Black Hole

By: Amanda


Disclaimer: The characters and settings contained herein are the property of someone much more rich and powerful than me. The original plot, and new characters are mine. No infringement is intended, not making a profit, yadda yadda yadda.

please excuse any typographical errors. I'm working to remedy them.

Black Hole


Commander William Riker sauntered through the semi-darkness. The energy wasn't at full power in this area yet and he did his best to carry out the inspection he had been ordered to complete. What he was inspecting came as somewhat of an annoyance to the Enterprise First Officer, and the fact that he was annoyed was an even greater annoyance. His inspection was of the new Command/Operations area that made up much of decks two and three on the new NCC-1701-E. Command/Operations was part of Starfleet's answer to downsizing. The Academy had started the "new system" in which cadets were simultaneously trained for shipboard duties and an eventual command position. Starfleet's official Command School had all but shut down under this system and would certainly close its doors before long. Other departments had also been combined at the Academy, supposedly so that all crewmembers aboard starships would be capable of performing several duties. Riker guessed that this would eventually lead to much smaller crew compliments and a breakdown of the Command system as he knew it. He thought it was an inherently bad idea.

The first class of cadets had graduated under the "new system" nearly five years earlier, and all ships built since the inception of the system had been outfitted with a state-of-the-art Command/Operations area. No ship had yet to house an actual department, though. It seems Starfleet, in their infinite wisdom, had not wanted to put Command/Operations under the direct supervision of officers trained under the "old" system. So, the Enterprise and two other new ships were just now to be the stations of the first three "new system" cadets to have been promoted to Lieutenant. William Riker was not amused. He, and the other senior staff members, along with, no doubt, senior staffs of the two other ships involved, had received direct orders from Starfleet Command that these new departments were to have nearly complete autonomy and only minimal supervision. Riker was, in fact, only marginally aware of what the small department was actually supposed to do. All he knew was that there were to be seven recent academy graduates serving there as well as the newly-promoted Lieutenant supervising them, and two Academy interns that would come and go every four months. Riker was silently grateful that he would not be responsible for them.

His inspection, for all intents and purposes, was done. He had not really been told what it was exactly that he needed to inspect. Starfleet had not found it necessary to explain very much to him, using the excuse that "old" officers could not fully grasp the revolutionary concept of the mission of the "new system" and therefore needed to be told very little. Riker, having never considered himself old in the least, took offense at this. After all, the desk-jockeys at Starfleet Command who had though up this "new system" were much older than he, and yet they claimed to understand completely. Riker exhaled loudly as he walked into the turbolift and ordered it to deck ten. He had promised to meet Geordi there, who had just completed his own inspection of the Tactical/Engineering department on deck thirty-five, which would also shortly be receiving a crew. Riker cracked his knuckles and thought, "this whole system is going to be a headache".

Deanna Troi put on her best diplomatic smile as she waited patiently for the signal from the transporter operator. "Energizing" he told her. She squared her shoulders as the blue shimmer came and went, leaving an attractive auburn-haired young woman holding a small suitcase in its place. Deanna extended her hand,

"Welcome to the Enterprise", she told the young woman, who looked slightly uncomfortable as she stepped down from the transporter pad.

"Thank you," the young woman answered, pausing. Deanna, realizing her unusual social faux pas added,

"I'm Counselor Deanna Troi", her hand still extended. The young woman took her hand and shook it firmly, an obvious attempt to hide the apprehension the counselor was sensing from her.

"Lieutenant j.g. Amanda Pearson, it's, um, very nice to meet you finally." Deanna thought that an odd comment, as though Lt. Pearson had been actively awaiting their meeting, but no matter, the girl was probably just nervous. After all, she had only days ago been one of several dozen young ensigns trying to make do in new assignments, and now here she was, on the Federation Flagship having been suddenly promoted and charged with the supervision of seven of those very same Ensigns. Deanna just smiled as she led her out of the transporter room and into the hallway.

"I though I would just show you to your quarters and let you get settled in" the Counselor told her charge, " and later, I'll take you to meet Captain Picard. He's very anxious to meet you and discuss the mission of your department. We were all surprised to hear that you were coming today, though. Admiral Simms told us not to expect you until next week."

"I,um, I was supposed to be on shore leave. My sister and I had planned to meet on Tarra 6 for a few days. But she had to cancel, which is probably better, actually. I wanted to go ahead and come here anyway. I'll feel a lot more comfortable being in charge if I know where I am and where everything is first. I don't want my crew to show up and find that I'm as unfamiliar with this place as they are." Deanna made a slight chuckling noise in the back of her throat in response to this. She remembered the feeling. When she had been assigned to the Enterprise several years ago, she was the first crew member to report, cutting her own shore leave short as she recalled. She had felt as though she would be in a better position to counsel others if she were completely comfortable herself and so had arrived early to begin getting used to her surroundings.

"I Understand." She articulated to the young Lieutenant as they stepped aboard the turbolift and Deanna ordered it to "deck eight".

Deanna sensed a great deal of nervous energy from Lieutenant Pearson as they traversed the hallways of deck eight heading for her new quarters. She kept looking around, turning her head constantly 180 degrees in every direction, as though she had never seen the inside of a starship before. The counselor knew this to be untrue, as it was her job to go over personnel profiles thoroughly before crewmembers reported for duty aboard the Enterprise. Deanna knew that Amanda Pearson had spent the last three years aboard the Wallace, an antiquated spy ship that was no doubt near the top of Starfleet's decommission list. Maybe it was the newness of the NCC-1701-E that impressed her. Deciding that must have been it, Deanna was content just to watch her fascination for the rest of the trip to Lieutenant Pearson's quarters.

"Captain, I'm honestly not sure what the big deal is either." Lieutenant Pearson explained, "Mine was the first class to operate under the 'new system' and I don't guess I see anything too different from what I would have dealt with anyway, except that I didn't have to spend two years in Command School. The integrated program doesn't even start until a cadet is a junior, and my class didn't even know it was coming until we showed up for school the first day of junior year and all of the sudden saw class names we didn't recognize. Sir, I promise you that I have the utmost respect for Starfleet, and for you, and this amazing ship..." She searched for the next logical comment. Captain Picard could read the anxiety clearly on her wrinkled brow and smiled at her.

"Lieutenant," he interrupted," I am certain that you have no intentions of undermining any of the work we do here. And I assure you that you have the full support of the Enterprise crew in whatever it is you are here to do." He sat back in his chair and regarded her with a pleasant look on his face, clearly trying to calm her down as she had obviously begun to breathe heavily.

"Thank you." She answered. She had a very uneasy feeling in her stomach. It reminded her of being called to the Principal's office to get bad news. The Principal would always start out with pleasantry and then- when they leaned back in the chair.... She shivered, back in reality. She stood up, all of the sudden aware of what must have been a pronounced and uncomfortable silence in the Captain's Ready Room. "If that will be all sir?" she asked.

"Dismissed," he answered her still in his seat. She nodded. She turned around to leave and looked from left to right and back again, trying to remember which of the several doors she had come through. Deciding it was the door on her right, she quickly left the room.

"I felt like I couldn't breathe in there," Amanda told Guinan as she sat at the bar in Ten-forward staring down at a drink she hadn't even tasted.

"The Captain's a formidable man," Guinan answered, " but don't let him scare you. You have every right to be here, and as a department head he'll be relying on you from time to time. The rest of the crew is as anxious about the new system as you are. It's going to take some getting used to- for all of us." Amanda smiled and nodded her head, finally pausing to take a drink of the concoction Guinan had placed in front of her minutes before. "Excuse me," Guinan offered as she walked away and disappeared around a corner. Amanda clearly recognized the flavor of the drink in her hand but couldn't quite place it. She was concentrating very hard on this mystery when Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher came into the room.

Deanna immediately spotted Lieutenant Pearson sitting alone at the bar, and as the ship's self-appointed welcome wagon, she felt obliged to speak. Beverly followed her as she made her way to where the new crewmember was sitting. "Lieutenant," Deanna began, "I see that you're finding your way around nicely," referring, of course to her presence in Ten-forward, an area of the ship that was obviously outside her duty parameters. Amanda turned around to answer and caught sight of Beverly Crusher standing next to the counselor. Deanna sensed a similar anxiety from the young Lieutenant as when she had first beamed aboard the ship and tried to alleviate it in the only way she could, "I don't suppose the two of you have had a chance to meet yet. Lieutenant Pearson, this is"

"Dr. Crusher," Amanda interrupted, "I'm Amanda Pearson. It's, um, it's... very...,... nice to meet you." Dr. Crusher thought this a very odd and labored introduction, but did her best to give a polite response,

"A pleasure to meet you, too." the doctor responded.

"We were just going to have dessert, one of our guilty pleasures," Deanna offered, "care to join us?"

", thank you." Amanda answered, still staring at Beverly with an intensity in her face that Deanna found most disquieting, "I, um, finish unpacking,, I have to go." She then leapt down from the tall barstool and practically ran toward the door. Beverly gave Deanna a confused and quizzical look.

"As far as I can tell, she's just very shy." Deanna surmised. Beverly nodded once in acceptance as they headed toward their usual table where Guinan already had their desserts waiting for them.

Lieutenant Amanda Pearson strolled confidently around the perimeter of what was to be her own tiny little command. "Lieutenant Pearson", she repeated to herself softly; an affirmation- a mantra. The power had only that day been brought up full and although she had been on board the Enterprise for several days, this was the first opportunity she'd had to really take stock of what she was going to be working with. She sat down in the chair that stood in the center of the open rotunda that made up a large portion of the department. She knew from schematics she'd seen that this was, in fact "her" chair. It was strategically located so that the supervising (Starfleet was careful not to say "commanding") officer in the department could have visual contact with each and every crewmember under his or her supervision. Amanda couldn't resist the urge. She leaned back to test how far the chair would recline and nearly fell over backwards when she heard the doors to the room swish open. She quickly stood up to greet whoever it may be. Facing the door she saw that it was Commander Riker. It had been mentioned that the Command/Operations decks were not operating at full capacity when he had performed his cursory inspection a week earlier and Starfleet insisted that he go back and "do it right." It was for this reason, and not Lieutenant Pearson's presence that he wore such a scowl on his face. She stood at attention, careful not to breathe; hoping that whatever reprimands he had for her would be swift. She had yet to formally meet the ship's First Officer as he had spent the last several days since her arrival on an away mission with a large security detachment. So it surprised her greatly when all he had to say to her was,

"At ease Lieutenant". She relaxed a little, allowing herself to breathe finally, but she obviously did not appear relaxed because the Commander found it appropriate to repeat himself, "At ease," he insisted. Green officers that trembled in fear of the great William Riker were a favorite amusement of his and he smiled at her. This helped her to relax a little more. She began to look a little less like she was in pain. "I don't believe we've been formally introduced," he regarded her. She shook her head and replied,

"N..n..No sir. Lieutenant Junior Grade Amanda Pearson." She put out her hand for him to shake.

"Commander William T. Riker," he answered. She shrugged her shoulders and let out what could have been interpreted as a chuckle.

"I... um, knew that." She averted his eyes when she said this, even as she shook his hand. Once the words were out, she was immediately afraid that she had just addressed a superior officer in much too familiar a manner. From what she had heard of commander Riker, he was a friendly and cheerful man, but- she had also heard that his respect was not quickly earned, and his friendship even less so. She bit her lip and once again awaited reproach. But he did not scold her. He surprised her yet again by chuckling in return and adding,

"Yes, I suppose you did." He let go of her hand and crossed his arms in front of him. "Amanda Pearson," he repeated, " are sure we haven't met before?"

"No sir," she answered, "I think I'd remember. Why?"

"Your name seems very familiar, that's all."

"You probably just read about my promotion," she offered, " and I'm sure you had to handle a lot of the particulars of my transfer here."

"You're probably right." He affirmed. He gestured with the PADD he held in his right hand. "I was sent down here to inspect the department again. Can I assume that you've beaten me to it and found everything satisfactory?"

"Yes sir. Everything's exactly as it should be."

"Good," he answered back, " then I can just sign off on this and leave you to your department. Thank you Lieutenant, you have just saved me from a most unpleasant task."

"You're welcome Commander?" She answered, unsure if that's what she was supposed to say. Riker had stepped back inside the turbolift, which he had barely stepped out of to begin with. He made a tiny saluting gesture with his PADD as the doors swished shut. She fell back into the chair. "He thought he knew who I was," she thought, slightly aloud. She shrugged her shoulders and exhaled heavily. "Naaah," she said, slightly louder, but only to herself, but then she thought, "Maybe".


Ten-forward looked lovely. The walls were decorated in splashes of silver and blue and a row of tables laden with food snaked their way through the center of the room. The reception had been called on account of the arrival of the new crewmembers. Fifteen young officers had just that day arrived aboard the Enterprise. Eight of them, including one young Vulcan Lieutenant, were to be working in the Tactical/Engineering department. The other seven were there to serve under the newly-appointed Lieutenant Pearson in Command/Operations.

Everyone there looked very uncomfortable to Lieutenant Pearson. All the men in their dress uniforms looked as though they were counting the minutes until they could leave. She remembered having been told just how uncomfortable those uniforms really were after a cotillion at the Academy. This event reminded her a lot of that night, actually. It was nearly midway through her sophomore year. The new Federation Administration had come to the Academy and so there was, of course, a grand gala thrown in their honor. And Amanda Pearson, as a member of the Student Academic Advisory board, was required to be there. She had worn a dress of the palest blue and had a corsage pinned to her shoulder. She remembered laughing when he had told her how he hacked into her garment replicator to find out what color dress she was going to wear. She tried to recall the last time she had laughed like that. It had been years. Amanda found a seat in a corner and hoped no one would notice her for the time being; until she though it would be appropriate to leave. It was no use.

Many of the new assignees had been classmates at the Academy, and were treating this reception as a sort of class reunion. Lieutenant Pearson was quickly spotted by Ensign Adrienne Carson, a perky blonde girl who had been a close friend of her sister's at the Academy. "Amanda Pearson!" she exclaimed from across the room, much more loudly than Lieutenant Pearson would have liked. Ensign Carson bounced across the room to where Amanda was seated. "Didn't we all say we were going to be working for you someday?" Amanda just nodded. "So..." Adrienne began, changing the subject, "How's your sister?"

"Candy's fine." Lieutenant Pearson answered, "She says she's getting married in a month, but... you know Candy...."

"Right," Adrienne affirmed, "This makes how many engagements?"

"Five," Amanda answered, cracking a smile, "Six if you count Nick Locarno."

"Which nobody does," Adrienne reminded her. Amanda shook her head.

"No, no one does." Suddenly the two young women were aware that everyone else in the room was standing and looking toward them to stand as well. The Captain was giving a toast.

"...The future of Starfleet is in our midst. These young officers and cadets will help to lead the Federation into even newer frontiers. Let us celebrate these innovations together. To our new departments." The Captain raised his glass and took a pronounced drink. It was more than obvious to most in attendance that he did not enjoy giving toasts. Lieutenant Pearson saw Counselor Troi elbow Commander Riker in the ribs, laughing, apparently he had made comment on the Captain's shortcomings as a public speaker. The two of them chuckled a little.

From what she had been told prior to her arrival aboard the Enterprise, Lieutenant Pearson thought the Ship's Counselor and First Officer would be less obvious than this. She had heard that they were very much in love, but a person really had t look to see it. That they tried to hide it under a veil of platonic friendship. Things had obviously changed in the years since She had gotten her information. The two of them were holding hands, giggling, and whispering things in one another's ear. "Twitterpated" she remembered her sister's expression.

Counselor Troi could feel the young Lieutenant's eyes on her and she politely turned around, and walked the few steps that closed the distance between herself and Lieutenant Pearson, Commander Riker in tow. "Lieutenant, how are you liking it here so far?" The Counselor asked.

"It's a very nice reception..." Amanda answered as though she had rehearsed the line several times.

"That's not what I asked," the Counselor implored her.

"Oh, so far so good?" Amanda answered; hoping that would be enough to satisfy the counselor's request. Commander Riker stepped back and examined her, much the way he had days ago during their chance meeting on deck two.

"Are you sure that we've never met before?" He asked, in a more urgent tone of voice than he had before.

"Commander," she answered him, "I didn't even think about this the other day, I don't know why.... But I'm an identical twin; you may very well have met my sister, Candy. She's very hard to forget."

"Maybe," Riker replied shaking his head "but her name doesn't sound familiar, yours does for some reason."

"I'm sure it was all the hype about these promotions. That's all. You wouldn't have heard my name from anywhere else. Unless maybe we have a mutual friend we don't know about." Amanda's breath caught in her throat, she had just put out a very dangerous line, but was wishing hard for a bite.

"Maybe that's it," Riker agreed, "I'm sure it will come to me." Amanda Pearson suddenly felt very uncomfortable in her skin. She made a hasty excuse,

"You know, I'm really tired. I , um, I think I'll just retire to my quarters now." She looked at Counselor Troi, "It was a lovely reception," she reiterated as she made her way as quickly as she could in good manners out the door.

Deanna rang the door chime again. The computer told her that Lieutenant Pearson was in her quarters, so the Counselor wasn't exactly sure why she hadn't responded. Troi was about to give up when she heard a small voice from inside call, "come in" the doors slid open in response to the call and Deanna stepped into the semi-dark room.

Amanda sat on the couch, still wearing the seafoam green gown she had worn at the reception, which was now irreparably wrinkled, and her hair was falling out of its style. Amanda's eyes looked red and swollen from what the counselor could see in the dimly lit room. If Deanna had to guess, she'd say the young lieutenant had been crying. "Are you alright?" Deanna asked. Amanda just nodded. The counselor was not convinced, "Are you sure?" She prodded. Amanda put her feet up onto the couch, bringing her knees to her chin as she added,

"Mm-hmm." And nodded again. Deanna was not going to let that be the final answer.

"Anything you want to talk about?" Amanda shook her head,

"All due respect, counselor Troi, but you wouldn't understand."

"Try me," Troi challenged, seating herself in a chair just to the girl's right. Amanda rolled her eyes.

"Fine," she whispered with her eyes still rolled. Deanna couldn't help but notice Amanda was trying not to cry. Amanda composed herself, and, deciding on a course of action, looked the counselor in the eye. "Did you ever have anything turn out..." she searched for the right words, "just ... wrong?" She finished. Deanna, true to her counselor training, urged her,

"Go on, what's gone so wrong?"

"This whole transfer to the Enterprise. I had, do I put this?" She thought in silence for a few seconds, casting her eyes to the floor. She bit her lip as she looked back at the counselor. "I had some... some expectations about coming here. Mostly about the people here," Amanda admitted. "I just thought, well- things are just not the way I thought they were going to be." She began to look as though she was about to cry again as she finished saying, "and it's just really hard right now."

"Do you think that these were reasonable expectations?" Deanna prodded. Amanda felt insulted by her question, but forgave it. She knew the counselor had no idea of her situation. She just answered, careful not to sound too passionate.

"More than reasonable. There were things I took to be absolute facts. And then I get here and find out that things aren't at all like I thought they would be. I feel like everything I've been living for, everything I've been working toward, my whole life for the past five years has been a lie."

"Well," Deanna began digging deeper, "What exactly were these expectations?" Amanda felt herself about to spill everything, but something inside her wouldn't let her.

"I can't talk about this right now, Counselor. I'm sorry. But, if you'll excuse me, I'm really tired, and I have an entire department under my command first thing in the morning." Deanna stood up from her chair.

"Alright," she said in as reassuring a voice as she could find, "but when you finally do want to talk about it..." Amanda cut her off,

"I know where your office is."

"Alright." Deanna touched her on the shoulder and then made her way out of the room. She couldn't help the sense that Lieutenant Pearson was hiding something. That was sometimes the problem with her empathic sense. She could ell when someone wasn't telling the whole truth, but confessing that you've read a person's mind was, as she had long ago discovered, a very good way to get them to stop talking altogether. Deanna decided that she would jut have to wait until Amanda Pearson wanted to tell whatever it was that she was hiding.

Lieutenant Pearson had barely been at her new post for an hour when her comm badge tweetered. "Pearson" she answered automatically.

"Lieutenant Pearson, this is Dr. Crusher. I need you in sickbay for a few minutes. Could you come now?" Came the voice from the other side of the ship. Amanda considered her options for a second as a sour expression crossed her features.

"Yes, doctor," she reluctantly replied, "I'm on ,my way. Pearson out." She heard the familiar tweeter of the comm frequency closing and stood up out of her chair. She looked to her right, "Ensign Carson, it's all yours," she called as she stepped into the turbolift.

Amanda rounded the corner into sickbay and felt a knot beginning to form in the pit of her stomach. "Lieutenant Pearson!" She heard Dr. Crusher's pleasant, feminine voice call. Beverly crossed to her with an obvious sense of determination. Amanda braced herself for what she was about to say. "I am so sorry that I had to call you in here. There have been some problems coming out of Starfleet Command. And your medical records seem to be among the casualties. I just need for you to have a transfer physical done- to start your file here on the Enterprise. Hopefully the rest of your medical records will catch up." Amanda just nodded in acceptance. Beverly started to walk toward the main area of sickbay. Amanda followed. Beverly gestured to a cot in the middle of the room, "Have a seat". Amanda did as she asked, hopping up to sit on the table. Dr. Crusher kept talking as she pulled her tricorder from her pocket and began her examination. "You know, I had to go through your whole file looking for those lost records, and I came across your Academy record," Amanda held her breath and swallowed hard. She looked the doctor in the eye, "It turns out, " Beverly said, " that you would have graduated in the same class as my son." Amanda could feel herself beginning to shake as Dr. Crusher continued, "did you know Wesley?" Amanda was sure that her face had gone pale, she felt like she was about to faint, but she clenched her fists and managed to answer simply,

"Yes. I did." Before the conversation had a chance to go any further, a voice called from across the room,

"Dr. Crusher," Beverly smiled at her obviously rattled patient.

"I think I have everything I need for now." The Doctor said, "and I know where to find you if I don't." Amanda nodded rapidly in return. Beverly turned to respond to the voice from across the room and as soon as she did, Lieutenant Pearson quickly slid down from where she'd been sitting and left via the nearest exit.

When counselor Troi walked into her office to prepare for the day's appointments, she was surprised to see the lights and computers already turned, up, and running. She was even more pleasantly surprised to find Will Riker in the chair behind her desk. "Good morning" she greeted him, with a very wide smile on her face. "Can I assume you're not here on official business?" He smiled mischievously in her direction,

"It's not exactly official. No," he answered in a playful tone.

"Good," she flirted, "I prefer for my office to not be broken into on account of official business." She eyed him playfully. She was beginning to really enjoy their new relationship dynamic. It had never been like this before, not in all the time they were together- and certainly not in all those years they had been friends. They had both agreed at the outset of this new development that every day of their friendship had helped to prepare them for the relationship they had now. And now, there was Will, sitting behind her desk, having broken into her office first thing in the morning, probably hoping they could lock the door and have some quality counseling time on her office couch. "So why are you here this morning? And don't give me that line about needing counseling- I can tell when you're lying." He laughed at the truth in that statement and decided to just reveal his true intentions to her.

"I didn't think you'd be here this early. It's not that I mind getting caught, I just thought I'd be out of here before you came in." Deanna looked puzzled. In response to her look, he spun around the terminal on her desk so that she could see it from where she stood. She recognized it at once as a Starfleet personnel file.

"Amanda Pearson" she read, she didn't look any less puzzled as she cocked her head in Will's direction, "why?" She asked.

"I'm telling you I know her from somewhere." Deanna nodded slowly, like she knew where this was going. "No, Deanna, I mean it. I have a very odd feeling that I should know who she is- that I somehow know her, or that I know something about her. It's weird. So I came to look here. We both know there are parts of personnel records that can only be pulled up on the counselor's unit. Same reason we have do to the crew evaluations from here every year."

"So you came in here to snoop?" She suggested.

"You make it sound so dirty..." he answered.

"Well,..., as long as you have this on screen," she conceded, making her way around the desk as she turned the display back around, "I was going to look through this today. I had a very unusual conversation with Lt. Pearson last night, and I know she's hiding something. I thought maybe her records would give me some insight. Scoot over." She edged her way into the chair, half next to and half on top of him and finally settled for a place on his left knee.

They read through the file in its entirety, twice. Neither one of them found what they were looking for, although Counselor Troi was encouraged to find that Lt. Pearson had briefly seen a Counselor around the time of her Academy Graduation. She figured that it must have something to do with the pronounced change in her grades from mid-term to the end of her senior year. She had dropped from first in her class to third, and graduated with a very tenuous hold on that place. The counselor figured that the drop in grades was most likely associated with some sort of trauma, and that may have a direct bearing on the way she felt now.

Deanna was lost in thought when her concentration was suddenly broken by the sound of Will's stomach growling. She turned to him and surmised,

"You skipped breakfast."

"So did you," he accused. Commander Riker knew this was a safe accusation because he had never known Deanna to eat breakfast outside of a social commitment. She squared her shoulders and stood up. She extended her hand to him,

"Ten-forward?" She suggested. He took her hand and stood up himself.

"As usual- a great idea." He answered, leading her around the desk and out the door.

They walked into Ten-forward still holding hands. They had become increasingly less cautious about displaying their affections in public. Both of them felt as though the crew was just going to have to deal with the two of them as a couple. They had waited a long time for this specific happiness and were becoming more and more convinced that this was going to be permanent. They could, of course, still act professionally toward one another, but found very few occasions that required then to put their affections aside. And lunch in Ten-forward was certainly not one of those.

They sat at their usual table. That had actually become a joke between them in the weeks since their decision to become romantically involved again. They discovered that they already had so much between them that some couples never obtain. One of those was "their" table in Ten-forward. They sat and Deanna bit her lip trying to decide what all it was that she was going to eat. Will sat there quietly, watching her. He always loved to watch Deanna think about food. It amused him the way the corners of her mouth turned up when she decided what to order.

He became distracted from his amusement by sounds coming from a few tables over. There sat five of the ships new assignees; three boisterous young girls with two male companions. They were obviously gossiping about someone. Riker fought the impulse to go over and tell them that they were speaking loudly enough to be overheard. But he figured they didn't really care. Not to mention, a reprimand from the First officer about their conversations away from duty would not sit well with the young officers. So Riker just listened- not that he could help it.

"You have no idea..."

"SO uptight- SOOOO uptight,"

"See, I knew her sister at the Academy,"

"Who didn't"?

"Jason- seriously..."

"I've worked with Candy- they are nothing alike.

"No, I mean it. She used to be completely normal... a little brainy, but that was status quo at the Academy."

"Well what happened?"

"Do you remember... you were probably a freshman. A cadet dropped out and then wound up dead- we had that big service and everybody wore black armbands?"

"I was a sophomore, thank you. And yes, I remember that vaguely. Why?"

"He was her the only guy she ever dated. She went completely schizoid. Her grades dropped- she had Valedictorian by a mile before then and she wound up graduating third. We were surprised she graduated at all. Candy was convinced that she was going to come back to the room one day and find she had killed herself."

"That's heavy."

"Yeah- no doubt."

Will Riker shrugged it off, but the conversation stuck in his head- there was something familiar... something oddly familiar. "Bridge to Commander Riker," Will's comm badge called, he swatted it in reply,

"Riker here,"

"Number One," the Captain's voice answered back, " I need to see you in my ready-room."

"I'm on my way," Will called back, tapping his comm badge to close the frequency. He looked at Deanna as he stood up, "Rain check?" He offered.

"I'm going to hold you to that," she warned him.

"I wouldn't have it any other way." He reached down and took her hand and kissed it. He turned and left the room.

Commander Riker ordered the turbolift to the "bridge," and began to wonder what it was the Captain could possibly need. He had already been debriefed from the security away mission. Riker wondered what could be so urgent that the Captain would insist on seeing him a full two hours before he was scheduled to go on duty. The turbolift slid to an unscheduled stop,

"Deck eight," the electronic voice announced as the doors swished open. Lieutenant Pearson stepped onto the turbolift and tried to put as much distance between herself and the ship's first officer as was possible in the small space. She gave him a pleasant smile as she told the turbolift to take her to,

"Command/Operations, deck two." Commander Riker looked over at her, trying again to discern why it was she seemed so familiar to him.

And then it clicked. Something in Will Riker's brain connected. He knew exactly who she was. His mouth fell open as he shook his head. "I know why you're so familiar to me," he told her. She sucked in a very deep breath and did her best to look him in the eye and not to hyper-ventilate.
"You do?" She responded as a look of sheer terror crossed her face.

"You are the Amanda Pearson that dated Wesley Crusher for all those years at the Academy!" Amanda felt her knees about to give way. Her face was hot and she could hardly breathe.

"Halt turbolift," she managed to call out. The turbolift complied. "You know me? You know about me?" She timidly quizzed.

"It took me a while to figure it out, but yes. Wes told me all about you; how you met at that party, and your trip to the mountains. He talked about you a lot." Amanda couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her face as she told him,

"You can't know what you just told me." He looked at her quizzically. She continued, " You just can't know... Wesley and I were together for almost three years. He was my life, he was... he was my everything. And when he was gone all of the sudden- I didn't think I would live through it. All I've wanted for all this time since graduation was to be here. HERE- on the Enterprise with his family, with his friends... someplace where I could feel close to him again. And I got here, and nobody knew who I was. Dr. Crusher- acted like she'd never heard my name. She actually asked me just this morning if I'd known her son because she saw in my records that we were in the same Academy class. You can't know how that made me feel." She changed the subject, "thank you- for saying something as soon as you realized who I was. I feel a little less betrayed. He did mention me to somebody. I was important. Commander," she implored, "Please don't tell anyone, especially not Dr. Crusher. Look, I know how painful memories can be; I don't want to stir anything up." Will nodded. He didn't want to expose her private grief to anyone- it wasn't his place and he knew it. He smiled at her as she wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of her sleeve. "Resume," Lt. Pearson ordered the turbolift. The turbolift did just so. When they reached deck two, the young Lieutenant turned around to Commander Riker as she stepped out and silently mouthed the words "Thank You". He smiled and nodded as he waited for the doors to shut. He watched her walk to her chair in the center of the room. She was walking like a huge weight had just been lifted from her. Will Riker felt very self-satisfied.


"The energy signature is distinctly federation." Data surmised as the Enterprise senior staff sat in their usual places in the conference lounge, staring at what appeared to be nothing in space in front of them.

"How can we be sure that it is Federation?" Riker quizzed. "I'm not willing to gamble on some faint energy signature coming from what looks like a black hole."

"We can't be sure, Commander," Geordi offered, " It could be a subspace echo, or some naturally occurring phenomena that just looks like Federation energy. But it also could be the last stage of a distress call. We just can't be sure."

"And if it is a distress call," Picard added, "I, for one don't want to ignore it." All around the table nodded in agreement with their Captain. "Mr. Data," Data turned his full attention to the Captain and replied,

"Yes sir?"

"If we were to launch a probe into 'that thing', how long should we be able to receive telemetry before it would be destroyed?"

"Assuming that what we are dealing with is a black hole; my estimation is that a class one probe launched from the Enterprise would be operational for approximately four minutes before it was torn apart by the black hole's gravitational energy."

"Mr. Laforge," the Captain looked at Geordi, "Would it be possible for you to outfit the probe with some sort of forcefield, to keep it in tact long enough for us to discern what it is that we seem to be picking up?"

"Theoretically, Captain, sure," Geordi answered, " But I'm not sure how well it would work. With the portable field generators we have access to, the best we can hope for is around thirty minutes."

"Thirty minutes are better than four," the Captain observed, "Make it so Mr. Laforge." Geordi nodded as everyone got up from their chairs. The Enterprise crew had long ago learned that "Make it so" was synonymous with "dismissed."

"Lieutenant Pearson?" called out a chubby ensign from across the Command/Operations department.

"Yes, ensign Stewart ," she replied, turning her chair to face the source of the address.

"Lieutenant, I'm picking up very strange readings from inside that black hole... like... like an energy signature. And it looks to me like..." the pudgy young man bit his lip as a sour expression crossed his face.

"Like what, Ensign Stewart?"

"Allow me." a handsome young ensign stepped from his workstation and crossed to where ensign Stewart was obviously having a problem articulating his thoughts.

"Please, ensign Garner, enlighten us," Pearson challenged. She had noticed a pronounced arrogance in ensign Matthew Garner and was not happy asking his opinion. She had also noticed, though, that he often times was right on. She figured it was worth it to hear him out and just ignore his attitude.

"Well, as I am sure you recall, Lieutenant," he began, emphasis on her rank, she noticed. Ensign Garner had graduated in her class- noticeably near the bottom. He had been everything short of overtly hostile toward her and her counterpart in Tactical/Engineering. It was more than obvious to everyone in the department that he felt slighted in not having been offered a promotion himself. And it was equally obvious that he felt he had something to prove. "That is, I'm sure that you're aware..." he continued, "that an experimental probe was launched in this sector nearly four years ago to study the unusual gravitational disruptions connected to this particular black hole. The probe was thought to have been destroyed, as most things are when they come into contact with a black hole or similar gravitational disruption." He looked poor, nervous ensign Stewart in the sweaty face as he continued, " It seems, however, that this may not have been the case. What our friend Ensign Stewart here," he patted Stewart on the shoulder, "has come across is an energy signature that could very well be from that exact same probe." Pearson nodded her head.

"And if that's the case..." she urged him to continue.

"Well, if that IS the case," he answered, " then what we have here may not be a black hole at all. It may be a completely new phenomenon. The Federation was obviously curious enough about it four years ago to launch a probe here."

"You may have something, Matt," She told him. She stood up out of her chair and began to pace. She had found years ago that pacing helped her to think. "If the Federation just gave up on the probe," she suggested, "if they just wrote it off as being destroyed by the black hole, then no one would have come to retrieve it."

"And if it's still transmitting..." ensign Garner injected, " then it may contain information invaluable to understanding whatever this thing is we've encountered."

"But what if it is still transmitting," offered the lieutenant, "then what? We have no way of guiding it, and we certainly can't just go in there and get it."

"Why not?" contended ensign Stewart. "If that probe is okay- then anything that goes in after it should be, too- right. I mean, it only makes sense If a little defenseless probe has survived in there for four years, a starship with shields and advanced guidance systems shouldn't have any problem at all."

"But what if it hasn't survived?" Pearson contended, " what if this signal is just some stray subspace noise that only looks like a Federation probe? And Matt is right about one thing, this 'black hole' may be some sort of phenomena that hasn't been encountered before. What if what we're picking up is some sort of echo effect- if the probe was transmitting right up to the moment when it was. in fact , destroyed... and its energy signatures are just bouncing around inside of this whateveritis and that's all we're hearing. I certainly would not want to be the one who drives a starship into it."

"Maybe we could launch another probe?" suggested ensign Carson from her post directly behind Lieutenant Pearson. the Lieutenant turned to face her. "Another probe, " she continued, "could maybe tell us if anything is still in there... even if it stopped transmitting as quickly as the first one seemed to, it would certainly be able to send back enough information to discern whether or not the first probe is still there... maybe even enough to know whether or not it would be safe to drive a starship in after it."

" Good idea." Lieutenant Pearson observed, nodding her head. "We only have one problem."

"And what might that be?" quizzed Matt. Amanda Pearson frowned at him. As if she weren't going to tell...?

"Our problem is that ' we' that is, you and I and this department, do not have a probe. We don't have authorization to get a probe, and we don't have a counterpart department on this ship that does." She was right, of course, as was affirmed by the heavy sighs she heard from around her. The Science/Engineering and Command/Sciences departments were not functioning anywhere in Starfleet just yet, and, unfortunately for the Command/Operations department on board the Enterprise they had no hope of getting a probe, much less launching one without such a companion department.

"We could just ask..." suggested ensign Carson, "I mean, the worst the Captain could say is no, right? And then we're not any worse off than when we started"

"She has a point," injected ensign Stewart. Lieutenant Pearson shook her head.

"I am not about to bother Captain Picard when all we have is a theory." Ensign Carson's hand shot up into the air, like a small child wanting to impress a teacher by being the first to know the answer. But as her hand raised, she blurted out,

"I volunteer to bother Commander Riker!!" the Lieutenant shook her head even harder, and begin to chuckle.

"Give it up, Adrienne." her face turned serious, "but that actually isn't a bad suggestion. Commander Riker is supposed to be my direct superior, so going to him would be correct- in a 'chain of command' sort of way. Not to mention the fact that he finds this department such an annoyance," she punctuated that word by looking ensign Carson in the eye, "that he may very well say yes if only to shut us up and keep us busy."

"Great" remarked Carson, jumping from her chair, "I'll just go and,"

"You'll do no such thing," Pearson insisted, pointing the vivacious girl back into her seat. " I'll make the request." Amanda didn't want her crew to know, but it seemed a relief to her that Riker was the proper person to approach in this situation. She was pleased to go and talk to him. he was, after all, the only member of the senior staff that she could really be herself with. Pearson to Commander Riker..." She swatted her comm badge.

"Riker here."

"Commander," she began, "We've come across something down here. I think you'll want to see it. And we need your permission to proceed. Can you meet me in my office?"

"I'm on my way." The comm link chirped closed and Lieutenant Pearson began walking toward her office near the turbolift doors.

"That's not fair-" ensign Carson accused.

"Ensign Carson, if you think it'll be any help at all. Feel free to sit in my chair while I go into my office. That way, when Commander Riker comes out of the turbolift, he'll be sure to see you." Adrienne Carson giggled a little as she leapt from her seat and into the central chair.

"Thanks- you're a pal" she told her supervisor in a voice that was about an octave higher than the one she normally used.

"Mm-hmm" was the Lieutenant's only reply as the doors to her office slid shut. It didn't take the Ship's First Officer but a few seconds after that to arrive. The turbolift doors opened and he turned automatically to his right to enter Lieutenant Pearson's private office. Ensign Carson shook her head in disgust- he hadn't even noticed her! It was not like any man not to notice Adrienne Carson. She shrugged her shoulders and wrote the incident off as a fluke as she reclined comfortably in the chair.

"Oh, Commander Riker, that was quick," Lieutenant Pearson commented as she stood to greet her guest. They both sat down on either side of her tiny desk

It wasn't only her desk that was tiny. The office itself was so small that Lieutenant Pearson had missed it altogether when she'd seen the plans prior to her arrival aboard the ship. It was only after she'd arrived and taken time to look around her new department that she found the door, next to the turbolift entrance, that led into what was obviously a small office space. Amanda Pearson didn't care how tiny it was though, she was proud to have her very own office aboard the Federation flagship and she had brought in a few personal effects to make it more her own. Riker immediately noticed a plaque hanging low behind her :"Starfleet Academy Science Frontier Fair- First Place- Amanda Pearson" and the one that hung just above it :"Starfleet Academy Science Frontier Fair-Second Place- Wesley Crusher" Will smiled a little at the sight of that. She had beaten Wesley in a science event... oh what that relationship must have been like.... Will made a mental note to ask her about the plaques later. Right now he just addressed her,

"Lieutenant, how may I be of service?"

"Well sir, you see, we've become aware....

"And so we thought that we could launch a probe into whatever that is and see if it's our old probe still transmitting. If so, then we know this is some completely new phenomenon and not a black hole at all. Thus confirming the suspicions of those scientists who thought so four years ago." Lieutenant Pearson squared her shoulders and put her hands in her lap, waiting for a reply. The Captain leaned back in is chair and smiled.

After she had related her request to Commander Riker, he had feigned ignorance of the entire situation and requested that she inform the Captain and the rest of the senior crew. So there they sat, in the observation lounge, Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, Dr. Crusher, Data, Geordi, and Lieutenant Dalmm, the Vulcan head of the Tactical/Engineering department. All of them looking straight at her. She felt like she was going to faint. And she knew the Counselor could tell, too. She hated that. She tried her best to just remain calm and listen to the Captain's response. His smile seemed promising.

And then she noticed. Everyone in the room was smiling. She felt even more like she was going to faint. She tried her best to smile too. "Lieutenant Pearson," the Captain began, "We have just begun to make arrangements to launch a probe into the black hole because we wanted to find the source of this energy signal that looks so distinctly Federation. If your theory of an earlier probe is correct, then we most certainly do have a very interesting phenomenon on our hands. I'm sure that Mr. LaForge and Mr. Data will not mind at all your department monitoring our probe as well."

"Actually," injected Geordi, "it'll be a welcome relief. With trying to bring the new warp-core online, my people were going to have one heck of a time keeping track of this probe on top of everything else."

"Quite right," Data chimed in, "The assistance of the Command/Operations department will be both welcomed and appreciated. We will begin the pre-launch sequence at approximately 800 hours tomorrow." Amanda smiled again. But this time she was sincere. She hadn't felt this good about her work since... since....

The meeting was obviously over and everyone rose from their chairs, some exchanging pleasantries as they went their separate ways. Amanda could almost feel herself withdrawing from the room as she edged her way toward the turbolift, hoping no one would notice her discomfort. Counselor Troi, who always seemed to notice, appeared to be deep in conversation with Dr. Crusher. "Good," Amanda thought, "A clean escape." She wasn't totally comfortable, though, until the turbolift doors swished shut behind her and she found that she was alone inside.


The song had a pensive, rhythmic melody. It was rich with drumbeats intermingled with the sounds of flute and bagpipe music and ever so gently punctuated with strings. If this song had ever had words, they must have been about heartache, lost love, and unanswered questions. In the mind of Amanda Pearson, that's what the song was about now. She stared blankly out into space and then back again at the image on the large viewscreen behind the table in her quarters.

Wesley. The 'picture' was actually the last frame of the last vid message he had sent to her at the Academy. They were barely twenty weeks away from graduation when that semester break came. And he had gone home to the Enterprise- and he had never come back to her. Their original plan had been to travel together; spending half the time with his mother aboard the Enterprise and the other half with her mother's sisters on Tarra 6. But when an emergency meeting of the Student Academic Advisory Council had been called, she had been forced to stay behind. He was only going to be gone the length of time they were to have spent on the Enterprise together. "fifteen days," she could remember him say, "I'll be back before you know it." But he never had come back.

He had sent her this damned message instead. She played it again,

"Hi. It's me. I hope everything's going well there. Being home is nice. I miss you. Amanda, I have some news. You should sit down... no I really mean it- sit. Okay. Amanda, I want you to know that what I am about to say has no bearing whatsoever on our relationship. I love you and that hasn't changed one bit- not at all. But, I Amanda, I've decided to leave school. I sent a vid to Admiral Brand resigning my appointment just a few minutes ago.

"Please don't cry. Try not to be upset. We are still going to be together. I just... well, it's hard to explain. I promise I'll explain everything just as soon as I see you. I just... I had to send this message to you like this, because if we were on a live line you might try and talk me into changing my mind. And you might be able to. You are the only thing at the Academy that has mattered to me for so long- I... I just wanted to let you know that my mind is made up, and as much as I love you, I don't want it changed. I know that's a lot to digest, and I guess that's it for now. I promise I will explain everything to you- all of it- from the beginning. I just need to be away from all that. But I do love you. Please don't ever forget that. I'll understand if you're angry. If you don't respond, I'll understand that, too. But don't forget that you're the only reason I stayed there as long as I did. I guess that's all. See you soon? Bye."

The screen froze on the smiling picture. She felt sick to her stomach. She had played this message a million times since the day she had first received it. Of course she had wanted to respond. But first she had to stop crying, and that took hours. She wanted to get her thoughts in order, and that took days. When she finally sat down and started to think seriously about what she was going to tell him- something supportive and loving but still expressive of the hurt she felt over his not coming to her sooner; that very minute- she got the call to come to Admiral Brand's office.

It seemed the Admiral had contacted the Enterprise concerning Wesley's resignation- there was, of course, paperwork to be done. And that's when she had been given the news; Wesley was dead. "Moved on past our plane of existence" was the term the Admiral had used, but they both knew what it meant. Amanda had been shocked at the time that the Commandant of the Academy even knew to contact her in this event. She and Wesley had hardly made their romance a secret, but for Admiral Brand to know... it made her feel... official- like she was officially a part of Wesley's life.

And then the tears began, and the years upon years of guilt. He died thinking she hadn't responded to his message. Maybe he died thinking she didn't love him. Maybe he was so careless with his life on Dorvan V because he thought she didn't love him. There were so many "maybes".

And then there was the work. After a month of heavy sedation, she began to settle back into her routine- sort of. She managed to still graduate near the top of her class and had moved around from starbase to starship trying to perform to the best of her abilities- trying... to secure a transfer to the Enterprise. And then came her promotion, and subsequent transfer. her heart was full knowing she was coming to the ship (or ship's namesake, gods Wesley would have loved this ship) that her beloved had called home. And to the people he had thought of as family. She thought that she was finally going to be able to heal; to hear stories of Wesley's last few days, and to grieve together with the only other people in the universe who could possibly miss him in the way that she did.

And then what? "And then NOTHING!" she yelled as loud as she could toward Wesley's still image on the screen, hurling a PADD across the room as she did. "You didn't even tell your mother about me! What would she have done if I had come with you Wesley- what then?!? Would I feel as unwanted as I do right now?!?" She collapsed into a heap on the floor- still looking at his image on her wall- "It's not FAIR, Wesley- it's just not FAIR...I want to be angry, I want to be hurt, I want to yell and scream and hate you for this, Wesley! But you're dead... and you can't argue with me. You used to love to argue with me." she sobbed loudly, "How could you leave me with all these questions? How come I have to go on living and figure these things out by myself? I can't DO this, Wesley!!!" Amanda curled her knees up under her chin and rocked back and forth on the floor.

It was becoming a familiar scene. The stress was getting to her again. She hadn't seen a counselor in almost a year, but she was beginning to think that it may very soon become necessary again if she were to function with any degree of normalcy. And she so desperately wanted to do a good job . She felt a connection to these people here, even though (with the obvious exception of Commander Riker) none of them had a clue who she was. She still regarded them as family... Wesley's family; they would have been her family, too if she and Wesley had married just after graduation as they had planned. She wanted to do right by them. Wesley wouldn't have let her settle for any less than her best, and if doing her best meant seeing a counselor again, well, the she'd just have to swallow her pride and go.

The tears had stopped flowing, as they often would when Amanda managed to shift her attentions from grief and confusion to something more cerebral- even when that meant contemplating her own mental health. "Computer- repeat." she called out in the darkness, and the rich melody started again.

It was more likely the volume of the music then her self-analysis that kept her from hearing the door chime. But she heard the comm frequency.

"Amanda, it's counselor Troi, can I come in for a second?" Not knowing what else to do, Amanda stood up, wiped the remaining moisture form her cheeks with her palms, instructed the computer to,

"Decrease music volume by seventy-five percent," and told the counselor that she could, in fact, "come in."

It would have been obvious to a blind man the young lieutenant had been crying. Her face was red and her eyes were unbelievably swollen. And despite her best attempts to look calm and collected, she was still shaking.

"What in the universe is going on with you?" the counselor asked, a little more forceful than she would have liked, but it did the trick. Amanda just shook her head. She was, after all, contemplating a return to therapy- and like magic suddenly appeared the ship's senior psychological officer. She resigned herself to telling Deanna the whole story. She couldn't keep it all to herself forever- it was bound to come out eventually.

"Why not," she thought, but what she said was, "in confidence?" Deanna nodded. Amanda walked over and took a seat on the couch, making a motion with her eyes for Deanna to join her.

When she did, Deanna Troi almost jumped out of her skin. Across the room on the large viewscreen was a life-size image of Wesley Crusher, looking just as he did the day he first went down to Dorvan V. Amanda could have kicked herself for not remembering to turn it off when the counselor came in. Deanna looked over at the young lieutenant with a confused look on her face,

"I'll play it for you," Amanda offered, seeing absolutely no need to be anything but forthcoming.

"That won't be necessary," Deanna replied, sensing that the young woman held to this message as though it were a sacred thing. Not wanting to be too intrusive, Deanna simply suggested, "but you can tell me about it if you want to." Amanda nodded.

"It mostly says that he loves me but he's leaving school anyway; that I shouldn't try and talk him out of it; and that he understands if I'm angry and don't respond."

"And did you respond to it?" Deanna asked, mostly to keep the young lieutenant talking while she processed the information. Lieutenant Pearson and Wesley had been in love...

"I didn't have time to!" Amanda sobbed in response to her question, "I mean, I could have... but I wanted to get my thoughts in order, I had to know how I felt, so I could tell him. I should have just responded with 'I love you and I'll see you soon', but no- I had to make it perfect. I had to get all my feelings out in one stupid message. And it took too long. Before I even got it recorded... he was GONE, and I couldn't talk to him- I couldn't let him know that I wasn't mad- that I still loved him." Her tears had begun to flow again, and the Counselor quickly moved across the room and picked up a stray handkerchief from off the desk. She walked back to her seat on the couch and handed the damp square of fabric to Lieutenant Pearson who didn't even acknowledge her, but dabbed her swollen eyes with it just the same.

"I'm still not sure I understand the whole story..." Deanna prodded. Amanda looked her square in the eye- a more self-assured stance than Deanna had seen the young officer take since her arrival on board the ship.

"That's half the point. You don't understand because you don't know anything about me- about our history together. He didn't tell you anything about me- not you, not the Captain, not even his MOTHER! He told me he loved me fifteen times a day, it seemed. For two years... every day. And then he's gone forever and I finally get to meet the people he considered his family- and I'm an absolute stranger to them. I feel so betrayed. Like al those 'I love you's" were lies. But the worst part..." she took in a deep shaky breath, "is the guilt. I hate myself for being angry with him. I hate myself for feeling so betrayed by someone who isn't here to defend himself. I have loved him every day- alone- for almost four years. How dare I question we had because of something that it's too late to fix?"

"It's only natural for you to feel confused and betrayed. And it's alright to be angry." Deanna offered, putting her hand on top of Amanda's. "Maybe you'd ought to speak with Dr. Crusher," she suggested, continuing, "Wesley hasn't been here in over five years, it could be that she just hasn't made the connection." Amanda shrugged her shoulders,

"You could be right...? I guess since I still think about him every day- and I try so hard not to forget anything about our time together, I guess I just presumed...that everyone who'd known him would be the same. I guess we all deal with things differently." She sniffled and wiped her eyes again with the handkerchief that was now completely soaked. "And to Wesley's credit," Amanda added, "Commander Riker knew who I was. It took him a little while to remember me, actually, but Wesley had told him a lot."

"You see," replied Deanna, smiling, "Maybe Beverly just hasn't had the time to figure it out yet. You really should talk to her if you're feeling this way. It seems like what the two of you had was very special, and even if he hadn't gotten to tell her much about it before he...left... I'm sure she would love to know."

"Why did I ever stop seeing a counselor?" Amanda asked aloud, purely rhetorically. This elicited a slight chortle from Deanna. "You people always seem to know what to say. And you're absolutely right about one thing."

"What's that?"

"What we had together was special. It was 'once-in-a-lifetime' special. Everybody that saw us together knew it. It used to infuriate my sister, Candy. She was absolutely the most popular girl at the Academy- undisputed- no doubt. She had a date any night she wanted one. And she confessed once that she was jealous of me. I couldn't imagine why, and she said it was because I had found my soul mate." She shook her head as a somber smile crossed her face, "And he was, too. My soul mate. We both knew it. I think what I miss about him the most is his just being there. Do you understand that? There's just something amazing about knowing that someone so special is in the Universe- and when that person is gone... well, it's like there's this huge hole... this big gaping wound. And sure, it scabs over... with happy memories, or duty responsibilities. But it's never gonna heal."

Deanna was absolutely touched by Lieutenant Pearson's sentiments. She was pleasantly surprised at how well this girl was doing; dealing with all of these very difficult emotions. She was much more mature than her twenty-five years. The Counselor, sensing obvious fatigue from her 'patient', stood up and took two steps toward the door.

"I'm going to tell you one thing, and then I'm going to let you get some sleep." Amanda just nodded from where she sat, still curled into a ball on her couch. Deanna continued, "I know Commander Riker better than anyone in the Universe. And I also know, that he loved giving Wesley a hard time about girls. So, if Wesley even mentioned you to Commander Riker, he must have loved you very much. He wouldn't have been willing to take the ribbing if he didn't" Amanda chuckled slightly at that. She smiled up at the Counselor. Deanna smiled warmly back and then turned and left the room.


The doors to the forward turbolift swished open and out stepped a fresh- faced Lieutenant Pearson. From her seat at The Captain's left, counselor Troi smiled at her. Pearson smiled back. Then she turned to Captain Picard, "Everything seems to be in order, sir."

"Very good, Lieutenant," replied the Captain, in an unusually pleasant tone. "Mr. Data, on screen." The main view screen flashed its obedience, showing the bridge a close-up of the whatever it was that lay directly in front of them.

"Launching probe now, sir" came a small voice from the aft science station. Seconds later, a light streaked across the viewer and disappeared. An odd look crossed Commander Riker's face, as if to say 'that was it?'. Lieutenant Pearson responded to his grimace by offering,

"We'll be monitoring telemetry in Command/Operations for as long as we can. If the last probe disappeared like this one just did, no wonder it was abandoned." At that, Commander Riker cracked a smile,

"You'll keep us informed?" he asked her.

"Yes sir," she answered. She immediately turned on her heel and retreated into the turbolift.

"Anything?" Lieutenant Pearson was beginning to sound desperate. Her incessant pacing had managed to grate on the nerves of every single person in Command/Operations who hadn't already found an excuse to leave. And the apparent inability to pick up any telemetry from the probe was not helping matters at all.

"Nothing- still," came the obviously incensed voice of Ensign Garner from right behind her.

"Permission to tell you to chill out, sir?" quizzed Ensign Carson, either trying to leaven the mood, or cause her superior officer to explode, Lieutenant Pearson wasn't sure which. The Lieutenant slowly turned and scowled at the pretty blonde, who knew at once that she had made a grave error in asking that. But Lieutenant Pearson kept her cool. She tensed both of her hands into fists and contorted her face into a not altogether unpleasant expression.

"I'll be in my office," she informed them in as even a tone as she could muster. She walked slowly and deliberately to her office door, which obediently swished open to allow her entry. She thought she heard a loud sigh coming from her crewmates as the doors closed behind her. At this point, she couldn't have cared less.

"My first big assignment on the Enterprise", she thought, slightly aloud. "And- nothing." She rolled her head around to try and relieve some of the tension that was building in her neck. It was no use. She made a bee-line for her chair. No sooner had she sat down than her com badge tweaked.

"Riker to Lieutenant Pearson,"

"Yes, Commander," she replied, trying her best not to betray her frustrations to the ship's second-in-command. Whether or not the Commander could discern her state of mind from her tone of voice, she would never know. He sounded completely business-as-usual as he addressed her.

"Report to the main bridge." Amanda's eyes got wide.

"Uh-oh" she said softly, forgetting for a moment that her com link was still open.

"What was that Lieutenant?" asked the voice of the Commander. She jumped clear out of her seat,

"Nothing, um, I'm on my way, Commander." She hit her com badge to close the frequency. She hit it so hard that she was certain it was going to leave a bruise, but that was the least of her problems. she was about to have to explain to the ship's First Officer that her people couldn't seem to find the probe that they all knew was literally right in front of them. She contorted her brow and made a whining sound before squaring her shoulders and heading out the door to the turbolift.

When the doors parted and Lieutenant Pearson stepped onto the bridge, she was surprised to find Data and Commander Riker huddled with several other crewmen, around one of the aft science stations. Data was at the controls and he was jerking his head back and forth in a rapid beating motion that Amanda could only guess was indicative of his reading left to right at an amazing speed. "Gentlemen," she addressed them.

"Ah, Lieutenant Pearson," acknowledged Commander Riker, come and have a look at this. He moved back several steps as to allow her a clear view of the screen.

"After you informed us of the existence of an earlier probe at these coordinates, Commander Riker suggested I access the records of the Science team that launched the initial probe," explained Data, "And what we have found is quite...intriguing."

"Intriguing- how?" Lieutenant Pearson queried. The young science officer who had been pushed away from his station looked like he was dying to say his piece. He took this opportunity to speak up,

"Well, they just left it here. The probe, I mean. They couldn't get anything from it at first, but then they started getting signals, but the time codes were all wrong. They wrote it off as a malfunction. But we've been working on that energy signature we picked up. It was definitely a transmission from that probe- but it's time coded almost three years ago. And now we can't get anything out of the probe we sent in. We don't know if the first one has been destroyed as was the original hypothesis, or if it's still somewhere inside whatever this thing is. All we do know is that it was still transmitting at least a year from when it was originally thought to be destroyed. This is the most peculiar phenomena I have ever encountered." Commander Riker nodded as Data pulled up another image on the screen.

"From the time-delayed telemetry of the initial probe, " Data began, "we have been able to form this hypothesis." Everyone nodded as Data continued, "The phenomena, although sharing much of the disruptive properties of a black hole, is in reality, a spherical pocket of gravitational energy. Energy- of unknown origin. The pocket has only one means of entry or exit. The known transmissions from the initial probe reached their intended recipients at predictable and exponentially-increasing intervals. The signals were very probably not tuned so finely as to 'point' directly at the only opening. The signals that did escape, in essennce, 'bounced' off the far side of the phenomena."

"So what we're dealing with here is some sort of giant cosmic...balloon?" queried Lieutenant Pearson.

"That would be an appropriate analogy, Lieutenant," Data answered. Will Riker shook his head and asked,

"Does this balloon theory explain why we haven't gotten anything from the probe we launched an hour ago?"

"We're hoping that probe will prove our theory for us Commander," the science officer piped up, "if we're right, then we should receive the first transmission from our probe in fifteen to eighteen hours, only it will be time-coded at exactly the moment it entered the... balloon" He looked at Lieutenant Pearson. So did Commander Riker.

"Lieutenant Pearson, I want your people on this," he told her, "and I want you to let me know the instant we get something, no matter how minute, understood?"

"Yes Sir," she nodded, taking a step toward the turbolift. No one moved to stop her. So Lieutenant Pearson took that opportunity to take her leave of the bridge. She shook her head once the doors had shut, and wondered if everyone's first day was this crazy.

Dr. Beverly Crusher had an odd feeling in the pit of her stomach that she just couldn't shake. She knew she wasn't hungry, she didn't feel thirsty, and she wasn't at all tired. She had scanned herself repeatedly with her tricorder only to find that she was in perfect health. So why, then, did this feeling persist? It felt like... like the moment a transport completes, when your molecules aren't quite in line yet, you feel like yourself, only icky. Yes, that was the feeling, Beverly Crusher felt 'icky'. And she had no good explanation for it. She hated that.

Just as she was gritting her teeth at the prospect of a prolonged, unexplained icky feeling, Deanna Troi poked her head in the door. "Deanna," the doctor called, "And what brings you to my sickbay?" Deanna laughed a little as she flopped herself down in a chair opposite Beverly's desk.

"Are you anywhere near as bored as I am?" Deanna asked, still chuckling. Beverly leaned across her desk and covertly answered,

"Yes. It seems that everyone on this ship is completely healthy." Deanna nodded in agreement. Beverly leaned back in her chair and added, "We had ought to go to ten- forward and congratulate ourselves on a job well done." Deanna quickly hopped out of her chair to lead the way. The prospect of a chocolate sundae and some girl talk was very appealing to her. Beverly got up from her chair, draped her coat over her desk, and quickly followed the counselor toward the door.

The two women sat in ten-forward on opposite sides of a gargantuan ice-cream sundae. Beverly was making soft 'yummy' sounds in the back of her throat, relishing the fact that her 'icky' feeling had subsided a little, when Deanna spoke up,

"Beverly," she asked, "How much time did you really get to spend with Wesley the last time he was aboard the Enterprise?" Beverly looked up at her friend with a quizzical look on her face,

"Whatever made you think of that?" She asked.

"I don't know," Deanna lied, "I've just been thinking, and I don't remember the two of you getting to spend very much time together, that's all."

"Well, to answer your question, we didn't really spend much time together at all. He had his own quarters, and he spent so much time down on the planet, we barely got to talk at all." Deanna nodded as Beverly continued, " He told me about resigning the Academy just after he'd done it, and then he told me he was leaving. There wasn't much more said, actually. Which made it that much more difficult to explain to Admiral Brand when she contacted me."

"You never told me the Academy contacted you," Deanna told her,

"Really, I was sure I had. But then again, I didn't exactly have my head on straight that week. She said there was paperwork to be done, to process Wes' resignation, things that required his signature. Explaining to her just how 'unavailable' he had become was a unique challenge."

"What did you tell her?"

"I finally just told her the truth; that he had gone off to other planes of existence." Beverly chuckled at the memory of her unlikely explanation. Deanna chuckled in return,

"I'm sure she took that well."

"She must have, " Beverly responded. "She told me she would take care of everything on her end and that she would have Wesley's things sent to the Enterprise"

"I remember that," inserted Deanna, her mouth full of ice cream, "the day his things were beamed aboard, you were very gloomy that day." Beverly nodded,

"I was entitled," she challenged. Deanna put her hands up in defense,

"I didn't say anything about your not being entitled," she retorted. Both women chuckled a little.

"You know what's funny?" Beverly asked.

"Hmm?" was all Deanna could articulate as she tried to swallow a massive bite of ice cream and fudge.

"I've never even opened the cases." Beverly stated. Deanna looked up from the sundae into Beverly's eyes and asked,

"Why not?"

"I don't really know," Beverly sighed, swirling her spoon in the slowly melting ice cream, "They all survived the cr... that is, they all made it aboard the Enterprise-E, but I've just never though it was right to open them up. It would be like invading his privacy."

"Well don't you think you'd ought to?" Deanna suggested, "Beverly, it has been years since he left. And how many times while he was away at the Academy did I hear you say you wish you knew more about his life? Do you really think Wesley would mind your looking through a few of his things now?"

"You're probably right," Beverly offered, "How did we get on this topic again?" Deanna just shrugged her shoulders as she took another heaping bite of ice cream.


Will Riker had never felt so content in his entire life. He could actually feel the tension ebbing from his body. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed, on the couch in Deanna's quarters. She sat, with his head in her lap, massaging his temples as the strains of Betazoid soul music filled the room. He opened his eyes to look up at her. She was wearing one of those flimsy white numbers that he loved so much, and she was smiling at him. He could see out of the corner of his eye that she had draped his uniform shirt over the chair just to her right. He smiled sweetly up at her, his blue eyes dancing in the half-light. She cocked her head to one side,

"What," she prodded. He turned over onto his stomach, resting his chin on his hands, never breaking her gaze,

"I need a reason to smile at you now?"

"No," she qualified, shaking her head with a tiny laugh. He scrambled to a sitting position and took her face in his hands,

"Good," he affirmed. He slowly brought her lips to his and kissed her very lightly. She let out a blissful sigh as their lips parted. He smiled devilishly, "No 'yuck' this time?"

Deanna exhaled loudly as she leaned back away from him and asked,

"Are you ever going to let me live that down?" He shook his head fiercely,

"Nope" he answered.

"I guess I deserve that," she admitted, "but I told you already, I panicked. And it seems that you've gotten over it somewhat." She looked at him coyly.

"Right again," he told her as he inched up to kiss her again. Their lips met as she wrapped her arms around him, pulling him ever that much closer to her. He reached his hands around her waist, feeling her warm skin beneath the thin fabric of her dress.

His com badge tweetered, breaking the mood entirely. His head snapped around to look at his uniform shirt draped over the chair. Deanna shook her head as she reached over and got hold of the cuff of his shirtsleeve. She flung it at him. It chimed again. he fumbled it around in his hands to find where his com badge was pinned, and then, with a more than annoyed expression, he thumped it, "Riker here."

"Commander," answered back the weak and exhausted voice of Lieutenant Pearson, "We've just picked up the first transmission from our probe. It came in just as we had predicted."

"I'm on my way," Riker answered her, pinching his communicator to close the frequency. He shook his head. "Duty calls," he told Deanna. She rolled her eyes at him, but knew it couldn't be helped. Will hastily threw his shirt back on as he stood up from where he had been. He reached down and took Deanna by both of her hands and pulled her into a standing position. He kissed her deeply and passionately. She could feel her toes curling around the carpet as he did. "Hold that thought," he whispered in her ear as the kiss broke. She nodded her head and smiled at him as he darted out the door.

Commander Riker ambled in the door to the conference lounge to find Data, Geordi, and the Captain sitting in their usual chairs. Lieutenant Pearson was standing beside the viewer staring very intently at the picture on it.

"Ah, number one," the Captain signaled Riker 's arrival. Will plopped himself down in the chair just to the Captain's left and turned his attention to the screen. Data took the cue and began to speak.

"It seem as though our hypothesis was correct. The phenomena we are now encountering is unlike any which the Federation has encountered to date." He rose form his seat and crossed to the viewer from which Lieutenant Pearson had yet to let her focus wane. "It is," Data paused and turned back to the Captain, "quite unique."

"It's not a finite area, sir," Lieutenant Pearson began, "it's like we said before, the best thing to compare it to is a balloon. The... phenomena has a single, funnel-like opening, it's how the probes got in and how the signals are eventually getting out."

"Our hypothesis was correct about the signals as well," Data interjected, "The signals from the probe seem to have 'bounced' off of different points in the sphere before reaching the opening and becoming detectable by the Enterprise sensors."

"So what you're saying," surmised the Captain, "Is that this is most definitely not a black hole. This is an unknown, stationary phenomena that has effectively swallowed two Federation probes."

"That is correct sir," Data affirmed.

"What we can't seem to understand, sir," Pearson injected, "is how two probes can be right under our noses, one of which is certainly transmitting, at a very high resolution rate might I add, and if it hadn't been for the fact that we launched one of them, we might never know it." The Captain nodded,

"Mmh," he began, "Mr. LaForge, would the data collectors on board these probes hold any more information as to the nature of this anomaly?"

"Sure," Geordi affirmed, "if we could get to them. But like the Lieutenant said, we can't even sense the probes, much less guide them from out here."

"What if," Commander Riker suggested, "What if we take a shuttle craft in there, with a science team, we could upload the data from probes and take some readings for ourselves, maybe help to unravel this mystery."

"That might not be the best idea, Commander" challenged Geordi, "We don't know enough about this thing to be sure how a shuttle craft would perform inside it. It would be a big risk." Commander Riker retorted,

"We know that first probe survived in there for over a year, there's no reason to think a shuttle craft would fare any worse."

"You have a point, number one," Captain Picard affirmed, rocking back and forth in his chair. He turned to Geordi, "Mr. LaForge, we have a type seven shuttle on board, do we not?"

"Yes sir," Geordi answered.

"The type seven shuttle has advanced navigational capabilities. If we were to bolster the communications systems aboard the shuttle, would it be possible to maintain communication with it once it's inside the anomaly?"

"There's no way to know, Captain," Geordi replied, "but I'd say it's worth a try."

"Very well then," Picard affirmed, "make it so." The crew nodded and began to push their chairs back form the table.

"Geordi, you'll let me know when you're finished." Commander Riker added as he stepped into the turbolift. Geordi nodded,

"Aye sir."

"Commander Riker," Lieutenant Pearson called just as the turbolift doors were about to shut. She darted into the turbolift beside him, "Permission to join you in the shuttlecraft, sir? It was my department that lost track of the probe to begin with, I feel responsible. I'd like to be part of the solution" Commander Riker cocked his head and grinned at her,

"First command assignment, Lieutenant?" he asked.

"Yes sir," she answered. He nodded,


"I beg your pardon?"

"The situation couldn't be helped. And you've obviously been more than vigilant in waiting for a signal to come in. But, if you feel responsible, "

"I do sir, I take full responsibility." Riker laughed out loud.

"Permission granted," he told her. She smiled at him, relieved.

"Thank you sir."

"Now get some sleep, Lieutenant," he ordered in a very official tone. She immediately straightened to attention, not knowing how to take the change in his demeanor.

"Yes sir," she answered as though she were answering one of her Academy examiners. Commander Riker laughed even harder.

In her quarters, Beverly Crusher was pacing. She stared intently at the parcel she had set on her table as she strode back and forth across her living room. She knew Deanna had been right. She knew that Wesley couldn't possibly object to her examining its contents after all this time. It had been three years. The case had remained untouched for so long, in fact, that it had actually collected dust; a feat not often accomplished even by the most sedentary objects aboard a starship. She walked over to it for what must have been the tenth time and reached for the clasps. She quickly withdrew her hands on second thought. She lay both her hands on top of the case, manipulating the dust that lay there. She quickly flipped open the clasps and threw back the top of the case.

"There now," she told herself, "that wasn't so bad- now was it." She bent down to better examine the contents of the case.

On the top, there was a stack of neatly folded sweaters. Beverly couldn't help but think that Wes must not have folded these himself. Underneath the sweaters were two books, copies of Shakespeare given to him by Captain Picard before he left for the Academy. And then she got to a pile of PADDs. Some of them were obviously for schoolwork, and one of them had an isolinear chip protruding from the side with a label that obviously belonged to a classroom text. She carefully removed these one at a time and laced them in a stack on one side of the case.

Then she came across a photo PADD. "Do I dare?" she thought. She shrugged her shoulders, "Oh why not," she said to herself. She sat down in a chair that was just to her left and punched the PADD to "on".


The main shuttle bay was bustling with activity when Lieutenant Pearson reported the next morning. She looked around and saw that Commander Riker wasn't there yet. She wasn't worried. She walked over to where Geordi was making some last minute adjustments to the shuttle.

"Everything ship-shape?" she asked him.

"As far as we can tell," he answered her, "I don't guess we'll know for sure how well any of this worked until after you guys are out there."

"I think you've got a point, " she agreed. She took a few steps over to the rear entrance of the shuttle craft to perform a sort of cursory inspection of her own. Amanda Pearson had never seen a type seven shuttle craft and she found the mammoth shuttle absolutely fascinating. She didn't have time for much exploration, though, Commander Riker chose that moment to make his entrance.

"Geordi," he called over the din of activity in the shuttle bay. "Everything in order."

"Yes, sir, "Geordi called back in reply, making his way toward the Commander. He handed Riker the PADD he had been examining. Riker just glanced at it, punched a key and handed it back.

"Good work," Riker told him. He then turned to Lieutenant Pearson and nodded, "all ready, lieutenant," he asked.

"Yes sir, absolutely sir," she answered with a huge smile. She couldn't help but think how exciting this was. She wanted to scramble into the shuttle and get a seat right up front where the action was, but she knew better than to act like an over-eager schoolgirl on a mission this potentially dangerous.

"Lieutenant, I'd like you in the co-pilots seat," Riker informed her. Her eyes popped wide open and she bit her lip.

"But I'm not rated for a type-seven shuttle, sir." she admitted. Riker cocked his head and flashed her his signature charming grin,

"You've got to learn sometime," he encouraged. Pearson just nodded,

"Aye sir." The science team clambered into the room at the end of this exchange. There were eight of them, the shuttle was of ample size to accommodate such a large compliment, but the amount of equipment they carried and dragged with them was staggering. The eight science officers did not even acknowledge the presence of the other crew members in the shuttle bay. They immediately swarmed the craft and began their own preparations. Riker shot them a curious glance as they did this and then turned back to Pearson,

"Well, it looks like we had ought to get aboard, Lieutenant, they might not remember to leave us any room." She chuckled a little as she replied,

"Yes sir." She began wading her way through the dense sea of science officers and equipment, to the co-pilot's seat at the front of the shuttle. Just as Commander Riker was preparing to so the same, the doors to the shuttles bay swished open yet again as in walked Captain Picard and Counselor Troi. Will stepped down off the aft ramp of the craft to greet the two new arrivals.

"Captain, Counselor," Riker addressed them Deanna smiled up at him, she always thought it was cute when he addressed her that way.

"Everything in order, number one?" the Captain queried. Riker nodded,

"We're about ready to launch now, sir," he answered.

"Good," Picard replied jovially, "Well then, I'll be on the bridge," he stated as he turned and walked out of the room. Deanna reached out and took Will's hand,

"You'll be careful," she said to him. He squeezed her hand and smiled warmly at her.

"I promise," he vowed. He glanced quickly around the room, and, once he was sure no one was looking, planted a tiny kiss on her cheek. "And I'll be back before you know it," he added before turning and walking back onto the shuttle.

Beverly Crusher awoke with a start. "Computer, time!" she called.

"The current time is 0846 star date 525..." The computer's female monotone answered her.

"That's enough." Beverly told the computer as she pulled herself out of her living room chair and began to work out her muscles, sore form sleeping in a strange position. She couldn't believe that she had been out there all night. She couldn't remember at what point in the evening that she had moved to the couch, but she was silently grateful for the decision, had she spent the night in the chair across the room, she'd be lucky to be moving at all. Beverly surveyed her surroundings. She was immersed in a sea of photo-PADDs that she had gotten from Wesley's things. She shook her head at the memory of the voracity of her snooping. After her tentative and reverent look at the contents of the first case, she had thrown herself into her exploration wholeheartedly. She looked down at her coffee table, to a photo that was still visible on a PADD she had not shut off. This was by far her favorite of the photos she had uncovered. Most of them had been of people she didn't recognize, and there had been a few of the now defunct Nova Squadron. But this picture... this was the first of several she found that suggested quite a mystery to her. It was of Wesley, and Amanda Pearson, both smiling playfully with their arms around each other, and they were both covered from head to toe with thick, brown mud. She had made a mental note to ask Lieutenant Pearson about this picture before she had even opened the second case.

Inside of the second case she had opened was a treasure trove of what must have been some of Wesley's most valuable items. There were medals for academic achievement, two engraved plaques from the Academy's Science Frontier fair, both heralding first place for his class. From the dates, Beverly could tell they were from his first two years at the Academy. And there were also various and sundry items contained in the case that Beverly thought had no discernable meaning. There were paper napkins with the Academy insignia on the corner and at least three different dates written on them. She found a button caked with mud, a short length of pale blue ribbon, several dried flowers, and several other odd and varied trinkets that must have held some great sentimental value for Wesley. And there was a holo. It was larger than normal, and Beverly had quite a time trying to figure out how to get the image to pop up. When she finally had, the image astonished her. It was of Wesley in his dress uniform, with his arm around Amanda Pearson. She was wearing a floor-length gown of the same color as the length of ribbon Beverly had uncovered just moments earlier. The two of them were beaming. There was a date at the bottom. This holo had been done sometime during the middle of Wes' second Sophomore year. Beverly had to admit to herself that he hadn't kept in touch with her so well during that time. His demotion had hit him hard, she knew that, and she had decided he needed to heal from it on his own. And subsequently, she knew very little of his life at the Academy after that. She realized now that she must have missed out on a few very crucial details. No wonder Lieutenant Pearson had acted so strangely around her. She had probably figured that Beverly would know exactly who she was. Beverly decided that she would need to iron that out later.

"What I need to iron out now," she said to herself, "are the wrinkles in my uniform." She wiped the sleep from her eyes and began to tug at the knots in her hair with her fingers. "Crusher to sickbay," she called into thin air, taping her com badge.

"Sickbay here," answered the voice of Alyssa Ogawa, "Everything alright, doctor?"

"Oh, yes," Beverly assured her, "I'll be in shortly."

"We've got it under control," Alyssa's voice sang back.

"Thank you,"

"Sickbay out." Beverly heard the familiar tweet of the com frequency closing as she ambled to her shower.

"If our sensors are correct we should be in visual range of the probe in just over thirty seconds, sir," called the unfamiliar voice of one of the science officers from the aft section of the shuttlecraft

"Thank you Ensign," Commander Riker called back to whoever it was that had given him the information. He looked to his right at the fidgeting Amanda Pearson. "Having fun yet Lieutenant?" he asked her. She bit her lip as she turned her head to look at him.

"Permission to tell you 'no' sir?" Riker laughed out loud at her reluctant honesty.

"What's not to love?" he asked her through his chuckles, "You're doing fine," he added when her facial expression had not changed.

"I just ... I could never get the hang of these things. I'd never even seen one until I got to the Academy."

"What rock were you hiding under before then?" he joked back at her. She cracked a smile at that,

"Very funny, Commander," she told him, "I'm from Tarra 6, only the sixth colony to leave Earth in the late twenty-first century. Because we were an Earth colony, we were always considered members of the Federation, but our society developed much more slowly than Earth. My sister and I were the first people from our planet to even go to Starfleet Academy." She turned to look ahead at the vastness of space that stretched in front of them. "I had never even been in space before I caught the Academy transport." Riker shook his head.

"Wow," he observed, "then getting assigned to the Enterprise was,"

"A lifelong dream come true, sir," she finished. "Commander, there it is!" she cried, pointing her finger out the front of the shuttle at a tiny speck in the distance. Commander Riker's fingers danced across the controls and the image of the probe, still several hundred kilometers in front of them, came into full focus on the large screen just behind him.

"Shuttlecraft to Enterprise," Will called, tapping the small communication panel to his left that Geordi had told him should narrow the signal well enough for their transmissions to reach the ship. It didn't take very long to figure out that it didn't work. Will moved over to the com panel and boosted the gain on the voice receptors, a last-ditch effort to get a signal through. "Shuttlecraft to Enterprise," he repeated urgently. there was still no answer. "Damn," he whispered to himself, just loud enough that Lieutenant Pearson could hear him. He got up from his seat and made his way to the rear of the small vessel. "Gentlemen, we have a problem," he informed the Science team. "None of the modifications to communications system are working like we counted on them to. We're unable to contact the Enterprise. How soon do you think we can have the data from the probes?"

"It will take several hours, sir," answered the senior science officer from a station to Riker's left, "But we'll get started right away." Riker nodded,

"Alright, Lieutenant Pearson and I will keep trying to establish communication with the Enterprise, meanwhile, do your best to upload that data quickly. The sooner we get it done, the sooner we can get the hell out of here." At least three members of the science team joined in a hearty,

"Yes sir," as Riker turned and went back to his post at the helm.

On the bridge of the Enterprise, the tension was so thick that it could have been stirred by the proverbial 'stick', or so surmised Data when Geordi pointed out the crew's intense state upon his arrival on the bridge. Data's experiments with slang usage, boosted by his emotion chip, did not always go well, but this particular one was right on target. Captain Picard was standing in front of his chair, too uptight to sit down. Counselor Troi had her eyes closed and was beating at the back of her neck with two fingers in a ritual known as "plexing" a pro-active way to alleviate ones self of tension. Even Data looked tense.

It had been nearly nine hours since the shuttle carrying Commander Riker, Lieutenant Pearson, and a science team had entered into what was now being openly referred to as "the balloon", and the Enterprise had not been able to raise them via subspace despite their best efforts.

"Sensors are detecting no change in the readings from the anomaly," Data assured them.

"Data," reminded Geordi, "Some of the signals we've gotten out of there have been bouncing around inside that thing for three years. The shuttle could have been torn to pieces and we might not ever know it."

Counselor Troi uttered an audible gasp at this prospect. She tried her best to center herself, to try and get a sense of Will. She had always been able to sense him more keenly than anyone else she knew, and she had been able to do so at a much greater distance that he was now. But when her mind reached out, she got nothing. She silently prayed that the disruptions from the anomaly were interfering with her empathic sense, rather than some more grim explanation of why she could get no sense of Will. Deanna was yanked form her introspection by the voice of Captain Picard,

"I cannot allow us to sit here and speculate on whether or not the shuttle is intact," he told them, "Mr. LaForge," he turned to Geordi, who was still just outside of the aft turbolift. "Did you or did you not say that transmissions 'bouncing' off the far side of the phenomena have been reaching us at a predictable rate?"

"Yes sir," Geordi affirmed.

"Good, and when is the next projected reception?"

"In approximately six to seven hours, sir," answered Data from his post at ops.

"Very well then," said the Captain, "Mr. Data, continue scanning for anything that could be a possible attempt at communication from Commander Riker. We just need confirmation that the shuttlecraft is still there. And if it is," he added, "we may just have to go in there and get it."


"Anything, Lieutenant?" asked an obviously frustrated Commander Riker.

"Nothing sir," answered Lieutenant Pearson, trying her best not to betray the fact that the rattled state of her commanding officer was making her nervous as hell. she prodded a lighted panel in front of her. "All shuttle systems are functioning normally, sir. And the science team reports that they are finishing with the upload of the probe we launched, and about to begin the attempt to upload the data from the original probe." Riker nodded.

"Good," he told her, "Then we can hurry up and get out of here. This place is giving me the creeps."

"I understand, sir," she added, "I just hope our communications system is working like the transmitters on the probes form in here."

"What do you mean?" he queried.

"Well, the signals- from the probes- they went out in whatever direction and finally out of this place entirely. If our com signals are doing the same thing, then at the very least, the Enterprise knows we made it in here alright."

"I hadn't even thought of that," Riker admitted, the fatigue showing in his eyes. "That makes me feel a little better."

"Mr. LaForge, I would feel better," offered the Captain, "if we knew for certain the nature of this phenomena before we decided to drive the ship headlong into it." The senior staff sat in their usual spots around the table in the observation lounge. They all seemed to be taking turns regarding the empty chair directly to the Captain's left. Counselor Troi, who looked as though she had not slept in days was wringing her hands. The Captain drummed his fingers hard against the table as he looked up at his chief engineer.

"I don't blame you, Captain," Geordi replied, "But there's really no way to know without the information contained on board those probes."

"Our preliminary sensor readings show that the shuttle did, in fact, successfully enter the anomaly." added Data "We received their first communication at exactly the predicted time."

"Mmh," punctuated the Captain, "Then I don't see any other choice. It's been almost twenty-four hours with no word form the shuttle crew. I'm just not comfortable with the assumption that everything's going smoothly for them. And after all, we are an exploration vessel." He turned toward Data, "Set course to intercept the shuttle."

"Aye sir." Data answered as the crew all got up from their seats and prepared to leave the conference room.

"And Geordi," the Captain called. Geordi turned to face him, "I want all available power diverted to the shields, we don't want to take any unnecessary risks." Geordi smiled and nodded,

"I'm already on it, Captain."

Engineering was a buzz with activity when Geordi stepped off the turbolift. He immediately shoved his way through a crowd of people at the systems display table. he wasn't certain what it was the group found so interesting, but he didn't really care much. He prodded at a series of lights on the panel in front of him and then swatted his com badge, "LaForge to bridge," he called.

"This is the bridge," Data's voice chimed back.

"We're as ready as we're gonna be down here," Geordi informed him. "We've tightened the bandwidth on the shield harmonics and increased the scanning capability of the communications grid. If we ever had a shot at communicating inside that thing, we have one now."

"I will inform the Captain," Data replied. The com frequency chirped closed. Geordi heard the familiar hum of the impulse engines powering up and knew that the captain must have given the order to enter the anomaly. Geordi couldn't remember the last time he had hoped so hard that he was right.

Sitting in his chair at command central, Captain Picard looked nervous. He had long since banished Counselor Troi to her quarters and ordered her to get some sleep before returning to duty. He now silently wished he had not done so. Her level head and reassuring presence would be a calming influence on him right now. Then again, he realized that her presence for the last several hours had been anything but calm. Still, the absence of an y significant number of his senior staff from the bridge was mentally challenging for Captain Picard. It made him feel somehow off-center, only adding to his trepidation as he watched, on the main viewer, the Enterprise creeping closer and closer to the mouth of the anomaly.

It was like the phenomena had just opened up and swallowed them. One minute, the opening seemed thousands of kilometers in front of them, the next, they were inside of it. In fact, it was only their sensors that told them that. The sensors, that is, and the visual of the shuttle craft Lexington and of the two probes they had so futilely been trying to monitor.

"Hail the shuttle craft," Picard ordered the young man at tactical.

"They're not responding, sir," the tactical officer told him.

"Broaden the frequency and try again," barked the Captain.

"Still no response, sir."

"Damn," Picard let slip from his lips. "Mr. Data, suggestions?"

"We could attempt to beam the two probes aboard the Enterprise and then open the door to the main shuttle bay. Commander Riker should," Data searched for the appropriate expression, "get the hint, sir." Picard nodded.

"Very well, Mr. Data, make it so," the Captain affirmed before adding, "I'll be in my ready room."

"Data to transporter room two," came over the ship's communications system. The chief on duty answered,

"Transporter room, Marquez here."

"Do we have a definite lock on the probes?" Data's voice asked.

"Absolutely sir," came the confident voice of the transporter officer. "We're ready to beam them aboard whenever you're ready."

"Very well," answered Data, "Energize". Data tapped his com badge again, "Bridge to cargo bay, are we in possession of the probes?" This time it was Geordi's voice that called back to him.

"LaForge here," he began, "that's an affirmative, Data, we've got them. I've got a team on the way to the main shuttle bay, to meet Commander Riker and the crew to explain what happened to the probes."

"Very well, Geordi," Data's voice sounded in reply, "Data out."

"Sir," called Lieutenant Pearson from her station, which she had not left for nearly twenty-four hours. Commander Riker took a break from his nervous fidgeting to acknowledge her,

"Yes Lieutenant?"

"Sir, Look!" all she could do was point out the window and take in the wondrous sight that met her eyes. The Enterprise herself was gliding a few hundred meters above them. She came to rest a thousand or so meters in front of the shuttle, and Commander Riker could see that the shuttle bay door was wide open.

"That would explain why the two probes just vanished," commented one of the science team from the rear of the shuttle. Pearson nodded in agreement.

"They must have beamed them aboard," she affirmed.

"Right," Riker agreed, "and it appears," he continued, regarding the open bay door, "that they have left the light on for us. Let's go home." He addressed that last comment to the visibly exhausted Lieutenant Pearson. She couldn't help but yawn as she answered with,

"Aye-aye sir."

Aboard the Enterprise, things were being tended to. A team of engineers had been waiting for the shuttle to land, both to explain that disappearance of the probes was just as the shuttle crew had surmised, and to try and figure out why their prolific modifications to the com system still had not been enough to facilitate communication in and out of the anomaly. The science team had practically broken into a run heading for the cargo bay to continue their work with the probes, and Lieutenant Pearson had elected to go with them, even after Commander Riker had insisted she go and get some sleep.

Sleep. That was exactly what Will Riker intended to do. The ship was being taken care of, the mission was almost accomplished, he had just successfully piloted a shuttle into - and almost out of a previously un-encountered phenomenon. But more importantly, he was absolutely drained. Every muscle in his body ached, and it hurt his eyes to keep them open. He took each step toward his quarters with a relish usually reserved for special occasions. He almost let out a cry when he finally reached his door, which opened obediently to allow him passage.

He didn't even bother with the lights. He stumbled into his cabin and immediately leaned against the doorframe, tearing his boots form his aching feet. He managed to take two steps toward the bedroom before his uniform shirt found its way to the floor. he released the clasp at the top of his trousers and had negotiated his way into his bedroom, all the while walking right out of his uniform. Now clad only in boxers and socks, he looked down at his very own, warm, inviting bed.

And he noticed that it was occupied. He smiled down at Deanna's sleeping form. He could tell by her breathing that she was in a very deep sleep. No doubt she'd not slept well since his departure. Neither one of them was accustomed to sleeping alone anymore, which also was to account for his complete inability to catch so much as a nap while aboard the shuttle. He sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, slowly peeling his socks off one at a time. He had thought briefly about a shower, but now decided that the sound of running water might wake Deanna, and he would rather shoot himself than do that right now. He carefully spun himself around and placed his weary head on the pillow. He spooned himself up behind Deanna, inhaling deeply the scent of her. He lovingly draped his right arm over her side. To his surprise, he felt her grab his arm with both hands. She wrapped both of her arms around his and snuggled in closer to him.

"Will," she whispered.

"Imzadi," he whispered in reply, knowing that she wasn't really awake. He closed his eyes for what was to be one of the best nights' sleep that Will Riker had ever gotten.

By the time Commander Riker made it to the bridge the next morning, the ship was at yellow alert and he wasn't the least bit happy about it. "Report," he requested/demanded of whomever chose to reply. It was Lieutenant Pearson who spoke up first,

"Commander, we've so far been unable to escape the anomaly," she told him, betraying her nervousness with every syllable.

"What?" he asked, a little more pointedly than he had intended.

"It's like we said to begin with," she clarified, "The opening to this thing is... it's like a funnel- you know- smaller on this side than on that side. Translation, it's easier to get in -than out. But," she added quickly, "It's not a finite size. It's pliable, just like the rest of the surface area of this," she rolled her eyes a little, "anomaly. Geordi's working on ways we might could... stretch it a little bit to allow for our escape." Riker nodded. He looked up at the main viewer and back at the young Lieutenant.

"Lieutenant Pearson," he asked, "Why can't we see the opening right now?" She swallowed hard, she hadn't been looking forward to explaining this one.

"Well, sir," she began, unsure of herself, "When we made our initial attempt at leaving, and didn't fit through the opening, we," she took a deep breath, "well, sir, we bounced off of it, and before we even knew what was happening, we were halfway across the expanse of this place. But don't worry," she assured him, "we should be in range for another attempt within the hour, and Engineering should have some suggestions by then on how to get us out of here." Riker took two steps toward the Captain's ready room.

"You'll keep me informed." He shot to Lieutenant Pearson.

"Yes sir." she assured him as the ready room doors opened and Riker passed through them.


"We're moving into position now, Captain," the voice of the Ensign at the helm could be heard over the com link in the observation lounge. The senior staff, along with Lieutenants Pearson and Dalmm sat tensely around the table deep in thought.

"Very well, Ensign," called the Captain into the air, "hold this position."

"Aye sir." The frequency closed and the Captain sat for a few seconds in silence, shaking his head. Commander Riker decided to take the cue,

"Geordi," he began, "have you figured a way to get us out of here?" Geordi nodded,

"I think so, Commander." Geordi rose from his seat, " The gravitational structure of this anomaly is unlike anything we've ever encountered, but from what we've been able to gather from analyzing the data collected by our probe, and the one launched four years ago, it looks like a high-level Tachyon burst should do it."

"How long until we could try it, Mr. LaForge," asked the Captain.

"At the most, thirty minutes," Geordi informed him.

"Very well, make it so," the Captain instructed, rising from his seat.

"Geordi," Lieutenant Pearson called after him, "Could you use any help down there?"

"Always, Lieutenant," he replied with a smile as the tow of them stepped onto the turbolift and Geordi ordered it to "Engineering".

"Captain, we're all ready down here," Geordi said, directly into his com badge to try and filter out the profuse background noise in engineering.

"Very good, Mr. La Forge," the Captain's voice called back. Geordi kept the frequency open in order to remain aware of what was happening on the bridge. He heard Picard tell the helmsman to, "be prepared to reverse engines in the however unlikely even that we bounce off that thing again,"

"Aye sir," came back the quiet and tentative voice of the helmsman.

"firing Tachyon burst now," announced the tactical officer. The entire ship felt the tiny shudder of the burst being fired. Geordi heard the engines power up as Captain Picard ordered,

"Helm, engage." The ship moved quickly and certainly toward the opening to no avail. Again, the ship 'bounced' off of the too small, pliable gate to the phenomenon. This time, however, they were ready for such an occurrence. Captain Picard quickly ordered the helm, "full reverse!"

"Reversing now sir," Geordi could barely hear over the ever-increasing din in engineering.

"Engineering, report!" came much louder from Commander Riker and was much more audible.

"LaForge here," Geordi answered, "Commander, we're out of ideas down here." he admitted. Then Lieutenant Dalmm piped up,

"Actually, sir, if I may,"

"Please Lieutenant," The Vulcan spoke louder,

"Captain, I recommend firing a volley of photon torpedoes into the area directly surrounding the opening."

"You mean, blow it wide open?" queried Commander Riker over the open frequency.

"Yes sir," was all Lieutenant Dalmm said by way of an answer.

"Commander," injected Geordi. "I don't see what it could hurt."

"Geordi," Lieutenant Pearson interrupted.

"Yes, Amanda,"

"What it could hurt- is if the torpedoes bounce off the outside of this thing like we did -before they explode, and come back to hit the ship?" Lieutenant Dalmm countered her,

"We would keep the phasers trained on the torpedoes at all times, of course," he insisted, "that way we could blow them up ourselves if it got too dangerous. And we would also have calculated to the nearest microsecond when the torpedoes would reach the target so that we could time their detonation."

"How long would it take to calculate the detonation time?" quizzed the Captain.

"I have already done so," Dalmm responded in his usual Vulcan monotone. "It would only take me a minute or so to input the data into the torpedoes."

"I don't see where we have much choice," Riker observed.

"Alright," conceded the Captain, "Make it so." Lieutenant Dalmm quickly stepped over to the systems display table and entered his instructions. He hit his com badge and announced,

"Dalmm to bridge. The torpedoes are ready , sir."

"Tactical," called the Captain, "target the opening of this thing and fire when ready." The signature 'swoosh' noise of firing torpedoes met the ears of the tense and chatty group in engineering. And a hush fell over them. Lieutenant Pearson closed her eyes and held her breath, waiting to hear news that it had worked. the explosions sounded, but no one still dared make a sound. It seemed like minutes had passed before anyone broke the silence, and the first sounds the crew heard were not encouraging.

"Captain," it was commander Data's voice coming over the frequency, "I believe we have a problem."

The red alert claxon sounded fear into the minds of the frantic crewmen in Engineering. "What do you mean, 'collapsing?" Lieutenant Pearson hollered over the noise. Geordi poked and prodded at the systems display table as Data's voice continued to rise above the din,

"Our torpedo fire seems to have had an unexpected effect,"

"You can say that again," Geordi qualified,

"Our torpedo fire seems to have had an unexpected effect," Data repeated, Geordi just shook his head as he continued to concentrate on his task. Data continued, "When our torpedoes detonated, they created a series of small perforations along the opening, causing the phenomena to become unstable. It is imploding." Lieutenant Dalmm had his head cocked to the side and a faraway look in his eyes, as though he were struggling to fully understand the situation.

"The balloon sprung a leak," Pearson helped. Dalmm just nodded at her, still unmoving.

"Engineering," Riker's voice called, "Any more bright ideas?"

"We could attempt a cold warp jump," Geordi suggested, "Maybe with that much power behind us, we could punch through one of the perforations."

"Pop the balloon," Data continued the metaphor.

"Alright, Geordi," affirmed Riker, "Do it." Geordi scrambled around from station to station, inputting instructions and seeing to it that the ship's navigational shields and inertial dampers were sturdy enough to withstand a cold warp jump.

"Lieutenant Pearson," Geordi addressed, "You'll monitor the stress on the warp core, if it gets above eighty-five, we'll have to shut down." Pearson nodded as she went around to the head of the systems display table,

"Yes sir."

"Okay, we're ready, let's do it," Geordi called into thin air. The crew in engineering heard the Captain's voice next,

"Helm warp five, engage,"

"Aye sir" answered the helm officer. The warp engines roared to life. And nothing happened.

"Geordi what's going on down there?" yelled Commander Riker over the still unsettling cacophony of the red alert claxon.

"I'm not sure, Commander," Geordi answered.

"Commander," offered Lieutenant Pearson, "It seems as though the unusual gravitational properties of this place are affecting our ability to establish a warp field,"

"Bridge, did you hear that?" Geordi asked.

"Yes, Mr. LaForge," the Captain replied, "the question is, can you fix it?"

"I'm not sure yet, Captain," Geordi admitted.

"Mr. Data," Picard called, "how long until this thing destroys us?"

"At its current rate of implosion," Data's unaffected monotone replied, "It will overtake the Enterprise in approximately seven minutes."

"Geordi, get us out of here!" ordered Commander Riker forcefully.

"Commander, we're trying," assured a frantic Geordi. "But Pearson's right, the gravitational disruptions in here won't let us establish a warp field. And the impulse engines are off-line. I'm re-routing power to try and get us impulse engines, but I'm willing to entertain any suggestions."

"Transporter room two to bridge," interrupted a strange voice.

"Go ahead, transporter room," Riker called.

"Sir, I'm picking up an incoming transport."

"What?" quizzed a confused Riker.

"Yes sir, two individuals, humanoid. I haven't even touched the controls, but the system says they're beaming aboard, and they're using our transporters." Geordi wrinkled his brow.

"Ships' sensors are reading two signals materializing in the engineering section," Data confirmed.

"Security to Engineering!" Riker yelled. Geordi spun around in response to the telltale sound of a transporter signal materializing just to the near side of the dilithium chamber.

"Security, cancel that order!" called a very relieved sounding Geordi as he sighed in recognition of the two individuals who had just beamed aboard. The two men raced to stations on and around the dilithium chamber. The crew could hear the engines powering up, and were jolted from where they stood as the inertial dampers caught up to the ship's sudden movement. everyone in engineering was dumbstruck as Data's voice came over the intercom confirming what they had all suspected.

"We are clear of the phenomena."

"Well done, Mr. LaForge," congratulated the Captain. A smiling Geordi called out,

"Thank you , Captain, but I can't take credit for it. We had a little help down here." The two men who had just beamed aboard strode happily into the main area of engineering to see the crew still trying to catch their breath. Lieutenant Pearson was staring straight ahead, pale as a ghost. Geordi turned to her just in time to see her faint dead away.


Amanda Pearson awoke with a start. She sat up quickly to survey her surroundings. Her eyes needed only one lap around the room to know she was in sickbay. But she could only vaguely guess why she was there. her head was still light, and she felt a little dizzy. She must have fainted, she surmised. It was, after all, a safe assumption. She had just seen a ghost.

Dr. Crusher, who had noticed Amanda sitting up on the biobed, quickly went to her. Amanda looked up into her eyes with a confused expression on her face. "You fainted," Beverly confirmed. Amanda just nodded as she searched for words, only ot find that her powers of speech had not fully returned to her.

"I thought... I mean... I... I saw..."

"Wesley," Dr. Crusher finished for her. Amanda nodded slightly in reply. "I know, he told me." Beverly finished. Amanda was still nodding, looking for the words to say what she wanted,

"But he's..."

"Still in engineering," the doctor informed her. "Do you want me to..."

"Dead!" Amanda blurted out, interrupting the doctor.

"What?" Beverly exclaimed. Amanda was still nodding.

"He's dead... Wesley's dead. Since... four years ago," she began to shake, her eyes filled with tears, and Beverly was afraid the girl was going to hyperventilate as she continued, "since Dorvan V. We... had... a -memorial, and I packed up his things. And... and he's dead." Amanda tried to get her breathing under control as Beverly began to shake her head.

"Where... did you hear that?" Beverly quizzed. Amanda, now slightly more composed, answered.

"From Admiral Brand. She... called me into her office. And she told me that you had said that,"

"Oh," Beverly interrupted, her eyes growing wide. "do you mean Admiral Brand thought that what I had told her was that Wesley had..." Amanda was nodding more convincingly as the doctor posed her question. Beverly didn't feel the need to finish her sentence, she instead punctuated her sentiments with another pronounced, "Oh." Beverly bit her lip as she looked down at the rattled, weeping, and obviously very confused young woman sitting indian-style on the biobed. "How do I explain this?" she asked herself, slightly out loud. She sat down and took Amanda by the hands. "Amanda, " Beverly began, smiling, "Wesley was never dead. The Admiral must have misunderstood what it was I told her. "Wesley didn't die, he really left us to go and explore other plains of existence. He's been studying with the man he came aboard with. He's a traveler from Tau-Alpha C. I can't believe..." Beverly smiled heartily at her. "He's fine," she assured the young Lieutenant, who had switched from nodding to shaking her head slowly. "And he wants to see you," Beverly finished.

Amanda hopped off of the biobed and began to back slowly toward the door. She had a very sour expression on her face and was still trembling. She didn't look up at Beverly as she said, "Not... right now... no." She felt her shoulder make slight contact with the doorframe and she heard the doors behind her swish open. She turned on her heel and got out the door as fast as she possibly could.

"They thought I was dead?" Wesley quizzed. His mother almost laughed out loud at his reaction.

"Mm-hmm," she answered, taking a bite of the fruit on her plate, "Even your service record says 'deceased." Wesley did laugh out loud at that.

"No wonder she fainted," he qualified, sipping the drink in his hand. "I'd faint too if I thought I'd just seen a ghost." Wes leaned back in his chair and looked around a bit. There were many things on the Enterprise-E that were very different from those he'd known on the Enterprise-D and the ten-forward lounge was certainly one of those. He shook his head, "And you really think she doesn't want to see me?"

"I'm sure she doesn't," his mother answered, " not right now, at least. You should've seen how fast she bolted when I mentioned that you wanted to see her." Wesley slouched his shoulders and frowned, managing to look very defeated in the process. Beverly, in an effort to console her son, offered, "She's got a lot to process, Wesley. Think about it. What if the tables were turned? What if you had spent the last four years under the impression that she was dead and then one day she just showed up on your doorstep one day out of- literally- thin air?"

"Yeah, I guess," Wesley reluctantly agreed. he looked up at his mother, "This was not what I pictured as the next time I got to see her," he admitted sullenly. Beverly finally got up the gumption to ask a question that had been brewing in her mind for days,

"Wesley," she questioned, "how come I never knew anything about his girl? Why in did you never so much as mention her to me?" Wes shrugged his shoulders,

"I guess I always just figured you knew, " he told her, "Amanda was always the one who sent your birthday presents, I mean, I don't guess I thought you could possibly not know. I figured she would have signed the cards, and you would have put two and two together."

"But," Beverly challenged, "Didn't you find it odd that I never asked about her?"

"We always had other things to talk about, when we got to talk at all. And I'm sure I told you she was coming with me the last trip I made to the Enterprise-D. I'm sure of it, because I told you we would need separate quarters."

"You never mentioned she was supposed to have come with you. In fact, I never even knew she existed until she was transferred here. And it wasn't until a day or two ago, when I came across her picture in your things, that I knew you two had been a couple." Wesley bit his lip.

"I bet that freaked her out," he suggested.

"Well, she certainly did act strangely the first few days she was aboard. That would certainly explain it, she expected people here to know who she was, and nobody did. She probably feels pretty upset by that."

"No wonder she won't talk to me," Wesley observed. "I just hope she changes her mind before I have to leave. I couldn't stand to leave things like this between us." Beverly nodded,

"We'll just have to wait and see," she told him. He nodded, his eyes still downcast.

Only providence could have planned the next moment better. Lieutenant Pearson had been stopped in the turbolift as she tried to return to her department after her brief stint in sickbay. Ensigns Carson and Garner insisted upon giving her a full report of the department's activities in her absence. And they insisted upon doing so during what Amanda supposed would be the short trip to deck two. When the doors swished open, the Ensigns were still chattering about performance standards and recommendations, one of which was that we simply do not drive the ship into any similar phenomena in the future. Amanda was only peripherally aware that the three were on deck ten as the two junior officers practically dragged her down the hallway. They reached the Ensigns intended destination and they kept chattering. Amanda almost protested, she was in no mood to be in ten-forward at this moment, but she could think of no plausible excuse to leave.

Suddenly, she didn't need one. She looked straight ahead, and there he was, sitting directly before her, his back to her, unaware of hr very presence. For a second she thought she was going to faint again. But she couldn't let herself faint. Beverly had caught sight of her and was about to acknowledge her presence when she decided just to turn tail and run.

Wesley caught just a fleeting glimpse of her as she darted out of the room. He put his face in his hands and shook his head fiercely. It was at that moment that Guinan decided it was time to intervene. "Wesley, " she addressed him as she slowly moved to his side, "I've told you this before," he looked up at her, "just because a young lady runs out of a room doesn't mean she doesn't want to be followed." Wesley smiled, remembering the first time Guinan had shared this particular gem of advice with him. That particular incident hadn't ended particularly well, he remembered (what, with the girl turning into a big scary beast just minutes later). He hoped this time the end result would be a little better. He stood up from his seat.

"Thanks Guinan," he told her. He started to go, and then turned back to where his mother was sitting. She rolled her eyes.

"GO!" she insisted. Wes smiled and nodded before turning and dashing out the door.

Amanda walked back into her day room, having just changed into civilian clothes, and found Wesley standing just inside of her door. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked at him for the first time in nearly four years. She tried her best to steady her voice as she coolly asked him, "What, you can walk through walls now?" Wesley looked very uncomfortable looking for what to say back to her. He decided on the truth,

"You, um, forgot to lock it," he answered her sheepishly. she took a few steps forward to be directly in front of him.

"I shall have to remember to do that." She looked up into his eyes as a single, defiant tear made its way down her cheek. He reached out both of his hands to touch her shoulders. She angrily pulled away, "Don't touch me!" she exclaimed, the sobs she had been fighting for hours finally finding their way to the surface. He stepped forward and pulled her into his embrace. "Don't touch me," she protested again, this time barely above a whisper. He didn't listen. He just held her, his own tears now beginning to fall. For what could have been an hour he held her there; whispering words of comfort to her, and planting soft kisses on the top of her head.

When her sobs finally subsided, she stiffly pulled away from him. She looked into his eyes again and was surprised to see that he's been crying as well. In all the years they had been together, she had never seen him cry. They stood there, silently, staring at each other. Neither one of them could think of what to say next. Wesley finally gambled on breaking the silence and said simply, "I love you." She quickly turned her back and took three steps away from him as she exclaimed,

"Don't say that!" That was not at all the reply he had expected, all he could think to say back was,

"Why not?" She turned to face him as she repeated,

"Why not?" He nodded. Wesley wasn't sure if he had ever been so confused in his entire life. "Where do I begin?" she wondered, beginning to pace. Wesley braced himself. He knew from experience that Amanda did some of her sharpest thinking while pacing. He walked over and sat himself in a chair directly behind where she had been standing. It didn't take her but a few more seconds to face him and begin, "How 'bout this one for starters, Wesley, how about, I came to the Enterprise thinking that it would be like some big homecoming. And do you know what I found Wesley? Do you?" Wesley dropped his eyes to look at the floor, "Look at me, dammit," she demanded. He looked back up at her, "I found that only one person here even had a clue that I existed, a clue that I had ever known you. You didn't even tell your MOTHER about us, Wesley! And how do you think that made me feel- huh? Well, I'll tell you, it felt like hell, Wesley! It hurt so much I couldn't stand it. It was like I'd lost you all over again. And I was so angry, I felt so betrayed. And then, oh you'll love this part, it's my favorite; I felt so guilty for being angry with you- because you were DEAD and couldn't have offered me an explanation even if there was one.

"Which brings me to my next point. I have spent the past four years hurting and crying and mourning over the man who was the love of my life. And now I find out that you're alive and well. You were not taken from me on some hostile planet in some far-off star system. No- you-walked-away-willingly." Wesley was sure it was his imagination, but he could have sworn he felt the temperature in the room drop as she punctuated her last sentence by taking several slow steps toward him. "And you didn't even have the guts to tell me you were leaving! You just let me go on, believing you were dead, so you could go off gallivanting through 'other plains of existence."

"You have every right to be mad," he admitted to her, standing up from his chair. "But can I at least try to explain?" Amanda was spent. She was overwrought as well as exhausted.

"Go ahead," she allowed, slumping down in the chair just opposite the one he had just occupied. He took a step and tried to gather his thoughts. he turned to her and began to speak.

"You can't know how miserable I was that whole last year at the Academy. You can't know, because when I was with you, I wasn't miserable. Being with you made me happier than I had ever been in my life. But the minute I was on my own I was in absolute agony. You've got to understand, I was raised on a starship, made an acting Ensign when I was fourteen. I'd lived under Starfleet discipline for literally my entire life, and it was suffocating me. You knew my grades dropped. Despite your best efforts, I was still on the verge of not being allowed to graduate. I just couldn't handle what that place was doing to me. And that stupid week-long Advisory conference that kept you from coming to the Enterprise with me was more than I could handle. I just cracked. And I didn't have you there to keep me together." He looked directly into her eyes, "You were the only thing keeping me together for a long time." He turned away from her again. "Once I had sent Admiral Brand my resignation, I felt like a ten-ton weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And the first thing I knew I had to do was explain it to you. I sent you that message before I even told my mom. I wasn't sure how you'd react, but you'd been so understanding- of everything, I guess I just figured you'd be okay. You were always so much stronger than me anyway.

"And I spent most of the rest of that trip down on the planet."

"On Dorvan V?" she clarified. He knelt down in front of her and met her gaze head on. he took her hands and answered,

"Yes. And while I was down there I had the most remarkable experience. I saw my father. And I started to feel batter about myself than I had in... I couldn't remember how long. After that, there was something different about me, only I didn't know it yet. I stopped time." He looked amazed as he said those words. He was smiling at her, and at the fact that she hadn't resisted his hand hold. She was staring very intently at him as he kept going. "There was this thing with the Cardassians, they were going to fire on the native people, and I shouted 'no' and they stopped. Time itself stopped. And that's when he traveler came to me."

"The traveler, the... the man that was with you?" she asked, still not letting go of his hands.

"Yes. He came to me and told me that I could come with him. That I could travel with him onto other planes of existence- where time, and space, and thought are indistinguishable from one another. And I couldn't pass that up. I felt like I was destined to do this, to be this. So I went. I barely had time to get my things together and we were gone. Amanda, my head was spinning. By the time I was thinking straight, and realized that I hadn't told you, I couldn't. It was impossible. And time- time moves differently in the places we've been. It certainly didn't seem like four years. If I had known... I mean..." He couldn't think of what to say next, "I've missed you." Amanda nodded her head and squeezed his hands.

"I've missed you too," she whispered, afraid she was about to tune up and cry again.

"And I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he added, "Could you ever forgive me?" She looked into his eyes and smiled warmly.

"I already have," managed to say as tears began to fall anew. He reached up and kissed her sweetly.

"I love you," he told her.

"I love you," she answered. She pulled back slightly and looked into his deep brown eyes, "And you kept your promise." He looked as though he wasn't sure what she was talking about, "In your message," she clarified, "You promised to explain everything just as soon as you saw me. I just don't guess either one of us figured on it taking four years." He smiled back at her as he pulled her to her feet and kissed her again. "Besides," she whispered to him, "I have wished every day since the last day we were together, that I could just see you one more time." He reached up and wiped a stray tear from her cheek, "And I'm not about to deny myself my wish coming true because of a misunderstanding."

"You always were too good for me," he confided, pulling her a little closer.


Will Riker looked at his chronometer again. He wrinkled his brow and cocked his head to one side, "Where could she be?" he said to himself, and then a little louder "Computer, locate Counselor Troi."

"I'm right here," she told him with a laugh, walking through the door.

"I wasn't sure you were coming," he teased.

"Like you've never been five minutes late," she chided, "In fact, we had a date on Risa that you still haven't arrived for."

"Deanna, that wasn't nice," he told her as a hurt look crossed his face.

"It wasn't supposed to be," she sighed in reply. She crossed to a chair and sat down. She leaned forward and folded her hands in her lap as she looked up at him.. She looked very serious. Will had always hated it when she got like this, but he figured he'd better let her get whatever she needed to off of her chest. He walked over and took a seat directly across from her.

"Something bothering you, Deanna? he asked. She nodded.

"I've just come from talking to Beverly," she began. "Did you know that there was a misunderstanding at the Academy when Wesley left?" Will shook his head. Deanna continued, "Everyone at the Academy thought he was dead, Will. It's in his service record, and everything. Beverly's trying to get everything straightened out, but..."

"That's incredible," Will interrupted, "Why didn't any of us ever catch it?"

"The best I can figure, " she surmised, "is that, once Wes had left, none of us thought to look at his records. But that's not really what I wanted to talk about." He leaned forward in his chair. She began to wring her hands, Will couldn't help but think that this couldn't be a good sign. "You know Wesley and Lieutenant Pearson," Will caught her drift immediately.

"Oh God," he said. Deanna nodded.

"Yes," she continued, " Beverly said that Amanda passed out right in the middle of engineering when she saw him."

"I don't blame her," Will added, "I can't begin to imagine what that must be like for her." Deanna looked him square in the eye and, as matter-of-factly as she could said,

"I can." Will smiled at her,

"You're the empath," he reminded her. She shook her head, not allowing his levity to lighten the moment,

"It's more than that," she told him. If her features could have gotten any more serious, they did. "Will," she took a deep and shaky breath, "What if you had never come off of Nervala IV? What if 'Tom' had never been created, and you were left there and presumed dead?" Will leaned back and ran his fingers through his hair, this was certainly not the conversation he was expecting. "That would have killed me, Will," she admitted, "I don't know how I would have survived. I probably would have quit Starfleet and gone running home to mother."

"Deanna-" he began.

"No-" she implored, "Please, let me finish." He nodded. This was obviously very important to her and he was determined to hear her out no matter how unpleasant the conversation was for him. If there was one thought he found more unsettling than that of his double, it was that of his own mortality.

"And then, years later, to have you appear, alive and well- literally- out of thin air. And to find out that you had chosen to be where you had been. That you had chosen to leave me. Will, I can completely understand how Lieutenant Pearson is feeling, and it scares me to death. This..." her hands made a circling gesture in the air between them, "This thing that's happening between us scares me to death. I need to know," she hunted for the right words, "What this is to you." Will exhaled loudly and then stood up from his seat. "I'm sorry to do this to you, really," she told him, "But I have to know." Somehow, as she was speaking, Will had left the room without her notice. She shivered a little. He was shielding his emotions from her with all the force of his will, so that, no matter how hard she tried, she could not sense him.

He came back into the room after what was barely a second. His eyes were red, she noticed, and he seemed unsteady on his feet. "Deanna," he began with a shaky voice, "I don't know what to say..." He walked around and looked her in the eye, "I thought you knew." he shook his head, "I guess it's my fault," he admitted, "I've gotten so used to your knowing how I feel, sometimes even before I do." He looked down at the floor and continued, "I feel like a real ass for not making sure you knew- right from the first. I don't know, I guess it was just because of all the interruptions and everything else we've had to deal with...." He came over and pulled her to her feet. He held her squarely by the shoulders and looked directly in her eyes.

"Deanna, that day I came to you, in your office- I meant every word I said about wanting to correct every mistake I've made when it came to us. I was the blindest, most idiotic man in the entire universe, Deanna. I'd had happiness right in my hands, and I walked away from it. And for what? The truth is I don't even remember what it was that was so important that I dared to let it take me away from you. I was stupid. And I'm not going to let it happen again. I've got you back in my life again- back in my arms again. And I'm NOT going to be stupid about it this time. I want to be with you Deanna; now, today, every day, every minute, for the rest of my life. I want to love you the way I should have loved you for the last ten years. What this is to me, Deanna; is everything. Everything I've always wanted, everything I've ever needed, and everything I've ever been scared of. I'm just as scared as you are, Deanna, but, I love you, and that's more important." He could feel her chest welling up with tears and he pulled her gently into his embrace. She clung to him as if he were the only steady object in the swirling universe, and he held on just as tight.

"Imzadi," she whispered. He planted a soft kiss on the top of her head and replied,

"I understand."


Wesley's eyes fluttered open and he stretched himself out, relishing the softness of the thick quilt he had slept under for the second night in a row. He rolled over onto his side and his hand made contact with a damp towel on the bed next to him. He looked up at the door to the bathroom and could see Amanda pinning her hair back. He inhaled deeply,

"You still use that soap that smells like flowers," he observed. She chuckled and walked the few steps back into the bedroom to stand at the foot of the bed,

"And you," she began in a playfully accusing tone, crawling onto the bed and up to where she was perched on all fours directly over him, "Are still a bear to get up in the morning.": He smiled up at her,

"I guess some things never change," he told her, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her down so she was resting right on top if him. He kissed her deeply.

"No," she giggled when the kiss broke, "I guess some things never do." She planted another hasty kiss on his lips and then ordered him to, "now, get up," as she swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood back up. Wesley made a whining sound in the back of his throat and rolled over on the bed, pulling a pillow over his head.

"Wes-ley!" she called to him, making sure he could hear her through the pillow, "Was it not you that told your mother we would be at breakfast this morning?" He sat bolt upright.

"What time is it?" he asked her frantically.

"We're supposed to be there in about two minutes," she informed him. He wrinkled his brow and then looked as though he were deep in thought.

"Why don't you go ahead," he suggested," and I'll be right there. She hates it when people are late." Amanda chuckled a bit at that comment,

"It's a Starfleet thing," she reminded him. He nodded,

"Oh yeah, I forget," he teased, "but seriously, you should go ahead." She slouched her shoulders.

"I was kind of planning to hide behind you all morning," she admitted. "The idea of being alone with your mother is, somehow, not the most pleasant."

"Oh, come on, he goaded, she doesn't bite." Amanda picked up a stray pillow that had obviously spent the night on the floor and threw it at him.

"Alright, I'll go," she conceded, "But only for you." He shot her his most goofy, self-satisfied grin as he finally stood up.

"Thought so," he sang. She glowered at him, "I love you," he reminded her.

"You better," she affirmed, kissing him lightly before bolting out the door.

The entrance to Dr. Crusher's cabin swished open without warning, "Well, there went my hesitation at ringing the chime," Amanda thought silently.

"Oh, Lieutenant Pearson, called Beverly, who had obviously been buzzing around the table when the doors had opened, "Come in." Amanda complied as though it had been an order; taking one, pronounced step inside, moving just far enough as to allow the doors to shut behind her.

Beverly noticed the girl's obvious discomfort. She walked over and placed her hand on Amanda's shoulder. "Come in," she insisted, pushing the girl toward the table, "sit down, have a cup of coffee." Amanda tried her best to appear pleasant as she complied with the doctor's requests. Beverly poured them each a cup of coffee from the carafe that was already on the table. She handed Amanda a cup as she said, "I can't imagine what's keeping Wesley, he ought to be here by now. Amanda smiled,

"Oh, he'll be here in a few minutes. He is absolutely impossible to get out of bed in the morning." Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, Lieutenant Amanda Pearson realized that she had made what could have been the most critical error in judgement in the history of modern man. She guessed that their sleeping habits was not on the list of approved topics of conversation with Wesley's mother. In fact, she was almost certain of it. She braced herself for what was about to come.

Laughter. Amanda was sure of it. Dr. Crusher was laughing. "A very astute observation, Lieutenant," the doctor chortled, her coffee cup shaking in her hand. She leaned forward across the table, "You know, I always hoped that he'd grow out of that," she confessed. This time it was Amanda who laughed,

"At this point, Dr. Crusher, I've written it off as a lost cause." Beverly laughed out loud again.

"You're probably right," She agreed, "And please, call me Beverly."

"Alright, I will- Beverly," she replied, "And while we're on the subject, I have a name too, and it's not 'Lieutenant".

"Right," Beverly said softly, "I did start that didn't I? Amanda. I apologize."

"No apology necessary," Amanda told her, "I just have a feeling that we're going to be getting to know each other pretty well.

"I hope so," Beverly agreed, "I could just strangle Wesley for never introducing you to me before now."

"YOU could strangle him?" Amanda challenged. Beverly set both of her elbows on the table and looked up over her coffee cup,

"How about we take turns?" she offered. Amanda nodded,

"It's a deal," she told the doctor, who immediately extended her right arm across the table. Amanda extended hers as well and they sealed their pact with a firm handshake, after which they both exploded into what could only be described as raucous laughter.

It was in this condition that Wesley found them as he entered the room just moments later. They were so engrossed in laughter, in fact, that they didn't even notice his arrival. "Alright," he called, "Am I going to have to separate you two?"

"Not a chance," Amanda challenged, still laughing. Beverly stood up and closed the distance between herself and her son.

"Good morning, Wesley," she greeted him, kissing his cheek.

"Good morning, mom," he replied, returning the gesture. And to Amanda he said, "See, I told you I wouldn't be long."

"Well, I can never know with you, Wesley," Amanda informed him, "I mean, the last time you said you'd be back before I knew it, it took four years.

"Ouch," Wesley answered.

"She's got a point, Wesley," his mother added.

"Uh-oh," he observed, "I have the distinct feeling that I am about to be severely ganged up on." The two women just looked at one another and grinned. "At least I'm not dead anymore," he offered. Amanda closed her eyes and inhaled deeply before answering,

"Nope, you're most definitely not dead." Wesley could tell that he had just hit a very sore spot. He went to her and kissed her lightly on the temple. He then grabbed a chair from the side of the table and pulled it very close to her. He sat down and took her hand.

Beverly, having never seen Wesley kiss any woman other than herself, found this scene quite touching. But she still was plagued by curiosity. "Amanda," she began, returning to her seat, "Do you have any idea how that rumor got started?"

"Please, " Wesley implored, "You've got to tell me about my memorial service."

"I don't know much about the service, Wesley," she said, turning her head to face him, "except what Candy told me, and I really don't remember much of what was going on just then."

"You didn't go to my memorial service?" Wesley asked her, sounding hurt.

"No, Wesley," she answered him, "I didn't. I was... under sedation." Before either Crusher had a moment to react, she continued, "But as for the rumor,"she turned to face Beverly again," You started that one." Beverly looked puzzled. Amanda just nodded her head and kept talking, "Obviously when you told Admiral Brand why Wesley was unavailable to fill out his resignation paperwork, she thought 'moved on to a higher plane of existence' was a polite euphemism for death. We all did. I remember when she called me into her office," she turned and looked at Wesley, "It was the worst day of my life." Wesley could see that her eyes were glistening. He knew this had to be difficult for her to talk about. He squeezed her hand and she continued. "When I got back to the room, I didn't know which way was up. I remember I wanted to kick and scream and cry, but I couldn't do anything. I couldn't talk, I couldn't move. I'm still not sure how Candy found out, but it seemed like she was there in an instant. I stayed with her and Ashley for the rest of the semester. In fact, I only went back to our room one time: to pack your things up to send here." Beverly looked puzzled again.

"You two were rooming together?" she asked. "Isn't that against Academy policy?" Amanda giggled and elbowed Wesley lightly in his ribs,

"You want to take this one, sweetheart," she asked.

"Yes dear," he mocked her in reply. He turned back to his mother, "You see, mom," he began, "it really wasn't that difficult. I had roomed with Rino Aby since we were freshmen. He graduated on time, I didn't. Therefore, I was going to have to find a new roommate. Luckily, Amanda's sister, who had never before in her life had a bright idea, came up with the perfect solution. The two of them had roomed together since before they were born, but Candy had lots of friends. One of them, Ashley Haller, had a roommate who was trying to figure a way to room with her boyfriend, Jaren. So Candy had the idea that Jaren and I say we wanted to room together so that he could stay with his girlfriend, Ashley and Candy could share a room, and Amanda and I could be together, too."

"Brilliant," Beverly surmised.

"Candy sure thought so," Amanda added. "Not that it was anything like an original idea. Seniors had been doing it for as long as anyone could remember. The senior dorms are unsupervised, and they all have double beds. I think we were one of about a dozen or so couples who lived together that year." Beverly smiled.

"I guess that's what happens," she surmised, "when you turn a bunch of brilliant kids in love loose without supervision." Amanda and Wesley looked at one another and smiled.

"Mom," Wesley piped up, "You should've seen the fight she put up. I thought for a minute she didn't love me," he squeezed her hand lightly, "but it turns out that she had just never broken a rule before in her entire life."

"That is not true, Wesley Crusher," she protested, "and you know it! The night I met you, did we not break curfew? And did you not know exactly how to sneak back into the dorms without getting caught?

"Wesley," his mother chided," out breaking curfew on a first date?"

"Mom, it's not like it sounds," he challenged.

"I'm listening," Beverly encouraged. Wesley wiggled his finger at Amanda,

"You're getting me in trouble," he accused. She folded her hands in her lap and opened her eyes wide, as if to say 'who-me?', playing the role of the perfect angel flawlessly. He leaned in to her ear and whispered, "Are you gonna help me out here?" She shook her head, but then conceded.

"It feels so good to be needed," she said to him, and then to Beverly she said,"It really wasn't like it sounds. It was a few weeks into sophomore year, that is my sophomore year- Wesley's 'second' sophomore year. We were both dragged to this awful party off-campus."

"It wasn't a bad party," Wesley interrupted, "I just didn't want to be there."

"Right," Amanda corrected herself, "you were still going through your 'bitter ad sullen' stage. And I , well, I was just not at all interested in parties."

"So we wound up sulking on the same couch," Wesley continues, "Amanda was the only person there who looked like they were having a worse time than I was."

"So," Amanda picked up the story again, "Wesley said that if we left together, then no one would try to stop us from leaving. They would just assume that he was trying to put the moves on me and that I was too naive to realize it. So we just got up and left."

"And we spent the whole rest of the night talking," Wes recalled.

"Literally the sun was about to come up when I finally got back to my room. My sister was very impressed. She used to stay out all night a lot."

"She was kind of wild, wasn't she?" Wesley asked.

"That's putting it very mildly. Come on Wesley, don't you remember the adoration you got for dating 'the other' Pearson twin?"

"You know, I never thought of you as 'the other' Pearson twin, even when you two were freshmen and I only knew Candy. I always thought of yo as the smart one."

"Really? Well, I never really thought of you as one of those hot-shot shuttle jockeys like you used to hang around with. I always figured you had ten times the sense of that bunch." Wesley brought her hand up and kissed it. "Thank you," she said.

"You're quite welcome." Wesley could see in her eyes that her brain was changing gears. Before he had a chance to ask what's up,

"Ooh!" burst form her lips.

"What?" Wesley exclaimed.

"Do you want to hear what Nick Locarno is up to now?"

"Nick Locarno," Beverly interrupted, "why does that name sound familiar?"

"You remember Nick Locarno, mom," Wes began to reply, Amanda cut him off by finishing,

"About yea-tall dark hair, enormous ego, and a talent for getting other cadets killed and himself expelled."

"Oh right," Beverly confirmed, "I remember him now. What ever did become of him?"

"He's piloting a cargo shuttle in the Borata system. He's put on about ninety kilos and has no friends."

"Wow," Wesley answered.

"That's pretty sad," Beverly observed.

"Serves him right," Amanda countered. "The way he acted he should have..." Amanda's healthy beginning of a tirade was interrupted by her com badge. Its telltale tweeter was followed by Captain Picard's voice ordering,

"Lieutenant Pearson to my ready room."

"Aye sir, on my way," Amanda called in response. She stood from her seat. "Guess I'll be going," she told Wesley and his mother. Beverly stood up and hugged her as she prepared to walk out the door.

"We're going to have to so this more often," the doctor insisted as the front doors to the cabin swished open.

"Absolutely," Amanda confirmed with a smile, giving her just enough time to blow a kiss to Wesley before the doors shut.


"Ah, Lieutenant," the unusually cheery voice of the Captain sounded as he Amanda Pearson stepped timidly through the doors to the ready room.

"You wanted to see me sir?"

"Yes," the Captain replied, smiling, "Come in, Lieutenant, sit down." Amanda nodded. She had never seen the Captain acting quite this pleasant, and was not quite sure what to make of it. She slowly walked over to the couch against the wall to her right and took a seat. She sat very straight, on the edge of the cushion, as though she were afraid that she would be ordered to stand at any moment. The Captain, who looked entirely at ease holding his cup of tea, got up from the chair behind his desk and came around to lean on its edge as he addressed her,

"I just got off subspace with Admiral Simms," he told her, "He was very impressed with your preliminary report. It seems Starfleet Science Command has had their own theories as to what happened to that probe launched years ago. They are very pleased that we have it on board." Amanda nodded,

"Glad to be of service, sir," was all she could think to say.

"Thanks to the efforts of your department, we now know of the existence of an entirely new gravitational phenomena. Science Command is convinced that it cannot be unique in the universe. With the data from the probe we retrieved, Starfleet should be able to recognize these phenomena in the future and avoid situations like the one we almost didn't get out of." Amanda nodded again. "Good work, Lieutenant," the Captain continued. "Commander Riker has recommended you for commendation, and Admiral Simms approved it."

"Thank you sir," Amanda squirmed in her seat, "I don't know what to say." The Captain, who was still smiling, stood up and walked toward her."

"Just say you'll be on holodeck two at fourteen hundred hours for the ceremony." Amanda stood to look him in the eye. She was grinning from ear to ear when she answered,

"Yes sir." She took a step to leave.

"Oh, and Lieutenant," the Captain called. She spun on her heel to face him, "Congratulations." He extended his hand to her. She eagerly shook his hand as she reiterated,

"Thank you sir."

The holodeck looked amazing. Amanda had never spent much time on a holodeck outside of training exercises at the Academy, and she was utterly enthralled by the way this one appeared to her now. It looked enormous; like a giant banquet hall -with amber walls and cut glass chandeliers that seemed to go on forever in all directions. There was music from a synthetic string section, all decked out in tuxedos, and several holo-waiters circling the room with various scrumptious hors-d'oeuvres. And there were people dancing. She wasn't sure how many of them were real and how many were holodeck-generated, but she didn't care. She was absolutely floored by the elegance and the reality of the whole thing. She spotted Commander Riker and Counselor Troi on the dance floor, and looked up at Wesley, who, she discovered, had been taking great delight in watching her amazement at the wonders of the holodeck.

"Could I talk you into a dance?" she asked, her voice sounding very hopeful. Wesley, who knew full well that she was aware that he hated to dance, knew she wouldn't have asked if it weren't very important to her. It was for that reason that he conceded.

"It's your party," he told her, leading her toward the floor where several couples were whirling each other around to the merry melodies played by the mock orchestra. Just as they were about to take their place among the waltzing couples, Wesley felt that he had been saved. The Captain's voice boomed loudly over the droning of the violins and the low roar of several intimate conversations.

"Ladies and Gentlemen,"Picard called. He was standing on the tiny platform that served as a stage for the string section, which had obediently disappeared after a whispered instruction from the captain. "We all know why we are here," he continued. "One of our fine new appointees has recently been instrumental in the discovery and exploration of an as before unknown gravitational phenomena. It is for that reason that she is being honored today. Starfleet Science Command has authorized me to present Lieutenant Amanda Pearson with the Science Star." The room erupted into applause as Amanda mad her way up to where the Captain was standing. She realized, suddenly, that she was blushing as the Captain pinned and enormous medal to her shoulder. She shook the Captain's hand and quickly retreated from the stage before anyone could demand her speak. Amanda Pearson had her hidden weaknesses, and speaking in front of a crowd was her most pronounced.

Commander Riker watched form the back of the room as Amanda descended the steps of the small stage and slowly made her way back to where Wesley was standing; wading through a sea of well-wishers and department colleagues eager to get a look at her medal close-up. Will looked down at Deanna, who was standing directly to his left, her arm threaded through his. She was beaming. She was always in her element when everyone around her was happy. When there was no negative emotion clouding her empathic sense, she was completely carefree. Will couldn't tell at first what her attention was focused on, she hadn't looked up at the stage even once. Finally, he came right out and asked,

"Deanna," he whispered, "What are you looking at?"

"Wesley," she answered, "Look at him, Will. He's absolutely ecstatic." Deanna looked up at Will, "He's so proud of her he can't see straight." Will nodded,

"It's amazing," he observed, "Three days ago she thought he was dead." Deanna gazed up into his blue eyes,

"They were apart for four years- and it's like they never missed a day. Love like that is an amazing thing." Will pulled her very close to him.

"Yes, it is," he affirmed. He bent down and began to kiss her softly. To his surprise, she pulled away from him. At first he thought it was just her attempt to keep up appearances in front of the crew, but when he stepped back and looked at her, he could tell instantly that she was concentrating very hard on something. He looked back on the direction of Wesley and Amanda and immediately knew what was the matter. The traveler had come, he was talking to them, and Amanda's face had fallen from an elated smile to a resigned stoic expression that was obviously a well-rehearsed veil for despair.

"They're leaving," Deanna whispered, so softly that Will wasn't sure if the comment was for his benefit, or just an affirmation of what she was sensing. Whichever it was, it was obviously correct. Will watched as the traveler, followed by Wesley and Amanda, who had not let go of one another, ambled through the arch and out the door.

"I could stay," Wesley offered, "for a while... I don't know, but I could..." Amanda shook her head. The transporter room was empty but for the three of them; the traveler was engrossed in inputting coordinates, and Wesley had pulled a now teary-eyed Amanda into a corner.

"No, Wesley, you can't," she countered. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. It was obviously breaking her heart, but she was sending him away.

"What..." He began to protest, but she put a finger to his lips and continued.

"This... this thing that you've become- it's amazing Wesley. It's what you were meant for. It has to be. There are things we're destined for that we don't plan on. And this... was just one of them. You know I always knew you were something special. And this... this- what you've become. It's more than anyone could hope for, could dream of in life, and it's yours. It's you, Wesley. And I am not going to be so selfish as to ask you to give it up for one minute to be with me. You're too important to me. You need to go and fulfill your destiny- out there. And I'll stay here and fulfill mine. I love you, Wesley. And the truth is, I wished every day when I thought you were dead for just one more day with you- so even days that are few and far between are better than I ever thought possible." She was fighting her tears so hard now that her chest was burning.

"I will come back," he promised her, "But I don't know how long I'll be. I'm always going to love you. But if you need to move on," he swallowed hard, "I'll understand." She nodded.

"I know you would," she told him, putting her arms around his waist and squeezing him tightly, "But I have everything I could ever want right here." He held her to him for a fleeting minute before the doors to the transporter room swished open. The two of them turned to see Dr. Crusher, Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, Data, and Geordi parading in. Wesley made his way around the room shaking hands to a chorus of

"Take care of yourself," and "hurry back soon." Once the last of the well-wishers had shaken his hand, Wesley stepped onto the transporter pad, taking his place beside the traveler, who had been there for just moments. Beverly crossed the room and put her arm around Amanda as the bluish sparkle overtook the two men on the pad; neither woman fighting their tears any longer.

A ringing sound, and they were gone. Beverly and Amanda turned to one another and hugged. Will planted a tiny kiss on Deanna's forehead. In what looked almost like a funeral procession, the cremates slowly filed out of the transported room. They proceeded down the corridor, and on with their lives.