ST: The Next Generation - Retribution (REPOST) Full length "pre-Nemesis" novel
Posted 16 June 2010 - 01:32 PM
Cover by D. Kessler
The Next Generation
By T.L. Shull
This novel is a fan written work and is not intended to infringe upon the copyrights of Paramount Pictures, CBS Corporation, or Pocket Books. It is provided free of charge to all fans for your enjoyment. Unauthorized copying or reproduction is prohibited. "Star Trek" is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures and CBS Corporation.
Posted 16 June 2010 - 01:49 PM
When blood sees blood
Of its own
It sings to see itself again
It sings to hear the voice it's known
It sings to recognize the face
One body split and passed along the line
From the shoulder to the hip
I know these bones as being mine
And the curving of the lip
And my question to you is:
How did this come to pass?
How did this one life fall so far and fast?
Some are lean and some with grace, and some without;
All tell the story that repeats
Of a child who had been left alone at birth
Left to fend and taught to fight
See his eyes and how they start with light
Getting colder as the pictures go
Did he carry his bad luck upon his back?
That bad luck we've all come to know
And my question to you is:
How did this come to pass?
How did this one life fall so far and fast?
When blood sees blood
Of its own
It sings to see itself again Blood SingsSuzanne Vega
Posted 16 June 2010 - 01:56 PM
Refrigeration unit? Ha! Still hot as hell in here.
At least there're no damned lights.
At least it's quiet.
At least there's no damned talking.
At least there're no damned lights.
At least there's no screaming...
Damned sweat box.
Burning. Scalding claws. Burning damned bugs.
Hot, quiet and dark.
At least there are no lights.
So hot. So tired…
Refrigeration unit, my ass!
At least there's no screaming...
Time to count. Keep my mind straight.
I promised her. I promised her I'd beat them.
I promised her I would always remember.
Time to count.
One. One way to beat them. Never forget.
Two. Two eyes have seen. Never forget.
Three. There are three Vorta. Never forget.
Four. There are always four. Never forget.
Five. There are five Cardassians. Never forget.
Six. Six walls to this box. Never forget.
Seven. There are seven Jem'Hadar.
Posted 16 June 2010 - 02:13 PM
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
Standard Orbit of Benecia
He leaned back into the familiar comfort of the command chair and looked up to the viewscreen to see the black expanse of the space which lay before him. The proverbial blank slate.
He took a deep breath in and exhaled just as deeply, soaking in the perfection of the moment, just like Anij had taught him.
The ship had just broken standard orbit of the planet Benecia after a quick stop to deliver medical supplies to the colony.
His smile became impossible for him to hide and Riker had noticed it. "Glad to be back sir?" asked his First Officer who peered over to him from the position to his right.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard turned his contented face to his long-time Executive Officer and nodded. "It's been far too long, Number One, don't you agree?"
Commander William T. Riker stole a glance over to Counselor Deanna Troi who also appeared at ease in her chair to the Captain's left. Her dark hair was pulled back loosely, giving him an unobstructed view of her incredible black eyes. He smiled broadly when memories of the night before flooded forward. We're back to exploring and Deanna is mine! Does life get any better than this?!
"I do indeed sir," Riker answered with a broad smile. He stroked his face where his beard once resided and he thought twice about how he could approach Deanna about his desire to re-grow it. He liked his beard and he missed it. His CO's voice grabbed his attention once more.
"Set a course for the Nyx Nebula, Ensign. I understand we'll be lucky to catch the birth of a bouncing baby Class O star." Picard smiled with his order.
"Only if we engage at warp three or higher, Captain," informed Lieutenant Commander Data sitting in his usual spot at the Operations console, his bright yellow android eyes resting on Picard in the factual-yet-assisting manner that Picard had become accustomed to many years before.
"Then make it warp three point five, Ensign. I wouldn't want to be late." He smiled gently.
"Aye sir," responded the Flight Controller at the helm as his hands moved across the panel. "Course laid in and ready sir."
Exhaling a sigh that contained all of his excitement, anticipation and joy, Picard leaned forward in the chair and looked to the viewscreen, anxious to see what lay ahead. "Engage."
USS Panther – NX-90261
Patrol of Cardassian-UFP border near Bajor
Captain's Ready Room
There was a slight chirp from the PADD when the DNA analysis was complete. She read the orders then read them again. She rubbed her eyes softly then read them once more.
Captain Antoinette Steele couldn't pull her searing green eyes away from the PADD in her hand – the orders seemed surreal to her. "Thank you Reed." She shook her head with confusion. "I guess you don't know anything about this either?" She addressed her counterpart from the Steamrunner class ship which sat off the Panther's port bow.
Captain Reed Carson stood in front of her in the ready room with an annoyed expression plastered across his ruddy face. "You got that right, Toni. All Jellico did was summon the Appalachia to Earth. When we got there, I was called to his office where he handed me my orders to hand that PADD directly to your hands in private and then leave. Nothing else."
Steele set the PADD face down on her desk then pushed her chair back, stood and walked around to Carson. "Well, I wish I could ask you to stay for dinner, but it appears we'll be moving on. Give my best to Claire." She smiled and extended her hand.
"I will Toni. You take care – whatever this is about okay?" Returning her salutation, he extended his hand and shook hers.
"Will do, Reed. Thanks for your trouble."
Captain Carson turned on his heel then exited the ready room of the sparkling new defense ship.
Steele picked up the PADD once more and clicked her combadge. "Captain to Malek, report to the ready room, please."
"Aye sir," responded a male voice.
Within moments the door to her ready room slid open and a vivid-blue Andorian man entered. His antennae stood straight from his forehead and a shock of pure white hair. They swiveled gracefully from side to side, taking in his relatively new surroundings. He bore three small gold pips on the collar of his Starfleet uniform. The red color of his collar appeared to glow against the sapphire hue of his skin. "Captain?"
Steele moved towards him as he entered then sighed heavily as she handed him the PADD. "Tell me what you think of this, Malek."
Her Executive Officer removed the PADD from her hand and reviewed it. His head pulled back and his antennae lifted with confusion. "But it'll be two weeks before we can catch up to them, and that's at high warp. Why would they call us? Isn't anyone closer?"
Steele nodded in agreement. "That's what I thought too. But look further…we aren't the only ones being moved. We'll be meeting up with the USS Jaguar as well."
Malek's eyes flew back to those of his new CO. "The Jaguar? Now what's so important that the Enterprise needs to be escorted home by two Panthera class ships?"
Steele moved back to her chair and sat, her eyes never leaving those of her XO, her look of perturbation easy for him to recognize. "I have no idea Malek. The one thing I do know? Picard will not be happy." She finally broke her gaze from her XO and rubbed her eyes again tiredly. "I have never met the man, but by the time we reach them they'll be long past the Megaran system and heading out for the Nyx creation nebula. Being pulled back to the Sol System under escort will not be an easy pill for him to swallow."
"I gather not." He handed the PADD back to her. "After everything they've been through, I understand that many of the crew were looking forward to rekindling their exploration duties."
"Exactly. I have a good friend on her crew and I know he's been itching to get back to the unexplored sectors." She sighed again heavily, set the PADD back on her desk and pulled her straight, long, jet-black hair behind her head then let it loosely fall back. "Well, no sense in wasting time. Set a course for intercept of the Enterprise and engage at warp eight."
Malek nodded. "Aye sir." He departed the ready room quickly.
Steele leaned back in her chair and stretched her neck, her eyes roamed the room. She loved her new ship and it already had felt like she had become a part of it. She appreciated its tight and aggressive design.
She rested her eyes upon an unusual painting behind her desk and she smiled. The painting was filled with the impressionistic image of a light brown and sandy countryside butted up against a distinctly powder blue and cloudless sky. The rolling landscape bore dark green patches of what resembled bushy trees. Very few colors were used to paint the picture yet it sang to her all the same. It was a painting of a desolate, dry and lonely place to most, but to her it was a painting of everything familiar and home.
Slowly, her eyes found and locked onto a photograph on the bureau behind her desk. A pocked, scarred and rugged face smiled back at her from within the frame. His black hair and dark eyes seemed to calm her. She smiled and briefly touched the photo and whispered to it, "Well Paul, this should be interesting."
She turned towards her desk and resumed reading reports of the day.
This post has been edited by Terilynn: 16 June 2010 - 02:13 PM
Posted 16 June 2010 - 02:20 PM
Temporary Office of Minister of Security
Gul Cacet read the tablet in his hands then stretched his broad Cardassian neck from side to side as he sneered. "Are you sure the guarantees are in place?"
"Yes Gul," replied his assistant, Prethet. "They have assured us that this will not fail." He grimaced. "Although I must admit I am still uncomfortable with the arrangements."
Cacet's scowl deepened across his scaled face and nodded in agreement. "Yes Prethet. I am also unhappy this has gone so far. Yet I must admit the risk has been worth it. We have been able to stabilize much with what we've received from them and they will be able to obtain those precious to them as well." He shifted in his chair and handed the tablet back to his assistant. "Be that as it may, I agree with your recommendations and I'm pleased that you don't trust the situation either. Assure that two battle cruisers watch for activity along the border."
Prethet allowed a satisfied smile from his own grey-tinged face and nodded. "Yes Gul!"
Gul Cacet's sneer deepened. "We cannot allow undue influence by the Federation now. Not when we're so close to controlling the rebellion once and for all. If this fails, so will everything we have worked for since the end of the Dominion's control over us."
Prethet bowed his head respectfully, turned sharply and left his superior's office.
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
En route to Nyx Creation Nebula, Alpha Quadrant
Captain's Ready Room
He stood in his usual spot by the windows of his ready room and allowed his eyes to gaze upon the enormity of the nebula in the far-off distance. The Enterprise moved slowly towards its amalgam of colors – reds seeped into purples which blended back into pinks; hot blue-white gems sparkled through the veil of dark dust lanes and creation spires before him. Picard smiled unconsciously, for it was the first time since the end of the Dominion War he felt like he was making his way back towards home – to the unknown.
Anij and her kind were now a dark, secret burden of the Federation. He would miss Ba'ku. He would miss Anij, but her affection and wisdom helped him realize that he had other things to do, other tasks to accomplish.
His eyes brightened with awe of the expansive nebula outside his window. It's time to move on. It's time to see what else is out there.
The door to the room slid open and Riker moved forward not surprised to see his captain staring out the window. He caught him often enough in the past, that to see him there made him smile. "Beautiful, isn't it sir?"
Picard turned his head briefly and displayed his grin to his XO. "Incredible, Number One. Just look at it…full of potential…" He turned his head back toward his view. "…full of new journeys."
"Aye sir," Riker replied gently. "I'm looking forward to them."
"As am I, Number One…as am I," admitted Picard and he turned to address him. "Now what can I do for…"
"Captain, we have detected a ship on long-range sensors." Picard's comm interrupted with Data's clear voice. "It is on an intercept course."
"On my way Data." Picard's eyes bolted to Riker's and his joy immediately dissipated. "What ship would be out here?"
"You got me, sir." Riker shrugged as he followed Picard out to the main bridge. Troi was sitting at her post watching the viewscreen as a tiny white speck began to appear in its center. Picard and Riker moved forward to sit at their respective posts.
"Report," Picard ordered.
Worf's deep voice resonated through the bridge and Picard was happy to hear it. To have Worf back on the Enterprise felt like the family was whole again. "It appears to be a heavily armed vessel Captain," he grunted.
Data's hand moved with blinding speed across his panel. "Sensors indicate amounts of tritanium typically used in Federation ships Captain, but the identity signature has not yet been picked up by long-range scans."
"Magnify," Picard ordered and the viewscreen focused closer on the tiny white speck, but to Picard's frustration he couldn't recognize the silhouette of the silvery vessel.
"It appears to have close to twice the firepower of the Enterprise sir, but she's just over half the size!" Worf said with reserved excitement and Picard almost shivered with the thought that Worf had actually been impressed by its firepower.
Data's cool voice cut in, "Sir, the identification signal has been received. It is Federation registry number NX-90261 – the USS Panther and it remains on an intercept course."
Picard contorted his face with confusion. What's that ship doing way out here?
"The Panther? Wasn't she just launched?" Riker questioned.
"She's a defense ship, isn't she Captain?" asked Troi.
"Yes to both questions," answered Picard. "Hail them, Mister Worf."
"Aye sir," Worf replied and his hands jumped across the panel at his tactical station. He looked up in confusion and concern. "Sir, they are not responding to our hails. I recommend we go to yellow alert."
Picard's brow furrowed deeply. Worf always wanted to go to alert when things weren't perfect – which they rarely were. "Not yet Mr. Worf. I think we should allow them to approach. They're still one of us."
"They certainly seem to be in a rush sir," Riker stated.
The ship grew in size and clarity on the viewscreen and approached the Enterprise quickly.
"They are still ignoring our hails Captain!" Worf warned.
"Have they powered any weapon arrays Worf?" asked Riker urgently.
Worf grumbled slightly. "No sir."
"Then maintain position Ensign," Picard ordered. "Let's see what this is all about, shall we?"
The Panther moved in, slowed and slipped into bow-to-bridge position, her nose pointed directly down upon the larger Enterprise. Although the craft was significantly smaller than the Enterprise her hull's aggressive design and obvious focus on weaponry made those on the bridge shift uncomfortably in their seats.
Picard stood from his chair as the ship's hull came into view on the screen ahead of him. He instinctively sucked in his breath. "She's remarkable," he whispered, his eyes taking in the sleek structure of the defense ship's lines.
Riker stood with him and whistled loudly. "Will you look at that?"
"She has twelve torpedo bays sir. Eighteen phaser arrays, four tractor arrays and four pulse cannon bays," Worf replied. "She is…the evolution of the Defiant." His eyes lit with a warrior gleam.
"She's a beast," Troi whispered in distaste for the vessel's capabilities.
"Yeah, she is." Riker couldn't control his wide-eyed expression when he agreed with her and Picard smirked at his XO's admiration of the vessel.
"We have received a data only transmission," Data announced.
Picard grimaced. "What does it say?"
"The Captain and XO are requesting permission to come aboard sir," he replied.
Picard shot a look to Riker. "Not even a greeting? Not a very friendly start I must say."
"No indeed sir," agreed Riker.
Picard looked at the animal of a ship staring down upon him and inhaled through his nose and looked to Riker once again. "I suspect we have no choice Number One. Data send coordinates to transporter room four. Riker, Troi, Worf – you're with me. Data you have the bridge."
"Aye sir," Data responded and moved toward the command chair as Picard and the others made for the turbolift.
Posted 16 June 2010 - 02:40 PM
The Transporter Chief reported to Picard, "Two individuals have reported ready for transport sir."
Worf nodded with satisfaction but stood ready just in case. Picard smiled and shook his head slightly. "Energize."
Pale blue light shimmered as two figures materialized on the transporter pad. Within moments a stunning, raven-haired woman appeared before them and next to her stood a blue-skinned Andorian male. Both wore standard red-collared Starfleet uniforms.
The woman's intense green eyes appeared like beacons through the darkness of her long, black hair. Her skin was porcelain and perfect. Her teeth were brilliant white when she smiled.
Troi was suddenly struck by a strong leaping sensation of joy as it spiked through Riker. She was confused by, and found herself a little annoyed with his reaction. Well, she is very beautiful. Guess I can't blame him for reacting to that.
She then realized that all the men seemed to have a similar reaction and she allowed herself to smile weakly, yet she was still taken by the intensity of Riker's reaction, it was definitely stronger than the others'.
The woman spoke and her very distinct, mellow and smooth voice filled the room. "Captain Picard. I am Captain Antoinette Steele of the USS Panther. First, I need to apologize for our rudeness. I have been under strict orders to refrain from inter-vessel transmissions. I request permission for me and my First Officer to come aboard."
Troi had heard the name before and she could sense Picard's immediate relief with his recognition of it as well. "Captain Steele! This is a most unexpected surprise! By all means, welcome aboard! I must say it's a pleasure to finally meet you," he said as he stepped forward to greet his guest.
Steele smiled brightly as she shook his hand and stepped down from the transporter pad. "Thank you Captain Picard. I'd like you to meet my First Officer, Commander Malek."
Malek stepped down and shook Picard's hand. "Captain."
"Commander, a pleasure as well." Picard turned to Steele once more. "Captain Steele, this is my First Offi…"
"Commander William T. Riker," Steele interrupted and Troi watched as Steele approached Riker and stood directly in front of him.
Riker smiled gently and shook his head slightly. "Captain Steele. I can't begin to tell you how glad I am to see that you're back," he said respectfully.
"Will!" Steele barked, and to Troi's utter surprise, Steele threw herself wholly into Riker's arms. His smile broke wider and he lifted her from the ground in a great and affectionate hug.
Troi thought that her look of astonishment was superseded only by that of the captain's.
Riker let Steele down from their moment of shared friendliness and she turned to Picard. "I'm sorry Captain Picard but it's been far too long since I've laid eyes on Mister Riker here." She smiled and patted Riker's arm. "We have a lot of catching up to do."
Picard's eyebrow lifted slightly. "Indeed." He peered over to Riker whose face still reflected the happy surprise of Steele's appearance. "Captain," Picard continued, "this is Commander Deanna Troi, Ship's Counselor and Lieutenant Commander Worf, our Security and Tactical Chief."
Steele smiled and extended her hand which Deanna took in return. "Counselor, it's a pleasure," she said warmly then moved her hand to Worf's. "Commander, I am readily familiar with you and your career. If it weren't for you and the proof of the Defiant's usefulness, I wouldn't have the Panther now." She grinned brightly.
Troi was confused by Steele. She didn't know why exactly, something just didn't feel right about her.
Steele turned swiftly back to Picard and her expression turned serious. "Captain, we need to talk privately. Your First Officer is welcome, but that's all." Steele shot a brief and apologetic look to Troi and Worf. "Sorry Counselor, sorry Mister Worf, no offense."
Troi shook her head, still trying to discern the strong waves of emotions spilling out from Riker. "None taken, Captain," she answered professionally.
Picard nodded. "This way Captain." He moved forward out of the transporter room quickly followed by Steele and Malek. Riker, still smiling, ushered Troi out before him. She turned to look at him but his eyes were solely affixed to Captain Steele who walked directly ahead of them.
"I must say we're extremely surprised by your presence Captain," Picard clarified as they entered the turbolift and the door closed behind them. "Bridge."
"I can imagine," Steele responded but then remained silent.
Troi could tell that she was waiting to address the matters further once they were alone. What's wrong with her? Troi asked herself. Why is Will so happy to see her? How does he know her? How does she know him? Why is he so thrilled?
Riker addressed Steele with genuine excitement. "That's one hell of a ship you have there Captain. We had heard about the Panthera launches but I don't think any of us were truly aware of their firepower until our scans went over her."
Steele's face beamed with pride. "Jealous Commander?" She lifted an eyebrow with a playful prod. "I'm surprised you're not commanding one of them yourself."
"No thank you. I like to think of myself more as an explorer, Captain." He smiled back with mischief.
Steele nodded slightly. "That's what you think Riker. I seem to recall you being more of a fighter pilot myself."
Troi shot Riker a glance and was surprised to see his face flushing with color. "That was a long time ago," he conceded with a wry smile.
The group exited the turbolift as it opened its doors to the bridge. Steele and Malek followed Picard and Riker moved in behind and watched as Troi and Worf made their way back towards their posts.
Troi's eyes caught Riker's briefly and he smiled sweetly to her. She was still having trouble making out his emotions. They were all over the charts. He was thrilled, happy, nervous, shocked and excited, all rolled into one.
Captain Steele however, was an enigma.
That's it! I can't read her! I can't read her at all! It put Deanna on edge immediately. She watched the ready room door close behind Will as he entered. Who is she? Why can't I sense her?
Picard was stymied. Perplexed and anxious, he turned to confront his surprise guest. "So Captain, do you mind explaining your appearance?" he asked her bluntly yet gently.
Steele smiled and nodded appreciatively. "Don't mind if I do Picard, but frankly I was really hoping you could tell me."
"What?" Riker gasped in confusion.
Steele reached for the PADD that Malek was holding under his arm, she handed it over to Picard in turn.
After stealing a glance at Riker, Picard removed the PADD from her extended hand. It had a DNA lock-out. His mood sank precipitously. "F.Y.E.O.," he grumbled, "for you and me only, Number One." These are never, ever good news.
Riker's expression took on the comprehension of what that meant. "Oh, wonderful," he said sarcastically.
Resigned, Picard drew his finger along side the biodetection scanner on the PADD's edge. A slight chirp acknowledged his identity and to his dread, orders began to file across the screen. He began to read:
UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS, STARFLEET COMMAND, ADMIRAL - JELLICO, EDWARD
SAN FRANCISCO, EARTH, SECTOR 001
ORDERS FOR CAPTAIN – PICARD, JEAN-LUC
ORDERS FOR COMMANDER – RIKER, WILLIAM T.
SENIOR COMMAND OFFICERS – USS ENTERPRISE REG. NO. NCC-1701-E
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY! PURSUANT TO STARFLEET REGULATION CODE SECTION 199, NATURE OF THESE ORDERS, NAVIGATIONAL PURPOSES DISINCLUDED, NOT TO BE DISCUSSED WITH ANY OTHER.
BEGIN. IMMEDIATELY PROCEED UNDER ESCORT OF USS PANTHER REG. NO. NX-90261 TO STARBASE 214. CAPTAIN – PICARD, JEAN-LUC, USS ENTERPRISE REG. NO. NCC-1701-E TO RENDEZVOUS WITH CAPTAIN – HUNTER, NATHANIEL R., USS JAGUAR REG. NO. NCC-90262 AND CAPTAIN – STEELE, ANTOINETTE É., USS PANTHER REG NO. NX-90261, IN CONFERENCE ROOM 127A AT 1700 HRS STARDATE 55728.2. UPON RECEIPT OF FURTHER ORDERS AT STARBASE 214, PROCEED UNDER ESCORT OF USS PANTHER AND USS JAGUAR TO SECTOR 001, EARTH. END.
Picard read them again.
"Captain, if you have any insight into this, Malek and I would love to hear it. We just spent two weeks chasing you down to deliver these orders to you in person. Do you know why?" Steele queried.
He looked to Riker with confusion, the anger starting to build. "We're supposed to rendezvous with the Jaguar at Starbase 214 then head back to Earth?!" he jolted the question out. "What the hell for?! We just got here!"
Steele rolled her eyes and looked to Malek in frustration. "Well, I guess that answers our question. He doesn't know either."
Malek's antennae drooped slightly and Riker watched Steele's face sour.
"What have you heard Captain?" Riker asked her.
Steele shook her head. "Seriously Will, I have no clue why we're here except that we've been ordered to escort the Enterprise to Starbase 214, hook up with the Jaguar and escort you all the way back to the Sol System."
"That's all these say as well." Picard flung the PADD on his desk; it landed heavily, spinning on its face.
Steele nodded her understanding. "If it's any consolation Captain, I knew you wouldn't be happy about it."
Picard's stomach tightened. He tried to smile to let her know he appreciated her acknowledgment but he couldn't quite bring himself to do it.
Riker gazed to Picard with a frown. "The Enterprise is being escorted back to Earth under armed guard?"
"I don't think so Will. I'm more under the impression you need protecting, not that you're under arrest. If that were the case, we wouldn't have two days at a Starbase to wait for the Jag. We'd move headlong towards Earth." She grinned impishly. "Well…that and the fact that if I were meant to keep you on your best behavior, I would have lit the pulse-cannons the moment we looked down on your unsuspecting mug."
Riker shot her a look and forced a pressed-lipped smile. She smirked back at him.
"Agreed Captain," said Picard. He took a deep breath in through his nose; the sheer ache of the orders weighed down upon him. "Worse yet, Number One? We're under direct orders not to discuss this with anyone on board. A section 199 command. We can't even tell the crew."
Riker's expression of incredulity was not lost on him.
Steele spoke once more, "Whatever this is about Picard, Command doesn't want anyone to know. They didn't even trust secure subspace communications with this basic information," she stated. "Which is why I came here with a DNA encoded PADD as opposed to you receiving an encoded transmission."
"Both Captain Steele and I were hoping you would have more information, but I can see that is not the case," Malek said seriously then glanced to Riker. "Our crew has been mumbling since we set out for Nyx. Keeping their questions at bay has been a challenge. You'll have your work cut out for you Commander. You have more than twice the number of crew to pacify."
Riker nodded at his counterpart's appreciation of his situation and turned his attention to his CO once more. "What could it be sir?"
Picard rubbed his head and moved towards the windows. His eyes scanned the incredible beauty of the nebula that had so captured his imagination earlier. He let the disappointment sweep over him like a wave. "Damned if I know Number One!" he flared. He brought his hands up to his face to cover his fury then caught Steele's sympathetic eyes. He sighed with deep sadness and anger. "I guess we'll find out."
Steele nodded briefly. "We'll be heading back to the Panther now. We'll run along side and catch up with you in person when we reach SB 214."
Picard nodded. "Agreed." He felt horrible. He had wanted to meet her…to thank her. Now he felt like he had been rude to let his anger out in front of her. He looked to her apologetically. "Captain Steele…it really has been good to meet you. I owe you quiet a lot I think. I had hoped we would have met under more convenient circumstances."
She smiled cheerfully and Picard found himself taken by her intense green eyes. "First off Captain, call me Toni. Second? You owe me nothing. We were just doing our job. Third? Seeing as though we'll have two days before the Jaguar's arrival at SB 214, I was hoping that we could get to know each other a little better. Will told me you're quite the equestrian and I am in desperate need of a competent riding partner."
Picard allowed a true grin to erupt from his face. "I would be honored. It's Jean-Luc."
"Excellent." She beamed then turned to look to her First. "Well Malek, let's go. Looks like we're still flying blind."
"Yes sir," he agreed, showing his frustration with the predicament as well. He turned briefly to face Picard. "Captain."
Picard acknowledged him with a nod.
"I'll escort you back to the transporter room Captain," said Riker.
Steele smiled broadly. "I was hoping you would." She turned back towards Picard. "Jean-Luc." She bowed her head slightly and he responded in kind, his eyes leaving hers then turning to gaze back upon the nebula. The door shut leaving him in quiet once more.
Disappointment wasn't the word. He just wanted to see something new. I just wanted to see what was out there.
Troi stood from her chair when she saw Steele, Malek and Riker move from the ready room to the turbolift. Riker didn't even chance a glance her way, his eyes remaining on Captain Steele. Deanna could feel tension seeping out from him and the Andorian and she wondered what the discussion had been about.
The moment the turbolift door shut, Picard appeared from his ready room.
"Ensign, lay in a course for Starbase 214 and engage at warp four when the Panther reports ready," he stated, moving towards the command chair as Data vacated it.
"Aye sir," responded the flight controller who began to press the commands in at the helm.
Confused, Troi looked to her captain. They hadn't even made it close to the Nyx Nebula and they were turning around? "Starbase 214?" she asked, "why are we going there sir?"
Picard grimaced and connected to her questioning eyes. He slowly closed his own and turned his head away from her. He left her hanging. It was only then that Deanna felt the anxiety and disappointment leap from his psyche. She sat back in her chair knowing he would not be answering her question. Troi watched as Data and Worf turned back towards their stations, also having discerned that Picard would not be answering her inquiry.
After shaking Riker's hand, Malek stepped onto the transporter pad. Riker tapped Steele's shoulder and she turned her wonderful eyes up to his, her smile was beaming wider than ever.
He was happy. He was joyful. He was relieved.
He lifted her once more with a great bear-hug and she responded in kind and with a slight giggle. He let her down gently. "Toni. You should have told me! You didn't even let me know you were back on duty! When were you offered one of the Cats?"
Steele rubbed his arms excitedly. "Two and a half months ago. I'm sorry I didn't contact you Will, I've just been so busy since the transfer and the launch."
Riker looked down into her eyes and shook his head playfully. "Can you have dinner with me at SB 214?" he asked hopefully.
She nodded. "Absolutely. The night we arrive at SB 214, you're on my calendar. We have a lot to talk about."
He grinned and hugged her tightly once more. "Great. I'll see you then."
He watched her step up to the platform and take a position alongside her XO. "Energize," he commanded to the chief, whose hands moved across the panel causing the blue, glistening transporter beam to dissolve their views.
His smile still plastered across his face, Riker left the transporter room and made headway back to the bridge.
Posted 17 June 2010 - 04:45 PM
Five steps forward. Wall. Turn. Five steps back. Wall.
Damned heat. Refrigeration unit my ass.
Five steps forward. Wall. Turn. Five steps back. Wall.
Hell hole. Sweat box.
At least it's quiet.
At least there's no talking.
At least there're no damned lights.
At least there's no screaming...
Turn. Five steps back.
Door! Blast furnace! Scalding! Damned burning bugs!
Door closed. Refrigeration unit? Ha!
Food must be here somewhere. Ah! Here it is.
Tastes like phlox. Well…maybe not entirely – not as bad as Cardassia.
At least it's food.
At least there's no damned talking.
At least there're no damned lights.
Hell hole. Sweat box.
Still tastes like phlox.
At least there's no screaming...
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
En route Starbase 214
Personal Quarters; Commander - Riker, William T.
"Will!" Deanna caught his attention before he over-poured her glass of wine. He pulled the bottle back hurriedly and almost spilled some on the table. Deanna rolled her eyes in frustration.
"I'm sorry Deanna, I guess I'm just preoccupied," he admitted, setting the bottle back in the bucket resting on the table in his quarters.
"I'll say." Deanna's annoyance sliced through. "What's gotten into you?"
Riker shook his head. "A lot of things…and…nothing."
"What Will, what's going on?" she asked point-blank. "Ever since the Panther arrived you've been on edge."
Will nodded and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry Deanna, I can't say."
Deanna pressed her lips together in aggravation. "Fine. I can understand that, but you can still tell me what's got you all flustered. We haven't been able to enjoy this wonderful dinner and…" she reached out for his hand consolingly and her voice softened and lowered, "…I was really hoping we could enjoy another bath together."
Will grimaced and took her hand in his. The thought of soaking in a hot tub with her amazing body appealed to him like nothing else. The thought of having to say no to her crushed him. "I'm sorry Deanna," his voice weakened with his apology. "I've been asked to follow up on a few matters by the captain before we get to SB 214. I'll have to take a rain check."
Deanna sighed heavily and shook her head and shrugged. She reached to take his hand in hers and her soft skin caressed his arm. He was losing himself in the black pools of her eyes.
"That's a shame…maybe tomorrow night then?" she said.
Oh phlox! Riker grimaced once more then rubbed his eyes hard. "I can't Deanna. I've already told Captain Steele I'd meet her for dinner tomorrow night."
Deanna's eyebrows lifted with surprise. "Oh," she said quietly and began to pull her hand back away from his.
Riker quickly grabbed her hand back and his voice dropped in consolation, "Deanna, she's a very good and very old friend. We were in the Academy together. I haven't seen her in person in a couple of years. We have a lot of catching up to do that's all." He could still see her disappointment.
"How come you never mentioned her?"
"Well, I have on occasion," Riker stated with some surprise. "I don't know why you don't remember. I've told you about my friend Toni and that we correspond all the…"
"She's Toni?" Deanna shook her head. "Toni from the Academy? Toni in the Nova Squad?"
Riker nodded with some confusion. "Yes."
"Why was I under the impression that Toni was a man?"
Riker laughed. "I have no idea Deanna. She has always been a woman."
The emphasis he placed on the word made Deanna shift in her chair. "That she is Will, and a beautiful one at that."
"Yes she is," he admitted without shame. "You should also know that she was my first real girlfriend Deanna."
"I thought you said your first girlfriend married Paul Rice."
Riker smirked. "She did." He shook his head and softly bit his lip with a mischievous grin. "I'm surprised at you Deanna. First you assume that Toni was a man and second you assume she would take Paul's last name?"
Deanna burned but then sat back with intense embarrassment. "Oh." She cringed heavily and covered her eyes and hid her face. "I'm so sorry Will."
Riker sat forward then reached for Deanna's hand apologetically. "Deanna, Toni married Paul a few years after we graduated – the year I met you."
Deanna exhaled heavily in understanding and nodded. "She lost him when the Drake was destroyed," she whispered.
Riker nodded solemnly. "Yes."
Deanna settled back in her chair and smiled to him. "I guess I didn't realize that you and she were so close."
Riker allowed a grin to break through. "Toni and I have been very close for a very long time Deanna."
"Why haven't you talked more about her?" she asked quietly.
Riker shrugged. "I don't know." He reached out for Deanna's face and touched her cheek softly. "I guess I didn't…"
"Captain to Riker."
Riker closed his eyes and clicked his combadge. "Riker here, sir."
"Report to the ready room please, Number One."
Deanna smiled weakly as Riker stood. "On my way, Riker out." He looked to Deanna with defeat. "Sorry." He leaned forward and touched her cheek and looked deep into her eyes. "I love you, Deanna."
Deanna settled back, nodded and accepted his kiss. She could feel his sincerity and she was buoyed. "I love you too Will."
He turned and left his quarters to meet the captain. Deanna sighed heavily, picked up her glass and drew a long sip.
Starbase Officers' Lounge
Strangely, Riker found himself wanting to reach out and touch her face as she smiled at him from across the small table in the starbase lounge. Instead, he reached across and took her hands in his. He was surprised to feel a ring on her left hand and he touched the ring softly. He pulled his hands back gently.
Steele realized he had noticed her ring and she blushed slightly. "I don't know why I wear it Will…I think it's only out of habit."
Riker's head dropped a little. "You still haven't let go yet, that's why."
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I don't know…"
"It's only been what? Eleven years?" he asked with concern and agitation in his voice. "Paul would have wanted you to move on."
Steele frowned. "Maybe so." She sighed once more and looked into his face and his gentle, caring expression. "I have in some ways…but…" she broke off.
Riker smiled softly and took her hands back in his. "Sorry Tone. I'm sorry."
Steele grinned and caressed his hands back. "It's okay. You're right you know. Paul would have wanted me to move on. It's just that every morning when I wake up, I put the ring on." She dropped her head with a slight laugh. "God Will…I still talk to his picture," she admitted with embarrassment.
"He loved you so much. He always did everything to make you happy." Riker let her hands go and leaned back in his chair with a smile and lightened his voice. "Something I just couldn't seem to concentrate on."
Steele pressed a smile. "You tried enough early on." She let her grin widen. "You just lost interest."
"Hey." Riker cringed. "I didn't lose interest. I lost my ability to concentrate on you, Zeta Squad and classes." He chortled sharply. "Paul had it made. Gah, he could do anything – school, Nova Squad and you. He never had to make that choice."
"You made the choice that was right for you Will. You know that," she offered.
"Yeah, but…" He looked to her amazing green eyes; they always seemed so understanding. "Damn that was hard to do." He laughed out loud again. "Then you ended up with my roommate. That was below the belt, Toni."
She laughed brightly. "Don't blame me. Paul swept me off my feet."
"I remember the day I told him I broke it off with you." Riker found himself swept up by the memory of Paul Rice standing in their quarters at the Academy. "He told me that day I was a fool for letting you go. He informed me that he was going to pursue you and that he had no intention of making my mistake." Riker sighed with a grin. "Not that he was asking my permission. No…damn phloxtard – confident to the last. He told me he was going to marry you that day. He was always right…always." He saw her smile fade slightly. Concerned, he leaned and took her hands into his again. "I miss him too. I miss him every day. I still feel like maybe things would be different if I had…"
"Don't Will. Don't even say it," she barked. "Paul and the others died because of a device created by a people who let hate control them. It ended up decimating them as well. You and the others from the Enterprise were able to find it and destroy it before any others could be hurt. You needed to be there."
Riker saw her quickly wipe away a single tear as it dropped quickly from her eye. Steele shifted in her chair and her smile returned. "I see that the baby face is back," she wisecracked. "I'm not sure I can get used to it Will. I liked the beard." Steele could see that her comment actually made Riker appear to blush and she laughed.
"What is it about your first love?" Riker grinned and looked to Steele's joyful face across the dining table. He hoped she would understand his train of thought, but one look to the jade that returned his gaze let him know he needn't have worried.
She shrugged playfully. "I don't know…a common, shared experience I guess."
"Possibly." Riker let his eyes fall over her hair and her face and as his eyes drifted lower he caught himself, finding it difficult to figure out where his thoughts were heading and he broke his gaze from her lovely face.
"What's her name Will?" she asked and bit her bottom lip with amusement.
Riker grinned and laughed. "Deanna." He smiled. "You've already met her."
"Counselor Troi?" She let forth a genuine grin. "Will, that's wonderful!"
"I'm glad you think so."
"I do! She's beautiful," Steele said reassuringly.
Riker nodded. "I met her two weeks after you and Paul got married."
Steele's face scowled and her brows furrowed. "Then why haven't I met her before now?" she said with offense.
"I met her on Betazed." He leaned back and pulled his elbow up to the arm of his chair, then rested his head on his fist and frowned. "You see Tone, I ended up making the same decision with her that I did with you. Except…she never had the benefit of knowing." He let his own embarrassment and pain show.
"You mean you never told her you were moving on?" Steele asked.
"Nope." He rubbed his eyes. "I got promoted before I could meet her on Risa and…" he cringed, "I never followed through. Then we were both assigned to the Enterprise and well…once again, I let duty get in the way." He shifted in his seat slightly and his smile broke free once more. "We only just recently reignited the fire, so to speak."
Steele shook her head slightly. "That's a shame. You wasted all that time did you?"
Riker's brows furrowed. "You should talk." His eyes drifted to the ring on her left finger.
Her cheeks brightened. "You're right. Sorry."
Steele peered into Riker's eyes apologetically and he laughed in return. "Looks like we're both pretty good at that," he said with his smile.
"That's for sure," she agreed. "I can see you love her very much."
Riker smiled gently. "I do."
"Good." She reached to touch his hand on the table. "I look forward to getting to know her," she said sincerely. "So tell me Will. Why haven't you taken your own command yet? You turned down the Drake before it was offered to Paul. You were offered the Aries. You were offered the Melbourne…"
"I like the Enterprise," he said bluntly. "This is home for now."
Steele shrugged. "I just never saw you as the type that would settle Will. You were determined to make captain before you turned thirty five and you would have if you had taken the Drake."
"Why does everyone think I settled? I don't think I settled at all…being XO of the flagship?" he challenged her.
"Maybe not," she offered, "but we were certainly looking for people of your caliber when looking for commanders for the Cats. Don't get me wrong Will, I understand your need to explore. Paul was the same way." Her face contorted with obvious discomfort. "But since the Dominion War, we're more than just a little thin on experienced commanders. We could really use you."
"I know," he responded. "Maybe in a couple more years."
Steele sat back in her chair, folded her arms and whistled slightly. "Boy, you did get comfortable."
He laughed. "Maybe I did." He saw Steele shake her head with what he thought looked like disappointment. "You said that you remembered me as more of a fighter pilot."
"You were always the best Will," she confirmed. "You were the only one who could give me a run for my credits."
He let his grin split his face. "Yeah, I was." He took a deep breath in then exhaled just as deeply. "But that side of me has vanished. The Enterprise has nurtured a different side of me, one that I like."
"Vanished? I don't believe that for an instant. Squelched maybe, but not gone."
"No," he replied calmly. "Well, maybe it's not entirely gone but that side of me has changed."
Steele reached for the hair at the top of his forehead and softly pushed back at his stubborn cow-lick. "You grew up." She let her hand draw down the side of his face. "Maturity suits you. I like it."
"Good." He sipped his wine. "By the way Antoinette, you need to know, you haven't aged day. You're still incredibly beautiful."
"Thank you." She dropped her head slightly. "That's nice to hear coming from you."
Riker leaned back in his chair and his eyes washed over her once more. "So tell me, Captain. What's a nice girl like you doing commanding a brute like the Panther?"
Steele's eyes widened with the excitement Riker had expected to see. "She is a brute isn't she?" She almost giggled with glee. "Ah Will, she's amazing! I've never felt so a part of a ship before."
Riker laughed out loud. "Now you know how I feel about the Enterprise." He turned serious again. "But Toni, I have to tell you…your performance on the Yeager during the Breen raid on San Francisco…was spectacular."
Steele's porcelain cheeks flushed with color again and she dropped her gaze to the table-top. "That was a rough day wasn't it Will?"
He chuckled slightly with her seeming humility. "But what you did…well Captain, I'm just glad I'm able to say thank you…in person." He rubbed his eyes again, softly. "When were you released for duty?"
She bit her lip coyly. "About two weeks after I left Starfleet Medical." She scrunched up her nose slightly. "They offered the Panther to me while I was still there. I got better faster after I knew I they wanted me to come back."
"Come back?!" Riker shook his head in disbelief. "I'm surprised they didn't kick you straight to Admiralty," he joked. "Seriously, you deserved the accolades and the ship. Captain Picard still talks about the Yeager's move and the sacrifice you made for us and the Thunderchild. I know he was thrilled to meet you and he's very much looking forward to your ride tomorrow."
"I am glad to hear that, but we really were just doing our job. The real sacrifice was made by others, not me. Your shields were down, so were the Thunderchild's. Ours were still at sixty percent and had a hell of a better chance against that spread than either of you. I was right. I lost seven damn good people that day." She stalled and her eyes saddened. "But if either the Enterprise or the Thunderchild had taken those torpedoes, the losses would have been much, much greater," she stated with authority. "You would have done the same and so would've Picard. I know it." She patted his hand on the table. "By the way Will, it's nice that I can finally thank you in person for your transmissions while I was in recovery. They helped a lot."
"I just wish I could have visited you in person," he said sadly. "I was really worried about you."
"I know. The doctor told me you contacted him every day to check on my progress. When I came out of the coma and realized that I had missed three weeks of my life…the fact I could hear all about it from you made it very special."
"Well, how else were you going to catch up on things?" He grinned and leaned forward across the table once more.
"Will…" Her eyes, still smiling, caught a softer glow. "Just…thanks."
"You're welcome Antoinette."
Posted 20 June 2010 - 09:11 AM
Okay. Evening exercises are done.
Evening phlox bars have been eaten.
Drank my water.
Relieved myself in the toilet.
Time to recite. Keep my mind sharp.
I promised her I'd remember.
Time to recite.
No! Keep the mind clear! It's time to recite!
The box! The box moved!
They're moving me!
Where? Where are they moving me?
I can't go back! I can't!
You can beat them.
There are always four.
There are always four.
Posted 20 June 2010 - 09:24 AM
Temporary Office of the Minister of Security
"I see that one of the new patrol ships has broken away from our border and has met with the Enterprise. Only time will tell, I think," said Cacet as he took the seat behind his desk.
"Yes Gul," replied Prethet. "We lost them on long-range scans but our intelligence reports have been reliable and they believe they are both heading towards their Starbase 214."
"214?" he asked with some surprise, but then smiled weakly. "Good. Close. It will allow better monitoring.
"Yes Gul," confirmed Prethet.
"Continue to report. I want to know every move they make, understood?"
Well at least there's a silver lining to this cloud. A good ride is just the thing I need to help me get my mind off this damned detour!
Picard moved down the corridor of the Starbase towards the holosuites. The heels of his riding boots scuffed the carpet slightly and he carried his English saddle tucked at his side. I think I'll increase the spirit level of the horse today. Hopefully Captain Steele is experienced enough to keep up!
He followed the bend in the corridor and smiled as the area to the holosuite gallery opened into a beautiful green and white-lit atrium. He was immediately approached by a portly Bolian woman in a vibrant blue dress that matched her skin tone perfectly. Picard was struck by how odd it made the woman appear – as though she had layers of strange, thin skin that flowed from her shoulders and hung to the floor. She smiled brightly when she saw his saddle. "Captain Picard, I presume?" she asked.
He nodded graciously. "I am, Madam."
"Captain Steele has contacted us to ask you to forgive her tardiness. She should be here momentar…" Her eyes brightened and she gazed behind Picard's position. "Ah, not too late at all, here she is!"
Picard turned quickly and was immediately taken by her as she approached. Her pitch-hued hair was pulled back loosely into a soft French-braided rope which rested over her shoulder. Her riding britches outlined what Picard now realized was a remarkably athletic and amazing figure. He freed his smile when he saw that she carried an English saddle at her side.
When Steele recognized Picard carried his own, she laughed gratefully. "And here I thought I'd be made fun of for bringing my own saddle!"
Picard shook his head fiercely and extended his hand. "Absolutely not Captain!" he said as he took her hand in his. Her skin seemed softer than it had the day before, or had he just noticed it differently?
"It's Toni, remember?" she chided.
"Of course." He grinned and found his mood lightening already. His disappointment over yet another delay to go exploring was beginning to fade slightly as he allowed himself to feel the excitement about the forthcoming ride. "Shall we?"
"By all means."
They followed the Bolian woman who led them to a holosuite on the third level of the atrium. She left them at the door and Picard approached the command panel and turned to his counterpart.
"Do you have a preference?" he asked. "Or may I be allowed to choose a suitable venue?"
Steele grinned. "Will told me you have a preference for the French countryside. I was hoping to take in some of views of Burgundy."
Picard's heart fluttered with his satisfaction. "Excellent! What level and type of horse may I request for you?"
"Mmmm, Thoroughbred stallion, something in a nice shade of brown. Level ten I think."
"Ten?" he responded with great enthusiasm. "Good. I was hoping for a robust partner today! Computer – Terran horse riding program, France fourteen."
"Select time of day, season and temperature," the computer's voice responded.
"Mid-day, early summer, twenty three point five degrees Celsius." He smiled as Steele nodded her agreement.
"Number of horses," the computer inquired once more.
"Two stallions. The first, a liver-chestnut Thoroughbred. The second, a dapple-grey Arabian. Both level ten. Standard English tack minus saddles."
A confirming tone chirped and Picard escorted his companion into the suite when the program was complete and the doors hissed open.
He was overcome with the smell of oak, maple and some pine as well as the earthy-loamy scents he remembered from his youth. He breathed in deeply as they walked to two horses tethered to a fence post on the summit of a grass-coated limestone hill that gently led down towards a slow-moving river. They began to saddle the horses immediately.
"Alésia," Steele stated. "It's magnificent Jean-Luc. There's a great section that's perfect for some mid-level jumping off to the east there correct?"
"You're familiar with La Bourgogne?!" he asked with some surprise.
"Oui." She smiled. "My grandmother rode here for several competitions."
"Le Grand Prix d'Alise-Sainte-Reine?" he asked. "Your grandmother competed?"
"And won…twice." She grinned mischievously.
Picard's face contorted then he loosed an audible gasp. "Wait a minute…only one person has ever won that competition twice. Your grandmother was Gabrielle L'Nui?"
"Oui." She giggled as she pulled the cinch of the saddle tight around her horse's midsection. She shook the saddle hard to assure its sturdy hold.
Picard's eyes widened once more. "That means you're….you're Ambassador D'Nera's granddaughter?"
"I am." Steele smiled but then her face filled with confusion. "But you couldn't have known him Jean-Luc – you're far too young."
Picard smiled. "Nice to know I'm too young for some things Ton…I'm sorry. I just can't seem to make Toni work. Antoinette. It suits you more I think. You don't mind do you?"
Steele smiled gently. "Of course not."
He laughed and pulled down on a leather strap, dropping the stirrup on his saddle to his preferred level. He stood to look at Steele as she deftly mounted her horse. He continued on his original train of thought, "However my parents did know Ambassador D'Nera." He stopped briefly as his memories of his mother flew forward. "My mother used to speak of him frequently…" He laughed out loud. "…much to my father's dismay I must add!"
Steele began to giggle again. "Yes, well Deltans have always had that problem with humans I'm afraid."
"I seem to recall that your grandfather caused quite a stir with the Deltan government when he decided to remain on Earth and marry a human." Picard stated.
Steele nodded briskly. "They never really forgave him. Deltans still find interspecies mating a taboo. When my grandmother got pregnant with my mother and they moved to North America, the Deltan side of the family refused to contact him. I still haven't met any of my Deltan relatives." Steele sighed then let her sigh roll into a laugh, "How my grandmother survived, not only being a human mate of a full-blooded Deltan, but having to beat off the constant competition, I will never know!"
Picard laughed heartily. "I can only imagine!" He mounted his horse and looked at her eye-to-eye. "It now explains your incredible beauty."
Steele smiled brightly. "Why thank you Jean-Luc. I have to say, you are a very handsome man. With that beautiful bald head you could be easily mistaken for a Deltan yourself!" She picked up the reins in her hand and leaned towards him. Her eyes squinted with an impish glare. "First one to the statue of Vercingétorix buys!"
Picard burst with laughter. Kicking their horses, they rode hard along the sturdy limestone hills that lined the river.
This post has been edited by Terilynn: 11 August 2010 - 02:00 PM
Posted 20 June 2010 - 09:38 AM
"Pardon me for intruding and please tell me if I'm being too forward, but I didn't realize that you and Will Riker were so close." Picard looked to her lovely green eyes as he sipped on a glass of wine.
Steele smiled happily as she finished chewing a piece of baguette. "Well, I guess he's like me. We've been close since the Academy, Jean-Luc. We dated for almost two years but final year did us in. For some reason, we're the kind of friends that talk just to each other. It's not that we keep our friendship a secret, but we don't really announce it either."
Picard nodded with appreciation. "I understand. I have many friends that roam outside my inner circle."
"Exactly," she agreed.
"It does however help explain Will's reaction to the Yeager's plight during the Breen raid."
"How so?" A quick expression of confusion crossed her face.
"We'd been in many battles before, but he had never referred to the casualty lists before with such fervor. I must have caught him reading the Yeager's list at least a dozen times at the XO console. Now I understand why."
Steele rubbed her eyes softly with her hand and nodded.
Picard cleared his throat. "Antoinette, I can only say thank you and hope that you can appreciate the level of gratitude…"
"Stop Jean-Luc." She raised her hand to cut him off. Blushing, she sat back in her seat, bringing her wine to her lips and taking a sip. "If it helps, you are very, very welcome, but there really is no further reason to thank me. My crew and I did what was necessary and that's all. I told Will last night that I knew that both you and he would have done the same."
Picard smiled and dropped his head reverently. She was right. He would have. He wouldn't have flinched and if he were presented with the same situation, he would have moved the Enterprise in to take those torpedoes just like she had. It was the right decision. "Fine, Captain."
"Good." She smiled and brought her wine to her lips once more. This time Picard caught sight of the band on her finger. She set her glass down on the table and caught his eyes. "I see Will hasn't told you that either."
Picard shook his head. "No. I didn't know you were married." He allowed a strange and unexpected quality of disappointment to affect his voice.
"Why Jean-Luc…" Steele coyly pulled her head back.
Picard's words stumbled out, "Sorry Antoinette. It's just that..." he blew out slightly, "…if I were twenty years younger…."
"My..." She seemed genuinely taken with his compliment. "Thank you very much. I can only say if only I were twenty years…" She grimaced sharply and shook her head. "That doesn't sound the same as what I mean." She hid her face behind one of her hands.
Picard chuckled and relaxed a bit. "Don't worry, I will take that as a compliment as well then."
"Good." She smiled.
"Any children?" he asked, pulling a piece of bread from the loaf and resting it back on the table in the café.
"No." She shifted quietly. "You see…I'm widowed, Jean-Luc. Eleven years ago. Captain Paul Rice was my husband."
Picard sat forward and widened his eyes with recognition. "The Drake…" he whispered.
"Yes," she answered, as lightly as possible. "Will chastised me last night for continuing to wear the ring. I think he was right."
He brushed her comment aside. "Captain Rice was a fine officer, Antoinette. The Drake's and Captain Rice's loss were a blow to the Federation."
She smiled gently and sipped her wine once more. "Yes. He was a very good man Jean-Luc." She sighed slightly then forced herself to smile brightly. "But, enough of that. I wanted to get to know you a little better. The famous Jean-Luc Picard!"
"What would you like to know…?" He grinned and leaned into the table.
The two remained at the table talking for hours.
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
Mooring Bay Delta
"No Deanna, I can't. Geordi and I are meeting for dinner later." Doctor Beverly Crusher answered her friend as they walked side by side through the mooring bay doors to the Enterprise. They were laden with packages from what was apparent to anyone had been a long day shopping. "You're welcome to join us but aren't you and Will having dinner?" she asked.
Deanna was frustrated. "I haven't seen him since yesterday Bev. I have no idea where he might be or if he has other plans."
"I thought you said you don't get jealous." Beverly smirked.
Deanna smiled and wasn't going to take the bait. "I don't Beverly. Really. Captain Steele is just a close friend of Will's that's all. I know he loves me."
"You sound like you're trying to convince yourself," said Beverly as she tried to readjust the armloads of merchandise she bore.
"I do not!" Deanna retorted.
"Deanna! There you are!" Riker's voice came distantly down the corridor from inside the ship. He appeared quickly from around the corner.
Deanna was unable to control her gleaming smile. "Will! Can you help us please?" she asked, already beginning to unload some of her bags into his assisting arms.
Riker laughed heartily. "Leave you two alone for a day on a Starbase…."
"Excuse me, Commander." Beverly warned with her voice. "Deanna and I haven't been shopping since long before Ba'ku. We were actually overdue."
"Whatever you say, Doctor." He began to relieve her of a few of her bags when he noticed the captain walking through the main atrium of the mooring bay corridor. The other two, having noticed Will's attention being caught, turned to look as well.
Picard and Steele were walking blithely side by side, carrying their respective saddles, wide smiles apparent on both of their faces. They stopped together at the mooring bay door for the Enterprise when Picard quickly turned and kissed Steele once on each of her cheeks. Steele returned the affection with a quick kiss on his lips then turned to walk towards the Panther's mooring bay. Picard stepped inside the Enterprise. He noticed Will and his two companions and greeted them brightly as he walked by. His voice was light and happy. "Hello Beverly, Deanna, Will!" He smiled. "Remarkable day! I have to say!"
Dumbfounded, the three watched Picard as he turned into the corridor of the Enterprise. It was only then they heard him begin to whistle brightly as he walked away.
Deanna smiled happily as she looked to Beverly's confused face. "Now…what were you just saying Beverly?" She giggled, only too happy to return the dig.
Beverly scowled. "Nothing. Come on," she snapped back.
Will peered down the corridor to where Picard and Steele had departed from one another then back towards the corridor where Picard had walked away whistling. He let loose a wide smile and looked to Deanna where his smile was met with enthusiasm. She reached up quickly to kiss him lightly and began to whistle as she walked deeper into the ship.
Will laughed quietly and rolled his eyes. "Toni…" he said to no one other than himself.
"His name is Nate Hunter." She grinned and reined her horse down the rocky trail towards the grove of tall trees. The dry, crisp air floated through her dark hair which fluttered back in large wisps as her horse stepped agilely though the scrub and juniper.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure." Picard stated, allowing his horse to follow Steele's down the terrain.
"And it will be. He's an amazing officer. He was Jellico's XO on the Cairo until Jellico was promoted. Not too long after that, he was offered his own command of the Firebird," she clarified. "He graduated three years before Will and me."
"The Firebird…ah. He remained under Jellico's command then, in a different fleet. That's why I don't know him."
She nodded her understanding and moved her horse into the sandier soil along the river's edge. They entered the deep grove of cottonwood trees that lined the edges of the river. Their leaves were an intense shade of yellow and flicked and quivered vibrantly in the breeze. In the remote distance large sandhill cranes waded in the shallow river waters by the thousands, their shrill and quivering calls still easily heard. Over the noise of the birds, Steele could still hear Picard take in a deep and refreshing breath. "You know, I've never seen such unusual and beautiful country before. It's a wonder I've never been to New Mexico. I should make a point of visiting when I have some time on Earth."
"I grew up about three hundred kilometers northwest of the area depicted in this program. I told you that you'd like it. It's the exact opposite of France, I think. Rugged, dry and untamed…even to this day." She slowed her horse to allow Picard to sidle along side as the trail widened along the shallow river-bed. "So what else can I tell you?"
"There are three others in the Panthera class correct?" he asked, now back on their original topic of discussion.
"There will be a total of five. The Cougar and Puma have also been launched and the Leopard will be launched in about two months," she replied.
"Worf said he thought they were the evolution of the Defiant."
"Worf was right. These ships make the Defiant class look like mosquitoes. Their firepower and maneuverability are unmatched." Picard's scowl made Steele grin and roll her eyes. "Explorers! They always grimace when the fighters talk about their ships."
Picard nodded. "We're just cut from a different cloth I think."
"No. I disagree, Jean-Luc. The fighters and the explorers both like to live life on the edge."
"Excuse me?" he asked her with surprise.
"Oh come now, I know a lot of men and women like you. I even married one. You love the surprise of the unknown. You love the challenge and the thrill just like a fighter does. How do you face a new species? Your brain works the same way a fighter's does…like a tactician. What can I say? What might be offensive? How might they react? How do I not blow this?" She smiled. "Am I right?"
Picard laughed. "Maybe so."
"So you see…not cut from different cloth, we make up the same cloth. We're all Starfleet. You like peace. I like making sure peace sticks around awhile. I like to think of myself as the one who protects your ability to go out and discover," she replied. "Don't get me wrong, I have always found myself fascinated by the explorers. I find their differences illuminating and refreshing."
"The fighters always seem to find that hidden thread of excitement as well Antoinette," he conceded. "There always seems to be a light in the eyes when they talk about victory. It can be quite exhilarating…a certain Klingon attitude I might say."
Steele grinned. "You might be right." She gazed up to the crystal blue sky through the tangled canopy of shining, yellow cottonwood. "I bet you used to go out at night, find a comfortable spot to lay back and stare at the stars and wonder what it would be like to sail and soar among them…right?" She allowed her velvet voice to waft over him.
Picard's mood lifted. "Exactly!" he hushed excitedly. "That's it exactly!"
She laughed quietly. "You see Jean-Luc…I never did that."
"What?" He was confused by her statement.
"I would go out, especially at dusk, and stand on the edge of the mesa by our home and wait for the Earth perimeter patrol guard to fly in for the base, just so I could feel the pulse engines reverberate the air inside my chest." Her eyes lit with excitement. "I couldn't wait to become a pilot. I didn't care where I flew. I just wanted to fly."
Picard grinned. "Same sky…."
"Same cloth." He nodded in comprehension and breathed in deeply once more. "What's planned for these Cats? They're extremely formidable. Having them near sectors on the edges of Federation space could appear as an aggressive stance by the UFP."
"You're right. The ships were developed as focused defense ships only. Our main objective will be to remain in Sectors 001 through 048 and keep on patrol. We've had so many direct incursions into the heart of the Federation we want to prevent another raid like the Breen." She smiled when she saw him concur. "But we're also meant to act as heavy escorts…" She grimaced. "…which is why I believe whatever the Enterprise already has on board or will take on board, is of grave concern." She sighed as she slowed her horse to a stop.
Picard ceased his horse alongside. "I agree…but I haven't received any word or any additional orders, have you?
Steele shook her head. "No."
The disappointment and worry were now evident in her voice and Picard noticed it immediately. "Any suspicions?"
Steele looked north along the Rio Grande and sighed once more. "Jean-Luc, I won't lie. I don't like what we might be in for." Her eyes met his. "If it were a dignitary then they wouldn't have asked for a Cat to escort you. But two Cats? The Federation is expecting some kind of resistance to our passage I think." She shifted in her saddle. "Someone doesn't want us to make it back to the Sol System."
"Well then, Captain." Picard smiled to her brightly. "I am glad you'll be at my side."
She nodded faintly. "Likewise Jean-Luc." She clicked her horse to a post-trot. "Lunch?"
"Absolutely!" He followed in her stead.
Posted 20 June 2010 - 09:47 AM
Where are they taking me?
Still hot as hell.
At least there are no damned lights.
Where am I going now?
Am I going back?
I don't want to go back.
I can't let Gul Nekrit win.
I must…I must beat them.
I promised. I promised her I would beat them.
I don't want to go back.
Never forget. There are always four.
So, so tired.
Posted 20 June 2010 - 11:54 AM
Conference Room 127A
Picard lifted his eyes to see a tall, dark-skinned and roguish human man in a Starfleet captain's uniform enter the room. He was thin yet muscularly built. His dark brown hair was cut short and he bore a serious scowl as he scanned the conference room. When his gaze fell upon Picard and Steele he let loose a relieved smile.
"Nate..." Steele stepped forward, extending her hand and he pushed it aside to take her fully into his arms to hug her. Picard couldn't help but smile faintly. Steele just seemed to have that effect on people.
"Toni…" He looked into her eyes directly. "What the hell is going on, do you know?"
She shook her head softly then stepped back, allowing him to step forward towards Picard. "Captain Nathaniel Hunter, this is Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of…"
"Toni, I know who he is," he admonished her with a smile. Hunter immediately moved forward to extend his hand to Picard. "Captain Picard, may I say it's an honor to finally meet you."
"Captain Hunter," Picard responded and shook his hand, "a pleasure as well."
Hunter walked around the room, looking out toward his new ship, moored alongside the ships of his counterparts. "I received a hand-delivered message to meet you here. It took us well over two weeks to get here. What's this about?"
"We don't know Captain," responded Picard. "Captain Steele and I have gone over many possibilities…but no probabilities."
"We also received hand delivered orders." Steele clarified, taking a seat at the table in the large conference room. She watched her friend pace the room briskly. She smiled and turned to Picard. "Don't worry Jean-Luc, Nate's a pacer. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that a wear pattern's already emerging in the carpet in Jag's ready room."
Hunter lifted his head to shoot her an unappreciative smirk and she smiled in return. "Well Nathaniel? Am I wrong?"
"Maybe not," he surrendered.
Picard nodded with a soft smile as he took a seat at the conference table in the room they were ordered to appear. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the chair.
He hated this.
He hated not knowing what was going on. He hated the secrecy – secrets always, always led to danger. He inhaled through his nose and drew his hands tiredly across his head. He just wanted to go see the birth of a new star. Was that too much to ask after everything he and the crew had been through? After the nightmare the Ba'ku trip had turned into; after the Breen bloodied the Federation's nose by hitting its heart; after the super-battle at Cardassia Prime that ended the Dominion War…he just wanted a little peace. Really. Just a little. He sighed heavily once more and with it he realized just how tired he had become. He was tired of all of it.
Suddenly retirement sounded pleasing. The thought was strange enough, but what frightened him was the fact that he found himself taken, however briefly, by the idea. Hang it all and move back to Ba'ku. Live a slow and peaceful life. Allow myself the joy of becoming a master at the flute? Visions of that potential life skimmed over the here and now and he surprised himself once more by realizing that life on Ba'ku was everything he didn't want. He allowed himself the ironic smile and opened his eyes.
He peered out the window and was struck immediately by the sight of a spearhead-shaped frigate as it moored at an empty berth on the opposite side of the crescent-shaped station. His heart began to beat heavily in his chest.
Picard stood and moved to the windows to get a closer look. "Tholians…" he whispered uncontrollably and with deep-seeded concern. "What are they doing here?"
Hunter spun in his spot and bolted to join Picard at the windows as Steele stood slowly to see for herself.
"I have a bad feeling about this Picard," said Hunter. "Look…over there…in the distance." He pointed to the area just beyond the frigate.
Picard and Steele both gazed beyond the mooring point where the frigate was arriving. In the distance they could see two enormous, burnt-red and silver Tholian battle cruisers waiting in obvious defensive positions.
Steele swallowed hard and looked to Picard. "I feel like I should be on the bridge," she murmured.
"Enterprise to Picard…" Picard's combadge chirped.
"Jaguar to Hunter…"
"Panther to Steele…"
The three captains all smiled briefly to one another, knowing their respective crews had appropriately gone on alert. All three answered their calls and had their crews stand by.
Picard addressed his counterparts once more. "They're delivering our package, don't you think?" His face demonstrated the tension and annoyance he was feeling. "What could we possibly want from the Tholian Assembly?"
"A very valuable asset Jean-Luc," said a baritone male voice from behind them.
Picard spun in place to see Admiral Edward Jellico standing stoically in the doorway. His eyes appeared tired and drawn. His already gray hair had thinned significantly since Picard had last seen him, and he thought Jellico looked old. Picard was relieved that he never took promotion to Admiral. The stress obviously made those in the position more than a little worse for wear. Jellico walked in to allow the door to close and he greeted Steele and Hunter with his eyes.
"An asset Admiral? From the Tholians?" Picard asked in hushed and angry tone. "What is going on here?!"
"Captain," he responded to him in with no urgency in his voice, he merely sounded annoyed by Picard's vehemence, "Admiral Grayson and Ambassador Riva have worked tirelessly on a prisoner exchange with the Tholian Assembly. It's being carried out in mooring bay twelve as we speak."
"Prisoner exchange?" Picard gasped. "How many?"
"Twelve Tholians for one former Federation citizen." Jellico replied. He moved closer and joined them at the windows and peered over to the strange vessel at mooring bay twelve.
"Former?" inquired Hunter.
"Yes," he stated bluntly. "However, we believe he may be the one person to provide a key in assuring a new and stable government for Cardassia."
"What?" asked Steele. "Since the end of the Dominion War there's been anything but stability! It's practically a civil war! The old regime still pulls weight and the war criminals roam freely!"
"We believe this prisoner can help. His testimony in the multi-government tribunals can finally help put the last remaining Dominion and Cardassian war criminals behind force-fields forever."
Picard's face contorted with his concern. "How?" he asked in a hushed voice. "To our knowledge there were no surviving witnesses to the massacres of Maquis and the Cardassian rebels at the Hutet camp on Cardassia IV. The only surviving Cardassian rebellion members were on Cardassia Prime and Lazon II."
Jellico's eyes closed and his head nod was almost imperceptible. "This man survived Jean-Luc…he is the last surviving witness to the Cardassian and Dominion war-crimes at Hutet." He sighed. "Now the trick will be to get him to agree to testify at all. It is a job I'm hoping you can help with."
"Why wouldn't he testify if it meant putting those responsible for the atrocities away?" Picard asked urgently.
"As you can imagine Jean-Luc, being at the mercy of the Cardassians, he'll have little fondness for any Cardassian, rebel or not. Testifying to help any of them would be distasteful to him. But let me assure you this man has no love lost for the Federation either. Eliciting his cooperation will be difficult at best." Jellico responded.
The door to the room opened and two armed guards walked in. They both looked very uncomfortable and those in the room were immediately struck by a strong, offensive odor and instantly understood the guards' disgust.
Each guard held the upper arm of a very tall yet slumped, shabby and soiled human male. Binders held his hands behind his back and electronic leg-bands were wrapped around his calves and thighs. Picard knew that if he attempted to run they would be triggered causing the motor function in his legs to fail. Yet Picard was struck by his weakened state and believed even if he did run, his lack of strength wouldn't allow him to get very far. His thinning dark hair was fraying, dirty and matted. His face was covered in a long, scruffy and filthy beard. Any portions of his face that were free from hair were covered with jagged and ruddy scars. He was clad in soiled, shredded and tattered clothing which revealed large portions of his grimy chest and arms beneath. Picard could tell he was covered in a freeform jumble of thick scars, burn marks and deep wounds.
Picard was unable to control the deepening of his frown of revulsion when he recognized the lump of an implanted Cardassian pain control device under the man's skin near his clavicle. Picard noticed that many of the wounds were very fresh and he turned his eyes away from the sight only to let them rest on the man's gaunt face. The man's bright blue eyes glared absently back at him.
Picard drew in a deep breath of shock. He heard Steele do the same.
The man's gaze dropped away from Picard's and fell upon Steele. His vacant and empty stare slowly surrendered to softened bewilderment, confusion and awe. His voice could only allow a whisper filled with disbelief. "Tone?"
Steele's brows furrowed, her face filled with uncertainty and puzzlement and she turned quickly to question Picard. "Will?"
Picard moved his hand slowly and reached to touch Steele's hand. He shook his head gently. "No Antoinette..." he dropped his voice with concern, shock and anger, "…it's Thomas…it's Thomas Riker."
Steele's cheeks drooped in astonishment and her eyes widened with comprehension and she turned back to the face the shackled man.
"Tone…?" he whispered again. His eyes began to roll back in his head and he weakened in his stance. The guards moved to support him generously.
Picard filled with rage and he moved in on Jellico. "This man needs a physician Admiral! Not shackles!"
"We can't take the chance Picard. He's still a terrorist. We need to get him debriefed then placed on board the Enterprise!" Jellico retorted loudly.
"Well dammit, debrief him later! Let's get him to the ship!" He turned to the weakened man in front of him and he lowered his voice. "Thomas. We're going to be taking you to the Enterprise immediately."
Riker nodded his head weakly but his eyes fell back upon Steele with the same expression of disbelief and utter confusion.
"Picard! We need to debrief him first!" Jellico attempted to interject.
Without even acknowledging Jellico, Picard clicked his combadge and moved towards Riker and his two guards. "Picard to Enterprise! Four to beam directly to sick-bay! Myself, one prisoner and two guards. Have Worf meet me there!" He spun on Jellico and glared at him. "Of all people…" Picard grunted then turned quickly to Steele. "Meet us there Antoinette."
Still in shock, she concurred with a nod and stepped back.
"Picard! I order you to…!" Jellico roared but to no avail as the shimmering blue light took dissipated Picard, the guards and Thomas Riker.
Steele turned on Jellico whose face had brightened into a flaming shade of red from his anger. "Admiral…" her voice choked from her horror and alarm, "…how could you?" Her eyes met those of her counterpart and she could see Hunter's own disbelief that Jellico put interrogation before medical need. "How could you? I don't care if he is a terrorist. To bring him here first was wrong!" she barked. "You knew he would be…" She caught her fury in her throat, "…you knew!" Steele faced Hunter. "Meet me on the Enterprise Captain." She shot Jellico a parting glare and ran out into the corridor, the door closing behind her.
Hunter stood bolt upright in front of his former CO. Jellico's fury was mounting and he flared at Hunter. "Captain! I suggest that you…"
"Admiral Jellico!" he cut him off, "I will be meeting my counterparts on the Enterprise and we will meet you there. If you think that you can get me to approve of that last move…" he growled, "…you are sorely mistaken. I'm with both Picard and Steele on this one!"
"Captain Hunter, I order you to…"
"Oh go to hell Ed!" Hunter barked. "You blew this! Report all three of us if you want but you'd be a fool and you know it! You'd better pray he even survives the transport! If you want anything from Riker now, you're going to have to go to the Enterprise to get it, which is where I will be – waiting to find out what kind of madness you and Grayson have in store for us!" He shook his head with anger.
"Nate…" Jellico said with a bartering tone.
Hunter walked out of the room and made headway for the Enterprise.
Posted 21 June 2010 - 05:16 PM
Mooring Pylon Delta
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
"Get those binders off of him!" demanded Doctor Crusher and the guards, too wary of the situation, were hesitant to comply.
At that moment, Worf bound into sickbay. Picard approached him hurriedly. "Worf, Thomas Riker is in custody but requires immediate medical attention. Please assure these guards that they may remove the restraints."
Worf towered over them and all it took was one look from the great Klingon and the two guards released Riker's hands. They simply fell forward, hanging limply at his sides.
"Thank you." Beverly let her frustration out with her voice as she moved to assist Thomas. "Alyssa! Help me get him to the sonic room, he must be cleaned before I can do anything to remove these implants!" she ordered.
Nurse Alyssa Ogawa moved immediately to Thomas' other side and they began to walk with him towards the rear of the medical facility. Worf looked to the guards once more and they moved in to assist but also to assure he would not bolt. Worf's look of approval was met with satisfaction by both of them.
"Thomas Riker sir?" Worf asked Picard quietly. "How did he survive? He was sentenced to life in the Cardassian labor camps on Lazon II after he helped negotiate the release of the Defiant and her crew."
"Yes Mister Worf." Picard's stomach lurched. "He has apparently spent quite some time in Tholian custody as well."
"Tholian?" Worf murmured then lifted his head with understanding. "That's why the ships were here."
"Yes Mister Worf," Picard verified. "Prisoner exchange. This is still highly confidential Worf – I don't want this news to get out." He watched Beverly and Alyssa move Thomas towards the cleaning room then clicked his combadge. "Captain to Commander Riker."
"Riker here sir."
"Please report to sickbay and bring Counselor Troi with you."
He clicked once more. "Commander Data. Please assure that Captains Steele and Hunter along with Admiral Jellico are allowed on board."
"Captain Steele has already arrived Captain. She is on her way to sickbay. I will make sure the other two are greeted." Data replied.
"Thank you Data. Please escort Admiral Jellico and Captain Hunter to the observation lounge. I don't want it too crowded in here. Tell them I will meet them shortly."
Steele arrived in sick-bay first. She moved directly to Picard. Her look of shock had not worn off. "Thomas Riker?" she questioned. "I can't believe…I can't…" She shook her head then glimpsed the rear of the facility where she saw Crusher and Ogawa working furiously over Thomas as he laid on a biobed. The two guards and Worf remained close by.
Thomas was significantly cleaner. The stench he had carried with him had dissipated. His beard was still long but was no longer matted or filled with debris. She moved towards the foot of the biobed but held back a slight distance, fascinated and horrorstruck by his mutilated appearance. He looks just like him! Of course he does Toni! He IS Will! Will with scars – Will in pain. This Will also knows me, but this Will hasn't seen me since my wedding. This Will has been a member of the Maquis. This Will has been a terrorist. He has also been a hero to some. Her sorrow kicked in and she looked to his face, his sunken eyes made him look decades older than she knew he was. What have they done to him? How did he survive? A tear fell from her eye and she watched the doctor anesthetize him so she could begin the process of removing the cruel devices implanted in his chest.
The doctor turned to her and Steele could see Crusher's revulsion and unbridled fury. "They kept him alive on purpose, just so they could continue to torture him! There is a device which lets the torturers know when death is near just so they could stop in time to begin again later."
Steele brought her shaking hand up to her mouth in dismay; her eyes fell back upon the familiar bearded face that now looked almost peaceful under the influence of the anesthesia.
The doors to sickbay slid open and Riker and Troi walked in. Picard held up his hand and drew them both to one side.
"Will, Deanna…the Federation has just made a prisoner exchange with the Tholian Assembly. We'll be bringing the prisoner back to the Sol System where we are hoping he will be willing to provide eye-witness testimony against those involved in the Hutet massacre."
"Eye-witness? He survived the massacre?" Riker asked in astonishment.
"The Tholians?" Deanna questioned and let a concerned scowl cross her face. "How did he get there if he was a Cardassian prisoner?"
Picard shook his head seriously. "I don't know…but Will, Deanna – there's more." He tried to prepare them with his voice but knew it was a pathetic attempt. "It's Thomas Riker."
Riker couldn't hide his surprise or incomprehension. Picard noticed Troi grab Riker's hand at his side.
His heart racing, Riker moved his eyes to the body on the biobed in the distance surrounded by Crusher, Ogawa, Worf and the guards. He could see Steele watching Crusher's frantic movements from a short distance.
He could only make out glimpses of his double, a duplicate of himself created by a freak transporter accident on Nervala IV. The planet's atmosphere contained a tumultuous distortion field that made transportation extremely risky. A dual confinement beam was utilized in order to assure Riker's safe return from the planet's surface and after a very rough go, Riker rematerialized on board his ship the USS Potemkin. Unknown to anyone on board, the secondary confinement beam had actually reflected off the underside of the planet's distortion field and back onto its surface, rematerializing another William T. Riker.
That Will Riker spent eight lonely years stranded on the planet while the other moved onward an upward in Starfleet. That Will Riker was rescued by the crew of the Enterprise, in whose crew his double served as her First Officer. That Will Riker had chosen to call himself by his middle name, Thomas, just so he could be distinguished from himself.
Will shook his head, trying to disperse his lapse of comprehension. "Thomas…?" he whispered. "How did he? How could he have?" Riker couldn't even form the words.
"He survived Will," Picard clarified. "I don't know how. He just did."
"But I thought he ended up in the labor camps on Lazon II not Hutet." Deanna inquired.
Picard nodded. "There was a rumor he had escaped the camp on Lazon II and was recaptured. It's possible they moved him to Hutet to avoid another escape attempt. Admiral Grayson and Ambassador Riva have just gone to great lengths for his return. They must have reliable information that leads them to believe Thomas was at Hutet at the time of the massacre." Picard turned his head toward the patient again and looked upon him sympathetically. "He's been severely tortured and needs medical treatment." Picard's tired and saddened eyes fell upon Deanna. "He'll need your help Counselor."
Troi's face twisted with distress. Picard knew she could feel his ache as he fought the flooding memories of his own torture at the hands of the Cardassians. She moved her other hand to her Captain's shoulder. He acknowledged her support and continued his report. "The doctor is now removing the pain control devices that still…"
Picard's attention was torn away by the percussive and stabbing sounds of Thomas screaming in pain and agony.
Crusher cried for help and Picard looked up to see Crusher and Ogawa frantically trying to press Thomas back down on the biobed. Blood spewed from an open surgical laceration in his upper chest. The two were immediately assisted by the guards and they tried desperately to press down his flailing body. Thomas' loud and intense screams of anguish continued to fill the room.
Troi cried out loudly and Picard saw her stance weaken. Riker turned to her quickly and held her tightly. Picard could tell that Deanna was overcome with sensations of Thomas' intense pain and emotion and her black eyes filled with tears.
Confused, Riker's attention was ripped back across the room and his eyes widened when he saw Steele bolt from her standing position to head for the biobed. "NO TONI, DON'T!" he yelled.
Troi buckled from the overflow of torment and grievingly looked back to the biobed.
The room was suddenly filled with shrieks of suffering from Captain Steele.
As quickly as Thomas' emotion had overtaken her, Picard saw Troi's eyes take on a sense of relief and he knew her sensations of the prisoner's pain were washing away. Picard observed Steele's body buckling near the bedside, her hand tightly gripping Thomas' leg. Thomas quieted quickly allowing Crusher and the others to pin him back into a supine position on the bed, yet Steele's intense screams continued to pierce Picard's ears. Steele writhed with her shrieks and she dropped to her knees at the bedside, her hand never leaving Thomas' leg.
"Toni!" Riker cried, and after assuring Troi's well-being, tried to move closer to the bed. "Let go…" he begged, almost quietly.
"Hold him down!" Crusher commanded and she grabbed a small tool from Ogawa's rock-steady hand. Crusher moved in over the hole she had made in Thomas' chest and using the fine tool, located, secured and removed a fiber-thin trigger device implanted in the fibrous tissue near his sternum.
Steele screamed once more and so loudly, Picard recoiled at the sound. In a blinding fury of surgical team precision, Crusher and Ogawa re-anesthetized their patient and he fell under its effect immediately. Steele's hand slipped weakly from his leg and she collapsed to the floor in a fetal position on the verge of unconsciousness.
Picard followed Riker as he rushed forward. Riker bent down and lifted Steele wholly from the floor, turned and laid her upon an empty biobed. "Toni! Toni…?" He shook his head in sorrow. "Oh Toni…"
Steele couldn't answer.
"It was booby-trapped!" Crusher yelled to Picard. "The original pain-control device was removed but this secondary device looks as though it was triggered remotely!"
Picard's eyes scanned the room and fell upon Worf. "Anyone in this room?!"
"No!" Crusher said as she continued to close her patient's surgical wound. "From much farther away – kilometers, hundreds of kilometers! It looks like a perimeter trigger."
"The Tholians," Picard growled. He turned to look upon Steele, her body weakly responded to Riker's gentle persuading hands on her face.
Crusher continued, "Whoever it was Captain, the device was meant to force him out of anesthesia…" Her appalled and urgent voice penetrated through the sound of Steele's continuing misery. "…and then kill him."
Picard moved toward the foot of the bed where Steele had been set. "What happened Number One? Will she be all right?"
Riker shook his head. "I'm not sure, sir. She just took it all…she took all of it." He held Steele's face softly and her hands gripped his arms tightly. Her body shook with tremors and her face was contorted with waves of pain. "I've never seen her so bad."
Picard watched Troi as she moved slowly toward Steele. He thought she looked confused. "I can't feel her," she stated. "I can't sense anything from her…why?" Picard was going to answer her but noticed that she had reasoned it out for herself and the realization swept over her face. Troi connected her eyes to Picard then back over to Riker, whose worry and concern were etched deeply across his face. Troi's eyes flew wide. "She's Deltan!?" she questioned in shock. "Why – how did she feel the pain?"
"Deltan?" gasped Crusher who then nodded quickly and took another tool from Ogawa's hands to finish closing the surgical laceration in Thomas' chest. "That explains it."
"Yes," Riker responded as he caressed Steele's grimacing and sorrowful face. Her eyes closed tight against the tears and the pain that had yet to fade from her own body, her moans not yet beginning to weaken. "Only a quarter. Like all Deltans, she can absorb the pain of others but because she's mostly human, she actually feels the pain herself," he stated as he consoled his friend, her voice now carrying soft and tortured whimpers.
Picard nodded from the foot of the second biobed and looked upon Steele with sorrow and kindness. He turned to look at Crusher who was nodding her head in approval as she looked over her own patient. Ogawa was smiling broadly.
"He'll be okay for now. I'm going to keep him sedated for awhile." She exhaled out heavily and with relief. "Jean-Luc…if Steele hadn't…" she huffed, "…I wouldn't have been able to remove the device before it killed him."
Picard nodded with comprehension then turned back to Steele. Her whimpers had weakened slightly but the pain and agony still contorted her features. He exhaled deeply and looked to Riker whose hands still held Steele's tormented face. Picard touched Troi's arm briefly. "Counselor, stay with her and Thomas please. And make sure she's looked over by Beverly. I will be meeting with the Admiral in the observation lounge. Commander? I want you with me."
Riker looked to Picard pleadingly but quickly settled himself and nodded in agreement. He turned to capture Steele's eyes directly. "Toni. I'll be right back okay?" he reassured her.
"Captain…" Steele croaked feebly in a shuddered voice. "Malek…"
Understanding her request, Picard stepped forward. "We'll have Malek join us for the briefing Captain."
"I'd go…" Steele winced sharply and let out a loud whimper. "…but doubt...I'd be useful."
Picard smiled and noted her attempt to be humorous. "No indeed, Antoinette." He looked to Riker. "Commander?"
Riker eased himself away from her and stole a good-hard look in Thomas' direction. He nodded to his CO and followed him out of sick-bay.
Deanna moved in quickly to take Steele's trembling hand. Steele took it gratefully and held it tight, tears beginning to stream down her face. "Thanks Counselor," she whined.
Deanna nodded softly in return. "Captain." Deanna spoke softly, "I should be thanking you. When you took his pain, you stopped me from having to experience his emotions."
Steele's expression revealed her understanding of Deanna's predicament and she nodded once. "Glad I…could help." She tried to smile. Deanna grinned brightly and held the captain's hand as she tackled her remaining misery.
Troi slowly turned her head to look toward the shell of the man stretched out on the biobed next to them. It was the first time Deanna had a clear view of him and she let out a cry of shock when she appreciated the cacophony of scars that were scattered across his disfigured body.
She felt Steele's hand tighten once more and she looked to the emerald green eyes that seemed to understand so well. Deanna's fury swelled and she looked back to Steele. "I don't care what he did," Troi growled. "No one deserves that."
Steele let another whimper out. "They wouldn't…let him die Deanna."
Deanna took Steele's other hand and the two shared their horror and anger together.
This post has been edited by Terilynn: 11 August 2010 - 03:34 PM
Posted 21 June 2010 - 05:40 PM
"Data contact the Panther and have Commander Malek transport over and meet us in the Observation Lounge." Picard ordered over his combadge as he and Riker walked toward the turbolift. The door slid shut. "Bridge."
"Aye sir," Data replied.
Picard looked to his First who understandably looked confused and overwhelmed. The last time Riker had laid eyes on his double was the first time they had met. His head must be swimming! Picard knew he had to have him re-focus but wasn't sure how he could help him. "Number One…"
"Yes sir," he answered but Picard could tell it was an automatic response because Riker never lifted his eyes from the floor of the turbolift.
"He's not you. You're two completely different men." He tried to reassure him.
Riker allowed a small grin and stroked his absent beard. "Believe it or not, that's not what I was thinking about Captain."
Picard lifted his eyebrows. "Oh?"
Riker leaned back against the wall of the turbolift as it shifted directions, his face contorted with anxiety. "I see him laying there…scarred…torn. I can't even comprehend what he might have been through and find myself wondering whether or not I could…"
"Will," Picard stopped him. "You may be different men, but you're made from the same…" Picard smiled. "…cloth. You have incredible strength. You should know that I admire you. You never fell into the same traps Thomas did. You are an outstanding officer and an honorable man, Will."
Will inhaled with the compliment and nodded briefly. "Thank you, sir." He sighed heavily. "I still can't even imagine what he's been through."
Silence passed and Picard's stomach tightened. I can.
The door opened and the two walked out onto the bridge. Data stood from the command chair and Picard waved to him asking him to remain. "Report."
"Admiral Jellico and Captain Hunter are in Obs Lounge. Commander Malek has beamed to transporter room four and is on his way," Data confirmed.
"Thank you Mister Data." Picard accepted the report then began to move for the Observation Lounge when the door to the lift opened and Commander Malek stepped out, his look of concern apparent. "Ah! Commander, good." Picard stepped forward to shake his hand. "Your Captain has asked that you attend this briefing in her stead. I'll explain more in the Observation Lounge."
"Aye sir." He nodded briefly; his antennae reverently dipped and he made eye contact with Riker. Malek saw Riker's concern and drew himself closer to his counterpart and followed Picard into the lounge. Malek was about to quietly question Riker when he was surprised by the sudden rush upon Picard by Admiral Jellico.
Jellico moved straight into Picard's face. "Captain Picard! Do you think orders are merely suggestions?! Well I'll tell you…"
"Are you quite done Admiral?" Picard interrupted quietly and continued to walk into the lounge towards his usual seat at the head of the table.
Malek's eyes flew wide and his antennae spiked, he looked to Riker who responded with pressed-lips and raised eyebrows as if to say…just lay low. It was a lead that Malek was all too happy to follow.
"You disobeyed a direct order Captain!" Jellico roared.
Again, Picard did not rise to the bait and he kept his voice calm and monotone. "No Admiral, I simply chose to acknowledge the fact that the Seldonis IV Convention supersedes your orders." Picard stoically walked past Jellico and took his seat.
"The Seldonis IV Convention applies to citizens of the Federation and organizations who are a party to them Picard," Jellico retorted. "Riker is neither!"
Picard let his fury fly. He bolted upright from his chair and leaned over the table. "No you don't Admiral! NO SIR! Don't you dare twist the definition of our own rules to justify the mistreatment of another!" Picard could feel the heat emanating from his own face. "I will not allow us to stoop to that level…or did my reaction to Ba'ku teach you nothing?!" He shook his head with rage. "It's a horribly convenient definition to say he's no longer a Federation citizen when it's the Federation that needs him most! No sir! NEVER!" Picard slammed his hand down on the table and it rocked the room. Malek jumped back. Riker tried to reassure him with another encouraging look. "We are citizens of the Federation and the Convention applies Admiral! It applies to us! We must adhere!"
"Thomas Riker requires representation Admiral, and I'll be damned if Picard stands alone in this!" Hunter barked.
Jellico spun, looking around the room looking for support. He only saw Riker and Malek with concerned stares resting on their faces. He reeled back on Picard. "Where's Steele?!"
Picard inhaled deeply and invited all to sit with a wave of his hand. "Admiral, please have a seat and I will try to explain what happened."
"Where's Thomas Riker, Picard?!"
"Admiral!" Hunter glared at him. "Yelling will not make this easier. Let the good captain speak."
Jellico huffed heavily and took a seat with the others.
"Thank you Admiral," Picard said calmly. "Captain Steele remains in sick-bay pending a check-over by our physician. She was rendered unable to attend this meeting due to an incident that occurred in the sick-bay…"
"I knew it! Riker tried to break free didn't he?" Jellico bellowed.
Picard closed his eyes in frustration. "No Admiral."
"She saved his life!" Riker interrupted. "He was going to die and she saved him and any possible testimony he might be able to provide!"
Picard always appreciated Riker's ability to cut in at the precise moment he wanted him to, just so he could catch a breath – just so he could keep from reaching across the table and grabbing his superiors by the throat.
"What do you mean?" Jellico retorted.
"Admiral. If you would let me finish, I will be happy to inform everyone here what happened. It's especially important for Commander Malek to hear." Picard acknowledged him once more with his eyes, and Malek sat forward at the table at full attention.
Jellico sighed and leaned back heavily in his chair. "What happened Picard?"
"Thomas Riker, known member of the Maquis, was received in extremely poor condition on the Starbase as a party to a prisoner exchange with the Tholian Assembly."
Malek nodded and his antennae bounced rigidly. "That's why they were here."
"Yes Commander," Picard confirmed. "Riker was cleaned and placed under anesthesia so several Cardassian pain control devices could be removed." Out of habit, Picard drew his hands across his bald head. "Unfortunately a hidden device has been implanted and was triggered, we believe remotely, forcing him out of the anesthesia and causing him… severe pain. That device was meant to have and would have caused Thomas Riker's death had it not been for Captain Steele's intervention."
Malek's antennae drooped substantially and his facial expression and body language told both Riker and Picard that he understood exactly what that meant. "She took his pain," he stated softly. "Didn't she?"
Picard nodded. "Yes Malek." He tried to sound supportive but wasn't sure he didn't come off sounding defeated.
"Will she be okay?" Malek addressed Riker.
Riker sighed with worry. "I think so Malek but I won't lie to you. She took a pulse of pain that was meant to rip him apart before it killed him. Not only did she feel the pain the device was causing but she must have been able to feel the pain of the open surgical wound and removal of the device as well. It will likely take her quite awhile to shake it off," Riker replied.
"What do you mean, took his pain?" Jellico asked.
"Admiral, Captain Steele is one quarter Deltan," Picard responded. "When Riker was forced out of anesthesia, she intentionally absorbed the pain he was suffering long enough for the doctor to surgically remove the hidden device and get him back under anesthesia," he said factually, happier now that Jellico had calmed. "Dr. Crusher informed me that she is convinced that if Captain Steele had not intervened she would not have been able to remove the device before it killed Riker. Captain Steele remains in sick-bay and Thomas Riker remains under sedation. He will require additional treatment to heal several fresh wounds."
"They triggered the device remotely?" Jellico asked standing as comprehension crossed his visage.
"Yes Admiral," Picard confirmed.
Jellico snarled. "The damn Tholians never intended for him to live!"
"It must have been how they were able to get Riker from Cardassia to begin with – a promise that he would die before being handed over to Starfleet," Hunter surmised.
Picard and the others could see Jellico's mind spin into a frenzy. Hunter smiled slightly and Picard could tell that Hunter was very familiar with his former CO's idiosyncrasies.
"This may play well for us," Jellico finally stated. "Commander Riker, how many people know of Thomas Riker's presence on board the Enterprise?"
"Ourselves, the guards, Captain Steele, Dr. Crusher and Nurse Ogawa, Lieutenant Commander Worf and Commander Troi, sir."
Jellico seemed pleased. "That's all?"
"Yes sir, Captain Picard had Worf assure sick-bay would remain off-limits for the time being," Riker responded.
"Good. I want to keep it that way. I wouldn't mind if we let it slip that Thomas Riker died from the Tholian device and that we became the victims of their deception."
Picard nodded in agreement. "It could only help in the ease of our transport to Earth, but only for awhile. The presence of the escorts would still tip our hand."
Jellico nodded but his expression remained stern. "Yes Jean-Luc, but I don't want them too far away either. I still don't trust this situation and don't believe for an instant those who still control part of the Cardassian fleet won't take advantage of this."
"Why don't you transfer Riker to one of the Cats sir? It would be easier to send one of us home more casually than it would be for the Enterprise," Malek offered and Riker smiled.
Jellico's eyebrows lifted. "Not a bad idea Malek." He stood from his chair. "I want to think over my options for a bit but my first instinct is to have him remain on board Enterprise."
"Thomas Riker will still require intensive medical and psychological treatment," Picard pointed out. "Both of which he can receive easier on board the Enterprise than on either of the defense ships."
Jellico stewed. "Agreed but I don't want to delay this trip Picard. The faster we get him to Earth the better. We have to pass right by Cardassian territory and if any of them even catch a whiff that Thomas Riker is on board I'm afraid that we'll be right back where we started with them."
"Admiral…that is one fact with which I wholeheartedly agree," Picard conceded and glanced to his superior officer with a serious stare. "Captain Steele can remain on board the Enterprise until she is released. She has faith in Malek to command the Panther while we move forward."
"Agreed," Jellico concurred. "Admiral Noyes will also be joining me." He turned to address the others. "Commanders, Captains, I'll provide you with further orders once Admiral Noyes and I have had a chance to discuss things. In any event we may have just bought ourselves a little time. I want to use it. Please be prepared to depart SB 214 at 0900 hours tomorrow morning."
Picard felt his empty stomach lurch again. "Fine Admiral. Commander Riker please assign quarters to our guests."
"Aye sir." Riker nodded.
"What about representation Admiral?" Hunter challenged and Jellico's face flushed to a beet red. Picard allowed himself to smile as he looked to his counterpart. Antoinette was right; Hunter was a very good man indeed.
"I will assure a representative is brought on from the Starbase Captain." Jellico groaned his surrender.
"Excellent." Hunter nodded.
The group all stood from their seats and Jellico departed the room in a rush. Picard let his eyes fall to Hunter. "Thank you Captain."
Hunter shook his head. "I already told Ed he blew it. He knows it and he's just mad. He'll get over it and I don't expect any more grief. He's always been that way. He hates being wrong and he stews." Hunter smiled. "I was under his command long enough to read him."
Riker shook his head. "I don't know you did it Captain. I was under his command for all of two weeks and I ended up butting heads more than I care to remember."
Hunter grinned outright. "Yeah, he told me all about that Riker. I think you actually did pretty well."
"Liar." Riker responded with a laugh.
Hunter smiled and nodded. "Maybe so Commander…" He moved alongside Riker. "…but Jellico really is the best when it comes to matters involving Cardassian tactics. Never forget it and always respect it."
"Captain Picard?" Malek interjected.
"I would like to see Captain Steele, if I may."
Picard smiled and rested his hand on the XO's shoulder. "By all means Commander."
"Come with me Malek. I promised her I'd be right back," Riker replied. Malek agreed and the group exited the lounge.
"Report when ready Number One." Picard offered and received a non-verbal acknowledgement from Riker. Data stood from the command chair and Picard happily sat. Relief swept over him. The horrible hurdle with Jellico was over and he escaped relatively unscathed. The thought that there were many other hurdles yet to jump made him feel tired all over again. Maybe retirement is a good idea…
"So how do you like serving under Captain Steele, Malek?" Riker asked him as they exited the turbolift.
Malek's smile told him already, "Very much. She's an outstanding CO. A little bit like your CO, very passionate about her point of view but honestly, she's just a lot of fun to work for. Very different from my last CO."
"Fun?" Riker asked.
"Yes. She's very funny on the bridge. Always jokes with the crew. There isn't one of us who wouldn't do anything for her."
The thought of openly joking on the bridge seemed foreign to Riker. "I would have thought she would have been a little hard-edged considering the type of ship you're on."
Malek nodded. "To tell you the truth, I thought the same thing when I accepted her offer as XO. But I've come to find out it's exactly the kind of camaraderie that's required on a defense vessel. Our job is serious enough." Malek's antennae twisted then stood straight up. "When we're in battle, she's dead serious…and so is the crew."
"I have no doubt of that," Riker confirmed. The thought that a lighthearted attitude would be required on a fighting ship seemed to make sense for the same reason Picard liked his ship to run a little tighter, a little more formally. The balance was necessary.
Riker led him to sick-bay. As they entered the room, Riker could see Crusher and Troi talking quietly to one side. Thomas remained on the biobed attended by both guards. Steele appeared to be resting on the bed next him.
Malek moved forward directly. "Captain…" he spoke softly.
Steele tried to lift herself slightly to greet him but winced. "Commander…good…to see you."
Malek shook his head gently. "You just can't seem to stop putting yourself in harm's way Captain. Am I going to have to lock you up on your own ship?" he scolded.
Riker smiled. It was exactly the type of thing he was about to say to her.
Steele let herself drop back down to the bed with a weakened thud. "Maybe Commander." Her expression turned serious. "How did…meeting go? Jellico…behave?"
Riker moved in. "He was upset at first, but I think Hunter and Captain Picard were able to straighten him out. He and Noyes will be coming back on board for our transit to Earth."
Steele nodded weakly. "What about him?" Her eyes drifted to the bed next to her and to Thomas' motionless body.
"Jellico is bringing a representative for him for the debriefing," Riker confirmed.
"Good." She exhaled with relief.
"Hey! Don't get my patient all flustered now!" Beverly admonished in a hushed tone. "I just got her to the point where she'll put her head down."
"Sorry Doctor," said Steele. "She's mean Will. How do you handle it?"
Riker smiled and laughed as he looked to Crusher who pressed her lips in that don't push my buttons look. "I listen to what she says. Keeps me from getting hurt."
Steele shifted uncomfortably. "Probably good advice."
"Still in pain?" Riker asked.
Steele nodded briskly. Crusher looked up to the monitor above her head. "I want you to stay with me awhile Captain." She turned to look at Malek and then to Riker. "I couldn't give her anything for her pain without it overwhelming her," she explained with frustration.
"I tried to tell her…" Steele groaned.
Malek spoke supportively, "It's just something she has to go through Doctor. She told me that the day I started working for her, just in case something like this happened."
Crusher nodded. "Yes. The physician on the Panther provided me with all of her history." Her eyes met Steele's. "Does she make this a habit?"
"No Doctor." Steele sighed with a smile.
Malek addressed her. "Admiral Jellico has approved my command of the Panther until you are released Captain."
"Good." Steele nodded. "I shouldn't be too long Commander. I'll beam back over as soon as I can."
"I know you will." He patted her leg gently and smiled. "You know Captain, Kiley is going to get a real bang out of this when I tell her."
"Tell Kiley she can go screw herself," replied Steele with a grin and Riker's eyes widened with her language. "She's my Second," she explained. "She's Zaldan."
Riker nodded with comprehension. Zaldans abhorred etiquette so Steele's comment would only be deemed honest and appropriate.
"I will Captain. She'll be glad to hear it." Malek turned to walk for the door. "Oh, and Captain?"
"Since you'll be out for a little while, I just wanted you to know, don't be surprised when I have that hideous painting in the ready room removed. It's an affront to Andorian sensibilities! All that dirt…nasty, wretched place."
"Just because you come from a place that's covered in ice…" she grunted. She watched Malek smile impishly as he walked from the room. "Don't you touch that painting!" she threatened but Malek laughed loudly as the door whooshed closed behind him.
Riker shook his head. "Malek said you had an unusual command style."
"Ah…" She winced again. "Maybe I do. This crew is as good…no…maybe better than the Yeager's. We're a team. We live together and will die together if necessary."
Deanna moved back to the biobed where Steele lay. "How are you doing?"
Steele exhaled deeply. "A little better." She took Troi's hand. "You helped a lot Counselor. Thanks."
Riker smiled as he looked to the two of them. He was happy to see that they were getting along so well. "See Toni, I told you she was pretty special."
Steele smiled and gently nodded then slowly reached her hand out for Riker's face. He brought his head down so she could touch him. She slapped his face curtly.
"Hey!" He pulled back, rubbing his stinging cheek. He really did miss his beard. "What was that for?!"
"For not introducing us years ago!" Steele barked. "You are in deep trouble now Commander!"
Riker's eyes widened when he saw that Deanna's expression contained the same look. "Oh...oh no. See? This is why. I didn't want to get double-teamed."
"Too late Will." Deanna smirked in return. "You are far, far too late."
Riker backed away slowly from the biobed as the two women stared him down. He turned to look at Crusher and realized that she had also been privy to some conversations that occurred while he was in Observation. "Don't tell me…you too?"
"Seems as though you didn't want us to meet her Will. Why were you so afraid…?"
"Uhhh…thanks Doctor. I think I'm needed back on the bridge!" he said as he backed quickly towards the door, his hands raised in a self-defensive posture. "You three have a lovely day!"
Posted 21 June 2010 - 06:43 PM
USS Enterprise – NCC-1701-E
The heat is gone.
I'm back! I'm back in Cardassia!
There are five lights. No, wait! There are only four lights! There are always only four lights. Remember. Only four. Only four. Only four.
Remember. Never forget. There are always only four. Only four.
You beat them the last time. They sold you to Tholia. Hell house. Heat. Cube. Sweat box. Burning bug claws. They paid for me so I could sit in a hot box. At least there were no lights. No talking. Just heat, burns and scalding damn claws…but not one single, god- damned light.
Now I'm back in Cardassia.
You can beat them again. Just remember…four. There are always four.
Pretty blue eyes.
NO! There are always four! Always!
Pretty blue eyes again. Smiling eyes. Familiar face?
No! There are always…
There really is only one!
Human female body in red-collared Starfleet uniform.
Straight, dark, black hair.
Pretty, no…beautiful. Beautiful woman.
Long, black hair. Green eyes.
Beautiful woman standing in blue-collared Starfleet uniform.
Long, thick, wavy dark hair.
Nice try Nekrit!
Hell house. Sweat box. Burning bugs.
Never forget. Four lights! There are always only four. Only four. Only four.
Something touched me! On my arm!
Beautiful woman on biobed.
Green. Bright green. Amazing green eyes.
Torture dream. Nekrit messing with my head.
"Can you hear me?"
Oh! Velvet voice! Why Nekrit? This is new. This is horrible! First you murder my future – now you find my past?
There will always be four. There will always be four lights Nekrit!
"Can you see me?"
Sounds so real! Her velvet voice. Those damned green eyes.
"Toni…he's very confused right now. He doesn't even understand where he is."
Her voice too?! What the hell?! Nekrit! Go ahead! Screw with my head all you want! There will always be four. ALWAYS!
"You need to lie back down Captain. You're not even able to walk yet."
"Okay Deanna. Sorry. I just thought I saw his eyes open."
I hate you Nekrit. I hate you. I will kill you. I hate you for taking her. I hate you for making me swim through these memories. I hate you for killing them.
"He's going to be very confused. Can you imagine? Both of us? He'll be horribly confused."
"I suppose you're right Deanna. He hasn't seen me since my wedding."
"Exactly. He hasn't seen me for years. Now lay back down Captain. You're still in horrible pain. There, that's better."
Damn Nekrit! Gotta hand it to you…they sound more real than anything you've ever done before!
Female on biobed.
Green. Green, green eyes. Understanding green eyes.
She was screaming earlier.
I heard her screaming.
I was screaming.
They were all screaming.
Screaming in the cavern. Death. Death everywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of screaming people. I was screaming. She was there. She refused to scream. Nekrit made me watch…watch as they murdered them all. Made me watch as they murdered her. Threw her on the heap of others.
I hate you Nekrit. I will kill you. I will. I will beat you in this game and I will kill you. Make you pay for taking her. I promised her I would beat you and I will. Because I know…
There will always be four.
There will always be four lights.
"How many lights? This is your last chance!" Gul Madred's voice asked in the same lilting tone but with urgency that frightened Picard. He wanted to rip the face clean off the skull of his Cardassian tormenter but he was too weak. He was hungry. He was so…so tired.
His eyes drifted up once more…just to see...
Five! There were five lights! There really were! Had they been there all along? Did he just add one? No! There can't be…!
"Don't be a stubborn fool! How many?" urged Madred.
He felt hands grab his arms. Someone spoke to Gul Madred. What? Taking me home!? Ah ha! I'm going home!
He gathered up every iota of defiance he could muster, broke free from those holding his arms and thrust himself in front of his torturer, his face filled with all the rage and hate he had grown for him…
…and he lied straight to his face…
Picard's eyes shot open. Cold sweat forced his pajamas to cling to his body. His breathing was rapid and his eyes bounced around as he tried to center himself. Yes. The Enterprise-E. I'm home.
It was the same damned nightmare. The same damned memory. He inhaled deeply and rubbed his eyes hard.
He was so tired. Tired of the nightmare and tired of the memory.
Thomas' return brought this up, surely. Still…I promised Troi. He reached for the comm and opened a channel. "Captain to Counselor Troi."
"Troi here sir."
"Counselor, would you mind stopping by my quarters?"
"Not at all sir. On my way. Troi out."
Picard stretched and shook off the last, hanging remnants of the nightmare that drifted off of him.
His thoughts once again drifted to Thomas.
His dread and his sadness weighed upon him. He stood and dressed himself in his uniform. Sleep would evade him for the rest of the night. He knew it. Sleep never came after he dreamt about the torture.
It would hang onto him for awhile.
He feared it would be hanging on for a long time.
He feared it would get worse.
Slowly, he walked to the food replicator. "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." He gratefully took a sip of the beverage after it appeared in the device. He strolled back to the settee and sat when the door bell chimed. "Come."
The door slid open and Troi walked in. Seeing that he already had tea, she walked over to the replicator and ordered hot cocoa. Picard appreciated the fact that Deanna already knew what he needed. They had been through this too many times before for her not to know. She sat across from him, sipped her cocoa and set it on the table.
"Frankly sir, I'm not surprised," she stated.
Picard frowned. "Nor I, Counselor," he admitted, "except this time…this time…"
"It's frightening," she answered for him.
She always knew. Always understood. He nodded. "Yes. Thomas Riker's appearance is making me wonder."
"Wonder what sir?"
"If I won't be more a hindrance than help." He leaned back, looking to the blackness of Troi's eyes then drew his hands over his own and his mind allowed the imaginings of Thomas' captivity and torture. "He's been through…years…."
"Captain…" She sat forward. "…tell me what you dreamt then tell me what went through your mind immediately after you woke up. The same way we always start."
Picard let a small smile escape and nodded. "All right…"
Posted 21 June 2010 - 06:59 PM
"Are you real?" he asked softly. "Or are you a program?"
It was only then that Steele understood what Deanna had meant. He would be confused. She looked up to see one of the guards waving to Crusher. Appropriate protocol.
"Wait Beverly," she said. "I want to talk to him first."
"Just for a minute. Before everything starts. He deserves to hear a friendly voice first. He deserves to know where he is." She turned to find his blue eyes peering from the nest of hair that covered his face. "Yes. I am real. I am Antoinette."
"How?" He scowled. "How did she make you? How did she know where in my mind to find you?"
She smiled. "I'm real. You're on the USS Enterprise."
"The Enterprise?" He looked around. "I've been on the Enterprise. This is not the Enterprise," he growled. "How did she do this? Is this a holodeck?"
She sighed. "No. This is the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-E. The ship you had been on almost seven years ago was the D."
"Yes. It was. It was the Enterprise-D." He scowled. "This is not the D. You can't be Tone."
"The Federation made a deal with the Tholian Assembly. You are now in Federation custody," she stated as she cringed with pain, trying to position herself to speak to him more easily. "You are on the Enterprise-E."
"E. Enterprise-E?" he asked. "What happened to the D?"
"Destroyed on Veridian III," she answered.
"Destroyed?" He looked worried. "Deanna?"
She smiled. "She's fine. She serves aboard this ship."
"You serve aboard this ship too?" he asked.
"No. I serve aboard a different ship. I'm just here for my health."
"Are you really Tone?"
He looked to the two guards on either side. "They're really Starfleet?"
"I'm not on Cardassia Prime?"
"No. Nor are you on Cardassia IV or Lazon II or Tholia."
"Hmm. Tholia. Hot there."
Steele laughed sarcastically. "I bet."
"How did UFP get me?" he asked.
"Prisoner exchange," she answered bluntly.
"Ah. They plan to turn me back over to Cardassia." He tried to prepare himself.
"No. They need you for more important things. Like prosecuting the Dominion War criminals."
"Prosecuting…?" He appeared utterly confused. "How can you prosecute war criminals for a war that hasn't ended?"
This thought was shocking to her. "How long ago did Cardassia move you to Tholia?"
"I don't know…weeks? They didn't just move me…they sold me," he answered. "I understand they got a pretty good price for me. Don't know why Tholia wanted me."
"They got twelve prisoners in exchange for you. You commanded a heavy price from the UFP." She grimaced once more as she sat up on the biobed. "You must have been in Tholian custody longer than a few weeks. The Dominion War ended over four months ago. Cardassia is…in ruins. Over eight hundred million Cardassians were wiped out by the Dominion."
"By the Dominion? What are you talking about, they are the Dominion," he snarled. "Now I know you're just a hologram. She would just love for me to think Cardassia was the victim…"
She caught his eyes. "I am Antoinette."
"Then where's Paul?" he sneered. "Admiral yet?"
She laid back on the biobed. "Dead. Paul died eleven years ago."
His face fell with the recollection. "The Drake."
"Yes. The Drake."
"I remember now. Found out when I looked up his service record. He was offered the Drake. Found out about Paul…thought about contacting you…" He trailed off. "You sure you're real?"
"I don't think so. I heard screaming." He looked to her. "She's still working, this is just a program."
Steele sighed. "You heard screaming for a reason. The pain devices were removed. It wasn't easy."
Thomas' expression contorted and he slowly moved his hand up his chest. His eyes widened when he realized the lump at his clavicle was missing. "Where did it go?"
"Evidence," she stated coolly.
"Evidence?" he questioned. "Evidence of what?"
"Their cruelty," she said and whimpered harshly as she shifted on the bed.
His head turned with confusion and concern. "You're in pain. It's her…" he hissed. "She's got you too doesn't she?"
She sighed with frustration. "You have a long road. I know that. But I wanted you to hear a kind voice first. I wanted you to know that there are those who care…I just wanted you to hear a kind voice first."
"Mmm, velvet voice." He rolled back to face the ceiling. "Good program. You sound just like Antoinette…"
Steele waved to Crusher who understood her sign, clicked her combadge and reported to Picard that Thomas was alert.
Steele grimaced as she repositioned herself on the biobed. She wasn't sure what she'd thought she'd accomplish by speaking to him, but after getting just a taste of what he had endured she found herself fascinated by him even more. Her hope that he could be helpful had dwindled. He would need intense psychological rehabilitation. She sighed heavily and turned to see that his bright blue eyes were locked on to her with frightening intensity.
"I will kill her you know. Now she's making me remember old loves. She wants to set me up to think you're real and then she will make me watch you die too. Not this time. You missed…you really missed. Really good program, but you missed." He closed his eyes and whispered, "I will kill you."
Steele's heart ripped. What did they do to you?
Deanna moved back under the covers as quietly as possible. She laid on her side and she felt him move in and encompass her. His warmth was soothing and she relaxed into him. He nuzzled his face into the crevice of her neck and his warm breath tickled her and she allowed herself the quiet laugh. She was desperate for a happy thought and he was providing it to her. She soaked it in.
"What?" he coyly whispered and then kissed her earlobe gently.
Deanna turned into him and Will brought her into his fold once more, allowing her to rest her head on his chest. He could feel her exhaustion and her worry. He thought about speaking, but then thought against it. He brought his arm up around her and held her against him, knowing it would take awhile for her to find the avenue to sleep. He would be patient.
His patience paid off after a long while when he could finally feel her body begin to relax into his and her breathing deepened and quieted.
It was only then he allowed himself to fall asleep as well.
Posted 21 June 2010 - 07:57 PM
He felt his stomach tie in knots as he sat down at the desk. It felt like his office. No. It was his office. He knew that. He could feel that.
He looked out the windows to see star trails streaking past and was saddened that they didn't seem to be the comfort he usually found them.
He swallowed hard and looked to the comm screen in front of him. It bore a Starfleet logo and the words 'Incoming Transmission – USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D.'
He didn't want to press the button. He tried to suppress the rising fear and his hand trembled as it reached for the base of the comm. Surprisingly, his hand was delicate and feminine; his ring finger bore a simple gold wedding band. His index finger hovered over the button for an additional moment as he tried to find a way not to have to take this call.
His fear began to explode and he tightened his abdominal muscles and pressed the channel button.
Incredibly, his own face appeared on the screen. Young, clean shaven and handsome, he bore a serious expression as he looked into his own eyes. He felt the fear and the anger starting to percolate out and his hands began to tremble more noticeably. He swallowed once more but there was no moisture left in his mouth. The image of himself on the screen spoke, "Toni."
He started to shake uncontrollably and he fought the rising of the tears and the now brewing anger and denial. "Will," he responded but the voice was not his own. It was soft and trembling…and velvet-toned. "Will, tell me you found them," he begged with urgency. "Tell me he's all right."
He looked to his own face with desperation but the face never lost the serious stare - the professional stoicism – but then…
…there it was…
…the broken glance – the surrender – the defeated break of the eye-contact.
He felt himself blurt a soft cry and he shook his head.
"Antoinette," his face said as he reconnected his eye-contact. "I couldn't let anyone else do this…it wouldn't be right." He watched the face on the comm buckle with grief and saw the young Will Riker cover his eyes with his hands.
"No," his velvet voice said back to the face. "No. No Will."
The face on the comm looked away in anguish, then back to him. "Antoinette, I'm so…so sorry." He leaned forward towards the comm. "The Drake was destroyed. All hands…" His voice cracked again. "They're all gone Antoinette…all of them."
The shock of adrenaline pumped through his veins and sparked the tips of his fingers. He shook his head violently. He couldn't breathe. He felt the blood drain from his face. He tightened his jaw and looked to his own blue eyes on the screen. "No."
"Toni…" the young face said once more, "Paul's dead. The ship was destroyed by a Minosian weapon. They're all gone." He broke his eye contact again and lifted his hand to his eyes, trying to hide what looked like a tear falling from his own face. "I'm so sorry Antoinette."
He shook his head vigorously, feeling long, straight hair tickle at his heated cheeks, not wanting to believe, not knowing how he could live another moment if his friend's words were true; not knowing how life would be worth living without Paul. Not ever having him touch his face again, or kissing his lips. Not ever laughing with him or wrestling or just sitting with him again. Never being able to look into his soft brown eyes…
The anger found its way out before the sadness. He raged with hatred. He filled with fear. His hands clenched themselves into tight fists and he looked to the blue eyes that were telling him that his love would never be coming home.
And then he found it…he saw the reason why. He found the reason why Paul had died and the reason's intense blue eyes were staring sadly back at him from the comm screen.
His lips curled into a snarl and he felt heat emanate from his face as his rage found its escape. He made eye contact with the blue eyes and placed all of his denial, hatred, anger and wrath into his only solace…his words of blame. "It should have been you," his velvet voice moaned. "It should have been you Will. You should be the dead one, not Paul." His anger found new strength as the blue eyes softened with guilt and torment. "It should have BEEN YOU WILL!"
He saw the pain in his younger self's expression but he ignored it and slammed his womanly yet strong fist on the comm, abruptly ending his transmission.
He sat there in his chair for a moment, terrified. His hands now shook more than they ever had before and he looked away from the black screen of the comm, but once more the logo appeared with the words "Incoming Transmission – USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-D."
His fury swelled and he hit the rejection button – then the rage found its home and the adrenaline found its avenue of escape and he stood, placed his hands on either side of the comm and pulled with every ounce of strength he had. The comm tore from the desk, sending momentary sparks across the room and he flung the piece away from himself.
It sailed like a strange-shaped boomerang. Silently and with grace it flew until it hit and pierced the canvas of a large painting of an arid landscape. It tore clean through – creating a vicious ripping noise; a noise that he knew was the ripping of his own heart.
He found that he was unable to control it anymore. He fell to his knees and screamed in unabashed agony. "PAUL!!!!"
His screams continued, but went unheard.
Thomas began to shake uncontrollably. His eyes opened wide. He didn't understand where he was, he only knew that he needed to vomit. He turned over on his side and let his head hang off the side of whatever bed he was now laying upon and threw up forcefully.
A guard, shaken by Thomas' sudden illness, clicked his combadge. "Security to Doctor Crusher. Please report to the morgue immediately."
Posted 21 June 2010 - 08:08 PM
The cavern was enormous. Colossal, pearlescent, pale-green stalagmites pressed upward, reaching high for their partner stalactites that hung from the cathedral-like ceiling of the cave. The air was cold and moist and a strange, salty-mineral smell and taste permeated the atmosphere.
She felt the wave of terror as it flowed over her. Her heart began to race and she filled with dread and fear.
The air had taken on the fetid and ferrous stench of death. The cave was filled with the reeking aroma of the strange mix of blood from several species along with the stink of burning skin and exoskeletons caused by phasers and disrupters. It was an odor she knew all too well – heavy hand-to-hand combat always brought that smell.
But she had been unprepared for the noise and it rocked her to her core.
There was an overpowering dissonance of shouting and shrieking that echoed and resounded in the monstrous cave and her eardrums buzzed with the intensity of it.
She didn't want to look at the source of the noise but something had forced her head to move and her view was ripped away from the cavern's heights to the floor in front of her.
Her mind seized when she saw them, a mind-boggling horde of people being slaughtered like cattle. She could tell that there was nowhere for them to run. Hundreds upon hundreds of people from a multitude of races had been herded into this vast cave to be murdered. She recognized a few traumatized faces but the majority were people she had never met.
Her stomach lurched when she saw several Jem'Hadar firing indiscriminately into the huddled crowds. Their energy weapons blew gaping holes into the bodies of the wide-eyed and frenzied victims, their blood flowing freely due to the anticoagulants adherent to the Jem'Hadar rifles. The blood pooled and mixed together and the screams…the screams were so loud they blended into a tonal ring that hummed into her brain.
There were a few Vorta males standing at strategic points issuing orders to the Jem'Hadar soldiers that moved in upon the victims.
Cardassians moved in from behind the Jem'Hadar, using their disrupters to finish off those who hadn't bled to death or who had somehow evaded the initial attack and had attempted to run after being shot.
She tried to move her arms. She tried to move her legs but she was frozen, her eyes continually taking in the carnage in front of her.
She opened her mouth to scream and she found her voice, but the sound that was produced from her throat, oddly, was not her own. It was deep and guttural and hoarse and distinctly male. She screamed all the same.
She heard a voice in her ear as her head was forced forward once more. "Watch them die. Watch them I said!" The voice was female and vindictively callous. She felt her hair being pulled from the back of her head as a hand forced her frantic gaze from the ceiling of the cavern back down to the screaming, desperate masses fruitlessly trying to block the oncoming fire with their hands, or claws or tentacles.
Her own screams bellowed louder, "NOOOO!!!"
Bodies were hoisted and thrown on top of one another just so the remaining victims could be reached by those who were shooting relentlessly. The blood continued to flow.
Her eyes suddenly focused on a single individual in remaining group.
A woman calmly and stoically stepped forward and separated herself from the terrified pack and she stood remarkably still. The woman's eyes met her own and locked on.
She was a starkly beautiful woman with dark, short hair. She had Bajoran nose ridges and wore the traditional earpiece, but she bore it on her left ear – the sign of a rebel. Her eyes were dark and serious yet almost instantaneously they softened and she smiled with dignity and pride.
The woman's lips moved. She couldn't be heard for the din, but it didn't matter - her lips were easy to read.
"Remember that I love you. Never forget. Beat them. Promise me you'll beat them."
She nodded her head and replied to the beautiful, dark-haired woman knowing she would never be heard, but also knowing her lips could be read just the same, "I love you. I promise I'll remember. I promise I'll beat them!" she screamed at her full capacity. "I love you…"
The woman's smile widened and she nodded softly.
A Jem'Hadar soldier approached the woman and without so much as a warning or a second glance, he shot the woman in the chest. Strangely, the woman's smile never wavered. She fell to her knees keeping her gaze locked onto her own until she fell face-first to the floor.
"LAREN!!!!!" she screamed in agony. "LAREN!!!"
The sheer horror of the sight of the massacre blended with her own sense of loss of the woman who so bravely faced her death and she began to cry out in anguish and she whispered to herself, "Ro Laren…I promise…"
Her head jerked back sharply as the hand pulled her hair once more. "You watch! You need to see what you have caused. You need to see what your own stubbornness has done," the female voice growled. "You brought this upon them and yourself!"
Hate raged forward and she tried to move her arms again but they were bound so tightly that movement itself was impossible. "I will kill you Nekrit!" she barked. "I will!"
There was a hideous and almost lighthearted laugh in her ear. "You'll never get the chance, human."
Her head jolted forward when the hand pushed her from behind. As she lifted her head back up, she could see two Jem'Hadar soldiers lifting the beautiful Bajoran woman's body and heartlessly heaving it onto the pile of dead bodies in the middle of the cavern. She moaned in sorrow and whispered to herself, "Good-bye my Laren..."
Only a few screams remained. Then slowly, painfully, the cavern filled with silence. The quiet became more deafening than the screams.
Everything inside her boiled with rage, hate and crushing, indefinable loss.
Her body was swiftly wracked by intense pain originating from her chest and it split down her extremities. Every nerve was exploding. Her deep voice screamed out loud.
Except this time, it was the only scream heard in the cavern.
Steele jolted on the biobed, her body wracked with severe tremors. Nurse T'Pala clicked her combadge. "Sickbay to Crusher, please report STAT."
Posted 23 June 2010 - 05:04 PM
"I hate this part," Steele grunted and tried failingly to humorously roll her eyes as she leaned her trembling body over the side of the biobed to heave. Her stomach muscles cramped and she grabbed the side of the biobed tightly as she gagged, Nurse T'Pala held Steele's hair back from her face and Crusher stood nearby. Troi held Steele's free hand and Riker stood near the head of the bed.
After she lifted her head, her eyes scanned across the room and she noticed that Thomas was no longer there. Her eyes widened, "Where is he?" she whispered. "He's gotta be going through the same…"
"He is Captain," said Crusher. "We've moved him to the morgue where we have set up an isolation unit for him. I couldn't keep sickbay off limits any …" She was cut off by Steele's heaving once more. "At least I could give him anti-emetics. He'll be fine."
Picard entered sickbay sharply. Troi eased herself away from Steele and approached him seeing the deep concern etched across his face. "What happened?' he asked.
Troi then glanced to Crusher who moved toward them. Crusher was about to speak but she shrugged, shook her head and threw her hands up in frustration, "I'm not sure I understand myself Captain, I think I'd better let Commander Riker explain, he seems to know exactly what's going on."
Picard looked to his First who was standing next to Steele's biobed holding an empty emesis pan near her face. A quick look around sickbay confirmed that Thomas Riker had already been moved to the morgue.
"You said that Thomas is also suffering from these same symptoms?" he asked Crusher.
She nodded curtly. "Yes but I was able to give him a hypo to calm his stomach."
Picard could see that Will Riker looked worried and exhausted. He thought everyone looked exhausted. He quietly approached Steele's bed. "I don't think any of us were meant to get any sleep tonight," he grunted.
Riker nodded weakly in response. "No sir."
Steele heaved strongly yet again then rolled back onto the biobed. "I hate dry heaves," she grumbled. "I just hate them."
Crusher moved forward. "Captain, I wish there was something I could do for…"
Steele laughed tiredly. "I know Doc…I wish there was too."
"Again, what happened?" Picard pressed as he moved to the foot of the bed. Steele turned her eyes to his but twisted away quickly once more. Picard thought her skin appeared to have a slight green tint to it and he felt himself feeling sympathy illness for her. He realized then she wasn't about to answer him – her nausea had not calmed.
Riker handed the empty dish to Crusher who moved in to take his place. He walked with Picard to Crusher's office and waved for Troi to join them. Riker stalled uncomfortably, "She'll be physically okay soon but…"
"But what, Will?" Troi asked, sensing the deep worry he felt and seeing the lines crossing his brow.
"Deltans are subconsciously telepathic..." His eyes connected to Deanna's.
"Yes. Which is why I'm surprised I can't sense her." Troi replied.
He shook his head, "Toni's never been able to communicate telepathically and has never been able to sense the thoughts or emotions from anyone. To my knowledge, that has always gone both ways. No one is able to sense anything from her either. No Vulcan or Betazoid has ever been able to sense her or read her."
"But what is it Will? I know you're concerned about her, deeply concerned. Did Thomas do something to her?"
Riker slumped against Crusher's desk and he cringed when he heard Steele retching once more outside the office. "No. Not exactly," he growled then sighed heavily. "I've only seen this happen to her once before, in the Academy." He stood and walked around Crusher's desk and absentmindedly began to fiddle with the items that rested upon it, trying to find a way to word his next sentence. "You see, I was injured as a passenger in a scramjet training accident in the beginning of our fourth year. I was trapped in the wreckage and Toni and her team were the first to reach us." He picked up another medical tool from the top of Crusher's desk, turned it over and set it back down. "I had several compound fractures." He cringed with the memory. "I was in horrible pain."
"I remember you telling me about that," Deanna offered.
"Yeah, but what I didn't tell you was how Toni got to me first." His eyes met Picard's.
"She took your pain?" Picard asked.
Riker nodded. "I couldn't stop her."
Deanna smiled. "She's stubborn that way I think."
Picard and Riker both smiled in return. "Yes she is," Riker agreed, "but what was really amazing was what happened afterward."
Picard lost his smile, knowing that he might get his answer to his counterpart's illness.
"The next day I woke up with the worst nausea after having the strangest dream. It was horrible. I dreamt that I watched my father's patrol ship crash into a hillside. I rode a horse to the crash site and when I got to the wreckage he was too far gone for me to help. I tried and tried to wake him. I put my hands on his face, on his arms, anything to get him to wake up. I was desperate." Riker looked to Troi's dark and saddened eyes. "Except it wasn't my father…it was Toni's."
"What?" asked Picard.
"I was sick for hours," Riker continued, "I went to the infirmary thinking I had picked up some sort of virus but the doctor said I was probably just having a delayed psychological reaction to the crash the previous day. He gave me a hypospray and sent me on my way. My nausea got better but I just couldn't shake that dream. It haunted me all day." He stood once more and looked sadly out onto the sickbay floor and Steele in the distance. "I went to her quarters to find her just as sick." Riker rubbed his eyes tiredly. "It was then she told me that she remembered everything about the day my father…" He faded off.
"The day your father told you your mother was never coming back?" Troi finished for him. "You mean you traded memories?"
Riker nodded weakly. "Shared them is a better term. We still retained our own worst memories, but we took on each other's. She said that it had something to do with when she absorbs pain."
Picard scowled. "What do you mean?"
Riker sighed and gazed to Picard. "We took on each other's most painful memory. I remember everything about the day her father died and she remembers everything about the day I accepted my mother's death." His faced contorted with concern once again. "I remember everything about that crash Captain…the fear, the terror, the smells, the chill in the air, her screams…everything. When she described my memory she could remember my hate, my shame and how long I cried before I realized my father's words were true."
The captain's brows furrowed. "You think that's what happened now? That she picked up Thomas' memories when she absorbed his pain?"
"I'm afraid of just that. Her reaction is much stronger this time." Riker rubbed his eyes. "I'm afraid that…"
"That's exactly what happened." Crusher interrupted quietly and looked to Picard. "She wants to talk to you Captain."
Riker set out from the office first and Picard followed. Picard's sense of dread deepened when saw the look of devastation on Steele's face. Steele turned her face to look at him. "Captain," she addressed him, "Thomas is a witness to the massacre." She tried to breathe in deeply. "He saw everything."
Picard's own stomach turned, trying to grasp the understanding of Thomas' experience. He has seen it. He actually witnessed it. He was then struck by a different realization. "You mean…you saw that memory?" Picard unconsciously stepped back. No wonder she's sick.
She nodded weakly and he could see she was trying to hold on to any fiber or semblance of protocol. "Not only did he witness the massacre – he was forced to witness it, Captain. He was bound and tied and he was forced…" Her face contorted as she tightened her abdominal muscles against the need to be sick. "…forced as a punishment of some kind." Steele laid back on her bed again and her voice cracked slightly. "His lover was among them…"
"His lover?" Deanna asked quietly.
Steel nodded and her breath shuddered. "A beautiful Bajoran woman. He kept calling her name…Laren? Yes…Ro Laren." Steele turned back to rest on the bed. "He kept calling her name."
Adrenaline shot through all those standing around her. Riker's eyes closed. Deanna grabbed his hand. Crusher leaned against the biobed and Picard took another step back, his eyes never leaving Steele's. He didn't really want to know but he asked just the same. "Dark hair?"
Steele nodded weakly. "Wore her earring on the left."
Deanna blurted out a weak cry.
"You knew her, didn't you?" Steele asked. "I had a strange feeling you all knew her. The memory gave me that impression."
Picard steeled himself to address her. "Ro Laren was an ensign assigned to the Enterprise-D, Captain. She defected to the Maquis several years ago." Picard confirmed, yet he let his face show the pain of the knowledge of her death. "We had always tried to hold out some hope…"
Steele shook her head succinctly. "You should all know…she was an extraordinarily brave woman, but no…she did not survive. She did face her death head-on however." Steele heaved weakly. "Deanna." Steele turned her eyes to Troi. "Thomas will need…" Her voice started to break with the sadness and her hands started to shake and Picard could tell that Steele's own ability to stand up against the intruding memory was failing and was beginning to overwhelm her. "He'll need…a lot…" Her bottom lip quivered with her grief. "…a lot of help." Deanna moved in quickly to take Steele's hand. "It was so horrible…" Steele began to weep and Riker moved around in an attempt to comfort her.
Feeling helpless, Picard touched Steele's foot then turned and walked toward the doors. His thoughts shifted to Ro Laren and he found himself weighed down by the knowledge that she had not survived.
He knew that Thomas carried the greater burden of that pain, yet somehow Picard was oddly gratified in knowing that Thomas and Laren had found each other. It felt right. They were a lot alike. He allowed himself a sad and feeble smile. They were made of the same cloth.
Posted 23 June 2010 - 06:50 PM
USS Jaguar – NCC-90262
Captain Crea Temmett of the SB 214's Judge Advocate General's office walked to the morgue, not quite knowing what to expect. He had been summoned by Admiral Jellico and informed that he was to be the new legal representative for a prisoner who had been received from Tholia. Jellico was unapologetically unhappy about the situation as he felt that it was a delay in being able to interrogate the prisoner, but Temmett was used to that, brass were never happy with the fact that rules applied to them as well.
Yet he had been shocked to find out who his new client was. Temmett had been in JAG for thirty-five years. He had prosecuted court-martials and defended petty criminals. He had investigated admirals and crewmen. He had defended nurses and engineers…but he had never been faced with a client that needed his help like this before.
He swallowed hard before the door to the morgue slid open.
The Tellarite man walked in as confidently as possible, wanting his client to see that he could be trusted; wanting his client to know that he would get the best representation that Starfleet could muster.
He allowed his shoulders to slump when he saw the man stretched out on a morgue slab. Is he dead?
Temmett was approached by Picard who was followed closely by Troi. "Captain Temmett?" he asked.
Temmett nodded slightly and extended his hand. "Captain Picard?"
"Thank you for coming on such short notice."
His eyes shot back over to his new client stretched out on the morgue slab covered in a medical gown. Two guards stood stoically on either side. His concern grew when he saw the number of scars on his client's legs and arms. "Is he…alive?"
Picard understood the attorney's concern. "Yes Captain. He's sleeping. Our doctor has been medicating him…"
"Drugging him?" He jolted.
Picard smiled. An advocate indeed! "Well Captain, you will need to hear about everything that has occurred over the past few hours. Counselor Troi here will be happy to…"
"Excellent. I am glad you are here Counselor. I am thankful that you have made yourself available for the duration of the journey." Temmett nodded with satisfaction.
Deanna stepped forward and nodded with a slight grimace. "Yes of course Captain. Mister Riker will require intensive psychological counseling just to get him to believe he is where he is. The last time he was truly conscious, he believed we were all a part of a grand holodeck program."
Temmett took a deep breath in then exhaled. "When do you expect the medications to wear off?"
"Soon," replied Troi. "I will remain here with you."
Temmett turned his porcine nose up to Picard. "Captain, is there anyone you know who has enough experience to assist me? I am afraid our office is not well-staffed enough to have afforded me the luxury."
Picard was slightly shaken. "While Commander Riker has extensive legal experience, he would not…"
Temmett smiled slightly. "I understand the reason why he would be unavailable. Any one else?"
Picard nodded. "Lieutenant Commander Data would be an excellent choice I think."
Temmett stiffened his back. "The android?"
Picard scowled. "He is. Is there a problem with that?"
Temmett grinned broadly. "No! Not at all Captain. I would he thrilled to make use of his skills if you can make due without his presence on your bridge."
Picard smiled. "Consider it done. I will brief him on the current situation and have him join you."
"Thank you Captain."
Picard turned to leave the morgue and Temmett extended his hand once more. "Captain I want to thank you for being so sensitive about my client's needs. Admiral Jellico informed me of your…fervor."
Picard smiled gently, shook Temmett's hand and addressed Troi. "Counselor, do you have everything you need?"
Deanna smiled weakly. "Yes, thank you Captain. I'll be fine."
Picard nodded and looked to Thomas' body once more with deep sadness. "Good luck…to all of you," he said softly.
"Thank you Captain," Deanna replied. Picard turned and walked out the door. Deanna turned to Temmett. "Captain, let me bring you up to date."
"Thank you Counselor."
They moved into the morgue and began to talk.
Cardassian Battle Cruiser Pract
"We're just supposed to sit here and wait…" Gul Minet snarled, "…for what? We should be back on Cardassia Prime trying to control the rebellion, not sitting in space waiting for nothing!" His enormous neck tendons flexed with his anger and his light colored eyes blazed. "Did he tell you anything?"
Glinn Sanun tried to look agreeable as he stood in front of his superior officer. "Gul Cacet would only state that if we were to see unusual movement from Starfleet to report it immediately."
"Unusual? Unusual how? Starfleet has done nothing but cruise the demilitarized zone relentlessly since the end of the war. Everything they do is unusual."
Sanun nodded with defeat. "I know Gul," he agreed, "However the Enterprise is the ship we have been told to monitor."
Minet lifted his head and widened his eyes with concern and surprise. "The Enterprise?" He chewed on the thought momentarily. "What would they be doing? I had understood they were back to the Federation challenge of exploration," he said sarcastically.
Sanun smiled at his Gul's attempt of humor. "I do not know Gul. Cacet refused to be specific in that regard."
Minet scowled once more but nodded. "If there is something unusual going on and it involves the Federation flagship, at least we will be the first ones to know of it."
"Yes Gul." Sanun stood and backed out of the Gul's quarters.
Picard was unconvinced as he looked into the tired green eyes of his counterpart. "Are you sure Captain?"
Steele took in a deep and exhausted breath and nodded her head. "Yes. It's time."
Picard stood and calmly walked around his desk and approached her closely. "Antoinette…I can't even imagine what you might be…"
"Jean-Luc," she interrupted then looked to him apologetically. "I have a ship to run and we both have a mission to accomplish." She grimaced sadly. "Although I'm not so sure I approve of the plan as it is. I'm an escort after all. The thought I won't be escorting you…"
Picard smiled. "If anything occurs I expect you to charge to my rescue once again Antoinette."
She smiled outright in return. "I promise." She stood upright and extended her hand to him. "Captain, it's been a pleasure."
He nodded with concern still in his eyes and looked down to her offered hand. He grinned, softly pushed her hand aside and he moved forward. She accepted his hug willingly. "Good-bye Antoinette. Please take care."
She swallowed hard. "I will Jean-Luc, you too."
He nodded as he released her from his arms and watched her quickly depart his office.
Is it always going to be this hard? Will I feel this way every time she's assigned to do something without me? Will the fear always be this strong? Why does this feel so different?
Riker looked to his collar in the mirror to assure the pips were appropriately adjusted and once he realized it was the third time he had checked them, he dropped his hands to his sides in defeat.
He turned away from the mirror and walked out to his living quarters and stopped in the middle of the room without realizing it.
Or is it just because it involves…him? He clenched his eyes shut and tightened his hands into fists. Is that why I'm so worried about this?
He felt a wave of embarrassment and guilt. What has changed? I have always loved her. I've always been put into a position of having to see her in difficult assignments. Why is this different? Is it because I know she loves me too? Do I fear losing her more now? He searched his own mind and felt a soft strength and he could only think of one thing…Imzadi. He sighed and smiled.
His comm chirped. "Captain to Commander Riker."
Riker felt the strange sense of satisfaction that his duties would take his mind off of his thoughts. He clicked his badge. "Riker here sir."
"Please report to the bridge Number One. We're about to get underway."
"Understood sir. On my way. Riker out."
Riker peered out his window. He could see two identical ships alongside the Enterprise. The Panther and Jaguar both slowly began to pull away from their mooring points, their movements perfectly synchronized with one another, looking like a strange pas-de-deux was being performed only for him.
He let his gaze fall once upon each ship and his heart sank.
This is going to take far too long. I don't like it.
He turned and walked out the door to make headway for the bridge.
"Glad to see you back Captain." Malek smiled after he entered the office. "We're underway and are awaiting the Enterprise."
Steele nodded tiredly. "Good. Have Ensign Reegath set a standard escort position for now. We won't be breaking free from the group for awhile yet," she stated.
Malek nodded once and his antennae dipped slightly. "Captain, are we really going to let them go at the Argolis Cluster?" He shook his head in disbelief. "If anything happens on the other side we won't be able to get to them."
"I'm aware of that," Steele confirmed. "This ship can't avoid the gravimetric shear like the Defiant could so going through at high speed will be impossible…but we will get to them if necessary. We'll find a way."
Malek smiled. "Of course we will."
Steele allowed herself to smile back, glad to see his confidence return. "By the way Malek, I'll take my picture back..." She turned to look at the space behind her desk. Where once hung the painting of the dry and arid landscape, now hung a painting of a starkly frigid, barren and ice-covered plain. She laughed weakly. "…if you don't mind."
Malek was glad for her smile. "It'll be back by the time you get back Captain."
Steele looked to her First with confusion. "What do you mean when I get back?"
Malek pursed his bright blue lips together and his antennae arced forward with slight aggression. "Commander Riker told me that you got very little sleep. I'm still in command until I am relieved, which, technically you haven't done yet. So I am ordering you to bed and I have ordered Dr. H'rim to come in and check on you beforehand. Like you said, we won't be breaking free from them for awhile, a week to be exact. I think the bridge can go without you for eight hours or so."
Steele opened her mouth to argue and looked to his serious dark eyes and knew that he was no longer in a joking mood. It was then she realized she was too tired to argue with him and she nodded her head. "Fine Commander," she stood from her chair and walked around her desk. "To tell you the truth I'm surprised H'rim wasn't waiting at the mooring bay door when I came back."
Malek grinned. "I made a pact with him. I told him he could see you when I sent you to your room and he promised he wouldn't pounce on you the moment you returned."
"He didn't actually say pounce, did he?" She looked shocked.
"He did Captain." Malek raised his hand as if he was swearing, knowing that the Caitian's use of the term was meant to humor her.
"Fine. Have the big fur ball meet me at my quarters." Steele smiled and lifted her hand and rested it heavily on the Commander's shoulder. "Thanks Malek."
"See you tomorrow Captain. Sweet dreams."
Steele looked to him with a saddened expression and she tried to nod her head but she couldn't bring herself to do it.
Captain Nathaniel Hunter sat back in the command chair with focus and determination. He peered to the viewscreen to see the Enterprise back away gracefully from her mooring point and turn to move alongside the Jaguar.
He tilted his head to look at his XO. He was still getting used to her, but he was finding that her style was right up his alley. They were beginning to make a good team. Commander Bridget Claussen was a short human woman with short, sandy-blonde hair and an uncanny knack for appearing timid. He knew better however, as there was very little timidity about her.
"Commander? Is everything and everyone in its place?"
She smiled smartly. "Aye sir. We're all packed away."
"Good." Hunter turned his eyes back to the ship on the screen. "The Enterprise looks ready." He returned his eyes to her. "Well Commander – here goes nothing. Hail them and the Panther please."
"Aye sir," responded Claussen.
Within a moment, the viewscreen reflected the faces of Picard and Malek. Hunter acknowledged them both. "Ready gentlemen?"
"Ready," they both replied.
"Fine then. Picard, if there was anything we could offer to help…"
"Unfortunately it's too late for any of that now I'm afraid," Picard answered.
"So it would seem." Hunter replied. "Well, we'll be next door for a bit. Don't be afraid to knock."
Picard nodded. "Thank you Captain," he looked to Malek. "Commander. Picard out."
Malek nodded once to Hunter and the transmission cleared from his screen.
Hunter sighed heavily and rubbed his chin. "Well Admiral. This should be interesting."
Jellico stepped forward onto the bridge with a serious stare and nodded. "Indeed Captain, leave it to Cardassia to keep things from getting boring."
Thomas felt strange.
He felt thick…heavy…even…balanced. He felt…real.
He swallowed but what really surprised him was the actual presence of saliva. His mouth was no longer dry. He drew on his salivary glands and let the spit roll over his tongue, taking a surreal pleasure in drawing up an entire mouthful before swallowing once more.
He drew in a deep, cool breath through his nose.
The heat's gone. It's nice and cool here.
Odd sounds started to enter his ears. Soft, gentle murmurs of people talking quietly came from a place off to his left.
He waited to hear her voice, but it wasn't there. There was a female voice, but it wasn't Nekrit's. It was still familiar though.
He took another cool breath in, relishing how clean it felt. How sterile. The place even smelled clean. Cardassia didn't smell like this. The torture rooms reeked with the stench of fear.
No. This was a different place. Cool. Sterile. Clean. Odorless.
He took in his surroundings without opening his eyes. He was on a biobed of some kind but the padding was thick and deep. He had been provided a pillow and even more strangely, a blanket. He was wearing a gown of some kind but, was still covered and comfortable.
What is she playing at? Allowing me to feel human? Letting me feel some kind of dignity?
He could still hear the gentle voices. He listened hard.
"Commander, I want to thank you for making this space more livable. I'm aware of reasons we must use this space, however it doesn't mean any of us should have to be constantly reminded its true use. I can't imagine that it would be anything but psychologically detrimental for my client," said a male voice with a resonant vocal quality. He had a voice of calm authority.
"Agreed Captain," said a gentle female voice and Thomas' heart began to race.
He knew he had asked this question once before, but for some reason this time it felt more…possible. He felt more real, could she be?
"Excellent," the first voice replied. "Admiral Jellico would like to begin questioning as soon as you believe he's coherent enough to assist." He chuckled lightly. "I don't anticipate that the questioning sessions will be long. Just enough to see if we can make determinations of those who may have been involved." He then sighed heavily again and Thomas thought his nasal breathing pattern was that of someone who wasn't human. "His testimony is crucial and we need to find a way to elicit his knowledge without it harming him any further. There's so little precedent for these types of things…"
There was another male voice, it was also deep and gentle and peculiarly familiar. "Captain, I have added the legal materials you have requested directly into my data matrix. I have also taken the liberty of adding the complete transcripts of all Dominion War trials held to date on Earth, Bajor and Peliar Zel. I thought they might be of some use to you."
There was a slight, audible gasp from the first man. "Lieutenant Commander. You mean to tell me that you have all of that right at your fingertips?"
There was a moment of quiet before the second man answered. "The information can be easily accessed if that is what you…"
"Oh Data! Do you have the ability to analyze those rulings with questions that might arise for us? To be able to prepare briefs and protective orders without having to read all that…"
"Of course Captain. Is that not why you requested my assistance?"
There was a soft laugh from the woman and the first man allowed a louder chortle. "How wonderful! Mister Riker will be getting the best defense team I have been able to muster in a decade!" the first man said and Thomas jolted with the sound of his name. Again there was a moment of quiet. "Now all I can do is wait and hope that when he wakes, he'll have the mental capacity to help us." He sighed heavily. "He's been sleeping for over three days now. I was hoping he would have been..."
Thomas took a deep breath. "What? Able to talk?" he bellowed. "I'm not mute."
He heard a scuffle of feet and then he heard her voice once more. "Thomas?"
He closed his eyes tighter, afraid that if he opened them and didn't see her…
"Thomas…" Her sweet, warm voice filled his ears. "It's me. You're not dreaming nor are you hallucinating. It's me. It's Deanna."
He knew he had heard her voice before but again, this time it felt real. He parted his eyelids and gazed into the black pools of Deanna Troi's eyes. "How?" he asked, stupefied.
"Thomas. We have a lot of work. You have a lot of questions. We will need to start slow. It's important that we start slow," she said and then she smiled. Her smile was the most wonderful thing he had seen in years.
He nodded gently, knowing that if he agreed, he would see that amazing smile once more.
Cardassian Battle Cruiser Pract
Near Setlik system
Gul Minet's eyes widened as he read the communiqué. "Seems as though we're expecting some rather important company Glinn," he said coolly. "Guls Cacet and Nekrit have just informed me of their intention to pay us a visit, along with two other battle cruisers." His dark eyes roamed over the short message again. "We're to receive further orders from there."
Glinn Sanun stood just a little taller with the news. "Gul Nekrit sir?" His surprise was obvious. "What could she possibly want?"
Minet stood and firmed his own stance. "The Enterprise is being escorted by two of their new battle ships and Gul Nekrit is bringing back-up to the party?" He grinned brightly. "Sounds like she wants something very important." He broke a short laugh. "…and I intend on making sure she gets what she wants."
En Route – Sector 001
Passing Iadora System
Personal Quarters: Captain – Steele, Antoinette É
Doctor H'rim pulled lightly at his cat-like whiskers and laid his pointed, dark grey ears back against his head. "Have you tried hot milk?"
Steele smiled weakly. "Yes."
"With a little nutmeg?"
She laughed slightly. "Yes."
He shook his head with a defeated frown and upturned his vertically slit, dark blue eyes to her. "Look, I know how much you hate taking medication, but I'm fresh out of home remedies."
"H'rim," she said sadly. "Right now, I'd do almost anything to get a full night's sleep."
"Captain, what's bothering you?" he asked bluntly. "You've never had this much trouble sleeping. Not even on the Yeager." Her eyes met his and he knew immediately that she would not be admitting anything to him. "Fine Captain…lay down. You know how this affects you. You'll be asleep before I pull the hypo away from your neck."
She grinned thinly once more and rested her head on her pillow. H'rim walked up to her bedside and pulled the cover up over her shoulder with care. "I know. I just hate knowing I might not be able to wake up if necessary." She sighed. "But I'm at my wit's end H'rim. Malek's handling things just fine. If I could just get one night…just one night's sleep then maybe I'll…"
"Shhh Captain," H'rim hushed. "You will. This will help."
Admiral Jellico stood and stared out the window. The star trails passed but he hadn't noticed. His mind was still rolling over every detail.
The door slid open and Hunter walked in. He watched Jellico as he stood by the windows. He hadn't even noticed him enter.
"You know Admiral it is possible to over-think things."
Jellico spun in his spot but smiled when he saw Hunter. "Maybe Nate."
"It's just taking too long. I know," he said. "You never were one for being patient."
Jellico's face soured. "No."
"Well. You should know. Captain Temmett has just contacted me. He said that he thinks Riker is ready."
Jellico's eyes widened with the surprise. "Really?"
Hunter nodded. "He has made him available but Counselor Troi has made it very clear these will not be long sessions."
Jellico shook his head with a smile. He patted Hunter's shoulder as he began to walk out of the Observation Lounge. "Hopefully they won't have to be."
Picard sat forward in his chair and scowled heavily. "You don't think…?"
Riker shook his head slightly. "I don't know Captain. It might be nothing at all. They might be identical designs but you and I both know that no two engineers are alike. It's possible they just calibrate their deflector shield generators differently."
"Maybe Number One, but why has the differential appeared intermittently?" Picard questioned. He leaned back in his chair and pursed his lips, "No. This mission has too much riding on it to take any chance. Have LaForge complete his analysis and report any new instances of the disturbance."
"Aye sir," Riker nodded in agreement but allowed his worry to show.
Picard noticed it immediately and as Riker stood to depart the ready room Picard raised his hand. "Will…" He looked to his First with concern. "…it's probably nothing."
Riker swallowed hard and his pallor weakened. "Sir…with everything that's happened over the last week, I highly doubt that." He stared his captain straight in the eye, "…and so do you."
He turned and left the ready room, leaving Picard alone, letting the uncertainty wash over him like a wave. Picard's eyes hung there, looking at the door Riker had just departed through. You're right. I do.
This post has been edited by Terilynn: 23 June 2010 - 06:52 PM