A Glitch In Time
An AU adventure
R/O R/T Q
The universe and the characters herein belong to a power much greater then mine, a power that searches the Internet in search of disclaimers; please note that was mine. *smiles*
Feedback is welcome, as are flames; note I will use the latter to awaken the demons that will forever haunt the sender<eg>
A Long time ago in a galaxy far, far away......(god, does that require another disclaimer)
Captain William T Riker, eyes narrowed at the aft view screen had heard enough doom and gloom from his tactical officer. Behind the red alert panels flashed with warnings, hissed with overloaded circuits, small fires and inky black smoke rounded out the perfectly ruined bridge.
"Maybe it would be wiser to tell me what systems are operational." He grinned at the young officer who showed no signs of sharing his captains amusement.
Riker's determined grin never wavered. It didn't take a goddamn mastermind to know the Venture was running on empty, fortunately for the crew, its captain wasn't.
"Are the Warbird's sensors still off line?"
An affirmative followed Riker's question and curled his lips into a vengeful smile.
"Mister Inez," Riker hissed, still sneering at the Warbird in its relentless pursuit, "Load Torpedo bay three with Nexus residue."
The unquestioning response tightened the smile on Riker's lips and increased the adrenaline that coursed like electricity through his veins.
"Reverse course.... On my mark, release the residue."
The over extended warp core bucked an objection to its sudden change of direction, jolting the bridge and sending its first officer with a crack to the deck. Riker offered him a momentary glance, the blood seeping from his forehead prompting him to call for a medic. Stepping over the injured officer, he watched the image of the Warbird increase in size.
When he was confident he'd gauged distance and time, he barked his next order.
"Now, mister Inez!"
The view screen clouded with the red gas, blocking his vision of the Warbird and hopefully doing the same to them.
1With a look, he replaced the officer at the conn and briskly set a collision course with the Warbird.
"Load torpedo bays!"
Through the haze of smoke that hung over the bridge Riker could see the fear and uncertainty on the faces of his crew...A sentiment he didn't share, and never would. This was what life was about, the challenge ignited him, his trickery and unorthodox thinking had earned him his place as Captain of the Venture, and his right to be the youngest captain ever in the federation.
The red haze of the gas faded to pink; in his mind he could almost see the stunned expression of the Romulan commander.
He jerked the Venture up, maneuvering her out of the way of the inevitable explosion. The torpedoes hit their mark at point blank range; the Warbird's shields crumbling against the close proximity attack.
Explosions red and blue sparked over the hull of the war bird, a final burst of orange lit up the ventures aft view screen before space consumed the Warbird's fire.
"Another day, another Warbird." His words released themselves on a heavy sigh of satisfaction. "Well done," he said, nodding approvingly to the relieved faces of his crew, his eyes darting over his badly damaged bridge.
"Set course for the nearest star base." He nodded to his second officer. "I'll be in sickbay."
Will limped down the corridor that led to his quarters, pleased with the days accomplishments, pleased that his first officer was recovering, not as pleased that the war with the Romulans was slowly destroying the federation.
His entire life had been spent focusing on a single objective, to captain his own star ship. He'd reached his goal years ago with the destruction of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The Venture had been called upon to replace her as the flagship of the federation, after only a brief stint as first officer of the Hood, he was asked to Captain her.
Ironically enough, if the war with the Romulans had never begun, he may have been the first officer of the fated star ship. The late Captain Jean Luc Picard had requested him as his first officer, but with the outbreak of war, exploration was replaced with defense.
He massaged his thigh before accessing his quarters, cursing the pain his actions caused. The leg could be repaired, and he knew there would come a time when he would have to have it tended to. But for now, walking with a slight limp seemed like a small price to pay to further his professional desires.
He began striping off his uniform as soon as his cabin doors had hissed shut behind him; the smell of smoke still lingered on his skin.
Punching in his desired temperature for the shower, he stepped under the hot water and closed his eyes. He let the water beat over his skin, increasing the force until it almost stung. The dirt and grim and any trace of doubt he may have felt about the war flowed off him with the water and spiraled, forgotten down the drain.
He felt the tickle of cold air before the small hands slid around his bare waist, their owner pushing a heated body against his.
He groaned encouragingly as the hands moved over his chest, traveling downward to ensure they'd achieved the result they were striving for. Riker allowed her discovery only a moment before slowly turning to face her.
"I thought maybe I wouldn't see you tonight," he whispered, removing the lone pin that held her hair in place. Strands of gold tumbled like liquid silk over her ivory shoulders, damp curls resting on her well-rounded breasts. His breathing increased as his eyes traveled past the ends of her blond curls, visually scanning every inch of her before pushing her against the shower wall, his hands and mouth replacing his eyes in their exploration.
"And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand, The hand that held the steel,"
The deep, unknown voice filtered into Riker's sleep, he wrapped his arms tighter around his pillow and wished it away.
"For only blood can wipe out blood, And only tears can heal."
The voice grew louder, and he was sure he could feel hot breath against his bearded face...He reluctantly opened his eyes, calling to the computer for lights.
He bolted upright, instinctively reaching for his comm to alert security.
This unknown man merely grinned at him; a grin that twitched with malice, and eyes that reeked of challenge.
He tapped the Comm again, nothing, not static, not anything. Aside from the sound of his own breathing it was if he'd been sucked into the vacuum of space.
You're wasting your time."
The unknown broke the void of silence with a voice that rang with confidence and obvious delight at his achievement.
"Who are you?"
Will swung his feet off the side of his bed, eyeing his phaser on the bedside table.
"Oh give it up, Riker."
The man's warning was followed with a wave of his hand that sent the phaser hovering in the air.
"I said who are you?"
"Yes, I heard what you said, but I honestly didn't think you cared. I've always found eye contact to be an important element in conversation......You appeared to be chatting with the phaser."
The man chuckled and swiftly snatched the phaser out of the air.
Riker stiffened, his mind racing with ideas, none of which seemed to be possible.
"Relax Captain, I've merely come here to congratulate you."
"Congratulate me, for what," Will asked, dark brows raising skeptically, "And how do you know my name."
"I'm omnipotent." The man replied collectedly.
"Of course you are."
"Oh but I am," The man contended, "Would you like me to prove it to you?"
"I'd like you to tell me who you are!"
"You may call me.. Q."
"As in q..r..s...t," Riker mumbled, his fear replaced with annoyance.
"OK?" Q answered, settling on the bed beside Riker, and placing a hand on his knee. "Is everything all right with you, do you need anything?"
Will started to react to the condescending tone, and the taps Q was placing on his knee, but stopped himself.
"I'm fine really." He grinned at Q, the situation proving to be so unbelievable he admitted to himself this had to be a dream.
"Pity.... you've done so well for yourself in your life. I do wish there was something I could do to make your life better."
Will relaxed against the wall, interlacing his fingers, he slid his hands behind his head, "Not a damn thing. My life is perfect."
"Perfect?" Q smirked, squeezing Will's bad leg forcefully.
Will winced at the sensation, "Maybe not perfect, but it sure has hell comes close."
"Very well," Q said, slapping his hands on his knees and lifting up from the bed, "I certainly wouldn't want to interfere with perfection now, would I.?"
With a devilish grin and flash of white light he was gone.
Will stared at the spot where this Q had stood, but in seconds his mind clouded,
heavy lids forced his eyes to close and sleep overcame him.
<<Bridge to Captain Riker>>
"Riker... go ahead."
Before he'd opened his eyes he'd instinctively accessed his Comm and responded to his second officer; going from deep sleep to full alert without missing a beat.
<<You have an incoming message from Admiral Hayes>>
"Patch it through to my quarters."
Riker was on his feet and sitting in front of the computer terminal within seconds...Admiral Hayes, head of strategic defense and Riker's liaison to the federation appeared on the screen.
Riker waited for his orders, shoulders squared, hands massaging the wooden surface of his desk in anticipation.
"Captain Riker, it's nice to see you're still in one piece....nice work in the Barian cluster."
"Thank you Sir."
It was a forced smile he returned to the Admiral, there was something in the older man's expression that had already suggested to Will he was not going to like or agree with what was coming next.
"I hear you've ordered the Venture to star base 386."
"Yes Sir, she sustained some damage in the battle."
"After speaking to your chief engineer, it certainly appears to be more then some damage. From what Commander Barrows relayed to the star base, sounds like your limping through space on impulse power and minimal systems."
Admiral Hayes thin brows raised, punctuating the deep lines of age on his ashy skin.
"I'm sure they'll be able to patch her up in a couple days, she was in a lot worse shape after the battle at Corania."
Will's throat tightened, he'd known this man too long, he knew what his next statement was going to be, the same as it had been after Corania.
"I know how you feel about this Will." Hayes released a sigh as if he was making a decision he didn't want to, but Will knew better, they'd been having this same argument after each of the Ventures run-ins. Will had a feeling he wasn't going to draw the high card this time.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ground her for a complete overhaul."
Will tightened his grip on the edges of the table. "With all due respect Admiral, the federation needs the Venture out in space, not sitting in a space dock!"
"The Federation needs a strong ship and a strong crew, not one held together only by the piss and vinegar of her captain."
Riker's objection ended before it began. Hayes raised his hand and filled the computer screen with his presence. "This is out of my hands Captain. Star fleet has issued direct orders that the Venture be rerouted to Betazed for a complete overhaul. And before you even ask for a temporary reassignment, let me also say it's not only the ship the federation is concerned about, but her crew as well."
" Sir, I really..." Riker replied through clenched teeth, taking out the anger he was feeling on himself, squeezing the table edges so hard they dug into his palms.
"There's no room for discussion this time Captain," Hayes interrupted, "This is a direct order. Now either you set course for Betazed or I'll send a ship to tow you there!"
Will verbally relented to Hayes, but held on to the icy protest in his narrowed eyes. Apparently the verbal agreement was enough to satisfy Hayes, his image faded with a nod of his head.
"This is bullshit." He spoke to the blank screen, freeing the words he'd held in his throat.
With a concerted effort he contacted the bridge, ordering his ship to Betazed space.
Of all the places, in all the galaxy for them to be sentenced to, why the hell did it have to be Betazed?
He had an aversion to the planet; thoughts should be private, and no one was entitled to anymore information about himself then he was willing to share. He'd managed to skirt his first assignment to the planet, volunteering for the mission that would prove to be the starting block of his quick climb through the ranks. A dangerous mission into Romulan space that resulted in his leg injury, but more importantly the schematics for the Romulan's cloak.
He'd weighed the pros and cons, and spending time tortured by Romulans if hed failed, appealed to him much more then spending time being mentally probed by a bunch of Betazoid socialites, that in his opinion rode on the coattails of the federation.
The door chimes pulled him from his unpleasant thoughts and slid open before he'd called to them.
Lieutenant Commander Cassidy Bolyan stood at attention in the doorway, donned in full Starfleet uniform, phaser at her side, she showed no signs of being the same vulnerable woman that had greeted him in his shower the night before.
"Commander," he returned with a tilt of his head, "Is there something you need?"
"I just wanted to make sure you weren't banging your head against a wall or making plans to overthrow the federation." She broke her rigid posture and raised a brow, her dark brows contrasting the wisps of blond bangs that hung over her forehead.
"I've finished with my head banging," he said, relaxing back in his chair and stretching his legs out in front of him, "I hadn't considered overthrowing the federation.... Do you have a plan?"
She shook her head, her eyes moving over his bare legs and lingering on his exposed chest before meeting his crooked smile with one of her own.
"Very tempting Captain... But it doesn't fit into my agenda for the day."
He hung his head in a guise of disappointment and repositioned his robe.
"Go ahead Cassie," He answered what he already knew was on her agenda for the day, "Three shadows only. Three shadows that do nothing but flank the Venture, is that understood," he added, raising his eyes and holding hers with a commanding glare.
"Yes Sir," She answered; outwardly the epitome of composure, but Will knew inwardly her heart rate had just gone up a notch or two.
All federation star ships had been supplied with twenty shadow fighters; small maneuverable, single pilot ships used to escort injured starships...Their firepower was minimal, but the small fleet had saved the Venture's ass more then once.
"No scouting, no showboating," he warned, hiding any misgivings he might have about sending her out there.... If she so much as caught a whiff of his reservations about putting her in harm's way, he'd never hear the end of it.
Her expression was that of the perfectly obedient subordinate, but her dark eyes sparked with her usual 'wait and see what I do next' sheen. As a lover he found it to be one of her more endearing traits, as a member of his crew, it didn't engender the same feelings.
"Dismissed," He finally said, punctuating it with a wink of encouragement.
She flashed him a smile and disappeared through the doors, he had a hunch if he looked down the corridor now she'd probably be dancing to the fighter bay.
He shook his head at the closed doors, her fascination with the Shadows something he didn't share.
He felt the instability of the warp engines under his feet, that combined with the fact that Cassie felt it necessary to launch the Shadows, prompted him to forfeit a shower and head directly to the bridge.
Throwing on his uniform he reached for his phaser, grasping the cold metal provoking a vivid memory of his dream from the night before. He wasn't one to remember dreams, but this one crashed through his mind with such force it felt like he'd taken a blow.
He shook it off, heading to the bathroom he cupped his hands under the faucet, filling them with cold water, and splashing it on his face. He looked at his reflection, noting the circles around his eyes; the lines he was sure hadn't been there yesterday, before brushing a towel over his face.
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, my life's not perfect after all."
He snapped his head around at the sound of the deep chanting voice, "Q!"
"Very good Captain." The man from his dream stood directly behind him, the same insolent smile coloring his face.
"I'm not asleep."
"Very good also Captain." Q grinned, "Self awareness, and the ability to retain information...My, you are stepping up the evolutionary ladder aren't you?"
"You're not here," Riker said, steadying himself on the sink behind him.
"Oh Really Captain, must we go down this road again. Of course I'm here. I came back because it appears there are a few defects in your flawless jewel of a life." Tossing his arm around Riker's shoulders he continued, "Now tell Q what you desire, and I'll give it to you."
Will jerked himself out from under Q's arm, hologram, hallucination, or omnipotent being he didn't have time for any of this.
"If you really want to help me, you'll fly back to your castle in the clouds and leave me out of your godly affairs." Riker shot to the exit in his quarters, Q appeared in front of him.
"If you won't tell me what you wish, then I'll have to choose for you."
Q's comment, spoken through tight lips sounded vaguely like a threat, on the side of caution, instead of pushing his way past Q, he answered his question with a smug remark.
"Actually Q, I would really like to go to the ball."
The expression of amusement that had been a constant on Q's face dissolved into one that made Riker's skin crawl.
"Very Well," Q replied, "I'll see you at the ball."
He disappeared on a brilliant white light, instantly overridden by the pulsing red alert that sounded through the ship.
"Captain, to the bridge!"
Riker was already on the turbo lift as the urgent call came in, thoughts of Q pushed deeply into his subconscious.
"Romulans," Riker shouted, stepping onto the bridge, ignoring the burning pain that shot down his leg as he bolted down the ramp to the view screen.
<Great.. Pirates> he thought to himself, locking his eyes on the tiny speck on the view screen.
"Magnify," he ordered, looking briefly over his shoulder to his tactical officer before returning his gaze to the screen.
The image on the screen swelled, Riker scrutinized it closely. At any other time the presence of a Sindareen battle cruiser would have only been a nuisance, but with the Ventures state of disrepair, he had to look at them as a threat.
"They look to have been in a recent battle. Our long range sensors are showing substantial damage, she appears to be rerouting all surplus power to her weapons and forward deflectors."
"What chance do we have of defeating them if they chose to engage us Commander?"
Riker creased his brows and stroked a thoughtful hand over his beard. "Have they been able to scan us yet, Mister Mackenzie?"
"Negative, we're still beyond their sensor range."
Riker stared vengefully at the Sindareen ship; there was no way he was going to allow the Venture to fall victim to the lowest form of life in the quadrant. A vile life form that made the Fergengi appear chivalrous ...A life form willing to sell anything to the highest bidder, their alliance to only themselves. But it was their dealings in the slave market that turned his stomach, he'd seen their colonies up close and personal, and their barbaric treatment of the women they used in their crystal mines still disturbed his sleep on a weekly basis.
Releasing a disgusted sigh he turned back to the expectant faces of his crew. "Stand down red alert.... Lower what's left of our shields, disable all weapons, supply only minimal power. I want the Venture to look as helpless as a Klingon in a room full of tribbles,"
Tapping his communicator he hailed the Leader of the small fleet of Shadows that flanked the Venture, forcing himself not to see the face behind the voice that answered him.
"Commander Bolyan, take your ships down and away, and stand by."
An immediate, unquestioning response, he was pleased; he wondered if she'd been monitoring and had already guessed what he was up to.
He scanned the faces of his bridge crew, it wasn't often he found it necessary to justify an order, but under these circumstances he understood their concern. "We'd be more apt to drown in the drool of the Sindareen then have them fire on us. A defenseless federation vessel packed to the hilt with women and technology.... Believe me, they won't damage such a treasure."
Most of the crew had served under him for years and had already begun to carry out his orders. But the young ensign at the conn swallowed hard, her uncertainty and fear more then visible behind her green eyes.
"Bastards won't know what hit em." Will directed his comment to the young woman and furthered its impact with a confident smile. He waited until he saw her shoulders relax and her eyes return to the panel in front of her before moving back to his chair to wait for the Sindareen.
He stroked his thumbs methodically over the arms of his chair, the eerie silence of the dormant bridge heightening his own uneasiness. His orders had been issued, and he was relying on others to carry them out with perfect timing...the need to rely on anyone, even his crew, caused his muscles to tighten.
"We're being hailed Sir."
"On screen," he replied, lifting from his chair.
A Static filled image of the Sindareen Commodore appeared on the view screen, he hoped the transmission the Sindareen was receiving was as badly distorted...Wouldn't look right for a crippled ship to have perfect communications.
Riker observed Ensign Marks shoulders stiffen at the vile image of the Sindareen Commodore, in an effort to keep her calm he moved behind her chair and gripped the back, making sure his hands brushed against her back in reassurance.
"I am Commodore N'iera...Prepare your ship for tractor beam lockup."
Will moved out from behind ensign Marks chair, taking slow easy steps towards the view screen. "Commodore...I'm Captain William Riker. And you sir, can prepare to kiss my ass."
N'iera's dark eyes narrowed into slits, the deep breath he'd taken in preparation to answer Riker halted, his eyes darting upward. "Call off your Shadows!"
"Not likely," Will answered, folding his arms across his chest and squaring his stance.
The phaser fire of the Shadows would be like a bee sting to an elephant. Riker just hoped a barrage of stings would force the Sindareen to compensate by redirecting their minimal deflector power to their aft shields.
He kept one eye on the Shadows as they dodged the cruiser's laser fire, the other on the distorted image of the Sindareen bridge, deliberately ignoring the warnings from the Commodore.
His doubts about his little plan begun to bubble to the surface, his grin had faded and sweat trickled down the base of his spine.
The Sindareen bridge finally lurched, drawing a deadly look from the ships commodore before his image faded from the screen.
Riker turned and gave a leisurely nod to his tactical officer, silently counting the seconds it would take for the Sindareen to redirect deflector power, and the Venture to power up and fire.
One volley was all they had time for, more then likely all they'd be able to get out of the sickly starship.
And one volley was all it took, Will watched red and yellow bursts of fire break over the hull of the cruiser, his Shadows dropping back into space. "I know it won't be much, but I need all the power you can give her to get us out of here!"
The Ventures engines whined in protest, twisted tighter, and sputtered slightly before the bridge lapsed into silence.
"We're not going anywhere Captain. All systems are off line." It was the unsteady voice of Ensign Marks that uttered the warning; Riker looked at her with apologetic eyes.
He was prepared for this; it was an eventuality he'd played out in his head a hundred times. But he'd never envisioned the fearful, trusting eyes of a young ensign watching him with such desperation, pleading with him not to let her die.
"I'm so sorry Mega..." His apology froze in his throat, the ship rocking under what Riker knew to be a shield extension.
"I had a feeling you wouldn't make it to Betazed without incident." Admiral Hayes leaned back in his chair in the ten forward lounge of the U.S.S. Aries and downed the last of his drink.
"I hope you're not suggesting I'd destroy my favorite lady." Will gestured to the portal and the Venture the Aries was towing through space. "Not to mention myself and my crew just to get out of a couple of weeks of R and R on a planet of telepaths."
Hayes chuckle came from deep in his chest; he motioned for the ten forward hostess to bring two more drinks before answering Riker. "Favorite lady, huh," Hayes answered, tossing a sidelong glance to a table across the room. Will followed his gaze, nodding to Cassidy before returning his eyes to the starfleet admiral.
"Two of my favorite ladies. I hope this doesn't mean I owe you some kind of debt." Will waggled his brows at the admiral, and accepted the drink the hostess placed on the table.
Hayes sat up, resting his arms on the table he leaned closer to Riker, "Actually, now that you mention it, there is something you can do for me."
Will's grin fell from his face. "I'm going to hate this, aren't I," He replied guardedly, taking a gulp of his drink.
"It's nothing really, there's a diplomatic ball at one of the estates on Betazed day after we arrive, would look good to have an active Starfleet Captain in attendance."
Riker choked on his drink. "Did you say ball?"
Hayes eyes widened at Will's reaction, after slapping him on the back a few times he answered. "We won't force you to dance or anything Captain, just make an appearance, tell a few stories and go home. Bring Cassidy along if it makes you feel better."
Will stared blankly at the Admiral, mouth open, mind racing, "I asked to go to the ball," he mumbled.
"Are you all right Captain?" Hayes waved his hand in front of Will's face, bringing Will's vision into focus.
"I'm fine....I'm sorry. Of course I'll attend, no problem Sir." he responded, clearing his throat and coercing a smile.
"Wonderful," The older officer slapped his hands on the table and pressed back in his chair; Will knew, stunned that he'd agreed so quickly.
"I will warn you up front that the hostess is a bit... eccentric."
"All Betazoids are eccentric," Will replied, still working on shaking the eerie feeling that was passing through him.
"No, I mean even to a Betazoid she would be considered eccentric. Her names Lwaxana Troi, I'm sure you'll find her very challenging."
"I'm looking forward to meeting her," he lied, resting his chin in
his hands, "Nothing like a good challenge to get your blood moving."
"God, I hate this," Will growled, running a frustrated hand through his hair as he flopped into the overstuffed chair in the suite he'd been assigned.
"No one is forcing you to sit around in your underwear and act like a spoiled child." Cassidy stepped out of the bathroom and shook her head.
"It's just so boring."
"I could take offense at that statement, ya know." She smiled and tilted her head towards the jumbled bed.
"Not that. This." He cocked his head towards the window, the sun setting over the green tranquil planet of Betazed.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Cassidy straddled her legs around him and settled onto his lap.
He put his hands around her waist, sliding them up and down over the silk of her robe, a path he'd traveled hundreds of time and never got tired of.
"You're beautiful. Now, tell me again why you won't stay here with me instead of going visiting." His words were muffled as he brushed his lips over her throat, Cassidy's head fell back with his efforts.
He liked the way she almost always responded to him; when, where, why, and how were never important to her, she seemed to crave their physical relationship as much, if not more then he did.
"Ok, lover boy, I've explained this to you." She pushed back on his shoulders, stopping his pursuit of her neck, "And I also said you were welcome to come along."
He scrunched up his face at the offer, "I know, but a family reunion really doesn't appeal to me. And why didn't you ever tell me you had family on Betazed?"
She lightly kissed the side of his mouth and pushed herself off his lap, he stopped her from going too far by grabbing her hand.
"I was afraid if you knew I had any ties to Betazed you might have me strung up to the nearest yard arm."
He waggled a mischievous brow, "Would you stay if I said I'd do that and make it pleasurable for you?" He tugged on the hand he'd captured and pulled her back to his lap.
"Sounds interesting," She smiled seductively, "But I'm not sure a few hours of pleasure would compensate me for the rest of the time you'd spend grumbling about the Venture being grounded."
He fingered a lock of her hair hypnotically, he'd pretty much lost this battle and visiting with great aunt Matilda, or whatever the hell her name was, wasn't going to happen.
"I could order you to stay," He smirked, still concentrating on the lock of hair.
"Sorry, I don't take orders from grouchy Starfleet captains wearing only blue boxers."
She retrieved the hair he'd seemed to have filed a claim upon and pushed off his lap, this time he let her go.
"Why red," He called after her as she disappeared in the bathroom.
Cassidy changed her hair color more often then the wind changed directions, he found he kind of liked it...It was like having an assortment of women without getting himself in trouble by getting involved with more then one member of his crew.
"It's not red, it's strawberry blond...and you should get dressed." She poked her head out the door, "I delayed my departure so I could go with you to this ball, so get up and make yourself look pretty."
He mumbled a few curses under his breath and lifted from the chair.... Right now the things he usually found most tempting about Cassie, her independence, her noncommittal attitude, her carefree thinking, were the things he resented.
"This is incredible!" Cassidy squeezed Will's hand, her eyes wide as they scanned the lavish ballroom.
"Sure as hell would never know there was a war on." Will's scowl was halted by Cassidy's fingers against his lips.
"Was that grumbling I heard?"
"Sorry, I can't help it. Look at this," He gestured to the elaborate surroundings, jewel studded vases, marble statues, golden candelabras, "No wonder the Sindareen spend so much time looting this world."
He saw Cassidy's brows furrow with annoyance, fortunately for him before she was able to speak Admiral Hayes had called his name.
"Will! Glad you could make it." Hayes shook Riker's hand, but his eyes were on Cassidy. "You look beautiful Commander Bolyan. I don't suppose there's anything you can do about that pained look on Captain Riker's face?"
Cassidy laughed silently, shaking her head she looked up at him, "I don't think so, I'm afraid it's permanent, at least until the Venture gets back into space. He's like a little boy that's lost his favorite toy."
Will curled his lip and flipped Cassidy a disgusted look, if protocol would have allowed, he would have flipped a similar one to the admiral.
"Is that Commander Myers?" Cassidy gestured to a young officer on the far side of the room, completely unaffected by Will's sneer.
Riker and Hayes both looked to the spot Cassidy had pointed to, "I believe it is, why don't you go talk with him. I'd like to find our hostess and introduce her to Captain Riker."
Admiral Hayes disappeared into the crowded dance floor, after jokingly ordering Riker not to flee the scene.
"Do you mind if I go speak to James?"
Will shook his head and watched her move across the room, taking pleasure in watching the many heads she turned as she passed by.
He nodded to a few people, shook a few hands, exchanged a few pleasantries, and admired a few attractive women, wondering the entire time if they knew what he was thinking.
He studied some of the artwork that hung on the walls, contemporary pieces mostly; he found the frames to show more artisanship then the swirly paintings.
He finally came to the painting that took center stage on the wall, a full-length portrait of a beautiful woman; He wondered who she was with her exotic beauty, jet-black hair and onyx eyes. She looked like a princess in the deep red dress, and the almost royal stance she carried.
He jolted with the pain that shot down his leg, and batted Cassidy's hand away from it. "What are you doing...That's my bad leg."
"I know," She answered with a devilish grin, "What are you doing?"
He deliberately hid his smile. "I was just admiring the workmanship on this painting, look at the brushstrokes."
"Mmm, They are perfectly well rounded brush strokes, aren't they.... You can almost feel the smooth supple mounds of skin."
"You're a shit, ya know that." He freed his sequestered smile and kissed her on the forehead.
"You must be Captain William Riker!"
The voice and the woman swept obtrusively between Will and Cassidy, the latter almost knocking Cassidy off her feet.
"I am Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the fifth house, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, and heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed." With another sweeping gesture she thrust her hand towards Will, palm down.
The Venture captain raised an amused brow at Cassie as he took Lwaxana's hand and kissed the back of it, wondering if he should bow at the waist.
"It's a pleasure Mrs. Troi." He only half bowed, but his actions seemed to please her, she smiled warmly, her eyes shamelessly moving over him.
"I'm sure it is young man," She finally said, continuing her visual tour of his anatomy.
Will held an arm out to Cassidy, she slid under it, he had a hunch just to protect herself from all Mrs. Troi's grand gestures.
"Mrs. Troi, this is Commander Cassidy Bolyan."
"Yes, yes," She said, her dark eyes never leaving Riker, "I couldn't help but notice you leering at the portrait of my daughter."
"I was admiring the workmanship, Mrs. Troi," He began, feeling the sweat break over his back.
"Captain Riker has always been drawn to full brush strokes," Cassidy chimed in, her comment drawing an all knowing smile from Mrs. Troi.
"Most young men are my dear," She returned.
He'd been uncomfortable since this little encounter began, the fact that now Cassidy was sharing a mutual laugh with her, at his expense, elevated his uneasiness.
"Your daughter is very beautiful Mrs. Troi, is she in attendance tonight?"
His peripheral vision allowed him to see Cassie's eyes dart up at him, he ignored it, inwardly pleased at his revenge.
"Alas she's not, she's been away for awhile......She'll be returning soon, perhaps you will meet her before your space ship sets sail again."
"I look forward to it," He said, ignoring her reference to his spaceship, "This is a beautiful home you have."
Mrs. Troi raised a dark brow, her eyes locking with is. "Do you really think so, Captain."
He tightened his grip on Cassie as though it was going to stop this woman from probing his mind. He shifted slightly, unable to decide if he should continue lying or just make a break for it.
A deep voice from across the room broke Lwaxanna's visual hold on him, and freed Riker from his rigid stance.
"We'll speak again in a moment," She said, gathering up some of the material from her flowing gown and moving towards the voice.
He released the breath he was unaware he'd been holding, and looked down at Cassidy shaking his head, "I'm going to have a goddamn mental melt down after two weeks of this."
"You'll be fine Will, you don't know for sure if she was challenging your honesty or reading your thoughts." She slid her arms around his waist, "Maybe you could challenge yourself while I'm gone, see if you can fool a Betazoid."
"No thanks," He answered, screwing up his face, "But your Aunt Matilda is starting to look better to me."
"Aunt Marcia," She corrected him, quickly releasing her hold on his waist as they both saw Admiral Hayes moving towards them.
"I can't seem to pin down our hostess," Hayes confessed.
"It's all right Admiral, we were already afforded the honor of meeting Mrs. Troi."
Will rolled his eyes, joining Hayes in a soft chuckle.
"She was a beautiful woman, wasn't she? Such a shame" The Admiral's eyes had moved to the portrait on the wall behind Will, his chuckle evaporating into a sigh of sadness.
Will darted narrowed eyes between Hayes and Cassie.
"What's a shame..... Mrs Troi said her daughter was away and would be returning shortly."
"An old woman's wistful dreams, I'm afraid," The admiral sighed again, "Deanna Troi was taken hostage in a Sindareen raid several years ago, she was killed when their ship went down in the Jalara jungle.
Reflex and concern drew Riker's hand and eyes to Cassidy, a look of compassion, and the feel of his hand on the back of her neck relaxing her reaction almost instantly. Cassidy's younger sister had been savagely killed in a Sindareen slave raid; her hatred of Sindareen was stronger then his own.
Apparently the Sindareen didn't waste time struggling with women who showed too much resistance; and from the mutilated body of Sandra Bolyan, they had chosen her to use as an example to any others that might step out of line. It was how he'd met Cassidy three years ago, right before his posting as Captain of the Venture, it was also the only time he'd seen her cry.
When she was assigned to his ship a year later, she presented everyone with her guise of steel.... But he always managed to punch through it, holding on to the mental picture he'd taken of her that day.
"It's better that she died." Cassidy's voice was uneven, but strong, to Hayes her Bravado never cracked, to Riker it was shattering.
Will was pleased when Hayes only nodded at Cassidy's observation. Taking advantage of the break in conversation, he redirected the subject.
"So this Lwaxana Troi is....what?..... nuts?"
Will screwed up his face as the tactless, but to the point question tumbled from his mouth.
He felt Cassidy's shoulders shake with silent laughter, that suited him, even if she was laughing at him, again.
"And to think I fought for your appointment as a diplomatic liaison. God, if the board had listened to me, we may be at war with who knows how many other factions."
"Hey, I can bullshit with the best of them," Will cut in on the laughter Hayes was now sharing with Cassidy, "But I prefer the direct route."
"I'm not so sure of that either," Hayes rebuked, laying a hand on Will's shoulder, "Seems to me I've been knee deep in your bullshit since you took Command of the Venture."
"Pardon me Sir?" A well practiced look of innocence crossed Riker's features, "I always share the facts with you."
It didn't appear that the Admiral was going to answer his question about Mrs. Troi, and considering the way Cassidy had relaxed, he wasn't about to ask it again. It really wasn't that important anyway, the dark eyed beauty was dead, and once he escaped this stuffed shirt affair he'd never have to lay eyes on Lwaxana Troi again.
"The facts according to Riker, perhaps," Hayes answered, obviously pleased with himself for getting the best of the star fleet captain for a change.
A slow lopsided smile cracked over Will's face, his shoulders relaxing for the first time since entering this den of mental magicians.
"On that note Admiral, I think I need some air."
<My, what a beautiful woman. But her eyes betray her>
A voice from behind Will drew all eyes to it; the Admiral and Cassidy returning the newcomers smile and joining him in his examination of the portrait of Deanna Troi.
"Q!" Slipped from Will's mouth before he could prevent it, drawing strange looks from both Cassidy and Admiral Hayes, but not dimming the glib smile of Q.
"Admiral Cuewood actually, but my friends do refer to me as Cue," Q held out a hand to Will, "Do I know you?" He added, his grin widening.
Will reluctantly accepted his nightmares hand, "Captain William Riker, and I believe we have met before."
"Have we?......My apologizes then for not remembering Captain,..... Reeker was it?"
"Riker," He corrected firmly, the hint of malice that had slipped into his voice earning him a reproving look from Hayes.
Q appeared to ignore Will's correction, exchanging pleasantries with Admiral Hayes and under Will's watchful eye, kissing Cassidy's hand.
Maybe he'd been wrong, maybe he'd met this Admiral before and his subconscious had generated his image to play tricks on his mind. He relaxed a little with his analyze of himself, his eyes falling back to the portrait that hung behind Cuewood.
Cuewood was right about the woman's eyes, in contrast with the rest of her regal beauty, the dark eyes seemed lonely and sad; The artist rendition done so well, it was almost as if you could see past the perfectly composed exterior of the woman and peer into her soul.
"Of course...... William Thomas Riker!"
Hed had been so lost in the painting, if Admiral Cuewood hadn't punctuated his memory jolt with a slap on his arm, he wouldn't have heard it.
"A dear friend of mine, Captain Jean Luc Picard, spent many a night singing your praises.....How could I have been so remiss as to forget."
"A high honor," Will returned with a nod of his head, "He was a great Captain, I've always regretted never having had the pleasure of meeting him."
All three officers heads nodded in agreement.
"I've often wondered," Cuewood mused, dark turbulent eyes locking on Riker, "If this war had never broken out, how different the fate of the enterprise might have been; a different crew, and certainly a far more qualified first officer."
Will felt the color drain from his face, that was a question he'd asked himself more then once, and he was sure others had thought, but never said aloud. Commander Yarr's decisions that day were brash, and unwarranted, but not unexpected from someone thrown into the position before she was ready.
"Who's to say what decisions any of us will make in any given situation, no one will ever know for sure what happened that day on the Enterprise bridge."
Hayes interjection and defensive stance went unnoticed by Cassidy and Cuewood, but not by Riker...He knew the war had called for several premature promotions, he wondered if perhaps Hayes had been responsible for that one.
"I could really use that fresh air now."
Cassidy's request and her hand on his arm freed him from the almost tangible hold Admiral Cuewood was probing him with. Will excused himself with a forced smile, Cuewood never breaking his stare.
"He's a little spooky." Cassidy whispered.
"You have no idea." Will agreed, doing his best not to break into a run for the door.
The mist that fell from the night sky felt good against Riker's face, this planet's climate was too warm for his taste, and he welcomed its cooling effects. He stared into the night until the lights from Cassidy's shuttle disappeared into the distance; running a tongue over his lips he could still taste the flavor of her.... He wasn't sure he liked the feelings it induced.
He unwillingly admitted he was going to miss her, for him, his relationship with Cassidy was as long term as it got, almost a year, with only a few minor transgressions.
He smiled to himself and pushed off the fence he'd been leaning on, tucking that unlikely feeling deep inside himself.
Moving over the wet streets he thought about the Venture, the war, the dark eyed woman, and the similarities between Admiral Cuewood and his recurring hallucination.
The cool rain and his diverse thoughts continued to be overridden by thoughts of Cassidy, maybe he should have gone with her. At least that way he'd never have known that he'd broken a cardinal rule, and cared about her more then he knew.
He kicked a stone over the damp pavement and watched it skip and jump ahead of him. As it came to rest, the clattering of the stone stopped, but another sound filtered into the deserted city streets. He spun around; looking behind him, only the rays of the city lights bathed the empty street.
He moved forward again, thoughts stilled, he used his senses to closely observe his surroundings ...He wasn't alone on the deserted street, his gut, and the hairs on the back of his neck flashed him a warning.
He acted unaware, and allowed whoever was following him so covertly to move closer. He spun around in mid stride, his sudden move allotting him a view of a shadow disappearing behind one of the small buildings. While this stalker hid in the shadows he slipped behind one of the buildings as well, hoping to turn his predator into his prey.
He hadn't brought his phaser, but with the mood he was in, slamming his fist into something sounded appealing. His wish came true sooner then he'd expected, this unknown moving in from behind him and slapping a heavy hand over his shoulder. With one swift move, he flung himself around, fist clenched and swung. The blow he'd thought would have been even with the persons face met instead with his attackers stomach.
"Holy shit!" He choked, wincing at the sensation of the hypospray
this heavily cloaked giant plunged into his neck.
"You're a big mother guy ya know that." Riker stated the obvious, turning his face to look up at his captor. The overgrown humanoid grinned down on him, Riker figured that was good...but then he was shackled spread-eagle in his underwear on an unfamiliar bed, and that was bad. It could have been good, but under these circumstances it was bad. The gray skinned Frankenstein, with the low forehead, appeared amused as Riker chuckled at his own situation.
Will had no idea what was in the hypospray he'd been given, but whatever it was, certainly felt good. That seemed to be the effect; good, bad, right, wrong, happy, sad, whatever it was, painted everything in black and white, shades of gray were nonexistent. Then again, bad wasn't really bad, because he felt so good he didn't really care.
He turned his head in the other direction, the sound of the door, and the woman that entered, causing his grin to escalate.
"Ah, I get it now."
"Do you?" Impeccably manicured brows raised over deep brown eyes, she folded her arms and eyed him skeptically.
"You're not a bad looking woman for your age Mrs. Troi, I may have surrendered willingly. Or is this part of the game?"
Riker rubbed his cheek against the cool satin of the pillow that cushioned his head, no reason, except it felt good.
"You are full of yourself aren't you, Captain Riker?"
"I'm full of something, and whatever it is I'm going to suggest you bottle it and sell it for a high price."
Will observed how quickly her expression changed from playful amusement, to an incredulous leer. For an instant he wondered why, he could see no cut and dry reason for it, so he decided there must not be one.
"There's something I need from you."
"Well then I should warn you, I'll perform better if you unshackle me."
"Your mind does run in one direction doesn't it," She answered with a tilt of her head. "I assure you I'm not the least bit interested in exploring your body young man. I'm sure there's nothing you could offer that I haven't experienced a hundred times before."
Before Riker could think of an appropriate retort, Mrs. Troi had silently gestured to the monster named Homms; obediently he unshackled Will's ankles and wrists.
"Do I get my uniform back too?"
"Do you want it?"
There was a cooling breeze blowing through the open window, it brushed pleasantly against his bare skin, it felt good, he shook his head in answer to her question.
"This is about my daughter,"
"The dead one?" Riker's curt return sent Mrs. Troi flying to her feet, hands flailing wildly.
"She is not dead! She is very much alive! No body, no death!"
"Break out the restraining device Mr. Homm." Will's smug grin spurred Betazoid curses to fly untamed from her mouth.
Her voice was sharp, and loud and grated over Riker's nerves like a jagged razor, it felt bad, and bad wasn't good.
"Well, I'll be going now," He said, gripping the sides of the bed and pushing himself to stand.
Mrs. Troi's ranting fell off at the announcement, Mr. Homm's firm gray hand forced Will back down to the bed.
"Not so fast Captain, I need your help," Her voice lowered to a sweet, almost musical tone, her warm fingers stroking over his cool skin felt good, he relaxed and listened.
"You hate Betazed, don't you?"
"And you hate Sindareen, don't you?"
"You'd do anything to get off this planet and back into space, wouldn't you?"
Again he nodded hypnotically.
"I have a fast ship, one like nothing you've ever seen.....You can take it to the Loust Moon, save my daughter, and I'm sure kill many Sindareen in the process. Do you think you'd be willing to do that?"
Will opened his mouth to remind her that her daughter was dead, but closed it at the memory of the shrill voice shattering his euphoria.
"Sure, what the hell," He said instead, "When do I leave?"
"First I need your word as an officer that you'll carry out this mission no matter what."
"OK," He shrugged, "You have my word."
No sooner had his promise left his mouth then he felt the bite of another hypospray against his neck, his black and white world lifted almost instantly, making red his color of choice.
"You need help lady, but not for your daughter, for yourself! He snapped his pants off the foot of the bed, "You'll be lucky if I don't have you charged for this," He jerked on his pants, "And you too, you big goon!"
"You could at least listen to me." Mrs. Troi sat still on the bed, fingers interlaced, hands resting calmly in her lap.
"I could," he spit back, "But I won't."
Her eyes, wide and dark, glistened with the same despondency and loneliness as the woman in the painting...A trace of pity diluted his anger. "Mrs. Troi, If you honestly believe your daughter is alive and being held by Sindareen, there are people who do this sort of thing for a living.... They're called mercenaries, they'll do anything, if the price is right."
He didn't understand why he was taking the time to explain any of this to her, shed drugged him, kidnapped him, and attempted to trick him into helping her. Of course she could have sent him on his way under the influence of the drug, she hadn't, and maybe that was why he was still standing here, instead of being halfway back to his suite. He'd done some pretty outrageous things in the face of desperation, given the same circumstances he knew he wouldn't have been as nobel as she'd been. He would have sent his pawn on his way, under the influence, if it had meant saving his ship and crew.
"We've already sent several," She confided.
"One said he'd seen her on the Loust moon, but he was killed, just as all the others were."
He opened the door to leave, but let it slide from his hand, "How long ago was that?"
"Two years," She sighed, "But I can still feel her life, she's a part of me, she's in my head, in my blood, and in each beat of my heart." She fingered the fabric of her gown, regretful eyes raising to his, "I am sorry I tried to trick you, but when I saw you at the ball, something told me you would be the one that could save her."
Will raised a skeptical brow, drawing in a deep breath he released it slowly.
"I'm sorry I can't help you. My ship is scheduled to begin testing the day after tomorrow; I have to be here. I'm sure you'll find someone else."
He offered a half smile; this time when he opened the door he stepped out and closed it behind him.
He headed directly to his suite from the Troi estate, darkening his room he slipped into the warmth of his bed. He'd report the strange drug he'd been injected with later, and his bizarre encounter with Mrs. Troi...right now he needed to sleep, it came to him easily.
A cold breeze brushed over Riker's skin, he drew his knees tighter to his chest and reached blindly behind him for the blanket he'd thrown off. His hand fell on something, the unfamiliar causing him to roll over. He half opened his eyes; dark hair, long and full lay feathered over the pillow beside him. He slid his hand to the ivory skinned shoulder; it was cold and stiff, his touch forcing the body to roll towards him. Onyx eyes chilled with death reached past the haze of sleep that still loomed over his mind.
"Christ!" He pulled back, falling from the bed, heart racing, an uncontrolled chill spiking through him. He drew in an uneven breath, hesitantly looking back up to the bed.
"I'm going crazy," He whispered to himself, his unsteady hand running through his hair as he stared at the empty bed. "Probably the only person in the universe who suffers from battle fatigue while they're grounded."
Without getting off the floor he crawled to the desk, got into the chair, took a few deep breaths and accessed the computer terminal.
As he waited for the transmission to go through, he wondered now what he was going to say
<< Hi, just thought you should know, I've been abducted by a nut case, omnipotent beings are visiting me, and now dead woman are appearing in my bed. >>
Cassidy's surprised face appeared on the screen, making what needed to be said crystal clear.
"Is your hair blue?" He asked, turning up his nose at her image.
"Indigo," She answered, a similar colored eyebrow raising inquisitively, "Is everything all right with you?"
Now was his chance to share everything he'd been experiencing lately, bare his soul, open up to someone like he never had before. He structured his thoughts carefully, and blew out a heavy breath.
"I'm just horny, I guess."
"I see," She smiled, sliding her tongue over her lips, "Do you want me to talk dirty, is that it?"
He lifted his head from his hands at the proposition, answering her teasing grin with one of his own.
"We could try that, but I was thinking about the real thing. I'd like to meet Aunt Matilda after all. They don't start testing the Venture until day after tomorrow, I thought maybe tomorrow I could come out there."
She wasn't buying any of this; it was evident by the way she kept leaning closer to the screen as though she thought she was hearing things.
"Tomorrow.. OK.... that will be fine. Are you sure everything's all right with the Venture?"
"Fine, I'm hoping there'll get her up earlier then they thought."
"Good," She answered, "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
"Great! I have some questions I'd like to ask you anyway, better to do it in person."
Cassidy and her sister had had a hard childhood, if anyone would know anything about this drug Mrs. Troi had used on him, it would be her.
"Ok," She smiled, a genuine one this time. "Bye."
He stopped her before she severed the communication; she answered him before he ask.
"Blond, I promise," She winked before the screen went dark.
His muted blue eyes, hooded by heavy lids, moved between the terminal, the chronometer, and the bed.
This day was practically shot he decided, he'd crawl back into bed, kill tomorrow by visiting Cassidy, and once the testing started on the Venture he'd move back into his quarters, no matter what Admiral Hayes had to say about it.
He sank back into bed throwing a pillow over his head to block the sun; he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
The muffled chirping of the communication screen jerked him awake. Stumbling to the beeping terminal, he glanced at the chronometer, <Shit! Thirteen hours. You idiot> he accessed the communication, still silently chiding himself for sleeping so long.
"Captain, report to my office immediately."
A cold uninvited chill ran up Riker's spine, he shifted in his chair. Something was wrong, the admiral's colorless expression did nothing to mask his worry.
"Is it the Romulans, Sir?"
The Admiral's mask slipped, he lowered his eyes and shook his head.
"There's been an incident Captain," He said, lines deepening between his brows, "I'm afraid it involves Commander Boylen."
Will's breath froze in his chest, questions spun out of control through his mind.
"No questions now Riker. My office, one hour."
"She wasn't among the bodies Will. We'll just have to assume she was taken by the Sindareen."
Will held on to his impassive expression, stiffly nodding an understanding to Admiral Hayes.
"Where do we go from here Sir?"
Hayes mouth opened to speak, but was interrupted by another voice that drew Riker to his feet.
"We've alerted the two star ships that are patrolling this sector." He extended his hand, "Captain Riker?"
Will accepted the newcomers hand. He knew this admiral by reputation only; a hard ass, by the book officer, the only one in star fleet command that had fought to stop Riker's promotion to Captain of the Venture.
"Admiral Justin Stedmen," He added, firmly grasping Will's hand.
"An honor, Admiral." The Venture Captain offered the polite pleasantry, noting that this man's appearance was as nasty as his reputation. A thin graying mustache snaked over equally thin lips, thick eyelids hung low over dull gray eyes, making his features appear to be set in a permanent scowl.
"I'd imagine the Sindareen Spider is routed for the Loust moon, it's their nearest mining colony."
Will knew it was an unneeded comment, but his insides were churning, he wanted to move and strategic planing wasn't on his agenda.
Stedman motioned for Hayes and Riker to sit down as he spoke. "Most likely," Stedman agreed, "If either of the ships encounter the Spider they've been instructed not to destroy it."
"That's right Captain," Stedmen answered, "In case you've forgotten while you're resting comfortably on this planet, the federation is fighting a war. These unfortunate incidents with the Sindareen are just that, unfortunate. The federation doesn't have the ships or the manpower to waste."
Will felt his jaw tighten, he tossed a sidelong glance to Hayes before gripping the arms of his chair and answering.
"With all due respect Admiral, Commander Cassidy Boylen is one of the finest officers in the federation. I can't believe we're just going to go belly up on this. And as far as ships and manpower, I have an entire crew here, who I'm sure would be more then willing to go after the Sindareen."
"The operative word here is one, she is only one officer." Stedmen's thin lips tightened into a slow nasty smile, he lightly chuckled at Riker's idea. "And I think Captain, if you'd start thinking with something other then your Jonathan, you'd see the federations point. The Venture is the only ship in the fleet packed to the hilt with qualified officers, the other ships are being held together by a wing and prayer. I am not willing to risk any of you to save one officer."
"My Jonathan Sir, has nothing to do with my thinking. Commander Boylen is a valued member of my crew, and I assure you I'd have the same protest if it were anyone else. None of them are disposable."
Will swallowed hard, his anger escalating into rage. He drew a breath, long and deep to sedate the knots that twisted and coiled in his stomach.
"I'm certain Commander Boylen was aware of the risks when she joined Starfleet, all of us must be prepared for our deaths."
"But she's not dead." His voice went up a notch, drawing an indignant look from Stedman, "She's been abducted by the lowest life form in the quadrant...I can't just roll over and let anyone suffer the fate she's in for. And if you've ever seen a Sindareen slave mine, in good conscience, I don't think you could either."
A look passed between Hayes and Stedmen, a look that may have gone unnoticed if Hayes hadn't shifted so uncomfortably. Will narrowed questioning eyes at Hayes, Hayes in turn did his best to avoid meeting them.
"I'll ignore your elevated tone this time Captain, losing a crew member is never easy, especially one you're screwing on the side."
It wasn't so much what Stedman said, more the belittling tone he'd used that catapulted Riker to his feet.
"That's it!" Will leaned forward, gripping the arms of the admiral's chair, "I don't care who the hell you are, I'm the best damned Captain you've got, you want to bust me for insubordination be my guest." He pressed his face closer to Stedman, the admiral's stale breath blew hot against his cheeks, " You Admiral, are a pompous son of a bitch who depends on people like me to carry out your orders. Orders you issue from your safe little cubical, oblivious to who's living and who's dying to protect you." Will's lips curled into a malignant sneer, "And I know how you got to the position you're in, and if I'm not mistaken it was by poking your *Jonathan* into all the right places."
Stedman chuckled, a low, harsh chuckle, "You're a lucky man Captain, I'm feeling generous today? Arrange to inform Commander Boylen's family of her situation. Dismissed."
Riker shot a look to Hayes; he sat like a mindless clone, completely intimidated by this Admiral Stedmen.
"I said dismissed Captain Riker. Now! Before my good nature fades and you find yourself facing a court martial."
Will pushed back forcefully on Stedmens chair, it rocked slightly, Stedman smile never faded.
He didn't afford Hayes another look, but held Stedmen with a long hard one before turning for the door.
"Do not attempt to go after her Captain."
Will stopped in the doorway, fists clenched, jaw locked.
"Disobey this order, and you can kiss your career good bye."
Hed had continued out the door before the Admiral had finished his threat.
Riker pushed himself through the crowded streets of Betazed, not apologizing to any of those that got in his way.
His instincts had only mumbled to him while he was in the Admiral's office, but by the time he'd reached the park across from his suite they were screaming. Cassidy would rather die then be taken by Sindareen, and considering the Sindareen had no problems killing those that challenged them, she could have accomplished it easily.
Why hadn't she? And why was Hayes so intimidated by Stedman, he'd known Hayes along time, and he'd never known him to lay down for anyone. But more importantly, why were there two starships in this sector, a sector that seldom fell under Romulan attack.
The voice broke into his thoughts; he reluctantly put them on hold to answer the familiar voice.
"Commander Bryant. How's your head? Sorry I didn't get to the infirmary to check in on you."
Commander Eric Bryant, Riker's first officer, leaned over and rested his hands on his knees, shaking his head, trivializing Will's concern.
"I've been trying to catch you since you left the base." Bryant stood up, still panting heavily.
"Sorry.... I guess I was buried in my thoughts. Do you need something?"
He shook his head, a few strands of his blond hair falling over his tanned forehead. Will had to smile. When Bryant had been assigned as Riker's first officer, Will had taken one look at his pretty boy appearance and decided the kid would be lucky if he made it through the first week. But in that first week, Eric proved through a fantastic maneuver in a Romulan attack, and by kicking his captain's ass in a punzo-gai-roku match, that looks can be very deceiving.
"I was wondering what they're doing about Commander Boylen," Eric asked and then answered his question before Will opened his mouth, "Don't tell me, nothing, right?"
"I'd call it nothing," Will frowned.
"Well then what are *we* going to do about it?" Beneath thick dark lashes, his icy blue eyes narrowed defiantly.
Will couldn't help grinning at him, the kid had balls of steel, and cared as much about star fleet bureaucracy as he did.
"We're not going to do anything, I have orders not to go after her."
He wasn't about to pull one of the most promising young officers in the fleet into whatever he decided to do. He dropped his grin for a stern look of command and hoped Eric bought it.
His first officer gave him a measuring look and shrugged, "I guess orders are orders. Course I'm not under them."
"Mmm," Riker answered warily, "But I'm guessing you're under somebody's orders."
"No Sir. Just wanted to see how you were doing."
Commander Bryant could bluff with the best, and had learned how to walk the fine line between obeying and disobeying orders, so when he allowed his masterful poker face to slip, Will knew it was deliberate.
"I'm feeling a little restless, too much time on the ground I think." Will raised his brows and waited.
Bryant nodded slowly, "Too bad the Shadows are all unavailable."
Riker nodded an understanding, Eric's unavailable, meant monitored, which left Will with one option. And he had a hunch he may have burned that bridge already.
"You've spent a lot a time on Betazed, on the remote chance that I could locate a ship is there anywhere in particular you could suggest I go?"
Will began walking, Eric fell in beside him, "There is a little planet on the far side of the sector, bars, woman, poker, great place to go to forget about your problems. Unfortunately the most direct route takes you past a pretty hairy quarter. I could give you the coordinates."
Will smiled, "Sounds like just the kind of place I need. And I'm sure the brass would relax knowing Captain Riker was out of their hair for a day or so."
"Yes Sir, I'm sure they would." Bryant nodded, matching Riker's devious grin with his own. "Have a good time Captain."
"I intend to Commander, and thanks for the suggestion.
If Will Riker believed in omens he would have found the name of this ship to be enough to stop him from venturing alone to the Loust moon. The Flawless Jewel, the words Q had used to describe his life were etched in golden letters across the black iridescent hull. It had spooked him at first, the irony finally causing him to chuckle. Pulling off his jacket, he tossed it into the copilots seat beside him, a mirage of Cassidy smiled at him.
He knew she'd be smiling if she saw this ship, where and how Mrs. Troi had found herself in possession of it was a question she had answered with only a nebulous smile. It was bigger then a Shadow, shaped like a teardrop, its sleek curves and lines projecting it through space in almost total silence. Cassidy would have liked those things about her. He on the other hand like the idea that she was equipped with emergency transporters, packed to the teeth with weaponry, and best of all, permitted all six foot three of him to stretch his legs under the console.
He drew in a deep breath; things were different up here, being in space was like sex, it had a taste, a smell, a pulsing feeling that was all its own, it changed the way he saw things. He'd wondered at first if he wasn't making the most asinine decision he'd ever made, but now that he was up here, doing something, those thoughts were pushed as far away as Admiral Stedman and his faithful puppy Hayes.
He narrowed his eyes at the blips that flashed a crimson warning.... Ships, three of them, hanging still in space. He accessed the view screen, prepared for a fuzzy image, impressed when the image came through with as much clarity as a starships.
"What the hell?"
The Athens, the Aries, and the Melbourne, all galaxy class ships, all at all-stop appeared on the screen. He had thought it was unusual that there had been two ships in the sector, and now there were three. They'd had plenty of time to tag him, most likely light-years before he'd been able to pick them up. But they were ignoring him or maybe waiting until he got closer so they could blow him out of the sky.
"Only one way to find out."
He lovingly patted the console of the Jewel, apologizing for taking away her control before flipping the switch to manual. He gulped a big breath of air, jumping to warp eight in a ship this size was a feeling he didn't relish. Bracing his feet on the slanted floor below him, he closed his eyes and punched the controls. The pressure he had prepared himself for never came, he could move his head, blink his eyes, god, he could even expand his lungs. He waited until the three starships were nothing more then flickering dots in space before powering down the Jewel and casting a look over his shoulder.
"What's going on?" He mumbled under his breath, wondering if he should change his itinerary and instead find out why the federation had additional ships in this sector.
Returning his eyes to the console, another starship, unlike anything he'd ever seen hovered only meters from the forward view screen.
He jerked the Jewel hard to port, decompressed altitude controls, pulling himself down and away from the ship that wasn't registering on his sensors. The massive ship passed seemingly unaware over his head, allowing Riker to read the registration numbers before incandescent light blossomed in the blackness and took her out of sight.
<Enterprise N.C.C. 1701...E? >> The name reiterated itself in his mind.
"Awesome, isn't she?"
"Q, thank God." He released a breath of relief and slumped back in his chair.
"You're glad to see me?"
For an omnipotent being he looked surprised by Will's reaction.
"Damn straight," Will grinned, "If you're here that means I'm hallucinating again. I'd hate to believe the federation had a ship of that caliber and I hadn't been asked to captain her."
"Or perhaps somewhere in this vast universe there's a more qualified captain then yourself."
Will rolled his eyes and flicked his finger a few times against the console.
"What are you doing now?" Q asked, his malignant grin set in stone.
"Checking the chronometer, I must have passed out when I jumped to warp so quickly. It's pretty common in these little ships, especially if you're not used to it. It usually only last a few minutes, I just wanted to see how much longer I was going to have to deal with you."
Q leaned forward, "Tell me captain Riker, is there anything you don't have an answer for?"
"Sure," he snickered, "Lots of things.... Women for one, no idea what's going on with them. Space, war, Starfleet admirals. I could go on. I've just found that if I spend too much time thinking about all the things I don't understand, I start second-guessing myself. And doubts, out here." He gestured toward the view screen and the wide expanse of space, "are a good way to get yourself hurt or worse yet killed."
"And then again, maybe you already have."
"Gotten yourself killed."
Q's dark chuckle carried through the cockpit of the Jewel even after he'd disappeared on his customary white flash.
"It's OK, he's gone now." Will cooed, stroking the fluent metal flesh of the Jewel. He noted the red tint in his vision, all the proof he needed to convince himself he had passed out when he'd powered up the ship; the ruptured blood vessels in his eyes a definitive sign.
"Guess you're not as slick as I gave you credit for," He mumbled, reaching for his jacket that had fallen to the floor below the copilots seat. An amber light pulsed from the underside of the seat; he stroked it with his thumb, his action causing the chair base to fall open.
"I'm going to have to have a long talk with this Lwaxana Troi when I get back."
He flipped the once hidden switch; the Jewel trembled for an instant and fell under the mask of the cloaking device. He wondered how Mrs. Troi had gotten her hands on an experimental ship, but he found himself grinning that the federation was putting the plans he'd stolen to good use. A fleet of ships like the jewel, with her speed, weaponry and cloak could crawl up a Warbird's ass before they knew what hit them. He relaxed back in his seat, double checked his coordinates and rewarded the Jewel by giving her back the helm.
Will straightened in his seat, wincing at the pain that sliced down his leg like an acid knife. Seldom did he let himself stay in one position long enough for this to happen, even at night on the Venture he'd make sure the ships computer woke him every couple hours so his leg didn't stiffen. Keeping his eyes on the view screen, and the cracked barren surface of the Loust moon in the distance, he dug through his jacket, pulled out a hypo spray and plunged it in his leg. The relief came instantly; the fiery burn diluting to only a dull twinge, still strong enough to let Riker know his injury still had power over him.
His original plan was to land on the West Side of the planet, it would have meant making a wide turn and coming up on the inactive part of the moon. Now with this little cocoon of deception his ship was wrapped in, he could set down much closer, and still avoid the Sindareen patrol ships.
<Release your controls. > The unmistakable voice of a Sindareen sounded through his cockpit.
Riker ignored it, no way could they be talking to him, he was cloaked, and not even the federation could cut through the guise of a cloak.
<Decloak your ship. >
This time he couldn't ignore it, two Sindareen Vixens fell in beside him, flanking him on both sides.
He pulled up on the Jewels control, the Vixens matched his speed and maneuver.
<Decloak, and release your controls. We will land your ship through automation. >
<Decloak or you'll be shot down. >
His sensors showed the Vixens weapons powering up, running a hand over his neck it came away damp with sweat.
"Don't fire, I'm shutting down," He snarled, smacking his palm into the console of the ship and following the Sindareen's command.
He listened to the Jewel's system shutdown, felt the jerk of the automated controller, and slid himself down in his seat.
"This really doesn't look good." He admitted to himself, wondering how the hell he was going to get out of this one.
Helplessness was a feeling Riker was practically unfamiliar with and had only felt in earnest once before. He'd thought he'd tossed his last chip into the pile in his escape from Romulan space with the cloak blueprints. Three warbirds had been pursuing his badly damaged ship past the black cluster known as purgatory. With a bit of ingenuity, and whole lot of luck he'd managed to reroute all his ships power, including most of life support into the forward deflector. He'd reconfigured the harmonics to project positive neutrons to contrast the negative ones emitted by the cluster. His ship had reacted to the force as one magnet would react to another propelling him away at such an increased speed he'd lost consciousness. He knew lady luck had had a lot to do with his escape, he wondered where the hell she was now.
He tucked a phaser in his boot, gripped one firmly in his damp hand and looked out the view port. The landing strip looked deserted, not what he'd expected. He startled at the sound of his hatch being accessed from the outside and targeted his phaser at the door.
"Your weapon is unnecessary."
A Sindareen raider, unarmed, looking a bit stunned at Riker's greeting motioned for him to put his weapon away.
The blast of hot air that blew into the jewel's cockpit caused Riker's eyes to sting, his throat to burn, and his stomach to turn at the stench of rotting flesh that carried on the arid wind.
The raider's expression changed from surprise to amusement, "You federation men are too soft."
Riker laughed at the raiders observation, camouflaging his shock at what the Sindareen had just shared.. He chose not to speak, hoping the Sindareen would continue shedding light on what was going on this Loust moon.
"Maror will meet with you."
The Sindareen moved out of the hatchway, Riker followed guardedly.
The black surface of the moon consumed the heat of the scorching sun, Riker was sure he could feel the burning through the soles of his boots. Through blurred vision he spied what the Sindareen referred to as the slave pit; the resting place for any of the slaves that did not meet the Sindareen standards. He swallowed hard, the pile of decomposing bodies left in the heat to remind the others of their fate if they did not conform.
"You're not as soft as some." The raider said, a deep sadistic chuckle following his admiration of Riker's ability not to look away from the pit.
Will creased his brows, coercing a nasty chuckle that faded as soon as the Sindareen looked away.
Riker nodded, the Sindareen disappearing down a long ramp into the inner city.
A scream drew his attentions to the crowd of slaves that moved in and out of the mines. One woman lay writhing on the ground, a raider prodding her with an electo-pulse. He noted the sheen in her hair, her flawless skin, the red blistered mark of the Sindareen brand and knew she was fresh, just beginning the initiation process. He willed himself not to go to her; instead he surveyed the crowd, wondering if Cassidy was among them.
"I am Maror," Another Sindareen moved towards Riker, a slave woman close at his side.
Will had always found Sindareen to be a vile, unappealing race, but this Maror's appearance was beyond hideous, his features mutilated, his skin puckered and scarred as if once it had been badly burned.
Riker's repulsion never bled through his persona, he nodded to Maror and offered up the first name that crept into his mind.
"James Kirk," Will said, inwardly cringing at his choice.
"It will take eighteen hours to load your ship Kirk, we will make you comfortable until then."
Maror smiled and slid a wicked grin to the slave at his side, Riker nodded knowingly, prowling what he hoped were hungry eyes over the slave. Maror seized the woman by her dark, lusterless hair, vigorously jerking back on it, forcing the woman's eyes to meet Will's. Will retained his expression, fixing his lustful gaze on the woman. Her eyes were black, as black as the obsidian under her feet, her expression cold, her skin dark and prematurely lined with age. Another jerk from Maror elicited a smile, but her eyes remained lifeless, dull, like unpolished gems.
"Now, If you'd give me your authorization code, we'll get started."
"Right.... Authorization code," Riker said, clearing his throat, stalling for time. Maror shifted impatiently, widening his one eye that wasn't seared shut.
The eyes that Will had trained on Maror snapped to the woman beside him and narrowed, as again the voice sounded hauntingly in his head.
"Burgundy 27," Riker mumbled, wondering if this was lady luck again or just a severe case of heatstroke.
Maror nodded approvingly at Riker.
"She'll show you to quarters," He said, squeezing the woman's upper arm firmly, his hand moving away, leaving behind indigo prints of his fingers.
This woman, with the dark dead eyes waited until they'd completed their trek down a long narrow corridor and entered what Riker presumed to be quarters before speaking.
"What would you like?" She asked, her voice harsh and low, nothing like the one Will had heard in his head.
"First," Will began, "Thanks for saving my butt up there."
"I'm sure I've only delayed the inevitable."
He let her doom and gloom response slide.
"What I'd really like is information. The new slaves... the most recent shipment.... Where would they be kept?"
She turned away from him, moved to the large stone table at the end of the room, poured herself a shot of something and downed it without flinching.
"I'm not interested in your personal reasons for being here," She answered sharply, turning back to him after pouring another shot, "When I ask what you wanted I meant sexually. That's why I'm here. It's certainly not to satisfy your macho needs to rescue a damsel in distress Mister Kirk, or would you prefer Jim, or perhaps Will."
"I'd prefer you stop strolling through my mind and give me the information I need." He felt his jaw tighten and heard his voice jump. Releasing his anger on a deep breath he continued, "I would think you of all people would want to prevent anyone else from suffering at the hands of the Sindareen as you have."
She raised her head, her eyes meeting his with a fierce contempt, "I don't care who suffers what. I can't be concerned with the lives of others. Your friends life or death means nothing to me. And your raw thoughts and emotions will be the cause of your own demise."
"Why don't you let me worry about that." He deleted the word bitch from his sentence, but he was beginning to wonder how she'd been able to stay alive here for so long.... He'd only known her a few minutes, and he was already feeling a profound desire to kill her.
"I'll handle it myself," He added tersely, turning towards the door.
"I can't allow that."
Her dark voice sounded an alarm in his head. He snapped around just in time to prevent the syringe she gripped in her hand from perforating his neck.
"What the hell are you doing!"
He tightened his hold on her wrist, the force causing her hand to open, the ominous looking syringe falling to the floor. He matched her cold-blooded expression and squeezed her wrist until it induced a moan of pain.
"I just had to see if you could feel anything," He said, releasing her wrist with a quick jerk that threw her off balance.
She kept her eyes to the floor for a moment, but as they slowly raised to meet his, he finally realized who she was.
"You're Deanna Troi."
She ignored his revelation.
"Five women were brought here from Betazed," Her eyes were dangerous, but the tone of her voice betrayed her severe expression, "They've all been killed, you'll find your friends body in the slave pit."
He pushed grief and shock deep inside himself, without responding he stumbled out the door, breaking into a run down the corridor.
He only passed a few Sindareen as he retraced the path he'd taken to get to his quarters; by the time he'd reached the slave pit the ferocious sun was sliding from the sky.
<She's lying. She's a warped unfeeling Betazoid bitch> He focused on the anger he was feeling towards Deanna Troi instead of the pile of bodies in front of him. He blinked his eyes to defy his tears, and swallowed the nausea that was welling inside him as he dug through the corpses.
He pushed the charred remains of one victim away to reveal the broken body below.
His unsteady hand slid under her shoulders, gently pulling her limp head to
his lap. The blond hair he'd requested, streaked with blood spilled over his
bare arm, the nausea he'd vied to control overtook him.
Deanna sat cross-legged on the hard bed, pushing away the tiny glimmer of compassion that had found its way through her armor. She didn't want to remember how it felt to care about someone only to find their broken body days later in the slave pit. It had only taken her a few months in this place to realize if she didn't shut her emotions off she would surely die, and her death wouldn't be caused by torture, forced labor or the perverse acts of the Sindareen and their allies, but her own empathy.
She felt Maror's presence before she heard his heavy footfalls against the metal grid of the corridor. Springing from the bed she retrieved the syringe from the floor, plunged it into the mattress, emptying its contents; she placed it on the bed beside her.
She played out her deception, lying on the bed, eyes closed, she ignored the first slap Maror placed against her cheek. The second was more brutal, his voice more angry. She opened her eyes, only slightly, and with a weak gesture pointed to the empty syringe beside her.
"Where has he gone!"
He jerked her to her feet as he growled the question. Deanna staggered, keeping with her show, she kept her body limp.
"He's insane," She answered weakly, "He's gone to the slave pit."
Hauling Deanna beside him, Maror exited the quarters.
Riker's tears fell to Cassidy's blood stained face, the crimson drops gliding like tears of blood down her cheeks.
A raider's voice cut into his silent suffering, an intense pang of hatred and contempt stabbed almost tangibly through his heart.
"Son of a bitch!" Riker roared, springing to his feet, lunging forward, knocking the Sindareen back and down with a thud.
Riker's hands, sticky with blood, wrapped around the startled raider's throat, squeezing with more power then he thought he possessed. The raider struggled and choked, but under Riker's unmitigated rage he didn't stand a chance, and Riker found he derived a satisfaction from the process, Cassidy's blood staining the Sindareen's throat, watching him die slowly under his power, knowing that the raider knew he was doomed, and could only wait for death to take away the pain and the panic as he fought to draw a breath.
"Kirk!" The voice filtered into Riker's fury, the jolt of Maror's boot as it kicked him forcefully in the chest, knocked him off the raider to his back. Maror's foot came down on his chest, his eyes locking with Wills, a depraved amusement emanating from them.
"Federation," He sneered, "Do you feel vindicated now?" Maror laughed, jerking Riker to his feet, motioning to two other raiders.
"I'll be vindicated, when you're all dead."
The scarred Sindereen bent down and picked up Cassidy's body like a piece of meat, still chuckling, he tossed it ruthlessly into the slave pit.
Riker kept his eyes forward, not reacting as he knew Maror had hoped. He had no intention of dying here, his death would make it impossible for him to hunt down and kill every Sindareen in the quadrant.
"Contact the admiral," Maror growled, "Tell him Kirk was a poor choice."
Riker peered through the tiny opening in the top of the door, the Sindareen guard still stood like a statue outside his quarters.
"You should probably run while you can."
He spun around towards the voice, split between whether to kill her or ask for her help. The latter made sense, but the former held a certain appeal.
"You're an odd lady, Miss Troi. You turn me in to Maror, and then you tell me to run. And then what do you do, run to him and tell him what I'm doing?" He matched her icy stare with one of his own before tilting his head towards the passage behind her, "Will that take me back to my ship?"
"You would be foolish to go there, you should run to the far side of the moon."
"Why, so they can hunt me down." He shook his head, "No thanks, Hide and seek was never my game of choice." He headed towards the opening, tossing a cautious look to the guard outside the door.
Deanna grabbed his arm, "There's a deserted base on the far side of the moon, steal a ship there." She insisted.
"The Sindareen are ugly, not stupid. And you'll have to excuse me if I don't trust you."
"Your trust isn't important to me. I just want you to escape. I want my mother to know I'm alive."
He still didn't trust her, but he'd heard the break in her voice she'd tried to hide, and he remembered Mrs. Troi's desperation.
"Why not come with me then," He asked, his eyes narrowing challengingly, "That is, unless your real plan is to screw me again."
She thought for a minute, raising her unemotional eyes to his, "Then you will run to the far side of the moon? If you run to your ship you'll be shot down before you leave the atmosphere."
Riker's narrowed eyes shot to full alert, a lopsided grin breached his grave expression, "Are you sure?"
She answered him with only a nod.
"Then take me to the ship."
He didn't wait for a response, but pulled her into the passage.
"It will never work!" She said, jerking from his grasp.
"Trust me," He said sarcastically.
"I haven't managed to stay alive on this moon for five years by trusting anyone."
Will stopped, "Then don't. But if I get caught, don't think that I won't take you down with me. I'll bet Maror would be real interested in why you sedate the men you're assigned to service."
"He wouldn't believe you."
"Maybe not, But once Maror finds out Jim Kirk, is actually Will Riker, I'm sure I'll be forced to tell him how I acquired the authorization code. That, unfortunately will destroy this little secret you have, your uncanny ability to project thoughts. Correct me if I'm wrong," He added, nonchalantly, "But I don't believe that's a normal Betazoid talent. Of course he may not believe that either, in which case you can continue jerking them around by the balls, and I'll be dead, or...
"Oh fine, shut up," She interrupted, "But your arrogance will get us both killed."
<And Captain Riker? >
"You mean Kirk," Maror answered with a chuckle, "Yes, he's here, just as you said he would be." Maror leaned closer to the screen, hoping to make his anger more visible to the admiral at the other end of the transmission.
"I can't guarantee his safety admiral, there are those among us, myself included, that would like nothing better then to cut Captain Riker's heart from his chest."
<Well, I suggest you curb your vengeance, our deal was he wouldn't be harmed. >
"Our deal didn't include a Captain who has destroyed no less then seventy six Sindareen ships in the past year. You told me then that the Venture would be taken care of, how do I know you're taking care of it now?" Maror pounded a fist on the desk, the lack of concern on the Admiral's face only intensifying his rage.
<Grounding the federation flagship is not an easy task, and destroying another as we did the enterprise is out of the question. Hold Riker for two days, I need him and Bolyan out of my hair until the Venture can be infused. Have you allowed him to find her yet?>
"Yes, he's found her," Maror answered, banishing his satisfaction from his expression.
<Good, allow them to escape together.>
<And Maror, You should keep in mind if the Romulans win this war, your little business, in fact your very existence, will most likely cease to exist. Captain Riker, like it or not, shifts the odds in our favor." The Admiral's chuckle grated over Maror's nerves.
"And you Admiral should remember, that I can expose you...Not only for what you're doing to your fleet, but why." He severed the communication without giving the Admiral time to respond.
"Great a guard!" Will whispered.
"What difference does it make, once you take off, the remotes will shoot us down." She jerked out of the hold he had on her and frowned up at him.
"I'm counting on it," He returned distractedly, spotting a large metal beam, picking it up, and moving closer to the guard.
Deanna touched his arm; the unexpected gentleness stopped him in mid stride. Without speaking, she held her fingers to her lips and closed her eyes tightly. The low moan of the guard stilled his question, pulling his eyes to the raider that was now writhing on the ground, gripping his crotch.
Will moved to the helpless guard and tugged his rifle from his belt, leaving him to suffer whatever pains Deanna was causing him.
"What the hell did you do to him? That balls thing I said earlier was only a figure of speech!" He pulled her into the Jewel as he questioned her, not knowing whether to pat her on the back or protect himself. She appeared to ignore his question, and considering the spiteful smile on her face, being ignored by her right now seemed preferable.
"Go over there!" He ordered, adding please as an afterthought.
He studied the screens on the panel, punched in his commands and jerked the Jewel's control's to pull them up. The Jewel's liftoff sounded the alarms, the dark landing strip coming to life with beams of light.
"See that button?" He looked over his shoulder at Deanna; she nodded.
"I have to make this look legit. But once we get hit, and we will get hit, you've got thirty seconds to punch that switch.... If you don't, your pessimistic predictions will become reality."
Amazingly enough, she didn't argue, Riker figured she was strolling through his mind again and had ascertained his plan.
He dodged the first few missiles without breaking a sweat; he was beginning to wonder if maybe this elaborate ruse was even necessary. But checking the Jewel's monitors, the blips on the screen showed a barrage of sonar fire, he patted the jewel tenderly, "Sorry baby," He whispered.
Before he could stand up, the first assault hurled him to the deck.
"Now would be good time!" He yelled, flipping to his back, the growing
heat of the engines scorching his skin.
The Federation's small defensive ships equipped with emergency transporters were fairly new, and were exactly what their name suggested, emergency; in other words, when your ship blows up, chances are you want to be anywhere but on it. So when Will felt the massive kinetic grip take hold he wasn't surprised, just as he wasn't surprised when it literally spit him out and his muscles felt like they'd been jammed in a vice. What he wasn't prepared for was the fact that only half his body seemed to be supported, the other half, unfortunately more then half, was teetering over the edge of a crater.
There was no time to compensate, and Deanna's additional weight on top of him sent them both over the edge. There was no time to think about the fact that he was going to die or whether he would feel the pain when he crashed to the ground, the crash came almost immediately. Not an agonizing ache, but a biting sting, a lack of oxygen, and a thunderous echo in his ears. It was water; with the instant realization he fought against his downward plunge and forced himself up to the surface.
He choked and took a few gulps of air, he could hear Deanna making similar sounds, he tried to see in the obscure lightening.
"Deanna!" Her name echoed over the water and her response came in a similarly repetitive manner.
He swam towards the voice, disregarding her insult until he could see her form in front of him.
"Idiot?" he said, "There's no above ground water on this moon," he added, in defense of the coordinates he'd keyed into the transporters.
"It's not water." Her hand came to rest on his shoulder as she spoke, pulling herself closer to him.
Now that she mentioned it, he had noticed, and could still taste a bitter almost acidic flavor on the back of his tongue.
"Chemicals," he observed, tucking his arm around her waist he tried to move them towards what looked like a jagged shoreline.
This side of the moon was in unremitting darkness, not complete blackness, more like an eerie twilight caused by the layer of dust that sheltered it. However minute sunlight filtered through the dust, it played subtly against the milky rocks, allowing him to find the shore and pull himself and Deanna out.
"Are you all right?" His question was released on a winded breath; her mumbled yes was all he needed to hear before he laid down on the smooth rock. "What kind of chemicals ...why?"
"Residue...residue from the mines."
It didn't make sense, chemical residue from a crystal mine, but from the sound of her weakened voice it was obvious she was feeling as sore and drained as he was. Opening his eyes only half way, he reached up to her and pulled her against his chest. He wasn't surprised when she didn't resist, but willingly rested her head against him.
"Aren't you afraid they'll find us here?"
Her voice was less then a whisper; he smoothed his hand over her hair.
"We're dead, we can do anything we want."
He remembered smelling chemicals when he'd first set down on the moon; he'd put it off to some odd Sindareen ritual and ignored it. But the more he smelled the residue in the water, the more sure he was it was something he'd smelled before; where, was something he couldn't place.
He looked over his shoulder, he had mixed feelings about waking Deanna, she didn't look like nearly as much of a bitch when she was sleeping, actually in this dim lighting she looked almost pretty. But it was still hard for him to believe she was the same perfect woman, with the lonely eyes he'd seen at the Troi estate.
He leaned back against a rock and watched her, knowing what she'd been through over the last five years, and wondering how different she might have been if she hadn't been forced to serve the Sindareen.
At least Cassidy was free; she'd never be forced to give up who she was, he hoped she died before she had to relinquish any of herself. He swallowed over the lump in his throat and fingered the faded bloodstains on his shirt.
"Did you love her?"
It was the first words he'd heard Deanna speak that hadn't contained a sharp edge, he didn't look up at her, but focused on Cassidy's blood stains.
"We had a pact. We'd never love each other, it was too dangerous." He finally lifted his eyes to hers, he couldn't see her expression, only the intermittent glimpses of sunlight that lit up her eyes. "Being in love tends to generate a love for everything, life, your life, becomes more important. Loving life causes second guesses, fears that wouldn't normally play into your decisions."
"Very responsible thinking for Starfleet officers" She wasn't being smug, at least he didn't think she was. "And this worked for you?"
"I guess not," He chuckled silently at the irony, "Except... I thought it had until she died."
She didn't say anything, and even in the shadowy lighting he saw her shiver.
"Are you cold?"
"No," She answered, rubbing her hands over her arms, "I just got a chill that's all...it's weird, I don't know."
This was getting far too serious for him and dwelling on Cassidy would never bring her back.
"Listening to me talk like a sap probably caused a short circuit in your telepathic waves or something." He laughed, not expecting her to join him, when she did, his smile broadened even further.
Her laughter however was short lived, her smile faded, and the caution returned to her eyes.
"I'm sorry you ended up here, on this hellish moon," He offered, gesturing around them at the grim moon, "I'm sorry that life forms like the Sindareen feed off of Starfleet's war with the Romulans. If it weren't for this damn war, there'd be more manpower to overthrow them."
She stared at him for along time, so long in fact he was sure he could almost feel it. Finally she shook her head, an almost pained expression further hardening her features.
"At first I thought your mental discipline was astounding, but it's not. You're actually innocent to everything that's going on around you."
Will straightened himself, his voice was thick with indignation, "I have been in the eye of this war since it began. I've watched starships be destroyed, friends and crew mates die, all to stop the Romulans from making good on their threat to make Romulus the ultimate power."
Deanna folded her arms across her chest and continued to shake her head. "Do you think if I were sitting here talking to a Romulan Captain now, instead of you, he'd say something different. Don't you think his leaders have used the same propaganda on him?"
Will started to voice an objection, but held back. "Look, I know you've suffered here, and your bitterness against the universe is more then understandable, but until you go head to head with a flock of warbirds, I suggest you keep your opinions on the war to yourself. I don't think you have a clue what's going on out there."
"You're probably right." She relented far too easily, leaving him uncharacteristically at a loss for words. "Maybe I should show you where the base is now." She added, standing up.
"No," He said, "If you have something to say just say it...It's pretty obvious you have no love for the federation."
"How many Sindareen mining colonies are there?" she asked, ignoring his question.
"Is that why you hate the federation, because its not getting involved, it's not doing enough to help you and others like you?"
"How many?" she repeated.
Will released an exasperated breath, considering maybe pounding his head against the rock behind him may be more productive then this conversation.
"I don't know," He finally answered, "Six, I think."
She smiled, a smile that almost made his flesh crawl, "And how many of those little torpedoes you use would it take to destroy them?"
"Look, I know what you're saying, but there's other things to consider...blowing up a whole colony, with innocents at stake, the federation wouldn't do it."
"But you yourself said at least Cassidy was free, she'd never have to give up who she was.... And you believe that too."
"Actually," Will began, taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly to defuse his anger, "I never said that, I thought it. And if you're going to continue sifting through my thoughts, then I'll just remain silent and let you have your telepathic way with me!"
"Don't tempt me Captain!" she spat back, clenching her fists tightly at her sides.
Will tried not to think about whatever it was she'd done to the Sindareen guard and chose to believe she wouldn't do it to him.
"I guess I just don't understand that's all, why do you ask me questions if you already know the answers?"
"To make you think, and with the hope that your answers won't be what I expect. I can't solve all your puzzles for you."
"Solve," He snapped, "You're making me feel like I fell down the goddamn rabbit hole... if there's something you want me to know just tell me!"
"I will," She answered so nonchalantly he wanted to throttle her, "When you ask the right questions."
Will thought about it, he had a hell of a lot of questions...why were the Sindareen contacting an Admiral...what were the chemicals used for... why did this woman's mother have a ship with cloaking capacity...why did this Betazoid have the power to create such pain without laying a hand on her victim.... None of them left his mouth, he knew they'd all be turned around, and leave him with more questions then answers.
He placed a firm hand on her shoulder, she stiffened under his touch, "Fine,
I'll ask a question...who the hell is Q?"
His question caused her composure to crumble, but only for an instant, it was rebuilt and replaced before shed raised her eyes to look at him.
"Wait a minute." Will held up his hand, silencing her response before she began, "Let me rephrase the question."
He had no intentions of allowing her to twist his words, extract the answer from his own mind and then shove it back down is throat.
"Who is Q, to you?"
The mouth she'd opened to answer him closed at the new question, the sound of her frustrated sigh brought a grin of satisfaction to his face.
"Why?" She asked skeptically.
"Are you at all capable of answering a question without posing one first, because honestly it's very irritating." He kept a jovial tone to his voice, but inwardly he was finding this woman more then exasperating. Seldom if ever did he find a need to draw people out; usually it was him that was leery about sharing a piece of himself.
"A few hours before I was taken hostage by the Sindareen I had the oddest feeling, an anxiety, so fierce I couldn't take a breath."
She was actually speaking; her voice was so soft he had to strain to hear her. He leaned closer and nodded encouragingly.
"It was as if I'd been sucked into a vacuum, as if I was existing in a state of limbo, my heart, my mind, my lungs all immobilized. Like death without dying."
He watched her shiver at the memory, he placed a reassuring hand on her arm, she tensed under his touch, her response instinctively propelled him to release her.
"And that's when you saw Q?"
She shook her head. "He came after, when my awareness returned. I was trying to catch my breath, slow my heart, and this man calling himself Q came from nowhere. He had a kind face, but strangely haunting eyes that watched me as if they could see into my core."
"A kind face?" Will noted, doubting that this Q could ever be considered kind, "What did he say?"
She twisted a strand of her damp hair in her fingers, answering him as if she were a million miles away, "Some of the most marvelous discoveries in the universe have been made when man has asked himself 'what if'.......... Unfortunately, when spoken in relationship to that same man's life it can prove to be a most dangerous question." She shifted nervously, her eyes looking everywhere but at him.
"That's it?" He asked, fighting his impulse to grab her face, force her eyes to meet with his.
She lifted her head, nodded slowly, but still her eyes looked past him, focusing on the cliffs behind him. Every fabric of his being told him she was lying or at best offering only the minimum of what she knew, but considering his circumstances, and the fact that getting the hell off this cracked rock was more important to him then anything else, for the moment he let it go.
"He does like to speak in riddles this Q, but at least I know now he's not a figment of my imagination. Or maybe were just mutually nuts," He said, half smiling. The deep breath of air Deanna released at his simple statement only validated his gut instinct that behind those dark eyes all he needed to know was concealed.
"Are you up for some rock climbing?" He asked, gesturing towards the ledge behind them.
"I am, but you're not," She replied, her eyes dropping to the thigh he'd been unaware he was massaging, "you're in a lot of pain."
"Don't worry about it, lets me know I'm still alive." He smiled, an unanswered gesture when it came to this Deanna Troi, "Just show me the way to this deserted base. I don't know about you but I think I'd like to get off this moon."
"There's been a little accident." Maror leaned back in his chair, watching the Admiral's features contort with anger.
<<For your sake Maror, this accident had better not involve Captain Riker.>>
Maror leaned forward, filling the screen with his presence, allowing the admiral to know he was not at all intimidated by him. "Captain Riker is the cause of his own death, none of my men pulled the trigger."
The admiral's face reddened with rage, <<You idiot! He is one that cannot be replaced!>>
The scarred Sindareen let the admiral's anger hang undisturbed, inwardly enjoying the pained look on the human's face.
"One of the slaves aided in his escape, it was unavoidable ...When his ship launched, the remotes destroyed it, they were both killed."
The rage on the admiral's face dimmed, eclipsed by suspicion, "Are you saying Captain Riker attempted to leave the moon without Commander Boylen? I find that very difficult to believe Maror? >>
"She may have been on the proto-ship as well. She hardly seemed a concern."
"Why are you surprised, you permitted him access to the Jewel...It is how he arrived."
The admiral fell silent, Maror watched as his sickening human features exposed all his trivial emotions.
<<Captain Riker has played you for the fools you are> The Admiral finally said, <His death was a device, a way for him to have access to the moon without Sindareen interference. I'd stake my career on the fact that if you send your men to the far side of the moon you'll find Captain Riker alive and well, and more then likely plotting yet another way to outfox your people. >>
Maror's fist involuntarily clenched, the condescending grin on the admiral's face fostering his hatred towards these humans.
"If you're right Admiral, and Riker is on the far side of the moon...you won't have a career to stake."
Maror watched the grin fade from the admirals face, his features reverting to the frail, scared man that he was, "If she takes him into the mines, his vengeance against the Sindareen will swiftly shift to the federation...And your career Admiral's Hayes won't end because of what your doing to your troops, it will end because Captain Riker won't hesitate to kill you."
Hayes shifted as Maror laughed, the Admiral's discomfort only enhancing Maror's pleasure.
"We'll try to find him Admiral, I'm sure we'll be able to *talk* some understanding into him."
Maror terminated the transmission, and nodded to himself.
Will forced the old metal door open, it screeched over the steel floor and offered him a view of the hangers contents.
"You've got to be kidding," He said, more to himself then Deanna as he moved closer to the two ships in storage. He heard Deanna's footfalls behind him; he tossed a look over his shoulder, "I don't suppose there's a back room?"
"What's wrong with them, they look fine to me?"
"They're automated cargo ships." He answered, rolling his eyes and running his hand over the deteriorating hull.
"What does that mean, won't they fly."
"Oh sure they'll fly," He said, the edge in his voice slowly increasing, "Course we'll die, and quite gruesomely I might add."
"What about that one?" Deanna asked, pointing past the mammoth cargo ship.
Will had to move to see the ship she was gesturing to, his gaze finally falling on it, he froze where he stood. His eyes drifted nostalgically over the scarred hull of the boomerang shaped ship, silently wondering how it got here.
"What's wrong with you?"
He afforded Deanna a hasty glance and a silencing gesture before he approached the ship. He crouched down beside it; brushing years of dirt and debris off the silver shell he read the serial numbers.
"This is the same ship I used to capture the plans from Romulas. How did it get here, I was nowhere near here when I was picked up. They must have set her adrift...I thought she'd been destroyed."
The fragments of information he offered were more for himself then Deanna, he figured if she wanted any more she'd just enter his mind and extract it.
"Who set it adrift?"
He pried open the hatch before turning to answer Deanna.
"I don't know, whoever picked me up. My brain got a little scrambled when I caromed off the maw. The first thing I remember is waking up in an infirmary on starbase 26."
"Someone saves your life and you don't even bother to find out who?" Deanna arched an untamed brow, and studied him closely.
"Everything moved too fast, I received a promotion, the war escalated, I didn't have time to breathe, let alone send thank you notes."
"Will it still fly?"
He stuck his head inside the cockpit, a heavy breath of frustration escaping his lungs, "She's been gutted." He stepped inside, darting his eyes over what was left of the control panel.
"This means we have no way to get out of here!"
Deanna's voice echoed through the ship and scraped over his nerves. He twisted his head to bark a nasty reply, her large, almost frightened eyes locked it in his throat.
"I'll think of something," He answered instead.
He knew if they got caught he'd only be killed, but she wouldn't be afforded that luxury ...She'd have to endure her punishment for years to come. He glanced around the cabin one more time before admitting there wasn't anything here for them, it seemed they'd taken everything except a small medical kit.... He scooped it up and left the ship.
"Maybe I can find a way to stabilize the pressure in the cargo ships," He spoke his thoughts aloud, hoping to wipe the fear from her face. He pulled up an optimistic smile from god knows where and accessed the hatch for the obsolete freighter.
He heard the jarring buzz before Deanna shouted her warning.
"Sensor Scouts! You said they'd think we were dead!"
"Guess they're not as gullible as they look," He growled, shooting from the ship and looking through the dusty windows, "No raiders yet, we have time!"
"Time for what.... We have to get out of here!"
"Shut up... I have to think!" He swiped his hand through his hair, thwarted by his lack of options. "See that loose metal on the back wall, pry it away.... We'll need another way out of here!"
He watched her expression shift from panic to doubt, he answered her concerns before she asked, "I don't care how you do it.... just do it!"
He was back inside the cargo ship before he'd finished speaking, ripping the exterior plate from the control panel. These ships had been used by pirates for years, their ability to transport illegal cargo without risking any lives had been a brilliant idea...the ships draw back had been its auto-destruct. If the ship fell under attack it instantly destroyed itself, the problem was they also destroyed themselves if anything hit them.... Any uncharted space debris hit the hull, it was bye bye cargo. He just hoped a few blasts of laser fire from a Sindareen weapon would cause the same effect. Splicing a few wires, that may or may not be the right ones...he killed the engines but sensitized the hull.
"Their here," Deanna cautioned.
"How many," He called back, nodding an encouragement to his handiwork.
"That hardly seems fair," he muttered under his breath as he headed for the exit to the ship.
A flicker of green light caught his eye. <Acid pistol> He thought, hesitantly, and carefully lifting it from its case. The weapon had been banned by everyone, even the Romulans over fifty years ago...he never thought he'd see one, and he sure as hell never thought he'd use one. It looked like something from an old earth novel, but the bullet it shot was filled with acid...once it penetrated the body, it broke open, burning its victim slowly and cruelly from the inside out.
"Captain Riker!" The tinny voice of a Sindareen raider bounced off the metal walls of the hanger.
"You won't be harmed if you come out now."
He stepped out of the ship, Deanna's hands immediately wrapping around his arm and pulling him toward the small exit she'd created.
"Not yet," He whispered, watching the shadows of the raiders as they moved guardedly towards the doorway. He freed his arm from Deanna's grasp, reversing their roles he pulled her behind the massive ship.
"Do you hear me Captain Riker!"
He could see their faces now, all he needed was a way to make them fire...The first Sindareen that entered the bay was the unlucky victim. He heard Deanna gasp as the warrior went down, his body writhing with pain, smoke slowly billowing from his nose and mouth.
"First shot that ricochets off the ship, I want you to run!" Deanna nodded uncertainly, her features showing no remorse at what was happening to the young Sindareen. Will fired again, the bullet hitting the metal door, sparking and hissing and finally drawing the four remaining Sindareen's fire. The laser fire filled the bay, Will dropped back behind the ship, thrusting Deanna towards the opening as the first volley hit the ship. He dove behind Deanna, heard the ship's alarm wind tighter, smelled the rancid air outside and felt the agonizing burn of a laser against his leg.
He could smell his flesh burning and felt his hot blood trickle down his leg as he pulled Deanna down the embankment. The explosion the Sindareen had detonated sounded behind them, vibrating the ground, and spitting beads of fire at their feet.
He flipped a look over his shoulder and grinned at Deanna, "Five down, only about four thousand more to go."
"I know where we can hide," She said, ignoring his grin and his pain.
"Following you really hasn't worked that well for me," He said, wincing at the tiny fire that seemed to be burning through his calf..
"Now you shut up," Deanna warned, her dead eyes finally alive with determination.
The objection he began to voice never left his lips, the powerful shove she gave him sent him over the ledge and back into the reservoir of chemical residue.
The echoing sound of water in his ears was replaced by the sound of his own heart as it pounded in protest. His lungs hungered for air, his stomach sent his brain a panicky cry to allow him to breathe. He felt his head begin to spin, his vision cloud, his consciousness begin to falter ........his body was taking away his control, and soon it would force him to breathe.
He felt a hard tug on his shirtsleeve, it was pulling him up instead of down, he vied to hold on to awareness. His hand gripped rock, smooth and slick, he struggled weakly upward, his muscles protesting their use as he finally pushed his head above water. He spit the breath he'd been holding from his lungs, gulping breath after breath of the stagnate air that filled the underground cave. When his head begin to clear and his muscles spasms eased, he slid himself the rest of the way out of the tepid black water.
"Is breathing an option for you?" He asked, looking up at Deanna. She stood above him; arms folded, her weight sifting impatiently, her chest hardly moving as she drew in slow, calm breaths.
"Are you able to walk now?" She asked, tucking the medical kit he'd found under her arm.
The tepid water had muted the burn of the laser blast to his calf, but now as the hot air dried his skin he could feel his flesh prickle with heat. He nodded up to her, accepting the hand she offered him, supporting the rest of his weight against the jagged wall of the cave.
At first he thought the wall felt strange because his hands were numb and wrinkled from the water, but as he pulled his hand away, a thick layer of slime came away with it.
"What is that?" He asked, spiraling the thick substance between his fingers.
He heard Deanna's steady breathing and thought he saw her silhouetted hand make a sweeping gesture. A dull light filled the corridor, permitting him to see the garnet colored walls and the shimmering liquid, the consistency of caramel that dripped over its surface. The coating on his fingers began to cause his skin to tinkle; the sensation drew his attention away from the walls.
"What's happening," He muttered as the dense liquid fizzled, thinned, began to break down and became an ashy, but visible vapor. The odor hit his nose just as the shimmering vapor paled again, ivory diluting to clear, and evaporating from sight. He held his hand out to Deanna questioningly, the minuscule trace of fragrance that remained, jogged his memory.
"I know where I've smelled this." His verbal revelation came just as Deanna had taken a breath to speak. "When my crew and myself were taken aboard the Aries, this smell....it was everywhere. What the hell is it?" He asked.
"These are the outer catacombs for the mines, chatting here is not a good idea." Deanna began to walk away; he grabbed her arm and stopped her with a harsh jerk, "Answer me!"
"It is the crystal, the Sindareen use it as a preservative."
"For what...and why would it be present on a feder..." His words fell off, his mind blurred; to gray, to black, to crystal clarity in the blink of an eye.
"You're very beautiful," He said, his eyes moving over her, thoroughly appreciating the way her damp dress clung to the curves of her breast, her nipples strained against the pale yellow fabric.
"Let's go," She said, a ghost of a smile softening her features, "You want to go with me, don't you?"
"Good... and you don't want to talk anymore either.... Right?"
He took the hand she offered him, her skin was warm, it felt good against his. He followed obediently behind her, watching her legs as her tanned skin appeared and disappeared from under her skirt, playing games with his mind, guessing how she would feel beneath him...the game aroused his senses, it also made him feel good.
"Has your head cleared?" Deanna asked, offering him a drink of water.
"Muddied is more like it...You were mentally stimulating though," he answered with a waggle of his brows.
Her smile at his comment caught him off guard; he shifted slightly, and pressed his head back against the stone wall. "What was that? It was like the drug your mother gave me?"
"My mother?" She offered him the ladle of water more insistently, he took it from her, "That figures, I can see how my mother could make use of a substance like the crystal."
He chuckled slightly, wiped a few dribbles of water from his chin, and leaned closer to her, "I've only been here a couple days, but it doesn't take a genus to figure out that the federation and the Sindareen are in bed together ...why?"
"I'm not sure. I know when the crystal comes in contact with flesh, it vaporizes and the outcome is the black and white susceptibility you experienced."
"Is that what the slaves are used for?"
She nodded slowly, and massaged her thumb over the palm of her hand, "The crystal is brought to us in large vats, from there we transfer it as vapor into tankards. Some of the tankards remain here, their contents pumped into the central chamber; the rest are loaded on Federation vessels much like the one you arrived on.... After that I don't know what happens."
He took both her hands in his, he wasn't sure if it was to stop her fidgeting, or because he wanted to touch her, "Wouldn't that mean that the slaves are under the control of the crystal all the time."
"No," She answered distractedly, her eyes fixed on his thumbs as they stroked methodically over her hands, "Not anymore, there were too many deaths from direct exposure.... The losses were slowing the shipments."
"I wonder why it was on the Aries, maybe the federation has found a way to use it as a weapon." He was thinking aloud, but continued, "If there was a way to filter it into a Warbird, you'd have a captain and crew eating out of your hand." He felt her fist clench under his hands, "Is that right, is it a weapon?"
"I don't know.... I don't think so."
"Why.... Why don't you think so?"
"I just don't think so, that's all." She pulled her hands from his, "You're the Starfleet Captain, if there was such a weapon wouldn't you have been informed?"
He shrugged, "Maybe not, The Ventures been in deep space for a long time, I doubt Starfleet would find it necessary to keep us informed on future possibilities until they were ready to fly."
"So, you have no problem with the federation forming an alliance with the Sindareen as long as it benefits your little war!" Her voice regained its edge, her eyes there haunting ability to look through him.
"Oh shit," He scowled, flopping back against the wall, "Don't go getting all bitchy again...I was only suggesting a possibility. Maybe if you'd be a little more straight forward I wouldn't have to."
"I've told you everything I know."
"That's a load of shit and you know it," He snapped, pushing himself to his feet, wincing as the injury to his leg objected to his sudden movement.
"I don't know, I swear!" She shot to her feet in front of him, her eyes black and driven.
"Fine," He answered coolly, "If you're as innocent as you say, take me to this central chamber, we'll find out together what's going on."
"No....it's too dangerous."
"Oh come on, it can't be anymore dangerous then all these little adventures you keep dragging me on,"
"We'll die, if we try it," She said, the glint in her eyes shadowed with fear.
"You've been saying that since I met you, hasn't happened yet." He raised his brows hopefully, hiding his thirsty grin behind a self-assured smirk.
He watched her as she closed her eyes and dropped her head forward, her gesture of defeat freeing the grin he'd been hiding.
"Relax," He offered, responding to the apprehension on her face,
"We'll be fine, and if you're right and the federation has been dicking
me around, you have my permission to say I told you so.
He turned and shot an impatient look to Deanna, opened his mouth to speak but closed it as a frigid gust blew through him. She was the same woman he'd just met, but it was as if he was looking at her through someone else's eyes, eyes that saw beyond her tattered appearance, into her soul.... A soul for a heartbeat in time he was sure he knew. Then as if he'd taken a physical blow, the glacial chill was gone, air was slammed into his lungs, and adrenaline surged through his veins, increasing his heart and causing his head to spin.
"What the hell was that," He asked on a ragged breath, leaning against the rocky wall and trying to recreate the memory.
The searching look on her face and the way she had her arms wrapped securely around herself suggested to him that whatever the hell just happened to him had affected her as well.
"I don't know...I felt a barrage of emotions, heard hundreds of voices...." She shook her head in frustration, or maybe it was fear, "Will...they were all yours."
He blew out a few breaths of air, shook his head, and ran a hand through his hair. "Must be the crystal again.... Maybe we should get the hell out of this chamber." He offered her a shaky grin and nodded encouragingly.
"I'd like to leave this moon now," She said flatly, as if he could snap his fingers and make it all go away.
"Sounds like a plan," he said, repeatedly cocking his head towards the exit, "your moving is instrumental to the plan though." He moved towards her, took hold of her arm and gently guided her towards the exit, "Hello...Deanna...where are you?" He waved his hand in front of her face, and put a bit of pressure on her arm.
Her eyes slowly regained their focus; she furrowed her brows and stared at him. "Imzadi." The word was foreign to Riker, but he was becoming accustomed to her cold voice.
"That's a new one," He said, curling his lips into a smug grin, "But if it's anything like asshole, you're not the first woman to think so."
"What?" She said, shaking her head as if she was trying to rid herself of her thoughts.
"I just figured you were being nasty...You do have a knack for acting that way."
She rolled her eyes, he was almost certain he could see amusement toying with her features, but she didn't offer anything further, instead she pulled him away from the arched opening, deeper into the chamber.
"We'll take the crawl space to the central chamber," She said, tilting her head towards a small opening in the wall above her.
"Your mind does drift doesn't it?" He said, testing the footholds that led to the opening.
He continued to crawl on his belly towards the pulsing orange light in the distance, Deanna's odd behavior and his drug induced hallucination from earlier continued to haunt him. The only concrete thing he could remember about the sensation was that in that instant Deanna Troi wasn't a stranger to him, the feeling was similar to the one he had felt when he'd looked at her portrait at the Troi estate, and when he had dreamt of her dead body laying beside him in his bed...a glimmer of recognition, that defused the minute his mind touched it.
He paused as the ground beneath him changed, the gritty rock now a manmade tube of grated metal allowing him to see below him. There was an intermittent hum, it seemed to coincide with the pulsing of the light, he crawled faster, keeping one eye on the tunnel below.
"Damn," He mumbled under his breath as he tried to see beyond the blinding light into the circular chamber below.
"Stay here," he whispered to Deanna, pulling himself out of the crawl space and onto the woven ceiling above the chamber.
The metal creaked with age, and buckled slightly with his weight. He brushed away some dirt and peered at the intricate web below him...Bodies hung by threads around the outer edges of the pulsing globe of light, each body attached at the head to the globe. He eyed the alien machinery, one particular element holding his attention. He swallowed hard, recognizing the tiny device as one he'd stolen from Romulas with the schematics for the cloak.
He startled as the doors to the chamber rumbled open, his sudden movement sending dirt through the grate to the floor.
"Captain Riker...your little quest is over, come down here or I'll be forced to kill her."
Will snapped his head around to check Deanna, she was safely huddled in the entrance to the crawl space. He remained quiet; trying to override his anger towards this man he thought had been his friend.
"I know you hear me Captain!" Admiral Hayes voice came simultaneously with a blast that penetrated the ceiling, crumbling the center to the ground. "And I know if you let me explain you'll appreciate the brilliance of my plan."
Will's body began to shake with rage, but as he looked though the hole Hayes had blown in the ceiling, his rage was replaced with an incredible relief.
"Cassie," He whispered, moving closer to the ladder that would bring him down.
She was dead, he saw it, he felt it, the image of her battered body had been chiseled in his mind. He knew it was impossible but his heart pushed him towards the ladder.
"Don't Will!" Deanna's warning delayed him for only an instant.
"Don't hurt her Hayes, I'm coming down."
"Hurry Will please!" The sound of Cassidy's voice caused a lump to form in his throat and an alarm to go off in his head. Cassidy would never encourage him to give in, especially to anyone that was working with the Sindareen, and Cassidy was dead.... She had to be a hologram.
He drew the foot he'd placed on the first rung of the ladder back up.
"Forget it Admiral, I don't know what your game is, but I'd rather die then play it."
"You're not going to die Captain, you're too valuable to me."
He heard Hayes order the three Sindareen up the ladder, he pressed his body against the wall and sidestepped his way towards Deanna.
"Hurry," Deanna pleaded, moving out of the crawl space towards him.
"Don't come out!" He ordered, tossing a look behind him to the ascending Sindareen.
He wasn't going to make it at this pace, he had to try and make it across the weakened grating. He pushed himself off the wall and lunged towards the crawl space... His jump fell short, his foot puncturing the ceiling, the cold metal severing his skin.
"Shit," He cursed; trying to free his foot from the snare he'd created for himself.
He heard Deanna's scream, saw her dive towards him and felt the heat of the Sindareen laser as it whizzed past his head and struck her squarely in the chest.
He reached out for her, his hand falling empty beside him, Deanna's lifeless body falling to a twisted heap on the metal floor below.
His body went numb, voices muffled, his eyes blurred, he watched a hazy image
of his own blood dripping like tears onto her fractured body.
"You still haven't figured it out, have you?" She could hear the satisfaction in the voice before the familiar face appeared in front of her, his lips drawn into a broad grin. Reality was muted, she drew her hand to the agonizing ache in her chest, it came away wet and sticky with her blood.
"I'm dead," She said, so calmly she surprised herself.
"Don't skirt my question with trivial concepts," Q answered, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes fixed not on her, but the still body of Captain Riker above her. "What do you think of him?" He asked, offering her a hand and helping her to her feet.
"What difference does it make, I'm dead."
Q rolled his eyes. "How do you know, have you ever been dead, what is death.... Another phase of life, or an end to time? But then there is no end to time which would suggest that the concept your needle seems to be stuck on is completely irrelevant to my question.... Which by the way still hasn't been answered."
"Why are you here?" She averted his eyes; instead focusing on the tiny tears of blood that hung motionless above her.
"I like him," Q said, nodding approvingly, "He looks like hell, but it's nice to see him blazing his own trail without having his thunder silenced by a bald man, an android and an overeager teenager."
"Stop it!" Deanna raked a frustrated hand through her hair, "Stop talking in riddles."
"Riddles....moi?" Q answered, tapping his finger against his chest.
"What was I suppose to figure out, I don't understand any of this...He's responsible for all of this!" She pointed an accusing finger at Riker, then gestured around her to the elaborate web of machinery and bodies. "If it weren't for him and his blind ambition, none of this would exist.... This entire network of command, this raping of human consciousness, the war, the alliance with the Sindareen..."
"Do I detect a note of bitterness?"
"No Q.... You detect an entire song!"
Q chuckled softly, shaking his head calmly. "He followed orders my dear, you certainly can't fault him for that...and against all odds he carried them out...I'm quite proud of him, by all counts he should have never succeeded. I honestly don't think you can hold him responsible for this little glitch in time."
"Glitch.... Glitch, I'm not certain what's going on, but it certainly is more then a glitch!" She clenched her fist at her sides, her anger with him and his arrogant attitude overriding any fear he may have been trying to generate.
"He had no way of knowing his little maneuver against the maw of purgatory would create this fusion of time."
"Why are you defending him, he didn't have to follow those orders."
Q's eyes grew dark, locking on Deanna with an almost physical force that caused her to shudder. "Actually Miss. Troi, those orders should never have been received, this timeline should never have been formed. A timeline I might add that's been slowly absorbing all the others, meshing them into one line of constant time...But I think you already knew that, didn't you?"
"No, no." She shook her head, "How would I know that?"
Q's pitch-dark eyes seemed to penetrate into her soul; she shifted under his watchful and suspicious gaze.
"The crystal has amplified your mental skills well beyond what you've shared with Captain Riker, if you'd told him your suspicions from the beginning, he could have reversed his mistake."
"I'm not sure why you're trying to blame me for a timeline that you yourself said wasn't suppose to exist...Or how sharing the familiar feelings I felt for Captain Riker would have helped him."
"Because he felt it too.... But he's hard, unwilling to except anything he can't find evidence to substantiate. I tried to warn him, practically threw him in your lap. Oh well," He added with a sigh and a wave of his hand, "It's hardly relevant anymore, Captain Riker is going to die, but unfortunately his death won't amount to much, and this fusion of time will continue without him." He gestured to the two Sindareen and the weapons they had trained on the rigid Captain Riker.
Deanna looked away, to the floor, the pang of guilt she'd been feeling exploding into a throbbing ache in her belly...Why hadn't she been honest, told Will exactly what Q had said to her that day, why had she brought him here, to this chamber, the one where Cassidy's essence still existed...Was she so bitter, so angry over her abduction, her brutal treatment she was unable to trust.... anyone, even the man Q had told her would come for her someday. Qs words that day, his warning, to look beyond the man you see, to the man he is, rang clearly through her mind, and finally made sense.
With an angry hand she wiped a tear from her cheek, studying the glistening moisture on her fingers as if the answer she needed was hidden there.
"What can I do?" She finally asked, looking through the veil of tears that sparkled in her eyes.
Q laughed, deep and bloodless, it echoed throughout the chamber.....and as quickly as his outburst began, it fell off, his lips thinning, his brows furrowing, hardening the frigid, uncaring look in his eyes.
"Nothing...Without Captain Riker's expertise on the Maw, realigning and separating the lines of time is impossible...Only he knows what he did, and his knowledge unfortunately will die with him."
Deanna chewed her lip and thought, knowing if she asked for his help, begged for his help, it would only deepen this obvious pleasure he was getting from hers and Riker's human weaknesses.
"Of course...." He said, in an off the cuff fashion that startled her from her thoughts, "I've always had a soft spot for William Riker, but then it would be wrong of me to play god.....again."
"Again?" Deanna said, stepping closer to him, targeting him with a look that eclipsed all her fear, "You've already interfered haven't you...You said this timeline wasn't suppose to exist!"
"That's true, but I'm not responsible for that.... Not exactly."
"Not exactly?" She said, stepping even closer, and clenching her fists at her sides.
Q looked down on her, unimpressed by her display of courage, "As I said I've always liked Riker...he's a tough nut, for a human.... I felt I was doing him a favor when I saved his life." He folded his arms over his chest, "It seems the good Captain's brilliant move against the Maw wasn't as brilliant as he thought...I just gave him a boost, so to speak."
"A boost!" She snapped, "You mean he should have died then, in his escape, none of this technology should have been retrieved from Romulas!"
His eyes narrowed, she refused to bow down to his threatening looks. Something still didn't make sense, if that were the entire truth, then Riker should have been dead long ago, something in that thought ate away at her.... It was not how she remembered it, and it certainly wasn't the sense she'd been getting in this overlapping of time.
"You said.... You said his orders should never have been received...if that's true, then he shouldn't have been going up against the Maw in the first place, you shouldn't have had to save him...what's really responsible for this Q?"
He patted his mouth and forced a yawn.
He appeared to be ignoring her; he walked slowly and leisurely to the communication station, tapped the access switch, and began spouting orders into the Comm.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm dispensing orders." He tapped the relay switches, then turned to look at her. "I wonder where they've gone?"
Her eyes moved between the communication relay station and the smug grin on Q's face.
"Wherever you sent them."
"Perhaps.... And then where?" He waved a finger in front of her face and leaned closer to her, "Have you ever sent a message that was never received, have you ever asked yourself where all the radio waves go...where all sounds go for that matter" He leaned even closer, his warm breath kissing her cheeks, "...I'll tell you where they go, they bounce around endlessly in space.... Our conversation now is being recorded, incorporated into the vast expanse of time and space...Some are sent billions of light-years away, others bounce repeatedly, trapped in the wake of a pulsar, or forever silenced inside the belly of a black hole."
In pure Q fashion she knew he was trying to tell her something, she also knew this would be the extent of the information he was willing to tell her.
"And others..." She began guardedly, "Are harnessed, picked up by satellites, radio towers. Is that what happened here, were Will's orders lost, sentenced to space to drift and ricochet forever." She noticed the arch of his brows and continued, "But something happened, someone or something deflected them, sent them back where they breached the line of time and space?"
"Crudely put, but close enough."
"Then you can stop them...it.... You can stop them."
"I'm afraid not my dear, Time is a perpetual loop, if I prevent the transmission from reaching him this time, it will only recur again.... Captain Riker will make the same decision, and without my help he'll die in the Maw of Purgatory."
"Then we have to stop him from making the decision."
"Impossible," Q scoffed, "He is who he is...His decision will never change. Pity, he would have made a fine first officer."
Deanna shook her head; ignoring Q's gibberish she played her last card.
"Send me back, let me change his mind.... Stop him from making this mistake again. You have nothing to lose either way...And think about it Q, how boring it will be with only one line of constant time...so few choices on who to harass from day to day."
Q stroked a thoughtful hand over his chin, a small smile curling his mouth, "If I were human I could be offended by that remark...But considering what I've seen here, it might be enjoyable to watch...I'm not sure if you've noticed this, but Captain Riker doesn't really care for you."
"But he won't know me.... Right?"
"I'll give you three days, if he makes the same decision, I will allow this loop to continue, this is the only chance you have...if you fail, you, Riker, the whole lot of you will be only a fond memory for me."
She considered asking for more time, but nodded an agreement instead.
"I'm curious ...why are you doing this, is it for him." He tipped his head up towards the grated ceiling, "Because I can warn you now he will cause you pain in the proper line of time...Or is it something more selfish then that, a desire to undo the outcome of my actions to save him, destroy this existence that has stripped you of who you are?"
Inwardly she felt herself shrinking under his overpowering presence, the challenging, all-knowing look in his eyes.
"I don't know why I'm doing it.... I know I don't like this place or this time...If I can't save him, then maybe I can restore the galaxy to its proper state."
Q blew out a disgusted burst of air, "How noble." He sneered, "But remember, the outcome of his death in the Maw hasn't presented itself yet, you may be sentencing your kind to an even worse fate...my interference in Riker's escape may have changed nothing, except the existence of the man himself." His voice sounded hollow, each word seemed to amplify and repeat in her mind.
However, she wasn't going to admit to him that she hadn't thought that far, "Then I'll just have to make sure I stop him," She said with more conviction then she inwardly felt.
"Three days," He repeated with a wave of his hand.
Q stood alone in the empty void of a future that hadn't been created yet and
began to chuckle...at her weakness, at her confidence, at her conviction..."My,
my," He mumbled to himself, "Won't she be surprised."
Deanna's toes instinctively curled into the plush velvet carpet under her feet, her eyes watched the breath of silk that tickled lightly against her thighs. Years since she felt the soft, warmth the two sensations caused, she momentarily forgot why and how she'd come to be in this unfamiliar place.
"I'll meet you for lunch at thirteen hundred hours!" She pivoted towards the sound of the voice and took a step back as the shadow approached. "I love you!" She focused on the hand that snaked around the door edge, composing herself before looking at the man that stood grinning in the doorway. The grin was the same, as was the smoky gaze he prowled over her scantly clad body, but the eyes themselves were different, lacking the shadows of caution, the flecks of dangerous confidence, these eyes held a soft serenity, a gentle acceptance she could almost feel.
"I know you're disappointed." He was in front of her, lifting the weight of her hair in his hand and kissing it before she could collect herself enough to respond. "We will have a honeymoon...someday."
Surprising herself she leaned into the embrace he offered her, drawing in a breath of him. In his arms, her head resting on the muscles of his chest, his breath dusting lightly against her hair, the unconditional emotions washing over her, she found a safety and a degree of love she'd never felt before.
Perhaps the first perfect moment she'd experienced in her life was slapped away with a monstrous hand as her mind demanded answers as to why she was here, where here was. She relinquished the comfort of his closeness reluctantly and looked up into his eyes.
"I know we will," she whispered, bluffing until she could understand what Q had done.
"You sure you're all right?" His eyes moved discerningly over each of her features, studying her so closely she was certain he knew something was out of place.
She smiled and nodded, the breath she'd inhaled to verbally assure him was interrupted.
<Bridge to Captain Riker.>
Before the man in front of her had tapped the badge on his chest, his entire demeanor changed. This man, the one speaking to someone named LaForge was the man she'd come to know on the Lotus moon, the gentleness that had flickered like starlight in his eyes now flashed blue-black with confidence and determination.
"I don't care how you do it Geordi...divert power from anywhere on the ship. We need those emitters charged and we need to get back to Earth ASAP."
Riker's frown amplified the lines of age around his eyes, the wrinkle between his brows that she hadn't noticed before. She turned to the mirror on the far wall and stared at her own reflection, it too showed signs of age. Her hand lifted unconsciously to the outer corners of her eyes.
"I'm on my way Geordi."
She jumped when Riker's hands crept around the back of her neck. "I'll see you soon." Placing a kiss on the corner of her cheek, he was gone before she'd gathered her thoughts.
"Mrs. Riker...Has a nice ring to it."
"Q" Her eyes locked with the reflection in the mirror. "Where am I?"
Exactly where you ask me to send you."
"But this isn't the past?"
"I don't remember mentioning the past."
"You said back Q."
"Back, forward, past, present, life, death...you really must stop thinking so dimensionally." He circled her like a wolf sizing up it's prey, his self satisfied gaze never fading.
"You said he wouldn't know me...Q, I'm his wife."
"Actually I said three days, you said he wouldn't know you." As if she were a child he tapped his index finger against her nose.
"I don't even know him...How can I pretend to be his wife."
"That's where you're wrong my dear." His glib smile, his laughing eyes gave way to a dark pensive frown. "William Riker is a part of you no matter the state of time and space--in your heart you know that. Open your soul and you'll find him there."
"What?" She felt her brows knit, her hands fist at her sides.
"Three days Counselor Riker, in three days your opportunity to change Captain Riker's mind will present itself." His smile returned, bleeding slowly over his face. "With that in mind I suggest you pay less attention to the lines on your face and stay by your husband's side--That is unless you see reason to step away."
He vanished, leaving an echo of his warning in her mind and a chilling gust of wind that swept up her spine like a demon's finger.
With her advanced telepathic sense and the help of the ship's computer, figuring out her role on this starship Enterprise and the star-date wasn't difficult. She was twenty years in the future, married to Will Riker for six months. She chewed her bottom lip and sank back into the cushion of her chair with a heavy sigh.
"How can this future so profoundly affect the past." She'd muttered the question under her breath over a dozen times in the last half-hour and turned Q's vague clue over in her mind as many times. Nothing came to her, at least nothing that made sense in respect to the Enterprise's recall to sector 001.
Her frown darkened as she once again read the orders on the desk-padd beside her. Return to earth, Civil crisis with Mars colony intensifying.
"Knock, knock." The hiss of the doors and the verbal intrusion came simultaneously.
"Doctor." She greeted the auburn-haired woman by a title shed surmised only by the color of her uniform and the rank insignia on her collar.
"Doctor...well, arent we formal...Please, call me Beverly"
Deanna couldnt help smiling at the mischievous grin that not only twitched the doctors lips, but caused her eyes to twinkle with the same sentiment.
"Im sorry Beverly, I was concentrating."
"Its okay, I understand you have a lot to think about at the moment." The padd Deanna had been studying tumbled to the floor as this starship doctor flopped on the couch beside her. "Shouldnt you be studying the ups and downs of parenting," Beverlys smile shadowed, "Not emitter specification. You havent even told him yet, have you?" She shook her head and brushed away the few strands of hair that clung to her cheeks. "There will never be a perfect time Deanna."
Deannas eyes drifted to the hand Beverly lightly tapped against her stomach. The realization of what she was talking about and the sudden awareness of the consciousness she sensed from inside herself caused her heart to race, the color to drain from her face.
"Are you all right Deanna?"
"Im fine, Im feeling a little tired thats all. Maybe we could finish this conversation later."
"Well finish after Im satisfied its only fatigue."
Deanna slouched back on the couch and allowed Beverly to complete her tricorder scan. She didnt know much about this ships doctor, but even without telepathy shed have known better then to refuse her anything when it came to the well-being of her patients.
She tried hard to focus on the mesmerizing hum of the tricorder, but instead her thoughts continued to drift to the vague presence that grew inside her.
Her hand circled her stomach almost reverently. She didnt love Will Riker, she hardly knew him, and yet she felt a completeness in what shed just learned.
"Im fine Beverly...Really." She swatted the Doctors hand away. "I just need to rest."
"I agree," Beverly answered reluctantly, "Make sure you get it." She was off the couch and in the hall outside Deannas quarters before Deanna had stood up. "You know Deanna." She stopped the door with her hand before it hissed shut. "Will has a lot of strain on him right now--Please dont think that that little miracle inside you will add to it. He needs good news---You and that unborn child are the only positives in his life right now."
"Ill tell him. I promise." She was vaguely aware that shed
answered Beverly and unaware of the door that closed and sealed her in her quarters.
"Why do I feel like this. I need to find out more about my relationship
will William Riker. I need to know why a man can affect me so profoundly in