Star Trek is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures Corporation. The characters and various elements of the"Star Trek Universe," in which this story takes place, are the property of Paramount Pictures. No infringement of their rights is intended.
The story itself is the original work of MizMAC, and is offered solely for the shared amusement of fans. Any commercial use of this work is prohibited.
My thanks to D. L. whose help and support saw this project through to the final version.
"Other Versions" ©1996
The moment Lieutenant j.g. Tsen heard the chime sound, he was seized by a sudden urge to walk casually away and pretend that he was the last person in the galaxy who might have rung at the door of Cabin 8/3472. Perhaps his coming to see the counselor was the wrong move. After all, the problem was just a nagging concern that might well evaporate if he gave it a little more time.
Maybe he could just slip quietly away. But then, what would he be slipping away to? Another Gamma shift working with a bunch of nervous junior officers whose dejection and confusion had made them awkward and irritable and inclined to overreact with each other.
On the other hand, bothering Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi over ht be overreacting on his part, and he ought to consider that he might be taking up time she needed for more serious cases. Counselor Troi had been keeping abbreviated hours this past week, having just come back from an illness that had struck two of the other senior officers as well. Might it not be the best move to show a little self-sufficiency here, suck it in, wait it out?
But then, hadn’t the Counselor herself often urged them to be proactive, saying that little problems should be hashed out before they became big ones? Lao Tsen mulled over his concerns. He had made lieutenant very recently, after serving only fifteen months aboard the Enterprise. He was proud of that accomplishment, proud to join the ranks of the best staff of officers in the fleet.
And his pride won him over. He had a responsibility to fellow crewmen on his team. Sneaking away now seemed like a juvenile prank, and such behavior scarcely befitted someone of his record and his new rank and the responsibility that went with all that.
He should remember also that Captain Picard had assigned the Cadet/Intern program to him, and these young people were his wards. They promised to be as fine a group of prospective officers as anyone could want, and one of them was too overwrought at this point to help herself.
The door slid open and Counselor Deanna Troi stood there before him, slight and delicate as some exotic orchid. Lieutenant Tsen had thought more than once that her sheer beauty would have absolutely overwhelmed her more insecure clients had she not also been warm and generous and empathic in the human sense of the word, as well as the Betazoid sense that enabled her to “read” the emotional states of the people around her.
“Lieutenant Tsen! Come in,” she greeted him with a welcoming smile. They exchanged the usual pleasantries as the Counselor guided him back to an overstuffed sofa, a flower-bedecked coffee table, and a rolling easy chair, the informal “living room” suite that served as the Counselor’s office.
“It’s good to see you again, Lao. How is Danielle?” Deanna inquired about Tsen’s bride.
“Fine, thank you, sir.” Deanna Troi smiled gently at the title, and Lao corrected himself, “Deanna. She’ll be coming aboard when we get to Granethius at the end of this week. I’ve been meaning to stop by to tell you how much we both appreciated your helping to arrange the transfer.”
“It was no problem at all. As a matter of fact, Lieutenant Commander LaForge was delighted to get another technician with experience in mine sweeping. He tells me that right now we’re shorthanded, and if we’re going to keep the schedule for clearing the Loebel Nebula, we’ll need all the personnel we can get. And anyway,” the Betazoid’s dark eyes shone with warm humor, “I think it’s in Starfleet’s best interest to keep married couples together. Newlyweds have enough stress to cope with, and the first officer and I really appreciate having dull personnel reviewsx”
The ball was in his court. They were seated and comfortable; Counselor Troi had graciously provided a segue, though not the segue she had thought. But he had cautioned himself beforehand not to let this discussion become any kind of gripe about the first officer. “Well, actually, I came about something that happened on the job. You see, I’m in charge of the cadet interns, and I’ve assigned them all to rotating specialties , so we had one of them on the bridge for the gamma shift three nights ago when ...”
...Lieutenant Commander Data was late. That should have given them all a big hint. Mr. Data, the only android officer in Starfleet, (indeed, the only known sentient android anywhere) was never late for his watch in command of the bridge, no matter that it was the “graveyard” shift.
“Shouldn’t the deck officer be here by now?” The cadet, Darah Portm, was anxious to begin her first night watch. “It’s 23:03. “
“You forgot the ‘and twenty-two seconds,’” Ensign Ron Sparks smirked, “and what about the decimal points?”
“Hardly appropriate, Mr. Sparks,” Tsen frowned, “—especially as satire. Now, let’s go people! Before Lieutenant Commander Data gets here!” He directed them with authority and assurance, though, truth to tell, he found Mr. Data’s tardiness odd, too. Perhaps he had a presentment even then of what was to come.
Taking their places around Tsen, who occupied the seat of the first officer, were the four other members of his bridge team: Byula Jani, his fellow lieutenant at OPS; Ensign Sparks, who had been hanging around on the foredeck even though he was assigned to the tactical post; Ensign Greg Klein, the helmsman, and Cadet Portm who was hovering by Klein, a bit excited about getting “a turn at the wheel” —even though the computer would actually navigate the Enterprise, correcting any errors of inexperience, while she sat at the helm.
Sparks bounded up to his post singing a little tune to himself, the lyric murmured just loud enough to be overheard “x I’d be gay, I’d be chipper, and I’d lock it with a zipper, if I only had a—clock.”
Klein shot him a look. “I wouldn’t be making jokes about the second officer, Sparks. An android maybe can’t tell ‘em, but I bet he can understand ‘em, and if the lieutenant commander should— “ —the turbo lift arrived, and in expectation of the android Second Officer with the faulty sense of humor, everyone whirled around to be busy as the lift door opened—
—and suddenly, the klaxxon blared and the panels flashed and the bridge lights went out, plunging them into darkness, except for the red glow from the emergency panel that told them the ship was now at Red Alert—
— and the lift was empty! Lieutenant Commander Data was not on the bridge! “What the hell happened?” Tsen shouted, and then remembering that he was the ranking officer on the bridge, “Report! Bridge stations!”
“Navigation off line!” Klein barked. “Propulsion systems inoperative.”
“The tactical panel’s blank, sir! I have no idea—” Sparks exclaimed “—unless we’ve taken a hit, but there was no—” His eyes widened. “A mine! We’ve hit one of the Granethian mines!”
“Impossible!” Klein protested. “We’re still eight hours from the edge of the nebula! Try the readout again.”
Jani overrode their argument with cool appraisal. “I’m reading a number of systems down: transports, some internal communications— wait a minute—life support is off in the entire saucer section?” She swung around to face Tsen in the command suite. “Life support will hold,”
Klein blared over his shoulder,”we got worse problems! The structural integrity field is degenerating. If we don’t stabilize it right away, we’ll be in little pieces all over space!”
“Computer! Locate senior officer for bridge command!” Tsen barked over the comm system.
The Enterprise computer answered him smoothly, “Bridge Team Tau, an emergency simulation exercise is now in progress. Actual ship activity is under the control of the battle bridge. Please proceed with emergency protocols for the exercise situation as indicated by the information on the bridge consoles.”
The feminine intonation was irritatingly calm, but the kicker was the last: “Good luck, Mr. Tsen,” unmistakably, the voice of Lieutenant Commander Data.
“Great!” Jani growled from the OPS panel, which now was filling up with red, yellow, and orange lights. “All right, people. Let’s have the options,” Tsen said as grimly as if the emergency had been realx They had spent nearly ten minutes trying various strategies to reconfigure the field, but they could not maintain correct frequency.
“I don’t understand why the remodulation didn’t work. Is there supposed to be a flaw in the matrix?” Klein asked.
“Power dropping steadily,” Jani announced.
“I’m telling you, it’s a problem with the power conduit from the reactors to the saucer section.” “There’s triple redundancy there!” Klein argued. “Well, there’s a leakage of some kind there!” the OPS officer retorted.
“From what?” Sparks scoffed. “A containment breach? A collision? Q?”
“Very funny, Sparks. Tell us another,” Klein snarled.
A shy feminine voice cut through the building tension: “Guess I don’t get to drive tonight, huh?”
They all looked up at Cadet Portm, who stood there like a child, scuffing a shoe, in an effort to lighten the mood. “Oh,well, shoot!” Jani’s head snapped around and her electrified stare hit Tsen between the eyes. “Oh, no, Lao! It’s Chutes and Ladders!” she exclaimed. The crew looked at one another.
The verdict was unanimous. Tsen jumped up. “All right, I’ll start the sequence. Everybody else out! Is there lift power?”
Jani looked down quickly, shook her head. “Then crack the panel on that Jeffries tube. Everybody get moving!”
“What? What’s going on?” asked the confused cadet as Sparks grabbed her and hustled her off to the aft wall where Klein had already removed a hatch covering a narrow duct leading down under the floor of the bridge.
“No time to explain! Get down there!” “All hands below,” Tsen announced, quickly punching codes into the first officer’s side console. “Order given to evacuate the saucer! Mark time: 23:18:09.”
As Tsen descended, the last one in the pell mell clattering down the ladder, he knew in his guts that Jani’s surmise was right, and he hoped there was enough time left. “Chutes and Ladders” was the not-so-affectionate name given to a new version of the emergency drills introduced two years ago by Commander Riker.
The first officer had been disturbed by the increasing number of bridge crews who, in their training exercises, spent their evacuation margins in the effort to find the solution that had eluded them. Riker had told them all that as much as he believed in working through problems, there were times when repeated examination of the same dilemma could result in disaster. So, he had slipped in the new scenario, a no-win situation, neatly masked. The whole idea was to see if the crews could recognize the futility of seeking a technical solution before they ran out of time to escape, or if they would arrogantly ignore the danger signs, refuse to acknowledge that the “problem” could not be fixed and forget that the ultimate solution was always to save the people.
As Riker never tired of saying, the “ship” was the people, not the hull. The three prior crews upon whom this scenario had been sprung had not realized their situation in time, but their failures were nothing like the embarrassment of one other team who had mistakenly thought they were given the no-win situation and abandoned ship only to discover that they had missed a workable solution. Tsen supposed he’d rather fail the first way, but he had a gambler’s instinct that they had drawn the unsolvable problem and that they’d realized it with just enough time to spare. Although the rest of ship’s crew and passengers were not involved in the exercise and went about their normal business, oblivious to the test, the bridge crew was expected actually to evacuate.
The past bridge crews, like the present one, had let the simulation progress long enough to lose all their exits except the Jeffries tubes—hence the name, “Chutes and Ladders.” Tsen had to admit, as he glided down the narrow vertical enclosure, that the name was apt. “Real space,” which was used occasionally instead of a holodeck mock-up , definitely added to the air of immediacy.
Several decks down, Tsen plowed into his officers huddled together in a cramped junction just a few meters from the entrance to the battle bridge. “We’re trapped,” Jani informed him. She gestured at the forcefield across their escape path.
“Like rats in a maze!” Tsen concentrated, visualizing the network of arteries in the infrastructure of the Enterprise. “Then we have to get someone to Engineering to effect the saucer separation. Two possible routes,” he pronounced. “We split up. Byula, you take Klein. Up one level and twice right, then down the conduit maintenance shaft. Sparks, Portm, you’re with me.”
As if in a fervid dream,Tsen led quickly away down a darkened, narrow passage, counting the turns, seeing the junctions ahead, concentrating on his memory of the three dimensional image of the Jeffries network that he had studied for his bridge officers’ exam. He twice blessed his very visual memory, which conjured up in his mind’s eye this hidden Enterprise. Most people found the Jeffries tubes a labyrinth of surreal sameness, but Tsen knew people could get lost even in the ship’s outer corridors; in some parts of the Enterprise, the halls and doors and suites all looked alike to the casual visitor.
But Tsen was an intimate of even these deepest channels of the great ship. He could not get lost in any version of her layout, for he knew her; he was navigating by heart. The ductwork was claustrophobic, and the three of them quickly became overheated with exertion, but Tsen pushed hard. The clock was running out, but no more impediments presented themselves, and Tsen’s party was almost at Engineering.
After the last short horizontal crawl, the sweating lieutenant glanced back and realized that the ensign and the cadet were no longer right behind him. “Let’s go, Sparks! Get the lead out!” he yelled.
“Yes sir! We’re coming!” he heard the muffled response from a distance in one of the connecting passages as he popped the hatch that led onto the reactor scaffold in Engineering. Now, he said to himself, we’re home free if I can just make it to the main engineering console. From there he would activate the saucer separation—if they were in time, if they’d sized up the “emergency” correctly.
Tsen bolted down the ladder and dashed out of the reactor chamber toward Main Engineering where he could now see Commander Riker, leaning casually against the broad control table, talking to Mr. LaForge, the chief engineer, and checking the chronometer.
As Tsen emerged into the lighted area, the senior officers straightened to attend to business, noting his arrival with no surprise, an indication that Tsen’s team had been right on the mark. “Excuse me, sir!” he snapped, brushing by the first officer to get at the panel for the automated sequence that would complete the exercise. Riker stepped aside, smiling that wry smile of his.
Tsen was sure now; they were about to be the first team to beat Chutes and Ladders.
“Here come the rest,” La Forge chuckled from the threshold of the reactor chamber. And then as Tsen input the codes, a belch of vapor exploded from the reaction chamber and alarms went off everywhere. Tsen startled, glancing toward his supervisors to check out this latest fillip on the emergency scenario. Commander Riker was rooted to the spot, staring into the swirling red fog with horrified shock.
Tsen felt his gut twist. My god! The mine sweeping operation in the Loebel Nebula was no simulation, even if they were hours from the scheduled start! Had something happened for REAL? Had the Enterprise tripped a mine?
But then LaForge reappeared, grinning broadly, “Everybody out ! Let’s go!” he yelled, swinging his arms in a great arc, cheerful as the judge of the fifty-meter dash at the school picnic. “Let’s move it, everybody. I’m bringing the door down!”
Indeed, the huge isolation door between the reactor room and Main Engineering was dropping, even as the rest of Tsen’s team began to emerge from another hatch. The athletic Klein, vaulting from an intermediate landing, was the first to dart through the portcullis of the radiation barrier. “Thought I’d add a little extra incentive to the simulation,” La Forge called merrily to Commander Riker.
Tsen’s stomach unknotted—but Riker didn’t seem to hear. He continued to watch the door slide down as if mesmerized. Still vaguely confused by Riker’s apparent play-acting, Tsen nonetheless punched home the correct codes as the klaxxon ceased abruptly and the vapor cleared. He looked up just in time to see Lt. Jani skidding like a base stealer through the last low, narrow slit as the door came down. “Did we do it? Did we make it?”
Byula was flushed and exultant. Tsen was certain that the expectation of triumph glowed in his face as well. But she had gripped him by the forearms, swinging him around and away from Riker and LaForge, so he couldn’t see if the confirmation was in their faces. Instead, he saw Klein leaning against the wall, breathing heavily, and glancing distractedly around the room.
“Where’s Sparks?” Klein panted.
Jani and Tsen halted, paralyzed. “He was right behind me,” Tsen said, staring at the barricade at the end of the room. They all looked back at the ominous facade of the isolation doors at the end of the room.
“and the cadet...” Tsen breathed.
“Uh-oh,” LaForge shook his head chiding them. “Looks like she’s still in there.”
Riker turned slowly toward the group, and Tsen, flushed and overheated as he was, felt an unearthly chill. The Commander eyed them with a look colder than the dark side of a moon.
“Bring it up,” he said to LaForge. The chief engineer hit a touchpad and the door began to rise once again like a curtain at a play. And there, trapped inside the door, stood Sparks and Portm, both looking rather sheepish...
“... and then Ensign Sparks started to explain that Cadet Portm had taken a wrong turn and so he went back for her. Of course, that wasn’t what he was supposed to do in an emergency, and the Commander...well, he made that really clear. He told Sparks that he’d violated the most important protocol in an emergency.
That, uh... went on for a while, till he began dressing down the cadet too, except that Mr. LaForge jumped in, I think to try and cool things out, and then I said that I was duty officer and it was my responsibility and then suddenly the whole thing was over.
The Commander stalked out and there we were. “Since then, everybody’s been on edge waiting for the personnel evaluations. The ensigns were both expecting to qualify, but now... nobody’s even heard whether we passed or not. Klein’s trying to put the incident behind him, but I’m sure he feels resentful. Sparks is really bad. The kid’s half convinced that not only won’t he ever make bridge officer, he figures he’ll be shipped off the Enterprise.
And the cadet! She thinks she’s to blame for the whole dust-up. She looks like she’s ready to bust out crying half the time...” Counselor Troi lifted her chin and looked intently at Lieutenant Tsen. “You feel that perhaps the First Officer overreacted?” Tsen hung on the question mark a moment.
That very opinion was at the heart of what troubled him, and the awkwardness he now felt was the reason why he’d wanted to dodge the encounter with her even while he’d wanted help to solve the problem. He was thinking about what everyone on the Enterprise knew about the First Officer and the Counselor. Probably everybody had heard Deanna Troi or Will Riker themselves explain that they were “just friends.
” Yeah, like matter and antimatter together were “slightly explosive.”
“Lieutenant,” she said with a sincerity that he couldn’t doubt, “An honest answer helps everyone.”
And then Tsen felt embarrassed by his own presumptions. Everybody on the Enterprise also knew, when it came to duty and responsibility, no one was more professional than either Troi or Riker. “Well, sir, maybe the Commander was a little...strong, but I certainly don’t mean to say that he wasn’t justified, I mean, we screwed up, no doubt about it. Anyway, that’s not why I came. That’s really not the point. The point is, what do we do about it NOW? What happened, happened. You can’t erase it. But maybe I could help somehow ...to stop the effects from rolling on, perpetuating themselves.”
The Counselor was looking down into her folded hands, very thoughtful. Tsen shifted uncomfortably. “Maybe I’m just too anxious to do something about it, particularly for the sake of the cadet. Her whole experience shouldn’t be spoiled by that one bad memory, right? I don’t know, Counselor, maybe my bridge crew just need more time to... you know, wear down the effects, dilute the bad feelings with some good ones. Time cures all wounds, right? “
She looked up then. “Yes, putting some life between you and a bad experience helps, Lao, but sometimes you need to assist life a little.” Her voice sounded scratchy, but her eyes on Tsen were warm and kind, and he felt she knew exactly his motivation and his reservations in coming to her. She wanted to help, not to criticize. “I think it would be very supportive for you to do some team building activities with your group....”
They went on to discuss some interpersonal techniques that Troi had taught at a workshop for the new lieutenants until Tsen was less anxious and more confident about how to cope with the demoralization of the team and with his own reactions as well.
Finally he began to feel like he could handle the present situation. “Thanks, Counselor,” he said standing up to leave. “I think I know what I’d like to do, now.”
“Good,” she said. “I think I do, too. I’ll speak to your cadet—and I’ll see Commander Riker.” A slight twinge returned, but she looked at Tsen steadily and he acceded. She was probably right about that, too. She stood, and he knew that the dreaded interview was over. He felt reassured as she walked him out the door, said good-bye, and thanked him for coming. Tsen started down the hall feeling a lot better than when he had come up it.
Starfleet was right in placing such emphasis on the office of the Ship’s Counselor. For all the wonders of Fleet technology, engineering of the interpersonal kind mattered every bit as much. The Counselor sighed as the door closed behind her. She watched Tsen striding confidently down the corridor, and then she turned and walked off in quite the opposite way.
The discussion had heated up and the patient had begun to pace the spacious guest cabin where the therapy session had been going on for an hour. The pacer, Dr. Beverly Crusher, was unused to being a patient, particularly unused to being the patient of an alien psychologist.
Crusher stopped suddenly, sweeping honey-colored hair behind her, and spread her hands in a gesture of frustration. “I don’t see how this is running away, Dr. Naleva. I’ve confronted what happened to me, I’ve understood what was done to me. I’ve railed at it; I’ve cried about it. Now I just want some peace to let it all go. I want to get away for a little while, that’s all. What do you think, Deanna?”
“I’m inclined to agreed her reply to Naleva and then turned to her friend. “I do not sense that the experience you were subjected to retains any power over you. If you would like to take leave, Beverly, it might be just the thing to do.”
Dr. Naleva frowned. The Eulian therapist’s long white robes with their intricate cut-outs brushed the carpet with soft murmurings as she moved across the softly lit room. Her own telepathic sense indicated that Crusher was recovering, but had yet held back some part of her injury, an unsettled and unhappy residue. But it appeared that the red-headed doctor was not be be gainsaid.
Naleva sighed and gave in. Crusher was the least serious of the three cases, and she might do just as well off-ship with some support from friends or family. Although the recovery period was not generally a time to be changing the routines of one’s ordinary life, Terrans appeared to be a remarkably resilient species, admirable in many respects.
It saddened the elderly Eulian to have her first experience of them under such circumstances. Naleva had been called in by the Eulian Psychological Institute to handle a rare and horrible case of psychological rape that had occurred while a delegation of oral historians from her home planet was traveling aboard the starship Enterprise. Jev Tarmin-son,who was working on the project with his father and his aunt, had fixed his warped interest on Deanna Troi. Assaulting her telepathically, he had caused her to fall into a coma that had lasted three days while his cover-up felled two of the other Enterprise officers who also succumbed to coma.
Dr. Crusher, the third victim, was investigating the unusual nature of the affliction and had unearthed a vital clue when she was stricken. Meanwhile, Counselor Troi recovered and volunteered to help the investigation by undergoing the memory enhancement technique with which the Eulians retrieved oral histories, the very process Jev had used to invade the memories of his victims to satisfy his twisted needs.
In the reconstruction of Deanna’s memory, he implicated his despised father Tarmin instead of himself. He would have succeeded in his neurotic vengeance except for the counselor and her crewmates, who, following up on Dr. Crusher’s lead, separately discovered the truth and together apprehended Jev.
Beverly Crusher sat down beside Deanna Troi and took her hands while she spoke to Naleva. “It’s probably the worst memory I carry around inside of me, Doctor, viewing Jack’s body when they brought him home, but Jack’s death is something I put behind me years ago. It doesn’t hold any terrors for me anymore.” Naleva conceded that part, but— “I don’t deny there are times when I still miss Jack,” Dr. Crusher smiled ruefully, “I mean, when I can really feel the pain and sadness. Maybe it’s odd, but those feelings are precious to me. Perhaps because they remind me how much he meant to me. In a way, I don’t want ever to lose them. Jev may have brought them back to me in full strength, but I can deal with that. I just want some time away to let them be soothed and settled and manageable again.”
Naleva shifted her head, a gesture of incertitude. “I still have concerns— I don’t know, Beverly. I believe that you’re fighting with the memory still. But perhaps, Counselor Troi is right and a change of venue would help.”
Deanna said nothing else, but as she stood and went to Beverly, the two women embraced, friends consoling, and even though Naleva wasn’t especially empathic, as opposed to telepathic, she knew how deep and abiding was the feeling of friendship between them. A remarkable species, indeed. “So, you’ll be going to your grandmother’s at the New Scots colony?” Deanna asked as they separated.
“We’re so close by, I should have made the detour before we entered the nebula. Now, I understand that the current round of peace talks between the Vassundri and the Granethians has concluded and there’s a group of Vassundri going back tonight, so I can shuttle with them.” “The Granethians have already left. The captain wasn’t entirely happy with the way they broke off talks, but I’m sure he’ll be grateful that you won’t be going alone.”
“Yes, well....” The mention of Jean-Luc Picard, the Enterprise’s captain, caused a quick reaction of dismissal in the doctor’s mind, Naleva noticed. Troi seemed aware of it too, but then Crusher began to talk about packing and visiting, and neither one pursued the doctor’s mental sidestep. “I’ll see you before we take off,” Crusher promised as she said goodbye at the door, and then she was gone, leaving Naleva and Troi alone.
Naleva waited while the Enterprise’s counselor appeared to contemplate the rug. To be the third party in a therapy session was not the way Dr. Naleva usually worked. Indeed, to be consulting with another psychologist, one who was also a patient, was odder still, but she had never counseled Terrans before and given the circumstances, she wanted Troi’s collaboration.
“I understand what you were saying and I agree with your analysis,” the Betazoid counselor said at last. “But I disagree with the treatment. Beverly does have other issues to solve, but I think that she won’t solve them without getting away. They have to do with getting away. She’s had this argument with herself for a long time, and she’s always answered it by staying here and working with it. But sometimes you need to see the other version — the way it might have turned out otherwise....”
Naleva looked skeptical. “Well, perhaps I am wrong,” Troi sighed. “I feel so burdened now myself, I don’t seem to know what’s best to do for anyone anymore...”
“It is good to question,” said the grandmotherly therapist, “ but you must try not to be judgmental, particularly toward yourself. Psychology is discovery, just like space exploration, and,” she smiled,”we are all finding our way though the minefield sometimes.”
She settled down beside her Betazoid colleague to explain. “We know that Jev’s illness is the result of his inability to cope with his judgmental father. Whenever he was under stress, he manipulated others through his own emotional states. With Dr. Crusher, he was concerned about being discovered; so, he conjured in her a memory of a time when her desire to know caused her emotional harm. Jev wanted to ensure that when she awoke, the dread of knowing, the fear of pursuing the truth, would remain in her and prevent her from continuing her investigation of the comas.”
“Beverly did awaken absolutely terrified,” Deanna said. “Jev succeeded in relieving his own fears by projecting them onto her.”
“She told me how she recalled viewing Jack’s body, but somehow she was with Jev. He stood there in her memory sneering at her for wanting to see the body— as though she had some morbid or ulterior motive that made her despicable in his eyes.”
“Do you not see Jev imitating his father in that?”
“Yes, but Beverly was able to get over the invasion quickly, as if it were nothing more than a nightmare.”
“Because the real memory was so strong in her. She could see Jev’s projection as a distorted nightmare and not as the true events. Jev failed in that sense because he chose such a significant moment in her life.”
“Do you think the captain was really there in the morgue with her?” Deanna asked intently.
“Yes, I believe so, but not the ‘Captain Picard’ in Jev’s re-creation. Could the real Jean-Luc Picard ever have removed the shroud from the body of his best friend with such malicious display? Jev changed the entire emotional tenor of Dr. Crusher’s memory, but he could not scar her. She knows her feelings too well. She has settled her feelings about her husband and her loss.“
Troi was quiet then, but Naleva sensed what she wanted to ask. “With you,” Naleva said treading softly on tender ground,”Jev felt an attraction; he fantasized encounters with you. But his self-esteem was so poor that he was certain you would reject him. And so, he induced a particular memory of yours based upon his own struggle of attraction and fear of rejection.”
“He found an instance in my life when I was unsure about my feelings for someone.”
“In a sense, he superimposed his feelings on yours and that allowed him to get rid of his self-censure and to indulge his wicked impulses fully. But then, the scenario led to frustration, which released the wellspring of his vindictive malice. And because you are an empath, you have a special sensitivity. You felt both sides of Jev’s conflict, so the violence of these feelings compounded in you. You suffer more deeply. “But in many ways, Deanna,” she continued, “you have advantages that Jev’s other victims cannot bring to their cases. You have your training in psychology to help you, but more than that, you alone were able to strike back at him, apprehend him, and help bring him to justice after the violations he perpetrated on all of you. You have great personal courage. I know you will resolve your problems, too.”
And Naleva believed that, indeed, Deanna would come to understand what Jev had inflicted upon her and that she would fight off the effects as she had fought off his last attack. Thanks to Deanna Troi there would be no more victims of Jev Tarmin-son. Unfortunately, however, there was one more previous victim, and that one was the stubborn case.
Dinner was about to be served at La Posada Riker and the diners were ready: Mr. Data, being an android, had no aesthetic appreciation of cuisine, Mr. Worf, being a Klingon, had such decidedly different esthetics as amounted to none, and the chef, having consumed a fair quantity of synthehol, had lost his.
All in all, they were the perfect party for one of Commander Riker’s gourmet nights. Riker was intrigued by anything new, whether the novelty was sophisticated (technologies—or simulations) or basic (food—or women). He could, in fact, cook. The problem was that he brought to cuisine the same sense of adventure that he carried with him as a space explorer. Therefore, guests might enjoy wonderfter they’d suffered through Jufra mint lasagna.
Excellent saltimbocca might be on the menu with beef gravy ice cream. Riker knew well that he was considered to have outrageous tastes. The captain donated bottles from his own family vineyard whenever Riker volunteered to bring the wine. Riker knew that well, too. “Good evening gentlemen,” he smiled at Data and Worf as he brought his latest experiment to the table with a towel draped over his arm. He set down the steaming dish with a flourish.”I’m Will, and I’m your waiter tonight.”
“What are you waiting for?” Data asked. “No point waiting,”
Worf rumbled, filling his plate. “It’s what they used to call a server,” Riker informed the android as he pulled up his own chair. “I learned it in a play of Beverly’s. I’m surprised you don’t have ‘waiter’ in your dictionary, Data.”
“I turn off the subroutine for archaic definitions and colloquialisms when I am with Mr. Worf.”
Data paused to sample the dish and pass it on to the chef. “I find he does not care for etymology.”
“Nothing wrong with bugs,” Worf mumbled with his mouth full. Data considered whether Mr. Worf would care to learn about malapropism. He decided not. “Did you not serve a large insect the last time?” Worf asked.
Riker’s expression screwed quizzically. “That was a lobster,” Data recalled.
“Um, yes, a waterbug,” Worf nodded. “Excellent. Very crunchy.”
Riker smiled at the memory. “So how do you like this dish? It’s Mexican.”
“Tastes like chicken,” Worf replied.
“Why does everything uncommon taste like chicken?” Data asked.
“It isn’t uncommon.” Riker insisted, “It is chicken.”
“I thought you said it was ‘arroz con pollo’, “ Worf frowned.
“That IS chicken. ‘Pollo’ IS chicken,” Riker translated.
“And arroz, by any other name, is still rice,” Data helped. Riker started coughing into his napkin just as the door chime rang. He got up to answer it. His voice and that of the new arrival drifted in. “Counselor Troi,” Data identified the voice.
Worf helped himself to another serving.“Betazoids do not eat things that have feathers,” he said self-righteously.
Data scrutinized his plate. “Mr. Worf, did you take all of the feathers for yourself?”
At the door, Will was pressing Deanna to join them for dinner. “I can come back some other time,” she declined.
“You might have to eat something worse then,” he argued.
She sighed. “I’ll take my chances.”
“Wait, I was about to make the salad. I thought I’d do a gavot salad. You like that, right?”
“Counselor Troi declined it last time,” Data said, appearing in the vestibule. “If you will remember, sir, you sliced your hand open on one of the gavots? Dr. Crusher was required to close the cut, but not until you had bled all over the lettuce.”
“Yeah,” he grinned devilishly, “ but that’s how we discovered Worf’s favorite salad dressing.”
Deanna’s grimace told him he had gone over the top. As a matter of fact, she looked rather buffeted. He could understand that. The level of his syntheholic abandon was at high pitch and his humor at a sophomoric low. But her presence seemed to throw water on him, on all of them.
Worf came to the door with Data. “You’re not leaving already?” Riker asked.
“I must report for duty, Commander,” Worf replied. “But thank you for dinner.”
“My thanks also. Please do excuse me, Commander. I have to prepare a flight plan for Dr. Crusher and the Vassundri party. They will be leaving at 21:00 hours,” Data informed them as he followed Worf.
“Eat and run,” Riker shrugged as they departed. He returned inside and began to clear the table as Troi watched. “They have an incredible shuttle, the Vassundri, brand new version of the SS70 from their yards,” Riker said, making small talk. “When they first got in, I made a date with the pilot to try her out. It was terrific!”
“The ship or the pilot?”
He smiled at her catching his unintentional double entendre. “Well, if you’d like to try the SHIP for yourself, I could ask the pilot for a test run before they go...?”
She shook her head and said, “No, I don’t think I’m in the mood for trying out anything new tonight.” She wandered toward the windows.
“So, what have you been up to?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said, looking at the streaking starfield. “Just work ... the peace talks between the Granethians and the Vassundri didn’t go very well. We don’t know when the next session will be. I sense that the Granethians are not really interested in working toward an end to this hostility.”
“Well, at least we’re clearing away the mines they’ve laid all over the nebula. We’ve collected and defused forty-six, and we’re only two days into the work. It’s going to be a big job.”
“And then there’s your other work —with Dr. Naleva.”
He chose not to comment, but began, instead, to hum a tune as he clattered dishes and tableware.
“Have you remembered anything?” she asked.
He should have expected that. “Not a thing,” he said cheerfully. “Whatever caused the coma doesn’t seem to be in my memory anymore. So, it couldn’t have been particularly traumatic, right? Pain, fear, embarrassment,” he ticked them off on his fingers, “all get special accounts in the memory bank, don’t they? Part of our human survival mechanisms?”
“Actually,” she replied, “the mind sometimes represses hardest those memories that disturb us most.”
With a brush of his hands, he dematerialized the remains of dinner. “Anyway, it was just a memory. Whatever Jev conjured up, I lived through the actual experience, so, if I dealt with it thenx.”
“Dr. Naleva says you don’t feel she can help you.”
“We’ve already talked a couple of times. We went over my troubled past,” he said with wry humor. “I told her about my mother’s death, my difficulties with my father. She reviewed all the psych interview material from my commissioning. But we came up empty. I just can’t remember... “You know,” he continued, “maybe Jev didn’t evoke any memory for me at all. Maybe what I got was the psychic equivalent of a sandbag. You know, when I was a kid, I got trounced regularly playing anbo-jitsu with my father. And then there was my Academy command school training, not to mention the youthful indiscretions that kept getting me decked in certain bars between here and Ursa. Even now, whenever I get nostalgic, I can always go down to the holodeck and have Worf slam me around.”
“I don’t understand. What’s your point?”
“I guess I’m accustomed to a certain degree of physical...roughness. Being telepathically assaulted may not make much impression. Or maybe I was just lucky.” He paused and frowned. “Luckier at least than Beverly. The captain’s worried she won’t come back,” he said.
“Beverly’s not going to make her absence permanent.” She sounded cool and matter-of-fact.
“Good. I’d hate to lose Beverly. Not only in terms of her being the best doctor we could possibly have for the Enterprise, but it would be like breaking up a family to have her leave again. On the other hand, I suppose I wouldn’t blame her if she felt that being here would keep on dredging up things she’d rather forget.” She made no answer. “So...” a cavernous pause and then he plunged in “...how are you doing?”
“I’m working on it,” she said.
“You want to talk?” he offered.
“No, It’s... I’m sorry, Will. It wouldn’t help. Thank you.”
“All right. Don’t mention it,” he said. He knew how chilly that sounded, but even if he’d tried harder to hide his sense of being slighted, she could hardly not have known. When Beverly had awakened, he was there in sickbay, recuperating. They had talked through that whole first day, and she poured her heart out to him. But his beloved, his Imzadi? Deanna had never told him the barest thing about what had happened to her. He thought about when she’d first fallen ill. How shocked and lost he’d felt. When she’d lain in sick bay in a coma, he’d held her hand and pleaded with her not to leave him. He couldn’t imagine a life in which there was no Deanna. And now he wondered if a part of her mind had actually heard him and responded—in the negative. For ever since then, she’d kept brushing him off, in more ways than just this rejection.
He was definitely not imagining her standoffishness. She didn’t want to be around him; she shied away from any contact, particularly physical contact. He thought at first that it was the after-effects of Jev’s assault. Hearing what the Eulian had done to Beverly, Will assumed that the pervert got some weird kick out of frightening women.
Will wondered if Deanna had been made to recall her father’s death. And he longed to protect her, assure her that he would be there for her. But she didn’t seem to want that. And it hurt. Ever since he’d gone through the soul-searching that had led him to turn down command of the Melbourne, he’d realized that part of his desire to stay with the Enterprise was Deanna. Even though he was occasionally attracted to other “opportunities,” he felt that sooner or later they would get back together again.
So he’d been waiting, sort of, even if he wasn’t just standing around in the meantime. Surely she couldn’t expect that, not when she’d taken a few lovers herself. But in spite of those other adventures, they were close friends, intimate in soul if not in body. Or had he been kidding himself? Had she always meant more to him than he did to her? Were they no longer close enough for her to share her feelings with him, confide in him ?
“There’s something else I came to see you about.”
“Huh?” he snapped back to the present.
“I came to see you about Lieutenant Tsen’s bridge crew.”
He looked at her blankly. “An incident on the Gamma shift a couple of nights ago?”
“Oh, right. Yeah. They blew the evacuation drill.”
“Yes. I’m told you made that abundantly clear to them.”
She said it lightly, but he felt criticism in her comment, and that annoyed him, though maybe it was just insult on top of injury. “So it wound up on your desk? Or should I say couch?”
She must know he was irritated; she put on that damned tolerant look. “Just say it wound up with me, Will.”
“Frankly, I’m surprised.”
“Well, I’d have thought—” he turned to her, a note of challenge creeping into his voice, “Don’t YOU think they’re being ...hypersensitive? I mean, running off to the Ship’s Counselor the minute they get scolded for not doing the job right?”
“From what I heard , ‘scolding’ wasn’t what I’d call it.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Of course,” she said, “I want to hear your view. I tried to get other opinions.”
“Great!” he said, abandoning any attempt to hide his annoyance. “You mind telling me exactly what rumor you went and spread all over the ship?”
“I asked Geordi,” she said pointedly. “He felt that you were a little extravagant in your criticism.”
“That was his opinion?”
“His and probably the duty officer’s, though they were very reluctant to say so. They both supported your right to deal with the situation that way; they simply felt that such vehemence wasn’t in your—”
“Well, I applaud their reluctance! And it’s nice of them to recognize my rights as their superior officer! As to their opinions, too bad for them that it’s my opinion that counts. Maybe when they get to the point where they’re responsible for the ship’s safety, they’ll have a different opinion of how vehement you have to be.”
“Please, Will. Wait just a moment. No one is challenging your authority, but really, just listen to yourself for a minute. Don’t you think that even now—”
“Now? Now? What the hell! I’m a tyrant now, because THEY didn’t perform!”
She backed up a step, but her arms folded and her chin set. “I’m sorry, Will. To me, right now, you do feel out of balance. I feel you’re emotionally volatile. And you were probably responding to them in the same way that night. Will, I think that the best course of action for you is to take yourself off duty for a little while and work through whatever is causing this...reaction. “
He felt the blood rise in his face. “What? I don’t believe this! I’M the guilty party here? I’M the one with the problem? THEY’RE the ones who couldn’t get through a simple evacuation drill without transgressing the most important rule — you move forward at all times, you don’t wait, you don’t go back—for anything! That’s a good way to get killed!”
“That’s a hard lesson, and it requires patience and balance from the supervisor to teach it, especially to an inexperienced cadet and an ensign who—”
“That’s it isn’t it?” he snarled at her. “I was just doing what my job requires, and you’re blaming ME even though it’s someone else’s fault.”
She blanched. “I’m not blaming you for anything. Will, whether you think so or not, you’ve just been through an abusive experience and—”
“And now I’m an abuser?” The sentence was pure acid. “—I didn’t do anything—” he took a step toward her, “and you, of all people— how could YOU—” He could hear how incoherent he had become. His fists clenched in frustration. She backed away suddenly. He blinked, startled by the realization: she was frightened— of him!
He closed his eyes and tried to steady himself. “Deanna—” he said, “ Wait—I’m sorry—” —but her eyes had lost that cold sheen of alarm and now glowed with the anger that had fled him.
“You can save yourself the embarrassment and put yourself on leave,” she said hotly, “or I’ll go to the captain and have you relieved.” And then she wheeled and left.
As the Vassundri runabout, Anschick, flitted through the rainbow haze of the Loebel Nebula, Dr. Beverly Crusher thought about the goings and comings of her life, and unbidden, the memories of her goodbyes came crowding around. They marked the significant moments of her life. Her leaving her grandmother’s home for the academy, her first promotion, her last kiss with Jack....
She shifted irritably. She was fine, she reprimanded herself sternly. She could remember Jack with love, and the occasional poignancy was not distressing—it was welcome. It helped her not to think of the other. She was fine as long as she didn’t think about Jean-Luc.
Of course, he had come down to see her off, despite her insisting that no farewell be taken. But she’d handled the scene succinctly and gotten away neatly, if not quite as cleanly as she’d done when she’d left the Enterprise to head Starfleet Medical after that first year.
Back then, she’d been on leave attending a conference on Earth, and she had just happened to visit one of her old professors at the Academy who was head of the search committee for the new Surgeon General. The admiralty had been squabbling for over a month about whom to name to the vacancy, but when she walked in, the trustees looked at her as though a gem had been dropped in front of their noses. Within two days they had made the offer, and she had accepted, sending her notice to the Enterprise by subspace communication.
And why had she quit so abruptly? She told herself that it was because the opportunity to head the Starfleet Corps of Physicians was so rare and prestigious. And that was true. But so was her desire to get away, just as true now. She had left after the first year because she was convinced that she and Jean-Luc would never find a way back to the easy friendship they had shared when the Crusher family had practically included him as a fourth.
He was changed, the Jean-Luc who had been her husband’s best friend, a suave, engaging, always available companion. Instead, he had claimed the identity of commanding officer. That sly sense of humor, that hint of fires within, which she had always found so charming, was completely controlled. He was schooled and disciplined around her. And cold. She thought she must have been a constant reminder of Jack’s loss. She thought she would forever be a reproach to him that he had been the one to survive. She thought she made him uncomfortable. So she had left.
And now she was leaving again. Because it had all come back , except in the new version, she was the one who felt uncomfortable with every little rapproachment in their relationship. Did he really want something more, and if so, why didn’t he commit wholeheartedly? Because he respected Jack, even in death, too much to take up with his wife? Did she really want something more?
And what did that say about Jack’s wife and the undying love she had always professed for her husband? Or was Jack not at all the reason why she never finished that sentence, “Jean-Luc, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you...”
“Are you cold, too, Dr. Crusher?” The voice startled her. “Can I get you anything? Dr. Crusher? Some tea or something?” A pretty brown-haired teenager in a cadet’s uniform was standing beside her with a tea tray.
“Cadet—Portm,” Crusher came up with the correct name. She hadn’t realized how she was sitting hunched over in the chair. She straightened up. “Thank you, I will. “
The cadet gave a short nod, setting down the tray. “I’ll fetch another cup,” she said moving over to the tiny galley in the aft cabin of the Anschick.
“I was surprised to see you were going to keep me company this trip,” Crusher commented across the room. “I thought that the internships were supposed to last for another two weeks.”
Portm looked back, chagrined. “I decided to go home early.” She returned and poured the tea, holding a cup out to the doctor.
“Not a problem at home, I hope?” Beverly asked her.
“Oh, no, nothing like that.”
“Well, I’m sure your new friends on the Enterprise will all miss you, Darah.” Beverly accepted the cup, raised it to her lips. Earl Grey. She put it down. The cadet sat across from her and in awkward silence both women gazed out at the “micro stars,” little points of concentrated particulates rushing past them through the patchy fog of the nebula. They reminded Crusher of the scroll on an old fashioned player piano her grandmother had preserved. Beverly recalled then seeing Portm play the piano in Ten Forward with the ship’s jazz combo.
Grateful to find a topic of conversation, she commented, “Well, I suppose Commander Riker will be sorry that his group is losing such a fine keyboard player.”
The cadet had been obviously flattered to be asked to sit in, but the young woman had acquitted herself well. The cadet colored and Beverly suppressed a smile. She’d seen the symptoms before. It wasn’t as though they’d never had a cadet develop a virulent crush on Will Riker.
“I think maybe the Commander would advise me to look for a career in music,” she said. “Maybe I will. I just hate to give him the satisfaction. What an awful man!”
Crusher’s eyes widened in surprise. “You mean Commander Riker?”
“What a conceited, arrogant, egotistical— oh, I don’t know anything bad enough to call him!”
Crusher allowed that some people might indeed hold that opinion of Will Riker, but she had found that such people usually possessed those characteristics themselves, and this little cadet hardly seemed to qualify. “Why? What happened?”
“You wouldn’t believe it....” And so Beverly Crusher listened to a tale of Chutes and Ladders.
“It’s bad enough that I messed up,” Portm concluded, “ but the worst part is that I got everybody else into trouble and now they’re mad at each other.”
“And so you decided to leave?”
“I thought it was the best thing. You think I should have stayed?”
“Well, you seem to feel that you’ve done something wrong. Isn’t it rather difficult to do anything about that from here? “
“Maybe, but I just don’t think I can face it.”
“Face ‘it’ or face ‘them’?”
Her face fell and she began to blink. “Face ‘him’,” she confessed. “I mean, I really liked him. And he didn’t even notice me. Even after the jam session and all. When he started to yell at me, he called me ‘Ensign’ Somebody-or-other.”
Crusher sighed and patted the girl’s hand. “You have to understand,” she said. “The Commander, like anyone who holds a position of great responsibility, has to be many things to many people. It’s hard to walk the line between being a warm, open fellow officer and a tough, exacting commanding officer. Generally, I’ve known the Commander to be a pretty good tightrope walker, but if, on occasion, he falls over on the stern side, well, you have to understand that Starfleet means that the job always comes first, and personal relationships can sometimes get in the way.”
“That’s what Counselor Troi said,” the cadet said.
Beverly smiled at a subtext only she knew. “Yes, I’m sure she would.”
“She explained to me how a first officer needs to be both a supervisor and a liaison to the crew...” As the cadet rattled on, Crusher forgetfully picked up her cup. “....because the ultimate authority rests with the captain, whose duties really isolate him...” The scent of bergamot floated upward. “... I told her I knew that I was acting childishly, but—” the cadet looked looked at the doctor with earnest appeal “—how do you tell yourself to feel what you want to feel?”
“Well,” said Crusher slowly, her cup poised for a long moment. “What do you feel? What do you want to feel?”
“I don’t know. Part of me wants to be mad at him for being so hard on Ron— Ensign Sparks, but—well, as much as I appreciate Ensign Sparks trying to protect me, he shouldn’t have. He’d just have gotten himself trapped inside with me and killed too, if it had been real. Commander Riker was right, even if it hurt— the way he put it. I don’t know, I guess I feel confused—confused and guilty—about feeling the way I do.”
Dr. Crusher sipped her Earl Grey hot and considered the downcast cadet thoughtfully. “Guilt is not a bad emotion.” She gazed past the cadet watching the stars in the rear window streak out behind them though the haze at the edge of the nebula. “Guilt is there to warn us when we’ve done something wrong and remind us to do what is right. Trouble is, it never seems to tell us what to do to make things right. And it has a way of being overactive sometimes, so that the truth seems to have a dozen different versions.”
Darah Portm turned to Dr. Crusher with the intent of asking her how the truth could be anything but the truth; however, the doctor was suddenly preoccupied by a strange pair of micro stars in the rear window among the light streams sweeping away from the runabout. These stars were streaking the opposite way—right toward them.
...they were cleaning up after the poker game in her quarters. The others had gone. Will had lingered. All evening, Deanna had felt his eyes on her, palpable, like a caress. She remembered his caresses. Even the thought of them had tickled her skin, crept along her bare arms, nuzzled her neck when she should have been watching her cards, but her reaction had worked to her advantage. “You managed to fake everyone out all night with that Mona Lisa smile,” he growled, teasing her.
“All to hide the mind of a Da Vinci,” she replied.
“You mean a Borgia,” he retorted, flashing her that look, that look that felt like touch.
Delicious, to think that even after so long he still wants you. Makes you feel won
Perhaps his teasing or perhaps that odd thought distracted her as she picked up the box that held their poker chips. The lid unlatched, and the chips fell like glittering rain onto the floor. “Ah, ha! Trying to hide some for the next game?” he accused her facetiously.
Yes, you’re always playing games. Always hiding! Games? What games? Oh yes, we were playing poker. She laughed. Yes, she remembered. They were cleaning up after poker and she had dropped the chips. She stooped down, balancing lightly on her toes, reaching for the scattered disks.
He squatted down beside her. He reached out a hand, touching her hair that fell loosely down her back, fingering the stray tendrils that had eluded the control of the barrette at her nape, tucking them behind her ear. “Now getting back to my earlier question,” he said, “why did you change your hair? Really? Why don’t you want to answer that?”
“I don’t have to answer that,” she smiled, “unless you tell me why you changed yours.” She reached a hand to stroke the beard he had grown over his vacation. And slyly, with her other hand, she shoved his knee hard— “So answer THAT!” —and sat him down sharply on the floor. As she scrambled away laughing, he retaliated immediately, lunging after her, stretched out along the carpet, catching and then losing her foot, as she crawled away on hands and knees with shrieks of hilarity.
Laughing? Making a fool of him? I know you were laughing at me. Do you think you can just laugh at ME? Yes, we were laughing. But why do I remember, too, that we weren’t laughing? In the giggling horseplay that followed/ In the resentful interplay that followed/ he unbalanced her. As she toppled backward/ as he pushed her backward/ he reached to catch her/he gripped her shoulders, following her movement downward till she lay recumbent on the floor. He leaned over her for a moment in which time and space ceased to flow. “Tell me something,” he murmured/demanded. “Have you stopped thinking about us? Just answer that.”
You’ve already forgotten me. Do you think you can just dismiss ME? No, I haven’t forgotten anything. I will remember. I will remember. “I can’t stop thinking about you,” he whispered. A faint smile, and he kissed her, tentatively. And then, whether he felt her impulse or whether he could no longer contain his own, the hesitancy was gone, replaced by ardent, unspoken desire and ecstatic anticipation. He renewed his kiss, and like immersion in a warm, soft tide, the sensuality threatened to overwhelm her. Let me. I know you’d let him. —please, Imzadi, understand me. I don’t mean, “No,” not exactly. I think I mean, “Wait.” Don’t ask me to risk my heart again. Not yet.
Just give me more time—to be sure. I won’t be hurt again. I know that I can’t give myself now.
And yet, by her own emotion / by her empathic sense, she throbbed with thwarted desire. Her perceptions of Will’s/Will’s? emotions tangled with her own and she tried to sort out the chaos in her mind. With sad tenderness/ with confused apprehension, she pushed him away. “No, Will, don’t. We mustn’t, we can’t—” —oh! but we could have!—damned rationality and caution and the hurts of the past and the doubts of the future —we might have!—given ourselves over to passion and fatexBut we didn’t.
But now we will.
Their lips parted. The sense of him was thrilling/ terrifying. His eyes looked into her soul. “Imzadi, no,” she assuaged him/she begged him. But this time he did not rise, acquiescing immediately to her “no.” Not this time compliant, apologetic even, and, though he masked it well, a little wounded, with hands beginning gently to lift her from the floor...
...it was the other version. She knew by his hands. Will’s hands were strong, but quick and light, a musician’s hands, skilled, expressive. In his touch, she had felt both pleasure and reverence. These fingers that curled acquisitively around her arms were greedy, concupiscent, bullying. They forced her back down on the floor. They pawed her. They hurt her. “Will, stop! You’re hurting me!” She couldn’t understand why his hands were not his own. And then, not love but lust, base and brutal, and a vicious resentment that called her a liar.
You want him, you know you want him/me, and yet you refuse me! Liar! No! I’m not lying! I don’t want to do this in doubt! I want to be sure! I want us both to be sure! And then she looked up, and his eyes were not the same. Not his eyes, eyes that dazzled her, eyes that admired her, but instead, eyes that ravished her. Not while we’re serving together? A pitiful excuse! You want to tie him up with rules, with duty, and watch him go crazy desiring what you won’t give him! You flaunt yourself at him/me, tease me at every turn. Tease! No! How can you believe that I would treat you that way? She froze as his grip tightened, and then she struggled, panicking, crying out for help.
No! Please, stop!
“I can’t stop thinking about you.” Jev leered down at her. She screamed— —unconsciousness billowed like black smoke beneath her, and she expected to awaken or else to be swallowed by the dark— —but Jev was still there. “Imzadi,” he whispered, a sound like hissing.
And suddenly she inhabited neither of her memories but another, a new version.
NO! You can’t say that! I won’t let you pollute THAT! I won’t have you with me! I want you gone!
She brought a knee up sharply and her hand struck him a blow to the side of his head—
NO! I WON’T LET YOU!
— she struck again and again until he fell away— —and then she woke.
Dr. Naleva took her hand and drew her in from where she leaned on the door, bracing her about the shoulders, and settling her down on the sofa, and the door silently shut behind them. “I’m all right. I’m all right,” she murmured. But she was shaking.
“Shall I call a physician?”
“I’m all right,” she insisted.
Naleva watched her pull herself back together and when she seemed steadier, she offered a warm drink and Deanna gripped the cup and sipped and gathered her composure. The Eulian sat next to the younger woman and waited until, presently, Deanna calmed herself and recounted the dream. “I feel so awful. I knew that it was Jev who hurt me and yet, I couldn’t seem to separate my feelings from Will. Jev—he seemed to know all the horrible ways that I ever imagined people would look at Will and me and — and—”
Naleva regarded her with sympathy. “I understand what troubles you,” she said quietly. “You have been undone by the grain of truth that Jev found and exploited. But it is only a grain on a vast shore. You have a complicated relationship with William Riker, and there have been times when your position as fellow officers has been a welcome shield, a way to avoid dealing with your desires and doubts—and perhaps, also, your hopes?”
“But Will and I—we are the best of friends. It’s not just that we were lovers once. We’ve shared so much together since we were posted to this ship. Why should I be afraid to be close to him? He’s not to blame. Jev did this to me, not Will.”
“Perhaps, you don’t blame William for what HAS happened. Perhaps,” the Eulian suggested, “what troubles you is what you expect WILL happen...?”
And suddenly Deanna crumpled with pain and tears. “My dear,” the elderly Eulian comforted her, “as a psychologist, you are aware that victims often feel ashamed of being victimized and frightened that their loved ones will be unable to love them afterward. And if you were counseling now, you would tell such a one that shame is not justified. Deanna, I tell you what you already know: you are blameless. You did nothing to deserve this. And those who truly love you long to love you now especially. I know you want to believe this,” she sighed sadly, “but perhaps, like Dr. Crusher, you must risk yourself to truly know it.”
“It’s not just myself I’d be risking,” she quavered.
“But isn’t your avoidance of William rather like his denial? Trying to close the hurt inside, have you not simply trapped both of you inside that hurt? As hard as it may be, you must allow William to find his own way through. What does your dream tell you? You must not allow Jev’s version of this memory to lurk in the darkness, unspoken between you. You must expose it, explode it, or it will destroy not just the memory of love but love itself.”
“Dr. Naleva, Counselor Troi?” The quiet of the apartment was broken by Data’s voice on the comm system. Naleva looked up in concern. Troi wiped away her tears. “I am sorry to disturb you,” Data apologized, “but we have been looking for Counselor Troi. You are needed on the bridge, Counselor. Could you please come immediately?”
Lieutenant Commander Data could only be logical, lacking any programming to simulate human emotion. Human acquaintances would sometimes comment to Mr. Data that his prodigious capacity for information processing should more than compensate him for the absence of affect. Some even went so far as to say that he was fortunate not to possess emotion.
Though Data hardly ever shared that opinion, he granted that in times like this, with the Enterprise hurtling at maximum warp to answer the desperate mayday of the Vassundri runabout, a perfectly cool, logical head on the bridge could only help.
Nonetheless, even in this crisis, Data was employing the excess capacity of his surpassing computational abilities to examine the behaviors of the humans on the bridge and their imputed emotional reactions to the emergency: Ensign Sparks’s nearly audible breathing, his young face taut as Lieutenant Worf questioned him from the Tactical post; Lieutenant Jani’s worrying her lower lip between her teeth as she tried to extract more information from the broken transmission they had received from the runabout; Lieutenant Tsen’s incessant finger tapping on the sensor console in the aft science post where he’d been bumped by the captain’s arrival; Ensign Klein’s hand wringing while he waited for his next orders.
Data diligently recorded everything to examine later. Yet the android knew that however minutely he could accumulate and record information, however many calculations he could perform to interpret those details, he could never truly understand what drove Captain Jean-Luc Picard to lean slightly forward in the command chair of the Enterprise as though the attitude of his body could improve upon nine times the speed of light.
Impatiently the captain rose and strode forward to peer intently over Sparks’s shoulder as the helmsman brought them smoothly out of warp to close at impulse power on the last coordinates of the Anschick. “Hailing frequencies,” he ordered over his shoulder.
“Open sir,” Lieutenant Jani responded.
“This is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise. Please state the nature of your emergency.”
The viewer brought up a broken and grainy picture of what was once the comfortable cockpit of a luxury vessel. The scene looked like a thunderstorm in an enclosed space, the atmosphere dim and hazy and the wreckage lit sporadically with stray electrical charges. They could almost smell the ozone.
“Captain Picard—sir,” the voice was pathetically young. “This is Cadet Darah Portm.” Data took in the smudged face of a cadet as she grimly hung onto one of the side consoles. “I don’t know what happened. We were cruising through a micro star cluster in the nebula when there was an explosion.”
“What’s your status, Cadet?” the captain asked.
“We’re damaged, sir, but I—I can’t tell how badly.”
“Dr. Crusher—” The transmission crackled with renegade energy, and the screen went blank.
“Reestablish contact.” Data noted Picard’s frozen expression, and though the captain’s voice was perfectly smooth, it carried with unusual intensity.
Lieutenant Jani turned in her chair with a shake of her head. “I’m sorry, Captain, but there’s no optical output on their end. I think I can recapture audio. There!”
Picard’s jaw set. “Repeat, please, Cadet Portm. We did not copy your last.”
“The casualties—Dr. Crusher’s seeing to them—both the pilot and the co-pilot are down.” Portm paused and there was the background murmur of several voices. “The ambassador and his aides, though, seem to have just scrapes and bruises.”
“Well done, Portm. Now sit tight. We’ll have you back aboard shortly.” The captain glanced upward in that odd way Data’s human crewmates had when they addressed the comm system. “Mr. LaForge? "
Geordi LaForge, who had been listening in from Engineering delivered his evaluation. “We’re not about to get a transporter lock on them, Captain. The nebula would be tricky enough by itself, but with the blast ionization, our sensors can’t even get a clear look at the damage to the vessel. We’ll have to go get them by shuttle.”
“Make it so.” Picard nodded at Data for the assignment. “Mr. Worf will accompany me on the Away Team,”
Data responded. "We will also need Lieutenant Commander LaForge for an evaluation of the vessel damage.”
Worf was already headed for the turbolift when he turned and surveyed the bridge. “I will need a co-pilot.”
Sparks was on his feet immediately. “I’ll go, sir.”
Worf looked to Data. “Mr. Sparks is a well-qualified pilot,” the android said. Worf merely grunted and turned for the lift as Sparks bounded up the ramp after him. The Away Team left for the shuttle bay, and Tsen moved to the first officer’s post, motioning Klein to take the helm, already in synch with the captain’s thinking. The Away Team took but minutes to assemble in the shuttle and lift off from the rear bay of the Enterprise.
With Worf navigating through the dense clouds of the nebula and Sparks monitoring three-way communications from the shuttle, the Anschick, and the Enterprise, Data could work with LaForge at the sensor console. He noted the engineer’s deeply furrowed brow above his VISOR.
“I hate nebulas,” LaForge grumbled. “The minute you get the instruments calibrated, the gases shift and you’re off again. We might as well be using a divining rod!”
“Have you a hypothesis about the cause of the explosion on the Anschick? “ Data inquired.
LaForge’s mouth curled in disgust. “Looks more like ‘to’ the Anschick. I don’t want to believe it, but there it is.” He gestured at the display in front of him. “Radiation frequencies are right on the money for a Granethian IDK explosive. I don’t understand!” he huffed. “We cleared this area! I checked it myself! Twice!” He grimaced back into the data displayed on the monitor.
“Vassundri runabout one hundred meters off the port bow,” Worf announced. “Closing at a meter per second.”
“Hey, Worf, wait—” La Forge called. The Klingon glanced backward. “There’s something—” The shuttle bucked, nearly flipping, as Sparks threw the thrusters into an abrupt reverse.
“What the—!” Worf exclaimed.
Righting himself quickly, the Ensign slapped off the comm channel to the runabout. “Look!” he pointed. A wisp of nebular vapor drifted across the Anschick as LaForge darted forward to train his “sights” on the crippled vessel.
“Report, Mr. Data!” The captain’s voice from the Enterprise. The mist cleared.
“There! Look there!” Sparks blurted. Worf growled something in Klingon. LaForge exhaled sharply. “I was just about to tell you,” he said, “that I was reading an odd energy signature.”
“Captain,” Data replied, “The runabout has likely been damaged by tripping an uncleared Granethian mine. There appears to be a second Granethian mine still on the hull of the Anschick. We are reading it as operative.”
“Make a 360, Worf, so I can get sensor readings—if the gases don’t shift again,” LaForge directed the shuttle’s instrument array at the now visible runabout. “Hold as you are, Mr. Portm,” they heard Picard instruct the cadet. “Let me have the details, Mr. LaForge.”
“It’s a mine all right, sitting on the dorsal right next to the evacuation hatch. I’m transmitting the deactivation code now.” Silence hung a moment and even Data could predict the answer from the grim twist of LaForge’s mouth.
“Mr. La Forge?” Picard said ominously.
“No go, Captain.”
“What do we do now?” Sparks whispered more to himself than to the rest of the crew.
“Captain,” La Forge continued,”this thing isn’t the same kind of mine we’ve been sweeping. I’ve been asking myself all along how we could have missed a mine—this one’s a different version—newer.”
“The Granethian delegation came through this area twelve hours before the Anschick,”
Worf recalled darkly. “We’re not going to be able to dock with the runabout, Captain. We have to find another way to get these people out—and fast. The structural integrity of the hull is pretty badly compromised, and the emergency field is deteriorating,”
La Forge reported. “Forget about tractoring the thing; the beam would likely crumble it.”
Even with grainy visual reception on the viewscreen, iron determination showed in Picard’s face. “So: we cannot defuse the mine; we cannot remove the passengers; we cannot recover the vessel. Very well. Now I would like to hear about something we CAN do.”
The consternation of the shuttle crew was broken by Data, who felt nothing himself, but was nonetheless aware that his suggestion might have a profound impact upon the people with him. “It may be possible, Captain,” he said, “to save the passengers by activating the mine.”
LaForge did a doubletake. Data continued unperturbed. “The fact that this second mine has not exploded indicates that it may have a basic similarity to previous versions of Granethian technology: their mines are attracted to and detonated by particular energy signatures, which the runabout is no longer emitting. If our shuttle could imitate the energy signature of the Vassundri engines, we might be able to attract the mine away—decoy it toward us.”
“It’s a good idea, Data, but we don’t have any specs on the Vassundri runabout,” LaForge said. “And the only Vassundri we can contact without moving to a less dense section of the nebula are unconscious or maybe even dead. Who’s going to give us the correct frequency readings?”
Data thought a moment. “I would suggest Commander Riker,” he replied.
The lift car was silent as Riker entered, performing the usual about face so as to be looking at the exit, not at one’s fellow passengers, particularly not these passengers. Deanna was with the Eulian doctor, and as much as he would have liked to renew his apologies, he wanted to do it with some privacy. He also wanted her to know that he wasn’t attempting to put himself back on the duty roster without her knowledge; he’d been summarily called to bridge by Picard, for what he didn’t know.
When the lift car stopped at the bridge, Riker stepped aside to allow the women to pass first, an anachronistic courtesy drilled into him by his throwback of a father. But the ancient chivalry was not without reward. Naleva exited first and as Troi followed, she turned toward him, letting her dark eyes flick over him for just a moment. The merest glance, the subtle combination of gesture and expression, told him that she did not object to his being there, that she, too, wished to put their argument behind them.
Tsen and Jani stood before the captain, who was instructing them. “Have the transporter room stand by to make their best effort at transport should we be left with absolutely no other option. Second, reconfigure the tractor beam for a quarter of the minimum gain so as to create sufficient attraction with the least possible stress on the Vassundri vessel, to be used only on my command. Our first option, once the mine is separated, is to maneuver the Enterprise precisely into position to recapture the runabout. Provided,” he added, seeing the new arrivals, “that we can get the necessary information to our shuttle to effect the separation.
“Counselor,” he greeted Troi, and lowered his voice, “Lt. Jani will brief you. We need your help with Cadet Portm.” He turned to Riker. “Number One, I understand that you have flown the Vassundri craft?”
Troi moved to the OPS station where Jani struggled to maintain even audio contact. The lieutenant quickly recapped the situation as she wrestled with the comm channel to the runabout. Cadet Portm was becoming panicky. “Is there any response in the helm?”
Jani asked the Anschick. “It’s lit. But there isn’t any propulsion,” the cadet responded. “Why?”
“Cadet, you may have to navigate.”
“Navigate? I can’t fly this thing! Didn’t you hear me? There’s no propulsion! I don’t know anything about this ship! The controls are all in some weird language. I’ll get Dr. Crusher. You can tell her! Wait a minute. I’ll get—”
“Darah,” Troi cut in. “Listen to me. Dr. Crusher is all right?”
“Yes! I’ll get her! She can do this.”
“Cadet Portm! Stay right where you are!” Troi snapped. “I am giving you your orders! Cadet?”
There was an audible gulp. “Yes?” “The correct response is, ‘Yes, sir.’ “
“Darah,” Troi said somewhat more gently, but very firmly, “If Dr. Crusher were able to leave her patients, she would be with you, correct?”
“She is doing what she has to do. That’s her job. The job comes first, remember? Now, we’re going to tell you what you need to do for your job.”
In frustration, Riker ran a hand over his sleep-starved face. “Yes, I know, we worked out the Anschick pretty thoroughly, but Geordi, I just can’t recall any more of the details—I mean, if you could get me aboard, I could fly her— it’d be a piece of cake, but....”
On the viewscreen of the El Baz shuttle, LaForge scrutinized the compiled information that Riker had managed to give them. “I don’t think it’s going to be enough, sirs,” he said. “I mean, we can formulate the best possibilities and try them, but it’s going to take time.”
“I’m sorry,” Riker said dismally, “I wish I could—”
Picard clapped a hand on the shoulder of his first officer. “Don’t worry about it, Number One. We’re closer now than we were before. At least we have a start.”
LaForge chimed in as well, “Don’t sweat it, Commander. You did the best you could. And we may get lucky here and hit it on the first try.”
“If only I could—”
“Perhaps there is something I can do.” Riker and Picard turned to find the diminutive Dr. Naleva beside them. “Like the oral historians, I have been trained in memory retrieval techniques. If the Commander would consent ....”
Picard looked intently at Riker, who wavered a instant and then, glancing between the captain and the therapist, said , “Okay, fine, I’m game— but, I have to warn you, Captain, we didn’t have a lot of luck before.”
“Trust me, Commander,” Naleva said. “I believe your expression is ‘piece of cake’?”
Deanna found the experience eerie, watching Will sit like a puppet at one of the bridge aft science stations,which had been rigged as a stand-in for the runabout’s pilot console. With the captain looking on, Dr. Naleva seated Will there with the admonition to relax, which for its absurdity, lightened the situation and ironically accomplished its purpose. The Eulian seemed to do nothing other than touch her hand to her brow and focus her concentration. Will flinched as though he’d been struck lightly, and then his entire attention turned inward as though he’d been hypnotized.
Like a pantomime, he began to respond to a scene that played only in his head—and, presumably, Naleva’s— as she retrieved his memory of test flying the Vassundri craft. Deanna realized then how easily the Eulian could have broken through whatever psychic barricade Will had erected around the memory that Jev evoked, had the therapist not feared causing him further trauma.
The first officer chatted amiably with Dr. Naleva as if she were the Vassundri pilot he’d flown with, even to a few coy flirtations that made the grandmother chuckle. He smiled and moved and keyed as if he were actually piloting the runabout once again. The information that Data requested was relayed back and forth by the Eulian therapist, and the android did the computations while LaForge began to adjust the El Baz engines for the correct harmonics.
“Main shuttle bay has been emptied. All craft relocated,” Klein reported from his station to the captain who observed the Eulian procedure with a restiveness born of disguised anxiety and impatience.
“Hovering for final set down, the reading is...” Naleva prompted at last. “...three-zero-seven,”
Riker responded concluding the imaginary flight. “I think we have sufficient information now, Captain,” Data said.
“How long until you can make a pass at the mine?” Picard glanced over his shoulder at the viewscreen of the crippled vessel.
“Only a few more minutes,” LaForge assured him.
“That was amazing, Doctor!” he congratulated Naleva. “Tell the Commander he can disembark.”
“Not quite yet,” Troi stepped up behind them to confer with Dr. Naleva. “Is he all right?” she asked softly.
“Perfectly,” the Eulian whispered. “ Very intently focused, though. Interesting in the degree to which his body and his mind are integrated. A very kinesthetic intelligence.”
“We need him to assist Cadet Portm. She may have to maneuver the runabout into the shuttle bay, and she’s going to need technical help. “
“I can sustain his illusion of being in the Vassundri craft, but he may know no helpful means of propelling the vessel other than its engines.”
“Would it be possible, now that we’re outside the bounds of the original memory, for him to speak directly to her?”
“Yes, that would be possible.”
“Put the cadet on the audio channel back here,” Picard instructed Lt. Jani.
“Will,” Deanna said. “Can you explain something to Cadet Portm? You remember her, right? The pianist? —Are you there, Darah?”
“Hey, Flyin’ Fingers!” Riker greeted her with the kind of soft, throaty patter he’d have used if they were in Ten Forward finishing a set. “What’s the gig...?”
In the El Baz, LaForge and Data moved forward, one on either side of Worf. “Well, we’re ready,” LaForge chirped. Worf began to reengage the helm.
“You will find it helpful to know—” Data began.
“The thing is—” LaForge spoke at the same time. They each stopped to look at one another as Worf glared up at the two them.
“You rigged the starboard nacelle to put out the correct harmonics— but it has to be at idle— right?” Sparks asked.
“Do you mean to say,” Worf growled, “that you wish me to fly this craft with only the port engine?”
The chief engineer and the android second officer, trying to find the best way to concur, bobbed around like apples in a water tub, but they needn’t have been so defensive. Worf snorted derisively. “Piece of cake,” he said, the deep bass voice over-enunciating his assay at slang.
LaForge grinned, but Data seemed to search for a response. “As much as you can eat,” he promised finally. Sparks tried not to guffaw.
The Enterprise viewscreen showed the El Baz closing on the crippled runabout. “El Baz at five hundred meters,” Klein called out.
“Shields extended up to the Anschick,” Tsen reported.
Picard nodded. “As soon as sensors confirm enough separation between the runabout and the mine, close the shield around the runabout and begin moving in.”
“El Baz at four hundred fifty meters.”
“Energy readings from the mine are growing in amplitude,” Jani reported.
“Ready, Cadet?” Troi asked.
“All right, okay,” Portm answered.
“It’s moving!” Tsen cried. “The mine is detaching!”
“El Baz at three hundred meters!”
“Stand by to break for warp, Worf!” LaForge’s alert crackled on the comm. Picard watched the mine release itself from the Anschick. It moved away purposefully and then—it stopped about one hundred meters out. Like an animate beast, it hovered between the shuttle and the runabout, wavering in its choice, unsure of this new temptation, as though it sensed a trick and was reluctant to give up its trapped victims.
“Shields in place!” Tsen breathed. “It’s yours, Commanders.”
“Hold here,” they heard LaForge say softly. “Data? Can you get a reading on it?”
“The mine is sweeping us as well. We are being assessed.”
“The mine’s got to move out a little further, Captain,” Lieutenant Tsen said, “or we won’t be able to position the Enterprise to engulf it.”
“I’m reluctant to have the El Baz attempt to lure it any further,” Picard responded. “ We have other options.”
“Shall I engage the tractor beam, sir?” Klein asked.
“I recommend we let Cadet Portm try to move the runabout into a better position,” Jani said.
Picard looked to Troi. She had known exactly what he’d needed her to do. Troi nodded slightly. “She’ll be all right. She can do it.”
“Belay the tractor. We’ll try to guide the Anschick in. Begin recovery maneuvers,” Picard ordered. Tsen engaged the thrusters and very slowly at docking speed, the Enterprise glided toward the Anschick, rotating gently to offer her open bay door like a pair of hands poised to catch a soap bubble.
Oblivious to the drama around him, Riker coached Portm as though he were giving music lessons. “Ease the valve on the matter recycling tank, the one with the squiggly icon. That will give you a little push. Adjust the heading to one-four-one by rotating the central disk until...”
The Anschick began to move toward the Enterprise. The El Baz held position, Data monitoring the delicate ballet of the mine, the runabout and the starship. “That’s right, baby,” LaForge crooned softly to the mine. “Stay right there and keep on looking.”
The runabout and the Enterprise neared each other in their pas a deux, as if floating upon the iridescent clouds of the nebula. The mine hovered and looked on. And then it blinked. “Energy readings varying from the mine,” Data called out. “Boost the harmonic signal.”
“Easy now, easy now,” Tsen murmured to himself at the Enterprise helm.
“How am I doing?” Portm quavered.
“Just fine,” Riker assured her, blithely unaware of any reason for anxiety.
“Just fine,” Troi echoed, absorbing the peril, radiating confidence.
“The mine is tracking us,” Data reported.
“Let him eat cake,” Sparks muttered prayerfully, hunkering down in the chair.
“Get the runabout in,” Picard ordered. “And close the bay door.”
“Are we almost there?” Portm squeaked.
“Just a little further,” Riker’s blue eyes drifted dreamily over the screen.
“The mine is targeting!” LaForge exclaimed.
“Get that runabout docked in the bay, now!” Picard commanded.
“She’s in there!” Tsen yelped, triumphant. “Bring down the door!”
Riker spun suddenly, staring wide-eyed at Picard. “No!” he shouted.
Picard stared back uncomprehendingly. “Commander!”
Naleva shrilled in alarm, “Don’t!”
“No! Will!” Deanna cried out, interposing herself, as Riker leaped up, blindly striking out toward the captain.
“Here she comes!” LaForge yelped. “Punch it, Worf!” Picard half-rose from his chair as the El Baz stretched to warp and the mine flashed and the screen filled with blue-white light and the bridge rocked with the impact.
Lightly, the El Baz touched down in the only clear space left in the main shuttle bay of the UFP Enterprise. The damaged Anschick seemed to be sprawled over the entire deck. But the Vassundri runabout’s passengers, for the most part, were standing up. LaForge could see, from the shuttle’s front viewport: Dr. Selvas and the medics arriving to help Dr. Crusher get the Vassundri pilots away to sick bay; Counselor Troi settling the ambassador and his two aides with Lt. Berkenhans, the diplomatic liaison officer; the Captain in conversation with Cadet Portm.
Geordi bounded off the El Baz with Data, Worf, and Sparks close behind. “Congratulations, Cadet! Great job!” He enthusiastically pumped her hand and thumped her on the back.
“The same can, and will, be said of your efforts, Mr. LaForge,” the Captain interjected. “Well done, Mr. Data!”
“Readings indicate that the mine was enticed out to our former coordinates just before our warp jump and the subsequent explosion. I believe our operation would qualify as a new version of the ‘Picard Maneuver,’ “ Data informed him placidly.
The Captain just smiled. “Mr. Worf, Mr. Sparks, that was exceptional flying.” Worf took his praises straight faced; Sparks beamed like an aurora. The Captain moved on to Dr. Crusher. “Well, Doctor, a rather short leave of absence.”
“Almost a very long one,” she shook her head, making those auburn waves shimmer. “God, what a night!” She frowned suddenly. “You know something?” she said, “It’s not night anymore. It’s morning. And you know something else?” A self-amused light shone in her eyes. “I’m starved.”
His lips twitched ever so slightly. He leaned toward her confidentially, “Some breakfast then?” he invited.
She sighed and looked away. An earnest expression returned. “I’d love some, but, Jean-Luc, maybe we ought to cut that out. I mean, you’re the captain and you have a certain image to uphold before your subordinate officers, and—I understand that.”
He leaned closer, and cast a sly look toward the crowd of “subordinate officers” nearby. “It’s exactly my image I’m thinking of,” he said.
She laughed, and he reached lightly around her guiding her toward the door through which they disappeared together, leaving the subordinate officers to contemplate their captain’s image, if they chose. They didn’t seem to notice.
“The Vassundri ambassador is okay?” LaForge asked Troi, who had come up to the jovial group.
“They’re fine. Dr. Selvas took charge of the pilots, and he says, thanks to Beverly’s quick intervention, they’ll recover.”
“Then, it is just our mission to the Vassundri and the Granethians that seems to have suffered a fatality,” Data said.
Troi nodded. “Yes, I don’t think the Granethians are ready for peace talks, yet.”
“An insidious trick,” Worf rumbled, “to lay mines in a previously cleared area.”
“Very like the Granethians, in my opinion. Whenever their negotiating positions lacked merit, they became malicious and vindictive,” Troi said.
“The technique is tactically clever, however,” Data commented. “Ground that has been visited before, an area thought to be safe and innocent, is an excellent place for a newly implanted threat.”
The counselor started to say something, but suddenly lost her ready response to Data’s remark.
“I imagine the Captain will get orders for us to pull back out of the nebula from here,” LaForge interjected, conscious of the awkward pause.
“But my goodness!” the Counselor exclaimed, changing the mood as well as the topic of conversation. “We can’t just pass over such an incredible rescue! I think I’ll have to invent some new adulations for the personnel reports.”
Sparks resumed his grin. “Hey, it’s 06:07! The Gamma shift is officially over. Tsen and Jani and Klein will be coming down. How about a little celebration? Cappuccino in Ten Forward?” he suggested, looking down at Portm, who had somehow wound up standing very close to him.
Darah smiled brightly at Ron Sparks and then, “Oh!” she addressed the senior officers. “Where’s Commander Riker? I wanted to thank him for walking me through all that.” They all glanced around then, noticing for the first time a significant absence.
“Don’t worry. He’s just working on another... a different problem,” Counselor Troi said. “I’m sure he’ll be around later.”
“...You’d been in coma for twenty-four hours by then...” Will recalled to Deanna. “I didn’t want to leave you, but Beverly told me that she’d let me know as soon as you had regained consciousness, so I came up to my quarters. I was tired, but I didn’t think I could sleep yet...”
He’d spent all of the morning hours with Dr. Naleva, since they’d brought him off the bridge in the throes of his recollected nightmare. After a long session with the Eulian, he’d gone to his cabin and, pausing only to write and send his personal commendations to each of Tsen’s bridge team, he’d slept until past the usual dinner hour when Deanna had come up to check on him. The remains of their dinner still lay on the low table before them and even the coffee had gone cold as they had quietly talked their way to this point—that night after they’d discovered her comatose on the floor of her cabin, after he’d interviewed Jev, after his suspicions had been aroused...
“...I was sitting at my desk looking over the duty rosters, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about you—” The words caused a pang in her, but he didn’t seem to notice. He rubbed his face with his hands “—and all of a sudden I was in Engineering when we had that accident a couple of years ago with the coolant leak, when Lynn Keller was injured...”
She remembered. They had transported the unconscious Keller from the reactor chamber to sickbay just in time. For a few moments, no one knew if the transport had been successful. “...I’d been standing there debating whether to go in after her when every second was a danger to the ship and everyone aboard. The Engineering suite was complete chaos and then—Jev was there.”
He looked up at her. “He told me I’d killed her—and I believed him.” She took his hand, and he smiled wanly and covered it with his own.
“ ‘Keller’s still in there,’ he said, ‘You killed her.’ “ “Of course you didn’t.” “But I would have. She didn’t respond. We had to bring down the isolation door or lose the suite, maybe the whole ship. I thought there might be too much radiation to get a lock on her. I didn’t know. You see—” his eyes flicked up at her, “in my head I had let her go. So, in a way, Jev was right. I would have killed her. I was thinking, ‘What have I done?’ and I was starting to lose my sight, and I couldn’t hear Jev exactly, but it was like his voice in my head telling me, ‘You killed her’ and the last thing I thought before I blacked out —I don’t even honestly know now if he put it there or not— ‘You killed her. You killed Keller, but it could have been—’ “
His throat seemed to close. He stopped, shook his head. His hands were cold. Suddenly becoming conscious of them, he removed his hands from hers and chafed them together to warm them. They sat silently for a while. “I guess that’s why I buried it so deep,” he said at last. “I don’t ever want to think about that again. I never really understood why you felt that our serving together was such a obstacle to our...getting together again, but now—”
She winced and rose, moving away from him. He struggled not to follow her. That little distance felt like light years. He said softly, “I’m sorry, Deanna. Believe me. I’m maybe a little glad now if you don’t feel that way about me anymore, but I can’t help that I —I still do. Maybe I’ve been hovering lately, crowding you, and I’m sorry...”
He lost the struggle. He came to stand right next to her. Deliberately, he did not reach out to her. She could feel the centimeter of air between them, warm with the heat of his body. But he did not touch her. Only the breath of his words touched her. “Deanna, I know how futile it is to try and protect someone you care about from all the risks that just living throws at us, but—I want to be there to stop the hurt if I can’t stop the harm. Friends do that for friends, don’t they?”
She whirled suddenly, throwing her arms around him, and the force of the embrace shook him as she pressed her face into his chest. “You don’t understand!” she cried.
Gently, he cradled her face in his hands and tilted her head upward so he could look down into her eyes. “My God!” he whispered, “What did he do to you?” His arms fell around her and gathered her close, and his hands felt like a reverence and his body carried no threat but only love and solace.
“I’ll tell you,” she murmured into his embrace. “I can tell you now....”