Aboard the flagship of the Federation, the starship Enterprise, her crew was on a mission of mercy. On board, there was an undercurrent of urgency, and in response, hearts were beating just a little faster, nerves were a little more raw.
Seated, as usual, to Captain Picards left, ships Counselor Deanna Troi felt it gnawing at her carefully placed shields. It was not an uncomfortable feeling, but it served to heighten her own emotions. She was as anxious as they to reach their destination. She glanced over at Picard and Riker, who were softly discussing a new holodeck program. To anyone watching or listening, they appeared calm and relaxed. Deanna, half-Betazoid and half-human, knew better.
It had all started when a distress signal was picked up from a previously unchartered sector. Starbase 121 had just received the Enterprise for minor repairs and shore leave, but the starship was immediately sent back out to investigate and rescuer. Maximum quarantine precautions would be in effect, as the beacon warned of a devastating plague that affected the entire planet deadly and virulent.
Captain, Data spoke up.
Riker and Picard gave him their attention.
We have arrived at Agami.
Helm, standard orbit, ordered Riker. Scan for life signs.
From orbit, the small planet seemed beautiful and tranquil vibrant green land masses and vivid blue waters.
Sensors indicate no life signs, reported Lt. Worf.
Picard kept his face neutral. (Were too late,) he thought, masking his disappointment.
Deanna, however, felt it keenly, but she, too, kept her face free of expression. Picard was about to speak, when Data interrupted.
Captain, I believe I have found something.
Report, Mr. Data.
The golden android quickly reviewed the scans. Sensors are picking up one life sign humanoid encased in biochemical stasis.
Picard stood and addressed his officers. Senior staff to meet in the conference room in 15 minutes. Number One, you have the bridge. Without waiting for acknowledgement, he strode to his Ready Room. The silence left in his wake was almost palpable.
Deanna bore the brunt of the emotions of her fellow crewmates stoically. Will Riker moved into the Captains vacated seat. Hey, he said softly, watching Deanna closely. Are you okay?
Deanna swallowed, took a quiet cleansing breath, and then turned to face him. Im fine really. Its just that we all thought wed get here in time no one was prepared to hear that just about everyone had died.
Riker nodded understandingly. I know I wasnt
Picard eyed his assembled officers as he moved to the head of the table. Everyone watched him expectantly. I have contacted Star Fleet Command with our preliminary findings. Our orders are to do a complete planetary survey from orbit, and before we send any away teams, attempt to determine the cause of the plague. Well use the transporters to beam up planetary samples. The sole survivor is stable and in stasis, therefore that will be our second priority. We will reconvene in 36 hours to discuss results. Dismissed.
Deanna remained seated as the others filed out, until she and Picard were alone.
Was there something else, Counselor? he asked, almost as if he knew what she wanted.
Deanna clasped her hands in front of her on the highly polished table. The past week has been trying for most of the crew and then to arrive to an essentially dead planet. . . they were all geared up for a massive rescue. Now theyll be doing autopsies and environmental analysis to find a cause of a disease with no one to cure.
Jean Luc stared out the window to the planet below. There was a delay getting here the message traveled relatively slowly and the plague started many months ago. We should have expected this.
No one wanted to give up hope, Deanna interjected.
Picard sighed heavily. He would not hide or suppress his feelings. He would not insult Troi. I wanted to believe that wed get here in time. Id hoped perhaps theyd found a cure. Sitting next to his Counselor, he placed a hand on hers. Thank you, Counselor. Now help the others they need you, too.
Troi managed a wan smile, thinking not for the first time, (Who counsels the Counselor?) Instead of speaking that thought, she said, I will, sir.
Exactly thirty-six hours later, Picard called his officers to hear their reports. The class M planet was smaller than Earth, with an oxygen-nitrogen based atmosphere. A large complex housed the only functioning power source and the survivor. Dr. Crusher told them that the plague had been caused by an act of global terrorism; an artificial contaminant of the water systems, world-wide affecting the Agamians gastrointestinal systems and for some reason, she couldnt yet identify, the survivor in stasis was unaffected.
Were completely safe as long as we dont drink the water.
All right, Picard said, I want this away team kept to a minimum. Commander Data, I want you and LaForge and Dr. Crusher
Captain, Beverly broke in, Dr. Selar has done extensive work on biochemical stasis. I believe her experience would be most useful here.
Agreed, the Captain replied. Thank you, Doctor. Have her report to Transporter Room 2. Dismissed everyone.
Later, Picard and Riker sat in their respective chairs on the Main Bridge, awaiting the next report from the away team. The two officers were having an animated discussion about their preliminary findings that the complex was a collection of all aspects of a civilization.
They knew that theyd perish, Picard mused, and they wanted someone to know what they had been and had accomplished.
Still, he had urged caution, and continued mulling over other possibilities.
Sitting on the Captains left, Counselor Troi remained silent. She felt compelled to try and touch the person in stasis on the planet below. Closing her eyes, she withdrew inside herself, focusing inward. Then, using her empathic abilities, mentally reached out, at the same time lowering her shields. Suddenly, and without warning, the passage was blocked. Deanna inhaled sharply as she was literally thrust back in her seat and instinctively her barriers flew up.
Will caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, though most of his view was blocked by the Captain. Deanna, are you all right?
Catching the concern in Rikers voice, Picard quickly turned to see Troi flushed and attempting to compose herself. Counselor?
Excuse me, Captain. I I just remembered some work that I have to do before the away team returns.
Picard held her eyes. All right, he said slowly, taking in her words and appearance, weighing them carefully. Ill be calling the senior staff for the debriefing as soon as the away team returns.
Of course, sir. Deanna, though shaken, sensed his unwillingness to directly challenge her. So, before he could change his mind and anyone else could say another word, she hurried off the bridge.
With difficulty, Riker let her go. He didnt buy her explanation. And she knew he didnt. He caught Picard watching him.
Meanwhile, Deanna headed straight for her quarters. Once there, she dimmed the lights and settled on the edge of her bed. She spent several moments centering herself; focusing her energy and gathering her strength. Then, in a trance-like state, she reached out, down to the planet below, to the alien-being. . . once again, the path was blocked. But this time, before she could react, or protect herself, she was hit by a burst of power so hard that her head snapped back. She struck the corner of the nightstand with the back of her head but didnt feel the blood that trickled own her neck and shoulder.
In fact, she didnt feel anything at all.
And she didnt see the blue light. . .
The Away Team was elated. Well, Geordi Laforge was elated enough for three, considering the fact that he was currently in the company of an android and a Vulcan. Geordi confirmed that the intricate mechanism of the stasis field had been shut down, while Dr. Selar carefully monitored the young woman they had found locked in stasis.
Within moments, she had awakened. Blinking at the bright light, she looked up at the three faces staring down at her. Her eyes widened as she took in Geordis dark skin and unusual device over his eyes, Datas yellow skin and golden eyes and Dr. Selars slightly green skin and pointed ears.
Hello, she managed, not without a little trepidation, touching her own face and ears.
Geordis visor registered changes in the young womans body temperature and heart rate, which he correctly interpreted as fear.
Dont worry, he hastened to say. Were here to help you.
She tried to appear brave, My name is Ariana. We welcome to Agami.
Data reached out a hand, which Ariana hesitantly, then gratefully took and
stood, wobbling at first, then standing straight and tall to face the Enterprise
I am Commander Data, the android said, of the Starship Enterprise. We represent Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets. We are responding to your planets distress signal.
The extraordinarily beautiful face clouded over. Are any of my people alive?
The Vulcan doctor took over, Im Dr. Selar. No. Im sorry, youre the only survivor.
Ariana blinked. I see.
Geordi resisted the urge to reach out a comforting hand as the young woman struggled with her shock and grief. My name is Lt. Geordi Laforge. Were sorry for not arriving sooner.
Ariana looked around at her rescue party and brushed away her tears. Then, raising her arms in an encompassing gesture, spoke. Commander, on behalf of the people of Agami, this complex, with all the data banks, all the technology, all the art and treasures of Agami I present to Starfleet, that we will not perish in anonymity.
The officers were stunned into silence.
When Jean Luc Picard heard the latest report, he called for the rest of his command crew to meet in the Observation Lounge. The Away Team and Ariana were beaming aboard and would go through an extensive, precautionary decontamination prior to the debriefing. Picard glanced around the room. Where is Counselor Troi?
No one was able to answer. He suppressed his irritation as Riker tapped his communicator, trying to mask his concern.
Riker to Troi. . . Riker to Troi, come in, please. Will felt his pulse quicken, as he intuitively felt something was definitely amiss, but he managed to keep his voice steady, as he questioned the computer. Computer, what is the location of Counselor Troi?
The computer responded instantly, Counselor Deanna Troi is in her quarters.
Riker was on his feet. Permission to leave, sir.
He and Picard locked gazes.
Very well, Number One. Make it quick.
Riker walked out as Picard caught Beverlys eye. She shrugged, clearly puzzled.
Once the doors hissed shut after Will, he all but ran down the corridors. He felt smothered by the inexplicable feeling that something was terribly wrong, but it was like he was running in slow motion. When he arrived at her quarters, he found that the door was locked and there was no answer to his repeated calls.
Computer, this is Commander Riker security override the lock on Counselor Trois door NOW!
Immediately the door opened and Will cautiously stepped in. Deanna? he called out.
He moved farther into the darkened room and the door swished shut. A soft blue light caught his eye. Bewildered, he stepped forward. Deanna?
The sight before him stopped him in his tracks. Troi stood, swaying slightly; a diffuse cobalt blue light enveloped her entire body. Will didnt realize until later, that the light seemed to emanate from her. Rather, the expression, or to be more precise, the lack of expression held his attention. Deannas dark eyes stared vacantly, while the blue light appeared to be draining her of her life her mind her soul! The total emptiness on her face galvanized him into action.
Deanna! he shouted, as he leaped forward with outstretched arms, intending to push the Betazoid Counselor out of the offending glow.
Almost instantly, the blue radiance changed to a fiery red and acted like a force field. Will impacted without ever making contact with Deanna and was violently thrown back.
Let her go! he roared, frightened and furious, and struggling to regain his footing. As a reply, the light became a blinding white, forcing him to instinctively cover his eyes and therefore miss what happened next.
In the blink of an eye, the light coalesced around Deannas head and was completely absorbed. Will looked up in time to see Deanna sink to her knees, her hands reaching up as her face dissolved into a mask of incredible pain.
Once the first scream was torn from her, she couldnt stop; shrieking in sheer agony.
Will fell down next to her; gathering her in his arms and pulled her close. Deanna! Its me its Will talk to me! Tell me whats wrong! Deanna! he shouted, struggling to be heard.
But she could not answer as she battled something that he could not see could not feel. She managed to look up at him her eyes filled with stark terror, her hands clutched at her head with white knuckled intensity. It appeared, to the horrified Riker, that her mind was being seared and the pain in her cries terrified him.
Gripping her shoulders, he shook her; willing her to come out of it. Deanna! Break the connection break it! It was no use. Her struggles were weakening, but still she was lost to him. Desperately, he slapped his comm. Badge. Riker to Crusher! he yelled.
In the Observation Lounge, Beverly Crushers eyes widened as she started violently in her seat. Crusher here! My God, Will whats going on?
Everyone in the room listened in shock. Worf was on his feet, prepared for battle.
I dont know! Will shouted. I found Deanna alone.
Worf sat back down.
There was a blue light it had enveloped her. Now its gone but shes in incredible pain and she doesnt seem to know me shes not responding.
Get her to Sickbay! Beverly broke in. Ill be right there. She stood quickly and was heading out when Picard called out after her.
Keep us informed, Doctor!
She nodded curtly and was gone, issuing orders to her medical personnel as she ran.
Will scooped Deannas slight form into his arms; she was barely conscious as he called for a direct transport to Sickbay. Nurse Ogowa was waiting and directed him to the nearest bed. She and two other technicians descended upon their patient, implementing Dr. Crushers orders.
Riker glanced over at Alyssa. He could see how Deannas cries were affecting her the distress tore at all their hearts, but she was obviously deteriorating rapidly. Her struggles weakening, her voice hoarse, her body diaphoretic, and her respirations labored.
At that moment, Crusher burst in, calling for scan reports. The medication she ordered was immediately placed in her outstretched hand and into Trois writhing body. Within seconds, her body went completely limp, her screams mercifully silenced.
Riker, holding her hand, felt it slip from his grasp.
Crusher looked over at him. Whatever is causing this; it isnt showing up on preliminary diagnostics. Go to the Captain tell him I have a lot of tests to run. I have absolutely no idea whats going on yet.
Is is she going to be all right? he had to ask.
Ill do everything I can you know that. Now let me get to work.
Loathe to leave; Riker started out, then glanced back at Deanna once more. Her face was deathly white all the pretty color shocked from it. It was that image that he carried with him, back to the Lounge.
After he left, Crusher had one of the techs work with the Science Station to investigate the mysterious light that Riker had mentioned. As she worked, she silently prayed for her friends life unable to shake the almost overwhelming feeling of helplessness and despair. . .
Oh, Commander Data, Ariana breathed, as she was escorted to the Observation Lounge, the Enterprise is simply gorgeous so spacious! Why Id never know I was on a ship if you hadnt told me!
Wait until you try the Holodeck, Geordi piped in, It can take you places that youve never even dreamed of.
Promise me that youll show me? Ariana asked, her eyes glowing.
Of course, Geordi replied.
They arrived at the Observation Lounge just behind Riker. Picard, who had been standing at the window, turned to greet them, as everyone gathered around the table.
Data made the introductions. Captain, may I present Ariana of Agami. Ariana Captain Jean Luc Picard.
Welcome aboard the Enterprise, Ariana. He stepped forward as Ariana extended her slim hand into Picards outstretched one.
Thank you, Captain, she replied, obviously still in awe of her surroundings.
Picard couldnt help but stare at the young woman before him. She appeared to be in her mid-twenties by Earth standards. Tall and slender with dark honey-blonde hair that fell in thick heavy curls to just past her shoulders. She exuded grace and elegance, an inner beauty seemed to radiate from her large and expressive, jade green eyes. Her voice was soothing and melodic. I must say, Im a little overwhelmed, she said, softly, with a shy smile.
Well, the crew will do everything in their power to make you comfortable. Let me introduce you to my First Officer, Commander William Riker.
Ariana took Wills hand and winced in pain but quickly recovered before anyone noticed. Will manufactured a smile. Pleased to meet you.
Without trying to be obvious, she hurried to release his hand.
Unaware that anything was amiss, Picard continued, This is our Chief of Security, Lt Worf.
Worf nodded a greeting, which Ariana acknowledged with a dazzling smile. It was becoming clear to her that she was going to be seeing people of many different races and species from now on.
Picard stepped back to move to the head of the table. Please, everyone, be seated. Im afraid, Ariana, that two of my officers are unable to be with us at this time.
Geordi glanced over at Worf, who shook his head slightly. As everyone moved to the chairs, Picard took the opportunity to lean over and whisper to Riker, How is she, Number One?
Riker shook his head. Beverly gave her something to sedate her, but she doesnt know whats going on yet. It it didnt look good.
Picard sighed and drew back. He turned to their guest. Ariana, why dont you tell us what you can. Why were you alone, placed in stasis, and what do you know about the plague?
Captain, I will be happy to answer all your questions. Let me start at the beginning: My father was a scientist from Earth. The science vessel that he was on had a run-in with a band of space pirates and was destroyed. Three escape pods made it safely away, but the one with my father went through a wormhole. It crash landed on Agami and my father was the only survivor barely.
As the Captain listened to Arianas tale, he found his thoughts wandering to Sickbay and Counselor Troi. What had happened, exactly? Was an alien being or entity involved? Was Ariana?
The one person whose insight could most likely answer the questions was the victim. Coincidence? Looking at the lovely young woman across the table, well, instinct told him that she couldnt have caused the pain that he had heard in Deannas cries. Then who, or what had befallen his Counselor?
He glanced over at Riker, whose hazel eyes were shadowed with worry. With difficulty, he forced his mind back to the matter at hand.
The doctors took him in, healed him, and made a place for him to continue his research. He had met my mother in the hospital and I am the product of their love. She grew misty eyed as she recounted her tale, and watching her, Picard again longed for his Betazoid Counselors special talents. Father explained to me that he people responsible had been controlled by a terrible man named, Chinos, with incredible powers of the mind. He turned our own people against us, poisoning the waters, killing almost everyone. He called it a global cleansing. My father and I were the only people not affected and the doctors thought it was because he was human and that he passed his immunity on to me.
Data spoke up, Your father was the only human or alien on Agami?
Yes, it was hard for him at first; being the only non-telepath.
Everyone except Data reacted. Data asked the question, Are you telepathic, Ariana?
The Agamian woman smiled, misinterpreting their reaction for unease at being with telepaths. The Agamians are were touch telepaths. They had to be in physical contact. Being only half Agamian afforded me no telepathy. My father called my gift empathy. But please, dont be uncomfortable; I have to be in physical contact, also.
Picard kept his face frozen. Others around the table appeared as startled as he felt. He cleared his throat. Ariana, accept my apology on behalf of everyone. We did not wish to make you uncomfortable. My crew has interacted with thousands of races, each with their own gifts. We know of empaths. Once again, you are welcome on this ship.
Thank you, Captain. Well, I guess to conclude, when it was realized that the planet would perish, the Elders set up the distress signal and warning. Then we began preserving all that was Agamian into one location.
And as the last Agamian, they preserved you as well, Geordi said, thoughtfully.
Yes. Arianas eyes filled with tears. I had already seen so much death, Father wanted to spare me. And also not to leave me alone. She visibly fought the urge to cry.
Picard spoke quietly, Your father - ?
Ariana took a deep breath. Father had already decided that he couldnt go on without Mother.
If this is too hard on you. . . Picard said.
No no. Ill be all right, Captain. Thank you. She paused a moment before going on. He planned his death to occur after I was in stasis, provided that no help arrived. At first, I wanted to die with him, but I decided that I wanted to live to tell others of Agami and of who and what they were.
Riker spoke for the first time, You took a big risk.
Ariana nodded. Her eyes and voice beseeched them. I had to. I just had to. You see why, dont you?
The officers nodded and showed that they did.
Ariana, Picard said, may I extend our deepest sympathy to you. We welcome the Agamian gifts and on behalf of Star Fleet, thank you. The people of Agami will not be forgotten.
Ariana smiled. Thank you, all. I dont mind telling you that Im a bit nervous about my future, though.
Picard attempted to reassure her. It will be some time before we arrive at Starbase 121. The Enterprise and her libraries are at your disposal. The crew will help you assimilate in any way we can. Now, Dr. Crusher will need to see you in Sickbay purely routine, he hastened to add. Then, tonight there will be a reception in your honor. Number One,
Riker looked up, pulled from his own thoughts.
Please accompany Ariana to Sickbay and inform Dr. Crusher that Ill be there shortly.
Yes sir. Riker stood and left with Ariana.
Picard motioned for Laforge, Worf and Data to wait. When the doors closed behind Riker and Ariana, he spoke, Geordi, Data, while you all were on the planet, Counselor Troi was the victim of some kind of attack a power source of unknown origin. Until we find out exactly what happened, screen every Agamian item brought aboard. You three, will supervise the transfer take every precaution.
Aye sir, the three answered in unison and filed out. Data was the last to leave. He paused and turned back.
Yes, Mr. Data?
Is Counselor Troi going to be all right?
I hope so, Commander. At this point I have no idea what really happened
or how she is. Commander Riker stated that she is currently sedated.
As they walked through the corridors, Ariana kept glancing over at Riker, who remained silent. Finally, she mustered her courage and spoke.
Commander Riker, I dont want to sound presumptuous, but youre awfully worried about something. Is there anything at all that I can do? I happen to be a pretty good listener.
Riker stopped in his tracks. How did you know that I was worried? I thought that you had to be in physical contact to sense emotions! he blurted out; caught off-guard.
If you think back, youll remember that I shook your hand when we were introduced, she said a trifle sheepishly.
Oh, yeah. Sorry. I didnt mean to snap at you like that.
Its okay, really. And my offer stands.
Thanks, but Im fine, really.
Ariana just nodded.
They entered Sickbay and were met by Dr. Crusher. The worry in her eyes did not escape Rikers notice, or Arianas.
You must be our new guest.
Hello, yes. Im Ariana. She tried not to appear nervous.
Well, welcome aboard. Nurse Ogowa will get you started and Ill be there shortly. And please dont be anxious I promise it wont hurt a bit.
She watched Ariana move off with Alyssa then turned back to Riker. Wheres the Captain?
He said hed be here soon. Hows Deanna?
Beverly ran her fingers through her copper-colored hair in obvious frustration. Oh God, Will, I feel so helpless! Something is going on that Im powerless to stop. I can see the symptoms, the effects, but not the cause. She stopped. Come on.
She led him back to the Intensive Care Unit, where Riker was confronted by the sight of Deanna on complete life support. Hardly daring to breathe, he moved forward; unable to tear his eyes from her face. Dark sooty lashes lay against chalky pale cheeks. Even her lips had lost their natural rosy color. The limp, ebony curls that framed her face only emphasized the paleness. For one heart-stopping moment, he thought that she was dead.
Trembling, he reached out to take her hand. It felt so cold; heightening his fear. (Imzadi,) he thought, desperately hoping for any kind of response. (Can you hear me?)
Is is she alive? he managed to ask, his voice thick.
Yes, Crusher replied, softly, but only because of life support and massive amounts of medication. She did not add that Trois life was hanging on a precarious thread. They were interrupted by the arrival of Captain Picard.
Dr. Crusher. Number One.
The two officers stepped back, giving their Captain his first look at his Counselor.
Mon Dieu. . . he breathed, moving forward, obviously affected and unprepared for what he saw. I had no idea that she was this critical. Glancing over at Riker, it was clear that Will was just as shocked. Report, Doctor, he commanded gently. Like his first officer, he was unable to tear his eyes away.
Beverly took them to her office. After they were all seated, she turned to Riker. Will, tell me exactly what was going on when you found Deanna.
Riker took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts and reliving those horrifying minutes. When I entered Deannas quarters, she was just standing there, enveloped in this blue light that seemed to be coming from within her. She looked like a mannequin, totally without any expression. I tried to push her out of the light but it changed to a read and forced me back. Then it was a white, so bright, it blinded me for a moment. When I could see again, the light was gone and Deanna just collapsed, screaming in pain. She didnt seem to hear me or even see me. He shuddered at the memory.
Beverly took over. I can tell you that the ships sensors didnt pick up anything unusual. No power surges, radiation, entities, nothing. She pointed to the monitor on her desk. This is Deannas innernuncial scan when you brought her in. That red area in the cerebellum is acting like a force field, preventing the signals from that part of the brain from being transmitted.
She pushed a button. This is the most current scan.
Picard and Riker looked intently at the display before them. The red now encompassed the entire brain.
Deannas body was dying, Crusher continued, It couldnt function on its own. I nearly lost her. She paused briefly. Do you remember what happened when we encountered the two-dimensional beings and Deanna lost her empathic powers?
Yeah, Riker answered with a wince, she said that she experienced extreme pain, then nothing. She described it as an overload or short-circuit.
Exactly, Crusher confirmed. Except now, her brain is on overload, but for some reason it cant shut down. The cells keep firing but theyre bouncing off the force field, ricocheting across the entire brain. And nothing I do affects it. All I can do is keep her body alive until that thing is eliminated.
The two men were silent, absorbing through their shock at what Dr. Crusher had told them
Finally Picard spoke. Could this be telepathic?
Crusher considered it. Yes, I suppose. Why?
Our guest is empathic.
According to her, Agamians were touch telepaths, similar to the Vulcans, I gather. However, her father was human. So, like Deanna, shes empathic, but she says she must be in physical contact as well.
Ill get right on it. With a flash of renewed hope, Beverly was off.
Picard glanced over at his First Officer. The man looked devastated. He was standing in the doorway, staring into the ICU, shoulders slumped, head hung low, as if his whole world had crumpled around him. While the two officers shared a special bond, the Captain knew all too well that it would never do to let the man become lost in a world of despair.
Riker roused himself and went over to join his waiting Captain.
Picard didnt beat around the bush. Number one, you had several minutes with Ariana. Do you believe she is in any way responsible for what has happened to Counselor Troi?
Riker was silent a moment. I know the timing looks bad, but. . . I dont think so, sir. He tried to sort it all out, as he stared past Picard to the unconscious patient behind him. I mean, for what purpose? What could she be hiding?
Picard nodded thoughtfully.
Riker continued, And as far as her empathic abilities foes, I think shes telling the truth about having to be in physical contact. If their positions had been reversed and Ariana went through what Deanna did well - I can tell you that Deanna would have been visibly affected by it.
Again, Picard nodded. He, too, had heard the agony in Deannas cries. Agreed. Nevertheless, I want you to join Data, Worf and Geordi. Go over every object, every cultural item brought aboard. Make sure that everything is what it seems. I dont want a Trojan Horse on board. Understood?
Later, Picard met with Riker, just prior to the Welcoming Gala. Unconsciously, he straightened his dress tunic. Report, Number One
So far; nothing to suggest subterfuge. No mysterious machinery. The Agamians were passive people, very intellectual and artistic. As far as we can tell, the Agamians had a virtual Utopia. Except for this Chinos
I dont know. My instinct says no. They apparently had everything they needed, and with the exception of Arians father, there was almost no contact with other alien races.
Picard refrained from sighing. Very well, Number One. Were due in Ten-Forward.
The reception was uneventful but pleasant. The young Agamian floated among the gathered guests, charming them all, in a beautiful sparkling white gown. Her slightly lyrical voice was soothing and her very presence a tonic.
At one point, she broke away from the crowd to draw Data aside.
Data, may I talk to you for a moment?
Of course, the android replied, lowering his voice to match hers. What is it?
Ariana spoke rapidly, If this is top secret, Ill understand, but Commander Riker and Dr. Crusher well theyre awfully worried and Ive just got to know: is it me? Have I done something? I mean I dont think I have. I know Im probably interfering, but
Ariana, Data finally managed to break in, I cannot be specific. A friend and fellow officer is in sickbay. It occurred shortly before you came on board.
Ariana drew back. I see. Thank you, Data.
She moved away and rejoined the party, but her thoughts were elsewhere. These people had awakened her, taken her in, and welcomed her with open arms. Yet one of their own was ill or had been injured. She stared hard at Picard and Riker. Did they suspect her? Was there a reason to? The answer was out there. She was determined to find it.
The next morning was business as usual. Riker occupied the Command Chair on the Bridge, stroking his beard and staring vacantly at the view screen. He appeared to be brooding and the Bridge crew respectfully left him alone, speaking in hushed tones, only when necessary. Suddenly Riker roused himself, focusing his gaze, becoming aware of the mood on the Bridge. He tried to present the proper image; being worried about someone you cared about was one thing. It wouldnt do however, to be so obvious and let it interfere with his job.
Beverly Crusher peeked over at the Captain as she buttered a toasted English muffin. I gather you didnt sleep well, Jean Luc.
He didnt bother to deny it. I imagine that you could use some uninterrupted rest yourself.
Beverly managed a wry smile. Touche`
So, how is Counselor Troi? he queried.
Her condition is unchanged.
And what did you learn about Ariana?
Dr. Crusher leaned back in her chair. She is in perfect physical health, and, she is a touch empath, as she says. I did an innernuncial scan and compared it to Trois normal baseline. Its interesting; her power is definitely less. Shes telling the truth about having to be in physical contact. There is something extra, though.
Picard perked up and leaned forward, curious. Extra? Explain, Doctor.
A tiny organ; nestled in the cerebral cortex. I cross-checked Agamian medical database and theres no sign of it. Ariana insists that she doesnt know what it is. She says shes simply an empath, nothing more. I suppose it could be something done subconsciously, or under involuntary control.
Picard drummed his fingers impatiently on the table. Doctor is Ariana responsible for what has happened to Counselor Troi? Could she have done something, even psychically?
Crusher stared back at him impassively. I dont see how, Jean Luc. Or why. I dont see that she had anything to hide.
Picard fell silent. Another dead end.
The days went by. Ariana was despondent since she didnt have to be empathic to pick up on the worry amongst her new friends. Oh, they tried to hide it, but to no avail. After giving it a lot of thought, she decided that there had to be something that she could do. She finally remembered the holodeck that Geordi had mentioned. With his help, she intended to bring some small joy to the Enterprise.
Picard escorted Beverly and Guinan to Holodeck 2. They were joined by Data, Geordi, Riker and several other crew members at the request of Ariana. They arrived to find the setting was an ancient majestic theater, with a polished hardwood floor stage, framed by heavy maroon velvet curtains with golden tassels. The officers took their seats just as the lights dimmed.
Beverly, the resident theater buff, gazed about with obvious delight, sitting on the edge of the thickly padded chair.
An unseen orchestra played softly, as the curtains drew back and a spotlight focused on the lone figure on the stage. The audience gasped at the ethereal beauty before them.
It was Ariana.
She was dressed all in white and looking like an angel. Her costume had a fitted white bodice, studded with beads and pearls that twinkled in the bright light, cinched at her slender waist and held up by thin straps. The short multi-layered tulle skirt emphasized long shapely legs, ending with white satin slippers with crisscrossing satin laces across her ankles.
When she spoke, her voice had an almost haunting quality. She gazed out at her audience, her green eyes shining while everyone just stared.
My father told me that ballet died on Earth in the 21st Century. On Agami, the dance form was very similar, and known as Shambro`. My thanks to Commander Laforge for helping me research the Enterprises computer and accessing the costumes and music of your past. And most of all; this wondrous Holodeck. For without him, I couldnt have brought ballet back to you tonight.
The performance was utterly breathtaking. Ariana danced to Tchaikovskys Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, and Sleeping Beauty with a holographic partner. Pas de Deux of perfect form, as she walked on pointe effortlessly. Arabesques, pirouettes, gravity-defying leaps and lifts that were like nothing any of them had ever seen before. No one had every watched ballet in motion, and they were witnessing a piece of Earths cultural history that had died so long ago. It was something that they would never forget.
Beverlys eyes were glistening with tears; the look on her face was pure, child-like wonder. Riker sadly thought how much Deanna would have loved to have been here. Afterwards, the applause was loud and long. Everyone was on their feet.
That night, unable to sleep, Will Riker roamed the decks of the Enterprise. By chance or probably subconscious design, he found himself at Sickbay. Beverly had told him that there had been no change in Deannas condition. He knew that he was going to have to go in and see for himself.
The department lights were on low. The soft glow of the multi-colored display lights had a slight rainbow effect that masked the ghostly white pallor of ICUs only patient.
An eerie silence prevailed as Will sank into the chair and with his heart pounding, grasped Deannas cool hand with his.
Deanna, Im here, he whispered, trying to warm the chill in her fingers. Hang on, Imzadi, please. I need you. Caressing her hand, he let the reality of his words sink in. I need you so much. He pulled her hand to his lips. Come back, Imzadi. We need you. A gentle squeeze. I need you so very much. Please, come back.
When the nurse found him asleep, head propped on Deannas arm, she quietly woke him, Go on to bed, Commander. I promise Ill call you if theres any change.
Morosely, he nodded and stood. After a parting glance, he left.
Hidden in the shadows, Ariana watched him leave. She waited until the nurse returned to her station they crept silently to Trois bedside. Staring down, she cautiously moved closer. Youve caused a lot of concern around here, she whispered. Knowing there was potential danger, she tentatively reached out and touched Trois shoulder and felt. . . .
Shaken, she quickly stepped back. I dont know whats wrong with you, but Im going to find out. And if theres anything that I can do, I will. I promise, she whispered fiercely. Horror at what she had felt knotted her stomach and she fled Sickbay and raced back to her quarters.
Guinan noticed the beautiful young woman sitting alone, staring out the window at her home world below for the last time. After more than two weeks of cataloging and thoroughly studying each Agamian item brought aboard to be taken to Star Fleet Archives, the Enterprise wrapping things up and preparing to leave.
Can I get you anything to drink?
Ariana turned away from the lifeless planet. Oh, hello Guinan. No, Im fine, thank you.
Guinan smiled and placed a frothy, fruity drink on the table as she sat down. I must tell you how much I enjoyed your performance the other night.
Ariana accepted the compliment graciously, watching Guinan and sipping the drink despite her earlier refusal. Its delicious, she said, then paused and grew serious. I was wondering if youve heard how Commander Rikers friend is doing. Ive been meaning to ask Dr. Crusher. Ariana attempted to sound casual.
Guinan, of course, was not fooled. She knew the Captain had ordered Ariana not to be told anything about Counselor Troi. Do you mean Deanna Troi?
Yes. Whats going on with her anyway? Ariana asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
Guinan stared at the young woman shrewdly and smiled a knowing smile. Ariana had a clue to this mystery: of this Guinan was somehow sure. They dont know whats causing her condition.
Ariana showed genuine surprise and concern. Really? What is her condition?
Ive not been told, Guinan replied, evasively.
Ariana nodded, mulling over what she had learned thus far, staring absently out the window, and twisting the golden ring on her index finger. They think Ive done something to her, she said, flatly.
Have you? Guinan asked, gently.
Arianas head snapped around and she stared at Guinan aghast. No! No! Tears slid down her cheeks. I could never hurt anyone! She jumped to her feet, intending to flee. Instead, she collided with Captain Picard.
Oh, Captain! she cried. You have to believe me! I didnt do anything to her. I couldnt hurt anyone.
Ariana! Picard ordered, in his commanding voice, but not unkindly. He gripped the young womans shoulders and silenced her further protestations with a look. Lets sit down. Guinan, would you be so kind as to bring me a cup of Earl Grey hot?
Of course, Captain. She slipped silently away as Picard and Ariana sat down.
Captain, please Ariana started, but was interrupted by Picard.
Ariana, I think its time we had a talk, he said, smoothly overriding her. He paused to gather his thoughts and let Ariana regain her composure. Finally, he spoke again. I have a crewmember, Counselor Deanna Troi, who is in very serious condition. He paused for effect. Ariana, did you know that Counselor Troi is an empath?
After dropping his bombshell, he leaned back to judge her reaction; wishing for the umpteenth time that Deanna was here. But there was no mistaking the shock on her face.
No! No one has told me anything!
Picard tried a different approach. After you were brought on board, or just before, Counselor Troi was felled by a phenomenon that we cannot explain and, as yet, we have been unable to help her.
Ariana shook her head. Captain, Im so sorry, but I dont know anything. She broke off when Picard held up his hand.
Is it possible that your powers are affecting her somehow?
Again the young Agamian shook her head. I dont understand. Ive never been in contact with anyone else only Agamians and Im the only empath. But I havent done anything.
Ariana, Im not accusing you. Im asking for your help.
Im sorry, I just dont know what it could be.
At that moment, Guinan returned with the tea. She had wanted to give the Captain plenty of time to talk. As she leaned over to place the cup on the table, she was bumped from behind, causing the hot liquid to splash on her hand. She was unable to prevent a small cry of pain. Picard grabbed a napkin but Ariana stopped him.
Captain, let me she reached out to gently hold Guinans injured hand. Instantly, her own hand became reddened and blistered exactly like Guinans. She winced, and then the look of pain vanished as did both of the burns.
Picard watched it all utterly flabbergasted. How did you do that? he spoke slowly, awed.
There was obvious confusion on Arians part. What do you mean? she asked, in puzzlement. Im an empath, I just do it.
Picard shook his head. Counselor Troi is an empath and she is unable to do what you just did.
Captain, Guinan spoke up, there are races of empaths whose nervous systems are so highly sensitive, so responsive that others emotional and physical reactions become a part of them. Some can use their ability to heal. For instance, if you were hit by a phaser, Counselor Troi would feel your pain, whereas Ariana would have the actual tissue damage if she touched you and would be able to use her body defenses to heal.
Picard was stunned. And impressed. He vaguely remembered reading about such people before, but to see such a gift in action. . .
Ariana watched him, somewhat guiltily, and not sure how he would respond to what she was about to say. I I went to see Counselor Troi.
Picard felt a quick stab of fear go through him, followed by curiosity and then hope.
Realizing that he wasnt going to get angry with her, Ariana recounted her brief visit in Sickbay. I only wanted to see if I could help her. I touched her. I knew it was dangerous, but I couldnt help myself. It - it was so so bizarre. She struggled to explain clearly.
Picard was reminded of the difficulty Deanna sometimes had, putting words to her impressions.
I I wanted to experience what was happening to her, but all I felt was cold. A black black emptiness, her voice dropped to a terrified whisper, it was as though she wasnt even there.
Picard sighed heavily. Counselor Troi is on total life support because some kind of force field is blocking all impulses from the brain.
Arianas eyes were wide. How horrible! But Captain, you must believe me; I dont know whats causing this. I dont. And if it is me, Im not aware of it. Her voice rose with her agitation.
Ariana, Picard said.
The Agamian fell silent.
Im not accusing you, but it would be most helpful if you would report to Dr. Crusher for further testing.
Yes, Captain. Despondent, Ariana left Ten Forward.
Picard turned to face Guinan.
Shes telling the truth, the Listener said, softly.
Picard rubbed his chin. And were apparently no closer to finding a way to help Troi.
Guinan had no response.
Beverly Crusher had her report ready the next morning. Arianas powers did not influence Deannas condition, and her healing capabilities, while impressive, were not total. Her self-preservation was able to prevent her from taking on too much.
At last, the Enterprise left Agami and began the journey to Starbase 121. Her cargo bays were bulging with Agamian artifacts and technology and treasures.
To Datas surprise, he found a personal log that belonged to Arianas father. He scanned the entries, which began during the scientists recuperation, for any possible interesting entries, since the man had been one of the last survivors. Afterwards, he planned to give it to Ariana as a personal memento.
However, he found an item, dated after Ariana was in stasis, which gave him pause. Further reading led him to place an urgent call to the Captain. He arrived at the Captains Ready Room to find that Riker had been summoned. The First Officer was slumped on the couch.
What is it, Mr. Data? The Captain asked.
I believe I have found the cause of the force field that has incapacitated Counselor Troi.
Riker jerked in his seat. Instantly, two pairs of eyes lit up.
Go on, Picard urged.
The golden android continued, I found personal log entries written by Arianas father, the last, most critical one, is dated after Ariana was in stasis and just before he, himself died. He went on to describe the scientists last project: a device he built to protect his daughter while she was in stasis. An advanced form of artificial intelligence that responded to telepathic thought waves.
He programmed Arianas empathic signature into it, turned it on, and then committed suicide. Unfortunately, he only tested it on computer simulations, but it was designed to emit an energy field, and, when hit by telepathic, and apparently empathic, thought patterns it would attach itself. The field would then travel back to the source and block it. He called it the Guardian.
Picard shook his head in disbelief.
Riker was furious. You mean, he turned this thing loose without knowing its full effects?!
Mr. Data, Picard interjected, placing a restraining hand on his First Officer, Do we have a description of this Guardian? He was unable to hide his disdain at the name. How to counter its effects?
Data cocked his head. He did not leave instructions or any kind of schematic. He instructed the computer to display the holographic image of the Guardian. The log stated that he wanted this to be a one of a kind creation and not to be reproduced. All technical aspects have been deleted.
Riker was pacing like a caged animal. He barely glanced at the black pyramid called the Guardian. Weve got to find this thing and destroy it.
Sir, Data broke in, I would like the opportunity to study the Guardian.
Picard held up his hands. Gentlemen, please, I will make a decision after we find it and based on Counselor Trois condition. Where is it now, Mr. Data?
Cargo Bay 3.
Riker was halfway to the door, when Picard stopped him. Just a moment, Number One. Picard to Dr. Crusher.
Crusher, here, came the disembodied voice of the Chief Medical Officer.
Mr. Data has apparently located the source of the force field affecting Counselor Troi. Were on our way to see if we can dismantle it. Please monitor her closely and let us know if anything goes wrong on your end.
Of course, Captain. Well be ready. She said a quick prayer of thanks as she called for Alyssa and hurried to ICU.
Picard also called for Geordi and minutes later, they all met in the Cargo Bay. Data retrieved the Guardian from its storage container and placed it on a bin. The four officers stood staring at the object; its sides as smooth as glass, 12 cm high and beautiful in its symmetry and simplicity.
Thats it? Riker asked, incredulous.
Yes, sir. Data answered.
Picard, not hesitating a second, reached out and placed his hand on it. Its cold. He stated flatly.
There were no sounds, no vibrations, no seams, buttons, knobs, indentations, or any visible signs of an opening. Data scanned it with the tricorder. Finally, he had to admit defeat. An unknown energy force is blocking sensors. It reads as solid.
Picard turned to his Chief Engineer. Mr. Laforge?
Geordi shook his head. I cant pick up anything past the surface. Its sitting there like a black hole.
Riker didnt bother to hide his impatience. All right: so how do we turn it off?
They tried stasis fields, force fields, extreme heat and cold, lasers and phasers all in an attempt to dismantle the object and release its hold on Troi. All to no avail.
Beverly sadly informed them that there had been no change in Deannas condition. Will had had enough and could barely contain his mounting frustration.
What about Ariana? Couldnt she
I dont believe so, Will, Picard interrupted, Remember that she was in stasis. She truly has no idea what is affecting Troi.
Riker persisted. Then I say we transport it out into space: maximum dispersal and maximum distance. I checked the log: it came aboard on a shuttlecraft, so the force field was never interrupted.
We would never be able to study it, Data spoke up, not realizing how the words would sound.
Riker snapped. Im a little more concerned about stopping its effect on Deanna than studying the damn thing!
Easy, Number One, Picard moved in, Does anyone have any other suggestions?
Picard continued. I realize it is a great scientific find, but it is obviously beyond our technology. We cannot control it, we do not know its range and we do not know if it can affect more than one person with telepathic abilities at a time. We do, however, know that we have been unable to stop its power over Counselor Troi and she remains on complete life support. And she is our main priority.
Of course, sir, Data said, a bit contritely. I did not mean otherwise.
I know you didnt, Mr. Data, Picard replied quietly, And so does Commander Riker.
Riker backed down. Of course.
Picard to Dr. Crusher.
We are about to transport the Guardian into deep space: be prepared.
Were ready down here. Good luck. She and Alyssa crossed their fingers with renewed hope.
Riker quickly picked up the Guardian and placed it on a transporter pad as Geordi programmed in the coordinates. All eyes were on the Guardian as it transported out. As soon as Data confirmed that there was no sign of the pyramid, Beverly requested that they come to Sickbay to see the results in person.
Data stated that he would report to the Bridge and relieve Worf while Geordi would return to Engineering.
Picard and Riker went straight to ICU. Will was disappointed, to say the least. There appeared to be no change in Deanna as far as he could tell.
Dr. Crusher was obviously excited, though and motioned them to join her at the monitor at the foot of the bed. Look at this. Here is the scan that showed the field generated by the what was it called?
The Guardian, Picard supplied. Ill have Mr. Data give you a full report.
Thank you. Anyway, the red is the field blocking the neural impulses, encompassing the entire brain. Now, watch, in real time, what happened when you transported it out.
She pressed a button and they watched in fascination as the field seemed to evaporate like smoke in just 45 seconds. Riker pumped his fist.
Thats it then! Shes going to be all right!
Dr. Crusher couldnt suppress a smile, as she reached out to Riker in an effort to rein him in. Yes, I believe shes going to be just fine. . . in time.
Now dont panic, Beverly soothed. I just meant that shes been on total life support for almost a month and very heavily medicated. Its not something you just turn off. Shell be weaned gradually. Look, Im not trying to bring you down, but its going to be a slow recovery. And, I believe, a full one. There doesnt appear to be any signs of brain damage, but itll be many hours before shes even close to consciousness.
Picard nodded. Excellent work, Doctor, he praised, I look forward to reading your full report. He turned to Riker. Number One, I think Ariana deserves an explanation.
Riker looked down at Deanna. Permission to stay with her.
Picard didnt miss a beat. Very well.
Beverly made several adjustments on the systems as Will pulled up a chair and sat close to his Imzadi. Before she left, Beverly glanced back at the touching tableau. She knew it would be pointless to encourage Riker to get some rest now and she hoped and prayed that his presence would help. That Deanna would be able to sense him at her side; her hand in his.
Riker stared closely at Trois face and reached up to tenderly caress her cheek. Sickbay personnel kept a discreet distance while Riker kept his vigil.
When Ariana answered the chime at her door, she had just finished a vigorous pointe routine and was heading for the shower. Come in! she called.
Seeing it was Captain Picard, she pulled up short. Oh, Captain, hello.
Hello, Ariana, he greeted her, noticing her damp hair and workout clothes. I hope I havent interrupted anything, but I needed to talk with you.
Of course. I had just finished, so please, excuse me for being such a mess. She was still slightly breathless.
Nonense. Youre fine. He moved to the couch. Why dont we sit down?
Okay, let me get a glass of water. Would you like anything?
No, thank you. He waited for her to get settled before beginning.
Ariana, Mr. Data found a personal log that your father kept. There were several entries written after you had been placed in stasis, about a device he had created that was designed to protect you from races with psi powers. He never had a chance to test this device, but he left it activated. He paused, knowing how upsetting what he was about to say would be.
It was this device that Counselor Troi encountered. The good news is that it has been deactivated and Dr. Crusher feels that the Counselor will make a full recovery.
Ariana just sat there; too stunned to speak, her mind processing all that Picard had told her. Well, actually glossed over, she suspected.
He remained silent.
Finally she stood up, her face still registering her shock; the impact of the Captains words affecting her deeply. My God, Captain, I I am so very sorry! I just cant -
Picard quickly got to his feet and went to her, gripping her shoulders and forcing her to face him. You are not to blame! Do you understand me? This is not your fault. Your father meant no harm; we know that. He was only trying to protect his daughter. In no way are you being held accountable for his actions.
Ariana would have none of his placating. No! she cried vehemently, shaking her head and pulling away. No! Counselor Troi suffered horribly. I know that! I felt Commander Rikers pain! I felt what all of you were going through suffering with her! She nearly died! When I went to Sickbay Oh God it was so awful - I just Finally, her anger and grief and unwarranted guilt spent itself, leaving her sobbing.
As usual, in situations like these, Picard longed for his Counselor. Without a word, he pulled Ariana down to the couch. After several moments, she suddenly regained control. Im sorry. Youre right, of course. She quickly wiped her face.
Its time to put the past behind us.
Ariana nodded in silent agreement.
Picard continued, Right now, Counselor Troi is on the road to recovery. Your road is laid out before you; waiting for you to take the first step. I believe that your incredible dancing ability is something you should continue; bringing joy to others. Remember, you are a victim as much as Counselor Troi. And its over now.
Ariana managed a smile. Picard felt hopeful as he left her.
Suddenly, Riker jerked, sitting up straight, and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Guiltily, he glanced around. <Must have dozed off,> he thought, wondering how much time had passed. He looked over at Deanna and what he saw caused a rush of anticipation and relief.
She was breathing on her own. He stared closely at her face. The deathly pallor was gone. The faintest blush touched her cheeks and lips. Reaching up, he lovingly brushed back a stray lock of hair. Im here, Imzadi, he whispered, pleased to find that her skin was warmer.
Beverly stepped in to examine her patient. Everything is looking very promising, she said softly, as she made some adjustments. Still no sign of any residual effects.
Riker breathed a sigh of relief. When do you think shell wake up?
Dr. Crusher placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. When her body tells her to. With the tremendous physical stress that shes been under, I wont be able to giver her any more drugs. Will, the body is a wonderful healer in its own right, and given the proper chance, can do miracles.
Riker nodded in understanding, trying to hide his nervousness. Beverly slipped back out and he turned back to Troi. Were all waiting for you, Deanna. Please, please come back. Please, wake up. Please, Deanna, open your eyes.
Darkness; solid darkness. Sounds; unintelligible sounds. it was these sensations that first gained coherence in Deannas brain. Then the darkness faded some, leaving a misty haze. Time was meaningless. As meaningless as the sounds that attempted to penetrate the haze.
Then, finally, that part of her that was the core of her empathy, awoke. In her mind, she heard Will Riker calling to her; she felt her hand in his, though she was powerless at this point to respond. Will Riker. His presence filled her. . . overwhelmed her. . . took her breath away. . .
When Deanna gasped, Will jumped violently in his seat. Deanna? He moved in closer, taking her face in his hands. Deanna! Can you hear me? Its Will!
She didnt move.
Dr. Crusher came over, scanning her patient and friend intently.
Abruptly, the haze cleared, banished by a white light. Deanna saw herself at the end of a long tunnel. She somehow knew that Will was at the other end, waiting for her in the light. She wanted to go to him; tried to move to him, but it was so difficult. She was so very tired. The effort was too great, and the distance seemed to grow with each passing moment.
With a sigh, she turned away from Will. The darkness was so much simpler.
She sighed again.
Beverly Crusher frowned at the instruments and shook her head, not wanting to believe the readings. Call to her, Will. Make her wake up.
The tone of her voice caused Riker to jerk his gaze up to her face. What he saw caused his blood to turn icy. His heart rate jumped. Whats wrong? Whats going on?
Beverly reached out to grasp Deannas other hand. Shes slipping away, into a coma, she whispered, urgently. Talk to her, make her wake up.
No! Beverly cut him off, No more drugs. Shes got to do this naturally. Now hurry!
Will turned back to the woman who meant more to him than he could ever say. He couldnt lose her he wouldnt!
Deanna! Open your eyes, Deanna! Right now! Please! Open your eyes, Deanna! he begged, pouring everything he had into his pleas.
Deanna heard him. And Beverly, as well. A small sigh escaped her lips. She had never felt so weak. Will called to her mentally, too. The powerful emotions emanating from him and Beverly buffeted her and she embraced them, drawing strength from them. She turned back to the light, to Will Riker and Beverly Crusher even as the exhaustion threatened to overtake her.
Deanna, open your eyes! Right now! He didnt know if she could hear him, feel him, or sense him, but he covered all the bases. He used his voice and his mind, crushing her hand in his. Suddenly, her eyes flew open and Wills immediate joy turned to fear when Troi cried out in pain.
Will Beverly reached out for his hand, Let go of her!
Instantly he responded and released his unintentional death grip, as Beverly quickly checked for broken bones.
Is she okay? Riker asked, worriedly.
Okay, Crusher responded, smiling.
They both looked down at Deanna, who was staring up at them in obvious confusion, and disorientation, but at least she knew them.
Will? Beverly? It was hard to understand her, her mouth so dry; her voice faint and raspy, so different from her normal lilting voice. She closed her eyes; the meager effort of speaking those two words depleted scarce resources and left her lightheaded; her throat burning.
Deanna. Thank God. Beverly quickly reviewed the instruments and was pleased with the readings. She reassured Riker and Troi, who was now watching her expectantly. Its okay. Everything is fine. Youre out of danger.
Deanna opened her mouth but Beverly stopped her. Now, I know you have a million questions, but just wait, okay? Be patient. Ill be back in a few moments. She gave Riker a reassuring pat and smile and was gone.
Will moved in close to give Deanna a loving kiss on her forehead. Welcome back, lady.
Deanna stared up at him; clearly overwhelmed with how much she needed to ask and not knowing where to begin. Will knew that and tried to keep her calm. Now before you get too worked up youre in Sickbay, on the Enterprise. Youve been here about a month.
Deannas eyes grew wider than Will thought possible, as she struggled desperately to accept what he had told her. Why? she asked, her voice cracking.
Before he could answer, Beverly returned with a glass of cold water. All in good time, Deanna. Give yourself a chance to remember on your own.
Riker gently supported Deannas head and shoulders as Crusher placed the glass to her lips. Troi sipped carefully but eagerly. It was indescribably cold and delicious and it soothed her burning throat instantly. When she was done, Will eased her back down.
Right now, Beverly said, I want you to concentrate on getting rest and regaining your strength.
And thats an order, Came the commanding voice behind her. Picard entered the Intensive Care Unit, drawing all eyes. Deanna made as if she were going to sit up. And though it would have been impossible anyway, Beverly and Will spared her the effort and kept her lying back.
Take it easy, Counselor, Picard said softly, as he moved to her side. Theres no rush, he added, in his most soothing voice.
They all noticed what each movement cost her.
Captain, please she managed. Please tell me. Her voice was faint but no longer raspy or difficult to understand.
Tomorrow, Deanna, Beverly said, kindly but firmly. First, you need to sleep.
But Ive been asleep!
The three officers exchanged glances.
Not exactly asleep, Will said, with a small smile.
Only normal sleep can rebuild your strength and stamina. Trust me, Beverly explained. She left with the Captain right behind her. Riker bent over Deanna, brushing her hair with his hands and giving her a quick kiss. Sleep well, Imzadi he whispered and was gone.
Deanna stared longingly after them, and though she didnt think it possible; she fell fast asleep.
Report, Doctor, Picard was saying when Riker sat down next to him.
Crusher ran tired fingers through her coppery-gold hair. it was close; we were losing her. She was slipping back into a coma. Coming off of life support, all the drugs that had kept her alive; it was almost too much.
Picard nodded thoughtfully. Whats your prognosis?
A full recovery, came the hoped for response, weve just got to give her time to regain her strength. How much time I cant say. Only time will tell.
Excellent, Doctor. Good work. He stood up. Whatever it takes, Beverly. With those words, he turned and was gone.
Dr. Crusher turned her attention to Riker. And as for you
Will looked up, all hazel-eyed innocence. Me?
Yes, you. I want you to report to your quarters and get some sleep. And that is an order.
Yes, sir! Will responded smartly and, with a twinkle in his eyes that hadnt been there for a long time, headed off.
Despite his exhaustion, Riker felt like skipping through the halls, like a great load had been lifted from his shoulders. After a quick shower, he settled down for some much-needed sleep. It was no surprise that he slept better than he had in weeks.
When he finally awoke, many hours later, he felt refreshed and revitalized. He spent several minutes reliving the moment Deanna at last awoke; when he was able to again fall into the depths of her beautiful, obsidian black eyes. Whistling happily, he devoured a huge breakfast then took a long hot shower.
He ran into the Captain, coming out of his own quarters.
Good morning, Captain.
I trust you slept well?
Of course, sir. He grinned. Im on my way to Sickbay now, sir.
Picard nodded. Ill be on the bridge after I speak to Ariana.
Will stopped in his tracks. When Deannas up to it, it would be a good idea to get the two of them together.
Agreed, Number One.
Beverly Crusher met him at the door. Riker pulled up short in surprise.
How did you know I was coming now?
I asked the computer to alert me. I wanted to talk to you before you see Troi. She pulled him into her office, as he tried to hide his impatience and concern.
Is everything all right?
Yes, she answered. You look much better, yourself, she commented.
I feel great. Now, what about Deanna?
As I told the Captain, follow-up scans are perfectly normal. Im keeping her in Intensive Care since theres less traffic and its quieter, right now.
Has she remembered anything?
I havent asked her; I was waiting for you. Will, she became serious. You must be careful; tread lightly. Shes normally a very strong person, both mentally and physically. Now, though, shes extremely fragile, weak and afraid.
Will nodded in understanding.
Dont push her and dont let her push herself.
Will Riker quietly stepped into the Unit, though he neednt have bothered with stealth. Troi had obviously sensed his presence and was watching the door expectantly. A broad smile lit up his face as he moved to her side and sat down.
Nice to know your empathic skills are in good working order.
Deanna smiled and Wills heart soared. He was struck anew by how much just her smile could lift his spirits.
Hello, yourself, she said softly.
Will gave her a kiss, then leaned back to stare closely at her. The Betazoid Counselor had regained only a fraction of her formerly vibrant coloring. She was still much too pale; her face was thinner, making her eyes seem much larger. The circles under those pools of black ink spoke of her extreme exhaustion and he noticed how still she lay, conserving her energy and her strength.
He took her hand in his; gently stroking the creamy soft skin that was warm now and no longer cold and lifeless. Deanna, if youre up to it, we can start with what you do remember, okay?
She smiled and nodded. Closing her eyes, she centered herself and drew strength from her Imzadi.
We were on a rescue mission.
Riker remained silent when she paused; not wanting to break her concentration.
I remember everyones disappointment that we were too late. That the only survivor was in stasis. She looked over at Riker, who grinned at how well she was doing.
Her gaze grew unfocused as she stared off into the distance, trying to capture the elusive event. Riker sat patiently, not wanting to pressure her in any way. Finally, she continued.
I remember thinking a lot about the person and I wanted to see if I could touch someone in stasis and make contact offer reassurance that help was on the way. But the passage was blocked. She drifted off, trying to recapture what she had felt.
You were sitting on the bridge, Will supplied, as a piece of the puzzle fell into place for him. I couldnt see you very well, but you suddenly jerked back and you seemed really flustered, and wouldnt say what was wrong you just left the Bridge.
Deanna, her eyes wide, continued the tale. Yes yes. When I reached out the passage was blocked somehow, like a door slamming shut. So I decided to try in my quarters alone with no distractions. And I did. I was reaching out down
Without warning, her mind went blank. Riker could see it. The memory was gone: completely. Troi couldnt remember anything else. Watching her struggle to summon up remembrance, he gave himself a mental shake. <What am I doing?> he thought angrily, staring at Troi, who was becoming more agitated the harder she tried to remember.
Okay, Deanna, he said softly, trying to comfort her. Lets back off. Come on, lay back, ease up and relax. Gently he pushed her back. She was totally unable to resist, her breathing was rapid and slightly labored and she became diaphoretic; her white skin glistening.
I want to remember! Ive got to know what happened to me! she cried, her eyes becoming glazed.
At that moment, Dr. Crusher burst into the ICU, her own eyes blazing as she looked at her patient and the monitors alarming. Whats going on in here? she hissed, trying to keep her anger in check, as she moved to Deannas side.
Why cant I remember? Deanna whimpered, Tell me, please. What happened to me?
Sshh, Deanna, calm down.
Beverly tenderly stroked Trois hair back as Riker stood silently by, his own heart racing with fear. Deanna was still so very weak, so fragile. <What have I done?>
Finally, when Deannas anxiety shoed no signs of dissipating, Crusher reached for a hypo and before her patient could protest, injected the agitated Counselor. Troi closed her eyes as the sedative took hold.
Riker looked over at Dr. Crusher. Everything was going smoothly, he hastened to explain. She was remembering pretty well, right up until the actual event and then: nothing. It set her off.
They looked down at Troi, whose condition had improved markedly. She even managed to open her eyes. Im sorry, she whispered.
No need to apologize, Beverly reassured her. It was just a mild sedative to help you relax.
Deanna reached for Wills hand. Please, please tell me what happened, please. I have to know.
Crusher and Riker exchanged glances and the Doctor finally relented. All right. But its imperative that you remain calm. You must concentrate on control.
Crusher gave her shoulder a squeeze. I know that you must be really frustrated. Just give yourself time. Your strength will come back.
Thank you, Beverly. She relaxed back and prepared to hear Will fill in the blanks. Crusher gave Riker a significant look that carried an unspoken warning. He showed that he got the message, loud and clear.
The sole survivor of the Agamian plague is a young woman; Ariana. We brought her back to the Enterprise and learned that she was half Human, which somehow gave her immunity. When you didnt show up in the Observation Lounge, I went to your quarters.
He broke off, staring into the distance, reliving the terror he had felt. Deanna shivered,; picking up the lingering emotion. Riker went on. I found you standing in the middle of the room, encased in a blue light. It seemed to be draining you; your face was completely blank and you were unresponsive. When I tried to get you away, it pushed me back, blinding me with a bright, white light. After I could see again, the light was gone and you were left in such incredible pain.
Troi stared at him, dumbfounded.
When I got you to Sickbay, Dr. Crusher discovered a kind of force field blocking the impulses from your brain. You were placed on total life support until we could discover the source of the field. It turned out that the Agamians were touch telepaths. Arianas father was human, so, like you, Deanna, shes empathic. Her sensitivity is not as strong as yours; she needs to be in physical contact to read you, but she also has some curative powers.
Ive heard of only a couple of races with those capabilities, Troi murmured, stunned. But what caused the force field?
We were initially afraid that Ariana was somehow responsible, but Data found that her father had built a device he called the Guardian to protect her telepathically while she was in stasis. He activated it without any empirical studies he never tried it on a living creature. Then we came along and you triggered it.
Abruptly, he became silent, eyes downcast, but he was unable to block his next thought.
Troi was, of course, able to pick it up, quite easily. I almost died.
Riker nodded. We couldnt turn it off; so we transported it out. The effect on you was gone immediately. Youre safe now: it can never hurt you or anyone else ever again.
Hold me, Troi whispered, her teeth chattering.
Carefully, he pulled her close, not questioning her. He realized that the enormity of it all: her brush with death, losing almost a month of her life, his profound relief and his residual terror of almost losing her had all come crashing down on her. He held her in his arms as she trembled violently; tears streaming down her cheeks, but she was eerily quiet. He flashed back to the Jalara Jungle on Betazed immediately after hed rescued her from the Sindareen. He said nothing and just held her; rocking her and letting her draw comfort and reassurance until the tears and trembling ceased.
Will gently eased her back and stared worriedly into her eyes, tenderly brushing the remaining tears away.
Are you okay?
Deanna managed a small smile and a single nod, before fatigue pulled her eyes closed. She was asleep.
Riker stood, kissed her forehead, then slipped out, requesting the computer dim the lights.
Beverly was watching for him. Im certainly glad we got through that.
Will sighed heavily. Yeah me, too.
Beverly removed her blue lab coat. Come on. I told the Captain that wed meet him in Ten Forward.
When they arrived, Picard broke off his conversation with Guinan. Doctor, Number One.
How is she? Guinan asked.
Sleeping soundly, right now, Riker answered. Guinan smiled and moved off to fill orders. The three officers took the back table.
How did it go? Picard queried. Did she take the news well?
Riker and Crusher exchanged glances. Well, she was overwhelmed, Riker answered, It was pretty emotional.
I finally gave her a sedative, Crusher added, just a mild one. Her system is still recovering, of course. But hopefully, having her questions answered and knowing that shes safe will allow the healing process to speed up.
Picard nodded, thoughtfully, sipping at his Earl Grey. Very good. Were all looking forward to having our Counselor back on duty. By the way, was she able to remember the events leading up to the Guardians attack?
Yes, Riker told him, but only up to a point. She didnt remember the attack at all. Apparently, when she was on the bridge, just before the away team returned, she made some kind of brief contact with it. Thats why she left so abruptly. She went to her quarters and tried again and thats when the Guardian got a hold of her.
Picard did a double take. You mean the Counselor made contact with it twice?
Picard turned thoughtful while Riker and Crusher continued talking, unaware of the change in their Captains mood. He finally excused himself.
Picard paced restlessly around his Ready Room. The reports he was supposed to review were ignored, as he tried to work through his puzzlement.
(Why hadnt Counselor Troi told them about the contact, initially?)
(She took a serious risk, on her own.)
He decided that the only answer would be given by talking to Troi. He would have to visit his Betazoid Counselor. But not yet. She needed sleep more than he needed answers.
Picard left Riker in command, while he went to Sickbay. He nodded a greeting to Beverly, who was tending to an injured crewman, as he strode purposefully into ICU.
He found Deanna propped up in bed, reading and she looked up at his arrival. It was a good sign and he saw an obvious improvement in her condition.
Good morning, Counselor.
Good morning, Captain, she answered with a bright smile.
Youre looking much better, I see.
Thank you. Im feeling stronger all the time.
Good good, he said, noticing that she was still pale and the dark circles remained under her eyes.
Theres something that you want to talk about, Deanna said,
quietly. It was not a question.
Not one to pussyfoot around, Picard nonetheless wanted to tread lightly. Yes, there is. He walked around the bed, gathering his thoughts.
Deanna wisely remained silent, giving him time, unsure of what was coming. Finally he took a breath and sat down.
Counselor, I want to talk to you about the Guardian. It is my understanding that you had contact with it on the Bridge.
Yes sir. But I wasnt exactly sure what had happened. I didnt sense an intelligence, but it was as if a door closed and I had been pushed back by a rush of wind. I thought it was the stasis field.
Yes, and then you went to your quarters.
(So, thats it,) Troi thought, getting a mental whiff of the direction they were headed. I sensed no danger, Captain.
Picard rubbed his chin. I believe that I am concerned by the fact that you didnt tell me.
Captain Deanna hurried to explain, I really dont know what I would have said. At the time, I wasnt sure of anything. It was all rather vague and seemed innocuous. I I just didnt feel that here was anything to report.
Picard caught her eye. And you werent sure that Id believe you, he stated bluntly.
No, Captain! Deanna was aghast, that he would think such a thing. There didnt seem to be anything to believe or disbelieve. I sensed no intelligence, no danger.
Picard held up his hand. Counselor, Im not angry with you. You know that.
Troi stared down at her hands, twisting her fingers, and nodded. She sensed only an undercurrent of fear and guilt.
Picard went on. We were all very concerned about you. I dont want you taking unnecessary chances or risks. And certainly, I want to know whatever you sense no matter how insignificant it may seem. I want to know; to be aware of it. I cant help but feel responsible for what happened to you.
Captain! No! she cried out. Youre not!
Picard sighed, I know that, Counselor. The point is: you are a valuable and highly respected member of my crew. And even if I have at times been cautious with your impressions, Ive always given you the benefit of a doubt. I feel that if Id known; perhaps I could have protected you.
Deanna buried her face in her hands, but not before Picard glimpsed how upset she was and he was dismayed. He had forgotten how defenseless she was right now; that in her fractured state of mind, her emotions and reactions were unpredictable.
But she was unable to meet his eyes. He hesitated a moment before sitting down on the bed and gently, but firmly pulled her hands down. He was relieved that she wasnt crying; he didnt think he was capable of helping her through that, however, she was obviously distraught.
Look at me, Counselor, he said sympathetically, still holding her hands.
She tried, but she just couldnt.
Picard reached out and, placing one hand under her chin, tipped her head back until he caught her eyes and held them.
Troi trembled at his touch, as waves of compassion washed over her.
Deanna, Im not chastising you, he continued in a soothing voice, I had been extremely worried about you. I care about you and sometimes wonder how good a job Id do without you. You are an integral part of a highly developed team, and I couldnt bear the thought of something happening to you. Especially, if I could have prevented it, or at the very least protected you, somehow.
Troi stared up at him; stunned and speechless.
Picard went on. Now, I feel quite strongly about everyone under my command. I caution each and every one about taking unnecessary risks alone. I do understand that you were trying to gather more information. I just want you to be careful. And never be afraid to come to me, with anything out of the ordinary no matter how slight it might seem at the time.
Still unable to speak, Troi nodded.
Picard dropped his hand to take both of her hands in his. You know, sometimes I consider Will Riker a well, like a son.
Trois heart soared at the admission. she thought, joyfully. She had always felt that their connection went much deeper than Captain and Number One and even deeper than best friends.
But Picards next words came as a complete surprise.
And you, Deanna, are like a daughter to me.
Now the tears came; two of them spilled over now flushed cheeks. With a smile, Picard brushed them away. We are a close-knit family and I want to keep it that way.
Abruptly, he stood and cleared his throat, simultaneously straightening his tunic. The mood swing hit Deanna like a splash of cold water and she was grateful.
Now, Picard said all business. I want you to follow Dr. Crushers orders to the letter. Were all anxious to have you back.
I will, Captain, she promised, humbly. Thank you.
You take care of the souls on the Enterprise, Counselor; dont forget yours. And dont forget that you are an exceptional officer. He hesitated for just a moment.
Troi watched him expectantly.
And you are one of my closes friends, he told her earnestly.
She swallowed hard, knowing how difficult it was for the Captain to open up in matters so personal to him.
He gave her hand a final squeeze and smiled briefly, then turned and left.
Troi sunk back against the pillows, utterly exhausted. Sleep, however eluded her for over an hour. She had a lot to think about.
Will Riker entered Ten Forward and looked around expectantly. He had had the computer locate Ariana and found her at the back of the lounge, looking out the window with a dreamy expression on her lovely face.
Star-gazing becomes you.
Startled, Ariana turned and found herself staring into twinkling hazel eyes. Oh, Comm- Will! she exclaimed, blushing. Im sorry, I didnt hear you. Please, sit down.
Will sank into the offered seat. So, how are you?
Im fine, really. She took a sip of a creamy pink concoction that Guinan had discovered was her favorite. How is Counselor Troi?
Shes still weak, but shes getting better every day.
Ariana smiled, and then grew concerned when Will suddenly became serious. What is it?
Riker took a deep breath. I spoke to Dr. Crusher and she said if youd like to meet Deanna; its all right. I think it would be a good idea, myself.
Arianas face lit up then clouded back over. Are you sure she -?
Of course, she wants to see you. None of this is your fault. Deanna is really looking forward to meeting you. She knows all about the Guardian, and like all of us, knows that youd never hurt anyone.
Quite hesitantly, Ariana checked in with Dr. Crusher.
Well, hello, Ariana. Im glad you decided to come.
Youre sure its all right?
Beverly smiled. Yes, Im sure. Deanna could really use the company and shes terribly eager to meet you. Right through there.
Deanna Troi looked up and smiled at her visitor. Hello, you must be Ariana.
Yes, Counselor Troi, Ariana managed, nervously clutching her hands together.
Her anxiety hit Deanna like a slap in the face, but her smile never wavered. Reinforcing her shields, she invited her guest to sit down. You simply must call me Deanna.
Ariana smiled shyly as she took her seat. I hope Im not bothering you.
Youre not, Deanna assured her. Its good to have visitors. Besides, if Beverly doesnt let me out soon, Im going to sneak out.
So, youre feeling better? Ariana asked hopefully.
Oh, much. However, Im more concerned about how youre doing.
Ariana fidgeted with her hands and shrugged. I think sometimes Im still in shock. I mean, my head know my father, everyone, is gone dead. But in my heart - she shrugged again.
Deanna reached out to place a comforting hand on Arianas. She had felt Arianas pain and sent the young woman her compassion and offered her friendship. Ariana smiled gratefully and accepted both.
It will take time, Ariana. When youre ready, it will all come together. And I want you to remember that Im here to help you in any way I can. We all will.
Thank you, Deanna. I cant tell you how wonderful everyone has been to me. Like like a new family.
Deanna beamed. Excellent. And I want to be included.
Ariana grinned broadly. Oh, absolutely. Id like that.
Deanna changed the subject. So, your father was human, also?
Yes. Ariana settled back in her chair. His ship crash-landed on Agami. My mother, a nurse, said the doctors almost lost him and had just about given up hope. She was the first one he saw when he regained consciousness and she stayed with him throughout his long recovery.
How romantic, Deanna sighed.
The two women had a long discussion about everything from growing up empathic among telepaths, to the tragedy on Agami. Finally, Ariana pulled out an isolinear optical chip and handed it to Troi.
Geordi made this. Its a recording of a dance performance that I gave for the crew: a thank you for all theyve done. Id like you to have it. Will Riker said how sorry he was that you couldnt be there.
Deanna was touched. Why, thank you. I cant wait to see it.
Further conversation was prevented by the arrival of Beverly Crusher. Im afraid its time for Deanna to get some rest.
Instantly, Ariana was on her feet. Im sorry, Dr. Crusher, she said contritely, I didnt mean to overstay my welcome.
She turned back to Deanna. I really enjoyed talking with you.
Its been a pleasure, Ariana. Than you for coming by. And for the disc.
After Ariana left, Beverly stood over patient, glaring.
Deanna winced at the indignation radiating from her friend.
Youre exhausted, Beverly stated. It was not a question.
Im sorry, Beverly. But I was so anxious to get to know Ariana.
The Doctor relented. I know. Just get some sleep, okay?
Troi nodded meekly.
The next several days, Deanna worked with Beverly and Worf to rebuild her strength and stamina. It was slow going, painful and frustrating, but Deanna was determined. Finally, Beverly agreed it was time to release Troi from Sickbay now that she was able to get around on her own. Will Riker arrived to escort her out.
Gallantly, he extended his arm, which Deanna took, barely able to contain her happiness. Linking her arm through his and with a good-bye to Beverly, she and Will left Sickbay.
Strolling down the corridors, Deanna breathed deeply, her were eyes glowing, and her face was radiant.
I cant believe how good it feels to be up and out of thee.
Will gripped her tightly in agreement. Words could never express his relief and joy at having her back.
Troi became silent, buffeted by the waves of emotions emanating from him. At last, they arrived on the Bridge. She glanced around appreciatively as she stepped out of the Turbo Lift. She felt as if shed been gone for ages. As she walked down the ramp, Picard immediately stood to greet her.
Will flashed a broad smile as the Captain took Deannas hands. Welcome back, Counselor. Your presence has been sorely missed.
Thank you, Captain. It feels wonderful to be back on duty.
They all sat down.
Ariana tells me that shes going to join the Traveling Entertainment Corps, Picard commented. Shed be giving performances all over the Galaxy.
Thats great! Riker exclaimed. Shes too good not to share her talent with others.
Agreed, Number One, agreed.