her very skin.
And that intimacy was the price of using her empathy with Will--that and the
fact that he would be aware of it, too.
She rang the bell. No, she would not open herself to that kind of communion.
Their working relationship was . . . working. Everything was under control.
But she could not predict how he would react to empathic interchange, if he
were, indeed, as shaken as Beverly had portrayed to her. No, she would not
open herself, because she couldn't predict how she would react, either.
Realizing that she had been standing there a rather long time without a
response, Deanna rang again. This time, the door opened immediately, but
without any greeting, and she stepped inside the cabin, which was dimly lit, as
befit the evening watch.
Across the room, Will sat on a sofa in the pool of soft amber light cast by a
single lamp. He leaned over the glass coffee table peering into a little
wooden chest whose open lid obscured the contents from her view.
"Hi," she called, the door shutting softly on all of her carefully planned
segues. "Can I come in?"
The smile she received was enough acknowledgement and invitation between the
two of them. She walked over to the sofa passing his desk where she noted his
computer interface was displaying his personal logs. On an inset frame was
some text from his service record: his three Star Fleet Decorations for
Exceptional Valor. She thought that sight was, of itself, very telling.
She sat beside him on the sofa where he was rummaging through an odd
collection of objects in the chest: some children's toys, some mementos, some
she could not begin to classify. "What are you doing? What's all this?"
"Just some things from home."
Now, she recognized the style of the carving on the box-- the heavy geometric
outlines, the filled curves, the stark contrasts in the paint-- as Inuit design
from Will's native Alaska.
"Are you looking for something?"
"No," he shrugged, "not really." And then, "Why? Do you think I've lost
something? Notice anything missing?" Even without empathy, she perceived an
undercurrent in the joke.
She craned her head to look into the box, to place her own eyes under his
downward glance. "It looks more like you have a hard time letting things go.
" --Ow!" Her nestling closer to him turned into a squirm. From the cushions
underneath her, she pulled a small, brown oblong object, a husk with rough,
regular crenelations in its skin. "What is this?"
He took it from her and turned it over in his hands. "The cone of a giant
sequoia . . . trees that grow back on Earth. They're old and huge--majestic,
I guess would be a better word. . . ancient and majestic. There aren't many
left, but some grow in a special grove not too far from Star Fleet Academy."
"An Academy botany project?"
She got a brief smile. "No! Haven't you ever heard the Will Riker story about
the sequoias? "
She shook her head, inviting the tale, as a friend--or a clever counselor--
"Once upon a time a grandfather took his little grandson to see the sequoias.
The two of them walked the grove, and the grandfather talked about how some of
the trees had been around for hundreds of years, how people had struggled to
save them. When they left, he tucked this into the boy's pocket. He said,
You're my next hundred years, Will . " Riker placed the little cone on the
table and stared at it with concentrated melancholy. "The boy didn't
understand what he meant. He hadn't really been listening. He certainly
didn't want this. Know what he wanted? To climb one of those trees! This
cone was almost thrown away. . . ." He sighed. "Maybe I'm missing
everything." He blinked and turned away from her, looking out the window where
the asteroid still floated against the starfield. "In answer to your
question, Counselor," another unsuccessful try at distancing himself, "I'm not
sure what I'm doing."
Her hand smoothed over his where it rested on his knee. "Oh, I think I know
what you're doing." Her other hand traced the curve on the lid of the box.
"You're taking inventory. It's not a bad thing to do every now and then.
Sometimes you find buried treasure."
He looked back at her suddenly. "Tell me then, Counselor, why is it buried
instead of treasured? Is it just human nature to get so impatient for the next
thing that you never see what you already have? Why do humans need to push?
Why does--why do I feel such a need for. . . more?"
It was her turn to look down. "If humans didn't have these impatient desires,
if they were easily contented with themselves and their lives, I doubt we'd be
out here in space. But I guess," she dared look up, "that we ought always to
remember that we haven't come all this way to escape what we are, but to share
what we are. And to make what's out there"--she nodded at the window-- "a part
of what's in there "--her fingers grazed his forehead, brushing that one stray
lock out of the way.
For a long moment they held still, like the moment before letting go, like the
moment before a kiss.
Then he placed the cone back inside the box and closed the lid. It would not
shut. His face wrinkled in a funny grimace. "I guess what I need is more
She wrinkled back. "Sometimes I'm convinced there's nearly as much space in
there," she tapped his forehead, "as out there!"
A laugh erupted that was a release for both of them, and then she stood
abruptly, the feeling having grown a little too intense. "But you know, Will, I
think I do detect something you are missing. . . "
Wide-eyed, he looked up at her.
"Dinner. We were supposed to meet Worf and Data for dinner in Ten Forward
"Oh, okay," his tension melted, and he got up to offer her his arm. "I've
always said what we humans really need is more food. "
The little Bolian waiter was having a tough first night with Guinan, Ten
Forward's new manager, barkeep, and hostess tagging along to supervise his
training. And Table Five, he suspected, was a specially rigged test.
First, Counselor Troi couldn't make up her mind. "No, it sounds like the sauce
on that is just too heavy. Maybe I'll change my order to a gavot salad. Do you
have any fresh gavots. . . ? No, never mind. I really don't feel like gavots.
Oh, someone else go ahead."
"I will have the Q'onos horned snails,"Lt. Commander Worf said, "and be sure
not to overcook them."
"You'd like them rare?" the waiter asked with a carefully neutral tone.
"I think he means alive ," Guinan corrected.
"I'll see what they picked off the arboretum this morning," the Bolian
Lt. Commander Data ordered jello.
"Cherry, strawberry, grape, raspberry--?"
"Green," the android said. "It has the best lubricating agents."
"Yes, sir, I've noticed that myself," the Bolian passed Lime and keyed in
Kelp while he moved to the last diner on his padd. "Commander Riker?"
The commander had been scrolling the menu for the past five minutes.
"I think I'd like one of everything."
The Bolian smiled patiently.
"That's a lot to eat in one sitting, Commander," Guinan advised.
"There are more than two hundred ten thousand recipes on file in the
replicator banks," Data informed them. He turned to Riker, who was still paging
as though he wanted to check the number. "Even if you consumed ten items for
dinner each night, it would take you 57.3 years to sample everything."
"Well then," Riker replied jovially, "I'll have to start with A and get as
far as I can."
The Bolian consulted his padd. "The first dish alphabetically is an aardvark
pate from Gaumos III."
"Delicious!" Worf enthused, but then held up a provisional finger, "when
prepared in its own stomach."
"Might be a little strong," Guinan cautioned Riker. "But then again, I hear
you're quite the gourmet, Commander. Think you can stomach Gaumosian stomach
Riker looked to Troi, but she was too disgusted to discuss it. "Nah," he
said, "I want to eat human tonight."
"Well, if you want one from column A, we could get you some apple pie," the
waiter was beginning to succumb to the seductive sarcasm of table service.
"Bring it on," Riker replied cheerily.
At that, the Bolian snapped out a "Thank-you," punched his pad, and
disappeared before anyone asked what the night's unreplicated fresh specials
Guinan chuckled. "You know, Commander, I understand there's an old Earth
saying: 'Life's uncertain, so eat dessert first' ?"
All around the table there was a odd lapse of animation as the deadly saying
struck while Guinan strolled off with a sly smile, Worf growled, Troi held her
breath, Riker grinned, and Data brightened as though the proverbial light bulb
had gone on above his head.
"Ah!" the android cried. "A maxim! You are all aware that I am collecting
maxims and idiomatic expressions?"
They were all aware of Data's collection.
" Yes! This one is akin to 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...' !"
Riker flashed a grin at the android, taking up the competition. "'Make hay
while the sun shines'?" he offered.
Data nearly sparked. "Very good, sir. How about: 'Eat, drink and be
Troi froze as she recognized the coda.
"--for tomorrow --"
Riker's brow arched, but the smile did not fade.
It was after midnight and the Bolian was seriously considering quitting his
job aboard the Enterprise and running away to live on the asteroid.
They wouldn't leave. Well, the android and the Klingon had left, but five
other officers had joined the table and group was becoming more raucous with
each story that they swapped.
". . . so Chief Johnson is really on the edge by now," Riker was saying amid
chuckles and kibitzing from the audience, "so I nudge Farley and he looks up
from the transporter console -- dead serious--and he says, 'Uh-oh, Chief!
there's something wrong!' and Johnson says, 'What! What?' but I'm frantically
working the slides, and Farley is starting to yell, 'Malfunction,
malfunction!' And I look at Johnson and I shout, 'Help! I'm losing him!' and
Johnson completely falls for it , 'Get out of the way, Ensign!' but Farley's
blocking his way and the cycle is kicking in and you can hear the beam coming
and there it is: Farley materializes his forty liters of swamp water on the
transporter pad. 'It's the Away Team!' moans Farley, and Johnson faints dead
There was a peal of laughter from everyone except from Counselor Troi, who
smiled tolerantly and rose as another order of drinks was passed around.
"I think that's all for me," she said quietly to Riker.
"Oh, come on, Deanna, stay a little longer," he cajoled.
"No, I have a full schedule tomorrow and it's getting late--for you, too," she
"Counselor," he said. "It's never going to get any later for me than it was
Amid the hilarity that greeted his remark, Troi said pointedly that she'd see
him tomorrow and headed for the door, passing the frazzled Bolian who was being
summoned again to Table Five.
The waiter's exasperation she barely sensed: a tiny whiff of smoke floating
over the ashes of the evening--a burnt aftertaste and the peculiar crawling of
"Why, do you suppose," Dr. Crusher asked in the tone of a logical
proposition, "that with so little gender-specific behavior left, it's
particularly men who cling to the myth of their invulnerability?"
Picard looked up over the rim of his tea cup, past the breakfast dishes to the
innocent-seeming face of his regular guest, and swallowed dry his bite of
"What have I done?" he asked.
"To deserve this question." Jean-Luc eyed her skeptically. "You see, with
so little gender-specific behavior left, I have observed that it is
who, out of the blue, ask theoretical questions that are fraught with hidden
sinkholes waiting to trap the unwary male."
Beverly looked over the selection in the bread basket. "My goodness, you're
defensive! I wasn't even thinking about you. I was merely wondering if this
morning would find any reformation in Mr. Riker, your second-in-command.
Jean-Luc made no answer, but a response was running through his head: I sense
a large hole opening under my feet . . .
"You know," said Beverly, buttering a piece of toast, and shaking her head,
"you're the same way. You drive yourself unmercifully; your own needs go
. . . and I'm definitely sinking.
"--for those of the ship and crew; you take every risk he can't talk you out
of. It's probably a good thing he nearly died."
Picard nearly aspirated the tea. "A good thing?"
Beverly set down her coffee to better argue her point. "Well, didn't you
yourself say that the Norsican who nearly killed you, in a way, focused your
life, made you appreciate how precious each moment is?"
"A lesson I'd have been grateful to have learned any other way!" Jean-Luc
objected. "And though it taught me some self-discipline, I hope it did not make
me overly cautious for my --"
"Well, I hope this whole episode has taught Will a lesson at least."
Fortunately the door chimed and with a firm, "Come!" the captain was spared
the need to find a come-back.
Data entered with padd in one hand, and the captain looked regretfully at his
half-finished breakfast realizing that he was going to have to hurry to be on
time for the regular staff briefing.
"Good morning, sir," Data nodded at the captain, and pulling the other hand
from behind his back, presented Dr. Crusher with an exotic deep red flower.
"Commander Riker asked me to give this to you and to thank you for yesterday."
"What a beautiful orchid! I've always loved orchids, " Beverly brushed the
flower against her cheek and smiled triumphantly at Picard.
"The Commander also asked me to beg your pardon, Captain. He will be delayed
approximately fifteen minutes due to his overstaying a holodeck program."
Picard glanced at his chronometer, which read 07:57. "What's he doing on the
holodeck at this hour?"
"He has been on the holodeck since zero five hundred, sir," Data replied with
Crusher straightened in her chair.
"With the Cliffs of Heaven program," Data continued.
Picard cleared his throat suddenly, but when Crusher swung around, his napkin
was adroitly concealing the lower half of his face.
"Perhaps," he proposed to Beverly as he drew the napkin away from a newly
composed expression, "the lessons that most interest Mr. Riker are in the
Crusher exhaled sharply, and Picard felt a bit repentant.
"Oh, it's very natural, Beverly. After all, when you fall off the horse, you
get right back on again."
"That is not the program I was speaking of, sir," Data interjected. "There is
a program with a diving horse, but that is called Steel Pier, Atlantic City ."
"No, Data," Crusher explained, " ‗getting on the horse again' is just--"
Picard tried to nudge her foot under the table.
"Ah! Another maxim!" Data cried. " So what you meant by the horsemanship
analogy was that Commander Riker's diving is probably intended to rid himself
of any residual fear of heights? ‗If at first you do not succeed --?' "
Picard nodded wearily.
"Then," Data concluded,"the commander he must have developed either a great
tolerance or a grand passion for free-fall to have practiced it for two and
one half hours."
As Dr. Crusher turned to him in a mood that needed venting, the captain
decided he'd make a strategic withdrawal. "Well, um, fifteen minutes? Thank
you, for bringing the message, Data, but, uh, perhaps I'll come to the bridge
now. You'll excuse me, Doctor? Just leave all this," he gestured at the
table, "and I'll get it later." He rose and led Data out the door.
Jean-Luc's suggestion notwithstanding, Beverly began to clear the table with
some vigor, undoubtedly under the steam left over from her unexpressed
opinions. Recreation, frivolity, relaxation, she had said. Not dare-devilry!
Not this compulsive competitiveness! And whom did he think he had to beat?
There was only himself. Men!
She reached for Picard's cup and her hasty hand sent a glass crashing to the
floor. As she knelt to pick up the pieces, a different view came to her of
Will Riker crashing into the transporter platform and then diving time after
time off the Cliffs of Heaven on the holodeck. Tolerance? Passion? Or a
third possibility: two and half hours of looking for the courage to get on the
"Once we discovered the airlock and entered the interior of the asteroid,"
Data was giving the Away Team report to the senior staff gathered around the
conference room table, "artificial gravity and atmosphere suitable for
humanoids were generated, though we could not subsequently discover the power
"The energy might be coming from a reaction in the elements that make up the
panels you observed," Geordi LaForge speculated. "The E/M activity read as
highly organized, but the patterns were so unusual and so dense, our sensors
couldn't find either of you till the last second. We only cleared the
interference by skin of our teeth."
Troi, who was sitting next to Data, forestalled the question that even a
non-empath could tell was coming. "Yes, Data, it's a --"
"It's merely," Picard said, "a way of expressing a narrow margin of error,
since teeth do not literally have skin."
Crusher smiled mischievously and took a breath while Picard shot her a look
that said he didn't want to hear any legends of Ferengi dental hygiene.
"I understand. Thank you, sir. I am now cross referencing synonymous
idioms," Data informed them. "This one is like 'the nick of time'."
"Or, 'a hair's breadth'?" Crusher suggested.
" 'A hare's breath'?" Data asked. "That would be very marginal."
"Were you able to get any sense of the purpose or function of the asteroid?"
Picard preempted further digressions.
"The exterior appearance must have been intended as a disguise," the android
responded, wondering inwardly what "turning on a dime" had to do with changing
conversational subjects, "but whether the structure was a space vehicle or
station or warehouse is unknown. We found no life-forms or artifacts to
explain it. We do have tricorder readings from the interior."
"That's good," La Forge remarked, "because now that we can scan it, the
electromagnetic activity has decreased sharply."
"The activities which we observed were indicative of automated station keeping
functions, but for whom or to what purpose remain unknown. The asteroid-vessel
seems to have been abandoned. As it does not appear to harbor any threat, I
propose that we return and complete our study of the panel matrix."
"No. I don't think so."
Every head swung around to regard Riker, who spoke now for the first time in
the whole briefing.
"Number One?" Picard asked.
"I don't see any need to go back. Now that the sensors are operating properly
we might as well take any additional readings from here." Riker sat back as if
that concluded the discussion.
"Well, yes, we could let the sensors do it," La Forge said, "but sometimes
--well, just being there gives you a sense, a feel for what might be going on,
that you can't get from a remote scan."
"I think it's a waste of time," Riker replied.
"Commander, I'll be glad to accompany Data, if you'd prefer," LaForge offered.
Riker stared hard at the engineer. "Oh. You'll go if I prefer. For what
reason might I prefer that, Mr. LaForge?"
Troi felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise.
"I mean--" La Forge sputtered, "I meant-- if your schedule is already full,
or if you think that the VISOR might help-- ?"
Picard exchanged a look with Riker and the First Officer sat back again. "No,
Mr. La Forge, I just think that nobody needs to revisit the place."
The uneasy atmosphere at the table made little impact on Worf's Klingon
sensibilities. "I recommend we eliminate the asteroid. This structure is most
probably an abandoned warehouse or hide-out, camouflaged for use by raiders.
Zandred pirates have been known to operate in this area."
"The Zandred haven't plied this sector in ages, Worf," Riker said sullenly.
"And from a tactical standpoint, the asteroid is inadequate and
"An outmoded or poorly designed snare can still prove dangerous. It did so
for --" Worf paused as Troi, sitting directly opposite him, gave him a
piercing stare "--us."
Data, oblivious to the emotional tone that had developed, was following the
conversation on a purely philosophical level. "The purpose of a machine can
sometimes be determined from its design, and we are perhaps justified in
destroying something whose design clearly indicates an unacceptable purpose--"
"Metagenic biotoxins, for example," Crusher tried to help things back to a
more objective state.
Data continued, "--but should we destroy something because it has a capacity
for harm? Often a technology has both good and evil uses."
Picard nodded. "Which is why it has never been Federation policy to condemn
anything for its potential."
"You don't want to start thinking about everything that has the potential to
kill you," LaForge muttered in an undertone only Troi could hear.
"We have always cherished, first, uncensored knowledge and had faith in
ourselves to determine--through however much debate and soul-searching--the
moral applications of our discoveries." (Picard was a masterful philosopher
himself.) "Therefore, although Mr. Worf's point is well-taken, and as we are
expected shortly in the Edvalin system, I believe we will simply note the
asteroid for other, forthcoming vessels to study and get back on our way."
(Picard was also a practical leader.) "That will be all."
The meeting broke up, Data and Worf exiting quickly for their duty stations.
Riker remained seated and thoughtful. As Crusher got up, she reminded him,
"Don't forget to check in at sickbay today." He nodded perfunctorily.
LaForge caught Troi just outside the door. "Did I say something wrong? What
was that all about?"
"No Geordi," Deanna replied. "It's just-- Commander Riker . . . no, you
didn't do anything wrong, and I'm sure everything will be okay soon."
Picard was consulting the desk computer in the conference room when Riker
finally stood up.
"Excuse me, sir. When did you want to get underway?" he asked.
The question took Picard by surprise. "Now, Number One. Mr. La Forge did
report that the scheduled maintenance of the systems software has been
"Yes, sir. That's right, sir."
Riker exited immediately to the bridge proper, but Picard had finished
re-reading the material on Edvalin that had occupied him by the time he heard
Riker instructing the helmsman to plot the course.
The captain entered the bridge and took the command chair. Riker, who was
standing at the OPS console, motioned the OPS ensign back to her place, and
took his seat beside the captain.
"Course plotted and laid for Edvalin, sir."
"Half-impulse. Let's put a little distance between us and the asteroid before
we go to warp."
"Aye, sir. Half-impulse."
On the main viewer, the starfield swung right, the asteroid dropped off the
left hand margin, and Riker settled himself in his chair.
The engines were engaged, but Picard cocked his head at something amiss. He
looked at his arm console even though he knew by the feel of the ship what was
wrong. "Number One, we're not getting half-impulse."
Riker sat up. "Mr. LaForge," he called into the comm. "We're supposed to be
at half-impulse. Is there some problem?"
La Forge's voice came over the comm from Engineering. "You might want to
activate the aft scanner, Commander."
"Aft sensor array on the main viewer," Riker ordered, and there on the screen
was a view of the Enterprise's nacelles glowing against a very slow moving
pattern of stars with the asteroid trailing behind them like a tin can on a
string tied to the back of a tricycle.
"It's following us," the helmsman muttered.
"We seem to be dragging the asteroid, Captain," LaForge said.
"Yes, I can see that, Mr. LaForge," the captain growled. " Please disengage
"Right away, sir."
Riker got up and headed for the turbolift. "With your permission, sir, I'll
go see what the problem is." He added, "'Sometimes just being there
Picard noted the unusual sarcasm, but chose not to make an issue of it. "Let
Down in Engineering, LaForge scurried between the overhead wall monitors that
showed the asteroid kiting behind them and the main systems control panel
reading various outputs from the ship's engines.
"LaForge to Captain Picard," he called.
"Go ahead," the voice on the bridge returned.
"Captain, it looks like just simple electromagnetic attraction. No matter how
I modulate the impulse engines, the asteroid responds with a reciprocal
harmonic to our field. We may have inadvertently discovered the asteroid's
"I am less than ecstatic," the Captain dry tones observed, " to discover that
this asteroid has hitched its wagon to our starship. Can you estimate how much
damage we would do to the asteroid structure by engaging to warp at this
LaForge checked another readout and reported confidently, "We shouldn't need
to, sir. If we just throw on the defensive shields, that should block the
graviton field which is pulling the asteroid along with us."
"Do you concur, Number One?"
LaForge looked around and there he was, walking up from the warp reaction
"Yes, Captain," Riker answered his badge. "That's certainly worth a try."
"Make it so."
"Shields up, Geordi," Riker said brightly, as if to make up for his earlier
brusqueness. "Let's get out of here."
He leaned over to watch LaForge as he keyed in the defensive shields.
Suddenly, there was a loud whine, the lighting flickered, and the ship
shuddered to a halt.
Not ten minutes later, Captain Picard sat at his desk while Worf, Riker,
LaForge, and Data stood in a line in front of it.
Riker delivered the report. "We now have a computer malfunction in the
subroutines initiating warp propulsion, shields, and weapons."
"Run a level one diagnostic immediately," Picard snapped.
"Already in progress, sir," LaForge answered.
"I want the cause determined and the situation corrected as soon as possible."
"It may be a problem with the software update," Riker suggested.
Worf shifted restively. "It's that thing out there."
"Worf," LaForge sighed in exasperation. "I'd be delighted to blame it
asteroid, but I just don't see a causal connection. For that thing to
interfere with the computer, it would need to do a lot more than develop a
magnetic attraction for us. It would need a high frequency communications link,
and our sensors would have detected it immediately."
"We have been scanning the asteroid continuously since the Away Team's return.
There has been no return to heightened electromagnetic activity," Data added.
Picard paused, considering the information. "It may be worth nothing, but
continue to scan the asteroid as your second priority, Mr. LaForge. Mr. Worf,
you're to work on manual control of the weapons systems. I do not enjoy our
being a sitting duck."
Data's eyebrows lifted, but one look at Picard's scowl made him rethink
verifying another addition to his idiom collection.
"Mr. Data, you will assist Mr. LaForge. Dismissed."
Data, Worf, and LaForge exited, but Picard signed to Riker to remain, and when
they were alone, Picard stood and came around his desk to speak his inner mind
with his second-in-command. "What do you think, Will, about this asteroid?
You were inside. What's your sense of it?"
Riker frowned, puzzling a moment. "You mean, did I sense some menace? Like
maybe it wanted to kill me?" He shook his head. "I think this is getting a
little overwrought, don't you, sir? We're far out of the way of any of our
hostile neighbors. There's nobody on long range sensors. The asteroid has no
weaponry. Why don't we all just relax a little till Geordi gets it
straightened out. Worst that could happen is we'll be a couple hours late for
Picard pondered a moment and then simply nodded. Riker made sense, though in
some strange way, this easy-going attitude was not the reaction he'd have
expected from his Number One.
Captain's log supplemental:
Efforts are continuing to track down a computer malfunction which occurred
after the Engineering department completed a routine systems reorganization
during the hiatus for our investigation of the artificial asteroid. Crucial
systems aboard ship--weapons, propulsion and shields--have been rendered
inoperative although life support, sensors, and communications remain
unaffected. Engineering teams have made frustratingly little progress as we
conclude the first watch under repair. . . .
* * * *
Worf inserted the delicate calibrator through the open panel of the photon
torpedo that lay on the loading runners in front of the launch tubes. His
hands may have been hard, large Klingon hands, but they moved with precise
skill. He grunted with satisfaction at the row of small green lights that
ignited along the guidance system. Closing the panel, he signaled his
assistant, a burly ensign in the yellow service tunic of the security detail,
who manually opened the inner airlock before the two of them slowly guided the
rounded oblong casket of the torpedo into the launcher. Sealing the door,
Worf turned to discover Commander Riker watching their efforts.
"Well," Riker said strolling into the launch bay, "We have been over
everything on the ship three times and we still can't figure out how we're
twisted up. What's your progress here?"
Worf backed the ensign out of the conversation with nothing but a peremptory
glance. "We have six torpedoes that can be manually launched. I have prepared
each one up to the final step in arming the warheads. We are ready to strike
upon the captain's command."
Riker's nod might just as well have been a shrug. "That great, Worf--but at
the moment, we have nothing to shoot at."
Worf's face wore his disagreement openly, but the First Officer did not appear
offended. He leaned casually against the launch runner.
"Worf, if anyone has a reason to hate that hollow chunk of basalt out there, I
do, but it's unreasonable to blow it up just for being there."
"I do not believe it is simply there," Worf scowled. "An enemy does not always
reveal himself immediately." He called behind him, "Ensign, prepare the next
"Six torpedoes should be plenty," Riker waved the ensign off as he consulted
his padd. "And Worf -- You were on duty for the whole Gamma shift and it's
nearly 1400 hours now. Time to knock off."
Worf's protest was preempted before it got past his lips.
"It's an order."
Very much the loyal and respectful subordinate officer, he put down his tools.
"Very well, Commander. If you should have further orders, I shall be hunting
the Juk rainforest on the holodeck--where there is always something to shoot
at." He inclined his head as he passed Riker and made for the door.
The Klingon turned around.
"You're going to the holodeck? Do you mind if I join you?"
"You are always welcome to join my exercises, Commander."
Riker smiled and caught up to him. "You know, I grew up in the North Pacific
on Earth, which is a rainforest area . . . ."
They had been playing for about twenty minutes on the holodeck in a recreation
of the Juk wilderness on Qo'noS when Riker suddenly stopped the action.
"This is too easy," the commander complained.
Surprised, Worf straightened from his hunter's crouch and loosed the grip on
"I mean, it's so obvious, I can anticipate it all. In just a minute, the Juk
deer runs past, and by the time you count three, the Raugkana appears behind
him. He takes two big swipes and then rushes in so all you have to do is dodge
and slash. It's too easy."
Worf considered that they were running the program at a pace slower than he
himself could play this scenario, but he had wanted the game to be within the
bounds of the skills Riker had developed during the few other times they had
hunted the Juk together--and this claim of the Commander's about being able to
anticipate the attacks was just impossible. "Sir, the attacks are varied
randomly by the holodeck program in order to--"
The Juk deer bounded out of the brush.
As Riker stepped back, a large speckled bear-like creature leaped out of the
undergrowth, missing Riker by a hair and brushing Worf backward. The Raugkana
twisted toward Worf, batting at him with elongated claws. Worf retreated and as
the creature landed off balance from underreaching its strike, the taj came
down and the beast fell dead beneath the blade.
Panting from his exertions, Worf regarded the cool, collected Riker standing
off to one side. "How did you --"
"I don't know. Maybe it's part of the computer malfunction. Maybe we're
getting the same program that I remember from before." He came to where Worf
sat on a fallen tree trunk and made a proposition. "Why don't we make the game
a little more interesting? Let's play against each other."
Worf looked down uncomfortably; if he'd been playing with a fellow Klingon,
perhaps, but this way, the odds were too skewed in his favor. "Commander, you
are a worthy opponent, but it would not be appropriate to contest against my
commanding officer in a trial of--"
He looked back and Riker had disappeared into the foliage. Only his voice
came back faintly through the holodeck speakers.
"Ranks aside, Worf. Just consider me an opponent who does not immediately
At about 1700 hours, Geordi LaForge was telling himself that he was through
playing games with the computer. The systems error had not only remained
unsolved, it had become so downright elusive, he was about to take drastic
measures. Yet, as much as the chief engineer wanted to show that he deserved
his promotion, he'd have felt much better if his pride were all that he had at
stake. The trouble was that his best friend would have to share the risk of
Data sat placidly in a chair pulled up the to the central Engineering
console--a broad table, like a billiards game, set in the center of the suite.
A flap in the android's scalp had been peeled back to reveal the interior
positronic matrix of his brain, and a strand of optic cable ran between a port
inside his cranium and a socket in the console.
Biting his lip, La Forge made the last calculations. He was focused so
intently on the procedure that he startled when the red uniform appeared,
seemingly from nowhere, behind him.
"Had dinner?" Riker asked, relentlessly chipper. "I'm only halfway through
the C's, if you'd care to join me."
"Dinner?" LaForge responded incredulously. "I don't think so, Commander.
I've been going crazy down here! Even the manual initiators are off line. I
might as well go down to the deuterium tanks with a bucket!"
Riker smiled and sat on the edge of the main console. His glance fell on the
monitors scanning the asteroid, and a little of the smile faded.
"Each time we correct a faulty subroutine, we seem to discover a new problem
in another location," La Forge ranted, "and now the corrected ones have
started to revert to the same errors we fixed three hours ago."
"Therefore, we are attempting a different approach," Data concluded.
"I can see that," Riker looked quizzically at the wiring protruding from
Data's head. "But what exactly is your new approach?"
LaForge went back to frowning at his calculations. "Well, experimentally,
we've installed the shield initialization program in Data's memory. We're
going to route the subroutine through him."
Riker sighed and shook his head. "No way. This dog won't hunt."
Data frowned in disappointment. "I have that expression already, Commander."
Riker ignored the remark and zeroed in on LaForge's theory. "You can't bypass
the buffer without risk of inputting the error to Data, and the buffers are
going to add something like, uh, six nanoseconds to the transmission across
the multiparallel device. Even at full baud, the failsafes are going to
LaForge tried not show his irritation. First, he hadn't thought that Riker
knew so much about the technical end of his business--and second, the scenario
that the First Officer had described was exactly what he was afraid would
Data cocked his head thoughtfully, making the wire jangle. "The Commander may
be right, Geordi."
"Six nanoseconds is right for the warp drive initialization, maybe," LaForge
argued, "but with all due respect, Commander, the tolerances shouldn't be that
slim for shield generation."
"Go ahead and try it," Riker replied blandly. "As long as Data has the
"Would I let him do it otherwise? You ready, Data?"
"Yes, Geordi," the android responded. The childlike trust implicit in Data's
assent only made Geordi feel worse. If the failsafes didn't X-OFF, one of two
results would happen: either he would have succeeded in isolating the problem
or he would have input the unknown error into Data's program, a piece of code
that could translate into an incurable infection for his android friend.
"Okay. Beginning the feed. . . ."
They waited in silence as the monitor displayed the shield initialization
protocol and then--
"Damn! I don't believe it!" LaForge's fist landed squarely on the console.
"It's impossible. This should work. This board has got to be lying to me!"
"I am sorry, Geordi, but computers can not lie," Data replied.
"Well, that may be true, Data," Riker offered, "but computers can be pretty
deceptive sometimes. " He turned to the engineer who silently, with eyes
closed, removed his VISOR and began to massage his temples, " I think, Geordi,
you're taking this a little personally. The computer's not out to get you, you
know. Take a break, put a little distance between you and it."
"I don't understand what we're doing wrong," LaForge groaned. "Any one--
every one of the things we've tried should have fixed this!"
"Look, Geordi, you're beating your head against a wall."
"I have that one too," Data interjected.
Riker continued, "What you need is a new perspective, a fresh source of
inspiration and creativity."
"Great! Where do I get that?" LaForge fairly snapped at his commanding
"I happen to have an idea," his commanding officer smiled.
"I have no idea," Geordi LaForge answered Counselor Troi, who took the seat
next to his at the Ten Forward bar and asked what the strange concoction in
front of him might be.
"It's a Rafat Rainbow," Guinan informed them as she swept past toward that
little Bolian's latest bussing accident.
Deanna had to admire the sheer artistry of the drink. The extra tall glass
allowed one to appreciate how the colors of the liquid shifted through the
entire visible light spectrum from deep ultraviolet at the base to the vibrant
infrared at the rim. As LaForge fiddled with the luminous straw, bringing it
to his lips, a glittering gold sediment at the bottom swirled around the base
of the glass and bubbles of effervescence glided off the bottom and streamed
upward till they broke through the surface with a spark and a pop, like
LaForge pushed the glass away with aggravation. "I don't even know whether
you're supposed to drink this thing or salute it! All I know," LaForge
continued in a tone of unmistakable frustration, "is that Commander Riker
ordered me to quit work on the computer malfunction. He ordered me to wait
here for him. He ordered me the drink, and he ordered me to -- ‗get a new
outlook, clear away the debris, make some room inside .'"
Where have I heard that before? Troi asked herself sarcastically.
"Geordi," she said soothingly, "it's just a question of balance. It's
I was talking to Commander Riker about after his accident. Maybe he thinks
you're just bearing down a little too hard. What do you think?"
"Bearing down--! But right now we have a problem that needs to be solved!
It's my responsibility!"
"Wait a minute. Is this problem your fault? Do we expect you to snap your
fingers and make it all go away like that?"
"No," LaForge admitted after a long minute, " but the point is what I expect
"I appreciate that you have high standards for yourself, Geordi, but do you
think it's realistic for any of us to expect that we will never feel frightened
or become frustrated or worry that even our best efforts might not be enough?"
It was an even longer minute, as the tightness inside him began slowly to
subside. He sipped from the now quiescent drink. "Well, maybe I went a little
overboard about it."
"It's a good inclination to expect the very best from yourself, but you should
also remember that you have a value to others far beyond the skills you offer."
He saw the sincerity in her face and smiled shyly. "Thanks, Deanna. I guess
sometimes even your good inclinations can lead you in the wrong direction."
Deanna noticed over Geordi's shoulder that Beverly was making her way briskly
toward them, intent upon gaining Deanna's attention. With a tilt of her head,
she indicated to Deanna a table on the side of the room. Another case of
LaForge followed her glance and read Beverly's summons. He turned back to
Troi. "It's okay. I feel pretty straight now, so you can punch the next
ticket if you need to, Counselor. Thanks again."
"That's all right," she patted his arm. "It's my job--and I expect a lot from
myself." She got a grin from him to carry away with her.
"I think I may have overstepped my professional boundaries," Beverly Crusher
told her as she sat down. "I just finished treating Worf in the sickbay. He
sustained an injury to his deltoid--that is, he wrenched his neck and--"
She looked so worried and spoke so fast that Deanna thought she'd better slow
things down. "Beverly, I know Star Fleet hasn't had a lot of Klingons to
practice on, but you're the best doctor that--"
"No, no, that's not what I mean. I asked him how he injured his neck, and he
didn't want to tell me. I mean, he didn't even want treatment, but he said
he'd been ordered to sickbay, so--" Troi's mouth opened again with an
interjection, but Beverly again cut her off. "Yes, yes, I know Klingons
despise complaining; I had to pull rank on him to get him to talk. The point
is that he finally told me," here she slowed down and took a breath, "that the
injury had occurred on the holodeck when Commander Riker jumped out of a tree
and landed on him."
Troi's mouth was open, but no interruption came out.
"They were playing some kind of hunting game, and Will proposed that they
become opponents, and he hid and climbed a tree, and then he leaped down on
Worf in some kind of an ambush."
"And Will? Is he all right?"
"Well, that's what I'm wondering. Physically, yes, I think so. Worf said
that he was uninjured, and when I called him over the comm, he said he was fine
but too busy with a 'special assignment' to check in right now."
"Was Worf upset with him?"
"No," the doctor waved a hand dismissively. "Let me tell you, in Klingon
'games' a minor injury is proof you had fun."
Deanna grimaced, but Beverly, unheeding, went on. "Worf was complimentary,
in a diplomatic sort of way. Said Will 'fell upon him like a Juk
panther'--whatever that is--but you could tell that he found the whole business
The Counselor considered. "Well, Data said he saw Will doing half gainers
this morning in the holodeck and at dinner last night he was . . . overly
animated I guess would be the best way to put it. I told myself at the time
it was just the inevitable stress reaction to the accident, but I guess I
should have told myself one of the inevitable stress reactions."
"That's where I may have trespassed on your grounds. I'm afraid that I may
have set this whole thing off. In sickbay after the accident, I told Will that
he was bearing down too hard all the time. I encouraged him to be a bit more .
. . frivolous. I thought that a little recreation would help him get over the
glimpse of his own mortality, but he seems determined to use these pastimes to
go eyeball to eyeball with it."
Is everyone practicing my profession? Deanna asked herself, but she replied
simply, "Of course, Beverly!" She did her best to project an air of calm
clinical analysis so as to allay Beverly's concerns. "Think of play as you see
it in lower animals: it's all practice in survival skills. Now consider how
Will is using play to practice his survival skills. He needs it to vanquish
his doubts and restore his self confidence."
"He doesn't have to play games--pretending that nothing's wrong! If he'd just
said at the briefing that he didn't feel comfortable revisiting the
asteroid--that he needed more time to settle back into work--who would have
objected or thought less of him?
He would have , Deanna answered within herself.
"I can't help feeling there's something dishonest about his behavior," the
doctor went on. "This isn't like him. Maybe I should have removed him from
active duty completely. Maybe I still should. If he needs to play games to
get his nerve back, maybe I should just give him the time to get it out of his
"Beverly don't do that. Not now. You need to remember how Will operates. He
has always tried harder, persevered longer, sacrificed more to get what he
wanted. Yesterday he faced a situation in which he'd tried as hard and
endured as long as he possibly could. This time, his life would have been the
sacrifice, and, but for providence, he'd have lost it. Now he doubts not only
his power to control events but whether his previous successes have been worth
what he paid for them. Removing him from duty now would be another
"But, Deanna, if commanders are going to have control over the well being of
an entire crew, they've got to have control of themselves, particularly their
People don't control their feelings, Deanna thought; they can only control
what they do with do with them.
"I just don't want this risk-taking to leach out of leisure activities into
the line of duty. Promise me you'll see him?" Beverly entreated.
Deanna's eyes gave her best assurance. "I will. Right away."
Beverly sighed and Deanna thoughtfully watched her leave. She shared the
doctor's misgivings more than she had let on and--her face was suddenly
eclipsed by the shadow of a hat big enough to be a minor planet--Guinan.
"Hi, Counselor," she said. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Um, sure. I think--" the barkeep presented her with a menu padd. "Uh-- I
"Take your time," Guinan advised placidly. She waved at the Bolian waiter
across the room. "We split up the tables. I took you. He took everyone
Deanna acknowledged the joke with good humor.
"I would have been over earlier," Guinan said, "but I could see that you were
working. I guess a counselor is always on duty."
Deanna smiled pleasantly. "Oh, I try to keep regular hours, but I hope the
crew sees me as someone who wants to help, whatever the time or place."
Guinan's nod of agreement had her hat wobbling like a bad orbit, but the
ElAurian was somehow an august figure despite her odd costumes. "You know,
that's one of the qualities I most admire in humans -- that they really want to
do the right thing, particularly for the people they care about. I'm sure
that's why I get so much business."
Troi stared blankly, not making any connection.
"You can tell the bartender all your shortcomings. What does it matter if she
knows you're just a mortal like the next guy? But people want to be heroes for
their friends. . . ."
Deanna stopped hearing Guinan's voice. Across the room, Riker was entering
Ten Forward with two women, ensigns whom Deanna remembered from the new
personnel orientation,Tina Foster and Beth Kinto. Foster--young, brash, and
svelte--sashayed along on Riker's arm. They joined LaForge at the bar and from
their gestures, she could see that introductions were being made. Kinto, who
was just as young, but in manner far more mature, shook hands with Geordi and
sat down next to him. Riker swooped Foster onto a bar stool and, with her
hands still on Riker's shoulders and his on her waist, they kissed with
Despite herself, Deanna felt the blood come to her face. Oh, Will, what a
small and pathetic way to go looking for your manhood!
". . . no one wants their friends to think they can't cut it-- which is kind
of paradoxical, don't you think?" Guinan was saying. "Because who'd understand
you and forgive you better than your friends?"
Deanna stood up and handed back the menu padd. "I've changed my mind-- about
the drink," she said. "Good-night."
Newly-minted Ensign Beth Kinto had a month left on her two-month internship
aboard the Enterprise in the graduation hiatus before her first official
assignment in Star Fleet. While most of the others in her Academy class had
taken off for well-deserved vacations, Kinto was working all day and studying
into the night, hoping fervently that someone among the varied science
departments that she was rotating through would notice her work and pick up her
option. The disappointing part was that her best love, engineering, had been
her first two weeks' assignment, and she had moved on to astrometrics and
thence to the bio lab without having established any recognition.
By contrast, Ensign Tina Foster was having a great time. Tina had come
aboard with the diplomatic corps at the Enterprise's last stop before the
Oblese Expanse in transit to Edvalin. The workload for ambassadorial aides was
not exactly arduous, and Tina had a hard time understanding why Beth wasn't
more of a sidekick for her partying.
And so it was a familiar scene when Tina had burst into their room that
evening, scattering Beth's concentration on an after-hours project, and
announced that she was supposed to meet him in Ten Forward in fifteen
" Him who?" Beth inquired.
"Commander Riker!" Tina breathed in that swoony tone of voice Beth found so
appallingly juvenile. "I was coming up in the turbolift and I met him and we
started talking and he asked me--!"
In Beth's estimation, Tina's designs on the First Officer (formed during her
welcome aboard orientation session) were firmly grounded on Planet Unreal, but
the idea of reciprocation from the commander was beyond the present space-time
continuum. Kinto had heard about Riker's reputation, but he supposedly
confined his fantasies to Risa. From what she could tell, the First Officer
was a real stickler on all duty protocols.
Tina was frenzied with delight. "We have to get changed right away! I
know! I'll wear that little red dress I bought on Partha and--"
"Wait a minute-- what's this we business?"
Tina rushed to the sofa where Beth was sitting amid her plasma ignition
equations and knelt beside her. "Oh, Beth, please, you have to do this for me.
He asked me to bring along a friend-- for a friend of his. Beth, you can't
say no, please. It'll just be ruined if you don't go--him and me and the
friend--a threesome?" She bit her lip. "That won't work at all. Please Beth,
it's just one evening-- one date--one little favor. Pretty please?"
"Well, this is . . . nice," LaForge lied gamely.
In an arboretum under the pink blossoms of a Japanese plum tree in the middle
of the Oblese Expanse, Ensign Kinto decided that she felt strange enough to be
in a different reality.
Tina and Commander Riker had quickly departed for parts unknown, leaving Beth
and LaForge awkwardly marooned in Ten Forward. LaForge had proposed the
arboretum, and lacking a better idea, she'd agreed. Now as they strolled the
garden path, she considered whether enough time had elapsed for her to suggest
they call it a night--unless her return to the room should inconvenience Tina?
God, what an awful thought! LaForge ambled along beside her, as distracted as
She could have hanged Tina for "forgetting" to mention that the friend was
LaForge. Did she think this was going to help Beth get that permanent posting
to Engineering that she wanted so badly? Tina didn't have the slightest idea
how this date was going to complicate everything. Geordi LaForge would never
be able to see her on her merits now; he'd probably want to avoid any reminder
of this awkward evening. Even supposing he liked her and she liked him--he'd
hesitate about requesting her for the engineering staff for fear of showing
favoritism. Anyway, people who were involved had the worst times working
Beth cast LaForge a sideways glance. In other circumstances, she'd probably
have been happy to accept the date. If he were just a co-worker, well, he was
cute and he seemed a nice guy, particularly given the situation, and they
probably had a lot in common. Maybe, if he'd come out of his shell a little
bit. . .
"So, you did your rotation in Engineering already?" he finally asked.
"Two weeks ago. I wish I could have stayed. I really liked the work, and I
thought our team did a pretty good job. We worked up a tricorder alteration
for the bio scans on Aldus 7 where we had that shifting magnetic field. It was
only a small project, just three days. "
"And I didn't notice you? I must have been blind."
The word made her look up--right at him--perhaps for the first time that
His voice made the twinkle that should have been in his eyes. Even through the
visor, she felt the connection in the look he returned.
"You know," she smiled, "you have some attitude!"
He chuckled and they rounded a bend where a bower offered a bench. They sat
with their backs to the starfield where the asteroid shone through the broad
visiglass panels like a romantic, craggy moon. He reached up into the
overhanging blossoms of the Risian Lyora tree to shake the fragrance down. She
took a deep breath of the sweet floral air.
He sighed. "I've always like this tree. The sepals on the blossoms have an
aerodynamic design that takes advantage of the wind when the vector--"
Listening carefully, she cocked her head, and he misinterpreted her.
"--sorry. Didn't mean to get technical."
"Please, go ahead."
"No, really. I just meant that this is--you know, walking out--away
from--well, I mean that this is --"
"Nice?" she kidded.
"Yeah," he laughed. "Nice."
"It's hard," she admitted, "just to talk about--well, nothing."
He shrugged. "My parents sometimes didn't say a word to one another for hours
at a stretch. But they were communicating, you know, just by being there. Of
course, that was because they'd been working together-- being together--for
years and years, I guess . . . . "
"That's a wonderful kind of quiet, when you get to the point where you can
just be comfortable with someone. . .when you don't feel like you have to
explain anything . . . ."
He turned to her with a soft smile.
It‘s here, she thought, the fork in the path. She held still, undecided. What
did she want--engineering or the engineer?
But he didn't move. The smile faded. He was staring past her shoulder out
"What's wrong?" she half-turned to see what was behind her.
"I'm not blind," he said, awestruck. "The ship is."
"What are you talking about?"
He stood and rounded the bench, rapt upon the view out the windows. "There's
a beam running between the asteroid and the ship!"
"Where? I don't see anything."
"It's not in the visible spectrum, but my VISOR can pick it up. The question
is --why haven't the ship's sensors?" He took a hurried step back along the
path and turned, remembering himself. "Beth, I have to go. I'm sorry --"
"It's okay, I understand. We better get down to Engineering." She brushed by
him, as he stood there confused.
"What do you mean--we ?"
"Come on, "she urged him. "I want to help. I want to work on it with you."
"Okay," he replied. "Let's go, then."
No rosy sunrise streamed through the windows of the Engineering suite to greet
the chronometer marking 6:00 hours, but LaForge couldn't have felt more
cheerful and energetic if it had been dawn on Earth and he'd had a full night's
sleep in his old bed at home. A long night of careful calculation, obsessive
cross checking and a lot of good old fashioned leg work was about to pay off.
So intently focused was he on the task before him, he didn't notice that Riker
had entered Engineering until the commander was standing right next to him.
" So," Riker spoke with soft insinuation,"did you have an inspiring evening?"
The sly grin invited LaForge's confidence.
"I'll say!" Geordi enthused, more loudly than Riker expected. "We solved
The First Officer looked doubly surprised as Ensign Kinto appeared, crawling
from under a panel in one of the wall consoles.
"Okay," she reported to LaForge, straightening up to brush off the fancy dress
she had worn to Ten Forward. "You can give it try."
"Data?" LaForge called.
"Ready," the android answered from the lift descending from high up in the
warp core chamber. In fact, the whole Gamma shift from Engineering seemed to
be emerging from the woodwork and converging on the main suite.
Beth came over to the systems control board where LaForge was running a last
check. He fairly beamed at her, and she suddenly seemed self-conscious.
"I'm back on duty at the bio labs in just a little while," she said. "I think
I'd better go change."
"Pull a gold shirt out of the replicator, then," LaForge said. Then, turning
to Riker, "I'm requesting a personnel transfer for Ensign Kinto, Commander-- to
Riker looked at the young woman in the dusty, smudged cocktail dress poised in
mid-step, holding her breath. He shrugged and nodded. Turning back to look at
LaForge's work, he completely missing the little skip with which Ensign Kinto
bounded through the door--nearly bumping into Captain Picard, who side stepped
her with scant attention as he made straight for the main console.
"Well, gentlemen, you have the answer?" Picard addressed the assembled group.
LaForge stood up and moved to the main display. "Captain, we've discovered
that our computer hasn't exactly malfunctioned; it's just been serving another
user." He gestured out the windows toward the rocky mass of the asteroid
floating off the stern. "We've discovered what our 'asteroid' really is. It's
on a much larger scale than we've ever seen before, but it is, simply, another
computer-- which has linked itself to ours."
Date keyed in a sequence, and a schematic of the Enterprise and the astral
body appeared on the display. "The asteroid has interfaced with the ship's
computer across an optical beam between us. It has been feeding us altered
data through a subspace signal operating in the invisible light spectrum so
that the sensors seemed to be operating properly."
"I picked up the linkage looking out the window last night," LaForge tapped
his visor gratefully. "We came down here and spent most of the night assessing
how far the asteroid program has infiltrated our system."
"Has there been any damage?" Riker asked.
"There has been no damage per se," Data responded. "The asteroid has
maintained a continuous transmission to the Enterprise to prevent warp
initiation, phaser firing, and shield generation in addition to the sensor
"So, it prevents us from fleeing, attacking, or defending ourselves," Picard
observed. "But to what end?"
"These are not the only systems affected," Data continued. "While
essential systems like life support and communications have remained untouched,
all data banks and a number of peripheral applications have been
"Then it just wants information," Riker said.
"Just?" Picard asked. "Why the subterfuge then? Who is operating this
computer? Are they just examining us, or are we being held to wait for
something or someone else? What is their intent, and if their intent is
peaceful research, why not declare themselves to us in some way?"
"We're trying to gain more information, sir. We've managed to set up a
partition within our own computer to reestablish sensors." LaForge keyed
another sequence and a new display flashed on the screen. "This is the true
sensor picture of the asteroid-computer, captain."
They were looking at a design like a sphere cut in half and reassembled with
the poles touching and the open equatorial rims facing outward. The surface of
the sphere was a matrix of hexagonal segments through which branching red veins
ran in a labyrinthian maze. Data keyed in a command and the display rotated
the structure as the android summarized and interpreted the data stream coming
in from the liberated sensors.
"The largest area here appears to be devoted to memory storage. This
section contains multiple input ports making up a monitoring center.
Centralized processing is here. And here--transmissions and communications."
LaForge nodded and pointed at the last area Data had identified. "The beam
that's tying up our computer originates here--"
"Was there any evidence of resident life forms when you made your initial
Riker shook his head.
"A humanoid environment was synthesized for us," Data reminded him, "but we
saw nothing to indicate habitation there."
"Captain Picard--" one of the engineering lieutenants broke in. "The long
range scan indicates we are being approached by two--no, three --unidentified
"Identify them," Picard ordered.
"I'm sorry sir, we do not have enough sensor capacity at this time to define
them properly, but they are most probably space vessels. Their approach is
very slow, however. We estimate that they will not reach our position for
another three hours."
Picard's question was already evident to LaForge. "The fastest way to break
out of our computer lock is to send a team back to the asteroid and disable
this area, if we can," Geordi said.
"A continuous electromagnetic pulse," Data called up the coordinates for the
area, "generated from this point, should, in theory, disrupt the signal between
the asteroid and our computer."
Picard turned to Riker. "Place the ship on Yellow Alert and assemble an Away
Team, Number One."
Riker straightened from where he had leaned down to observe the hourglass
shape of the asteroid schematic. "Geordi, we'll need you to monitor from here.
Data--looks like you and me one more time. Let's prepare a shuttle."
"We have clear readings, Commander," LaForge said. "You can use the
transporter--if you want."
Riker looked coolly at the engineer. "I think the shuttle will provide an
extra measure of security." He flicked a glance at Picard, who made no
comment. "Data, get it ready."
But then Picard raised a hand. "Perhaps you didn't mean it in that sense,
Number One, but if security is a concern, then we might consider that Mr. Worf
and an armed detail should accompany --"
"I don't recall your ever questioning my assignment of the Away Team,
Captain." The remark was made mildly, but that it was made at all was
The Captain's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "Nor do I now, Number One,"
Picard said deliberately.
A tense second ticked by. "Well, then. Time's getting short," Riker
observed. He pushed away from the console, his motion becoming a slight,
perhaps deferential, bow to Picard as he exited Engineering.
Data loaded the EA78 generator onto the ElBaz. Approximately the size and
weight of a two-liter water tank, the device was normally deployed as a
beacon, but with slight modification for higher energy output, it would be
perfect for the task at hand. Data now primed the generator to respond to
remote arming so that the electromagnetic pulses it emitted would not disrupt
the shuttlecraft navigation as it jammed the beam communicating between the
Enterprise and the asteroid. Once the ship's computer was free, they could use
their shields to prevent the asteroid's reacquisition of them and then decide
what to do about the asteroid, the approaching starcraft, and the whole
Commander Riker was delayed somewhat in his arrival, and Data found himself
waiting and wondering again about the mysterious realm of emotion. Everything
that he had studied about emotion indicated that Riker ought to be feeling some
very forceful passions about this return trip. The closest thing Data had to a
passion was the imperative to acquire information, which had been built into
his program by his scientist-creator. So, Data was curious to observe the
Commander closely in order to learn as much as he could about his companion's
affective domain. But could he ask Riker about his emotional condition, or did
these particular circumstances make such a question impolite?
Riker arrived in what Data assessed as a subdued state. He looked briefly at
the canister that housed the generator while Data ran down the itinerary of
procedures for placing the device. Riker made no comment thereafter. He
merely nodded when Data had finished and, with a gesture, indicated that they
were to enter the shuttlecraft and get underway. Data would have described him
as preoccupied. Perhaps the Commander, too, was examining closely his inner
Buckling himself into the pilot's seat with the detachment of routine, Riker
ran the ignition sequence, depressurized the shuttle bay, and opened the outer
doors. He guided the small craft over the silvery hull of the Enterprise and
across the short distance of empty space to the underside of the asteroid where
they had discovered the false crater that camouflaged the airlock to the
As Data sprung the portal for the second time, with the sparse starfield of
the Oblese spread under them, he turned to the First Officer.
"Commander, I have been attempting to interpret a maxim I encountered in a
Riker scrutinized the readouts. The disguised door yawned ponderously.
"Another one for the collection, Data?"
The inner shadows of the asteroid spilled outward toward the ElBaz.
"In a noted speech, during the second global war of the twentieth century on
Earth, a President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States of America told
his embattled citizens, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.'"
Riker's hands paused on the controls as he stared into the dark.
"Is that so?"
"May I ask you, sir--"
The flap of the facade lay open like an outstretched hand beckoning them into
the black interior of the asteroid.
"--does going back make you feel anxious?"
"Anxious?" Riker turned to the innocent face of his comrade, a certain
knowledge in his own. "You mean afraid. "
"I do not mean to offend you, Commander. I am just curious to know what fear
Riker returned his attention to the controls and the ElBaz glided slowly
forward, illuminating the tunnel, worming its way in. They rounded the first
curve and their exit disappeared from the aft scanner.
"It's not like anything Data. It just is. I couldn't explain it to you if I
"Because you cannot find the right words or because I have no emotion myself?"
"Even if I could and you did, Data, I doubt you would really understand fear."
"Why would I not?"
"Because you can't die."
Once again, the interior accommodated them with air and warmth--like the
inside of a huge maw. Data placed environmental control on backup, and the air
and moisture, the mild heat and the absolute quiet of the asteroid seeped into
the cabin of the shuttlecraft.
"Commander, is the knowledge of death that which creates fear?"
The passageway opened ahead of them and the shuttle sailed, unobstructed this
time, into the hourglass atrium where the thin red light crawled over the
"From my limited experience, Data, I'd say that death creates many things: the
human sense of life and all its worth, the poignancy of every mundane thing,
the exhilaration of every grand moment, all that a mortal being--a human
being--will lose one day." The man looked straight at the android's unearthly
eyes and for a second Data thought he could see the blood red of Riker's human
"I wonder," mused Riker, "if the trade-off is worth it."
"To live without limit, but without that sense of life that you describe? I
cannot judge, sir, without emotion," Data answered and immediately then, as if
in proof of his absent senses, "We are at the co-ordinates for deployment of
the generators," he announced simply.
In the engineering suite Dr. Crusher found the captain and the chief engineer,
but neither was the individual she had come up from sickbay to corral in
"I guess you know the locator is off-line," she told LaForge.
"Sorry, doctor," the engineer replied. "We've had to take some systems down,
but the comm is still on. You could have just called."
"I was hoping to catch up with Commander Riker at his last known position,"
she announced astringently, "He was supposed to check in with me this
Picard looked up from the displays that he and LaForge were running at the
main systems console. "The commander is on the asteroid. Mr. LaForge has
discovered that the structure is actually a megaform computer which has linked
itself to ours. We're trying to break the interface."
The voice of the communications officer on the bridge hailed the captain.
"Sir, those long-range signatures are ships, and not of Federation design."
Picard touched his comm badge. "Mr. Worf, ready torpedoes for launching--just
The hatch opened at the back of the ElBaz. Riker leaned out to survey the
target area in person.
They hardly needed the coordinates to mark the spot. The stubby protrusions
that had made Riker think of rock climbing dotted the walls with increasing
frequency as they approached a cluster of longer spindles that had the familiar
shape of a communications array.
"The shuttlecraft is now in the closest proximity to the target area," Data
called toward the back.
"Looks like a--" Riker muttered.
"Porcupine? Anemone?" Data was coming aft, for he had encountered a problem.
"Commander, I am not sure we will be able to tractor the generator into the
correct position due to static charges in the atmosphere. I recommend that we
use the robotics."
"I don't know, Data. The robotic arm can be pretty clumsy. Those spindles are
closely packed and the central ones look delicate. We might wind up breaking
something," Riker's expression was a wince, as though the thought of breakage
pained him. An odd reaction, Data thought
"Well, we want to keep it intact for study, right?" Riker reasoned.
Data looked out at the studded wall. The spikes in the outer circle were
thick, short, and fairly close-nested--less than a meter apart. The
arrangement suggested a simple method of dealing with the placement problem.
Perhaps the android was able to picture clearly what to do because he had no
trepidations to intrude. The task would be like climbing a ladder.
"Very well then, Commander, I have a solution." Data made to step by him. "I
believe that I can climb out across these thicker projections, scale the wall
and place the generator by hand."
Riker stopped him with a hand on his arm. "No, Data, don't."
"You have a better solution, sir?"
"Yes. I'll go."
Crusher stood on the other side of LaForge to see the screen that he and
Picard were puzzling over.
"This tiny area of the asteroid's matrix is showing some activity, but it
seems to be running an anomalous program that doesn't interact with any of the
ongoing functions," LaForge pointed out.
Picard offered a theory. "Perhaps it's a malfunction. That might account for
its lack of manners--a reason why we didn't get a standard hail from it."
"But this area is in the middle of the memory core," LaForge said. "That's not
the most logical place for a greeting protocol. I don't know. . . somehow
these readings look familiar."
Crusher reached in front of him and hit two keys on the panel. The numerical
columns scrolling on the bottom of the screen abruptly turned into a tight
electrical wave pattern.
"There you go," she smiled.
Picard's expression opened in surprise. LaForge stared in amazement. "What
did you do? What is that?"
"An electroencephalograph," the doctor answered. "No wonder your mind finds it
"Brain waves!" LaForge declared.
"Delta waves," Crusher amplified. "Stage two sleep pattern. Oops, shifting
to alpha. Whoever--whatever--it is, it's waking up."
"A life form?" Picard asked.
"An intelligence," Crusher upped him again. "Maybe even sentience."
Data had no intuition but he had studied human behavior long enough to know
that he could not argue against Riker's proposal successfully. He retrieved
the canister for the commander and waited for Riker to step off onto the rungs
of the wall so he could hand it off. But Riker stood poised on the threshold
of the hatch as if mesmerized or suspended in indecision. He reached around
behind him for the generator in Data's hands.
"It's set for remote arming, right? It's not armed now?"
Was that why he hesitated? " The electromagnetic pulse would have no impact
on you, sir. There is no reason for the generator to activate prematurely, but
if it did, the impulse would disrupt only mechanical energy functions." Then
the android thought he understood. " Of course, it would not be injurious to
me, due to my internal shielding."
Riker nodded, but he neither returned the generator nor set it down. He still
made no move to step beyond the stable platform of the shuttle ramp.
Data watched, all of his senses turned up. He saw the sheen of perspiration
on Riker's temples; he heard the acceleration of his heartbeat; he could feel
the heat from Riker's body. Just the warmth of the atrium? Or emotion,
Their comm badges chirped.
"Number One, we have new developments. Place, but do not arm the generator.
I repeat, do not arm the generator. Return to the Enterprise--posthaste.
"Yes, sir," Riker breathed. He turned to Data with obvious relief. "Well,
Data that's it."
Riker passed the canister back to Data; yet he lingered by the open hatch
watching the play of static charges in the huge dark amphitheater.
"Commander," Data protested, "We have not placed the generator."
"It's not to be armed, Data, so what's the use of placing it? We'd only have
to come back and remove it later." He seemed still transfixed by whatever
internal drama was playing within him. "Check the return course. The Captain
wants us--posthaste," he said. Mesmerized by the dark atmosphere and the red
light trickling down the walls in venous lines, he still made no move to close
Data frowned, unsure whether to continue his challenge of the orders. Riker
seemed to have heard the captain, but perhaps he didn't understand that--
Riker was leaning out of the hatch, stretching a hand outward to grasp one of
the spikes in the wall. In the gap between the atrium wall and the
shuttlecraft, his body made a precarious bridge.
"Commander!" Data cried out.
Riker looked around just as the red pulse reached the pole he was grasping.
"You wonder what fear is, my friend?"
Riker's eyes met Data's, and a fierce red bolt of light rushed at the circuits
of the android's synthetic retina.
When Captain Picard came up from Engineering to the bridge, Counselor Troi was
waiting for him as per his summons. He called the Away Team home and then
handed her a padd. She read the communique with the good news: the ships
approaching them had turned out to be an Edvalese honorary escort (who had come
rather farther than they expected, especially with their comparatively
underpowered ships) to greet the distinguished delegation of the United
Federation of Planets.
The junior officers on the bridge might have expected Picard to show some
outward relief, but not Counselor Troi, who had seen the captain retain his
composure through both trial and triumph. She sensed a relief that was shallow
and transient, for a seasoned commander like Picard (a supreme example) didn't
spend time congratulating himself on his good fortune. Instead, he dealt with
the decisions that had to be made as a result. Even good news had
The Edvalese honor guard would be here in another two hours with the
expectation that their diplomatic agenda would commence forthwith. But the
primary mission of the Enterprise was exploration, and in this strange
artificial asteroid, they seemed to have discovered an intelligence of a type
that they had not seen before. Even without severing the uplink, Geordi
LaForge had managed to steal back enough of the ship's computer capacity to
turn the research around, and an interesting picture was developing. Troi knew
her captain was a very skillful, but at heart, reluctant diplomat. The
captain's real love was discovery. Picard was an explorer in his very soul. To
have to leave their investigation of the asteroid just as they were getting to
the heart of the matter would be very difficult for him. She realized that he
had called her to the bridge to consult on some way to hold off the Edvalese
diplomatic interview without offending them.
He had moved to the door of his ready room at the port side of the bridge ramp
and waited for her there. But as she descended to accompany him inside, her
attention was distracted by a sudden tension in the young ensign at the OPS
Picard saw her turn in that direction, frowning.
"What's the matter, Ensign Avery?" the Captain asked the OPS.
"I was--the screen--I mean, I'm tracking the shuttle--the ElBaz--back through
the tunnels and it's picking up speed. They're taking those turns at
60kph--and they're not on autopilot!"
Picard did not seem impressed. "Commander Riker is expert flyer," he said with
assurance. "He knows what he's doing."
"Aye, sir. . . . They've accelerated to 90 now," Avery reported, trying to
make it sound like just another fact.
"Verify that there's no problem," Picard decided. "Hail them."
The ensign spoke to the comm, "Enterprise to the ElBaz."
Riker's voice came back merrily, "ElBaz here." From the commander's tone at
least, there was nothing wrong.
"Commander, are you aware that you are exceeding recommended operating speed
for your environment?"
" Captain wants us back,"the voice replied, "posthaste." Incredibly, there
followed a snort that sounded like suppressed laughter!
Deanna darted a glance at the visage of Captain Picard. She sensed his
disequilibrium and then the rebalancing as he decided that he must have
misheard some onboard noise. Troi was not so sure.
"Commander Riker, " Picard walked over to glance at Avery's readouts, "we are
reading your approach to the asteroid portal at--120kph?" Apparently even
Picard was surprised at that number. "Can you verify?"
"Sorry, Captain, I can't read the gauge. It's dark in here."
Deanna felt the shock on the bridge like an Arctic blast; facetiousness from a
crew member had never yet escaped into the air from which Captain Jean-Luc
Picard drew breath.
Riker continued jovially,"We're flying on--"
"--infrared," they heard Commander Data in the background. The word provoked
a noise like further smothered sniggering.
If Counselor Deanna Troi had been mortified for Commander William T. Riker by
his conduct in Ten Forward the night before, she was doubly so now. That had
been his private life, and if he wanted to make himself ridiculous there,
perhaps that was ultimately his own business. But to act the fool in his
professional capacity was beyond belief and tolerance. And how keenly she
felt the disgrace, for he was--her closest friend.
"Commander Riker," LaForge had now joined the comm traffic, "sensors show the
shuttle still accelerating. Please cut your engines!"
"Your sensors must be misreading again, Mr. LaForge. Better check them."
"LaForge to Captain Picard. Something's wrong on the shuttle. The sensor
readings we have now are completely accurate."
"Viewscreen astern!" Shock was galvanized into a flurry of nervous activity as
Picard barked the order and the front wall of the bridge lit up with a view of
the asteroid. The bridge crew poised as if for battle, and suddenly the
shuttlecraft erupted from rocky surface of the asteroid and came barreling
across the brief space--
"-- straight at the port nacelle--" Ensign Avery squeaked "-- accelerating--"
The shuttle hurtled dead at the Enterprise's engines.
The sick feeling inside Troi turned to heart-pounding dread.
"They're going to crash right into us!"
Just fifty meters away from collision, the bow thrusters on the ElBaz fired.
The craft flipped upside down as it sailed over the port nacelle, and righted
itself, skimming the saucer hull like a stone skipping across water--an
incredible and beautiful acrobatic maneuver.
Deanna felt the entire crew exhale in her own release of pent-up breath--and
gasp yet again.
The ElBaz was turning for another run.
"Picard to Commander Riker. Commander Riker!"
"You're breaking up, sir," Riker called across a perfectly clear channel. "Say
"Get a tractor beam on them!" Picard snapped.
But before the tractor could be engaged, the ElBaz was too close in on a
perpendicular with the starboard nacelle. It veered abruptly toward the bow,
allowing its momentum to carry it into a skid. As the astonished bridge crew
watched on the screen, the shuttle's starboard thrusters fired, and the craft
did an amazing stunt-- a 360 degree rolling circuit of the nacelle--before
finally dropping into the intraship structural field. The errant shuttle
slowed down then and glided gracefully into position for docking in the main
After a long minute Ensign Avery reported, "ElBaz docked. Shuttle Bay #1
Picard's jaw set like granite as he turned to the pale-faced, weak-kneed,
dismayed, frightened and furious woman who nonetheless held her face as quiet
as his own. "I'll speak to you later, Counselor." He walked back to the door
at the end of the bridge ramp. "Commander Riker, report to my ready room," he
said to the comm. The door closed leaving the bridge in dead silence, and
Deanna knew that there would be no diplomacy in the coming interview.
"Obeying my orders to return immediately?" Picard rasped. "That is the most
facile explanation I have ever heard for a wanton act of incredible
"There was no real danger, sir. I had complete control of the shuttle and --"
"Yellow Alert is not recess on the playground."
"But the convoy was Edvalese, so the Yellow Alert wasn't--"
"You are trying to tell me that you knew the ships were friendly before you
left the asteroid?"
"No, sir." Riker at least seemed embarrassed by the falsity of the argument,
but he he added quickly, "I just don't see the harm, sir, in--"
"Commander, these are the actions of a first year cadet: you went joy riding
in a shuttlecraft, you deliberately altered my orders and, most unforgivable,
you endangered the life of another member of the crew."
For the first time, he could see that his words had impact, but what he saw in
the set of Riker's jaw was resentment, not repentance.
"He was not in any way damaged."
Damaged? Picard bridled at the implication that Data was nothing more than a
machine. Had Riker not come to see Data as Picard did--a crewmate, a comrade,
a friend. "Data is in engineering now, performing a self-diagnostic with Mr.
LaForge's help. I will wait for their results before assuming that there was
no injury. "
Truculence threw Riker's shoulders back to an extreme attitude of attention.
He held his gaze straight ahead. "I take full responsibility for what happened,
The martyrdom of Riker's mea culpa only incensed Picard more. "That is
precisely what you have not done. Even if no one has suffered any harm, a
fortuitous outcome does not excuse a thoughtless decision."
Those word turned Will Riker's head around. He dared to bring his eyes up to
his captain's. "You're still angry that I jumped," he accused.
Picard held Riker's eyes with his own till the younger man was forced to look
away, but the captain admitted to himself that the observation was true enough.
Riker's incomprehensible attitude had stoked the fire, but it had been kindled
from a residual vexation about the first disastrous visit to the asteroid.
Picard was angry--angry that Riker had made a reckless life or death choice
instead of waiting. His Number One had taken matters into his own hands
instead of depending on his team, instead of trusting them.
But then what if they hadn't cleared the transport signal at the final moment?
What if Riker had held on till exhaustion robbed him of the last chance to
save himself? Was not the captain of the Enterprise also using a fortuitous
conclusion to make judgments about the thought behind a decision?
"You are the only person who knows whether that was an act of desperation or
hubris. But this---this was an act of folly."
Riker made no answer now, his eyes straight ahead, far out into space where
the asteroid still hung in the blackness beyond Picard's windows.
"Don't you ever think," the younger man said softly, "of what you might be
missing? I'm sure you must promise it all to yourself --later, someday. Well,
what if later, you find yourself hanging off a cliff and there are no more
Picard looked at the man whom he had chosen as his Number One, a man selected
for his refusal to let his former captain lead a dangerous Away Team--an act of
defiance. But Picard had seen in that decision a willingness to look beyond
pleasing superiors or promoting a career. Riker was a man who was willing to
sail by his own lights. But what lights had led him this far astray?
"If our missions have shown us anything," Picard felt himself cooling, "they
have shown us the fate of societies whose culture craves immediate
gratification. Such cultures don't last, because they leave nothing for the
future. The surest way to have no more somedays is to think only of today."
The fire was over, but the inscrutable ashes left him no sign or portent of
what was wrong with his second-in-command. "It's a poor officer," he said
finally, "who gives free rein to every whim he feels--a point I thought never
to have to discuss with you. You are relieved of duty. You are to submit
yourself to Dr. Crusher for physical examination and then to Counselor Troi for
psychological evaluation. Dismissed."
"Are you having trouble sleeping? Dizziness? Anxiety? Headaches?" Dr.
Crusher asked her patient.
"No." He was oddly still and taciturn, not at all his usual self, but then,
wasn't that the problem?
"Are you experiencing any pain elsewhere?"
"Here." His hand made a vague gesture at his chest, but they both knew it
would do no good to listen to the heaviness of his heart.
Beverly put down her instruments and used her unaided senses to observe him.
"Pain, you know, is often a sign that we're doing something wrong. Will . . .
don't you think you're carrying carpe diem a little far?"
"I thought I was following your advice." The tone was flat, non-accusatory.
She shook her head, disbelieving. "And I thought I was encouraging you to
acknowledge your feelings, not to act on every one of them."
"How badly do you think I've screwed up?"
She didn't answer. She smoothed a hand over the tense shoulders and with a
nod of her head motioned him off the examination table.
"I don't see anything medically wrong, Will, but I'll want to make a careful
check of the data, so. . . you can go, and I'll let you know the results
He left sickbay without a farewell, and Dr. Crusher thought about the answer
to his question. A minor indiscretion, perhaps, this business about the ElBaz,
but Riker was showing a very disturbing pattern of behavior. Jean-Luc would be
reluctant to slap an insubordination charge on an officer whose record, even
for this single year, was so sterling, but the Captain of the Enterprise would
never tolerate capriciousness in command. A medical furlough for a month or
two might be the best disposition for all concerned. Any further
irresponsibility, and Riker might be looking at a permanent separation from the
Beverly sat down to review the data and began with a look at the single
abnormal reading she had found--an overabundance of one set of
neurotransmitters. However much she wanted to find a medical explanation
motivating Riker's erratic behavior, lack of sleep or reaction to all the
stimuli he had been experiencing could easily account for this imbalance, an
effect rather than a cause. Still, she could check against his last EEG and
see if there were any real variations from his own distinct, individual
She called up the record which she had taken just after the accident, and
stared at the jumbled wave signature at the start. Oh, yes, now she recalled
the heavy synaptic activity, which she'd disregarded as a momentary tricorder
error. Funny, the tricorder had done that same thing just now when she'd run
his exam. But his normal pattern reasserted itself immediately thereafter.
Yes, there it was--his normal pattern--and the brain waves looked so familiar!
"A-OK," LaForge chirped disconnecting the fiber optic lead from Data's temple
and closing the flap on the positronic matrix within the android's head.
Picard put a reassuring hand on Data's shoulder. "I'm gratified to hear that
you're 'operating within normal parameters.' "
But Data made no acknowledgement of his good news, sitting in an attitude of
"What's the matter, Data?" Picard asked. "Is there something that Geordi
"No sir," Data responded. "I was just rather hoping that Geordi would find
Picard and LaForge exchanged a look of concerned confusion.
"Otherwise, I cannot account for what happened in the shuttle. I am sorry
Captain; you must hold me equally responsible for this unfortunate incident."
"Data, the fact that you didn't countermand Commander Riker doesn't mean--"
"You don't understand, sir. I was flying the shuttle."
Concern became astonishment.
"You piloted the ElBaz through those stunts?" Picard asked. "Why? What
possible reason could you have for such--hijinks?"
The android searched his files. "It was fun."
Then the words rushed from Data's mouth, a discovery unlike any of the
information he had ever before collected. "Geordi, I felt it. At least I
think that was what happened. Now it is just a set of data--neurofunctions and
reaction algorithms--but while it was happening, it was a sensation ."
LaForge's face showed great sympathy for his friend. "But Data, how could you
possibly have experienced an emotional reaction?"
"Just before we began our return from the asteroid, Commander Riker turned to
ask me a question and I experienced--" he paused to seek the correct
description "--a shift of perspective. He made contact with the energy stream
of the asteroid and I believe he conducted it to me. It was as though I were
seeing through his eyes --feeling what he felt. He told me to 'hang on' and
when he laughed, I understood the joke and I was --amused! Then when we had
cleared the asteroid, he gave me control of the shuttle. At first the ride
was--scary --but then it was--I think one would say--thrilling ."
"Data,"Picard asked, "was the Commander also under the effect of this energy
stream?" The comm chirped with Beverly's voice, but he held her call while
another discovery emerged.
"I had the impression," Data spoke carefully, "that he was, conversely, the
He paced the floor of his quarters and told himself that he had come to the
end. He could no longer be a Star Fleet officer.
Picard was displeased with him--and it hurt. He did not realize how badly one
could be impaired in such a non-physical way. He himself had sworn that he
would harm no one in this little adventure away from his everyday existence.
But could he be sure that he kept his word?
Had he harmed Worf? He had not thought so. He was reasonably sure that Worf
had been diverted by their game, and the Klingon had been repaired easily. But
Worf had averted his eyes when they passed just before in the corridor.
Had he harmed Foster? If she had felt the same delight he had known, how
could what they had done be harmful? Yet when he made to leave, thereafter,
she had been angry, calling him a callous bastard.
The engineer, LaForge, had rejected the date that had been engineered just for
him, turning the encounter toward an entirely different outcome.
He did not understand how he had managed to offend Crusher, either. Whatever
the doctor maintained now, he had only tried to please her by following her
And Data! Data was not damaged! Why, he had given Data the very thing he had
wanted to experience!
Whom had he hurt?
Only Will Riker.
How ironic to be tripped up here! By the stars, he was a flyer! To come to
this pass because of the heady thrill of something he had done in bland
monotony since the beginning--to sail through glittering space, boundless and
The chime rang at the portal of his quarters.
"Come," he said the strange locution.
The door opened and she was standing there.
She stepped inside his rooms and the door shut behind her. She had come, no
doubt, to conduct the psychological evaluation that Picard had ordered, but the
sight of her evoked something completely unlike his expectations of
The sensations that ran through him as she approached through the lamplight!
The luminescence trickled down her dark hair like blue fire. The light
burnished her cheeks with gold, made little stars within the onyx of her eyes.
Her body moved like the water of a slow flowing river. His senses reached
their limits and still sought space beyond them.
"What's going on, Will? What do you imagine you're doing?"
Before, when she had come to him, the experience had been so new, he had been
so overwhelmed by the complexities already within him, that he had deliberately
not input anything from her, but now, he trembled with what he felt.
"I've been trying to do what you're always telling people they should do," he
replied, struggling with surging emotion within him "-- get in touch with their
feelings, acknowledge what their senses tell them."
But it was far more than sense--far more than what had attracted him to
Foster. That had been nothing but a basic survival utility--similar but less
vital than eating had been. His higher processing could have overridden this
urge easily, but he had chosen not to. Exploration of all the subroutines had
been the very purpose of his unusual investigation.
She turned away. "You must think my senses are pretty dull if you expect me
to believe that."
No! This was wrong! She must not be angry with him. He must make her
emotions correspond to his. Because every part of him yearned to be one with
her--not just in that physical way--but in a dimension that he was only now
realizing existed beyond the code and algorithms.
"You want to know what I'm really feeling?"
He felt a strange wonder as though he were not a complete being, but only
half an existence. He could not imagine how to explain it to her, but then he
perceived that she already knew. His entire consciousness reached out, probing
the darkness for an entrance into the light that flickered from some hallowed
memory buried in the dark, a treasure.
"Commander, you and I have a professional relationship here. You need to
remember that this is why we decided not to be more than friends."
And that was it. He met with a wall, a sheer cliff, a bottomless drop. He
might cling to that obdurate surface for a while, but in the end, he would
surely fall. He turned away in despair.
"Why don't you help me? Help me. I need you."
She regarded him like a remote intelligence, weighing his plight, and she
seemed to soften a little. "You think I don't understand," she said gently.
He sank into the chair. Defeated. Helpless. "No. You understand
relentlessly. But there is no feeling for me, is there?"
She looked at him. Could she not see the exhaustion and desperation without
her--the readiness to risk all for the chance of her--the willingness to jump,
to fall again, to fly?
Suddenly, he felt the wall melting, and she streamed in like that blue fire,
that gold burnish, that flowing water. She dissolved the brittle blackness,
and he was standing in the brilliant light of a yellow sun as she took him in
an embrace as warm as summer.
"How can you say that? Don't you know that I will always feel for you?"
He clasped her tightly to his chest and felt her body and spirit infused with
his own. The sound of open air crescendoed in his ears and his spirit felt as
free as flying. She cared for him. She was his only true, complete, and
"Imzadi," she whispered against the beckoning curve of his ear.
He kissed her softly. His face caressed hers. The ecstasy of touch!
"You're what?" he murmured. "You're sorry? "
Sorry? He felt the word jar her.
I'm sorry? She drew back. Her fingers traced his face as she sought
distance to see him aright, and other senses probed the dazzling realm of light
where they had been one.
She broke his embrace! She flung his hands aside! She bolted away! He
reached to catch her, but she was already backing, panicked, staggering toward
the door and escape.
The word! The word that he was supposed to have known! The word, treasured
and buried, that Riker had never written down nor even once spoken to his logs!
The door opened, and she stumbled against Captain Jean-Luc Picard and
Lieutenant Commander Data standing in the threshold with phasers drawn.
He stopped in the shadows in mid-stride.
"It's not Will," she gasped to them.
Picard seemed to have surmised that already, for he trained the phaser on
"Riker" without hesitation.
"Where is my First Officer?" he demanded.
"Riker" held his hands up in a gesture that he, or rather it, comprehended
would signify surrender. And then it sat down casually on the sofa and
answered in an amiable tone, "Most of the file you refer to as 'Riker' is
housed on the Bnowe --the 'asteroid' as you call it, Captain Picard."
Data eyed him curiously. "In a small area in the middle of the memory core?"
"Yes, he's there."
"And you are?" Picard asked.
"You might say--a relative of Mr. Data's. I am sorry; my creators didn't
grace me with a name any more than they gave me a form that could really
interact with humanoids."
"You are an artificial life form?" Data asked. "The computer system of the
It nodded. "My creators, unlike you, did not find it an efficient use of life
to sally forth into the galaxy; instead, they sent me and others like me to
bring back the galaxy for them. So you see, I am an explorer like yourselves.
I did not mean to explore your species so thoroughly, but we did rather 'fall
in' with each other. You know," it smiled quite like Riker, as it tapped his
head, "it's lucky you humans have a great deal more neural capacity than you
are currently using. This is a tight fit."
Its essay at humor was not as well received as Riker's usually was. "Well, "
it continued, " I had been reading from your computer even before you sent your
Away Team to my examination laboratory as so many other species have done.
Though your numerical technology was quite sane and understandable, the data
files contained a language so bizarre, disorderly, and ambiguous, I felt I had
to investigate in depth. Then your First Officer became--available.
Fortunately, I discovered later in reading his logs and his files, that he
would not be adverse to an exchange program."
"You have more than Will's logs," Troi accused.
"You mean I have his emotional programming, yes. That's why I decided to
prevent his untimely deletion and wound up being salvaged by you in this
corporeal state. I decided to proceed with the investigation as Riker. Such
a fascinating application as I had discovered was well worth the odd method of
research. You see, neither I nor my parent species possesses this program you
call emotional response. A wonderful program, amazingly complex, and difficult
to master. I knew when I first logged onto Riker that I wanted to experience
it." It turned to Data. "Surely you understand."
"I understand," Data replied, " but I do not approve."
"I thought you were as curious as I to experience emotion."
"But this is a morally unacceptable way to go about it. Humans aspire never
to satisfy their needs at the expense of others."
"If you do possess the emotions of Commander Riker," Picard argued, "you
must surely feel the injustice of what you have done. Commander Riker would
never attempt to possess something that rightfully belonged to someone else."
"I agree with you," the Bnowe computer replied. "I believe I can make a copy
of the basic programming for further study. The original can be returned to
Picard stole a sidelong glance at Data. "If you have translated emotion into
a language of artificial intelligence, would you consider sharing that
It winced apologetically. "I am forbidden from sharing our technology with. .
. less advanced species. I am sorry, Data," the computer replied. "But I am
not sure myself that I will access this application again. A great deal of
experience is needed to operate the program well, and I am not sure what
purpose it would serve without other beings to share it with."
"At least I know that such technology exists," Data said. "I shall be patient
"Riker" stood and gazed longingly at Deanna. "I regret that I was unable to
solve the encryption of that last subroutine. But, you understand that I would
never have done anything to harm you?"
"You don't understand at all," she said. "Some things can not be known in that
The computer mulled over the information. "At least I know that such things
exist. If I were Riker, I should find it hard, however, to be patient and
It turned to Picard. "I'm sorry I had to delay you. If you will return me to
Bnowe, I will release your ship."
"And return Commander Riker unharmed," Picard added.
"I can't promise that," the computer said and then in response to the steely
expression on the captain's face, the eyes took on a familiar twinkle. "As I
said, your First Officer is stored in my banks, and he's a flyer, too. If he
learns how to fly Bnowe, we're all in trouble."
Data looked down past Will Riker's boots into a huge drop, the chasm of the
Bnowe atrium, or perhaps cranium was a better word now. The transference of
the artificial intelligence back to the asteroid and the restoration of Riker's
"files" had been completed at a pole near the communications node, but the
commander had wanted to complete the original assignment with a look at rest of
the asteroid. Now, his reclining body floated on the gravity convergence
plane at the cinture of the hourglass with his fingers laced behind his head.
"Commander," Data prompted, "The Edvalese escort will be convoying with the
Enterprise shortly. Should we not be returning to the ship?"
"Considering what my alter ego has been up to," Riker replied grimly, "I'm
not that anxious to get back."
"But we are all aware of the personality transference, Commander. No one
blames you for the activities of the Bnowe intelligence."
"Yeah, sure," Riker sat up and rubbed his head.
"If you feel you will have difficulty in reestablishing relationships, perhaps
you should see Counselor Troi."
"Data," he began, "Counselor Troi and I. . . . Never mind."
He scrambled to his feet, and the two of them stood together in what seemed to
"How could I have missed the deep part of this field?" Riker grumbled. "I've
got to get in some diving practice."
But Data was still thinking about the other problem. "On the other hand, you
may be right to feel hesitant about returning to the Enterprise," he
theorized. "People may consider, since the computer entity was acting from your
emotional make-up, that its actions were at least representative of your true
"Look, Data, from what you've told me, I wouldn't say that that was my true
personality," Riker protested.
"Actually," Data mused on, "the Bnowe intelligence seemed to be following an
old maxim which I have added to my cross references: 'Live every day as if it
were your last.' "
Riker stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and turned the android around.
"Data, that's terrible advice."
"I don't understand, sir. Would living for today not tend to maximize a zest
for life which humans value?"
"Humans have gotten this far, my friend, because we've always been able,
ultimately, to put aside selfishness and to sacrifice a little today so there
will be something to build on tomorrow. If I had cared only about what I could
get right away, I'd never have gotten to be First Officer of the flagship. I
worked hard, and I sacrificed a lot--," Riker paused, seeming momentarily to
dwell on that thought and then, "But you know, things gotten easily--they
don't seem to mean as much as the things you have to work and wait for." He
looked back at the android with conviction, "Sometimes, you have to hold out
Data considered a moment. "I see. The entity knew it would not have a human
existence "tomorrow" so its desire for sensation and self-gratification kept
increasing, leading to behavior that was less and less responsible."
"Without thinking," Riker said with a return of chagrin, "that someone else
would inherit the consequences."
"Then, tomorrow will not 'take care of itself.'? "
"Never has." In good humored resignation, Riker clapped Data on the back as
they walked across the inversion field to the shuttle.
"So , Commander," the android said, "I suppose that now you will have to
'foot the bill' . . . 'pick up the check' . . . 'pay the piper' . . . "
"Data," Riker said, "did you ever consider collecting something a little more
tangible than idioms--stamps, maybe?"
The end "Flyer"