Rating R (there may be some things that bother people in future chapters.
Consider yourself warned.)

A. N. This A. U. piece intersects with the normal timeline. The characters
in this timeline are different, and the product of my own twisted imagination.
Another note. Telepathic communication is in {***}. Regular spoken
communication in "__" marks. If it gets confusing let me know.

Disclaimer: Sorry Paramount. Had to be done.

Feedback: Duh!




Prologue: The Beginning

The Guardian of Forever. The protector of Time, and preserver of
humanity. Saving us not only from powers outside our reckoning, but from ourselves
as well.

More than Guardian, it is keeper, keeper of our stories. Stories of all
that we were, what we are, and what we might become.

Every soul that has passed through this earthly plain, no matter how
short, how long, how grand, or insignificant has a story to tell. And the
Guardian is keeper of all of them.

It holds these stories, these crystal shards of our lives, waiting to
share them with those who would ask. For only in the telling can the true power
of a story unfold.

The woman, who stood before the circular stone monument in the Terrain
year of 2368, was not unlike the others who came to the Guardian. Perhaps more
battered than most. Wounds puckered the silky fabric of both her body and
mind. Yet despite her beleaguered spirit, she came to the Guardian as others
did, looking for answers.

No matter their initial reason for being there, in the end, it was always
the same quest. The same eternal search for the answer to that all
encompassing question. Why?

Why are we here?
Why did it have to happen?
Why are the Gods so cruel?

But it is not the Guardian's purpose to answer. All it can do is tell
the stories. It is for those who see the stories to figure out why. For the
answer lies inside all of us.

It always has.

Chapter One: 2368

To see a world in a grain of sand
And Heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
William Blake
From Auguries of Innocence

Starfleet Intelligence officer, Deanna Troi stood in front of the
Guardian of Forever, and for the first time in years felt the presence of the Gods.

Standing on this paradox of a planet, hearing the eerie soul searing wind
howl in her ears, she was overcome with a sense of awe. Like most who found
themselves face to face with divinity, she also felt very insignificant.

She shifted her weight from foot to foot. For a moment, she imagined
herself beaming back to her ship, feeding random coordinates into the computer,
and high tailing it the hell out of there. In this fantasy, she would tell
Starfleet Intelligence to find someone else to assign to this freakish world.
She would refuse to go back and feel the humbling reverence that made her knees
want to buckle beneath her.

They would understand that, right?

No probably not.

She looked back the way she had come with longing. It suddenly struck
her that this was one of those rare moments in life when she could clearly see
the crossroads before her.

Behind her was the warm bed in her guest quarters, the sleeping
scientists stationed here, and the ever-present grief.

Before her was the hand of Destiny in physical form.

She absently ran her fingers along the inside of her wrist and up her
arm. Through the gossamer thin material of her nightshirt, she could feel the
three-centimeter long vertical scar that ran up her wrist. It was a comforting
gesture for her, in its own odd way.

Every time she touched the scar she once again felt the cold steel of the
Klingon dagger parting her flesh with deadly ease. The tickling sensation as
her warm blood ran from the wound and oozed a path around her wrist. The
image of the vivid red fluid dripping on the pristine white marble of the vanity.

She almost succeeded in taking her life that day. Despite her best
efforts, she survived. She made herself a promise after that, no matter what, she
would continue to live. To be witness for those who had passed beyond this
life. And part of that promise involved the Guardian.

Even now, she could feel its pull on her. The power radiating from the
stone vibrated through her booted feet and set her nerves on edge. Even the
howling wind seemed to be calling her name, melding with the screams of the long
dead that echoed in her head. As she looked at the Guardian, she knew she
could not leave. Whatever answers she sought they could only be found here.
She began to move slowly toward the monument.

She stopped when she felt a tingle of awareness through her empathic
senses. Though she was alone she knew exactly where the sensation was coming
from, the Guardian. It knew she was here, and was waiting for her request. But
what did she want? While she knew she sought answers, she did not yet know the

Than it suddenly struck her. The moment when her life began to feel
wrong. The day she became aware of how unjust the universe could be, and how
cruel life truly was.

"Show me the Romulan invasion of Betazed."

As she spoke, the winds grew in intensity whipping her hair fiercely
across her face. The power emanating from the Guardian increased, making her body
tingle, and the images of her life began to flash in the center.

As she watched the images, her own mind spewed forth memories she had
buried away long ago. Things best left forgotten. She wanted to look away,
wanted to lock the memories back where they belonged, but once it started there
was no way to turn it off. So, she watched, and relived the moment her life
fell apart.


{Little One, what are you doing?} Lwaxana's stern mental voice reached
her daughter's mind, and she froze awkwardly, with her hands grasping a branch
of the apple tree she was preparing to climb. Deanna could hear her mother's
multi-layered skirts swish as she moved across the garden. She let go of the
branch and turned to face Lwaxana's disapproving eyes.

{I was trying to help Mr. Whiskers down from the tree. He is stuck.}
Deanna repressed a tremble. She was afraid her mother would be angry.

{Dear if that accursed cat could get up that tree in the first place, I
am sure he can get back down again. Besides, you're wearing your new dress and
the ceremony starts in an hour. I will not have a Daughter of the Fifth
House appearing in public in rags,} Lwaxana said as she inspected Deanna's pink
dress for any sign of damage or dirt. When she was sure the dress was still
intact she took Deanna's hand. {Why don't we go back to the house and Mr. Homm
will make a snack for you before we go.}

{Yes mother,} Deanna relented with one last look at her cat sitting on
the thick branch above her head. Mr. Whiskers did look perfectly content to
stay up in the tree all day. He was complacently licking his white paw, and
purring softly. Still Deanna could not shake her disappointment; she really
wanted to climb that tree. Deep inside herself, deep enough that she hoped her
mother would not hear, she whispered; {Daddy would have let me climb the tree.}

Apparently, she did not bury the comment deep enough. Her mother whirled
around and faced her daughter, her expression such a complex mixture of
emotion that the nine-year-old could not even begin to decipher it.

Lwaxana knelt in the grass, her dress completely forgotten, and put her
hands on Deanna's shoulders. "Yes, he probably would have," Lwaxana spoke
aloud. Since Ian Troi's death, nearly two years ago, the two of them rarely
communicated vocally. The sound of her mother's seldom-used but rich voice,
comforted the younger Troi. "I wish he could be here to help you climb that tree
dear, but he's not, and I'm very sorry for that." They stayed like that for a
moment, holding each other's gaze. Deanna wishing she could wipe the grief off
her Mother's face, Lwaxana wishing she could do the same.

The elder Troi smiled, put one perfectly manicured finger on Deanna's
nose, and made a beeping sound. Despite the fact that Deanna considered herself
to old for such childish amusements, her mother's actions still made her

"Let's go get that snack," Lwaxana said as she stood up and took Deanna's
hand again. Deanna nodded, causing her blue-black curls to bounce around her
shoulders. The two of them made their way across the expansive gardens of
the Troi mansion. Deanna was watching a bee make lazy circles around the
Chameleon roses and hyacinth that her father had planted years ago, when her mother
broke her concentration.

"Little One, do you understand how important this ceremony is that we're
going to today?" The elder Troi looked at her daughter then answered her own
question. "It is a celebration of the great awakening, when the first of our
people came into their telepathic powers. That is when the Thirteen Houses
were formed. Each House can trace their lineage back to the first telepaths on
our planet. This ceremony is sacred for us. It is a time when we join our
minds together and experience harmony, and balance with each other, and all that
we are." Lwaxana glanced at her daughter, and when she was sure the girl was
still paying attention, she continued.

"It is hard to connect with one another in this way, and it takes a lot
out of us, but the experience is beautiful and well worth the difficulty. This
will be your first time participating in this ceremony, and I want you to
understand what it is all about." She stopped and faced Deanna. "Soon you will
begin your own awakening, you may already be feeling the first stirrings of it
and not even know it yet. You are a Daughter of the Fifth House, it is
important you understand your heritage. Do you understand?"

Deanna nodded quickly. {I think I do,} she said, reverting to telepathic
communication. She had spent several weeks listening to her instructors
describe the ceremony in vague terms. Though she understood the historical
significance of the ceremony, she still was not sure what the ceremony itself was
going to be like.

{Good, now let's go back to the house. We might have time for some hot
coco before we have to leave.}


Unknown to the people of Betazed, three cloaked Romulan ships were
preparing to enter their sector of space.

"We are approaching their security grid sub-commander."

Sub commander Nevic, straightened in his command chair on the *Krocton*.
"What is the status of their security grid?" he asked Tulk, his over-eager
operations officer.

"They are using a gravitic sensor net," Tulk turned to his commanding
officer with a ghost of a smile on his thin lips. "The technology is at least
ten years out of date."

'Just like the reports said,' Nevic thought. 'Like ripe papalla fruit
ready for the picking.' A slow satisfied smile spread across his angular

"Enter the codes to shut down the sensors," he commanded.

He watched as Tulk bent over his console, punching in the codes provided
by their informant. He could feel the anticipation twisting his gut. The
thrill of battle pounded against his ears with every beat of his heart.

"The sensor net has fallen." Tulk's voice, pitched higher than normal
and sounding relieved, cut through the war drums sounding in Nevic's head.

"Excellent. Proceed on course to Betazed."


Deanna twirled in front of the full-length gilded mirror watching her
pale pink skirt swish around her legs. She liked the iridescent
material that caught the light and caused the pink of her dress to
look like the inside of a seashell. She stopped spinning; enjoying
the moment of vertigo, and inspected the small shimmering tiara, her
mother had placed atop her dark curls.

`I look like a princess,' she thought as she remembered the
fairytales her father used to tell her. She missed the way her
father told stories. His tales always included a beautiful, smart
princess; named Deanna of course. Her mother never did that. All of
Lwaxana's stories were about the Thirteen Houses, or the old myths
from their home planet. Or worse yet, about Lwaxana herself and her
youthful exploits.

In truth, she tended to tune her mother out when she started
telling these old legends. Lwaxana told the stories with the same
airy, mystical voice her philosophy teachers used when lecturing on
the symbolism of the Thirteen Gods. They just did not capture her
imagination. Every tale had a lesson to teach, and sometimes she
missed her father's frivolous stories. Besides the fairytales, there
were also the westerns, Deanna's personal favorites.

{Little One, it is time to go,} Lwaxana said as she came
down the grand staircase to the foyer. Deanna looked up at her
mother, momentarily awed by her. Lwaxana wore a floor length, blue
dress with delicate crystal beads embroidered on it. When the beads
hit the light they caused hundreds of miniature rainbow to form all
around the elder Troi, it was a breathtaking effect. Lwaxana looked
as if a special star was shining down only for her.

{Are you ready?} she asked her daughter.

{Yes mother.} Mr. Homm, their manservant, came in the foyer
and helped both of them settle lightweight cloaks on their shoulders
to fend off the chill of night.

The two Troi women walked out into the dusky light and set
off across their gardens toward the city of Rashual. The sun hovered
over the horizon, casting orange and saffron light across the sky.
The heady fragrance of tropical blooms floating on the breeze caused
Deanna's nose to twitch. She followed her mother out of their yard
and onto the tree lined path that led to the city.

Deanna was rarely allowed out of the house during this time
of the day. She soaked up all the sights, sounds, and smells of
twilight with the wonder only a child could produce. She listened
intently to the birds, singing their evening lullabies. Then
watched, fascinated as the night-blooming flowers, that nestled the
side of the path, began to open their midnight blue petals. She
wished she could linger long enough to see what they looked like when
they opened all the way, but her mother's gentle and insistent tug on
her hand kept her moving. Deanna gave up trying to stall her mother,
and decided to ask her a question that had been bothering her for
several days.

{Mother, what does the word Istra mean?} Lwaxana paused and
looked down at her daughter, a crease of concern crossing her

{Where did you hear that word?}

{Kylia, a girl at school, said I would never be a full
telepath because I was an Istra. She said she felt sorry for me.
What does it mean?} Lwaxana continued walking, and did not answer
her daughter. Deanna was resigning herself to the fact that she
would never get an answer, when her mother stopped again and looked
down at her.

{It is not a nice word Little One. The closest translation
of it is half-breed. It is a word from a time in our history that
was not pleasant. I want you to promise me that you will never use
it again.}

Deanna nodded absently. Her mind was awhirl with the
possibilities. She knew she was half-human. She understood that she
may never have the same abilities that her mother did, but it had
never occurred to her that someone would call her names because of

They continued walking the path. Deanna forgot about her
earlier fascination with the flowers, and concentrated on the puzzle
of the word Istra. She mouthed the strange word quietly, feeling it
roll off her tongue in a fluid motion.

They crested a hill and paused to look down at the city
sprawled below them. The spiked towers of the Temple of Rashual
gleamed golden in the fading light. The city was a marvel of beauty
and grace. Each building and street was designed for its ease of use
as well as aesthetic value. Countless courtyards, gardens, and parks
dotted the city, lending themselves to the groups of people who
gathered there. The only thing that marred the beauty of the vista
below them was the squat, boxy Federation embassy that housed the
officers and diplomats stationed on Betazed. The embassy sat on the
edge of town looking garish in comparison to the Betazed
architecture. Lwaxana was about to continue down the hill when
Deanna's voice stopped her.

"Mother, is it a bad thing that I am part human?" she spoke
aloud. Lwaxana looked down at her daughter's trusting face.

`So angelic, and innocent,' she thought. `How do you explain
to a child the prejudice and ignorance of others?' For the second
time that day, she squatted down in front of her daughter.

"Do you think it's a bad thing?" she asked. Deanna's brow
wrinkled in childish contemplation.

After a few moments, she answered. "No, daddy was human, and
he was nice. He told good stories, he smelled like the outside, and
he always smiled. I think that's good." Lwaxana smiled sadly and
touched her daughter's porcelain cheek.

"I think so too. As long as you are happy with who you are
no one else matters, Little One." With that, she stood, took her
daughter's hand, and continued down the path.


"We must make our first strike here," Tulk pointed to a spot
on the 3-D map that hovered over the conference table. "This is the
most densely populated area on the planet. All of the government
buildings are housed in this city, as well as the Federation
embassy. A few well placed shots and the entire government will

Nevic leaned back in his chair, studying the map. `This is
almost too easy,' he thought. `They have placed all of their leaders
in one city, one great big target.' He noted on the map the location
of every important building, there was an impressive temple, the
embassy, the government seat, all spread out before him, begging to
be conquered like a weak woman.

He leaned forward and pointed to the Federation embassy. "We
make our first attack here. We will wipe out any Federation
resistance with one phaser shot. Then here," he pointed to the large
government building, "then we the hit the temple. I understand a
good portion of the population will be there for some religious

"That is correct sir," Patahk, his second in command
answered. "According to intelligence several thousand people attend
the ceremony."

"Good, the more mayhem we produce the harder it will be for
them to resist. When the phasers and torpedoes have done their job,
we transport to the surface and take control of whatever is left."


Deanna looked up, and up, and up, toward the glass ceiling of
the Temple of Rashual. The inside of the temple was circular, with a
spiral staircase that wound its way up to the top of the temple.
Rooms and hallways leading into other parts of the temple branched
off the staircase, leaving the center open to the view of the starry
sky coming from the glass ceiling. Candlelight cast a warm glow over
the virginal white stone walls, causing them to take on a reddish

She let out the breath she forgot she was holding, and looked
around her at all the people crowding into the first floor. People
were even standing on the stairs, looking down onto the open
receiving hall. Deanna had never seen so many people together in all
her life. People of every size, shape, and coloring crowded around
her. The smell of clashing perfume and incense, and the sound of so
many bodies shuffling about made it hard to concentrate. She caught
pieces of telepathic conversations as she passed. Most Betazed
children were capable of telepathic communication from a young age;
it was not always easy for Deanna to hear the inner voice of others,
especially if they were not in her immediate family. However, she
could still hear most of the telepathic mummers and gossip
circulating the room.

Her mother kept a firm grasp on her daughter's hand as she
made her way through the throng of people. The crowd parted in front
of her, her stature screaming of her importance, while she remained
dignified and quiet. Deanna marveled at her mother's commanding
presence. Lwaxana had a way of turning every eye her way, and
dominating any room.

In short order, they made it to a raised platform in the
middle of the congregation. There were already several women
standing on the platform, some lighting the candles that circled the
dais, others milled about inspecting the ceremonial cloths draped
over the stone alter. From her elevated position, Deanna could see
more of the crowd. Nervousness whirled in her stomach at the sight
of them. She could even make out a few Starfleet officers in their
dress uniforms mingling with the conflux of people.

{Deanna,} her mother said, pulling her from the side of the
platform. Lwaxana led her to one of the young women lighting the
candles on the dais. {Melisande I would like you to meet my
daughter, Deanna. Deanna, this is one of the priestesses of the
Temple of Rashual,} Lwaxana said, making introductions between the
two. Melisande was a tall slender woman, with delicate features,
pale creamy skin, and sharp violet eyes, all framed by hair the color
of an onyx. In contrast to the other women in the temple, she wore
simple white robes belted at her waist.

{Hello Deanna, it is nice to meet you. I understand this is
your first time at the temple.} Melisande's voice sounded in her
head, warm and smooth like chocolate syrup. Deanna nodded, feeling
self-conscious in front of this woman. {Well this is my first time
in this ceremony as a full priestess, so we have something in
common.} Melisande said with a friendly smile that broke through
Deanna's shyness.

{You are going to help Melisande this evening Little One.
Would you like that?}

Deanna nodded emphatically. {I would like to help.}

{Good, I could use all the help I can get.} Melisande
offered her hand and Deanna tentatively reached out and grasped
Melisande's fingers.

{I will see you after the ceremony.} Lwaxana planted a small
kiss on her forehead, and made her way back to the center of the

{So here is what we are going to do Deanna. Do you see all
the candles surrounding the platform? I need your help lighting all
of those. You take the shorter ones, and I will do the taller ones.}

{All right.} Deanna took the small lighting devise that
Melisande handed her. They worked quietly for a few moments, before
Deanna's curiosity got the better of her. {What does it feel like

{What does what feel like?}

{The ceremony. What happens? Do you really connect with
everyone else on the whole planet? Will I be able to feel it?}
Deanna rambled, her job of lighting candles forgotten for the moment.

Melisande paused and looked at the child with patient
amusement. {Well, to answer your first question, it is the most
beautiful experience I have ever had. It is like being able to see
the delicate thread of your life, woven with the threads of others.}
She paused, and her eyes seemed far away. Her face glowed with the
remembered feeling of connection. She shook herself from her
thoughts and continued. {Nothing can ever compare to that feeling.

{For your second question, we connect to everyone on the
planet who is performing the ceremony. You see, the elders of the
temple and the daughters of the Thirteen Houses will enter a trance,
and anyone else meditating in the same way will be included. There
are the people here in the temple, but people also gather in the city
parks and courtyards. And in the cities of Namarre, Dalriada, and
Eshmun, there are temples performing the same ceremony. All of us
will bind our minds together, only for a moment, and celebrate the
great awakening of our people.}

Melisande moved along to the next candle and Deanna followed
behind. After the candles were lit, Deanna repeated her last

{Will I be able to feel it?} It was the question she really
wanted to know. She wanted to tell the priestess about the word
Istra, that she was a half-breed, and may never be able to do more
than communicate telepathically with other Betazoids. However, she
bit her tongue, remembering her promise not to use the word.

Melisande smiled down at her. {That is the beautiful thing
about this ceremony; even those who have not had their awakening can
feel it. Not in the same way, but they feel something. It is even
said that a Betazoid light years away from the planet can feel the
effects; if they concentrate hard enough.} She gestured to the
crowd. {You see the Federation diplomats out there. They are human,
and even they will feel something stir inside them. A great sense of
peace and belonging. Their experience depends on how open their mind
is to the idea of things greater than they are.}

Deanna chewed on this new information while they finished
lighting the candles. When the last one was lit, Melisande surveyed
the room and smiled; satisfied that everything was at it should be.
She looked back down at her little helper.

{It is almost time.}


"Full stop," Nevic called. He stood from his chair and
stepped closer to the view port. The blue-green planet of Betazed
swirled below them.

He loved this moment; the calm that settled over him before
the attack. He wanted to savor every second of the conquest that lay
before them.

He thought of the people on the planet below; blissfully
unaware of the death he was about to bring them. He had studied
these people, he always studied those he was about to conquer. He
thought of their beliefs in unity, and peace. Their pride and their
feeling of superiority. They fancied themselves above other
species. Above war, greed, ambition, and vengeance, but he would
teach them otherwise. No one was above such things.

No one.

"Prepare the targeting systems," he said never breaking his
gaze from the planet.

His planet.


Deanna watched from her spot on the edge of the dais as the
priestesses of the Temple of Rashual stepped onto the platform.
Melisande stood beside her; since she was a new initiate, her part in
the ceremony was done. Now the elders of the temple and the
decedents of the Thirteen Houses would begin the ceremony.

Deanna's eyes lingered on one of the older women. She wore
the same white robes as the other priestesses, but a large medallion
hanging from her neck set her apart from the others. The medallion
was gold, set with thirteen different gems ranging from the deepest
black to shimmering white.

Deanna remembered from her history classes that each stone
represented the Thirteen Houses, and the woman wearing it was the
head priestess, the woman who bound all the Houses together.
{Necthana is her name,} Melisande mentally whispered, seeing her
young companion's fascination with the head priestess.

Necthana was tall and regal, at least a head taller than
anyone else on the dais. Her silver hair was drawn into an elaborate
coil on top of her head. Though there were faint lines across her
forehead, and deeper set laugh lines around her eyes, a trace of her
youthful beauty clung to her. She carried in her long, slender hands
a simple wooden bowl filled with a powdery substance. She set the
bowl atop the alter with reverence.

{The bowl is filled with special incense that aids the
joining of the minds,} Melisande answered Deanna's unasked question.

Suddenly Necthana's strong voice carried throughout the room,
bringing all idle chitchat, and shuffling to a halt. "Out of respect
for our non-telepathic visitors we will speak the scared words
aloud." She turned to the bowl of incense on the alter and spoke
aloud the ancient language.

Deanna listened in awe as the words were released from the
priestess's mouth like birds being set free from their cages. She
understood none of it, but the sheer beauty of the language did not
escape her.

{She is asking for guidance from our ancestors during the
joining,} Melisande translated for her telepathically while Necthana
continued speaking outloud. {She prays to the Goddess Rashual, whose
love we revere above all others, to lead us to the path of wisdom and
understanding. In the name of the Thirteen Gods and the ancestors of
the Thirteen Houses, guide our weary bodies and unworthy minds to

With that, Nechthana held her hand, palm up, over the bowl of
incense. With a flourish, and a bright spark of light that drew a
murmur from the crowd, a small flame appeared in the palm of her

Deanna knew it was some sort of trick, some hidden device
that allowed a fire to burn in her hand without causing the priestess
any pain. Despite that, her sense of wonder was not abated.

Necthana continued speaking the sacred words aloud and
Melisande translated for Deanna. {With this spark, the spark of
wisdom, love, and peace, we ignite the fires that will light our way
in the dark.}

Necthana cast the flame into the bowl of incense.
Immediately a thick column of fragrant smoke shot up into the air.

"Let the joining begin."


"Sir the Federation embassy has been targeted," Tulk called
from his station.

"Disengage cloak and prepare to fire on my mark."


The cloying sweet smoke filled her nose, drawing her deeper
into its spell. She could feel it, a slight tingling presence in the
back of her head, a stirring of something indescribable inside her

She felt an ache; a deep, yawning need she had never known
was there, slowly filling with love and joy. Completion, beautiful


"Never trust a society run by women," Ensign Gary Lockwood
mumbled as he looked out the window of the Federation embassy. His
view was of a small park area where two dozen Betazoids stood in a
circle holding hands. "Look at them." He turned to his companion,
Ensign Deset, and gestured to the window. "They're standing in a
circle, holding hands, and praying. This whole planet gives me the

"They're not praying, they're meditating," Deset corrected.

He walked away from the window with a look of disgust and
plopped down in a nearby chair. "Praying, meditating, what's the

"There's a big difference." Deset could explain how the
Betazoids did not have Gods per se, but he doubted Lockwood would
appreciate the subtlety of Betazoid philosophy. Besides that, he was
trying to read, and he hated interruptions when he was trying to

"Just yesterday I was in the market. Must have been a
hundred people there, and it was so quite I could hear crickets,"
Lockwood said.

"They don't have crickets on Betazed," Deset said, barely
glancing up from his novel.

"You know what I mean. I've been here three months and I'm
ready to get the hell out of here. I'm sick of hanging around
telepaths. My mind is like an open book to these people."

"Yeah an open book, `See spot run,' is about as deep as you
go," Deset quipped. He put down the padd he was reading with a
frustrated sigh. He had just read the same paragraph three times in
a row; Lockwood would not shut-up.

"How do you stand it here?" Lockwood asked, ignoring Deset's
snide remark. "You've been here for over a year, don't they drive
you crazy?"

Deset leaned forward on the computer console and looked at
the young blond man in front of him. "No they don't drive me crazy.
I like it here. They are friendly, open people; you just have to get
over the telepath thing. Besides, they consider it rude to delve
into someone's mind without permission."

`Not that anyone would touch your mind with a stick,' he
thought to himself. Deset gave the computer readouts a casual look.
They were supposed to be monitoring the security grid that protected
this section of space. The grid kept track of all the ships that got
close to the planet.

He looked back at Lockwood, and was about to say something
when he realized the readings he had just looked at were wrong. He
went back to the view screen, punched a few keys, and then smacked
the console.

"Son-of-a-bitch," Deset cursed. "The damn grid is down

Lockwood shrugged his broad shoulders. "Big deal, it goes
down every month. You would think these guys would get a security
net that actually works."

"Still, procedure says we have to run sensor sweeps until the
grid comes back up." Deset moved to another station and punched in
the codes that would begin sensor sweeps around the planet. It was a
back-up system for the gravitic sensor. Should the grid ever fail
(which it did frequently) sensor sweeps would take over and warn the
station of any approaching ships. Not that he was expecting
anything. The great thing about Betazed was that nothing ever

"Nothing ever happens here," Lockwood whined. "This must be
the most boring planet in the galaxy."

Deset ignored him and kept his eyes locked on the readouts
the sensors were giving him. There was a blip, a big blip, on the
screen. "Is there supposed to be any Federation ships here today?"
he asked Lockwood.

"Hell no! No starship captain in their right mind would come

"Well there are three pretty big ships out there, and they
aren't answering the computer's hails." He tried to keep the panic
out of his voice. `Probably nothing,' he thought.

Lockwood stood up and looked at the view screen over Deset's
shoulder. "Run the identification program, see what kind of ship it
is," he suggested.

"I'm not stupid," Deset snarled. "I already started it.
Give it one second and we should have an answer." Both men watched
the green light that signified the sensors were comparing the
unidentified ship against all the ships in the database.

"It's taking too long," Lockwood grumbled. "These systems
are too old." As soon as the words left his mouth the screen flashed
red, and two words stared at them from the screen. Romulan Warbird.

"Holy shit," Lockwood whispered.

Deset turned quickly, knocking Lockwood away, and stumbled
toward the emergency alert system on the other side of the room. He
was going too fast and his hip smacked into the sharp edge of the
console, he cursed fluidly and punched in the security code.
Instantly the room filled with a high-pitched wail of alarm.

That was the last sound Deset and Lockwood heard. Before the
roar of the ceiling falling in on them drowned out everything else.


"Fire," Nevic yelled. He watched the red beam of destruction
cut across the blackness of space and slice through the atmosphere of

"Sir the embassy has set off an alert. They must have
detected us," Tulk said.

"It doesn't matter now. We are here and there's nothing they
can do about it."


The ground was shaking. Was it supposed to shake? Deanna
tried to bury herself deeper in the blanket of joy covering her. She
wanted to stay in this moment forever.

Just as quickly as the sense of completion had come over her,
another feeling sliced across her mind like a blade.

Fear. Not her fear. Someone else's.

The ground shook again, and this time she screamed out. The
haze that had covered her brain was quickly clearing. Something was

Deanna looked around her, seeing others coming to the same
realization. She heard someone shouting for order.

She glanced at Melisande beside her. Her eyes were closed,
head thrown back; she trembled, and made a whimpering sound. Deanna
could feel it. A great sense of dread, and fear settled over the
temple. The ground shook for the third time.

Then came the pain.


"Sub-Commander, the embassy has been destroyed. Sensors
report massive causalities in and around the building."

Nevic's eyes gleamed with satisfaction. The Federation fools
had fallen easily. `It is no more than they deserve for allying
themselves with such a weak race,' he thought.

"Target the government buildings at the center of the city."

Loud, wailing sirens pierced Deanna's ears. The pain was
becoming more than she could bear, and her stomach heaved in an
attempt to empty its contents. She was sheltered from the worst of
the barrage of telepathic communication. She could hear the people
scream out, some in pain, some praying for divine intervention,
others calling for their loved ones.

Because she was only half Betazoid and had not had her
awakening, she couldn't feel the thoughts or emotions behind those
calls. Others were not as lucky. Screams echoed around the
cavernous room, reverberating in Deanna's ears. She covered them,
but it did not block the sounds of pain that burned into her mind.
Her knees turned to jelly, her head throbbed, but she kept her feet.

She scanned the dais looking for her mother, but all she saw
were the fallen bodies of the priestesses and Daughters of the
Houses. Much the same was happening on the floor below the dais. At
least half of the telepaths had fallen unconscious to the floor.
Leaving only the children, the Federation ambassadors, and a few
others still standing.

She looked up to the glass ceiling of the temple, and saw
something that made the fear knot tighter in her stomach. A red
light slashing an open wound across the black sky, closely followed
by a shake of the ground.

"We're under attack," she heard a Federation Ambassador
yell. This statement caused panic among those still conscious.

She heard people begin to call out for their loved ones.
Heard some people debating about whether it would be best to stay in
the temple or leave.

"This temple is the best structure to be in," she heard
someone say. Others agreed, but some argued the point. The temple
became a symphony of noise both verbal and telepathic. She heard
several of the Federation Ambassadors attempting to make contact with
the embassy, to no avail. She did her best to block the noise and
knelt beside Melisande.

"Melisande wake-up, please wake-up." She shook the woman.

"Little one," she heard faintly. She looked up to see
Lwaxana trying to stand from the pile of fallen bodies. She was
using the large stone alter to support her shaky weight. Her face
was drawn against the mental assault she was receiving.

"Mama," She left Melisande's side and ran the rest of the way
to her mother. Lwaxana took her daughter in her arms, cradling her
for a moment against her chest.

"What's happening? Melisande won't wake up. Why do I hurt?
Why are they screaming? Please make them stop screaming."

Lwaxana took hold of her daughter's chin, holding it firmly
in her hand and forcing Deanna to make eye contact. "Remember what I
taught you Little One, about blocking communication." Deanna nodded
slowly. "Find your center, push everything else away. Build your
wall brick by brick." Lwaxana's voice was hypnotic, helping Deanna
block out the sounds of the others in her head. After a few moments,
the child's features relaxed a bit.

"Good. Now listen closely. You have to get out of here.
Run home as fast as you can and do not stop for anything. Mr. Homm
will protect you when you get there."

Deanna's eyes became huge with fear. "I'm not going anywhere
without you."

"Little One, listen to me. You have to go now. I will be
right behind you, I promise. I'm just going to try to wake Melisande
and the others up, okay?" Lwaxana kept a firm hold on her daughter's
chin, flooding all the love and support she could through the child's
mind. Finally, Deanna nodded.

"Now go, and remember don't stop for anything, keep going no
matter what you see or what happens." Lwaxana released her chin and
helped Deanna stand up. "Go on, I'll be right behind you."

Deanna looked down at the bodies of the women littering the
dais and felt fear grip her heart again. Necthana's blank, foggy
eyes stared up at her. Her face was contorted in pain, and Deanna
wondered if she was dead.

"No, she's not dead. They're just overloaded," Lwaxana
said. "Now go quickly." She gave Deanna a gentle shove toward the
edge of the platform. "I promise I'll be right behind you."


Nevic listened to the reports flooding in from the other two
ships. So far they had met no resistance.

"Sub-Commander, the Government buildings are destroyed," Tulk
called out.

"Excellent, proceed with phase three. Target all phasers on
the temple."


Lwaxana watched her daughter's tiny form weave in and out of
the occupants of the room, and disappear between the taller adults.
Almost everyone had opted to stay in the Temple, thinking themselves
safe in the structure. For some reason she could not explain Lwaxana
did not agree. She wanted to get as far away from the temple and the
city as possible.

First, she had to try to wake the others. She knelt beside
Melisande, and shook the young woman. She could feel her trying to
untie her mind from the tangled webs it was trapped in. Lwaxana
could feel it too.

The screams of pain. Worse, the life slipping away from
countless bodies, their souls being cast on the wind. Because of the
joining, the sensation was even keener than it would have been under
normal circumstances. It was like having pieces of your mind ripped
away little by little. She shook off her thoughts and concentrated
all of her energy on the priestess lying beside her.

She used her own mind like a torch, lighting the way out of
the darkness for Melisande. Soon her eyes fluttered, and she

"Slowly dear, slowly. Keep your shields up against them.
Ignore their pleas," she said, trying to keep her voice controlled
and even like she had done for Deanna. After a moment, Melisande sat

"What's happening?" Melisande put her head in her hand and
let out another moan.

"There is no time to explain dear. You have to get out of

Melisande ignored her, large tears began to squeeze from her
violet eyes and she shuddered. "They're hurting! We have to help
them. Oh Gods! The pain." Her hands shot out suddenly and grabbed
the front of Lwaxana's gown. "Help them," she hissed between
clenched teeth.

"We don't have time for this," she said extraditing herself
from the other woman's strong grasp. "Listen to me, you have to push
them away, or they will suck you in again. You need to get out of
here. I need you to go find Deanna, go help her get back home. Can
you do that? Can you help Deanna?" she enunciated every word, hoping
to catch the priestess' attention.

Melisande's eyes focused on her face. "Deanna, help

"Right, can you do that?" She hoped giving Melisande
something to focus on would help her block the pain, and it seemed to
be working. Melisande nodded and began to stand, trembled, but
managed to get to her feet unaided. "Deanna just left. Go find her
and help her get home. Wait for me there. I'll try to wake the
others," Lwaxana's voice was strong, leaving no room for argument.

"I can do it," Melisande replied. Her voice sounded
steadier, and her eyes had lost their glazed look.

"Good, now go."


She was losing her way. Her world was a jumble of
sensations, most alien, driving all proper thought from her head.
She ran.

The smells of burning assaulted her nose, the sharp twinge of
grasses and trees smoldering, the chemical taste of metals and
synthetic materials melting, and another smell she could not place.
Some new smell that made her stomach roll in revulsion. But she kept

A thick ash fell from the sky like lifeless, dull snow. The
ash glowed eerily as the red flames of fire touched it. It seemed
everything was on fire, buildings, transport vehicles, even shrubbery
shriveled in the consuming flame. She ran harder.

She could hear her footsteps muffled by the ash that covered
the pavement. The footsteps of others, both in front and behind her,
setting a rhythm for her running.

Wisps of telepathic communication snagged at her
mind. `Darin, where are you? Darin!' `Mommy, please wake-up! I'm
scared. Why won't you wake up?' `Fire! Oh gods the fire! It's
closer. It's getting closer.'

She pushed them away. She ran. Until an ache formed in her
side, and she was begging for a breath of clean air. Her lungs felt
squeezed, her throat raw, she coughed and tasted blood. Still she


"The temple is targeted."



"No, please let me go. I have to find my husband," a woman
screamed from inside the protective embrace of a large Federation

"Miss, it's not safe out there. We need to stay in here
until the rescue team comes," the Ambassador said while keeping a
tight hold on the struggling woman.

"He's calling for me. Please just let me go. He's
calling." She collapsed, exhausted on the man's broad chest heaving
deep sobs that shook her tiny frame.

"In the name of the Gods let that woman go," Lwaxana said,
unable to tolerate the screaming and sobbing any longer.

Those that had not left, or regained consciousness, stood in
the center of the room. There were only a few dozen left, most
opting to leave and find their families. Lwaxana moved from body to
body trying to revive those still swimming in the pain.

"Let her go," she repeated to the Ambassador.

"It's not safe out there," he said in a deep baritone. He
might have been a handsome man, if fear were not distorting his
features. In another time, another place, she might have flirted
shamelessly with him, but not now.

"It's not going to be safe in here for much longer," was all
she said. She turned back to Necthana's limp form and continued
trying to revive the woman. She was vaguely aware that the man let
the woman go; she could hear her muttering her husband's name as she
ran out the front door. Lwaxana pushed all this away focusing
everything she was on the priestesses in front of her.

She did not even realize it when the first phaser shot hit
the temple.


Deanna stumbled, falling face first on the ashy ground. She
inhaled the powdery ash into her nose and mouth, clogging her throat
with the foul tasting substance. Her body was wracked by coughs and
eventually she was forced to spit out a gray and blood tinged lump.

After a moment, the hacking tapered off. She began to stand,
and after several false attempts finally regained her feet. Just as
she took her first stumbling steps forward, a terrible feeling hit

From somewhere outside herself, but very near to her soul, a
great spasm of pain ripped through her mind. She fell again, her
knees hit the unforgiving pavement, and a strangled cry forced its
way from her raw throat.

Her mother was dying. Deanna could feel her life ebbing
slowly away.


The grand staircase that circled the Temple of Rashual fell
in great clumps raining stone onto the open floor below. Lwaxana
looked up from the slack face of Necthana just in time to see a large
piece of the ornately carved stone falling toward her.

She made a futile attempt to dive out of the way, but only
managed to keep the hunk of rock from falling directly on her head.
Instead, the rock caught her in the middle of her body. The weight
of the stone pinned her to the equally hard floor, crushing her
between the two.


"Sir the temple is withstanding the phaser fire," Tulk said.

Nevic looked over Tulk's shoulder, scanning the information
on the computer screen. Sure enough, the temple was still standing
after three direct hits with the phasers.

"Well then," he said as he stepped back to his command chair
and made himself comfortable. "I suppose we should bring out
something a little larger to take it down. Prepare torpedoes and
fire when ready."


{Mother,} Deanna called. She stayed unmoving, kneeling on
the soot-blanketed ground. {Mother.} Deanna cradled her abdomen
against the throbbing pain growing there.

After what seemed like an eternity, she heard a soft whisper
in reply.

{Little one} Deanna had to strain to hear her mother's
voice, but it was there. Like a flickering candle flame, gusting in
the wind, dim but still able to guide through the darkness. {Little
one, I am here. I love you, dear; never forget I love you.}

{I love you too mommy,} she whispered, both aloud and
telepathically. She tried to stand, but her legs seemed disconnected
from her body, and she couldn't make them work.

{I love you.} Deanna repeated, though she was not sure if
her mother could hear her anymore. She seemed to be moving farther
away, the loving presence that was a part of Deanna's mind, getting

Until finally it was gone.

Deanna felt an emptiness invade her. A part of herself she
didn't even know was there was gone. A wave of blackness flooded
her, and she welcomed it, with open arms, she welcomed the mind-
numbing darkness.


How long had it been? How long had she been trapped in this half world
listening to the cries of strangers? She was tired, drained, but most of all
she wanted her mother. Where was her mother? She had searched and searched
with her mind, waded through the telepathic cries to find her mother's voice,
but she never heard it.

The only thing she found to give her comfort was a simple song. A song
from another lifetime, a song her father used to sing her. Her father was gone
now too. Everyone was gone, but she still had the song. The gentle melody
floated through her head. The sound of her father's rich tenor rang in her

Down in the valley, the valley so low
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow
Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow…

She could smell her father's cologne, and feel his strong arms
encircling her. As long as she stayed here, in the place where she could hear the
song, she was safe. To leave this place was to feel an emptiness she could not
even fathom.

Sometimes she heard the voices of others, people from the outside world.
A gentle woman's voice she vaguely recognized. She knew the woman was
concerned about her. The woman should not be worried; Deanna was safe. As long as
she could hear her father's voice, she was safe.

Writing this letter, with but three line
Answer my question; will you be mine
Will you be mine dear, will you be mine
Answer my question; will you be mine…

Someone was moving her, trying to wash the grime from her face. The
woman was talking again. Telling her they were leaving. Deanna did not care.
She was staying here, in the warm place where her father sang to her, and her
mother's perfume permeated the air. This was where she belonged.

Nothing burned here, nothing smelled like roasting flesh. No one left
her here.

Write me a letter; send it by mail
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail
Birmingham jail, dear, Birmingham jail
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail.

She was in a new place she could tell. She was laying on something hard,
and she could feel the vibrations of large engines humming through her body.
Sweaty unwashed bodies cramped around her. She burrowed herself deeper into
her half world. Whatever was going on, she did not care. So long as she
could stay here.

Roses love sunshine, violets love dew
Angels in Heaven know I love you.
Know I love you dear, know I love you
Angels in heaven know I love you.

The thrumming of the engines had stopped. She was moving again. Some
place dry and hot, some place that was not her home. Part of her wanted to open
her eyes and see it. Another part, the much stronger part, did not want to
know. Her father's voice soothed her, and she allowed the notes of the song to
swirl around her mind.

Down in the valley, the valley so low
Hang your head over hear the wind blow
Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow
Hang your head over hear the wind blow.


Dr. Katherine Pulaski looked around her makeshift clinic with a mixture
of satisfaction and distress. She took in the bare concrete floors, the
sparsely decorated walls, and the two dozen beds, half filled with patients. She
had been on Jaros III for over three months, and each day wore on her resolve to
stay like a stone wearing down the sharpness of a blade. Jaros III was a
hard place to live, not just because of the unrelenting climate, but also the
people that inhabited the backwater planet.

Jaros III was, at one time, an Earth colony. A place where the rugged
frontiersmen chose to live. The colonists were separatists, who left Earth some
fifty years ago to establish their own way of life, under their own rule.
However, it did not turn out that way. The colony had fallen on hard times,
drought, famine, and political bickering had reduced the group of proud settlers
to disgruntled anarchists. On Jaros III, the people with the most weapon and
muscle were the ones in charge. However, that was not even the half of it,
because in addition to the humans there were the refuges.

The war between the Federation and the Romulan Klingon alliance was on
its third year, and nearly four billion people were without homes. As a result,
many planetary governments refused to provide any more aid to the refugees,
figuring the ones they had already taken in were plenty. Jaros III was one of
the few places that had an open policy.

Their unofficial motto; 'If you can stand to live here, you're welcome to

As a result, thousands of refugees crowded into the few inhabitable
places on the planet. While the Bajorans were the biggest group of refugees, there
was also the Ekosians, Acamarians, and countless others. A mixed pot of
politics, religion, and culture that occasionally boiled over. That was how Dr.
Katherine Pulaski found herself in her current situation.

She was there, after taking a sabbatical from Starfleet, to help people.
There was little to no medical care among these people. She came to Jaros
III to fill that need, and while she knew she was doing everything in her power
to help, sometimes it just wasn't enough.

Her 'clinic' was really nothing more than an abandoned warehouse
outfitted with a hodgepodge of medical equipment, and cots. It was not up to
Federation standards, but it was more than these people had seen in a long time.
'They deserve better,' she thought.

"Pondering the injustices of the universe again Kate?" Doctor Clemens
asked Pulaski, with a trace of amusement. She turned around to fix the
red-haired doctor with her cool blue eyes.

"Yes I am," she sighed deeply and ran her fingers through her dark blonde
curls. "These people need more than we have to give. Our funding won't hold
out much longer, and finding volunteers in this day and age is no easy task."
She picked up one of the data pads off the nurse's station and scanned the
contents before tossing it back on the counter, frustrated.

"You can't hold the universe up on your shoulders. You can only work on
one patient at a time." Clemens placed a comforting hand on her arm and
squeezed gently. "These people are grateful for whatever we have to give. They're
not getting much help from anyone else."

"So," she asked after a momentary pause. "Did you just come over here to
cheer me up, or did you want something?"

"Actually, I have a patient I need an opinion on." He glanced down at
the data padd he was holding. "A nine year old Betazoid girl just got here this
morning on a Zeliban trader's ship." Clemens started walking toward the far
end of the room and Pulaski followed.

"Betazoid huh?" she said absently. The Romulans overran the Betazed
planet several weeks before. These people would be the first of the refugees to
make their way to Jaros III.

"Yeah, she doesn't look good. She has abrasions and bruises that are
healing, a severe case of malnutrition, and a nasty lung infection from inhaling
toxic ash, but the real killer is; she won't stop humming."

Pulaski stopped in mid-stride, unsure if she had heard Clemens right.

"Yeah you know, humming." He pressed his full lips together and made an
imitation of the sound.

"I know what it is. I just don't understand why you're talking to me
about this."

"Well I figured you could tell me what the song was," he said dryly.
When she shot him an irritated look, he shrugged his shoulders and grinned.
"Okay, I'm talking to you because the girl is catatonic, she doesn't respond to
outside stimuli. Now, the woman with her says she has retreated into her
meta-conscious mind, whatever the hell that is…"

"It's part of Betazoid physiology, it protects them from psychic trauma,"
she interrupted.

"And that my friend is why I'm talking to you. I have not the first clue
how to help the girl. I know nothing about Betazoids, and to make matters
worse she's half-human. I hate working with cross species offspring; it throws
everything out of whack."

They arrived at a cot area, sectioned off for privacy. Clemens pulled
back the curtain for her, and she was greeted by two very tired, dirty
humanoids. The one that immediately drew her eye was the over seven-foot tall bald
man, that seemed to take up all the space in the room. He bowed his head in
greeting. Then there was the much smaller woman, she had long, dark hair that
looked like it had not seen a brush in several days, and her pale features were
tight with concern and exhaustion.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Katherine Pulaski." She offered her hand, but quickly
dropped it back down to her side when the young woman did not accept the

"My name is Melisande, this is Mr. Homm, and this is Deanna," she said
quietly, barely taking her eyes away from the girl lying on the bed.

Sure enough, Pulaski could hear faint humming coming from the child, as
she gently rocked her small body from side to side.

Pulaski pulled a tricorder out of her lab coat and began running the
instrument down the length of the girl's body, her frown deepening the longer she
scanned. After repeating the scan a second time, she looked up into
Melisande's considered face.

"Are you her mother?"

Melisande shook her head slowly, and whispered, "No, her mother is dead."

"Are you related to her in anyway?" Pulaski asked.

Melisande straightened in her chair. "I am a priestess of Rashual. All
the people of Betazed are my sisters and brothers," she said with aristocratic

"Well," Pulaski shrugged, "if you're claiming responsibility for her
that's good enough for me." She put the tricorder back in her pocket and folded
her hands in front of her. "How long has she been like this?"

"Since I found her lying in the street during the Romulan invasion. I
tried to bring her out of it, but she will not acknowledge me. She just keeps
humming that song."

Pulaski leaned back on her heels, one hand tucked thoughtfully under her
chin. "Well the first thing we need to do is get her on nutritional shots to
keep her strength up."

"Already done," Clemens said.

"I also want you to start a brain scan, concentrate on the para-cortex
region of the brain. There might be some kind of damage that's causing her
current condition."

Clemens nodded his head and rushed through the curtains to complete her
orders. Pulaski turned back to Melisande and the silent man. "I think if we
give her a bit of time she'll come out of this on her own, I just want to make

Melisande nodded, "Thank you Doctor. We appreciate anything you can do."
Pulaski let her detached doctor persona slip for a moment and smiled

"Why don't we see if we can't find the two of you a place to clean up and
something to eat. We might even have a change of clothes lying around
somewhere." She narrowed her blue eyes at Homm, mentally measuring him. "You on
the other hand might be a little hard to shop for."


An eight-year-old Bajoran girl watched the three adults move away from
the section next to hers. She had heard them talking about the girl in the next
bed and her curiosity was peeked. She had never seen a Betazoid before.

She slid out of bed, being not to put much weight on her twisted ankle,
and hobbled over to the curtain separating the beds. Through the thin
material, she could see a small lump on the bed, and the distant sound of humming
reached her ears.

It took her a moment to find the part in the curtain; she cautiously
peered through the slit to make sure the coast was clear. All she saw was a
small, bony back and a ratty mop of black curls. She stepped the rest of the way
through the partition.

"Hey," she whispered, "Hey, are you awake." There was no reply, just the
steady rise and fall of the girl's back, and the humming. She hobbled around
the bed, and was shocked to see the girl's eyes were open, staring unseeing
at the blue stripped pattern of the curtains that marked off her area.

"Can you hear me?" She waved her hand in front of the girl's eyes, but
the Betazoid did not even flinch. She thought for a moment of going back to
her own bed, but for some reason she knew the girl could hear her. "I heard you
were from Betazed. My mother said that the Romulans over-threw your
government." She said as she sat on the edge of a chair. "My mom says the Romulans
are…," she paused trying to remember the words, "oh yeah, 'blood thirsty, power
hungry, pointy eared, bastards'." She liked the fell of the swear word on
her tongue and smiled at how adult she was being.

"So what are you in here for anyway? I twisted my ankle pretty bad when
I was chasing some kids who kept calling me names. I got one of 'em real
good, he won't be calling me a big baby anymore. I bloodied his nose." She
looked down at her humming companion, leaning forward and placing her elbows on the
side of the bed to support her head.

"I heard what they said about your mother." She drew closer, close
enough to feel the girl's warm breath on her face, and whispered. "My dad died a
few months ago, on Bajor. I saw it. The Cardassians…" She trailed off,
unable to speak aloud what she had seen the Cardassians do to her father. She
shuddered against the memory, and bit the inside of her cheek to keep the tears
from spilling.

"Mama says he's a martyr." She added mildly, trying to fill the silent
moment. She looked closely at the face inches away from hers, noticing the
dark, pupil-less eyes, the full lips, and delicate features.

"You look kinda weak; you'll never survive around here." She heard the
adults say that countless times about new refugees. It sounded like the
grown-up thing to say. She felt suddenly bad for the girl lying there humming the
same song repeatedly. She put one small hand on the stranger's shoulder.
"Don't worry though; I'll look out for you. I heard them say your name was
Deanna. My name is Ro, Ro Laren. It's nice to meet you Deanna."


Dr Pulaski leaned back in her chair kneading the tight muscles of her
neck. She looked back at her computer screen with a grimace. The screen
contained all the information from the battery of neurological tests ran on Deanna
Troi. After hours of staring at the screen, hoping the answers would
magically appear, she felt as if her eyes were beginning to cross. She had a good
picture of what was wrong with the girl, she just had no idea how it happened or
how to treat her.

A young nurse stuck her head in the door. "There is someone here to see
you doctor." Pulaski nodded, having a good idea of who it was.

"Send her in Alice."

She took a moment to clear her desk of the data pads and to compose
herself. Just as she swooped the last pad into a drawer Melisande, Deanna's
guardian, strode into the room.

Pulaski was struck by the change in the woman. Just a few days ago she
looked like the refugee she was, dirty, tired, and forlorn. Now she was clean,
groomed, and wearing a simple white shift. Her back was straight, her
shoulders back, and her face the picture of aristocratic authority. She had
obviously been a woman of some power on her home planet, and she was drawing on that
pride, that authority, to carry her through the loss of all that she knew.
Even though the woman was young, no older than her early twenties by Pulaski's
counting, wisdom and grace shown in her violet eyes.

"Doctor," Melisande said with a graceful bow of her head. "You asked to
see me?"

"Please sit down," she waved her hand toward a chair on the other side of
her cramped desk and waited for Melisande to settle herself before beginning.
"The good news is I think I know what's wrong with Deanna."

"And the bad news?"

Pulaski leaned forward, folding her hands on top of the desk. "I'm not
sure how to treat her." She allowed the information to sink in before turning
the view screen on her desk toward Melisande so she could explain what was

"This is basically a map of Deanna's brain. This area here in red," she
tapped her finger on the area she indicated, "it's the para-cortex region of
her brain. On a child, and a half-human child at that, it shouldn't be this
active. Her psilosynine levels are much higher than they should be for a girl
of her age and genetic make-up."

"What exactly does that mean doctor?"

"To be honest, I don't know, but she's not the only one who's showing
similar symptoms." Pulaski turned the computer screen back around and punched
the button, calling up the information she wanted. "There were ten other
Betazoids that transported here with you and out of those ten all but two showed
minor damage to the telepathic lobe. Several of them complained of voices,
telepathic cries. Their psilosynine levels were also very high."

Melisande rubbed her face roughly, stood from her chair, and walked over
to the window. She looked out on the dry, cracked landscape. "It's the
Joining," she whispered.

Pulaski leaned forward in her chair. "The Joining. What exactly is

Melisande turned back to the doctor, tears were beginning to pool in her
large violet eyes, and her voice quivered. "It's an ancient ritual, a
meditation that allows us to connect with each other and celebrate the birth of our
telepathic abilities."

Pulaski nodded, and looked down at her hands for a moment. She was
beginning to see where this was going and she could feel dread squeeze her stomach,
but she asked the question that formed in her mouth anyway. "Is this
ceremony somehow responsible for the damage we're seeing now?"

She was unprepared for the look of bitter fury that twisted the
priestesses pale features. "No, The Romulans are responsible for the damage. The
ceremony has been preformed since the first stirrings of telepathy awoke within
us. They took our most sacred beliefs and soiled them." She spit the words out
like rancid food, and then took a deep shuddering breath. She turned back to
the window and was silent for a moment. When she finally spoke, her voice
was soft, coming from memories deep inside her.

"I found Deanna lying unconscious, covered by the ash from the fires. I
only found her because of the humming. Her mind was completely blocked to me.
She felt it, perhaps not as keenly as a full telepath would, but she felt

Pulaski sat quietly, waiting for the young woman to continue. While she
was no trained counselor, she knew when someone simply needed to relieve
themselves of a burden they were carrying. Finally, after several minutes of
silence she prompted Melisande to continue. "What did happen on that planet?"

She could see Melisande shiver, despite the warmth. "The death of
everything we hold dear." Pulaski had to strain to hear her cryptic response. "We
were performing the meditation when the first volley of phaser fire hit," she
continued in a louder and steadier voice. "The joining was just beginning, it
really is a beautiful experience to feel so much joy and love emanating from
so many people, but when the first shot hit everything went wrong. It was
like being trapped in a web, because of the ceremony we were all connected. We
felt the pain of those that were injured, as if it were our own. They latched
on to our minds and dragged us down with them. Until, for just a moment, we
lost all sense of self. Only those with the strongest shields pulled
themselves out of it." She wrapped her arms around herself, huddling against the chill
of the memory.

"Did Deanna feel the same thing?"

Melisande finally turned away from the window to face the doctor, the
hollow grief that Melisande carried showing in the grim set of her eyes and
mouth. "She would have felt some of it, but not the full force. I think, in the
end, it was her mother's death that hurt the most. Despite the fact that she
is only a child, and half-human, she would have felt it. Even before a
Betazoid children have their Awakening their connections to their parents are strong,
and Deanna's mother died in a great deal of pain." Melisande moved away from
the window and sat back down. Her shoulders slumped and back bent, no trace
of the aristocratic priestess left in her.

"I thought when we left the planet, everything would be alright. I
thought the voices would stop."

Pulaski nodded her head, realization beginning to form. Those were
exactly the words two of her Betazoid patients had used. "The voices, you're not
the first person to mention them. What are they?"

She closed her eyes, and drew a deep breath. "I don't know about the
others, but I can still hear them. The cries for help, or just cries of pain.
They are almost as vivid now as they were during the attack."

"Which is probably what is responsible for the damage to the
para-cortex," Pulaski mumbled to herself. She went back to her computer and began calling
up new data.

"Do you think you can stop it?"

She bit her bottom lip trying to think of the gentlest way to phrase her
answer while still being honest. "There is no known way to treat this kind of
psychic trauma. However, the Betazoid brain has an amazing ability to heal
itself. Hopefully, given time, it can do just that."

"And what about Deanna?" Melisande's voice carried a note of concern.

"I think she'll come out of it. She is young, and from what I've heard,
she has a strong will. We just have to give her time."


Deanna sat on the floor of her childhood home, soaking up the warm
sunlight coming through the massive windows that looked out on the garden. She
watched with childish awe as the sun filtered through the tree leaves causing
patterns of light and shadow to play across the floor. She was so entranced
she did not notice the strange man sitting across the room watching her.

He was a man who looked to be in his thirties, yet his true age was
incalculable. His eyes really gave him away. While most would call them dark
brown, a more than cursory glance revealed that they were so much more than that.
They were eyes filled with knowledge, and more than a touch of impishness.

He watched Deanna for a moment; he never ceased being amazed at a human's
desire to procreate. While he himself could not see the charm it held for
them, even he had to admit she did look the picture of innocence. Though he did
not consider himself capable of regret, he had once had a passing
acquaintance with the emotion, and despite himself he found he was loathe to rip away the
child's last cocoon of comfort. Yet even as an immortal, omnipotent entity,
time was not on his side. He was breaking a rule, and he knew it. One of the
few rules he and his kind lived by.

He cleared his throat, a completely human action, but effective
none-the-less. Deanna's head snapped up and her dark eyes focused on him.

"Who are you?" she asked. She knew she was safe here. The gentle melody
of her father's song still floated in the air. Nothing could hurt her as
long as she could hear the song.

"I am a friend," he replied simply. He stood from the high-backed chair
he was sitting in and made his way slowly across the room to squat beside her.
All the while Deanna's eyes never left his tall slender form.

"Do I know you?" Curiosity sounded in her high youthful voice.

A devilish smile spread across his features. "Let's just say in another
place, sometime in the near future we know each other."

She gave him a quizzical look, "That doesn't make any sense."

"Well I do keep forgetting that you are incapable of comprehending the
simplest of ideas. Let us just keep it simple, and say yes. We do know each
other." Deanna smiled at him and continued watching the light scatter across
the warm wooden floor, humming along with the strands of music that played in
her head.

"That is a lovely song; as far as songs go," he commented.

"It's my Daddy's song. He sings it to me every night, and sometimes when
I am afraid or sad."

"And where is your daddy Deanna?"

"He's…" she paused, her brow creasing with thought. A slow sense of fear
crept through her, starting in her belly and radiating out. "You've come to
make me leave this place haven't you?" Her voice was a quivering whisper;
touches of terror began to show in her eyes. "I don't want to go. Please don't
make me."

For the first time since a certain android had caused feelings of guilt
and self-loathing to stir within him, the man felt real emotion. With more
than a bit of shock, he found he pitied the girl. He of all entities, a being
who could cause planets to stop their rotation around the sun, who could wipe
out entire races with a mere thought, pitied a nine-year-old girl. If there was
one thing he had learned in all his travels, it was that existence was full
of cruel ironies.

"Deanna, I can't make you leave. That's something you have to do by
yourself." His words seemed to reassure her, but she continued to look at him
with dread.

"Why are you here? This is my place, my special place, and I didn't
invite you."

He found her flare of temper amusing and chuckled. "My, you are a little
spit-fire. I think I like you better this way, as compared to the
psycho-babbling counselor." He sobered suddenly and fixed her with a serious look.
"You're going to need that back bone girl, make no mistake. When you wake up
from this little self-induced fantasy you are going to find your world turned
upside down, and very few people willing to help you."

"I don't want to leave here," she repeated meekly. "It's scary out
there. Terrible things happen out there."

He shrugged and looked at her as if she had just declared that suns were
hot. "Of course terrible things happen. That's what life is all about, at
least for you mere mortals."

He leaned closer to her, and whispered in a conspiratorial tone, "I'm
going to tell you something that must remain just between the two of us." He
paused for dramatic effect. After all, what fun was it if he couldn't add a
little drama. "It was never supposed to happen." He leaned back and smiled

Deanna was confused. "What was not supposed to happen?"

"Dear child do try to stay with me. All of this." He waved his hand to
indicate their mentally conjured surroundings. "And all that happened to bring
you here. It was never supposed to take place."

"I don't understand." The man was starting to scare her, and she
desperately wanted him to leave.

"You will. Soon all of it will make sense. Until then, just remember
this. 'Three souls will protect. One will pursue. Until the choice of a
mortal brings balance renewed'." He grimaced, at the taste of the words in his
mouth. "A dreadful poem, but important all the same. Remember it, remember that
none of this was supposed to happen, and eventually you will understand more
than you ever wanted to know."

Suddenly the man cocked his head, as if hearing a far away sound, and he
looked fearful for a moment. "It's time for me to go, they've almost found
me. Remember what I told you."

With a dismissive wave and a flash of light, the strange man was gone,
leaving Deanna alone to listen to the strains of her father's song. She tried
to forget his intrusion into her mind, but found she could not shake his words.
Something about them tugged at her, pulling her further and further away
from the music playing in her head.


Ro sat beside Deanna's bed enjoying the comfortable silence. She had
come to visit Deanna every day for the past week. Sometimes she would tell her
new friend what she did that day, other times she would simple sit beside her
and listen to the melody of the song Deanna hummed.

"Hey Ro," Pulaski stuck her head through the curtain and smiled. "Ten
more minutes then you have to leave. She needs her rest."

"All she does is rest."

"You heard me. Ten minutes."

"Alright," Ro relented. She looked down at her bare dirty feet, and
sighed. "The doctor says I have to leave soon, but I'll be back tomorrow." Ro
turned back and looked at Deanna. "When you finally wake up I'll take you to
the rock formations just north of the camps. They're real pretty. And then
when the rainy season comes, these tiny little flowers bloom. Mother says they
wait in the dry ground all year just to bloom for a few weeks." Ro paused,
straining to think for anything more to tell Deanna. There was a lot to Jaros
III that was not pretty, but Deanna would discover that soon enough.

"There's a lot more of your kind here now. They're setting up a camp
close to the Bajoran camps. We'll kind of be like neighbors." Ro looked back at
Deanna and cocked her head thoughtfully. "Something's different," she said
quietly, unable to put her finger on what had changed.

Then it suddenly hit her. Deanna had stopped humming.

Ro stood suddenly from the chair and ripped open the dividing curtains.
"Dr. Pulaski!" She screamed down the hallway in a panic. She heard the sound
of several pairs of feet thundering toward her and turned back to Deanna.
Not only had she stopped humming, but she was slowly uncurling herself from the
fetal position. Ro could hear a whimper of pain come from her and she ran
back to her side.

"Hey I'm here." Deanna's eyes were squeezed shut, as if she were
fighting waking up. But at the sound of Ro's voice her face relaxed. "You can hear
me now can't you? It's okay to wake up, you're safe here." Ro watched in
amazement as Deanna's eyes began to flutter. Then, as if waking from nightmare,
her large eyes shot open and focused on Ro's face. Ro found herself
transfixed by those eyes, as if this strange girl knew all the deepest darkest secrets
of her soul.

"Where's my mother?" Deanna's voice was a dry whisper. If Ro had not
been so close to her face she would have missed the question. Just as the words
left Deanna's mouth Pulaski came running to the bed.

"Ro, what are you screaming about?" Pulaski trailed off as she saw
Deanna focus blurrily on her. "Oh my God, you're awake. Welcome to the land of
the living, my dear."


Chapter Two: The Bearer of Memory

O' call back time, bid yesterday return.
William Shakespeare
From Richard II act three, scene two

"Stop! Gods, please stop!" Deanna screamed. The last thing she wanted to see was all that took place after that. She fell to her knees in front of the Guardian, ignoring the sharp rocks that stabbed into her knees. Hot, bitterly angry tears burned her throat, and she made no attempt to hold them back. She wept, great heaving sobs racked her slender frame. She mumbled, and raged incoherently at the universe. Her cries of sorrow mingled with the wind, which answered her with howls of its own.

Her life, with all its grief, came crashing down around her. Weighing her down, squeezing the air from her lungs in shuddering cries.

She barely noticed the eerie maelstrom growing in intensity. She was not sure how long she cried. No sun or moon penetrated the ever present storm clouds on Forever World, leaving no way to gauge the passage of time. Slowly, though, her convulsive crying tapered off.

It was then she felt a presence behind her.

"Don't you want to see the rest?" a cool, male voice asked. She was about to turn to face the intruder when she felt a surprisingly strong arm encircle her waist effectively pinning her against him, preventing her from turning around. She yelped in surprise. The body that went with the disdainful voice pressed hard against her back. She could feel his muscles rippling across his chest, but the body felt wrong somehow, almost too cold. Even her empathic senses bounced off whatever shields he threw up.

"Answer me. Don't you want to see it?" She managed a weak shake of her head against his shoulder. "Well why ever not?" His voice whispered into her ear, his breath stirred her hair and tickled her neck. The man's voice began to sound vaguely familiar. "Don't you want to relive the years you spent as a refugee from your home, or see the time you spent learning the finer points of espionage at that joke of an academy?" As he spoke he gestured vaguely to the Guardian, causing a whirlwind of images to play across the center so quickly she could only make out a blur of color.

"Perhaps you would prefer to see the moment you met the love of your life. Your *Imzadi*." He spat the sacred word out with a disgusted growl, and then continued his taunting. "Or the birth of your child. The few years of domestic bliss you found before it all blew away. Or maybe the time after that, when you inflicted that little souvenir on yourself. Remember that moment."

The Guardian's image shifted again. This time she saw herself. Hair unbrushed, eyes wild and red-rimmed. Standing in the sterile room of a field hospital. She knew the moment. The moment she had used the Klingon dagger Ro had given her years before to slice her wrist open.

"Must have been difficult for you. Three days after your child's death. Feeling empty, alone. Only the memories to keep you company." His voice was a mocking caress against her cheek. "Surely there are better ways to end your life. But you always were a touch melodramatic."

"Leave me alone!" she screamed. She leaned back hard against him, upsetting his center of balance enough for her to break his hold on her waist. She scrambled away and turned toward her attacker, automatically crouching in a defensive posture.

She was surprised to find him standing there calmly, his arms folded across his chest, and one eyebrow cocked in amusement. He was a tall man, slender, with an air of aristocratic grace. He wore a Starfleet uniform that indicated his rank as a captain.

"I know you." She studied his non-descript brown hair and plain features. There was nothing about him that really stood out. Until she looked at his eyes. They were brown, at least at first, but the longer she looked the less she was sure of that. It seemed his eyes glowed with the shifting colors of a nebula. And then realization hit her like a phaser shot to the head. "I've dreamt about you."

"How flattering to know you dream of me." He placed his hand over his heart mockingly. "In truth my dear, those were not dreams, you are simply too obtuse to realize it. They were my attempt to communicate with a lesser species." He smiled slightly. "I really should know better by now." Deanna stared, shaking her head slowly in disbelief. "Oh, it's true, yet despite all my attempts, you failed to understand. I risked the wraith of the Q Continuum. And what do you do? You completely ignore me." He took several menacing steps forward, all traces of his previous smile evaporating.

"Who are you?" she asked, her confusion and fear mounting.

"I am Q. Your last and final hope." He took another step forward, causing Deanna to move away. "Tell me, Deanna. Did you even try to understand what I was telling you? Did you even think about the things I said?"

"I tried… I tried to understand," she whispered meekly.

"Did you, did you really?" Suddenly he dashed toward her, moving faster than Deanna could react. He grabbed her right wrist, holding it firmly while his other hand roughly pushed the sleeve of her nightshirt away, exposing the faded pink of the scar on her wrist. "What is this Deanna? Your attempt to understand?" He increased the pressure on her wrist causing her to gasp. With a gentle, almost sensuous caress, he traced the outline of the scar. "It's amazing. So frail the human form. So easily broken, effortlessly snubbed out of existence." His voice, in direct contrast to his painful grasp, was a feathery whisper. She repressed an involuntary shudder. "Yet through some bizarre twist of fate, everything relies on your kind. Ironic isn't it?"

With mind numbing sped he spun her back around, facing her toward the Guardian. "Well Deanna. I'm sick of playing this little game, even omnipotent beings have limited patience." He made another gesture toward the Guardian, and Deanna felt a thrum of power pulse up from the ground. "I'm going to show you instead."

As soon as the words left his mouth the kaleidoscope of colors coalesced into a solid image. And Deanna felt new tears prick at her eyes.

There, in the center of the Guardian was her dead daughter.

Yet not as Deanna remembered. Elizabeth had been four when she passed away, but the girl the Guardian showed her was clearly a teenager. The first awkward curves beginning to form under the pale lilac dress she wore. Her long dark hair pulled away from her face. And her eyes, a deep midnight blue. The same eyes that used to plead for a piece of candy, or twinkle with glee as Deanna tickled her. She would have recognized those eyes anywhere.

"Beautiful isn't she? For a human. Look at her, your little girl all grown-up, maturing into womanhood without you." Deanna tried to speak, but found the lump in her throat impossible to move air past. "But that's not all I have to show you." Images swirled in the Guardian, first quickly, then slowing down enough for her to make out the pictures, then speeding up again.

She saw Elizabeth in every stage of her life, from child to adulthood and back again. Sometimes Deanna saw herself in the images, or at least a woman that looked like her. The woman in the images lacked the haunted, haggard look that stared at Deanna in the mirror every morning. This woman looked happy, even fulfilled.

And just to twist the knife that was perpetually lodged in her heart, even *he* was there. The man she had turned away from, the man who broke her heart just as she broke his. Her Imzadi. William Riker.

Suddenly the images slowed considerably, playing in real time like some twisted holodeck program. The woman that was her, and yet not, stood in a garden. It was a place from Deanna's childhood, the gardens of the Troi mansion.

The stranger with her face was bending down to smell the Earth hyacinth her father had planted when she was a child. The image of her was older, a few streaks of silver cutting through her jet-black hair, and a fine network of wrinkles adding a careworn expression to her face. From somewhere out of the Guardian's range Will came up behind her. He too had aged considerably, though his eyes still twinkled with youthful mischief. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and gave a gentle squeeze. Deanna could see the couple talking, but no sound came from the Guardian.

Her mirror image ran her fingers through Will's thinning hair making it stand at odd angles, she tipped back her head and chuckled. He laughed at her teasing, placed his hand on the curve of her neck, and drew her toward him for a tender kiss.

"They look so happy don't they, so complete." The man who called him self Q taunted. "Where do you suppose it all went wrong?" The words fell heavily from his mouth, and as they did the wind kicked up with such force it stole the air from Deanna's lungs.

The Guardian's pictures swirled again, and this time when they stopped, it was a place and person she had never seen before.

There was a tall, slender young man with pale blond hair. He stood on a desolate world, a place that looked much like Forever World. His features were delicate, almost feminine, but they were twisted, distorted by a look of maniacal glee. In his ice-blue eyes madness shone, but it was the object in his hands that caught her attention. He held a piece of circular stone no bigger than the palm of his hand. Deanna could see that the stone was chiseled with markings that had been worn almost completely away by time.

The strange man's lips moved and the stone he was holding began to pulsate with light. Growing steadily brighter, until finally the light filled the Guardian's center, blocking all else from view. Deanna squeezed her eyes shut against the unnatural glow, and when she opened them again the image, and the man, were gone.

"What was that?" she asked, expecting an answer from Q. It was the Guardian that answered.

"A question was posed and it was answered," the Guardian's voice seemed to make the very ground tremble.

"What question?" she asked.

"Where did it all go wrong?" the Guardian answered.

She felt Q release his grip on her arm, but she stood frozen in place. Her eyes narrowed in confusion, her gut twisted in fear. Somehow, that man was responsible for everything that was wrong with her life. He was responsible for the invasion of her homeworld, the death of her child, the ruin of her marriage, and the eternal hell she currently lived in. She shook off her musings and turned to face Q.

But he was gone.

She shook her head slowly, trying to clear the muddling fog that was growing. It was too much to take in. How could one man be responsible for everything? She turned back purposefully to the Guardian, determined to find out what was happening.

"Replay the last image." The Guardian complied with her command instantly. As she watched, slowly, like spring releasing a lake from its icy prison, a plan began to form.


Q watched Deanna from the safety of the in-between place, neither in time, nor out of it. The place of existence.

He watched her re-play the scene over and over again, and each time her face seemed to set, to harden like drying clay. He knew he had done what he set out to do.

"What are you doing here Q?" The soft lyrical voice broke his musings, and startled him. There were very few people capable of startling him, but as he turned toward the voice in the nothingness, he stood face to face with one of them.

"Hello Watcher," Q said trying to keep the disinterested tone in his voice. No one really knew her name, at least no one that Q knew of. She was simply referred to as Watcher. He had never seen her in her physical form before; he studied her delicate features curiously. She was tall and slim, dressed in flowing, diaphanous white gown that constantly moved about her body, as did her waist long silver hair. Her face seemed almost fragile, like a piece of finely wrought crystal. Something to be handled with care. But he knew that was deceiving. She was power incarnate, one of the only beings that the Continuum feared, and avoided at all costs.

"I asked you a question, Q. You know this timeline is off limits. What are you doing here?" Her voice remained serene, though that serenity only thinly veiled the power within her. However, he was Q and no matter what the others in the Continuum thought, he did not fear her.

"I am simply watching. Since you have spent eons doing so, I figured there must be something terribly exciting about it."

"And you were not meddling?" she asked.

He pulled himself up indignantly. "I am not a meddler. I know better then to go where I am not wanted."

"That's good to know." Though her face remained impassive, he was sure he heard a note of laughter in her voice. She floated closer. Her aura hit him like a physical blow. For the first time in a long time, he felt a stirring awe. Of course being who he was this only served to annoy him.

He turned back to the images he was watching through the clouds of Time. Deanna still stood at the Guardian. Obsessively studying the last scene he had left her with.

"Q I know you have spoken with her. Through her dreams," the Watcher said. Her voice was gentle, almost motherly. "Did you really think you could hide it from me? I am the Watcher."

"I broke no rules." He internally winced at the defensiveness in his voice.

"Yet," she finished his thought.

"So what are you going to do? Banish me? Forbid me from returning?" He felt his annoyance rising. Just whom did she think she was dealing with? He was the Q.

She pinned him with a look. Her shimmering opalescent eyes transfixing him in place. "I don't care who you are. If I felt it necessary I could scatter your essence on the Winds of Time. I could extinguish your life force."

Q had lived a long life. As he looked into the Watchers eyes, saw her face twist with an anger that made her ethereal beauty so much more frightening, he felt fear. Real fear.

Just as suddenly as the anger had appeared, it was replaced by calm dignity. "Fortunately, I see no need to do so. As you said you have broken no rules." She came closer to him, and looked through the clouds of Time at the image of Deanna, still on Forever World. They both watched as Deanna worked the computer terminal that was set up next to the Guardian to record any thing the enigmatic relic displayed or said. Q had spent enough time among humans to know she was recording the images for future reference, and he smiled. 'Good girl, don't forget anything I told you,' he thought.

"You have observed her for a long time, haven't you?" the Watcher asked him. He was suddenly very aware of her nearness; her psychic sense overwhelmed him for a moment before he managed to gain control.

"Yes, I have watched her since she was a child."

"They are an interesting race aren't they?"

"Interesting is hardly the word I use. Inferior perhaps," he said.

He was surprised to feel her fingers touch his cheek. In his normal form, he had no sense of physical sensation. When in human form he rarely allowed himself to be touched, though there was the rather embarrassing episode with a certain Benjamin Sisko that still bothered him. He was shocked by the jolt of electricity her cool touch sent through him. It was like burning in a fire, and shivering from an icy cold all at the same time.

"Don't be so sure of their inferiority. They hold powers that you and I could not begin to understand." She withdrew her hand slowly, allowing contact to linger as long as possible. She gave him a half smile and stepped back, the fog that permeated the place began to draw around her, obscuring her from view. However, her voice echoed through him as she retreated. "Remember Q; leave her to make her own choices or Balance will never be found."


Sleep did not come to Deanna Troi that night. After making a copy of the
image the Guardian had shown her, she returned to quarters to process the
occurrences of that strange night.

Her thoughts were tumultuous, spinning from one fragmented thought to the
next like a child's top. She thought of the things she saw in the Guardian.
The invasion of her home world, her mother's death. She could still recall
the scent of burning, the screams of the dying in her head. Even after
twenty-three years, the damage done to her para-cortex never healed. She, along with
most of the surviving members of her race, could still hear the voices of the
dead in their minds. For the most part, it was easy to ignore. Like the
thrum of engines on a star ship, once you got used to the sound it rarely
registered. Yet, Deanna found there were times when the voices were louder,
unbearably so.

Like when Elizabeth died.

Her precious daughter, her strongest link to sanity. She found herself
rubbing her scar on the inside of her wrist, much the same way Q had a few
hours before. Q's taunting words echoed in her head, 'Surely there are better
ways to end your life. But you always were a touch melodramatic.'

She thought of that day. The day she inflicted the wound on herself.

She remembered so little about how she got away from the wreck of the
*Phoenix*. All she knew was her daughter was dead, while she herself had
survived. For the second time in her life she had cheated death, and that knowledge
was a foul taste in her mouth. Deanna's only injury was a small cut above her
right eye, the only proof that she had been on the transport ship at all
before it was attacked.

She sat on her hospital bed, listening to the distant sounds of nurses
and doctors shuffling through the halls. The emptiness clawed at her stomach,
the dead howled in her ears. A new voice now added to the symphony of humanity
that wailed in her mind. The voice of her daughter.

How long she sat on the bed, feeling nothing, she did not know, but
eventually she moved. Somehow one piece of luggage had survived, and lay on the
floor. She moved methodically, her joints stiff from disuse, and crouched down
to open up the suitcase.

Her breath hitched in her throat when she saw what was inside. They were
simple things really, Elizabeth's clothes, a small doll that she liked to
take with her on long trips. Deanna picked up each article of clothing,
carefully folding the shimmering pink jumpsuits and lilac dresses.

She knew she should cry knew it was not healthy to keep it all inside.
But she had no tears. She felt dried up, spent. As if the vacuum of space had
sucked everything out of her when it claimed her daughter. She knew it had.

And that's when she found the knife.

It was in a simple metal box, folded up in a pair of Deanna's pants. It
was silly, but that knife had gone everywhere with her since the day Ro gave
it to her. The day she left Jaros III. It was her talisman against bad luck,
a reminder of who she was and where she came from. As a talisman, it had

She stared at the knife, trying to bring back the emotions she usually
felt when she looked at it. Grief, nostalgia, loss, anything was better than
the emptiness. But nothing came.

Somehow, she ended up in the bathroom, though she did not recall moving.
The knife in her left hand glistened hypnotically in the bright sterile
light. All she wanted to do was feel again.

Feel anything.

She touched the knife to her wrist. Felt the cold steel. Her arm moved
the knife along her wrist. It seemed an independent act, separate from her
body. She had no control.

It wasn't until the warmth of her blood spread across her cold skin and
splashed onto the pristine white marble of the vanity that she stopped. The
bright red fluid entrapping her as surely as the glittering knife had.

Then she laughed. A high pitched manic laugh. It bubbled from her like
a stream. It was that laughter that attracted one of the nurses.

The Vulcan woman was calm as she took in the scene. Deanna leaning on
the vanity, blood pouring from her right wrist, and the knife still firmly
planted in her other hand. She disappeared for a moment, and returned with a small
device. By that time Deanna had fallen to the floor.

The Vulcan crouched down beside her. Unlike a human, she did not waste
time with unnecessary questions. No 'What were you thinking?' or 'Are you
alright?' crossed her thin, severe lips.

She simply gripped Deanna's bloody wrist, an uncharacteristic wince
crossing her face at the forced physical contact, and looked Deanna straight in the
eyes. "This is going to hurt, but there is no time to anesthetize you."

It was then that Deanna recalled where she was. Not a modern civilian
hospital, but a clinic, much like Pulaski's clinic on Jaros III. Where new
equipment was hard to get a hold of and the cure might be worse than the disease.
Deanna could see the instrument the Vulcan held in her hand was at least
twenty years old, maybe more. Yes, it was indeed going to hurt.

And it did. The regenerator knitted together her vein, her sliced muscle
tissue, and finally her skin. But it left the scar. No time to worry about
scars, just saving lives.

Deanna welcomed the pain, cried out as the wound was cauterized. For
just a split second, the emptiness was gone. It was worth the pain.

Deanna pulled herself from the memories slowly. She felt as if she were
caught in thick mud, trying to escape its grip, but the more she struggled the
harder it pulled on her. She did not want to think about all those things,
about Elizabeth, the attack on the transport ship the *Phoenix,* the end of her
marriage. There was just too much.

With a heavy sigh she turned back to her quarters, taking in the generic
décor with a grimace. There was only a simple bed, small dining table, and a
desk. The wind blustered faintly outside the barracks metal walls, muted but
still haunting.

"I have to do something," she mumbled to the empty room. She found, over
the years, that action was the only thing capable of dulling the edge of her
memories. Now, for the first time in a long time, she had purpose. Q had
given her something to focus on, a glimmer of hope in the bleakness.

She held the data chip in a protective fist, feeling the corners and hard
lines jab into her palm. She glanced at the chrono on the bedside table,
smiled at the time, all the scientist should be up now. She had questions, lots
of questions, for them to answer.


Archeologist, Jonathan Mailer was none too comfortable in the presence of
Starfleet Intelligence Officer Deanna Troi. She had come first thing in the
morning to the archive room demanding access to the computer banks. Of
course, Mailer could not have refused her. She was there on behalf of Starfleet, in
charge of the evaluation Mission Forever suffered through each year.
Something elusive about her bothered him. It was like knowing someone's name when
they were standing right in front of you, but being unable to call it up from
the depths of your mind. And then there were her eyes. Their inky depths
seemed to bore into him with unrelenting pressure, unnerving his normally placid

Now she was bent over a computer console, scanning through the
insurmountable amount of data collected during Mission Forever's forty years of work
with the Guardian. Mailer was trying hard to ignore her, especially since she
told him, rather bluntly, that she did not need his assistance with her search.

Mailer turned back to the pottery shards he was cataloging, carefully
entering all pertinent information on a data pad. He had over two hundred
different fragments of stonework, pottery, and even a few fossils to catalogue. All
of which were spread out on a long table in the warehouse like room. Besides
Troi, he was alone in his work, and he much preferred it that way. Though
his work was monotonous he enjoyed the steady quite. Not that he was getting
much of it today.

Troi spewed forth a string of words in an alien, though lovely, language.
Mailer could tell from her tone of voice that they were swear words and his
assumption was confirmed when she smacked the palm of her hand on the console
and spoke in standard.


Mailer turned from his artifact table, and smiled at Troi's back, amused
at her lack of composure. "Something I can help you with Ms. Troi?" He
wasn't sure what her rank was, he wasn't even sure if SI officers had a real rank,
and he sure as hell didn't want to use her first name.

She spun around, perhaps hearing the humor in his voice, and stabbed him
with a narrow eyed stare. "How do you keep track of anything here? These
files are all out of order, it's impossible to find what you're looking for."

He gently replaced the fist-sized piece of pottery he was holding on the
table and took a step toward the console. "Are you looking for something

If possible, her gaze narrowed further, a twist of suspicion crossing her
face. "Yes, "she answered reluctantly. He pulled a chair in front of the
computer terminal.

He looked up at her from his sitting position, the glow of the computer
screen casting her features in a light not unlike candle light. She was
lovely, though the hard lean lines of her figure, and the haunted searching look in
her eyes would easily scare most men away. He noticed that she was studying
him with equal intensity, though she looked more curious about something as
opposed to finding him attractive. He got the sinking feeling she had just
picked up on everything he was thinking. To cover his embarrassment he ran his
finger through his thinning gray hair and down his neck to rub at a sore spot.

"Are you looking for a past image the Guardian has shown, or something
else?" he asked.

She appeared to come to a decision about him. Most of the tension eased
from her face and she sat down in the chair beside him. "I'm not really sure
what I'm looking for?"

Well," he said doubtfully, "if you could give me some place to start."

She studied him again for another moment, he was starting to conclude
that she rarely made a decision rashly, and then nodded her head in one sharp
motion. She leaned forward, hit a key on the terminal, and instantly an image
popped up on the screen. The picture was frozen on a man, standing on a
dry-looking planet, holding a circular stone, etched with fading markings.

"Do you recognize this man?" she asked.

"No. Should I?"

"What about the stone he's holding?"

"Well," Mailer started slowly. "It does look a little like the artifacts
we found on the planet, about three kilometers south of here. The remnants
of a town maybe, or some other place where a large number of people would have
collected." Mailer was truly excited about the discovery. It was the first
of its kind ever found on Planet Forever. Perhaps the first step in unraveling
the mysteries of this planet and the ancient Guardian.

"What about the markings?"

Mailer squinted at them and cocked his head to one side thoughtfully
before a slow satisfied smile spread across his aged features. "I actually think
I might be able to translate these two markings here." He pointed at two of
the markings that sat side by side. He glanced up at Troi just in time to see
a thrill of excitement light up her face before the flame was snuffed out,
replaced by indifference.

"Then do it," she said.

It took him longer than he had anticipated to work through the database
of languages, but after nearly an hour of stooping over the terminal he
finished. Troi had not left his side the entire time.

"It's curious really. These markings are similar to the languages of
several cultures throughout this quadrant. As far as I can tell the one shaped
like an upside down pyramid, with a sun seeming to peak over its base, and
three lines coming off its tip, means the same thing in at least three ancient

"Doctor, I did not come here for a lesson in language history. Just tell
me what the damn things mean."

He huffed a little at her rudeness, but continued. "The pyramid shape
generally translates to the passage of time. The sun included with it means a
great expanse of time. Now the three lines are harder to translate, but I
think they represent a break, like the way a prism refracts light, breaking it
apart and recasting into something new. And the other symbol is quite easy, at
least for translating, it stands for both death *and* rebirth."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Well, for lack of a better translation, or a Rosetta stone for alien
languages, I think it means either the birth, or death, of time." Troi shook her
head slowly, and Mailer could see her confusion mounting. "Look, it
basically means that whoever marked the stone like that thought it was a weapon of
some kind. A weapon that would either bring about something new and glorious or
destroy the universe. Your fairly standard mythology really."

He watched her pace the room, her chin resting on her steepled fingers.
After a few moments she stooped mid-stride and turned to Mailer.

"May I ask you another question?" she asked.

"Could I stop you?" His attempt at humor earned him a wan smile from
Troi that evaporated as quickly as water in the desert.

"What do you know about alternate timelines?"

"Well," he said trying to keep the excitement from his features. Troi
had accidentally hit on a passion of his. "I'm afraid I'm no expert or
physicist, but I have done a bit of research on the subject. Being stationed at
Planet Forever you sort of develop an interest in the bizarre and alternate
timelines are definitely that."

Troi sat back down in her chair though Mailer did notice, with of touch
sadness, that she had pulled her chair further away. He brushed this off as
mere happenstance and launched into his theories his speech becoming fast in his

"There are so many interesting braches from our own timeline one could
not possibly hope to catalog them all, but there are a few incidents that seem
to shape the very fabric of those timelines. I myself have studied what I
believe to be one timeline, though sometimes it's hard to tell which is which,
they are so similar as to be almost the same."

"Please, go on," Troi urged, propping her elbows up on the terminal and
resting her cheek in the palm of her hand, Her casual body language allowing
her appearance to soften for a moment, so much so that Mailer stumbled over his
next words.

"Well…Um…There is the obvious fact that these other timelines are not at
war with the Klingons or the Romulans. In fact from what the Guardian has
shown us it seems that they are at peace with the Klingons at least, and suffer
an uneasy truce with the Romulans." Mailer could see Troi mulling this over.

"Has the Guardian given any indication of how this happened?" she asked.

"As full of an explanation as you can get from the Guardian. It appears
that in some of the timelines James T. Kirk did not participate in the mass
murder of several Klingons and the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon of the
Klingon High Counsel. As you know those murders and the failed attempt of
Capitan Spock to rescue his comrades created an international incident that allowed
the Romulans to renew their friendship with the Klingons."

"And that didn't happen in these other timelines?"

"Gorkon was murdered, just like in this time, but Kirk was found
innocent. It led to a long standing peace accord with the Klingons, which helped keep
the Romulans at bay. There are a myriad of other similar things, small
things in the scope of time, which allowed for continued peace. But for whatever
reason those things never happened here, or if they did they had different

Troi leaned back in her chair, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip
while digesting all this.

"I assume that's not all the Guardian has shown?" she finally said after
a few moments.

"No, indeed it is not. However, that is perhaps the most disturbing.
There are a few incidents, minor things really, that have given us pause for
thought. For example in several to the observed timelines there is only one

"Really," Troi said raising her eyebrows in mild disbelief.

"It appears in a great deal of the timelines we have been shown, Dr.
Maddox lost his claim on the Soong type android, the one called Data. So, he was
never able to create duplicates of the android. Unlike with us, they do not
have an android on almost every Federation ship, or the technology that was
born of Maddox's discoveries."

" Interesting," she said. She looked uncomfortable for a moment, but
seemed to shrug it off quickly. "How many of these timelines have you recorded?"
Troi asked.

Of all her questions this was perhaps the only one that caused a
sensation much like dread to thrum inside him. "A few," he replied cautiously. He
was suddenly aware of how some of the information the Guardian dispensed so
freely could be dangerous in the wrong hands. It was in fact only the scientists'
theories on the danger of meddling with time and other alternate realities
that kept Starfleet from using the Guardian to its own end. He was beginning to
feel that he just talked himself into a corner, when the inevitable question

"May I see the alternate timelines?" she asked, her voice the epitome of
honeyed sweetness.

Mailer scrambled for an excuse not to show them to her, but in the end
knew it was a lost cause. He could not deny a Starfleet Intelligence officer
anything, especially this one. He may have known more about ancient rocks then
he did about people, but he was sure this particular woman would not let him
stand in the way if she truly wanted something.

"Of course," he answered hesitantly.

As if reading his inner most thoughts, Troi leaned forward and placed her
hand on his knee. "Doctor I assure you that the information gathered here
will not be used for anything but pure research. My security clearance codes
are second only to the highest ranking officials of Starfleet Command, do you
really think I would be granted such a high clearance if I could not be

"No I don't suppose you would," he said. She squeezed his knee
affectionately and bestowed a dazzling smile on him. "So, if I could take a look at
the recordings of the alternate timelines I would be very appreciative."

A short time later, Mailer watched Troi leave the archive room with her
requested data in hand. As the doors swished shut behind her he chastised
himself for being such a paranoid, foolish old man and went back to his table of
pottery shards.


Less then one hour later Deanna's suitcase was packed and her
shuttlecraft humming. She sat in the cockpit, mechanically ticking off the pre-flight
checklist. It was second nature to her, while one part of her brain checked the
shields, engines, weapons, and life support, the other part concentrated on
her new problem.

She realized what Q had shown her last night was an alternate universe.
One in which her daughter lived, and she and Will were still together. One in
which the invasion of her homeworld never occurred. She also recognized the
surge of jealousy that flooded her, jealousy for the life the other Deanna
Troi lived. The life of apparent happiness and fulfillment. She pushed the envy
down inside her, as she was accustomed to doing with many of her emotions,
and concentrated on the problem at hand.

How to fix what had gone wrong with her own life. And she thought she
had a good idea of where to start. She had to find out everything she could
about that strange man Q wanted to her to see so badly, and the artifact. The
one that Mailer had called a weapon, something that could bring about the
destruction or rebirth of the universe.

As her shuttle ascended into the ominous clouds of Forever World, she
felt her own rebirth. The weight of the last twenty odd years of grief, and
guilt melting as the cold light of the alien sun touched her.

She knew, as she left Forever World behind, that there was no going back.
From the moment she had made the decision to go to the Guardian, her life
had changed. She had new direction, a focus for her years of self-loathing and
anger. She smiled in the dim light of the shuttle, punched in the
coordinates, and pushed the craft into warp drive.

For those with the ears to listen, the sound of triumphant laughter
echoed through the vacuum of space. Q had indeed succeeded in his mission, and he
knew it.


Chapter Three
Seven Years Later 2375

Oh Time! The beautifier of the dead
Adorner of the ruin, Comforter
And only healer when the heart hath bleed;
... Time, the Avenger

Lord Byron from *Childe Harold's Pilgrimage*

William could still recall the sound of his father's voice when the old
man gave him the only piece of fatherly advice the boy had ever received. It
was during their first, and last, flying lesson, sitting in the cramped
two-person transport unit.

'Son,' Kyle Riker said, the only time he had ever called him 'son'.
'Ships are like women. Treat them firmly but gently, show them respect for their
power and they'll give you the goods every time.' It was a sentiment Will
continued to hear throughout his career in Starfleet. It seemed every man
fancied a ship was a woman.

Looking back Will had to question the wisdom of saying something like
that to a twelve-year-old boy, but wisdom was something his father did not carry
in spades. The saying, cliché as it was, was attached to the only memory he
had of being close to his father. It was the last time Will could remember
liking Kyle Riker. It was one of the last times he saw Kyle through youthful
eyes, as a son yearning for the day his father would look on him with pride. That
day never came.

Now, quickly approaching forty, he knew what his father said was not
completely correct. You could show a ship gentleness, respect, and love and it
would give you its all. Women did not work in the same way. No matter how much
love and respect you gave them, they left. Even if you loved them with
everything you were; they would still leave you scavenging for the pieces of your
life like an animal. Desperately trying to hold on to the few scraps you had

That was how he found himself prowling the corridors of the warship
*Enterprise*. Finding comfort in the welcoming, concealing darkness. In these
moments the *Enterprise* was more like a woman then any other time. She was myst
erious, rich, and sensual. Welcoming him into the warmth of her embrace as a
Siren's songs lured sailors centuries ago. In her enveloping darkness, the
simulated night, he could hide his face from the rest of the universe and leave
his mind free to explore thoughts best kept away from the light of day.

He thought of many things on this night. The woman, Allison, he left
sleeping alone in her bed, how angry she would be when she woke to find him gone.
He thought of the woman who once broke his heart, the woman he pretended
Allison was in the dark.

He wasn't proud of himself. He was not so far gone that he didn't know
he was being callous. Perhaps he would have felt more guilt if he thought
Allison truly loved him. As much as it might hurt his ego, he knew she looked at
him as an opportunity to advance her career.

He chuckled in the dark. *She's not a very smart girl if she thinks
sleeping with a has-been like me will do anything for her,* he mused. Maybe in
her own way she really did care. The thought came unbidden, but he shrugged it
off as the wishful thinking of someone who knows they're being used but can't
strike up the courage to put an end to it. Or, perhaps, someone who is doing
a little using themselves.

He stepped into a well-lit turbolift, and leaned against the back wall.
"Deck eight," he said. As the lift complied with his order, he remembered a
recent conversation with Counselor Delaney during one of their weekly sessions.
Delaney suggested that William continued to enter into negative
relationships because a part of him thought that that was all he was worth. It sounded
like bullshit psychotherapy to Will. He ran his hands through his hair,
grimacing at the few strands that stuck to his fingers, and sighed.

The turbolift stopped and Will resumed his walk. Within moments he stood
outside his quarters staring at the door. He should go in and sleep, but the
idea of facing that empty room made him uneasy. What was there for him?
More darkness, disturbing thoughts, growing self-pity, and a bottle of bourbon
hidden in one of his drawers. In the end, it was the sound of someone coming
down the corridor that made up his mind. The last thing he wanted was to be
found staring at his own door in the middle of the night. Most of the crew
already thought he was crazy, no reason to give them proof. He quickly keyed in
his access code and stepped through the doors.

The room was as he expected it to be, empty, bare of decoration,
unwelcoming. He looked at the chrono beside his unmade bed, and made a face of
disgust. He only had three hours to drink himself into sleep before he had to get
up and get ready for bridge duty.

"Well old man," he said to the empty room, "better get busy. Starfleet
doesn't like slackers."


He dreamt a familiar dream that night.

He was walking through an empty house. A house he once shared with a
wife and daughter.

He moved through each room, trying to call out their names, but his voice
was gone. He became frantic, opening his mouth wide to scream, but no sound
came. The rooms were empty and cold.

He started running from room to room, throwing open doors, and bellowing.
Still no noise. Panic clawed at him.

The dream melted into a sludge of images, memories, and sensation. His
daughter smiling at him, her midnight blue eyes shinning like sapphires.
Deanna calmly telling him it was over. Images of war, and battle. All swirling


Will awoke with a start, upsetting the glass that he had fallen asleep
holding. The amber colored bourbon sloshed over the rim, soaking his arm in
the strong smelling alcohol.

"Damn," he swore. He stood from the chair that had served as his bed and
headed toward the bathroom. When he caught sight of the time, he cursed
again. Only twenty minutes before he had to be on the bridge.

If there was one thing he was good at, it was running late. In fact, it
seemed to be the story of his life. Within fifteen minutes he was showered,
dressed, and standing in front of his mirror looking at his blood-shot eyes.
He felt suddenly tired, not just from lack of sleep but a deep weariness that
settled into his bones. He rubbed his face with his hands hoping to wipe away
the grittiness and the last tendrils of dream.

Will took in his slightly rumpled appearance, and tried to smooth the
creases in his uniform with the palms of his hands. "Old Baldy's not going to
like this," he said to his reflection. "But he can damn well get over it."

Will snapped his heels together, threw off a jaunty salute to the mirror,
and walked out the door.

He walked onto the bridge two minutes later, right on time. The rest of
alpha shift was already at their posts. La Forge and Yar were along the back
bulkhead at tactical and engineering. Lieutenant Crusher sat at helm and
Data, in his nondescript grey jumpsuit, at ops. Riker nodded to each and was
starting his morning inspections when he noticed the captain was missing. This
could mean one of two things. Either the old man had finally croaked, or he was
sitting in his ready room pondering whatever philosophical mysteries bounded
about in that senile head of his.

"Data, where is the captain?" he asked

"Captain Picard received a priority one message from Starfleet Command,"
Data replied in his monotone voice. Even after five years of working with
the android, Will was uncomfortable under its golden-eyed stare. This
particular Data model was a second-generation copy of the only Soong type android known
to exist. Every time Will looked at it, he could not help but think about
the original Data. The one who had been denied admittance into Starfleet; the
one who had his freedoms stripped from him and even now was probably laying in
pieces in some laboratory, being studied by over-eager scientists. The idea
did not sit well with Riker. Something about it was just wrong, but he had no
time to think on it this morning. He did not like the thought of what a
priority one message from HQ might mean.

He nodded absently at Data's reply and continued his circle around the
bridge, all the while pondering what Picard could be hearing in his ready room.
As Will approached the tactical and engineering stations that took up the
entire back of the bridge, he caught sight of Yar and La Forge bent over a
terminal whispering to one another. La Forge saw Riker approaching and elbowed Yar
to warn her. Picard did not like idle chit chat on the bridge, but Riker
couldn't have cared less, so long as they did their job when the time came.

"Mr. La Forge," Riker said with a nod of greeting. "Anything to report?"

"No, sir. The engines are still running at seventy-five percent.
Shields are down by twenty-three percent. That last scrimmage with the Romulans
didn't do either one any good."

"Any recommendations?" Will regretted the question as soon as it was out
of his mouth. La Forge always made the same recommendation.

"Yes, sir. We need to get her into space dock. There is only so much I
can do out here with limited resources."

While Will was inclined to agree, he knew there was little hope of La
Forge getting his wish. Since the destruction of Starbase 420 the month before,
Starfleet was hurting for the manpower and resources that kept ships in good
working order. But he figured passing on the information to Picard couldn't

"I'll speak to the captain about it," he told the engineer. Geordi
thanked him and went back to his readouts, while Riker turned his attention to the
tactical officer, Tasha Yar.

When he first transferred to the *Enterprise* he thought Tasha an
attractive woman. Her lean athletic body, and sharp blue eyes drew him in, not that
he was terribly particular. For the most part just breathing was enough. He
was, of course, shot down ruthlessly. She was a tough, no-nonsense kind of
woman, and she made clear her distaste for his "freewheeling" lifestyle. How
ironic she thought him free, since he considered himself tied down by gossamer
threads of guilt, and self-loathing.

"Status report," he said in a clipped tone.

Tasha returned his curt tone when she replied. "Weapons are functioning
at ninety-three percent, sir." Her reply was not as comprehensive as
procedure dictated, but he wasn't going to push the issue. His head hurt badly enough
without feeling her contempt-filled glare pinpointed on him. He nodded and
moved on.

He finished his inspection and came to stand at his post to the right of
the captain's chair, behind the waist-tall display terminals that compiled all
the incoming information from each station. After a cursory glance at the
readouts, he leaned back on his heels and waited for Picard to poke his
turtlehead out of the ready room.

Luckily he didn't have long to wait. Picard strode onto the bridge;
grimace frozen on his face as if he had a bad taste in his mouth that he could not
quite expel. He paused outside his ready room door and surveyed his bridge
crew. His hawk-like hazel eyes landed on each person in turn before coming to
rest on Riker himself. He took in Riker's slightly disheveled hair and
uniform and his grimace deepened. Riker was used to feeling as if he always came up
short to Picard's yardstick, and shrugged off the captain's obvious

"Commander," Picard said in a voice, that while professional, lacked any
real warmth.

"Sir," he replied with a nod of his head.

Picard sat in his command chair, shifted until he found a comfortable
position, and then turned to his first officer. "We have had a change of orders.
We are to change course to 45006.8 at warp factor seven. Please see to the
changes." He turned to the displays built into his armrest, letting Riker
know he was done with him for now.

"Lieutenant Crusher, adjust current heading to 45006.8 at warp factor
seven," he said.

"Aye sir," Crusher responded.

Riker felt the vibrations under his boots, signifying a change in speed.
"Data, estimated time of arrival?"

The android did not even pause before rattling off; "Ten minutes and
forty-seven point three seconds." Riker tried not to smile at the android, who
had obviously missed the word 'estimated'.

Riker spent the ten minutes trying not to think, something he was
becoming good at. But his mind kept wondering of its own volition, as he watched the
crew go about their daily routines, saw the same detached, far away look on
their face that he imagined he himself wore as well.

He idly thought about their chances for seeing action anytime soon, but
decided they were too far into Federation space to meet up with much of a
threat. *This is pretty much what my life has become,* he thought, *long drawn out
moments of waiting broken up by having my life threatened.* It was an
uncomfortable thought and he stored it away with the other uncomfortable thoughts,
deep in his mind.

"Something wrong Commander?" Picard's cool voice sliced through the last
of his troubling thoughts. He had obviously noticed Riker's daydreaming.

"No, sir."

"Good. I believe we are approaching the designated coordinates."

Riker looked down at his readouts and gave himself a mental kick for not
noticing sooner. "Full stop."

"Aye sir; full stop," Crusher said as his hands flew over the console.
As they dropped out of warp, Riker could see the *Goliath* hanging against the
velvety blackness of space.

"We are being hailed," Yar said.

"On screen." Picard stood from his chair and moved in front of the view
screen, his back ramrod straight. The face of Vice-Admiral Nechayev appeared
on the screen. Her severe features were even more pinched than normal, and
Will felt his stomach muscles tighten in apprehension. Whatever this was about,
it was not a good sign if this woman was involved. Commander Franklin, one
of Will's former commanding officers, had referred to Nechayev as 'hell on
hills'. A sexist attitude, even for Riker, but accurate nonetheless.

"Captain Picard, how good of you to finally join us," she said. There
was no doubt in Riker's mind, the woman was as cold as frozen fish, and almost
as appetizing.

"Admiral," Picard replied. If he noticed her sarcasm, he gave no outward
sign. Riker had to respect him for that. While Picard could be a pain in
his ass, he knew how to play the game. "I assume you have a good reason for
taking us off course to meet you." Picard's tone remained respectful, but there
was a hint of frustration in his well-polished words.

"Charming as always Jean-Luc. She sounded amused at Picard's
brusqueness, but it fled so quickly Riker wasn't sure if he imagined it. "We will be
beaming aboard momentarily to discuss your new mission. Nechayev out."

"Commander, please escort our *guest* to my ready room when she arrives,"
Picard said as he turned on his heel and retreated into his sanctuary.
Probably to curse whatever Gods were responsible for the admiral's visit.

"Yes sir," Riker replied to Picard's retreating back. "You have the
bridge Yar."

As he made his way to transporter room three he wondered what the admiral
could want, but decided it mattered little either way. Chances were it was
something that didn't directly involve him, and he had little energy to spare
for useless pondering.

He barely acknowledged the young ensign operating the transporter.
"They're ready for transport sir," the young man said. At one point in Riker's
career, he might have bothered to remember the man's name, but not now.

"Then by all means, Ensign, beam them over." Soon the familiar whine of
the transporters filled the room, and after the glittering light faded, two
women stood on the platform. Riker opened his mouth to say hello, but no noise

Standing there, next to the admiral, was a woman Will had thought, maybe
even hoped, he would never see again. His ex-wife; Deanna Troi.


Chapter Four

Nods from the Gilded pointers-
Nods from the Seconds slim-
Decades of Arrogance between
The Dial life
And him

Emily Dickinson
Poem 287

A whirlpool of emotions spun wildly through Riker, threatening to take
him and his hard won control. He wanted to move, wanted to touch her, hurt her,
yell and rant. But it was all too surreal. His brain felt thick, muffled by
the weight of too many thoughts and feelings pounding against his skull. And
Deanna just stood there with a serene, all-knowing expression on her face.
Still he could not move. Aid came to him in the unlikely form of Admiral

"Commander," the admiral said in greeting as she stepped off the
platform. She made a vague gesture toward Deanna. "I would introduce you two, but I
have a feeling that you already know one another. So, why don't we skip the
pleasantries, and get down to business."

Her brusque tone brought him back to the surface long enough to respond.
"Yes ma'am." He tore his gaze away from Deanna, forcing his brain to
concentrate on the task at hand. He walked out the transporter room door, not even
bothering to see if the two women followed, he couldn't risk looking at her
again. Even with his back turned he could feel those dark eyes on him,
measuring, weighing, assessing.

The short ride in the turbolift was silent and uncomfortable. Both women
stood straight-backed, eyes forward, waiting for the doors to open. Will
tried to copy their posture, but couldn't help the occasional glances in Deanna's
direction. Now that the shock was starting to wear off, he noticed the
subtle changes in her. She wore her hair in a functional upsweep, not an
unflattering look, but certainly not a style that enflamed the senses. Her body, once
soft and full, was harder and leaner. He could see the line of muscles
beneath the thin material of her black uniform. There were more lines around her
eyes and brow then he remembered, but he had seen the same signs of aging on his
own face.

*What is she doing here? How long is she staying? Will she talk to me?
Does she hate me? Do I hate her?* Too many questions bounced inside his head.
Part of him wanted to talk to her, to get the answers to his decade-old
questions. Another part, a small, but still loud voice, wanted to nothing to do
with her, unless it was to tell her how cold-hearted she was. He took a
perverse moment of pleasure at that thought, visualizing the expression on her face
when he told her he hated her. Would she be hurt? Angry? Either one would
suit him nicely.

The turbolift opening up on the bridge cut off his musings, and he
stepped out quickly. "Admiral on the bridge," he called.

The crew jumped immediately to attention as Nechayev passed them on her
way to the ready room. Riker followed behind as they all filed into the
captain's cramped ready room. The captain stood at attention in front of his desk,
waiting for the Admiral to begin speaking.

"At ease," Nechayev said absently. She gestured toward Deanna. "This is
Starfleet Intelligence officer, Deanna Troi."

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Captain," Deanna said. Her voice was just
as Will remembered it, soft and lilting, with a trace of an accent that lent
a lyrical quality to her words. A voice that still haunted his dreams.

Picard looked warily at Troi, his eyebrows raised in question.
"Starfleet Intelligence. Well it has been a while since an SI officer graced our door.
To what do we owe the pleasure?" Picard noticed Riker still standing beside
the door. "You are dismissed," he said, sounding like a king in his throne

"Actually sir, what I have to say directly involves your first officer,"
Troi said. Riker froze in mid-stride. *What the hell does she want me for?*
He turned and saw the same question written on Picard's features. He almost
laughed at his captain's confusion; it was rare to see the stoic Picard

"Of course," Picard said, recovering quickly. "Please have a seat. May
I offer anyone a drink?"

"Let's just get on with it," Nechayev cut in. "I have other matters that
require my attention." She shot Troi a scathing look. Obviously, the SI
officer had pulled Nechayev away from other duties, and the admiral was less then
happy about it.

Troi ignored Nechayev, pulled a data PADD from her pocket, and slid it
across the desk to Picard. "It is a transfer order from HQ," Deanna said as
Picard picked up the PADD. "Requesting the temporary transfer of Commander
William T. Riker into my command for a special ops mission." She leaned back in
her chair, arms crossed, and waited. Picard gave her a blank look.

*Speechless twice in one day. That has to be a record,* Will thought.
One of the many things that bothered him about Picard was his ability to pull a
long-winded speech right out of his ass.

After a few moments--in which time Picard seemed to realize that Troi was
not telling him anything else-he answered. "I see. I assume I have no real
choice in the matter."

"You assume correctly," Troi replied. Her voice was sympathetic, her
body language subdued, as if reminding Picard of the old adage about shooting the
messenger. Her sympathy was so well played that even Riker might have been
inclined to believe, if he didn't know her as well as he did. "Command
considers this mission to be of the utmost importance."

"And, of course, so top-secret that you cannot enlighten me as to what
the mission is," Picard said.

"No sir, I cannot," she said. "I can tell you that we will have him
returned to you as quickly as possible. I know how much you rely on him, and I
would hate to leave you without his services for too long."

Riker didn't bother covering the snicker that escaped him. *It's
probably Picard's wet dream to have me leave the ship,* he thought.

"Far be it from me to belittle Commands choice in officers, but Commander
Riker's record is not exactly spotless," Picard said. "I myself have lodged
several complaints concerning his performance." *By all means, you bastard,
talk about me as if I'm not even here. Tell them everything I do. Every
mistake I've made.* Picard continued, unaware of the angry glare Riker was giving
him. "He is willful, disorganized, anti-social, and insubordinate. I think
you should be aware of what you are getting yourself into."

"While I'm sure Commander Riker appreciates your honesty; as I do, I
assure you the choice of the commander was well thought out. It would not be on
his public records, for they are classified missions, but he participated in
several missions that took him into Romulan space when he was a lieutenant."
Troi said. Riker fancied a touch of indignation in her voice, as if she were
standing up for him. But he still winced internally at the comment. It was
because of one of those very missions, one that took him away for several months,
that he was gone when everything in his life went to hell. When he got the
news from his commanding officer that his daughter was dead.

Deanna turned and looked at him for the first time since the meeting
began. A look that lasted for no more then a split second, yet was filled with
shared sorrow. That one glance gave him hope. Whatever else lay between them,
and there was plenty of hurt feeling to go around, they still held some
tenuous connection. The life they once shared together. He was so wrapped up in
this thought; he barely noticed when the conversation continued.

"Well, I see I have no choice in the matter," Picard was saying. He
turned to Nechayev with a sneer of contempt. "And I suppose you are the one
responsible for this decision?"

"Not this time, Jean-Luc," Nechayev replied, the first time she had
spoken since the meeting began. Which was strange in and of it self.

Picard rubbed his chin in thought, as if going through all the
implications of the small pieces of information he had been given. One thing Riker
noticed about Picard was the tenacity with which he attacked a mystery. He hated
to leave things unsolved, unexplored. He seemed to come to a conclusion,
stood from his chair, and faced Riker.

"By order of Starfleet Command, you are herby relieved of your duties to
the *Enterprise* and placed under the authority of Starfleet Intelligence,"
Picard said, with what Riker thought to be a bit too much gusto.

Riker felt a flash of annoyance. Not once during this little exchange
had he been personally addressed, he was just overlooked like a piece of ugly
furniture. "Don't I get a say in any of this?" he said managing to keep most of
the anger out of his voice.

"Actually," Troi said, "you still have one more year of mandatory service
for Starfleet. So no, you do not in, fact, get a say." Her tone was
neutral, neither warm nor annoyed. Data's voice had more humanity in it. Her
casualness only served to fuel Riker's anger, his jaws mashing together in an
attempt to hold back a tirade.

"Can you at least tell me what this mission entails?" he asked.

Deanna, perhaps sensing his ire, answered in a softer tone. "I'm sorry,
not at this time. You will be briefed on the particulars of the mission when
we board our transport ship at oh-eight-hundred hours tomorrow." With this,
she turned to Capitan Picard. "The *Enterprise* is to hold this position until
our departure, and maintain complete sub-space radio silence. And Admiral,
thank you for your time and assistance in this matter. Starfleet Intelligence
appreciates your cooperation."

Both Picard and Nechayev nodded, Picard acknowledging her orders,
Nechayev her thanks, though the admiral still looked displeased. "We will beam your
possessions over to the *Enterprise*,"Nechayev said.

"Commander Riker can take you to your quarters," Picard said

"Thank you." Troi turned on her heel and walked out the door, leaving
Will to hurry after. As the ready room door swooshed shut behind him, he
couldn't help but wonder what Deanna was getting him into.


Jean-Luc Picard watched his first officer and Troi depart with a mixture
of frustration and curiosity. "Charming woman," he said.

"You have no idea," Nechayev replied. "She may not be the warmest person
I've ever met, but she is one of the best."

Picard, who held a personal dislike for Starfleet Intelligence and its
officers, simply nodded. "Still, perhaps you could give me some clue as to what
this mission is?" It would have surprised Riker to know that Picard, while
not overly fond of him, did worry about his safety. Picard once thought Riker
might be redeemable, which was why he chose him as the second in command, but
after five years it was obvious that Riker did not want to be redeemed. He
didn't want to work past the blemishes on his record that started building up
less then ten years ago. In fact, Riker seemed perfectly content giving just
enough to get by. That, more then anything, annoyed Picard. He had given the
troubled officer a second chance, and Riker repaid him with apathy.

"I wish I knew what this mission was about. SI is cloaked in so much
secrecy it's hard to get a straight answer from anyone, and we've had to maintain
sub-space radio silence too. Once I leave here, I'll be making a few
inquires. I'll let you know what I find," Nechayev said.

Picard was surprised, both by her wiliness to share the information and
by the fact she had no idea what was going on in the first place. She was
rarely left out of the information loop. "That would be appreciated," he said.
"I do hope she knows what she's getting into with Riker."

"I'm sure she does. You didn't notice, did you?" Nechayev asked.

"Notice what?"

"She's a Betazoid. And on top of that I'm pretty sure they know each

"A Betazoid . . . now that is interesting."

"I wouldn't bring it up to her if I were you," Nechayev said with a trace
of a smile. "She's a little touchy. She overheard one of the ensigns on the
*Goliath* using the word Betazoid in an unflattering analogy. She gave him a
serious, and much deserved, dressing down."

Picard could well imagine the analogy the unsuspecting ensign had used.
'Crazier then a Betazoid,' was a common expression. After the invasion of
their homeworld, some twenty years ago, many Betazoids had proven to be unstable.
The strain of sharing in the death and injury of thousands of their fellow
species had driven more then a few over the edge. Though Picard believed it
was a stereotype, he had read enough reports on the phenomenon to know that they
were not completely unfounded. Apparently, there were serious drawbacks to
being a telepathic race.

Nechayev leaned back in her chair looking suddenly tired. "I am afraid I
do have some other news." She looked down at her hands folded in her lap,
drew a deep breathe, and began. "Yesterday, at fourteen-hundred hours, the hood
was destroyed with all hands on deck." She spoke quickly; as if afraid she
would lose her nerve. She looked up at Picard and he could see a trace of
moisture in her eyes. Not tears, for the admiral was too much a professional to
cry, but a sub-conscious acknowledgement of the two-hundred lives lost.

"Captain Reeves was an excellent officer," Picard said more to himself
than to her. "It is a shame to see him go."

Nechayev simply nodded. A long silence developed between the two, each
one thinking of the officers lost and the repercussions of that loss to the war

Finally, Nechayev spoke up. "The Romulans have been emboldened by their
recent wins. They are making aggressive attacks along the borders, aided by
the Klingons, as always. We even have reason to believe that the Cardassians
are courting their favor. Now that it looks like the Romulans are the winning
team, they're finally ready to throw their hats into the ring."

Picard absorbed this information with a growing sense of foreboding.
There were times it seemed that the universe transpired against the Federation.
He rejected this thought as useless. He had seen enough to know that there
was no such thing as omnipotent beings that guided the universe, just the
ever-elusive power of chance. A power that was not in their favor.

*We don't have long now,* he thought. It was a morbid thought, and he
knew it. But somehow he doubted he was the first to think it. Nechayev seemed
to be feeling the same way, if her defeated posture was any indication. But
he kept the thought to himself, as did Nechayev. He simply nodded.

"Thank you for telling me yourself."

"You're welcome." She stood, and offered Jean-Luc her hand. "It's been
a pleasure as always, Jean-Luc," she said with a trace of her usual sarcasm.
"Hopefully we'll see each other again soon."

"I look forward to that," Picard replied, as he shook her hand in one
short movement.

Nechayev turned and walked out of the ready room, leaving Picard behind
to mull over the future of his ailing but beloved Federation.

He could not quite shake the feeling that they were quickly running out
of time. If they ever had enough to begin with.


Chapter Five-A

From time to time
Minutes and hours
Some move ahead
While some lag behind
It's like the balloon
That rise and then vanish
This drop of hope
That falls from his eyes.

Dave Matthews' Band ~ *Spoon*
*Before These Crowded Streets*

If Will thought the turbolift ride to the bridge was uncomfortable, he
was learning a completely new definition of the word on the ride to deck eight
and Deanna's quarters. The silence between them was palpable, a living animal,
crackling with intensity, ready to strike. Will hazarded a glance at Deanna
out of the corner of his eye. She leaned against the opposite wall, arms
crossed, and a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth appearing to enjoy his

He thought of; and then rejected things to say. Everything seeming too
petty, insignificant, or cruel. What do you say to someone who broke you?
Someone you broke as well? Will could find nothing that summed up his ten years
of anger, guilt, frustration, and self-loathing in one sentence. So, he took
his cue from Deanna, crossed his arms over his chest, and settled in to wait
out the silence.

Even after stepping off the turbolift and beginning their trip down the
corridor they still did not speak. Deanna followed mutely behind him. Will
was reminded of the old childhood game; chicken. One opponent would face down
another, usually in a hovercraft of some kind, then they would both launch at
each other speeding toward an immanent collision, until one pulled away. That
was the game he and Deanna played. The first one to break the silence, to
bring up the past, lost.

They arrived at the door to the guest quarters. Will keyed in the
entrance code, and stood back for her to enter. Deanna brushed past him, a bit
closer than necessary. She immediately began inspecting the small room, paying
him little attention as he stood in the doorway.

"It's a bit small," she said, wrinkling her nose.

"If we'd known a Daughter of the Fifth house was coming we could have
reserved the whole deck for you," he quipped, letting only an edge of anger cut
his words.

Deanna peeked around the corner into the small bathroom. "It's nice to
see some things never change," she said with her back to him. She turned
around suddenly, looking him squarely in the face. "Are you going to ask me what
you want to know or are you just going to stand there all day?"

He snorted in amusement. "You always did have a knack for getting right
to the point." He was stalling, there was too much to ask, too much he needed
to know. He settled for the least dangerous question. "Why me? Why was I
chosen for this mission? And don't give me that crap about my former
experience. We both know I was only the pilot on those missions."

She breathed deeply, and took a step toward him. "You want the truth?"

"If an Intelligence Officer is capable of it; yes."

"This mission is dangerous. Tough choices will have to be made. We
won't have Command to tell us what to do at every step, we'll only have ourselves
to rely on. You were chosen because I trust you." Her voice was soft,
alluring as sliding between cool sheets at the end of a long day. Nevertheless,
while her voice calmed, her words infuriated.

"You trust me. I wish I could say the same."

She moved forward, holding him with her eyes, and placed her hand on his
chest. Every muscle in Will's body tensed, his carefully constructed walls
shook in the earthquake she produced with a simple touch.

"There was a time, Imzadi, when we vowed to trust each other above all
others," she whispered.

His walls snapped back into place.

"We also vowed 'till death do us part'. Well, the last time I looked I
was still alive, and you were gone. So don't talk to me about promises," he
said with a feral growl as he pushed her hand away from him. "You left me,
remember. You're the one who disappeared. Not me." Some small part of him
realized he had just lost their game of chicken, and she had pushed him into it,
but a decade of anger burned through him with desert heat.

She flinched under the wave of his emotions, stepped back as if distance
would lessen the pain, but when she spoke her voice was strong and unwavering.
"I had hoped we could get past this."

"Oh we're past it, we're *way* past it. No going back now. Is that what
you thought, that you could show up here and all would be forgiven?" Even as
he said the word, he knew that's what he wanted. To forgive her, to be
forgiven by her. Drown the years of hurt in her warmth, but the hurt had become
habit, and like most habits, it was hard to break.

"I'm not looking for redemption, William. Just acceptance." She
suddenly looked very tired.

"Acceptance. You left me no choice but to accept. After Elizabeth. . ."
he couldn't bring the word 'died' out of his mouth but pushed on. "You just
left. When I finally got back from my mission I had no idea where you were."

"I told you were I was," she said. Her voice was quiet, as if she didn't
have enough energy to put up a fight.

"You told me you went home. Where the hell was that? Home was supposed
to be where I was, the house we lived in *together*."

Deanna's face contorted. "There was nothing left for me there. Our
daughter was gone. You were gone." The exhaustion on her face was wearing away
like mist under the dawning sun.

"I was on a mission hundreds of light years away. I was doing my job."

"No! You were running. You were always running. Always gone on those
missions. Do you think you were completely guiltless in our divorce? Just
chalked it up to me snapping, didn't you? Your precious ego couldn't take the
fact that I might have left because you screwed up!" She jabbed her finger
accusingly in his direction.

Will was silent, shocked at how closely she had hit the truth. Over the
years, he had played with many ideas for why she had left. Everything from
adultery to insanity. But in the end, deep inside him, he knew Elizabeth's
passing wasn't the only reason. Just the final straw in a relationship that was
littered with immature decisions and hurtful actions, on both parts. They were
young when they married, too young.

Deanna turned from him to stare out the expansive windows into the
blackness of space. Something in the slump of her shoulders, the bend of her head
tugged at him. He felt a burn of shame at his selfishness. Yes, he had reason
to be angry, but so did she.

However, his shame didn't last long. His frustration, now fueled by
guilt, washed through him.

"Well at least I was willing to give it another go. You're the one who
ran away. Not me."

She whirled on him like a caged animal. "Is that all you have. Is that
the pathetic shield you've been hiding behind for ten years? Well get over
it! You were there too little and too late. You were a selfish egotistical
bastard. And if you can't at least accept some of that blame, then we have
nothing more to discuss. Because I'm not rehashing old wounds just so you can feel
better. Unlike you, I am past it. *Way* past it." She turned back to the
window, her posture no longer slumped, but straight and defiant. Daring him to
broach the subject again.

Will's fists clenched and unclenched. The adrenaline in his system began
to taper out, leaving him shaky and weary. It was hopeless. A circular
argument of blame that would never be settled. "I guess there really is nothing
left to talk about, is there?" he said, his voice sounding hollow. Deanna
didn't respond. He felt the futility drop around his neck like a yoke.

Without another word, he turned and walked out of the room. As the door
swooshed shut behind him, he thought he heard the sound of a breaking sob, but
didn't stop. Positive it was just wishful thinking.


Several hours later, Will sat in the canteen on deck ten, looking out at
the stars. When he was young, the stars were a symbol of freedom and
adventure, now that fate had worn away his youthful idealism, the cold emptiness of
space took on a much more foreboding connotation. Now space only served to echo
the vast hole he carried inside him. He rarely came to the canteen, he found
he did not enjoy the company of others the way he used to, but he wanted to
look out on a scene that fit his mood and this place had the best view.

He sat at a corner table well away from the flow of officers grabbing a
quick lunch, or gossiping about Admiral Nechayev's visit.

He had often imagined what he would say or do if he saw Deanna again. In
some fantasies, he yelled and cursed, pretty much what had just happened. In
others, he begged her forgiveness, and sometimes she begged for his. Despite
the hours he had wasted thinking about it, he was ill prepared for the
reality. Her return in his life brought with it a torrent of memory both pleasant
and painful.

Snippets of memory flashed through his mind. The first time they met,
under a maple tree at the academy. The six months he badgered her to go out
with him, their wedding day two days after graduating from the academy, and then
the birth of their daughter, Elizabeth Ann Riker, three years later.

If only he could go back in time and… and what? Would he trade his life
with her for anything, even with all the pain? If he could talk to the
twenty-year old version of himself, what would he say? 'When you meet a woman
named Deanna Troi, run as fast and as far as possible.' Then there was the real
question that bothered him. After everything she had put him through, did he
still love her?

He was so wrapped up in his thoughts he didn't notice the waiter placing
his drink on the table, or the man who walked up to his table looking slightly

"Care to talk about it?" Will heard the familiar voice of Counselor
Delaney hovering above him. He raised his bleary eyes to stare at the man, and
silently cursed Delaney's horrible timing. The synthehol was just beginning to
smother his thoughts beneath a thick blanket of numbness. Delaney was a
pleasant looking man, genetically predisposed to his chosen career. Everything
about him, from his kind, warm brown eye, to his distinguished grey hair and
beard gave him a non-confrontational feel. Even his posture invited openness.
"You missed your appointment this afternoon," Delaney said as he sat across from
Will uninvited.

"Yeah, well I had other things to take care of." He raised his glass,
indicating where his priorities lay at the moment, and finished the contents in
one large gulp. "Besides," he continued, "I was temporally transferred this

"I heard." From the tone of his voice, Will could guess that that was
not all he heard. Riker had been Delaney's patient for nearly five years, by
order of Starfleet Command. After several incidents that blemished his record
and ruined his chances of ever becoming a captain, Command decided that Riker
could benefit from therapy.

A slim, blonde waitress brought them two new drinks, while the two men
continued their uncomfortable silence. Well, in truth, it was only
uncomfortable for Will, Delaney was a master at waiting out long silences. His entire
career was founded on it.

Finally Will could take the silence no longer. "So what do you want me
to say? Yes, my ex-wife beamed aboard the ship today. Yes, it's a little
upsetting. If you want me to get more in touch with my feelings than that, you're
out of luck."

"Actually," Delaney said. "I didn't come here to ask how you were
feeling. As you so accurately pointed out, you were relieved of duty and are now
out of my control. I came here to hear a story."

"What?" Will asked, too confused to be truly annoyed.

"I bet you didn't know I have a touch of Irish blood in me, did you?"
Delaney said, ignoring Riker's raised eyebrows. " Wonderful storytellers the
Irish. Some of the greatest writers and poets of Earth have come from there.
And like any good Irishmen, there is nothing I enjoy more then hearing a tale
over pint of good beer." Delaney looked down at his pale synthehol and shrugged
his shoulders. "Or at least the closest thing I can get to it."

Despite himself, Will chuckled. "You want *me* to tell *you* a story?"

"Why do you think I became a counselor? Well, to help people, of course,
but mostly because I like to hear people's stories. And I think you've been
holding out on me. I mean our last session was filled with the mundane detail
of what you did that day, and as fascinating as hearing what you had for
breakfast was...Well let's just say I think you owe me one."

"Alright, I'll tell you a story. If only to make-up for boring you. If
there's one thing I can't stand, It's being boring," Will said with a trace of
amusement. After a few seconds to think, he launched into the tale and his
smile disappeared.

"There was a young man, handsome, of course."

"Of course," Delaney agreed.

"He was a little naive, and yearning to prove himself to the entire
universe. So, he did what most young men do; he joined Starfleet, singed up to
help with the war effort. He was on the fast track to command, one of the top of
his class, and he loved it, but one day he met a girl. What would a good
story be without that? From the moment he met her he was intrigued, almost
obsessed. She was mysterious, just distant enough to prove a challenge, but not so
distant as to seem cold. He followed her around for almost six months, using
all of his considerable charm on her, hoping for just one glance from her.
Her eyes were intoxicating; so dark, he knew they held secrets. She had a
story to tell." He smiled at Delaney, a little surprised at how easily it was
coming out of him.

"Anyway, after six months, she finally agreed to go out with him. It was
the perfect date. They ended up setting on the beach, watching the full moon
rise over the water. He told her things he had never told anyone, his fears,
and hopes. He learned she was half Betazoid, that she was nine when her
planet was attacked, that she could still hear the telepathic cries of the dead.
She told him how afraid she was of ever getting too comfortable in her life,
because at any moment everything she loved could be gone. He also learned she
was studying to become a Starfleet Intelligence officer. That she hoped
someday to help free her planet from Romulan clutches. The more he learned about
her, the more he wanted to break past the barriers she built around herself.
They stayed on the beach until morning, and watched the sunrise. From that
moment on, they were inseparable. Finally, two days after graduating from the
academy, they were married. It was wartime, and people jump into things like
marriage very quickly when they're afraid they may never see their loved ones

Will took a sip of his drink, stalling while he tried to collect his
thoughts. This was where the story started to sour. "At first their marriage was
fine. They bought a small house in San Francisco. It was not perfect
though, because he had records to break, goals to reach, and she was still a mystery
to him sometimes. He was gone a lot, taking missions out on the frontlines
of the war. She worked her way up through Starfleet Intelligence. They fought
every once in awhile, about his absence, but they always found a way to work
it out. Then, after three years of marriage, spent mostly apart, they found
out they were going to have a child." His thoughts began to drift, remembering
the day that Deanna told him they would be parents. While telling the story
as if it happened to someone else took the edge off, blunted edges could still

"What happened?" Delaney asked. He was leaning forward, engrossed in
the story.

"They had a girl. She was beautiful, dark, curly hair and sapphire blue
eyes." Will's own eyes grew distant, wistful, as he thought about his
daughter. He could still recall her scent, the way her tiny baby hand curled around
his index finger.

"He and his wife fought more about the time he spent away from home. But
he was getting older, his self-imposed deadlines were getting closer. He
thought he had time, time to accomplish what he wanted and still be a good
father. He reasoned that in a few years, after he reached his goals, he could take
a planet side assignment. Make it up to his family. He thought he had all
the time in the universe. But he didn't. Before he knew it, his daughter was
four years old." It was getting harder to speak past the growing lump in his
throat, but something compelled him to push on. As if the story was a caged
bird, struggling for release.

"One day, two weeks into a five week long mission, he got word that a
transport ship his wife and daughter were on was attacked. His daughter was
gone." Will's voice cracked with emotion, and he hurried through the last of the
tale, as if speaking quickly would lessen the pain. "By the time he got home
his wife was no where to be found, his daughter was buried, and his life was
destroyed. Eventually, after several weeks of waiting for her, she came back
with divorce papers in hand. He didn't know where she'd been, or what exactly
had happened on the transport ship. But she wasn't giving him any answers.
She was a different person, haunted looking, withdrawn. And when he signed the
divorce papers, he kept thinking about their first date. When she told him,
she was afraid to get too comfortable in her life, because she knew how
quickly everything could be taken away. He kept thinking she was right." He looked
squarely at Delaney for the first time since starting the story. Delaney
stared back with unabashed sympathy, and perhaps a little pity.

"And then what happened?" he asked.

Riker shook his head slowly. "You know the rest. After she divorced me,
my career went to hell." He gave up all pretenses of the tale being about
someone else. "I made a mistake at the battle of Omicron that cost twenty
people their lives. And here I am. A washed-up officer, with nowhere else to go
but Starfleet. With my ex-wife sitting two decks away, trying to pretend like
it never happened, and hoping I'll do the same."

Delaney leaned back in his chair and sipped his drink thoughtfully.
After a few moments he nodded his head and looked back at Will. "It's a good
story. How do you think it ends?"

A sad smile tugged the corners of his mouth. "If you're a romantic, then
I guess you would want a happy ending. The couple make-up, forgive each
other their sins, and live happily ever after. If, however, you're a little more
cynical; you see that there is too much between them to get over. You might
think they should part company and never see each other again. I'll let you
choose the ending."

"Well, I have always been a hopeless romantic," Delaney said with a
sheepish smile. "I think I like the second ending better." He stood from his
chair and offered Riker another sympathetic look. "Thank you for sharing the
story. It's one I'll have to remember. Perhaps when you get back, you can finish
telling it."

"Well see."

Riker watched Delaney leave, as he tried to wipe the cobwebs of the story
from his eyes. He had often heard people say that a burden was lessened when
it was shared. While he didn't feel particularly unburdened, he did feel
different. More comfortable with the memories he held, less angry at the
universe in general. The hole he carried was still there, but he was weary of
fighting, and hating. An odd kind of peace settled over him and he relaxed into it.

Perhaps sharing a burden was helpful, for the moment he was inclined to


Chapter Five-B

Three souls will protect
One will pursue
Until the choice of a mortal
Brings balanced renewed

You're wasting time Deanna. The pursuer has already obtained the first piece
of his puzzle. His power grows stronger. He is close to the second piece.
He is close to you.

He's coming for you. Coming for his birthright.

Remember, Little One, remember I love you.

Remember Momma.

Remember what you have to do.

A question was posed and it was answered. Where did it all go wrong?


Deanna Troi woke with a strangled cry, the voices of memory reverberating
in her head. For a moment, the sound of her own breath became the eerie
winds on Planet Forever, the hammer of her heart like the tick of a clock. She
was running out of time.

It was the same dream she suffered since she was nine-years-old, since
the first time Q came to her. The dream shifted; sometimes it was just
Elizabeth, sometimes her mother, Q, or the Guardian. Tonight it had been all four.

Deanna sat up on the couch where she had fallen asleep, rested her elbows
on her knees, and her face in the palm of her hands. Seven years since Q's
cryptic message to her on Planet Forever. Seven years of desperate hunting for
the elusive artifact, and the man who possessed it. Since the night Q came
to her at the Guardian, he had not shown his face again, at least not in her
waking hours. In her dreams though, he was everywhere, and so were the dead.

The dreams came almost nightly now. She was starting to wonder if they
were truly messages, or simply a trick of her mind. Deanna knew she was close
to finishing her task, so close to finding the answers. She could feel her
destination loaming closer, taste the fear of what she would discover when she
got there.

Then there was Will. On some deep level, in a way she could never
articulate, she knew she would need him on this mission. Yet, they could not even
get through a single day without yelling at each other. She chastised herself
for breaking her vow not to argue with him. How would they work together if
they couldn't swallow the bitterness? Perhaps there was no hope. Perhaps she
had been naïve to think they could move beyond their shared past? The thought
disturbed her, and she stood suddenly from the couch in a physical attempt to
push it away.

She moved to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. With her
sleep-filled eyes and disheveled hair, she looked as weary as she felt. When
did she get old? When did her face become so unfamiliar to her? She used to
smile, used to laugh even. Perhaps not as often as she should have, but there
were moments of true joy in her life once. Where did they go? Did they
leave with Elizabeth? With Will? Or did the happiness start to leak out of her,
like water through a cracked glass, when the Romulan's first phaser shot hit
her planet?

"Where did it all go wrong?" she asked her mimicking reflection the same
question posed to the Guardian almost seven years ago. Unlike the Guardian,
however, her reflection held no answers.

"I should swallow my pride, and apologize to Will." She suddenly knew
exactly why she wanted William on this mission. It was simple really. She knew
she would need him. Need him to remind her of all that she had once, of that
joy that had inexplicably left her life. Of everything she was trying to put
right again.

She ran some warm water and washed the sleep from her face, while she
mentally carried on the conversation she was about to have with Will. She even
tried imagining his reaction to her apology, but Will had always been a little
unpredictable. She was almost finished formulating her plan, going through
every possible contingency, when she noticed what she was doing to her hair.

She had taken it out of the serviceable twist it was in, and was right in
the middle of adjusting it with her fingers so it sat sumptuously around her
shoulders. "What the hell am I doing?" she said, even though she knew. She
was fixing her hair the way she knew Will liked it, hanging free, with the
loose curls cascading down her back. She groaned. "You are pathetic." But her
reflection only looked back sheepishly.

"Oh well I suppose it can't hurt." She finished fixing her hair, turned
back to face the room, and cocked her head up, an unconscious gesture that
everyone preformed when about to address a ship's computer.

"Computer, what is the location of Commander William T. Riker?"

"Commander Riker is in his quarters. Deck eight, corridor three."

Deanna nodded curtly, turned on her heel, and headed out the door.


Will had left ten-forward as the crowd started to thicken at the end of
alpha shift. He was feeling strangely relaxed, comfortable inside his own skin
for the first time in years. *I guess spilling your guts really is
therapeutic,* he thought as he stepped into his quarters.

He looked around his disheveled room with a grimace, trying to think of
something to occupy his time. He settled on packing a few essentials for his
departure in the morning.

He went to his closet, searching through the piles of clothes until he
found his l travel case on the top shelf. As he pulled it down, a small box
that had been sitting on top of the case fell to the floor with a dull thump. It
took him a moment to figure out what the box was, and when he did, a groan
escaped his lips.

He scooped the box up, felt the objects rattle against the sides, and
placed it on his bed. It was no larger then the palm of his hand. The box was
intricately carved in a series of inter-locking circles, with lush ivy-like
vines wrapping around them, and small birds and animals sitting at each corner.
Will could remember buying the box seven years ago, on Risa, from a group of
traveling Betazoid artisans. The old man he bought it from had hand-carved it,
an art that was becoming obsolete. The old man had chatted endlessly about
the art of carving, Betazed tradition, and the signifgance of the box. He was
obviously proud of the artistic tradition he was carrying on, and Will found
his stories of Betazed folklore interesting. He learned more about Betezed
tradition in an hour then had from years of marriage to Deanna. Will held the
smooth weight of the box and recalled what the carver had told him about the
history of the box.

It was carved from a rare tree called the *Moncasta,* which meant
'sorrow' in the Betazed language. The tree's wood was a deep brown bordering on
black, and the leaves a crimson red. The sap of the tree ran black and would
solidify after many thousands of years to make a jewel, just as amber was made on
Earth. According to legend the boxes and jewels the tree produced were meant
to hold all the sorrows of the person who possessed it, and ward off any new
misfortune. So, in keeping with tradition, Will had placed his sorrow inside.

With slightly trembling hands, he opened the lid, and looked at the
contents. It contained the unadorned platinum band that was his wedding ring, and
a holographic picture of Elizabeth taken just before she died. Just two
simple items, at least on the surface, but each one containing enough memories to
fill the Sorrow box a thousand times over.

He moved the ring across the box with his index finger, as if afraid of
prolonged contact. Elizabeth's face smiled up at him. She was holding her
favorite doll in one hand, her dark curls pulled up with little ribbons, wearing
the biggest smile he had ever seen. Elizabeth was always a ham, he
remembered. As soon as she saw a camera, she would crack a huge grin that showed all
her baby teeth, and beg to have her picture taken.

Will smiled as he thought of his daughter turning circles in their
kitchen, with her pink dress swirling around her legs. "Take my picture Daddy."
Her voice rang through his head as clear and vibrant as a bell on a quite

The echo of memory was cut off by the sound of the door chime. Will
shook himself, quickly closed the box, and pulled the messy covers over it to hide
it from curious eyes. "Come in." The door swooshed and Deana took one
hesitant step into the room.

"Am I disturbing you?" she asked.

"Would it matter if you were?" The question possessed only a shadow of
the anger he felt earlier. As if his tongue still held the memory of his ire,
but the emotion behind the words were all used up. Deanna smiled. A gesture
that did not even touch the corner of her eyes. "What do you want?"

"I came to apologize."

"You? Apologize? Now that is a momentous occasion. I'll have to write
that down somewhere."

Deanna walked the rest of the way into the room, but stopped at the
invisible line that marked the edge of her comfort zone. She didn't want to get
too close. "Do we have to do this? Play this game of who did what to who?"

"We don't have to, but it seems the only thing we're capable of anymore."
Riker turned his back to her and made a show of starting to pack his case.
Barely noticing what he was packing. He was so busy trying to look
unconcerned he almost missed her whispered reply.

"It doesn't have to be that way."

Will spun back to look at her with growing frustration. "What do you
want from me? You want to me forget everything? I don't know if I can do that."

"I'm not asking you to forget, just to let it go for now. For the sake
of the mission. This is important William." Her voice took on an unfamiliar
pleading tone. "This mission could help the Federation, could turn the tide of
the war."

"What is so important about one mission? You can't even tell me what I'm
supposed to be doing. You don't even trust me that much."

"It's not that I don't trust you, but this is very delicate. All it
takes is a single word getting into the wrong ears and it could be ruined."

"So what, you think this room is bugged or something?" he asked. It
would figure that an SI officer would be paranoid enough to think that ever
conversation was being tapped.

"Knowing certain aspects of Starfleet the way I do," she said, in a self-
depreciating tone, "I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out they have
every room on this ship bugged."

"Well, that's comforting."

Deanna smiled at his sarcasm, and seemed to relax a bit. "I know I'm
probably asking a lot. When we beam over to our transport ship in the morning
you will get all the information you need, then you will understand what we're
up against. All I'm asking for is a little patience, on both of our parts, to
get through this mission."

"I don't really have a choice anyway, do I?" He paused and watched the
play of emotions on her face. She truly looked desperate, hopeful even,
practically begging him to let bygones be bygones, so to speak.

"I can make the attempt if you can." Even as the words left his mouth,
he felt better. There were still unresolved issues, and questions that needed
to be answered, but he felt the rough waters that always seemed to churn
inside him, calm a bit. She was asking for his help. She needed him, and he had
forgotten how good it felt to be needed.

Deanna flashed him another smile, this one more sincere and warm. "Good.
Then I will see you at oh-eight-hundred hours." Will nodded in agreement.
"And please leave your Starfleet uniform behind. Where we're going the
Federation isn't always looked on kindly."

Will raised his eyebrows at her comment. "Anything else I should know?"

Deanna's grin broadened. "Well I don't really think you'll need whatever
the hell it is you're holding there," she said with a gesture toward Will's

Will looked down what he was holding, and an uncustomary blush reddened
his cheeks. He was holding what amounted to a glorified loincloth, purchased
during one of his more risqué vacations to Risa. It was made of a gauzy,
transparent material, designed to leave little to the imagination. He *really*
hadn't been paying attention to what he was throwing in his case.

"Well you know me," he said, trying to regain some of his dignity, "I
like to be prepared for anything."

"I'd hate to think about the circumstances where something like that
would come in handy," she said with a straight face.

"You'd be surprised."

Deanna's velvety laugh filed the room. The sound was so familiar to
Will, yet distant. Like the smell of his Grandmother's kitchen, comforting, but
from a different place and time. He laughed as well, his heart picking up
speed as he tried to remember the last time they laughed together.

"Good night, Will," Deanna said, sobering suddenly, and looking a little

"Good night." He watched her as she turned toward the door, and tried to
think of something to say that would make her stay. Maybe diner or a glass
of wine, but before he could screw up the courage to ask, the door swooshed
shut behind her, leaving him alone again but filled with a strange sensation. It
took him a moment to place the new feeling. Anticipation. He was excited
about what this mission might bring. It was something he had not felt in more
years than he cared to dwell on. "I'll be damned," he said as he placed the
gauzy loincloth back in his drawer, and continued packing.

After everything was folded neatly in his case, and he was preparing for
bed, he found the Sorrow box. He held it in his hand, and after a moment of
thought, laid it gently in his case. The box had traveled everywhere with him,
there was no reason to end the tradition now.

It was only later, laying in bed and drifting off into the first sober
sleep he'd had in months, that the excitement wore off enough for him to recall
the disturbing statement Deanna had made about Starfleet bugging the rooms on
the ship.

She was a Starfleet Intelligence officer, on a mission for Starfleet.
Why did she need to worry about them hearing the particulars of a mission *they*
sent her on? His brain turned the question over a few times, but was too
tired to hold onto it for long. As he let sleep take him, he made a mental note
to ask Deana about it in the morning.