Character codes: R, T, Crew
The following vignettes were first published in the Orion Press/ Beta Ori
ERIDANI 13, ERIDANI 15 and ERIDANI 16. As all three address themselves to the
elements of the Riker-Baraash relationship left unresolved in the episode "Future
Perfect," and as all three are entwined in the way that moments lifted from
a man's life are woven into the tapestry of his existence, we felt they should
be presented as they were intended to be read: three stand alone moments that
blend to a greater whole. A TRILOGY, of sorts, if you will ....
William Riker sat contentedly, his bare feet dangling in the bone-chilling water of Curtis Creek. It had been a long boring day; but the gently bracing wind and the smell of fish in the water was quickly rinsing the bitter tang of duty from his mouth. He watched the clear mountain stream stumble gracefully over rocks, each droplet glinting like a diamond as it caught the morning sunlight and refracted it into a million colors.
The gentle whisper of a North wind moaned through the pines. Crooning a tuneless lullaby, she shook the distinctive smell of pitch from her skirttails and ruffled his hair with a motherly hand. Riker closed his eyes and let the morning seep into him.
Riker's eyes popped open. His shoulders stiffened as he scanned the rock-strewn creek bed with an anxious gaze. There were pools here--deep pools. Although it was in these places that the best fish were to be found, they were also a haven to a multitude of hazards: deceptive currents, treacherous undertows, submerged trees that could tangle a man in limbs or roots....
Jean-Luc was knee-deep in such a pool. Even though his denims were soaked to the hips with icy water and cold had painted his cheeks a rosy blush, the boy's eyes were bright with excitement.
"Look at the size of him!" Jean-Luc shouted, hoisting the writhing fish for his father's inspection. Water cascading from the trout spattered the boy who held him aloft. The creature's undulating sides glistened with broad swashes of speckled rainbow color.
Jean-Luc lost his grip on the line abruptly, and the fish slapped to the surface of the still pond. Although the fish was fast, the boy was faster. He dove after his prize, reeling slack line in until he once again had a grip on the slippery, valiantly fighting trout.
"Must be the biggest fish in the whole creek!" Jean-Luc boasted exuberantly. He splashed toward shore, soaking what little of his clothing remained dry. "Probably been hiding in that hole for ten years or better."
Will Riker pushed himself to his feet and picked his way cautiously along the water's edge to join his son.
It was a big fish. As the creature squirmed and flailed in Jean-Luc's grip, the slam of his significant weight first this way, then that, jerked the slim boy around like a badly-manipulated marionette.
"Better get a net under him," Will advised too late.
For the second time in as many minutes, the fish ripped itself free from Jean-Luc's grip. The boy grappled with it, fumbling and juggling until he lost his balance on the slippery rocks. Forgetting the trout, Jean-Luc fought instead to regain his footing. His thin arms whipped the air like the wings of some ungainly bird attempting its first solo flight.
Still several yards away, Will lunged for his toppling son. His arms encircled Jean-Luc's waist just as the boy's feet flung themselves into the morning air.
They hit the cold water like two flopping fish and came up gasping for air. Water streamed into Will's eyes from his hair, only to run off the end of his nose. Concern turned to laughter as Jean-Luc burst from the water beside him with surprise-wide eyes. Shoving and shouting and splashing, father and son broke the still morning into cacophony of sound.
Gradually, the chill of the water seeped into their enjoyment and dampened it with cold. Will gripped his son by the arms and slung the boy to dry ground. He followed more slowly on the treacherous footing offered by erosion-smooth stones.
"I don't believe it," Jean-Luc bemoaned, shaking droplets of water from his hair. "That was the biggest fish I ever caught, and I lost him before I even got a hologram of him."
Will grinned. Taking his cue from Jean-Luc, he shook his own head vigorously to rid it of its heavy load of icy water. "Think of it this way," he consoled the boy as he cleaned the residue from his ears with a single finger, "Now he'll still be here for you to catch next time."
Jean-Luc turned an incredulous look on his father. "That's a pretty stupid way to look at it," he said after a moment.
Will shrugged. "Sounded good before I said it," he laughed.
"Musta," Jean-Luc retorted. The boy's lips twisted in a grin that matched his father's. "Sure didn't sound like much after you said it."
"Picard to Commander Riker," a resonant voice interrupted the companionable laughter. Riker's features sobered immediately. He saw the same reaction in Jean-Luc's expression and felt the loss deep inside himself.
With an apologetic grin, Will Riker touched the communicator pinned to the lapel of his down vest. "Riker here," he admitted reluctantly.
"I apologize for interrupting your program, Number One," Jean-Luc Picard's voice cut the brisk morning air, "but I'm going to need an away team. Could you report to the bridge please?"
Riker's lips tightened to a resigned line. "I'm on my way," he acknowledged quietly. "Riker out."
Though Jean-Luc tried hard to hide it, disappointment shone brightly in his dark eyes. Avoiding his father's gaze, he busied himself wringing excess water from the sleeves of his shirt as if it didn't matter.
"I'm sorry, Jean-Luc," Will murmured. He put a hand on either of his son's shoulders, giving them a squeeze he hoped would somehow help. "I wish I could stay."
"Hey," Jean-Luc grinned lopsidedly. "It's all right. I know you gotta do what you gotta do."
Will let his hand touch the boy's face, lingering there. "Next time, okay?" he said, remembering the echo of the words from his own childhood.
Jean-Luc shrugged. "Sure, Dad." He glanced away to hide the unbidden glisten of tears. "Next time."
Drawing a deep breath, Will turned his back on the boy and started for the line of trees several meters away. The gently murmuring wind and the subtle scent of wildflowers had lost their seduction. All he heard now was the brittle crunch of grass beneath his bare feet.
When he reached the line of trees, Will Riker paused to look back. Jean-Luc was watching, his dark eyes wistful but resigned. The boy raised a hand and waved.
"Terminate program," Riker ordered quietly.
The fresh beauty of nature melted to a glowing grid and Curtis Creek vanished in a technological heartbeat. What had been nothing more than a memory of a boy was no longer even that.
Will Riker slipped his boots on without comment. The blue jeans and goose-down vest no longer existed. In their place was the familiar line of his uniform. Riker straightened, setting the boot tight against his foot with a sharp stomp. He regarded the mechanically-glowing room for a moment and imagined the distinctive scent of live fish.
For longer than he should have, Will Riker stared at the nothingness. Then,
slowly, silently he turned and strode from the holodeck.
"You miss him, don't you?"
Riker started, pulling himself instinctively straighter in his chair as he glanced up. Though it took a moment for his eyes to focus in from their distant point of contemplation; when they did, it was who he knew it would be standing above him.
"Who?" he responded guardedly.
Guinan's brow arched, giving her the appearance of being at once skeptical and wise. Riker took refuge from the intense brown gaze by developing a sudden interest in the contents of his glass.
"Mind if I join you?" the Ten Forward hostess inquired congenially.
Although he didn't feel like company, Riker gestured broadly to an empty chair. Guinan's dress rustled as she took it. She waited for him to speak, and he waited for her, so the silence between them grew.
Riker studied the drink a while longer before sipping disinterestedly at the brilliant blue fluid. When he finally looked up, she was watching him as he knew she would be.
"You never answered my question," she reprimanded in a voice colored with subtle maternal overtones.
Riker shrugged. Since he couldn't meet her eyes and remain distanced, he opted for returning his gaze to the comforting blanket of stars and space that lay off the starboard gunnels. The viewing portal was so clear the stars looked to be in the lounge with them. They scrolled by in an ever-changing, ever-glorious ballet of light and dark. Glittering like diamonds rolled on black velvet by a crap shooter's hand, the seemingly random, and yet mathematically exacting pattern of their scatter never failed to amaze him.
Especially when there was something on his mind. He knew she wouldn't allow him to ignore her forever, so he gathered his voice and a false sense of glib, took a sip of the drink for fortitude and answered.
"How do you miss something that never really existed?"
"Didn't it?" Guinan countered with that mysterious air of hers. Riker sighed. There were times that the hostess seemed to be humoring them all--almost as if she knew what was to come, and was thoughtfully trying to nudge them in the proper direction.
"It was an illusion," he informed her firmly. "A holographic representation. A dream." Riker took another drink, this one substantial enough to track synthehol fire down his throat. "He wasn't real."
"He was real to you," Guinan pointed out.
A wry smile twisted into Will Riker's lips, but the expression failed to reach his eyes. "Perhaps," he allowed, more to derail her persistence than as an admission.
"And you miss him."
His eyes flicked to hers, meeting the gentle gaze directly for a moment. He knew the statement was bait. He knew if he took it, there'd be a hook in there, and she'd reel him like two hundred odd pounds of speckled trout, but he took it anyway. "Perhaps," he allowed.
Riker nodded and retreated again to the neutrality of the universe outside. He watched glittering star clusters shift in their orbits. He watched meteors flare through atmospheres to die glorious deaths. He watched space blacker than the blackest black, and, for a moment, he forgot.
"I lost a child once," Guinan offered suddenly. Her voice didn't change, but something in the inflection of it did. Riker turned from his refuge to listen. She didn't often say much about herself, not even when she was trying to make a point. The fact that she chose now to share this with him said more about her perceptive powers than any words could have.
"It's a pain unlike any other. An emptiness," she brushed her own breastbone lightly, "here." For a long time, she stared at him. Her eyes seemed to be searching for something...something specific. "The pain never goes away," she told him finally. "It merely becomes tolerable. In time."
Riker drew a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. He slouched deeper into the chair until he was sitting the way he had been when she disturbed him. "Does it?" he asked quietly.
"lt does." Guinan studied him carefully. "It will." She leaned forward, capturing his averted gaze with the intensity in her expression. "But you must allow yourself to grieve."
Riker's lips twitched into an involuntarily deflective smile. "I have nothing to grieve for," he pointed out. His voice was a little unsteady. It surprised him to find his chest and his throat had tightened to the point of pain. "You can't lose what you never had."
"Was there no time that you believed him to be your son?" Guinan pressed. "No time at all that you accepted him as a part of yourself?"
Riker's fingers whitened on the glass. It's important to me that I don't let you down, Jean-Luc.The fact that he didn't answer was an answer in itself, and they both knew it.
"Then grieve for that," Guinan urged. "Grieve for the loss of that moment that you believed."
For a long moment, Will Riker did nothing but finger the glass of blue fluid and stare at a place that had no meaning.
"He would have made a fine son," Riker commented finally.
"He was a fine son," Guinan corrected. "If only for a short while."
Riker nodded agreement. It's important to me that I don't let you down, Jean-Luc. "You know," Riker started abruptly. "He told me..." You never have. You've always been there for me. Riker stopped himself, shaking his head with a rueful laugh. "Never mind."
"No one can take away the memories," Guinan said gently.
I want to remember.
"What memories there are," Riker countered. "We didn't have much time together."
"You will." Guinan smiled into the surprised glance he turned her way. "Someday you'll have a son, and I think he will be very much like Jean-Luc was."
"You see that in your crystal ball, do you?" he asked with a smile.
"Call it intuition," Guinan responded. Her lips curled with an expression that implied much more.
Riker lifted his hands in mock self-defense. "Well far be it from me to argue with woman's intuition," he assured her. They shared the quiet laughter of friendship. It warmed the cool pall of his mood for a short time, but sooner than he would have liked, it trickled away and Will Riker slipped once again to pensive contemplation.
"It was everything I've ever wanted out of life," he told her suddenly. Despite the twist of embarrassment in his features, he pushed. "It seemed so...right," he swallowed, "so...real."
"But you were cheated," Guinan responded. "You were cheated out of the joys and the heartaches of pulling it together for yourself. You were cheated of the memories along the way. You didn't have the chance to see his first step, his first tooth. None of it."
I don't remember any of it. Your first step, your first tooth. None of it...And I want to remember.
"I always wondered what type of father I'd be," he admitted.
"Now you know."
Riker's eyebrow climbed. "Do I?" he asked bitterly. He shook his head, laughing with a burst of air that sounded more like a snort of derision than an expression of humor. "It was a fantasy...a lonely child's game. There was nothing of me in Jean-Luc."
Guinan sighed. She stood, rising like a queen who had chosen to end her audience. "Baraash fashioned Jean-Luc from your thoughts." she told him in parting. "Your dreams, your very soul, if you will. There was nothing but you in the boy." She lifted the empty glass from between his hands. "Can I get you another drink?"
Riker shook his head. "I'm due on the bridge in an hour." He watched her nod and turn away.
She paused, turning back to regard him with a cryptic look of noncommittal expectation.
"Yes. Very much." He broke her gaze to look out over the stars. "I miss him
"Deanna. Do you have a minute?"
Deanna Troi turned, a smile warming her delicate features. She watched the man on the other end of the question quicken his pace slightly to close the distance between them. It was not so long ago that she'd thought never to see him again. His nearness was a source of joy to her that, though she denied its intensity to others, she could not deny to herself.
"I wanted to talk." Will Riker's eyes held more of a question than was in his voice. "If you're not busy...?"
"It just so happens," she informed him, "that I'm on my way to Ten Forward. I would be most..."
"I was thinking," Riker interrupted, "of something..." He hesitated. "...more private." He winced at the implication of the word, and his expression tried to apologize even is his lips hurried on to explain. "Some place we can talk... professionally. I think...I need...I need to talk to someone...to you." He shrugged, embarrassed. His gaze skidded away from hers when she tried to meet it. "I'd like to speak with you professionally," he repeated quietly. His voice was studiously blank. His shoulders squared as if he'd ordered them to, and the tension in his demeanor bled into the line of his spine. When he turned his eyes into her again, he wasn't looking at her, he was looking through her. "I need a little... perspective."
"Of course, Will." She laid a hand on his arm. Though he tensed at her touch, there was also a part of him that relaxed. "Why don't we go to my office?"
Again, he looked embarrassed.
"Or my quarters," she amended smoothly. "If you'd be more comfortable there."
His focus shortened until he was, once again, looking at her. She saw something in his eyes that didn't belong there: uncertainty...doubt. "Would you mind...?"
The hesitancy in his voice made her smile. "No, Will," she assured him gently. "I wouldn't mind."
Will Riker was sitting in the over-stuffed chair like she was a school marm and he was in a great deal of trouble. Troi offered him a drink: he refused. She attempted small talk: he didn't cooperate. Whatever was on the first officer's mind was taking its own sweet time working its way free, and it was fast becoming evident that there was nothing for her to do but wait.
So she waited.
As she gave him time to sort and consolidate his thoughts, she littered the silence with periodic observances of the mundane to keep it from becoming prohibitive: the newest drink in Ten Forward, the results of the Tamanarius geological survey. He was ready to talk--he wouldn't have approached her if he wasn't--but that didn't mean he knew how or where to begin. She kept the environment open and let him find his own way to ease into it.
"Do you ever think of Ian?" he asked abruptly.
Deanna let the question settle against her for several seconds before allowing herself to respond. The initial swarm of sadness bled away to fond memories. Together, they became a gentle, not-altogether unpleasant ache of emptiness. She formed the face of Ian in her thoughts and answered him as truthfully as she could.
"Yes," she conceded slowly. "I think of him often. There are even times," she smiled a far away smile, "when I don't think of him."
"Have you ever..." Riker swallowed the question before it fully emerged. Rising with a sharp shake of his head, he began to pace.
"Have I ever what, Will?" she prompted gently.
He was facing the far wall now, studying the food dispenser like it was something he'd never seen before. "... ever been tempted to re-create him?" he finished quietly. His words barely reached across the room to her. They were more a breath ...a thought...than an actual question. "On the holodeck?"
"This is about Jean-Luc," she surmised quietly.
He nodded, but did not turn. Though she could have guessed, she didn't. Instead, she waited for him to say it.
"I programmed him into the Curtis Creek simulation," Riker admitted finally. "I visit him twice, maybe three times a week."
He waited for her to comment; but again, she didn't. She made him finish it.
"lt's not healthy. It's not a normal way to deal with grief." Riker turned away from the wall and faced her. "It worries me."
"But you continue to visit," Troi said gently.
"Yes." Riker maintained the lock she had on his eyes even though it cost him to do so. She saw the twist of embarrassment there...the knowledge that he was less than he thought he should be.
"Twice a week."
He closed his eyes.
"Three times?" Deanna pressed. "Four? Every day?"
Her quiet insistence pushed him to the wall. He sagged against it, pinned in place by the accuracy of her perception. "I miss him," Riker told her. His eyes were still closed. He spoke like it helped to say the words without facing her. "It's like a knife. Part of me says he was never real...never anything more than a hologram. But the other part of me..." His eyes opened then. They were tired. Very tired. "The other part of me thinks of him as my son. It misses him. I miss him."
"He was real to you," Troi reminded him gently.
Riker smiled. He reached up to stroke distractedly at his beard. "That's what Guinan said," he commented.
"And what else did she say?"
Pushing off the wall, he began to pace again. "That it would heal. Get better with time."
"Guinan is a very wise woman," Troi observed.
Riker nodded. He circled her cabin slowly, touching the subtle decorations that made the walls, the furniture hers. "Then you agree?" he whispered. His hand caressed a Gemetian crystal he'd given her last year, and it glowed indigo in response.
"I agree you need time," she allowed. "You need to grieve. You need to allow the pain. Need to acknowledge it."
"And then it will go away?"
"It will change. It will become a memory. Bittersweet, but something to be cherished."
"Is that how you feel about Ian?"
Deanna smiled sadly. "Yes. I miss him, but when I hold my time with him in my mind, I am happy."
"Do you ever wish ...," the crystal transmuted to violet-black, and then, just black, "...wish you could forget? Wish that it never happened?"
"But it did happen," Deanna countered. "And I can't ever forget. You can never forget. Jean-Luc is a part of you, just as Ian is a part of me. We will never be the people we were before them again."
"Would you be, if you could?" Riker pressed quietly.
She thought about it for a long time. "No," Troi answered finally. "What he gave me, I value. I would never give it away. Just as I would never give away the time we spent together. They are what I am. Who I am."
Riker turned suddenly. "Is it wrong for me to re-create him on the holodeck?" he asked. The need for an answer was desperation in his expression.
"Only you can answer that, Will," she told him gently. "Only you know if you're giving a memory substance, or if you're creating a reality that, in reality, does not exist."
Riker laughed. It was a disappointed snort of sound, one that denied the importance he placed upon her opinion. He sank into a nearby chair. Long legs crossed over one another as he leaned into an elbow with a dissatisfied sigh. "That's not much help, Deanna," he grumbled.
Troi smiled. "I'm sorry."
Riker shrugged it off. "I could use a drink," he volunteered.
Riker wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"Alturin ale?" she countered.
"Closer," he acknowledged.
Troi smiled. "Beer," she told the food synthesizer. "Moosehead, circa 1997, standard Earth date. Cold. No head. In a frosted mug." A moment later, the device supplied her with exactly that.
"Good choice," Riker commented as he accepted the mug from her.
Troi inclined her head. "Trial and error," she reasoned.
They sat in silence for several minutes, Riker drinking his beer and Troi watching him drink it. "You suppose Baraash is still on board?" he asked finally.
They both knew the answer to that question, but Troi voiced it like they didn't. "We won't reach Starbase Hemsley Narturus for another thirty-six hours."
Riker nodded. Another thirty-six hours. Out of fourteen weeks. It didn't seem like much time.
It wasn't much time.
It was contrary to Holodeck protocol, but Will Riker entered the simulation without announcing himself nonetheless. As the recreational facility's entrance slipped shut behind him and vanished, he found himself once again in the halls of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Rather than Holodeck Three, however, he was in a corridor several hundred meters from his own cabin.
And he was approaching himself.
With a certain sense of dislocation, Riker watched himself grow closer. There was a creature scuttling along at the holo-Riker's side...a being dressed in blue and black...a boy...Jean-Luc...Baraash.
"I'm not sure it's still in the memory banks," the holo-Riker was saying, "but I used to have a great fishing program on the holodeck."
"The Curtis Creek program?" Baraash asked excitedly.
"You know it," the holo-Riker surmised with a certain amount of satisfaction.
"Sure," Baraash verified. "We've gone to Curtis Creek lotsa..."
The happily approaching alien froze mid-word and mid-step at the sight of the real Riker only a few feet ahead. The holo-Riker stopped as well.
"Jean-Luc?" he asked. "What's wrong?" He glanced to his prototype, and then back at Baraash as if there was nothing at all out of the ordinary about facing an exact duplicate of oneself.
"Comm-mm-mmander Riker," Baraash managed finally. With the alien's parchment-like flesh, it was hard to tell for sure, but he seemed to be embarrassed. "I didn't know...I mean...I didn't think..."
"Commander Riker?" the bearded hologram repeated with a raised eyebrow. "What happened to 'Dad'?"
"Stop," Baraash demanded. His already oddly-resonating voice sounded even more pinched that was its norm. His fingers fidgeted ceaselessly. "Computer, stop. Go away."
Although the command was not procedurally accurate, the computer recognized enough of its intent to terminate the simulation. The halls of the U.S.S. Enterprise disintegrated along with her bearded captain.
And left them alone.
Baraash stood trembling in the now empty simulation chamber. He stared at Riker with huge almond shaped eyes, waiting for the Human to say something...anything!
"Hello, Baraash," Riker said finally.
The non-sequitur greeting seemed to burst a hole in the alien child's fragile dam of composure. Words tumbled out, tripping over one another in their haste to explain: "I'm sorry ... I didn't mean...you're angry...they told me I could...I just wanted..."
Riker put a hand out to slow the nonsensical flood. "It's all right," he soothed. "I'm not angry."
The alien trembled harder. His slim shoulders hunched up around his neck in an oddly Human gesture of despair. "I just wanted to pretend once more," he whispered finally. "I'm sorry if it was wrong." He tried to edge past Riker. "I will go."
Riker laid a restraining hand on Baraash's arm. It surprised him how much like Human flesh the odd-textured skin was. "You didn't do anything wrong," he told the boy quietly. "You don't have to go."
Baraash chittered in confusion. His long, thin fingers twitched frantically like the legs of an upended insect searching once again for the ground. "You're not... angry?" he ventured.
"No." Riker gazed down at the young alien. "I'm not angry."
"I thought..." Baraash hesitated, fidgeting. "I mean...I don't understand," he said finally, his voice very careful on the words. "You were angry before."
"Yes," Riker agreed. "I was."
For a long moment, the alien boy stared at the Human he'd chosen to be his father. "I am sorry for before then," he said finally.
Riker shook his head. "You don't have to apologize again. I understand why you did what you did. You were lonely. Anyone would have been lonely."
"I thought you understood before," Baraash returned quietly. His eyes flinched away. They sought out the grid-patterned floor, and studied it with great intent. "But it did not make you not angry."
"Sometimes," Riker explained, "people...my people...take a while to get over being angry. Especially when whatever makes them angry also hurts."
Baraash's fingers, which had almost stilled, went wild again. "I did not mean to hurt you," he wailed. "I thought you would be happy."
"I know that," Riker assured the child. He settled into an easy crouch that put his eyes on Baraash's level. Though the alien's gaze tried three times to run away, it kept coming back, furtively, hopefully. "I know that, Baraash." Riker repeated. "I know that."
The boy's long fingers tapped nervously at his own face. He peered through the web they formed like a timid creature hiding in the brush. "You said I would always be Jean-Luc to you," he whispered.
"I was wrong," Riker answered just as quietly. "It was a stupid thing to say. You never were Jean-Luc."
Baraash's fingers pulled themselves closer together, hiding more of his face. "I wish it were true," he confided. "I wish I was Jean-Luc."
Riker smiled. "No," he corrected. "Jean-Luc wasn't real."
"He was real to you," Baraash countered. And then, more quietly, "He was real to me."
The first officer sighed. Pushing to his feet, Riker gazed down at the alien child who stood in the empty holodeck like he could hardly bear the weight of the air on his shoulders. "I thought you might like to go fishing," Riker commented after a long moment. "I know a place where they're always biting."
The boy's head swung up. Though it didn't seem possible, his eyes grew wider than they already were. "Curtis Creek?" Baraash breathed.
Riker nodded. "You've been there," he surmised.
Baraash shook his head. He stared at the first officer with incredulity that transcended expression. The disbelief was in the way he stood, the way he breathed. "No," Baraash murmured finally.
"Well," Riker's hand dropped to the alien's slender shoulder, "it's about time we went then, don't you think?"
"We?" The hush in the child's voice barely cleared the silence.
Riker grinned. "Sure." His finger's tightened slightly. "You don't expect me to go back to work while you're off playing hookie, do you?"
Baraash shook his head numbly.
"Computer," Riker summoned. "Load Riker three: Curtis Creek program."
"One moment please," a disembodied feminine voice responded. Exactly one moment later, it spoke again. "Riker three: Curtis Creek program loaded," it informed them pleasantly. "Simulation matrix complete."
"Begin program," Riker instructed.
The glowing grid around them flared into trees and sky and water rushing over haphazardly-strewn boulders. A gentle wind colored with the first bite of fall fingered through orange and yellow leaves. Riker smiled. Rolling his neck along the line of his shoulders to loosen the remnants of tension that clung there, he drew a deep breath of brisk Alaskan day and relished the distinctive smell of fish.