For those who noticed that "First Contact" gave women little to do...
For those who wished there were more of FC...
And especially for Imzadi fans...
Here's what else happened.
~Subject: TNG "Uniform" Part 1
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"Well, that's it," First Officer Will Riker announced sotto voce. "We're out of the action." The expressions of his fellow officers gathered around the table ranged from incredulous to outraged, though the dim lighting discreetly muted them all. Clearly the senior staff of the Starship Enterprise did not concur with the latest orders from Starfleet command: the Enterprise was to remain on patrol of the Neutral Zone excluded from the cohort of vessels assembling for what would surely be the Battle of Armageddon against the cybernetic race known as the Borg. "I don't believe it," Geordi LaForge protested. And then, lowering his voice, "Our only chance is a coordinated attack by a combination of vessels, and even if they're still breaking in, the Sovereign class ships carry all the latest technological advances and weaponry the Federation has developed since the Borg first appeared. The Big E is the key piece." "Next to the Defiant, of course," Data reminded him. "I suppose Worf will be in the main force." Riker flashed a glance at Ship's Counselor Deanna Troi, who looked up with evident concern but asked simply, "What does the Captain say?" Riker took in the room before answering. The starboard alcove of the Main Lounge was a public area, even though sparsely populated at this late hour, and the last thing he wanted was to have the lower decks observe agitation in the senior staff. "The admirals haven't told him in so many words, but he wants the crew to know it isn't that Fleet lacks confidence in us--" CMO Beverly Crusher cast a sharp look at the first officer. "Us?" "My guess--" Riker continued hastily "--is that Command intends to hold the Enterprise in reserve. Ace in the hole, last best shot--just like before." Data frowned, an expression that he only affected before the addition of his emotion chip. "Let us just hope it will be like before." "Let's not," Crusher shuddered. "Let's get those bastards the first time this time." She pushed her empty glass forward and rose, nodding a curt goodnight to the rest of them. "So what are we supposed do in the meanwhile?" LaForge asked, watching Crusher stalk away. "Keep trailing comets," Riker replied. "Jeez!" Data pounded his head, if not in real exasperation, in excellent verisimilitude. The group broke up with Data and LaForge heading to Engineering to resume duty and Riker and Troi retiring toward their cabins on an upper deck. They walked along silently to the turbolift each absorbed in thought, and Riker allowed himself a moment of relief that was merely a wash over his general anxiety--and guilt. Though successful, he had not enjoyed this bluff. The lift car arrived and they stepped inside, the sole passengers. Troi looked up at him. "So what did the captain really say?" she asked. Riker gave up then. There was no point in pretending to an empath, especially as she was counselor to the captain as well as the crew. "They're not entirely sure of him." She mulled it over silently, which, as usual, prompted her listener to reveal the rest of his chain of thought. "What the hell can they be thinking of? How could they believe that Jean-Luc Picard would ever cooperate with the Borg? Don't they understand what the Borg did to him? No one wants to annihilate the Collective more than he does." She looked up at him meaningfully. "Perhaps that's exactly why they're not sure of him." She took Riker's arm and gave him a brief affectionate squeeze. "But I thought you did a great job with that business about holding us in reserve. Between Geordi and Data, I'm sure your version will get around. The crew need to feel that they haven't been shunted aside and the idea of our being the last best shot will keep them primed just in case." "In case?" he said absently as the lift opened on their deck. "In case your story turns into the truth." And that was yet another layer of unease, he thought, as they moved down the hall--how flexible the truth was becoming. He seemed to be getting good at a skill he thought he had reserved strictly for war games and the poker table, not for keeping his friends in the dark. If he were going to get technical, he was deceiving everyone from the captain on down--ever since he'd read Emergency Order Fifteen:
All personnel related by blood as well as all espoused, mated or otherwise co-joined personnel currently serving together aboard the same starship will be immediately reassigned to separate posts. Commanding officers are hereby notified to effect through Starfleet Command the immediate transfer of each related officer designated as less vital within the ship's staff. This order shall remain in effect for the duration of the emergency.
They reached the turning in the hallway that ended with two cabins for the First Officer and the Ship's Counselor in a section that had been originally designed for diplomatic guests and their entourages. The quarters intended for the executive officer, one deck up, had been cheerfully turned over to Data who needed a larger space than he was allotted for his extensive tie-ins to the central computer system. These two adjoining suites in a private, often unoccupied area had certain advantages he hadn't planned at the time he assigned them. They paused before his doorway and with the corridor empty as usual, they entered together. Worf's interest in Deanna toward the end of their tour on the Enterprise-D had opened Will's eyes. The lack of outcome and Worf's departure thereafter had opened a door that Will was determined not to let shut again, particularly after what Picard had hinted about a variant future Q had shown him. Even without those two circumstances, Will's own sixth sense urged him that time was slipping away, and so he persuaded Deanna to vacation with him on Risa. There, where they had separated so long ago, they came together, magically, gloriously. Promises were made, a future for the two of them began to take shape, only to be challenged by the declaration of a state of emergency and the arrival of new orders. And so in the exigency of duty, they'd made a bond of love and honor--but not legal, official, recorded or certificated--just so as to be slimly within the letter of Starfleet's emergency regulations. Not that they hadn't fought. "I want to do it," he insisted, pacing the veranda of the bungalow where she sat on a hassock watching their last Risan sunset. "Now. Before we have to get on the shuttle. Marry me, Deanna. Tonight." "Oh, Will! And what about tomorrow? You'd go to the Enterprise and lie to Captain Picard? You can't do that. Neither can I." "What's the difference? The captain, everyone, will know how it is between us." "But if we're not officially married, Captain Picard would be within the letter of the regulation to keep us both aboard. He wouldn't have to lie either." "I wasn't thinking of anybody's having to lie." She just looked at him till his gaze faltered. "You want us to be separated?" she asked finally. He knelt in front of her. He took her hand in his own, smoothing it under his bowed head. "They'll give priority to parents of small children, but after that, they'll consider the reassigned spouses for vacancies in a safe area." "And what area is safe from the Borg?" she asked. He looked up at her then, pleading. "They're right, you know. The order makes sense. I feel . . . I feel it would help me to know that at least you were somewhere . . . out of the direct action." Her eyes flashed. "And why are you so sure it will be me to leave?" "It's not about your being a woman," he said, giving vent to his anxiety in exasperation. "You know that. If you were the First Officer, I accept that you'd stay with ship." She felt her little flash of anger fade. The quarrel wasn't really about gender. She knew what it was about: protecting the one you loved. "Are you so sure I'm the one who'd be transferred?" she asked again softly. He blinked. Obviously, he had just assumed that Picard would choose to keep his First Officer over his Ship's Counselor. But suddenly, he recognized her point. She knew even better than anyone what had happened to Picard when he'd been captured by the Borg. Picard had suffered something unspeakable within that dark cubical hive. And afterward, how many long hours with Troi had he struggled to face the Borg assimilation--the obliteration of his will, his control, and his individuality--the rape of his very self? Jean-Luc Picard had the loyalty of best crew in Starfleet to run his ship. He had Data's formidable powers of analysis and Geordi's technological prowess and his own brilliant ingenuity. But to whom could he turn for the psychological strength to face the Borg again? More vital than his First Officer might be his Ship's Counselor. And then they both knew what Picard would do; he'd detach Riker with the same triumph he took in a brilliant chess move--finally forcing his Number One to realize those ambitions long held in abeyance, for he could be sure that the admiralty would not hesitate an instant in giving Will his own command in the coming battle. They would be separated by duty and both in the line of fire. They had returned without settling anything. The living arrangement had happened in the vacuum of indecision while they went about their usual duties. Neither one had said anything to the rest of their shipmates for lack of knowing how to explain it. But how ironically circumstances had played out! Could anyone have predicted what was happening now: that Starfleet would cede their best player in this ultimate game of strategy, and the Enterprise become a bystander instead of their champion? That was how Riker saw their present situation. Looking back, he now imagined that if Deanna had let him declare themselves wed, she would be here with Picard safely registering comets, and he would be where he felt he belonged, fighting the Borg. He wanted even now to go to Picard and lay his cards on the table. But how to do that after this pretense? Where did loyalty and duty lie? And how to tell her that as much as he loved her, the lie stuck like a thorn inside him? "Tell me something," she said, her voice drifting in now from the bedroom. "What if Fleet intends us to be out of battle regardless of the outcome? What if our ultimate orders are to escape?" "Run?" The word hung between them like something cut off, adrift in space. She was turning down the quilt. "Guinan said once that part of our purpose in fighting the Borg was to survive as a people. Sometimes you have to retreat--till you can come back later and win." "And let your children inherit your battle? That's not the kind of world I want to leave my children--our children." He commanded the lights to dim and turned his face into shadow. "Even if they order it, we don't run. He can't and I won't. That's not why we wear the uniform." "I know," she said, gently. "You keep forgetting. I wear it, too. But let it be now," she kissed him. "The uniform is something I take off for bed. We're not uniform underneath, you know."
Deanna struggled with the foreign costume, a canvas coat and fur-lined gloves, finally deciding to shed at least the gloves for the time being onto the floor. She was uncomfortable enough in this strange place so far removed from what she took as her ordinary life. In the last one or two hours, Will's excuse-- the last best shot-- had become prophecy when, the battle for Earth about to be lost, Jean-Luc Picard had defied his orders and brought the Enterprise back to Coordinates 001. Deanna was still recovering from the surge of emotion that had swept like a storm tide across the bridge as the fierce courage of a vital, stubborn, survivalist species clashed with the cold acquisitive dispassion of the Borg. She had sensed Picard's icy realization of their whisperings in his mind and felt his apprehension turn to white hot bolts of hatred as he ordered the Enterprise to target phasers on the Borg vulnerability that he alone could perceive. She had known Worf's jubilation as the cubical hull exploded, and Data's shock at the spherical mothership that emerged from the fireball. She had shared Will's intrepid excitement as they were sucked into a time vortex back through the unknown history of a Borg-dominated Earth to the planet's twenty-first century--the time of the Great Chaos. And she had tasted Picard's savage exaltation when the Enterprise visited utter destruction on the Collective's mothership. But what dominated her consciousness now was her own determination for success in their present mission--to restore the past that the Borg had hoped to alter in their own favor: First Contact, an event of paramount importance in Earth's history, the first warp flight by Zephram Cochrane's Phoenix and the planet's subsequent initiation by the Vulcans into a universe of strange new worlds. She looked down from a narrow platform in the subterranean shaft that housed the famed warp vehicle itself and watched a level below her as Captain Picard, speaking in soft and wondrous tones reached out a hand to touch the smooth metal side of the Phoenix as tenderly as if it were living creature. "Would you three like to be alone?" she called down to the captain and Data. Picard looked up at her with a bemused smile. What an incredible emotional range humans had! How different her captain seemed now--mercifully so. When she had swept into the transporter room, the second member of the Away Team to arrive, she had inadvertently caught Picard in an unguarded moment of something she could only describe as blackness. Her human powers of observation, honed through training, as well as her empathic sense perceived how he pulled back slightly at the sight of her. She glanced down to indicate that she'd not consider using her powers to intrude upon his thoughts, and in that instant he donned again the persona of self-possessed leader and commanding officer, covering that dark passion. "Ready to visit history, Counselor?" He seemed to need to speak to cure the awkwardness. She smiled wanly. "Every psychologist's dream." "How is that? "To go back and repair the past. To stop the cause before its effect and to smooth over trauma as if it had never happened." She glanced over to share that little irony with him. His face was stone. Her thought had become to him a personal observation--of his own situation. "Captain, I--" He brushed it aside with a quick shake of his head. "Later, Counselor." Then Will had hurried in with Data, and the men had occupied themselves with the equipment they would be taking along. Self-possessed. Yes, that was a telling description of Picard. The conversation he had postponed had already been put off some years ago, as the superficial scars from the Borg implants were healing and the inner ones sank within him, leaving a smooth surface above the submerged shards of his imagined invincibility, cracked and sharp and broken. Never had he really come to terms with the fact that he had been possessed and assimilated into the terrible Oneness, the uniformity that was the Borg. The narrow confines of the missile silo seemed suddenly reminiscent of the Borg hive and she was glad for the occasional glimpses of the familiar Starfleet officers moving about the scaffolding. There was a Oneness about the Enterprise too, but it was not uniformity. The Enterprise treated everyone as equals but admitted their differences, cherished their diversity, made allowance for their individuality, and of course, no one was forced to sacrifice the self for the whole. . . . "Excuse me, Commander." A slight jolt distracted her from her thought. Lt. Barclay brushed by her on the narrow platform smiling shyly, as always, just a little too nervous to hold eye contact very long. She sidled closer to the railing to give him more room as he squatted down beside the outer hull of the Phoenix and pointed the stubby barrel of a laser spanner at one of the plates. He paused, laying a reverential hand on the cold metal and looked back at her, vaguely embarrassed in the same way Picard had been. She smiled kindly at Barclay. "She's just so--" Barclay started out and immediately lost his way "--I guess, well, I mean that she's so--meaningful. You know, I always thought of her kind of like the bomber airplanes in twentieth century World War II. The pilots named them after their girlfriends and painted--uh, pictures of their--" he cleared his throat "-- um, sweethearts on the fuselages.... Well, anyway, I always kind of felt something for the Phoenix. I've studied a lot about her. She's our legend--our beginnings-- I mean--well--maybe not so much for you, Counselor-- being a Betazoid and all." "Lieutenant, my father was a human and a Starfleet officer." "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't mean that you--" "Never mind, Reg," she said. "Come to think of it, the rest of the landing party are all Terrans. I guess if I want to claim my Betazoid side, the Vulcans won't be the earth's First Contact with aliens, I will." "I think the Borg get that distinction, now," Barclay replied shaking his head at the reading on his tricorder. "But you never know. Maybe this was always the way it was. History records sabotage attempts on the Phoenix." As he passed the tricorder to Deanna to hold, she wondered facetiously if she would find Will somewhere mooning over this rocketship, too. How much fun she could have pretending to be jealous and then pointing out to him that the Phoenix resembled nothing so much as a huge phallic symbol-- She turned her head at the brief, sharp sound below her-- a sound she couldn't quite place. Again it cracked--a holodeck sound, she thought--and then a flash. Gunfire! She spun for the ladder, her urgent impulse to go to the defense of her captain, but Barclay's response to protect his superior officer was directed at her. "Get down!" She felt Barclay's arm come around her waist, and she was swept onto the floor. Below, she could hear Picard trying to persuade someone to put down the weapon and above her she could see the startled Lt. Barclay, lying half across her body, acutely conscious of where he'd found himself because it was exactly where his subconscious had often found him. "The captain--" she gasped to Barclay. "Mr. Data is with him. Keep down, Commander." More weapons reports and voices shouting. "Lieutenant," she said to Barclay whose face was mere centimeters from her own, "You're jabbing me with your laser spanner." (At least I hope it's the laser spanner, she thought.) "Excuse me--sir." Barclay croaked as the weapons fire finally ceased, and she heard Data shout that "she" had been exposed to radiation and would need to be transported up to the ship. With the emergency past and his duty done, Barclay began to right himself and that was when the strange antique fasteners on his coat got tangled in some decorative flap of her clothing to the effect that as soon as he rose slightly, he fell back down on top of her. "Lieutenant!" she tried to deflect his downward course, but he only bobbled back from her push. "I think something's--um, stuck," he sputtered. "Unstick it!" she growled as he floundered and flayed, struggling to detach himself. But the harder he tried, the more they became a tangle of writhing legs and arms. "Wait a minute!" And he rolled over, pulling her on top of him. She pushed up and his attached weight pulled her back down. "Uhh!" he moaned loudly as she crashed. Then, a pair of strong hands under her arms, hauling her upward, snapped the snagged fastener clean off. Will's hands. He set her on her feet and stared down at Lt. Barclay, petrified in a semi-reclining position on the floor, like a frightened lizard about to be eaten alive. Oh my god, she thought, sensing the tremendous tension inside her lover and anticipating an imminent explosion. He wants to kill him. Expecting the worst, she turned to try to calm Will--only to realize that here was a man trying desperately not to explode with laughter. It made her want to kill him. "You all right, Lieutenant?" he asked Barclay, solicitously. "Yessir!" Barclay scrambled off the floor. He turned to Deanna with an arched eyebrow. "Commander?" For just that moment, she wanted to kill him. He nodded, accepting her non-response. "The Captain, Doctor Crusher, and Data have returned to the ship with an injured civilian--Dr. Cochrane's assistant. Cochrane himself is still unaccounted for. Lieutenant, I want you to assemble the remainder of the Away Team on the surface for further instructions." "Right away, sir!" Barclay thankfully ran for the ladder and climbed with the alacrity of a spider, a species he'd lately developed a phobia about. Will casually bent down and retrieved her gloves. "Commander, that's not exactly what an officer 'in a superior position' means." "Thank-you, I'll remember that." She snatched the gloves from him and started up the ladder. "I'll be sure to recall your remarks especially in future operations where we're under cover. " "Just remember," he said with a slight snigger as he climbed after her, "that the First Officer always has blanket authority." She stopped a rung or two above him, suddenly recognizing something else she had sensed in that tense moment behind the release of laughter. "Wait a minute. You were supposed to be down at the base of the silo. How did you get to us so fast?" His impassive poker face looked up to her. "You were hovering, weren't you?" she accused him. "Did you send Barclay after me?" "You heard me give the general orders. I told everyone to keep aware of each other." Waving her on, he pounded up the rungs in her wake. "Listen, Commander. Just because we're together, doesn't mean that anything about the job has changed. When we're in uniform, I told you--no hovering." "It's my job to hover, " he argued. "That's what leading the Away Team is. I'm responsible for everyone down here, so don't make my job any harder, okay? At least the Captain has gone back and I don't have to keep an eagle eye on him, too." "Eagle eye?" She stopped again. "As I recall, in regard to Away Teams, Captain Picard did compare you once to a bird, but I don't think it was an eagle. Hmm," she said with vengeful glee, "What was it now? Not a bird that hovers, a bird that--" He leaned out from the ladder for emphasis. "If the Goddess of Empathy would care to continue her ascension, I'd like to get out of this hole." "Then don't dig yourself any further in," she said, feeling in his smirk the teeth more than the smile. By the time they reached the surface, Barclay had gathered their forces. LaForge and the rest of his technicians had arrived from the Enterprise to continue damage assessment and begin repairs of the Phoenix. Riker assigned the remaining few members of the Away Team as a search party. "Right now, your prime directive," Riker briefed his group, "is to find Dr. Cochrane. We have only a narrow window to accomplish this, but remember to keep a low profile. In this paranoid environment, people aren't going to step right up to strangers and offer information, so blend in and keep your eyes and ears open." As the group broke up, scattering in different directions through the bombed-out remains of the campsite, Will detained Deanna for a last word. "Keep your sixth sense open," he told her. "You're our best shot at finding him." "Not to put pressure on," Geordi added, "but we've only got about sixteen hours before the Vulcans get here." "Well then," she said, "I guess I'd better get out there. She called over her shoulder to Will, as she disappeared into the smoky atmosphere. "Be sure to keep your eagle eye on the clock." He wondered if he had misheard her. Her last word had shaded pretty close to "cluck."
The campground that housed the twenty-first century's warp age pioneers stood further down the mountain than the missile silo, and a clear-cut swath through the timberline afforded a view. A chill westerly breeze, topping the peak, swept the smoke away briefly enough in the downdraft for Deanna to glimpse the ramshackle collection of log buildings and canvas tents below her, lit by brushfires just now coming under control. The settlement had perhaps been at one time a ranch or a wilderness retreat or a logging camp; in the center, a larger dwelling, probably a commons, was surrounded by a scattering of smaller shelters in clusters, whose windows were beginning to twinkle against the night. She squinted into the dark. Still further down, where the pine forest reasserted itself, well apart from the central constellation of shelters, shone a solitary light. Cochrane's home? she thought. Her empathic sense reached out-- rather like Picard's fingers had reached out to the Phoenix-- impossible though it was for her to sense an unfamiliar human presence at such a distance--as impossible as it was for Picard to find human feeling in a machine. What the captain had touched was his own emotion and though Troi's own desire to find Cochrane might be what she was following, she began to stride purposefully down hill along a two-track unpaved road. She entered the stand of lodgepole pines and Douglass fir still debating her direction. Why not there? A eccentric visionary like Cochrane might well seek a place away from the others, a little distance to emphasize his leadership, a separate space to sequester his genius. She stopped at the intersection of another trail through the woods. Was she imagining Cochrane or just recalling Picard? Since the emergency orders, the captain had closed himself off. Gone was the man who had come lately to their poker games, who had whimsically selected the fanciful venue of Worf's promotion ceremony, who seemed resolved in the loss of his ship, his brother and his nephew to make a family of the people that indeed saw him as a kind of father, his crew on the new Enterprise. He had retreated into his captaincy and closed all the doors behind him, walling in his rage and pain behind cold eyes and frozen control, as though he were transforming all the complexity of himself into a single hate, as uniform in purpose--she shivered--as the Borg. A cloud of smoke drifted across her path, floating in wispy patches from a clearing a short distance down the sidepath, and the acrid air carried two voices calling back and forth. Deanna concentrated on the tone. Distressed, but not desperate. With as vital a task as she had to accomplish, she could be excused for passing by. But she stood still in the middle of the road, listening. Abruptly, she turned toward the clearing. Other people on her team, she knew, were looking for Cochrane. She had no better lead than they. And perhaps there were no others to come to the aid of these voices. She parted the screen of evergreen boughs. The clearing appeared before her: an impact crater surrounded by singed trees and lit by a nearly exhausted brush fire. A single beacon-type lantern, hung on a sapling too green to have broken or burned, illuminated a fair portion of the scene: a woman in a lumberjack shirt and jeans peering down from the edge into the dark hole. As Deanna approached, the cusp of light that fell to the bottom revealed a second figure at the base of the huge muddy pit, another grimy, sodden human being. "Try again!" the lumberjack was urging. A coil of heavy rope encircled her waist and the end trailed down into the sinkhole. "I can't hold on with this wrist. It's broken or sprained." "Then tie the rope around you, Linda, and I'll pull you out." Deanna crashed through the border of rubble at the rim of the hole. "What happened?" The lumberjack startled and took a second to answer, "The edge gave way while we were examining the crater. My sister fell in." "Let me help." The woman seemed oddly hesitant again, but she turned herself out of the rope loop as Deanna picked up the end that lay twisted on the ground at her feet. "Okay. You ready, Linda?" she called, and then, without further ado, she snapped to Troi, "Pull!" They'd backed up a few feet before they heard, "Oh! Ow!" and the rope tightened and dragged them toward the pit once again. "The sides are too slick, Holly," the disembodied voice called upward. "I can't keep my feet. Ow! Damn this wrist!" The woman named Holly ran a gloved hand across her forehead smearing it with soot or mud. She glanced at Deanna with grim vexation, and then realizing her misdirected anger, she looked away--right at the very salvation that emotion hadn't let her see. Deanna dropped the rope. "That's what we want," she cried, pointing to the tall skeleton of a dead pine tree leaning against a pile of fallen timbers, its naked branches sticking out like a giant coat rack. "Think we can push that into the hole?" Immediately Holly saw the idea. They scrambled up the heap of logs and began to push against the top of the trunk. "Get back to the other side!" Holly waved at her injured sister as the tree began to move. "Push!" she urged Deanna. "Here she goes!" The spindly tree stood upright for just a second before it twirled and toppled over into the pit making a rude ladder from top to bottom. By the time Deanna and Holly had climbed down and retrieved the lantern, the unlucky Linda was half-way up, climbing the broken branches with her one good hand steadying her progress. As Deanna held the tree trunk, Holly reached down and hauled her sister over the rim. "God! Thank-you!" Linda exclaimed as Holly began to examine her swollen wrist. "You're welcome," Deanna responded. "Not broken, sis," Holly pronounced and nodded at Deanna. "That's good." "You're not from around here," Linda remarked. It should have been a purely innocent, natural observation. "No, just got here this evening. I'm Deanna Troi." Holly was frowning guiltily, embarrassed by their suspicions of someone who had done nothing but help. "We're lucky you came along," she conceded. "Glad to help." "Little early for the peace rally aren't you? Are you press or security?" Deanna silently blessed her father who had insisted that she learn Earth's history as well as Beta-Zed's and who had many times told her the first contact story that was so well known to the Terrans aboard the Enterprise that no one had bothered to review it in the hasty mission preparation. The peace rally organized by the San Francisco Pax Universum that would be held a week from now in the sleepy little town of Stockton at the base of this mountain would be attended by hordes of ordinary people from the western region, the new leaders of the North American Coalition and a tiny delegation from five miles and three hundred thousand light years away. And that rally would truly bring peace to this world. "Well, I'm not with the peace rally at all." She might as well try out the cover story. Not too polished, of course, so as to make it sound good. "I came down with a group of scientists who are also interested in faster-than-light technology. We had made some big strides toward what we're calling warp mechanics--north of here--but um, our project got closed down in the same way--the orbiting missile platforms. We didn't want to give up, but we're pretty much demolished. We'd heard about the team working here and we thought, well, we came to speak to Zephram Cochrane about combining efforts." During the last few words with the firelight flicking shadows all around them, Linda had stiffened and Holly had turned, still crouched near her sister on the ground, but poised like an animal about to spring. Deanna felt the hairs on her neck rising. "They're here, aren't they?" a voice behind her hissed. She turned around. A man was standing a few meters off, his dark figure backlit by the flames and smoke, a figure from hell. Holly shone the lantern full on him, a gaunt, grey-bearded man in a black jumpsuit. Deanna startled. For a second she thought that it was one of the Enterprise officers in uniform, but then she saw that the red splash at his collar was a scarf knotted around his throat, and the face was not only unfamiliar but chillingly strange. Like a performer in the spotlight, the man seemed to rise up in the harsh glare, and he stepped toward them intent upon the sound of his own words. He stared into the brilliance of the lantern beam unflinching as though he were blind. His eyes were pale, but the pupils were compressed black specks that seemed to suck in the light, trapping it in the darkness of his mind. The touch of that mind struck her: the twisted and delusional vision of paranoia fed by the power of utter conviction, blotting all contradiction, all reality, out of its singular sight. But what chilled her most was the odd sense that he could read her, too. "I warned you. I told you, but you wouldn't listen. They're coming for us," he said. "From up there, out of the sky. You brought them here. You and your spaceship!" Holly sprang up and shoved him back roughly. "Get out of here, you crazy bastard! Who told you you could come here? Get out! You hear me?" She swooped quickly and picked up a a rock. He backed away into the penumbra of the beam, and his parting gesture swept the sky. "Behold the wrath of God! Your punishment, you scientists! You who play God! You'll see! The Angels of Death are unleashed! They're coming for you! They're coming for you!" he shouted as he slunk away. Holly's arm went limp and the rock fell from her hand. "Who was that?" Deanna whispered. "He's just an old lunatic," Linda said. "They call him Laocoon--some joke about his having gone crazy from being snakebit." "Huh!" Holly snarled. "Where are the snakes when you need them? "He lives on the other end of the plateau with some young men, his disciples," Linda added. The solitary light Deanna had noticed. "Cultists. A little scary, but harmless enough." "Nobody knows who's harmless enough," Holly retorted. "They have weapons-- same as everybody. And he thinks anyone who isn't in his little cult is a scientist out to get him." "Never mind him, you're looking for --" Linda started. "Old man Cochrane should be up at the silo," Holly cut in, gesturing uphill. "Come on, Linda, let's get you back to the cabin. We're just camping here, so we really don't know much about the scientists. They seem to want to be left alone. But, anyway," she offered her hand to Troi, "we're sure glad to have had your help. Thanks a lot. Somebody up at the silo can probably point out Cochrane to you." "This way?" Deanna pointed. One didn't need to be empathic to detect such clumsy lies, but it helped to be a good actress to convince people you'd bought them. Getting a nod from Linda, Deanna smiled, shook hands, and bade them farewell. She walked off and hid behind a tree till they started down the hill to the settlement and then, at a discreet distance, she followed them. Undoubtedly, they were part of Cochrane's team and if they knew where he was, Holly would go and report Deanna's story to him. Given the circumstances, they probably had a right to be wary. She hadn't missed the emotional undertone in Holly's inquiry about her being with "security" for the peace rally. These were days in which "security" teams made everyone feel insecure. And then the general state of Earth's war-torn society had probably produced a lot of people as potentially threatening as this Laocoon. Once the sisters reached the central cluster of cabins, Deanna followed less covertly, screened by the bustle of people putting out small fires, examining the wreckage at the end of the thoroughfare, regrouping and getting about the business of survival. Linda was helped inside what looked like a dispensary or field hospital, and Holly continued on to a larger shelter over which a crude sign proclaimed "Crash and Burn." Deanna scooted around the side of the edifice into a alley cluttered with crates. There was a side door, which was locked, but further back, a half-open window sent a little shaft of light into the dark passageway. Deanna peered in. Holly was, indeed, talking earnestly to a man who, though his back was turned toward Deanna, looked about the right physical type for Cochrane. Then she heard Holly call him "Zef." She moved back to the corner of the building and paused in the shadows, deciding to wait for Holly's departure before going in. "Counselor?" She looked up to find Barclay in the street, staring at her. "Don't call me that!" she hissed as he approached. "Yesss--" he was about to say, "sir," but he realized that that was wrong too--but on the other hand, he might be much too forward to call her "Deanna"-- but by then she was decidedly frowning at him. "Why are you here? I thought the engineering team was all at the silo. Did Commander Riker send you down here?" Rather than guilty, Barclay looked simply astonished. "How did you know?" The question took her by surprise and even more so-- "Oh, of course! I guess you can sense these sort of things. But you don't mean to tell me-- can you communicate--like telepathically--with the Commander?" She wasn't going to explain their relationship to Barclay, but God! she was certainly going to take up this whole business with Will again. Couldn't he see how this kind of protectiveness simply exposed them? But Barclay continued to babble on, "Then maybe you could give us an idea what's going on on the ship!" "What? What's going on?" "Then you don't know? But then how did you--? Oh, I see. I guess the communicators are still working down here so that's how he let you know, even though we're not supposed to use them--" "Wait a minute, Barclay, I don't understand what you're talking about." Barclay stopped, sweeping his confusion aside. "We've lost communications with the Enterprise. Commander Riker sent me down here to find out if they have any kind of comm link in the residence area that we could try, but--it looks like that's what got bombed out at the end of the street." She kept from her expression the dread that his news had evoked. Instead she said, "So that's why you're here -- and we don't know why we can't raise the Enterprise?" He shook his head. "So, it could be just a computer glitch. . . . Look, Reg , I couldn't sense anything at this distance without centering and concentrating and maybe not even then. But we still have a mission here. I want you to tell Commander Riker that I've found Dr. Cochrane. I'm going in to talk to him now. With any luck, I'll have him back at the silo in half an hour." "Aye, Commander," he nearly saluted as he ducked away. She sighed, amused at the military response, and then, abruptly changing gears, she rebuked herself for jumping to conclusions. Reviewing the conversation, she guessed that no harm had been done. And she did have a mission to accomplish here. So, she straightened her clothes, fluffed her hair and with as jaunty a smile as she could manage, she sauntered into the front entrance of the Crash and Burn. He stood there alone, turning a thin black disk in his hands. "Dr. Cochrane?" He didn't turn immediately, and when he did, she was hard put to match the face before her with the one in the histories. It was weathered, haggard, dissolute. "Hello, there," a slow smile. "What's your name?" "Dr. Cochrane?" she asked again. "Aw, no, I don't think so. I've seen Dr. Cochrane, and you don't fit the description. No," he looked her up and down, "not at all!" She disregarded the suggestive gaze. "My name is Deanna Troi, Dr. Cochrane, and I've come to talk to you about the Phoenix project." He laid down the black disk and walked around to the other side of the bar. "Well, I'm sorry, darlin' --you've got the wrong man. But hang around. Maybe ol' Zef will show up. He usually does." He set up two glasses. "Deena, that's a lovely name." "Deanna. We need to talk about the flight tomorrow." "That would be a very short conversation. Doesn't look to me like there'll be a flight tomorrow. But then, that leaves plenty of time for other things. " He reached down for a bottle under the long counter and poured some amber liquid into the glasses. "Have a drink while you wait?" She stretched over the stained counter to look at him earnestly. "The flight *can* go tomorrow, just as planned. I know people who can help." "Have a drink." He pushed a glass out to her. She ignored it. "Really." Cochrane leaned toward her propping his stubbly chin on his bent elbow. "Hey, Deena, if you're going to wait here, it's a bar. Have a drink or have a walk." " DE-ANNA." She looked into the glass. "What is it?" He grinned and raised the glass as if to toast her. Downing the shot in a single gulp, he smacked his lips, and shook his head back. "Ahh, it's what dreams are made of!"
In the tiny bathroom behind the bar of the Crash and Burn which adjoined the proprietor's private quarters, Riker found a towel, frayed but clean, in the cabinet below the sink, threw it in the basin, and opened the cold water tap to soak it. Uncomfortable with his own eyes scowling back at him from the smudged mirror, he turned toward the other room and the cot where Deanna lay, incapacitated by alcohol, curled toward the wall hung with gaudy retro-art prints for something called Led Zepplin. No comfort there either. No, especially not there. How could she have done this to him? If Cochrane decided to take a walk, what was he going to do? Let him disappear into the chaos outside or leave her here like this? And he couldn't even call the ship for help! He didn't want even to think about what this odd communications failure might mean. Damn it, if she had *planned* to throw his feelings for her against his duty to the ship, she could hardly have done much better! He reached for the glass she had absently dragged in and bolted the rest of the drink himself. He decided that the homemade hooch deserved the "Burn" and the "Crash" had to be that god-awful music. He let his gaze travel further out the door, glad to see, within the small range of vision afforded, that Cochrane was still gyrating to the percussion that pounded like munitions explosions from the main room. Indeed, the music fit the war within Will Riker. The rational side of him knew, of course, that he was the one who should have planned for the conflict he now felt. It had happened because it was bound to happen and it was going to happen again and again, a standard feature of their lives for as long as he and Deanna worked together in order to be together. He thought of the years she had put him off saying,"not while we're serving on the same ship," and he'd always counted it an excuse--for lack of love, for lack of courage--underestimating the love and courage they'd need. He had always known about love and risk, but the knowing had been theoretical, intellectual. It had not been this knowing in the blood: the racing of his mind, the tension in his body, his pounding heart. The sink began to overflow. He pulled up the towel and wrung it out with a vengeance, wishing he had something more than a cold compress to offer her. What he wanted was Beverly--or the emergency medkit he'd left up at the silo-- hell! even a single tab of anontox to kill the lingering effects of what she'd drunk. Thankfully, once he'd gotten her to this little sanctuary, no doubt someone's trysting spot, a good bit of the liquor had come right back up on her. Some Betazoids had notoriously delicate stomachs. He came out of the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bed. She groaned as he straightened her limbs, rolled up a pillow under her neck, and applied the cold cloth to her forehead. Her hand reached toward the towel, and she squinted up at him miserably. "Jus' give me a minute," she muttered. "Self-hypnotize. . . try to get straight. Won't be gone long." She patted his hand. "Try'n think. . . how'd it be if I were jus' Leffler or Rager or . . ." Try to think of her as Leffler or Rager? How was he supposed to do that? He thought he'd managed to hide his concern pretty well at the start, mugging it up while she told Cochrane that no, she wasn't married to him. Damned emphatic she was, too--shaking off hands meant only to steady her. And then he'd realized that for once, the tables were turned. While she was far too "blended"to use her empathic sense on him, drink had brought all her emotions right up to the surface, and the message in her truculence was the same one she had delivered at the silo: "No hovering. We're in uniform." He entertained an odd flashback--a memory of catechism at the Academy: Q: If Starfleet is not a military organization, why do its officers go in uniform? A: We wear a uniform to symbolize our fellowship and purpose, the oneness cast over the infinite diversity within the infinite combinations of our being . (Yeah, sure, he had thought, we wear the uniform so we can tell who's on our team.) And then, looking at her rueful expression, he was ashamed to recognize that he'd seen her as the opposition even though she was on his team, too. If she had been Leffler or Rager, he'd have seen immediately her courage and dedication to duty--even to drinking what amounted to poison just to keep that damned eccentric, brilliant, drunken, critically necessary, aged adolescent Cochrane in sight and talking. The music changed to something slow and bluesy. He looked up quickly to see what was happening out front. She sat up, leaning dizzily on an elbow, the damp towel falling onto his knee. "Cochrane! Don't let him go!" He leaned forward to see the front room better: the lanky scientist alternately examined the vinyl disks that he inserted into the antique music player and swigged from the long necked tequila bottle. "Shh! It's okay. Lie down." He settled her back down and replaced the towel, brushing the wet tendrils of her hair back around her ears. What he'd always considered the better part of him, duty, service, the uniform, called for his attention, but something at the very biological base of his being told him that he didn't deserve any man's uniform if he didn't stay right here by her. Her cheek brushed against his hand as her eyes closed. Her breathing became slow and steady. He guessed that a little hovering was acceptable, sometimes. They would have to accept the occasional clashes of love and duty and find a way to make them one, for to deny the claims of duty was to be the worst of humans, but to sacrifice wholly the claims of love could never serve honor either. The only beings he knew who moved perfectly in service and duty were the Borg. A shadow fell across him. Cochrane was leaning in the doorframe. "What's wrong with this picture?" The words were slurred. "What? What picture?" Cochrane wobbled over and leaned down, eyeball to eyeball. "What's--wrong--with--this--picture?" Riker thought about explaining that the image in his school science file above the caption "Zephram Cochrane, inventor of the warp engine," didn't have bloodshot eyes, three days' stubble on his chin, and the pungent smell of alcohol emanating from the screen. "You don't get it, do you?" Cochrane asked. " Didn't you ever have those kiddie books where they give ya a picture--a garden or a park or something with birds and squirrels --but there's one animal that's wrong--an elephant maybe, or a zebra? Well, you're what's wrong with this picture, buster! You're what doesn't belong. Why don't you just clear out? Leave us alone." Riker felt his ire rise despite himself. He stood up, his physical presence easily overwhelming the scientist. "If you thought you were going to get her into bed, friend, and if you think I'm leaving her-- "Huh?" he seemed to notice for the first time Deanna lying on the cot, still enough for sleep. "Hey--she gonna be all right?" He sounded sincerely concerned. "No thanks to your hospitality." "Listen, what's-your-name? --Riker?--" his tone defensive, "--she was knocking them back like. . . ." He groped for the comparison. "--like chocolate milk shakes, probably." Cochrane's eyes narrowed. "Milk shakes? You don't mean to tell me--she doesn't drink?" "Well, not the way you mean." "Huh! Where'd you find her?" "I'd tell you, but it would be the longest story you ever heard." Cochrane's glance flitted between the sleeping woman and restive man. "And you're not her husband?" Riker's eyes dropped to the quiet, unresponsive figure on the bed. "No." "Now that," Cochrane said, "is the longest *syllable* I've ever heard." He raised his hands in conciliation. "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't know. But, jeez-- you blame me? Look at her! Who wouldn't give it the ol' college try?" Riker sat down again and Cochrane meandered the room, swinging the bottle by its neck and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. His expression grew shrewd. "But that's not what I'm talking about. It's you--both of you. You're still the zebra in the garden." "Dr. Cochrane," Riker began, "we're scientists, warp engineers. Our project was in Valdez, Alaska until last week when--" "Yeah, yeah, she told me all that bull about being blown up by the Satellite Defense System. Listen, Riker, there are no other faster than light projects, not on this continent-- and if there were any others, they wouldn't be looking to partner up for the good of science--they'd be looking to rip off every hunk of equipment, every technician, every idea they could lay their paws on. But they're not the worst. Oh, no. The people who are really interested in technology are with the security forces. Now those folks are always scouting for the better mousetrap 'cause we're all mice to them. But if you're with one of the militias, Riker, you're too late. Your competition put this project out of business about three hours ago." "We're not with any of the militias, I promise you. Our mission is about peace itself." "Well, the only other people who give a damn what we do here are the weirdoes like our friend Laocoon from across the way, and frankly, you guys don't look like the alien-from-outer-space type to me." Deanna stirred, and her eyes opened. "Kir-an shayl!" she murmured clutching her head. Cochrane swigged from the bottle, "French, is she? You want to watch out for them," he nodded at Riker sagely. "Tend to be a little volatile." Will crouched by the bed as she sat up and swung her feet over the side. "Easy now," he told her gently. "Anyway," Cochrane concluded, "wherever you're from, you're too late for the party. It's all over now. The Phoenix might as well be ashes." The antique disk player whirred faintly in the front room, and a set of slow guitar arpeggios began as the men watched dark-haired beauty gather herself. A reedy flute piped a haunting melody, and the dazed look faded. Her expression seemed to sharpen, and as the voice began to sing about a stairway to heaven, her eyes focused on Cochrane with their depthless intensity. "Dr. Cochrane," Deanna said, reaching out for Will's arm as she rose unsteadily before the scientist. "I know. . . your whole world seems dark now, but think. Think of the time when . . . as a child, your family had to run from a vigilante militia. . . and your father was furious with you. . . for having filled your backpack, not with the food or the warm jacket or the compass he had told you to bring, but with your books. . . . How he'd burned them to make the campfire so you could eat and be warm, but. . . because those books had given you your dreams, you thought, 'Well, I still have my compass' . . . ." Cochrane had gone pale while she spoke. "Nobody knows that story. I never told anybody about that. How do you know about that?" "Because you're going to tell that story, Dr. Cochrane, about a week from now at the peace rally, and it's going to become a part of a history that every child on this world knows-- and even children born on other worlds." The liquor bottle slipped from his hand and thudded on the wooden floor. "Who the hell are you people?" he whispered.
"The damage isn't critical, but it's going to take a while to set everything straight. We have a decent chance, Commander," La Forge spoke without looking up from the panel he was recircuiting. "But I sure wish Data had stayed down here with us. He could have done this in a fraction of the time." Deanna surveyed the busy silo with her well-trained human powers of observation as well as on the deeper empathic level. She felt somewhat better for a half-hour catnap, and was probably no worse than the rest of the crew; although they'd had no sleep, they had not been to the Crash and Burn. Now that Cochrane had been found and convinced that their story, wild as it must seem, was the truth, he had joined in, co-supervising with Geordi LaForge the repair work to the Phoenix. The mood had turned from one of frenetic crisis management to the settled determination and confidence that was the hallmark of the Enterprise engineering teams. Among the command team, however, other concerns had emerged once again. "We need to reestablish communications with the Enterprise," was Will's response to the update on their mission. Seen through Cochrane's primitive telescope, the image of the Enterprise, sailing alone in peaceful synchronous orbit above them, had been a basic reassurance, but the normality of appearances made the lack of communications even more puzzling. "Lt. Barclay reported that the *opposition* made little pieces of solder out of the uplink Dr. Cochrane's group was using," Geordi nodded at Barclay, working next to him, as he reminded Riker of the report that the lieutenant had delivered when he returned with Troi's message. "Nothing there anymore, right Reg?" Barclay stood up, a panicky look on his face. "Nothing--but um, wait--wait a minute--there was one other--I was going to--but, uh, Commander Troi sent me back with the message about Dr. Cochrane and I--uh, didn't get a chance to--I'm sorry, sir-- I was going to investigate it, but I thought I better get back and--" "Reg, it's all right," Deanna said, "You did the right thing; you followed my orders. Just tell us, what were you going to investigate when I sent you back for Commander Riker?" "There was something that looked like a radio tower across the plateau." "Can we confirm that with anyone?" Riker asked. "He's right," Cochrane's voice drifted down from above them. "It's over by Carbon First." "Carbon First?" Deanna asked. "It's the weirdoes I mentioned, the religious cult, though I'd say they have a major problem distinguishing religion from science fiction. They have some philosophy about Earth having the only carbon-based life forms. There were about a dozen of them living together. We used to call 'em the Carbon 14--you know, like how to date fossils--" Cochrane chuckled at his own humor "--but I think there's only a couple of 'em left." Riker turned to LaForge. "What do you think?" LaForge shrugged speculatively. "I don't know. Radio communication is so basic. It's possible, if the Enterprise is dealing with a high level computer snag--" "--like the systems error you debugged two months ago?" "Exactly. If that's what's causing the problem, they might still be able to run radio communication-- if they'd even think of it. It'd be worth a try." Riker called up to Cochrane. "This Carbon First group--would they let us use their radio system, do you think?" "It isn't theirs. They're squatters on what used to be a wilderness area rangers' cabin. If you want to ask the rangers' permission," Cochrane said sarcastically, "you better try to figure out who the government is this week. You can bet that the weirdoes aren't using it, but--" his wizened face appeared over the edge of the scaffold railing "--if Laocoon catches you on *his* territory, he's not going to make you welcome." "Laocoon..." Deanna breathed and found Will staring at her quizzically. "He's the cult leader. I ran into him on my way down to the camp. He's--" she hesitated, "I'd say he's a seriously deranged man." "We'll just have to try to avoid him then." Will had decided already. "I'll go," Barclay volunteered. "I'm sorry, I should have mentioned it sooner. I just--" "You did the right thing, Lieutenant," Riker assured him. Geordi frowned. "Reg, I really need you here. Fact is, Commander, I need every engineer we beamed down if we're going to beat the eleven o'clock deadline. Couldn't we get one of Dr. Cochrane's group?" He lowered his voice. "Would one more person in on the big secret matter that much?" "We're already throwing the dice around the time stream. I'm going," Riker announced. "I can do it. My father started me out with radio gear. If the equipment is at all functional, I'll set up a repeating message and a relay we can monitor from here in the silo." "I'll get you set up," Geordi said. "But really, Commander. If this guy is a crazy, you should take someone to back you up." "You're right," Will conceded. "Commander Troi!" Deanna's head snapped toward him. "You're with me."
"Turn here!" she exclaimed into his ear as they sped on past the fork in trail. He halted the small four-wheeled vehicle Cochrane's group had loaned them and twisted around to look at her sitting behind him on the long cushioned seat they straddled together. The balky machine stalled. She dismounted as he laboriously began to restart the vehicle on the narrow path. "It would help if you told me to turn BEFORE we got to the turn." "Have I been here before?" she retorted. "Do I know these backwoods trails? Do we have any modern navigational equipment on this vehicle?" "Your psychic powers don't extend to reading a map?" he asked. "Next you'll want me to drive up to the rangers' cabin and ask for directions." "Come to mention it, you might have asked Cochrane for directions instead of 'Oh, don't worry, I can find it.' " She waved an oversized, intricately pleated paper at him. "Here's the map. See if you can even figure out how to fold it!" The well-muffled engine finally putted into life, but she stood planted in the road. "I've got an idea," she announced. " YOU navigate. I'LL drive." He motioned her to get on behind him. "Famous last words--" he smirked "-- 'Deanna, take the helm!'" She mounted up and gripped him hard enough around the waist to make him wince. "You stalled that engine, too." The trail led upward through the thick evergreen forest till they topped the hill above the treeline. The path turned left, but there on the right, perched on a knoll surrounded by boulders, the radio tower jutted into the starlit sky with the rangers' cabin about four hundred meters downhill on the other side. "Okay," he said, dismounting as the engine expired again. "Looks like we hike the rest of the way with the gear." He swept the unlit cabin and the rocky field with a pair of night-vision binoculars as Deanna began to rummage through the strange and tangled collection of tubes, wires, tools and other hardware that filled the storage compartment in the rear of the vehicle. She found the duffel Geordi had packed with their equipment, pulled it free from the rest of the clutter, and gave it to Will who shouldered the heavy pack with ease. They began to pick a stealthy path through the boulders. "So tell me again about this Laocoon person whom our enlightened and perfectly normal Dr. Cochrane refers to as a 'weirdo'?" And so she recounted again in greater detail Laocoon's appearance at the scene of the accident and his apocalyptic ramblings. "I got an impression from one of the women--Holly--that he'd tried to interfere with the warp project before. He may be dangerous." She couldn't see his face very clearly in the dark, but Will's feelings reached out to her as surely as if he'd gathered her close by his side. "Spooked you, didn't he?" he asked. "All that Angels of Death stuff-- bringing them in a space ship? Sounded a little too much like the Borg." "It wasn't just that," she confessed, half wanting that strong arm around her for real. "I had the eerie feeling that he could read me." "What? Telepathically, you mean?" "I don't know. It was just a fleeting impression. But certainly humans have telepathic potential and perhaps the nature of his derangement...." "Well, if we're lucky, the nature of his derangement requires lots of sleep and he's snoring soundly in bed this moment." "It's all right. I'm not afraid of him," she said. " Good, because I'm depending on you to protect me," he smiled. "That's why I brought you. You're the expert on mental illness, right?" She shook her head regretfully. "I think it's too late for me to protect you from that. In my professional opinion, you're a hopeless case."
Working beside him in the quiet dark, Deanna found herself asking why he had brought her. She'd felt gentle humor in his statement that she would protect him. But he had, indeed, wanted her along with him, and not just because she was the only person available. She wasn't an engineer, but she knew enough to help him here, and she could have made herself useful back at the silo. Could he have brought her along just to assure her that he would treat her like any other member of the crew? But here with him, was she really exposed to any risk? Had he brought her just to keep her under his wing, or was he over this ridiculous business of protecting her? "Damn!" he said. "I need another one of these --what are they? transistors?" He scrounged around in the pack. "There was a whole bunch of junk in the rear compartment of the ATV," she said. "I could run back and see--" "No. I'll do it. You keep on here. Won't take but a minute." He closed the little part in his fist, brushed his knuckles playfully against her chin, and set off briskly back the way they had come. Her hands worked mechanically at the wiring as her thoughts drifted away again. She wanted to believe that things were going to work out for them. She'd always known that their committing to one another wouldn't be as simple as just saying, "I love you." Life was made of too many other things that demanded a piece of one's heart. Those years of waiting had not been spent testing their love, but avoiding the trial. Now that they had finally risked confessing that love, she wanted him to learn that protecting her from the ordinary mission risks of their work was as futile as that other protection they had practiced for years--avoiding the possibility of hurt by avoiding a commitment to one another. She heard his footsteps and looked up with a tender smile that dissolved instantly. "Well! What we got here?" Two men in dark overalls with unkempt long hair stood before her. In the moonlight, they both seemed stark and grey, though one was blond, the other dark. They both smelled unwashed. One carried a rifle. *Will* she thought *we have company.* "What're you doin' with that thing? You takin' it apart?" She sensed suspicion, hostility, overlaying low intellect. "Yes," she said, rising slowly from the ground. "I was dismantling it." "You a scientist?" As they advanced, she began to back away, losing the concentration she needed to find Will in her mind. "No. Just a visitor--at the sheep ranch on the other side of the mountain. We came up to see what the explosions were about earlier." "Yeah," the blond snorted. "We know what the explosions was about. The aliens." She nodded and assumed an air of authority. "Yes. I met your friend earlier tonight. He told me about the aliens. Actually, I know quite a bit about aliens. I've encountered them before. I was just trying to make sure the aliens don't get down here. They might try to follow radio waves, you know. I thought that if I could ground the wires--" "You're not one of them scientists?" the dark one asked again. "No." "What'd you figger?" He turned to his partner. "We gotta stop 'em. Who knows what they're doin' up there? Maybe the aliens already got to 'em. Maybe she's one of 'em." "She don't look like a alien." "You heard The Man. They take on human form. You can't tell without examining their bodies." He smiled knowingly and tapped his flashlight in his hands while the other one flanked her. *Will!* she thought desperately. Not centered properly in mind or body, she squared her feet and prepared to fight. "Open your mouth!" the blond demanded. "What?" "We have to examine you. Say 'Ah' !" the dark one instructed, shining his flashlight full on her face. Startled and confused, she realized, nonetheless, they would not lay hands on her as long as she complied. "Ah?" she said, opening her mouth. "She got 'em," the dark one affirmed to his companion who nodded his satisfaction. She regarded him uncertainly. "Tonsils," he told her with a shrewd expression. "Aliens always forget the veg'table organs." "The vestigial organs..." she nodded. "Yeah, you could also check whether they got an appendix," the other confided. She wondered if they were going to try to see that far down her throat. "That's if they're dead aliens," he added. "Well... I'm not," she informed him solemnly trying to deal with the entire surreal comedy. "So you say," rasped a voice behind her. The comedic feeling vanished. She wheeled and retreated before the specter of the black jumpsuit with the red kerchief at the neck--Laocoon. The impulse to run nearly seized her, but there was nowhere to go. She felt the metal trusses of the tower at her back as he closed in. His pale eyes held hers in a mesmerizing stare. Again she felt the cold touch of his mind within her special consciousness. "What are you doing here?" Don't let him unnerve you, she told herself. "I was trying to dismantle--" "I heard you. You were calling to them. Tell the truth. I can tell if you're lying. They're coming, aren't they? The dead ones?" And his voice, echoing in her inner mind, turned her memory into a shadowy cubical chamber and conjured images of the creatures that had been assimilated--worlds of beings, dead to themselves but alive for the Collective--the mechanical limbs grafted to raw flesh, the minds cut to blind obedience, the souls that were one bland uniformity, the living death that Picard had more than described to her--the horror that she had experienced through empathy with him. "Yes," Laocoon rasped. "Them." Had she been speaking? "You know what Cochrane wants to do, don't you? You know his mistake? They think that this is the hemisphere that's up!" He pointed to the sky. "But they're wrong! The world is upside down. They want to drill into the heavens, but they're cutting open the bowels of hell--!" The word choked in his throat as a noise, unnatural and inhuman, like the opening of a huge door in the sky, broke out from the boulders on the ridge. They all turned. Silence except for the icy mountain breeze. Then the darkness was split by an energy beam hissing through the black air above them with a blue-white flash, and Deanna froze in terror at the apparition on the rocks. In the cold moonlight, the implants in its chest glinted silver against the bluish flesh, the head was a mass of wires around the eyepiece staring down on them. A Borg. Lone, naked and newly-made. Please, God, not someone from the Enterprise! One arm with its hydraulic tubing running into the abdomen raised itself outward and fired a blast of energy that scorched the ground just in front of them. "They're here!" Laocoon shrieked. "It's them!" Dust and smoke rose as another bolt hit the tower behind them. His two disciples sprinted for the woods, and their master, filled with the terror all around him, ran after them. The Borg came, climbing down the boulders toward her. She watched as it moved with far too much sensitivity to the rough ground for a cybernetic being. Deanna limply sat down on the concrete slab of the radio tower till the monster stood beside her. She looked up at the bizarrely dressed man. "For a second there, you scared me," she said, as Will began to shed the spare engine parts that decorated the tool harness strapped around his chest. "Hey, I was a little scared, too, when I realized how hard it is to shoot with only one eye!" he commented, removing a distributor cap he had tied over the left side of his face with electrical wire looped around his head. "But it's just like Beverly said when she produced 'Frankenstein' last year: shock is easier if the audience can't see too well either." "Actually," she sighed, "I'm glad I was in the audience. I think Laocoon picked up on my emotional state, and my fear suggested his." "Nothing like the power of suggestion," he said. "Otherwise, they would have experienced the power of a phaser." They heard a motor vehicle at some distance, zooming off into the night. "Sounds like you scared them away," Deanna commented. "Cochrane won't have to worry about them bothering the project anymore." "Then I think I'll go back up the rocks now and get dressed," he said. "It's a little chilly even for Halloween." "I must say *that* was an interesting piece of costuming." She eyed the tool holster that covered his groin. He drew himself up with exaggerated dignity. "I had to do something for the sake of modesty." "Modesty? Hardly a characteristic I'd ascribe to man who uses a pulse welder as a codpiece!" She smiled wryly. "That thing's at least thirty centimeters long...just whom were you trying to frighten?" "Help me find my pants," he grumbled, tossing aside the holster. "I'm freezing." "But I love the way you look in cold weather!" she exclaimed, her eyes twinkling in the dark. "Such ruddy cheeks!"
Deanna stood on the concrete bunker and looked east across the plateau. In her imagination, the sun, still out of sight, pressed against the horizon like the pale, round head of a seedling thrusting up through the dark earth to unfold a new day. This new spring morning--would it blossom into the day that it had always been in the future--Federation Day? And had the Enterprise crew forever been a part of its secret root, a hidden strength, drawing together this past and their own distant time to come? She made the thought her prayer, inhaled a last breath of bracing cold air, and began her descent into the underground silo. When she got to the communications room on the mid-level, Geordi was adjusting the radio again, but the tightly compressed line of his mouth told her that it had remained mute, as it had since they'd completed the set-up at the tower by the former ranger station. He shrugged at her, picked up a circuit board he had been working on, and gave her his seat. "Still nothing. I told the Commander he should catch a little sleep," he cocked his head at Riker, lying prone across someone's sleep sack that had been tossed in the corner of the little room. "And he actually did it?" she commented in an undertone, considering Will's usual tendency to discipline away his own needs. She gave a tender look to his rumpled hair and the leather jacket slung across his shoulders and the way his face burrowed into the crook of his elbow. LaForge stretched tiredly and headed for the door. "Repairs are just about finished. We made out better than I thought. Launch is only about four hours away. I think I'll try and catch a nap, too." But he stopped in the threshold and cast one last anxious look back at the transmitter. "Sure wish we'd hear from the Enterprise." "I'll let you know the minute we get through," she promised settling the headphones over her ears. She sat and stared at the little green light on the face of the radio transmitter till that was all she saw. The soft hiss of open frequencies in her ears seemed to block out all perception of the cramped room and the clutter around her. Time stood still and she felt as though she were wandering around in its empty expanse like idling in an unprogrammed holodeck that awaited her direction. The minutes crawled by. What were they doing on the ship? Why didn't they answer? Was there no type of communication that could-- --Wait. . . If she centered and concentrated, could she reach as far as the Enterprise? What Barclay had suggested earlier was farfetched, but they were out of the more probable options. She had been able to keep track of Will's emotional state on certain away missions. How strong was her sense of Picard? She focused on the dot until it blurred in her vision like the image of the Enterprise in the midnight sky in the unfocused circle of Cochrane's telescope lens. Probing for Picard, she opened herself to perceive that forceful ulterior current she had felt in him just before beaming down . . . she conjured his face, the cold light of his stern eyes as he ordered them to fire phasers . . . . his eyes . . . those eyes . . . in the moonlit rocky field, as he willed her mind to open . . . that face cast in obsession, in an all-consuming passion to obliterate the violator forever-- She bolted from her chair with the harsh shriek of its metal feet scraping against the floor. She shook herself awake, away from the horrid morphing of Picard into Laocoon, but she could not escape the pulsing dread inside her. What exactly had happened back at the radio tower? When Laocoon had confronted her, she had experienced a strange permutation of her empathic consciousness. Trying to read the madman, she had merged with him in some way, and influenced by his delusions, she had thought of Picard and his assimilation by the Borg. But what if that chilling state of mind had been more than mere recollection? What had she thought that instant when Will had appeared? Why had she assumed the specter of the Borg was an Enterprise officer beamed from the ship? "What's the matter?" Will was standing by her, gripping her arm, slipping off her headphones. "Is it the Enterprise? Are they answering?" "No...no," she said vaguely. "It's nothing." He listened with one ear pressed against the soft disk of the earpiece and he pulled her to him with some force as he looked at her intently. "What is it? You look like you've seen a ghost." "No, I --never mind. I guess I just zoned out for a minute." She leaned against him and was glad for the brace of his arms. "I'm sorry I woke you." He laid the headset on the desk to hold her close and smooth a settling hand down her back. "It's all right," he said. And then, he straightened; his hands dropped. LaForge stood primly in the door. "Commander," he addressed Riker, "I was just coming to get you. We have a small problem. Commander," he nodded at Troi. "Be right there," Riker responded as LaForge ducked out. Deanna shook off the resumption of his attentions and pulled the chair back to the desk to begin another scan of the bandwidth. She felt Will's hands on her shoulders again. "I'm fine now," she asserted. "We better get back to work." His touch was withdrawn instantly, and he sighed as he moved toward the door. "You know, it's funny that two opposite actions can wind up meaning the same thing. Like how some people hover and some ignore? Who's protecting who now?" By the time she knew what to answer, he was gone.
The ground shook, the air sundered, and the sky was full of fire. The Phoenix launched, streaking into the atmosphere like a lightning arc, leaving plumes of cloud below. For an anxious few minutes, Deanna bit her lip. She stood cramped in behind Barclay who manned communication equipment that put out a continuous mix of harsh static and sporadic crackling and then abruptly snapped into silence before-- "YEEEHAH!" Cochrane's voice rang out against a background of noise that Deanna recognized as the music he had been playing in the Crash and Burn. "Montana Base to Phoenix," Deanna said into the microphone, "Do you read?" "Loud and clear!" LaForge's voice responded. A cheer broke out from the assembled technicians and all around the crowded control room as both the Enterprise crew and Cochrane's team embraced, danced, whooped, and celebrated. "Phoenix, we read you," Deanna confirmed. "All systems go." "Orbit velocity," Will's voice reported, perfectly smooth and calm (and yet, to Deanna, thoroughly thrilled). "Extending warp nacelles," they heard Cochrane say. "Extended" La Forge replied, and Barclay turned around to grin at Deanna. As the ground crew monitored the Phoenix's pilots running down their checklist toward the initiation of the warp field, Deanna felt the excitement continue to build around her, a sense of triumph and wonder in these people of both centuries. Between those who had dreamed of warp travel and made it exist and those for whom it had always been there was a feeling of having shared a miracle. And between the people who stood in the small space of an underground missile silo and the ones who glided now in the vast space that would reach out into eternity was a communion and a oneness of spirit. "Whoa! What's that?" Cochrane's surprised exclamation interrupted the litany of their preparations. "The Enterprise--" Will was heard to answer, "--come to see us off!" Deanna flashed a smile at Reg Barclay, tracking the two craft on some sort of primitive sensor grid. Apparently, the Enterprise was under power now, leaving orbit to glide along in the wake of the Phoenix like a mother bird watching her fledgling, though in truth, the ancestry worked quite the other way around. "There she is," Barclay pointed at the larger illumination. "I guess it's just a comm glitch on the Enterprise after all!" he said. But suddenly there were two more blips on Barclay's screen. "What the--?" LaForge started. "Dammit, what's that?" Cochrane roared. "Hard to port!" Will shouted. "What the hell's going on up there?" Barclay stared at the new streaks closing on the Phoenix. The voices jumbled together and there was a shout, "Engage!" A high pitched squeal overloaded the speakers and then the audio cut to dead silence. "What happened? What was that?" Deanna demanded. "I don't know, sir," Barclay said. "There were two stray energy signatures--" "I saw them, but where's the Phoenix? Get them back on the comm system!" Deanna ordered. Barclay's hands pounded the primitive keyboard input system and then flew upward in dismay. "I can't reacquire them, sir. Either they've gone into warp or--" "Or what?" "Or--or they're--not there," Barclay replied breathlessly. "Commander, those two blips on the screen--they looked like quantum torpedoes." For an instant everyone stood stunned and then rose a cacophony of shock and disbelief and speculation and argument, above which Deanna's voice commanded, "Quiet! Stop it! Everyone!" "Gather up everything you can, people," one of Cochrane's engineers yelled from the floor as soon as there was silence enough to be heard. "You know what happened last night. We're getting out of here before something else drops out of the sky on us." "Stay where you are!" Troi climbed onto the chair to be seen over the heads of the crew gathered in the control room. "We don't know what's happened yet, and it makes absolutely no sense to abandon this site before we have a proven need to. We're not evacuating this place! This is our contact point-- this is where we have our best chance to understand what's going on. This silo is a defensible position. If you want to gather up your families and necessities, bring them here, as soon as possible. My officers are to resume their duties--now!" A uneasy quiet rolled over the group and as people began to retake their stations, Deanna bent down to Barclay and said, "Get another technician back on the radio. I want you to scan for any and all activity in orbit above us." "I'm already reading something. There are objects falling through the atmosphere from the general position of the Enterprise," Barclay informed her. Not debris, Deanna prayed. "Commander Troi!" a voice shouted over the sound of pounding boots as a panting, overheated lieutenant dropped from the rungs of the access ladder. "You've got to come up to the surface right away. One of them has come down here--in the field--just west of the silo." "One what?" "Lifeboat. From the Enterprise."
Lieutenant Andrews, the most senior officer aboard the escape pod, admitted without hesitation and with full expectation of discipline that he had diverted from the preset course to the Garret Island rendezvous in order to bring back Lily Sloan. The pensive dark-eyed woman, Dr. Zephram Cochrane's chief assistant, was the injured civilian who had been taken to the Enterprise for medical treatment. She had convinced them it was imperative for her to return to Montana Base. With his distress well-masked under solemn military demeanor, Andrews told Troi the grim story of the Borg's infiltration of the ship and the cybernization of many of the crew including (it was suspected) the loss of Lieutenant Commander Data. He explained the ultimately futile struggle to save the Enterprise and the bitter decision to abandon ship and detonate her, but from Sloan came the conclusion of the tale--Picard's final sacrifice. Commander Troi reassured them all that they had done their duty to the best of their abilities and then sent Andrews and the rest of his exhausted officers to the silo. Lily Sloan, however. would not be dismissed until she had spoken privately to Troi. "I'm sorry, Commander. I know how you must feel. He was a remarkable man, your Captain Picard." "He was," she agreed tonelessly to the past tense, for she knew her captain might bargain for the life of his friend, but he would never submit himself to the Borg except to certain death. For Jean-Luc Picard to become submerged again in the Collective was a living death never to be endured. He was gone forever. Sloan held out a padd. "I have message from Captain Picard for Commander Riker." "The Commander . . . isn't here. I'll take the message for him." The composure in her voice surprised her, for she knew what had happened. It just hadn't sunk in yet. The padd was before her. She took the thing with such disinterest that Sloan must have been surprised. " He said--Captain Picard asked me to tell Commander Riker--" she looked earnestly at Troi--"that he should . . . 'find a place on the North American continent, settle down, and try to stay out of the way of history' " Sloan smiled uncertainly. "I think he meant the orders for everyone in the group you left down here, but--the way he put it--I had the idea that maybe he was also talking to Commander Riker, in particular?" "Thank you, Dr. Sloan. I'll tell him." The padd hung lifelessly from Troi's hand. Find a place. She stared at the vista she had admired just that morning. What a beautiful place was here! Even stranded out of their time, how happy they might have been to create their own personal future here in a land so like the stories he had told her of his boyhood in Alaska in the summertime: the peaceful, green plain and the white capped mountains surrounding, and the crystal blue, cloudless sky. But now, beyond that sky lay nothingness, darkness, and death. Settle down. The sun was at its zenith, and by this time, the Vulcans would have passed this primitive world torn by war so violent that ultra-rational aliens would never dream of contact with so barbaric a race. Never would they meet the human species who had, in another brighter future, turned from hatred and built a world of peace and harmony-- a species capable of love--such love as she had never known in any other-- Stay out of the way. Why had they waited? Why had she put him off time and time again? She had railed at him about protecting her, but had she not been trying all that time to protect herself? What protection could ever have been guaranteed against a foe as strong as fate? Though her heart still did not own it, everything that was Starfleet inside her insisted that she admit the deadly accuracy of the Enterprise torpedoes. Their world was gone--killed at its birth on this doomed planet and he was gone with it. Gone forever. The Phoenix would not rise from these ashes. Stricken, she realized then that Sloan had marched away toward the silo, and she had not told Cochrane's closest friend that she must not expect to see him ever again. Deanna turned around to call after her, but in drawing that very breath, she was arrested by the whine of engines in the sky. And another dread seized her. What if Picard had not succeeded in detonating the Enterprise? What if the Hive had prevailed? She must get her people together--rally the officers who'd landed on Garret Island. Then she must warn this battle-weary populace to fight for their survival even though chances were slim. There was nowhere to run, but they were not going to surrender to the Borg, not without a fight. Resistence wasn't futile, it was human. The engines were growing louder. Her eyes swept the brilliant blue and found a tiny speck high above. An odd shape--the wrong shape--and a sense so wonderful, so powerful-- --that by the time her dazzled sight could stand no more, Barclay had run across the little knoll, shouting with exuberant glee, lugging the radio.
"I can see it now!" Deanna shouted into the transmitter as if she had to project all the way up to the two spacecraft without the benefit of radio waves. The Enterprise was lurking on the other side of Earth's moon out of the way of the Vulcan ship which had appeared on its sensors, but the Phoenix was visible in the sky above her, completing another loop of its spiral lower and lower toward a touchdown on the plateau that was only another few minutes away. "Hey Data, nice shooting," Geordi razzed. "They ought to decorate you for it. You get the Annie Oakley cluster!" "I missed on purpose!" Data protested, the crossfire of conversation between the ships and the base taking a jovial turn. "Just as Ms. Oakley did!" "Yeah, yeah. A billion calculations per second and all of them WRONG!" "Not that we're not grateful for every little mistake," Riker added quickly. "You really showed them who's a superior life form, Data." "Are you implying that 'to really screw up, you need an android'?" "I think we all ought to be grateful that Borg don't know the first thing about *human* error," Deanna replied. There was the space of a heartbeat and then, "Thank you, Counselor," Data answered softly, her meaning at last felt rather than measured. "Thank you very much." A crowd had begun to gather outside as the good news spread: the Phoenix was returning from the first successful warp flight. Lily Sloan appeared with the engineers, and when Cochrane came on the radio, there was much cheering and not a few tears of joy as well. Cochrane thanked them all and, without getting specific, he assured them that their accomplishment would not be lost as their new friends from the "Alaska Project" had managed to neutralize the threat of another missile attack. As the Phoenix signed off to begin the final preparations for landing, Sloan led the throng, trooping down to the touchdown site, but Deanna motioned for the Starfleet personnel to stay put as Picard's voice softly came through the comm units hidden beneath their twenty-second century costuming. "Counselor, please convey my congratulations to Dr. Cochrane and my commendations to Commanders Riker and LaForge." He sounded remarkably like his usual self again. "Mr. Data and I will transport down to greet you all later. Right now, our first priority is recovering the personnel and the lifeboats from Garret Island. Mr. Data, let's get on it. I'd like my crew back." "Captain," Troi interjected, glancing at Lieutenant Andrews, "we have life pod A16 here at Montana Base." "Yes?" "Lieutenant Andrews diverted here to bring Dr. Sloan back." "I see." The captain didn't seem perturbed. She nodded an assurance at Andrews who suggested with appropriate deference, "We could wait until after dark to dematerialize it, sir . . . although the light signature at night might make it more obvious. . . " "The Vulcans will be arriving just after dark, Lieutenant, and I want to make sure they detect no trace of us. It's best to remove that lifepod as quickly as possible. I think that with the natural diversion of the Phoenix's landing, we'll transport the lifepod and its passengers just as the Phoenix comes in. Can you have the personnel gathered at the site in fifteen minutes?" "Aye sir. They're all right here," she replied, realizing from the chagrined faces that Andrews' team would be heartily disappointed to miss the celebration of the Phoenix's landing. "Very well. Signal when ready. Picard out." "Sorry," Troi said, "but maybe if we drag our heels a little getting there. . . " Andrews was frowning. He squinted at the gathering now well downhill and then looked quickly around the circle of Enterprise officers from the lifepod. "What's the matter?" Troi asked. Andrews shrugged sheepishly. "Thought for an instant I'd lost somebody." He cocked his head in the direction of the last outcropping of boulders which made a natural gateway to the landing area. "I guess that uniform is one of *your* officers wandering off." She turned in a flash. "What uniform? Where?" He was taken aback by the look of alarm on her face. "Down there. In the rocks. You see him?" She looked. She caught her breath. "Andrews--Barclay--you're with me," she snapped. "The rest of you proceed to the life pod and signal the Enterprise when you're in position." Already she was dashing off with the startled lieutenants in her wake. "What is it, Commander?" Barclay asked. "What's going on?" "No one from the original Away Team is in uniform, Barclay. It's Laocoon."
Riker popped the hatch on the Phoenix and the sun streamed into the tiny cabin. The streaks of yellow light might have dazzled Geordi LaForge's marvelous new eyes if they hadn't still held the awe of the star streaks at warp point, and the grizzled face of Zephram Cochrane, awash with brilliance in the open shaft, was lit more brilliantly already from fires within. Riker hoisted himself over the hatchway and stood on the hull as applause broke out from the assembled throng. He reached down a hand to help LaForge scramble out to more whooping and shouts. And then in the crescendo Cochrane emerged. He raised his arms in victory and doffed his cap to the cheering crowd. Riker watched his gaze sweep the horizon and lift upward, and it seemed to him that those keen eyes teared a little at the conquered sky and vanquished space beyond the blue. As the crowd pressed in, clamoring for their hero, Riker was distracted by the glint of something bright in the rocks bordering the meadow, and he saw three more figures running in their direction. One was surely Deanna. *Get down!* he heard her scream in his head. *Will, get down! He has a weapon!*-- --and without thinking, Riker shouted at Geordi and swung Cochrane down on the hull and dropped him, sliding along the curved side to the ground. As Will flattened himself against the hot metal sheath of the spacecraft, he heard the whine of a small projectile and the sharp metallic twang as it struck the side of the Phoenix.
Troi extended the hand phaser again from cover looking for a clear shot, but the man in the black jumpsuit with the red bandana ducked again behind the boulders, making his way along the uneven line of rocks toward the cover of the trees. She leaned out a little to see how Andrews was doing in the effort to flank Laocoon and had to retreat immediately as a bullet shattered the rock face only a fraction of a meter away. She crouched down and tried hard to concentrate. *We don't want to hurt you. Stop shooting. Throw down the weapon. Let us help you. We can help you.* She fixed in her mind an image of his pale blue wolf's eyes, and for a moment she thought she felt him-- --fear twisted into anger to keep the terror at bay--the smashed ego inflated into a misshapen beast, hungry for blood, refusing to yield, crying vendetta for wounds too horrible to heal-- Through empathic sharing of his experience, the emotional onslaught of the Terran wars pounded into her. "I don't need any alien help!" he shouted. "You want to make me better? I don't want you you inside my head! It's your fault--all of it--and you're going to have to pay! I'll never let you transform me! "
Another round hit the protecting rocks, but her diversion had allowed Andrews to gain sight of their quarry, and the lieutenant motioned them now to move up. Barclay charged ahead, and Troi followed, running a zigzag course till they came to the edge of the rocks, just as Laocoon disappeared into the edge of the forest. "We have to find him," Troi told her officers. "He's bent on some fanatical vengeance. He'll come back after dark and the last thing we want is a sniper here to greet the Vulcans!" Entering the forest, they fanned out and began to sweep through the trees. Moving away from Barclay and Andrews on the far wing, Troi eventually struck a dirt road. The place seemed oddly familiar. She stood by the cover of a large tree and thought a moment. Which way would he go? And then she heard the rustling that was not the wind, but the sound of footsteps crashing through brush. She crossed the road and found a deer path and began to run as quickly and as softly as she could. She broke through the edge into a clearing and realized where she was--the demolition crater where she had met Holly and Linda and --Laocoon. He was standing on the mound before the gaping hole, three quarters turned away from her, pointing his rifle at the rustling sound coming at him though the brush. Barclay broke through the scrub evergreens at the edge. Laocoon braced the rifle, sighted down the barrel. "Drop it!" Troi shouted, bringing up her phaser. He spun toward her and the ground crumbled at his feet. The rifle pointed upwards and discharged. As he lost his balance in the soft mounded earth, the gun dropped, his arms began to flail, and he fell over the edge into the pit.
Andrews found Barclay and Troi on the verge of the hill staring down into the hole. And when he, too, reached the top he looked down at the horrid sight of a man in a black jumpsuit impaled on the broken skeleton of a pine tree, the red of his bandana deepening and spreading.
The late afternoon sun seemed too heavy for the buoyant mood around the base. Her heart seemed too heavy to become part yet of the celebration building toward nightfall. "You and I need to talk." Will had simply delegated his duties to the rest of the team on the ground in order to sit with her apart from the bustle around the silo. "I'll be all right. As sorry as I might have felt for what was done to him in the wars, he was dangerous, murderous too. He would have killed Barclay. . . . I gave him every chance to surrender, but he wouldn't listen. There was no one left in his whole world, nothing left except his hatred. . . ." "I know you're upset about this--but I'm a little upset with you. Barclay told me what you did." She looked at her feet as he tried to be stern and impartial. "You saw him on the rocks as we landed, and you decided to march up to him in the open like that?" "I had to do something to draw his fire," she said. "You were all standing on top of the Phoenix like a bunch of cans on a fence. He had you in his sights." She looked at him reproachfully and he relented. He hugged her and tucked her head under his chin. "It was a damn stupid thing to do!" "You're right," she said. "It was exactly the kind of thing you would have done." She felt the sudden release in him that was laughter and relief and admission of fear and surrender to the truth of his vulnerability in love. "My hero!" he smiled with tender irony and kissed her gently. "Commander," she looked deep into his eyes. "When I saw Laocoon with that weapon, I wasn't thinking about him killing Zephram Cochrane or how we might lose everything we'd worked for here. I wasn't thinking of my duty or the mission. I was thinking about . . . protecting *you*." "Then, maybe we ought to think about *us* and see Captain Picard--together."
"It's an interesting problem you've placed before me," Picard said. His two officers stood before him in the open air of the alpine meadow admitting their transgression of the spirit, if not the letter, of the emergency regulations. They spoke candidly of what they had learned about the difficulties of serving together--as well as the benefits. And although they wished to remain with the Enterprise, they were unwilling to continue in secret. "One can easily see the intent behind a rule like Emergency Order 15-- and the assumptions that precondition it. With officers in a committed relationship who care deeply for one another, the intent is to spare them from the conflicts of divided loyalty, both for their own sakes and for the needs of the Fleet," Picard commented. "After all, the feelings of these officers might potentially add 'an unstable element to a critical situation'." Riker noted the ironic reference to Starfleet's orders excluding the Enterprise from the battle with the Borg. "You proved that judgment wrong, sir." "Did I, Number One? I think, perhaps, I proved that it was right, too." Deanna knew immediately what he meant. The Fleet had needed his unique experience to win --but it was the same experience that has consumed him with vengeance and nearly destroyed them all. "A rule," she said, "often assumes that it spares people from dealing with the issues involved in the judgment. That's a dubious assumption. Feelings remain strong when decisions are made for people and sometimes the rule takes away their power to deal with those feelings." "You know, "Riker added, "all the training I've had in building teams is about getting people to rely on one another. Serving together in a crisis can bond even strangers. People who already have a bond can have an advantage, if they can learn to use it." Picard nodded. "However, in this case, Fleet thought it would be better served by people who see each other as completely uniform cogs in the larger machine--a view that skirts perilously close to that of the Borg Collective." Picard's finger steepled in an accustomed attitude of contemplation, and he spoke softly as if from a long forgotten memory. "I knew a woman once whose life was sacrificed in the line of duty. She might have done much for her world and the Federation had she developed the kind of self-discipline that comes through commitment, family, motherhood, which she never lived long enough to achieve. I knew a man, as well, an officer of high rank, who dedicated himself to duty when that was all that was left for him. He served duty not half so well as he might have within the comfort of a life shared with someone he loved. But this was in a different future, one I hope never to see. . . . " He looked intently at the two of them. "But you were speaking of a crisis, Commander. Crises are often short-lived--like emergency orders. And I think I may need some time to consider what is best to do in your situation. We try to root our species in equality under the law so that it might flower in diversity. We are a people who believe in individual difference as well as societal equality. It's part of the essential paradox of being human." He consulted the chronometer. "Nearly dusk," he observed. "Carry on, Number One, Counselor. It's about time, don't you think?" He smiled wryly and walked back toward the silo.
The stars were beginning to come out and they lingered where they had walked--the long meadow, the landing ground of the Phoenix. From here they would be able to see the whole panoply of the night sky where the Vulcan ship would rise over the pale snowy mountain ridge and descend into the little cluster of lights in the settlement. Soon now, their future would begin. Deanna ran a finger along the smooth side of the Phoenix. "So how was the ride?" she asked. "I wish I had words for it," he said. She felt his hands on her shoulders. "I wish you had been flying with us." "You don't have to feel bad for me. I really don't care." "You don't?" "Honestly Will. The Phoenix doesn't mean the same thing to me as it does to you and Geordi. That surprises you?" "Well . . . yes. I mean, it WAS the first warp flight, Deanna." "Of a planet in which I have a genetic interest. But Will, you know that Betazed will always be home to me. I think, even to my father, it was more home than Earth. But I'm happy for you--that you got to do it."
"What a day! The start of everything, for all of us. When I think about being there on the maiden voyage--it's something out of a dream." " 'Maiden voyage'? Interesting term. . . " "Well, a first time, then." "And one's maiden voyage is always so significant?" "Of course," he insisted. "There will always be someone to come later who'll be faster, higher, better--but the first will never come again. She put on a tragic look. "Yes," she said, "the first time does take on a epic quality--I guess every other time is downhill from there." She watched the light come on as he caught her subtext. "Then again," he shrugged elaborately, "I've always noticed that women seem to believe in progressive improvement--you know, the idea that, um, each subsequent experience was better than the last... I guess I believe in that, too." "How much?" she asked. "Devoutly," he assured her. "Perhaps I could demonstrate the principle if you have a little time later...?"