Author: Cassandra


Rating: R (for sexual situations and a couple scenes of sexual
assault - but not too graphically horrible, or I couldn't read them
myself!) The first assault is really more of a close call. And it
happens in this section. The second, more serious assault takes
place in the last quarter of the story, so you have a good 45
relatively safe pages before it happens, and I will put an additional
warning before I post that scene. This story is about 60 pages in
its entirety.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns this stuff, I never did make any money
from it, so it's not hurting anyone. You could sue me, but all I
have that's worth anything is a bunch of old Trek fanzines, so eat
your heart out, Richard Arnold!

Summary: This story takes place in early 6th Season, just after "Man
of the People" where Troi was the receptacle for an alien's negative
emotions. It also refers a lot to the episodes "Conundrum," "The
Next Phase," and "Violations." It utilizes most of the members of the
Next Gen crew, though the major storyline revolves around the
Troi/Riker relationship.

Feedback: Do I have to get on my knees and beg? I've never gotten
one word of feedback on this story, so please feed my soul! I'm okay
with harsh criticism too - my goal is to improve my skills as a
creative writer.




Ensign Ro Laren cursed aloud as a dark foot from nowhere splattered
sand on her towel. She rolled over onto her back and blinked the
grit out of her eyes in time to see Geordi waving back at her.

"Sorry, Ro!" he called, reluctantly halting his run several meters
away. "You alright?"

"I'll live. Where's the fire?" she responded hotly.

"Commander Riker found some unique rocks that Data can't identify. I
just wanted to get a closer look. Wanna come?" He pointed toward
some mossy cliffs jutting out over the ocean, mostly sheer but not
impossible to climb. She could just barely make out the tiny form of
Will Riker at the entrance to one of the smaller caves near the top.

Ro smirked at Geordi's red boxer-style bathing suit. "You're not
exactly dressed for rock climbing, and neither am I!"

"Since when has that made any difference to the invincible Ro
Laren?" Geordi chuckled in that sugary sweet way that annoyed her so.

Ro glanced at her sunbathing companions questioningly. The blue
bikini-clad Deanna Troi took a sip of her drink and smiled
encouragingly. "Sounds like fun!"

"Yeah, don't let us hold you back," Beverly Crusher, in a one-piece
green and gold suit, chimed in.

"You two couldn't hold me back if you tried," Ro retorted

"How true," Troi and Crusher said in unison, then broke into giggles.

Geordi practically hollered, "Are you coming or not?"

"Why would I want to scrape up my knees over a bunch of rocks? I can
see plenty of rocks from right here," Ro answered.

Geordi shook his head, dismissed her with a wave of his hand, and
continued on his trek.

"I'd have never thought you would've chosen to stay here with us over
an adventure with Geordi." Beverly sent the ensign a meaningful

"What's the big deal? Is it because I'm Bjoran that no one thinks I
ever need to rest?" Ro groaned and laid her head back down on her

"Not at all," Beverly said, then, noticing that Ro's eyes were
closed, she smiled to herself and let the subject drop. Staring down
at the drink in her hand, she swirled around the pink liquid and
took another sip, her eyes meeting Deanna's. "What's in this stuff,
anyway? It's good, but it doesn't taste like synthohol."

Deanna finished rubbing tanning lotion on her legs and handed the
bottle to Beverly. "It's not. It's a Betazed specialty. I've been
longing for a shoddan rin for years now. It was my favorite drink
growing up. The berries are unique to the southern continent of
Betazed and there's a mystery ingredient that the replicators can't
identify. I think it has something to do with seaweed." She
grinned at the noises of disgust from her friends.

"Well, whatever it is, I think I'm getting a buzz," Beverly announced.

"Nice, isn't it?" Ro Laren rose to her elbows again and downed the
rest of her shoddan rin.

"It can be rather potent," Deanna said, refilling Ro's glass from a
metallic pitcher. "But the effects are usually short lived. You
won't be waking up with a hangover, but you'll be feeling pretty good
for the next few hours. Some use it as an aphrodisiac."

"Anyone we know?" Beverly raised her delicate eyebrows in interest.

A hint of color brushed Troi's cheeks. "More, Beverly?" She moved
the pitcher toward her glass, evading the question.

The doctor consented to half a refill then continued to press the
point. "And you drank this as a kid? Do most Betazoid children walk
around half drunk and sexually aroused all the time?" Beverly gave a
melodramatic shudder. "Could you imagine Wesley...?"

The image provoked a hearty laugh from Deanna. "Betazoid children
are not like Human children," she explained. "For one thing, the
more you drink shoddan rin the less it effects you, especially if
you're Betazoid. For another, this drink is hard to come by if you're
a child with limited resources. We only drank it on special

Several moments of silence passed while the three women watched the
majestic tide of Crenn, Betazed's largest ocean, as it lovingly
caressed the beach and sprayed their faces with cool, salty
droplets. Fluffy pink clouds slowly emerged, padding the evening sky
as the sun made a slow descent in the west, highlighting the water
with golden hues. It would be a few hours before the sun actually
set, but Betazed seemed to enjoy prolonging her works of art beyond
what was considered normal by other planetary standards.

"Like what special occasions?" Ensign Ro asked suddenly, breaking
the pleasant silence.

Dr. Crusher shared a private look with the younger, more outspoken

Troi glared suspiciously at both of them. "Okay, what is going on
between you two?"

Again the eyes of doctor and ensign met in a form of communication
all their own and Deanna began to feel uneasy. They were obviously
planning to speak with her about something they knew would make her
uncomfortable. She suddenly understood the real reason why Ro didn't
join Geordi on his little excavation. "Well?" the counselor urged,
wanting to get it out in the open as soon as possible.

"Well," Beverly began, then faltered.

Ro Laren pressed ahead impatiently, "To be frank, it's about Will
Riker. Has every woman on the Enterprise taken a joy ride with him,
or is it just us three?"

Troi choked on her drink.

Beverly's mouth dropped open. "Ro! That wasn't exactly tactful."

"Well, at the rate you were going, shore leave would have ended
before we ever got to the point," the ensign argued with a shrug of

"Beverly, it's okay," Deanna said, coughing and patting her chest.
She took a deep breath when the fit had passed, and grinned. "It
just surprised me, that's all." Then turning to Ro she responded, "I
guess I never really thought of it that way. When Beverly became
intimate with Will's body, I knew that it was really Odan, not Will
Riker. There's a big difference when one looks beyond the
physical." Her dark eyes returning to Beverly's, she queried, "I
thought we had already discussed my feelings on this issue. Did
something else come up that I should know about?"

The doctor shook her head. "Not as far as I'm concerned. I have no
feelings for Will Riker beyond friendship. Ask Laren. It was her
idea to talk to you about it."

"'Laren?'" Troi glanced at the ensign in surprise. "I thought you
preferred to be addressed by your last name."

"Except by people I consider friends. You may also call me 'Laren'
if you wish, Counselor."

"Thank you, and you may call me Deanna."

"I already do."

"I know." They shared a joking smile, then Ro began to rub lotion on
her arms, her eyes glazing over with distant thoughts. Deanna
continued to scrutinize her until the ensign finally looked up from
her private musings.

"Okay, okay!" Laren said defensively. "I wanted to know how you
feel about Commander Riker because I'm starting to think that I feel
something for him too. Satisfied?"

Troi raised an eyebrow. "Why didn't you tell me this before? When
we got our memories back..."

"I know what I said to you, Counselor," Ro interrupted, ever on the
defensive, prepared for attack. "I changed my mind. People do that

"If you're asking for my permission to pursue a relationship with
him, you don't need it," Deanna countered defensively. She was
beginning to feel a bit attacked herself, although she wasn't quite
sure why. Maybe it was just Ro's abrasive manner that always raked
on her nerves. She tried topicture this difficult woman and Will
together but couldn't, even though it had already happened once
before. Maybe Will found Laren excitingly feisty initially, but if
Troi was any judge of character, it would never last between them.
The struggle of wills alone would be their undoing.

Now Laren raised an eyebrow at Deanna, and Beverly subconsciously
backed away a bit. "Who said I was asking for permission? I wanted
to know more about his character as a potential partner, that's all!"
she said a bit louder than she needed to. "If you cared deeply
enough for him you wouldn't have given him up so easily when we lost
our memories."

The last comment stung Deanna to the core. She had wanted Will to be
with her during that incident more than she would admit. He had been
the only person on the ship even remotely familiar to her, and her
desire to be near him, whether as a friend or something more
intimate, had become nearly overwhelming at times. He was her anchor
to reality. To the stability she needed in order to help others. He
had always been that to her, whether they knew each other's names or
not. And when he continually preferred Ro's company over her
own...maybe it wasn't that he preferred Ro, but that she was more
aggressive in letting her desires be known to him. Will Riker was
never very good at saying "no" to the propositions of attractive
women. Either way, it was a slight to Deanna. She had just assumed
at the time that since she felt such a strong connection to him, even
though her memories were gone, that he would feel the same way about
her, which would, of course, distract him from even thinking about
being with anyone else.

Why did she continually fool herself into thinking that he felt the
same way for her that she felt for him? Maybe it was because when
the mood struck him, he would try to renew their love relationship on
occasion, and would seem so disappointed when she always turned him
down. She typically used the excuse that they shouldn't be
romantically involved while serving on the same ship together. It
never ceased to amaze her that he bought that explanation time and
time again, thinking her sensible for reminding him of duty. His
belief that a relationship with her would impede his career was the
very reason she always turned him down. He wouldn't have accepted
her excuses so easily or left her years earlier on Betazed if he had
believed otherwise, and she wasn't about to be the one he blamed for
his inability to accept promotion to his own ship.

So she had let their relationship simmer to a comfortable friendship,
unable to even consider letting him go completely. He was her
Imzadi, and to a Betazoid that term meant a lifetime commitment,
even, according to her mother, a multi-lifetime commitment. Their
souls were forever linked, and she liked it that way, whether they
were lovers or not. Over the past five years, Deanna had come to
believe that Will Riker was much more fun as a friend than a lover
anyway. This way, neither of them had to resist the possibility of
other lovers, yet they always had each other to lean on during the
hard times. They had found a new way to love each other and it was
perfect... So why in the world did she feel her stomach tighten every
time she remembered Will choosing Ro over her? And why did she still
harbor anger toward her Imzadi for it?

When Troi didn't answer Ro's accusations, Beverly tried to change the
subject. "Those waves look awfully inviting. Anyone interested in a

Ro ignored her, uninterested in anything but the topic at hand.
Turning from Troi to Crusher and back again, she said, "I just want a
straight answer. Is Commander Riker taken or not?" She looked at
Beverly. "Is there anything left between you two over this Odan
incident?" Then back to Troi, "And what about you?"

"I told you already, there is nothing between Commander Riker and
myself!" Beverly insisted with rising aggravation.

"That's your side of the story," Ro persisted her badgering. "What
does he feel though? The last thing I want is to be compared to all
the other women he's slept with."

Crusher opened her mouth to respond, but Troi held up her hand,
indicating to her best friend that she would handle the rest of this
discussion. "Laren," she said, emphasizing their new familiarity,
"Wouldn't it seem infinitely more logical for you to discuss these
concerns of yours with Commander Riker himself instead of asking us
to speculate on his feelings? And if you already know that Will
has been with other women and this bothers you, why don't you find
yourself another partner altogether?"

Her eyes flashing with sudden anger, Ro abruptly stood and smacked
the sand off her legs. "Well maybe I will!" She grabbed her towel,
careless of the sand that blew into the faces of her companions, and
stormed off toward Geordi's cave.

Troi and Crusher simultaneously sighed and looked at each other.

"Well, that was pleasant," Beverly groaned, blinking sand out of her

"I'm confused. What were you expecting to come from this

"It was her idea to ask you about this. I thought it was a
responsible thing for her to do, considering your history with Will.
I didn't think it would end up like this. She's very strange."

Deanna nodded quietly as her friend added, "She came to my office a
few times wanting to talk about my history with Commander Riker. She
ultimately drew the story of Odan out of me, and then told me she
thought I was crazy for treating Will's body as if Odan lived within
him. I didn't get the feeling she believed the whole story. Maybe
she thought it was just an excuse for Will and I to become intimate
and she was jealous. Hanging around you for so long, I forgot what
it was like to have another woman jealous of me."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Deanna asked in mock offense.

"You're just so giving and understanding, that's all. You didn't
think twice about encouraging me to love Odan in whatever body he

Smiling from the compliment and from a private joke between them,
Troi said, "Well, not every body he took!"

"Well, what would you have done when he became a woman? That was a
bit much for me!"

"Hmm," Troi thought a moment. "Good question. I guess it would
depend on just how much I loved this person. If he had been Imzadi
to me, I would have had to go on loving him in whatever form he took,
although I don't know if it would have been a sexual relationship or
not. I've neverbeen in a situation like that, so it's hard to say
what I would have done."

Beverly slowly stood up and stretched her arms to the sky. "Well,
take it from me, it's not easy."

"I would never have believed otherwise." Deanna rose to her knees
and began to pack their things.

"What should we do about Ro Laren?" Beverly wondered as she knelt to

"I think it would be best to leave her alone for now and see what
happens. Maybe she just had a few too many drinks today."

"Could be. You want to take one last swim with me before we go?"

"I don't think so. You go ahead. I'm wiped out from earlier. I'll
wait." Deanna finished packing everything except her towel, which
she promptly laid back on with a deep sigh. She closed her eyes
languidly as Beverly made her way across the warm, pliant sand to the
inviting, foamy waves.

Commander William Riker walked purposefully through the zigzagging
cave corridors, anxious to find his way back to the main entrance.
He didn't remember going so far back that it would take him this long
to see the light of day again. He had been so mesmerized by the
beauty of the natural violet, crimson and amber stones which glowed
with mysterious inner light on the cave walls, that he had decided to
go exploring. He noticed that the deeper into the cave he went, the
brighter the randomly decorative stones became until the corridors
seemed afire with electric colors. Then he had chanced upon a
wonderful secret hidden deep within the cavern that he had a mind to
share with a certain person. It was quite a hike to this special
place, but well worth it, and there was no chance of getting lost as
long as he marked the moist walls with the amber stone he carried as
he went along. He wasn't sure why he was so excited about this, it
wasn't like him to overreact, but whatever the reason, it was one of
the strongest emotions he had ever felt. Rather than analyzing this
feeling with his intellect, he decided to follow his instincts this
time - they rarely led him wrong.

As Riker finally made it to the large anteroom at the cave's
entrance, he overheard a conversation that stopped him in his
tracks. He stayed in the shadows of the hallway, out of sight, and

"What are you doing?" asked a young male ensign of his equally young
friend, who was chiseling rocks out of the cave walls and tossing
them into a Starfleet Academy duffle bag. The junior officers, who
looked more like high school boys than men, wore shorts and Academy
standard t-shirts. Riker immediately recognized one of them to be
Ensign Haley, the new Enterprise recruit whom he had found in
Deanna's quarters a few weeks before when she had been the dumping
ground for an insane negotiator's negative emotions and had
consequently seduced the young man.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Haley answered sharply, tossing
another violet stone into his bag. "Certain women in my life deserve
very special gifts."

The other ensign crouched down beside Haley and said in a low voice
that Will could barely decipher, "But we haven't been cleared to take
samples from this cave. The Prime Directive..."

"Will you shut up about that already?" Haley interrupted with raised
voice. "All you ever talk about is rules. Haven't you ever broken a
rule before?"

"Yeah, sure I have," the other ensign lied.

Haley dumped two more stones in his bag, then looked up at his
companion. "Man, you've never broken a rule in your life. Look at
that baby face." He took the kid's chin in his hand and squeezed
tightly, then gave him a light slap on the cheek. "You've never even
been laid, have you, Spees?"

Spees didn't answer, but turned his overly large, soft blue eyes to
the wall, and ran his fingers through his thick, dark hair.

"Oh, come on, you're not still jealous that I had Counselor Troi and
you didn't, are you?"

Riker gritted his teeth at the condescending, arrogant sound of
Haley's tone. "You want to know what it was like?"

Spees turned his eyes to his friend eagerly and nodded. Will almost
came forth from the shadows at that point, not wishing to hear the
graphic details, even if they were likely to be little more than the
puffed-up fantasies of this pompous little ensign, but something held
him back.

"She was wild, man! She took total control - all I had to do was
perform all her kinky little fantasies. I was her love slave for 24
hour solid hours! No rest, you know what I mean? We didn't even
eat! Well, we did, but not anything you can get from a replicator.
She was mmm...mmm tasty!" Haley made a vulgar motion with his tongue
and ate up Spees' admiring smile, using it as fuel for the rest of
his inflated story. "We did it everywhere - on the floor, the table,
the shower, everywhere except the bed, Spees. She said the bed was
too boring for what she wanted, and man, she wasn't kidding!" He
nudged his friend with his elbow and Spees laughed and whistled in

"I swear, man, I couldn't even walk by the time she was finally
satisfied enough to let me go. Best lay I ever had." Haley smiled
proudly, then growled suggestively, drawing another surprised
laugh from Spees.

Will had heard enough. He took a step forward, then quickly reversed
it as Haley continued, "But the funniest part was when Commander
Riker walked in on us. I had just finished pulling on my uniform and
there he was at the door, looking about as shocked as a guy can
look. She was standing there in this slinky, see-through nightgown
and nothing on underneath, you know what I mean? Looking incredible
enough to almost make me want to do it again, if I had any strength
left. So the commander spots me and I could just see the jealousy
rising in the man. See, they used to have this thing going between
them - everyone on the ship knows about it." Spees nodded to show
that he had heard too, even though he was brand new to the
Enterprise. Rumors spread fast on a floating community of a thousand
people, especially rumors about the bridge crew. Haley went
on, "Anyway, Riker sees me and decides he wants her back, so he gets
ready to fight me for her!"

"No way! Really?" Spees' mouth dropped open in amazement, a
completely captive audience. "What did you do?"

"Well, I told him to get used to it, that Deanna had picked me over
him, and if he wanted to fight about it, I was happy to oblige him."

Spees looked unconvinced as he visually measured Haley's slight build
and compared it to Commander Riker's intimidating size. Recognizing
the scrutiny, Haley quickly interjected, "Oh, he may look big, but
the guy is getting old, you know, flabby and slow. I knew I could
take him if it came to that. Luckily for him, it didn't. Deanna
told him that she wasn't interested in him anymore, and he just gave
in without a fight. I couldn't believe it! I watched him walk down
the hallway a dejected man. What a wimp!" He shook his head in mock
sympathy. "Then Deanna said she would call me again when she was
ready for more."

"And has she called you since then?" Spees asked innocently.

"Well, sure! Lots of times, but we haven't had the chance to have
another date. We've both been too busy with our jobs and all to get
together lately. And I've had Margaret and Susie to juggle since
then. But you can bet when she sees the size of this stone I got for
her, she'll find the time to get together. Women love stuff like

Spees was momentarilly speechless, then whistled again in admiration
of Haley's escapades. "Do you think you could teach me how you get
all the girls, Haley? I'm tired of being the only virgin I know.
I'm just not very confident around women."

Haley flashed him a devious smile. "Sure, kid, I'll teach you the
ropes. How about we start your lesson today?"

His eyebrows shooting up surprise, Spees licked his lips nervously
before responding, "Today's good. Where, back on the Enterprise?
Maybe we could practice on the holodeck."

"My friend..." Slinging the bag over his shoulder, Haley led Spees
by the back of his neck to the entrance of the cave where they could
look out at the ocean and the approaching sunset. "Why settle for
holograms when you can have the real thing?" He pointed to a tall,
slender woman in a green bathing suit walking alone along the beach.

Spees squinted until he could make out the identity of the woman, his
eyes widening in terror.

"Doctor Crusher? Are you crazy?!" He backed away from the opening.

"No, man, you're the one who's crazy if you pass this one up." Haley
caught him by the arm and led him back to the ledge.

"But Haley, she's way out of my league!"

"I thought the same thing about Counselor Troi at first, see how
wrong I was?"

Spees thought silently a while, then squaring his shoulders and
meeting Haley's intense gaze, he stammered, "You... you'll come with

"Of course, buddy. I'll be behind you all the way. We'll go down to
the beach first, then rehearse what you're going to say. Ready?"

"I guess so," Spees gulped. He took a deep breath and released it,
then started his hike down the cliff's edge.

"Wait, Spees," Haley stopped him in mid-descent. "You may need
this." He handed the young man a pretty, round crimson stone and
told him to put it in his pocket. Spees accepted the token
gratefully, then headed the rest of the way down the rocky
outcropping, followed closely by his new friend.

Will Riker slowly stepped out into the empty anteroom, wondering if
he should go after the two ensigns now, or wait until they returned
to the Enterprise to nail them. With a small grimace, he decided to
wait and let Beverly teach them a lesson before taking his own
action. Spees needed to learn this hard one for himself. Beverly
was in a perfectly clear state of mind, unlike the condition Deanna
had been in a few months ago. The good doctor would set them
straight and probably make them regret their actions for the rest of
their lives. Then it would be his turn.

"Did you find anything interesting, Commander?" Geordi's voice
sounded behind him, making his heart skip a beat.

He turned around slowly, casually. "Nothing much," he lied. "Just
more stones and a pretty cave. I think I'll be heading out now. Did
you find anything unusual?"

"I found some blue ones in the north tunnel, and an underground
stream back that way." He pointed to one of the eight tunnels that
branched off from the main entrance, "But not much else. I'm going
to have a look down one of these others."

"Well, don't take that one," Riker warned, trying to sound
nonchalant. "I just came from there and believe me, it's not too

"Right. I guess I'll take this one, then. See you round."

Riker nodded and headed for a back exit he had found earlier that led
to the flat top of the cliff so he could avoid being seen by the two
ensigns. The path took him to a small road which framed the eastern
edge of the beach and made for easier walking than treading half a
kilometer of sand. He could see Troi's solitary figure lying on the
beach from quite a distance away - no one could mistake a shape like
that - and never strayed his eyes from his intended target, like a cat
stalking its prey. He tried not to think about the disturbing
conversation he had just heard - it would just ruin his mood for what
lay ahead. He subconsciously manipulated the amber stone in his hand,
turning it over and over, enjoying its smoothness and mild warmth.
For some reason it released all of his stress and worries to do
this. He would have to take at least one of these uncanny rocks back
to the Enterprise with him. Its therapeutic value made it worth
breaking the Prime Directive.

Besides, no one had said that any of the rocks or shells on this
beach were off limits, and if there was one thing about Betazoids,
they made their rules clear to tourists. He certainly didn't approve
of taking large quantities of the gems the way Haley was - that was
just plain disrespectful, but one little stone couldn't hurt. He
just wondered why he had never seen rocks like these during his
assignment to Betazed years ago, and his many visits since. Maybe
Deanna would know something about it.

Finally reaching Troi's spot on the sand, he stood quietly over her
sleeping form and felt his heart flutter. Usually he was perfectly
content with the easy friendship they had developed over the
years, and rarely craved anything more. But today was different
somehow. He had done nothing but think of her the whole time he was
exploring the caves - thought of her in ways he hadn't since they
had been lovers over ten years ago. The desire to share his secret
findings with her had become so overwhelming that he wasn't sure what
he would have done if she hadn't been so readily accessible to
him. She could easily have taken her shore leave at a different time
or in a different place. It seemed the gods were on his side today.

As he stood there, lost in his musings, Deanna's eyes suddenly
fluttered open. She looked up at him and smiled, and his stomach
tightened nervously.

"Hello, Will," she greeted him in a voice husky with sleep.

He moved to her side and knelt in the sand, careful not to lean on
the long raven curls that spilled down her shoulders and fanned out
across the towel. "I brought something for you." He handed her the
smooth amber stone, actually feeling reluctant to let it go. As she
sat up to examine it, he realized with disgust that he had just used
the same ploy that the childish Haley used on his women. Riker swore
to himself that when they all got back to the Enterprise, he was
going to help two little boys grow up real fast.

"It's amazing, Will! Where did you find it?" Deanna gazed at the
gem with fascination, her thumb rubbing small circles on its surface.

"There's a cave up in that cliff that's full of them - all different
colors and shapes. So you've never see anything like this before?"

Deanna shook her head. "Something like this I would remember seeing
before. Is it glowing from the inside, or is that the reflection of
the sunset?"

Will smiled. He'd been sure she would be familiar with this type of
stone and therefore unimpressed. "You should see how brightly they
shine inside the cave! Come with me. Please. There's something
very special I want to show you before we have to leave."

Deanna returned his smile. "Yes, I'd like to see this place." She
stood, dusted the sand off her arms and legs, and slipped a light
beach coat over her shoulders. "Imagine something on my home planet
I've never seen before!" Leaving her tiny camp on the beach where
Beverly could use it again if she needed to, Deanna took Will's
offered hand and headed for the cliffs.

"Hey, LaForge, wait up!" Geordi paused half way down his newest
tunnel to see Ensign Ro jogging after him. He waited until she
caught up with him before asking, "How did you find me? There were
seven other tunnels to choose from."

"I could smell you," she quipped. "Have you had a shower lately?"
Her lip curled up into a half grin as Geordi folded his arms across
his chest and sighed in annoyance. "Just kidding! Blast! Can't
anyone take a joke anymore? You left fresh tracks, see?" She
pointed to his footprints in the light layer of moist sand that
dusted the cave floor.

"Congratulations," Geordi said lightly. "You going to come with me

"That depends. Is Commander Riker down this way?"

"No, he left the cave a few minutes ago. Why?"

"Did he go back to the Enterprise?"

"I don't know where he went. Is it important?" Rising concern
punctuated his question.

Ro Laren didn't want to concern Geordi unduly. He deserved better
than that. And she certainly didn't want to spend the rest of her
shore leave traipsing about looking for Riker when he might be back
aboard the ship. Her business with him wasn't so urgent that it
couldn't wait a few more hours. "It's nothing important," she
finally answered. "These sparklers are something, huh?" She
diverted his attention to the brightly glowing stones that
illuminated the tunnel ahead.

"I was hoping you'd get a chance to look at them before we had to
leave," Geordi smiled and fingered the edge of his visor. "You
should see them the way I do. I've never seen an optical spectrum
configured the way theirs is. And I can't even identify what makes
them glow like that. Neither can Data."

"So you said. Do they stop glowing when they're removed from their
natural environment?"

She ran her fingers over a particularly attractive red one and could
feel a mild heat, and was it sort of pulsating, or was that her own
heart beating in her fingertips? Ensign Ro started to feel very
strange as her hand stroked the gem compulsively. It was a new
sensation that came out of nowhere, and the longer she touched the
stone the stronger the feeling became. Geordi was saying something
in the background of her mind, but she couldn't quite focus on the
words. The walls of the cave took on a pinkish color, undulating
like the middle of the ocean. Then she was spinning, out of control,
about to fall off the edge of the world! She couldn't breathe...

"Ro! Ro!" Geordi shook her shoulders, then tried to pry her fingers
loose from their death grip on the cave wall.

As he managed to pull her hands away, her eyes flew open and reality
came reeling back.

Then, as quickly as the sensation had come, it was gone. "Why don't
we see what's at the end of the tunnel?" she suggested suddenly,
heading off in that direction.

"What?" Geordi paused, dumbfounded by her strange behavior, then
dashed after her. "Ro, what just happened to you?"

"What do you mean? Happened when?"

"Just now! You were holding on to the wall for dear life as if you
were about to fall." He restrained her by the arm, determined to get
an explanation reasonable enough to keep him from taking her directly
to Sickbay.

"Oh, come now, LaForge, I was a little tired and I leaned up against
the wall. Aren't you overreacting a bit? Since when did you become
such a mother hen?" Ro Laren's head felt a little light, but she
honestly couldn't understand what the Chief Engineer was talking
about. She didn't remember anything beyond leaning up against the

She didn't shrug off his hold on her like she normally would have,
though. Instead, she regarded his dark, round face and found herself
wondering what it would be like to kiss a blind man. She shook her
head to dispel the strange thought. Geordi was a good friend,
nothing more. It was Will Riker she wanted. Or was it? Why hadn't
she ever noticed before how attractive the Chief of Engineering was?

Geordi stared at her quizzically. His visor picked up a subtle rise
in her body temperature even though the setting sun was sending a
chilly draft through the tunnel. She was examining his lips intently
and breathing heavier than normal. He knew what was about to happen -
he had had a few other experiences recognizing these types of body
signals, but he couldn't understand why being in his presence would
suddenly arouse this type of reaction from Ensign Ro.

The next moment, Ro's lips were upon his in an aggressive kiss that
abruptly halted all further thought. She stepped back a moment,
wordlessly studying his face for some form of reaction. When he
didn't react at all, she figured it was his way of giving her
permission to continue. She stepped toward him again and gently
removed his visor from his eyes, placing it in his open hand. His
fingers closed around the cold metal as her supple arms slid up to
encircle his neck, pulling his head gently toward hers where her
eager mouth awaited his.

Beverly Crusher shivered from the chilly ocean spray on her skin.
The Betazed sun was bobbing on the western edge of the ocean, its
orange and gold rays spreading out like searchlights across the
universe. She decided to head back to the beach setup where her
clothes and communicator lay so she could call for beam-up. She was
due back in Sickbay in a couple of hours and she wanted to take a
long hot bath to wash the salt away first.

The sight of two young men in shorts and t-shirts coming toward her
made her pause. This would be a bad time for a medical problem. She
didn't have any of her equipment with her, not even a tricorder.
Shore leave was the only time she could get away from these devices -
parasites attached to her during every waking hour. It was so nice
to be free to walk along natural terrain, in just a bathing suit with
nothing metallic anywhere in sight. But at least if it had to
happen, now was a much better time than earlier in the day would have

The two men halted before her, one with dark hair looking very
nervous and shy, and the other appearing much more confident, a sly
grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. She didn't like the way the
confident one was leering at her, his pale blue eyes traveling up and
down her body suggestively.

"What can I do for you, boys?" She directed the question to the shy
one who was digging little holes in the sand with his heels. She
avoided looking at the other one whose very presence made her
uncomfortable. There was something definitely wrong with him.

"Spees here has something for you, Doctor Crusher," the confident one
said, nudging his friend in the back.

Spees nodded and stuck his hand in his pocket, still evading any
direct eye contact with Beverly. He pulled out a luminous crimson
stone and handed it to her shyly. "I...I got this for you,
Bev...Doctor," Spees stammered, then winced at the disapproving glare
from Haley. He had to be more confident or this was never going to

Beverly accepted the stone with a slight gasp. "It's lovely, Mr.
Spees. Thank you." This was not at all what she had been
expecting. "But why are you giving it to me?" she asked with rising

At another, rougher nudge from Haley, Spees gave his rehearsed
answer, "Oh, you can call me Joseph and this is my friend Chris
Haley. You see, ever since I came aboard the Enterprise, I've wanted
to meet you. I almost faked an illness once to get your attention.
You... you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, Bev...Doctor
Crusher." Haley gave him a discrete nod and Spees pulled himself
more erect and met her dazzling sea green eyes, his confidence
increasing the longer he held eye contact.

Though flattered by the compliment, this situation was way too
awkward for Beverly's taste. She didn't want to hurt the young
ensign, but there was obviously no way she could return his
affections. He couldn't have been more than a couple of years older
than her own son! But how could she say this gently? "Joseph," she
paused, sighed loudly, then plunged ahead, "this is all very sweet of
you, but I'm afraid I can't accept this gift." She handed the stone
back to him and he bowed his head, bracing himself for the impending
rejection. "I'm a lot older than you may think," she continued. "My
son, Wesley, is in Star Fleet Academy. He's about your age. Do you
understand what I mean?"

"Yes, ma'am," Joe gave in quickly. He was used to these kinds of
letdowns. What he couldn't understand was why Haley had made him
attempt this in the first place. He knew she was way out of his
league. "I'm sorry to have bothered you, Doctor," he said as he
turned to walk away, his rounded cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

Haley grabbed him by the arm before he got very far. "Don't give up
now," he whispered angrily. "She wants you, I can tell! She's just
trying to save her reputation, idiot! You've got to be more

Spees searched his friend's eyes, bewildered. "She sounded serious
enough to me, Chris."

"Man, that's why you never get the girl," Haley scolded. "You
believe what they say."

"Why shouldn't I? She's a doctor. I think she knows what she means."

"Listen, kid, you're never going to get laid if you believe
everything a woman tells you. They say 'no' when they mean 'yes.'
Trust me on this one, man, she's hot for you!"

Spees looked back at the slowly retreating object of his desire. She
really was beautiful. If his speech hadn't been a rehearsed fallacy
to meet the first woman who came along, he would have almost believed
it himself. He felt Haley's hand on his shoulder but kept his eyes
on Beverly's shapely back, her hips swaying as she continued to make
her way across the pliant sand. For a moment, she was a ray of
sunlight, rising to rejoin the firey ball adorning the horizon. She
was far beyond human. A goddess made of pure light. Spees closed
his eyes against a throbbing headache that began right behind his
temples. When he opened them, Beverly was again just Beverly, a very
tempting woman alone on the beach.

"There she goes, Joe." Chris waved his hand in her direction. "Are
you going to let her get away without even a second try?"

"I don't know..."

"Look, I'll help you this time, okay? I'll show you how it's done."

"How are you going to do that?"

"Just trust me, okay?"

Nervously rubbing the crimson stone in his hand, Spees reluctantly
gave in and trailed Haley's long strides to catch up with Beverly.

Crusher noticed from a distance that Troi had left their beach site,
most likely to return to the Enterprise early for a nice hot bath.
That sounded almost too good for words. The incident with the two
young ensigns had left a bad taste in her mouth, making her long for
the privacy and safety of her own room. She kept her eyes on the
cooling sand as she plodded across the beach, not noticing that
someone was blocking her way until she was nearly on top of him.

"Hello, Doctor Crusher," Haley said with that callous grin. "I
believe you owe my friend here an apology."

"Excuse me?" Beverly responded incredulously, her eyes traveling
from one ensign to the other.

"I said, you owe Joseph an apology. It's not nice to say one thing
when you really mean another. As a doctor, you should know that."
Haley's eyes again travelled the length of her body disrespectfully.

Beverly began to shiver, from the cold air and from just a tinge of
fear. Haley wasn't right for an officer, even one fresh out of the
Academy. "What are you talking about?" she said in her best
nonchalant voice. "I was perfectly honest with Joseph." She looked
at the handsome, dark haired man curiously. She didn't like the idea
of Chris Haley speaking for the one who had a crush on her. But
something was strange about Joseph as well. It was in his eyes - a
sort of dazed look.

Chris stepped into her line of view oppressively. "Who are you
looking at? I'm the one talking to you, lady." His voice and
expression were increasingly vindictive as he moved closer.

Crusher felt a sudden surge of anger. Just who did this kid think he
was? "Mr. Haley," she said in her most authoritative voice, standing
tall and staring him straight in the eye, "You are way out of line.
I don't know what you think you're doing, but I am highly offended by
your behavior. Now, either you both get out of my sight right now,

"Or what, Doc? You'll use your tricorder on us?" Haley interrupted
with a menacing laugh. "Oh, I forgot, you don't even have one today."

Her face reddening with rage, Beverly tried to get around the young
man. Her communicator was less than half a kilometer away if only
she could get to it, but Haley continued to block her way. "Let me
pass," she demanded, trying desperately to stay calm.

Joseph squeezed the stone in his hand harder for courage. He knew
Chris was behaving badly, out of control, but he was too afraid to
stop him. Instead, like the coward he was, Joe closed his eyes and
imagined he was somewhere else - back on Earth in his mother's
garden, where there were only ripe vegetables, pungent flowers, and
his mother's pleasant conversation all around him.

His imagination seemed particularly vivid this day. For a moment, he
thought he was really there. He could feel the moist, brown dirt
under his feet, hear his mother's calm voice talking about what roots
she wanted to plant this year... until a sudden dizziness sent him
reeling back to consciousness.

He slowly opened his eyes and observed the scene before him from a
distance, as if it were a holodeck image. It didn't seem real.
Nothing looked real to him at the moment. Even the ocean was flat,
multi-colored construction paper, and the sky was rippling as if it
were really the ocean above them. He couldn't focus exactly on what
they were saying - it just seemed very strange when this woman he
suddenly couldn't identify kicked his buddy Chris in the thigh,
narrowly missing his groin and he tackled her to the sand. Chris was
calling to him, that much he could tell. His friend needed help
warding off this crazy female in a bathing suit. Joseph dashed over
to pin her arms down so Chris could escape. "Okay, Chris, you're
safe now. I got her!" the dazed ensign yelled.

Beverly kicked her legs wildly and screamed for help. Haley's hand
came too close to her mouth at one point and she bit him as hard as
she could, but Joseph helped him pull away. Joe felt very confused.
He kept yelling for Chris to escape now that he had the chance. But
Chris repeatedly hollered at him to shut up as he pulled Beverly's
bathing suit straps off her shoulders. Haley's eyes were bloodshot
and wild as he bent to kiss her, his hands fumbling with her suit,
unable to get it down past her chest, and unable to tear the tough
material. His rough hands bruised her neck and chest as his knees
forced their way down between her legs.

Suddenly, the hold on her arms was gone and Beverly heard a thud in
the sand behind her. Without taking the time to look, she used this
split second opportunity to catch her attacker off guard. Clasping
her hands together, she swung a mighty blow at his neck, knocking him
to the ground. She then rolled swiftly to her knees, and before he
could get all the way up, delivered another well placed punch to his
upper back. He fell face first into the sand and stayed there,
unconscious. Pulling her shoulder straps back up, and swallowing back
a threatening flood of tears, she looked around frantically to see
who had gotten Joseph off her. There was no one there - just two
ensigns lying in the sand. Joseph was on his back, his eyes wide
open, his mouth curled up in a strangely peaceful grin. Taking great
pains to bring her hyper-ventilating lungs and shaking hands under
control, she cautiously approached himand felt his neck for a pulse.
There was none.

Shocked, she looked over at Haley, who had his face buried in the
sand and would soon die of suffocation if she didn't turn him face
up. For a moment she considered leaving him that way. He certainly
deserved it. But nothing about this situation made any sense.
Neither of the young ensigns had been rational. And now Spees was
dead for no apparent reason. It was possible that they hadn't been
in control of their actions. Either way, she couldn't just let Haley
die. Her life's work was to save lives, not end them, no matter how
crazy it was to risk another moment in this man's presence. She
crept over to Ensign Haley and felt his neck. His heart was still
beating, but faintly. Wiping away a stray tear from her cheek, she
swallowed her revulsion and turned him over, keeping her hands where
she could easily deliver another paralyzing blow to his neck if
needed. With her palms on his chest, she gave a hard shove to get
him breathing again. It worked, but why this action didn't bring him
back to consciousness was beyond her. She wasn't strong enough to
have knocked him out for this long. Satisfied that he would survive,
at least for the time being, Beverly took off at top speed toward the
beach site that held her communicator.


Part II

Deanna Troi allowed the giddy Will Riker, adorned in blue, Star Fleet-
issue bathing trunks and a matching t-shirt, to lead her through
tunnel after tunnel, and around so many corners that if he hadn't
been marking the walls as they went, they would surely have gotten
lost for life. Their route went mostly downhill. Deanna could tell
by the pressure in her ears and the increasing coldness of the
ground, but so far the trip was well worth it. She had never seen
such a beautiful natural light show. The farther they went, the
brighter the stones became, and the more varied their colors. The
tunnels were alive with mystical, pulsating light. She could feel
their subtle rhythm guiding her steps and tingling along her nerve
endings. She was too entranced to ask how much farther they had to
go, and Will seemed to have similar feelings. They never ran out of
things to say to each other. He was always ready with a joke or an
interesting story to tell, and she could easily have used this
opportunity to discuss the situation with Ensign Ro. But the time
just wasn't right for conversation. What must have been nearly an
hour went by in complete silence as they strolled along, holding
hands and listening to the musical vibration of the stones. She
shivered once and he automatically put an arm around her shoulders.

"I'm sorry it's so far," he said, breaking the long silence. "I
should have had you bring something warm to wear. It just didn't
seem cold to me earlier today."

"It's okay, Will. I'm not that cold. The stones seem to be giving
off a natural heat of their own, don't they? I'm glad you brought
me. It's breathtaking!"

"Just wait, you haven't seen anything yet," Will smiled excitedly.
His enthusiasm flooded through her open senses and she returned his
smile. Somehow the stones seemed to be amplifying her empathic and
telepathic abilities. At times she could actually hear his thoughts
as if he were speaking them aloud, even though he wasn't trying to
send his thoughts to her. And his emotions might as well have been
her own as strongly as they were coming through. "It's just up
ahead," he announced after checking a marking on the wall that he had
made previously.

They rounded one last corner and Deanna froze in place, stunned
speechless. Before her lay a roughly circular chamber with a crystal-
clear hot spring in the center. One side of the spring leaned
against the far cave wall where a three meter wide waterfall poured
from a hole in the ceiling. It bounced off three separate rock tears
and cascaded into the spring, continually recycling its purity.
But the most incredible sight of all was the thousands of rainbow
colored stones scintilating in the walls like stars. They completely
covered the inner floor and sides of the spring as if someone had
engineered it to be a jeweled bath for royalty. Ghosts of steam rose
from the pool, glowing in eerie colors as the vapors trapped the
light that pulsated from stone to stone. The chamber seemed to sing
in welcome to the couple who stood in awe of its holy beauty.

Will tugged on Deanna's hand, urging her forward into the sanctuary
that appeared to have been undisturbed for centuries. She stepped
carefully around each stone, afraid that if she did the wrong thing,
the cave would find her unworthy of its magnificence and collapse on
them both.

"It's okay, Dea, I visited this place earlier today and I felt the
same way then. There are no ancient spirits protecting their sacred
ground here. It's just a natural wonder like many others, only
better." Will's voice was soft, but the cave walls sent an answering
echo that made him sound like a giant. Again he had just snatched
the apprehensive thoughts from her mind with ease. He wasn't
supposed to have this ability unless she put her full concentration
into sending messages to him. She stiffened as she realized this,
then let it go. It hardly mattered at the moment how he did it.
Perhaps it had just been a good guess.

As they slowly approached the hot spring and inhaled its mineral-rich
scent, they released their locked hands and stared into the quietly
swirling pool. Will was the first to crouch down and touch the
water. "Just right," he grinned up at Deanna. "Hot, but not too
hot. Come on in!" he beckoned to her as he sat on the edge, pulled
off his t-shirt, and dangled his legs into the water. They could
easily see the jewel studded bottom of the spring, little more than a
meter and a half deep. Will slipped the rest of the way in and stood
on the bumpy bottom, the water bubbling up just above his chest.

Deanna scanned the spring from the side with trepidation. "Will, how
do we know this water is safe? Did you..."

Riker interrupted her typical protestations, "Come on, Deanna. You
know this water is safe. Can't you feel it? I certainly can and I'm
no empath."

She gave a surrendering nod. He was right. She did feel that they
were safe here - even more than safe - welcomed and protected. If
this place had been anywhere else but on Betazed she would never have
trusted it, but this was home. And her home concealed many secrets
and magical places few people knew about. She was not one to admit
openly that she believed in magic, but growing up as a Daughter of
the Fifth House had afforded her special privileges to see things
unexplainable by modern science. This place could very well be
another one to add to the list.

She gingerly dipped one foot in the water, and discovering that it
wasn't too hot for her chilled skin, sat on the edge and lowered the
rest of her body into the spring. Her feet didn't touch the bottom
the way Will's could, so she clung to the edge with one hand, feeling
along the varied glowing stones that beaded the walls of the pool
with the other. The stones seemed to quiver under her delicate touch
and she felt her pulse quicken in response. The contrast of the hot
water against the chilly air outside produced goose bumps that raced
over her tender skin, and pricked the circulation back into her
aching feet as the gentle churning forces within the spring massaged
her into a drowsy euphoria.

Will swam leisurely over to the waterfall and climbed the short slope
so he could stand beneath it. He gasped, then laughed loudly in
surprise, "It's cold!" he shouted, vigorously shaking his head. Then
he quickly dove back into the hot spring toward Deanna. "No wonder
the water isn't too hot. It's almost as if someone engineered this
spring to maintain a perfect temperature."

"I'm not so sure someone didn't, Will," Deanna said.

"Why, do you sense something? A presence?"

"No, nothing like that. It's just that this place seems too perfect
to have occurred naturally. For one thing, where is the excess water
from the waterfall draining? This spring should be overflowing."

Will looked around and realized that she was right. There were no
small streams carrying the excess away, so where was it going? He
felt along the walls of the spring for an answer and immediately
found one. There were numerous tiny holes in the sides which gently
sucked at his fingers when his hand touched them. "It's draining
underground," he explained, guiding her hand to a nearby hole. "See?"

Her eyes grew wide in amazement. "Does this sort of thing ever occur

"It could. I don't see why not. Of course, I'm not a geologist."
He smiled and purposefully moved closer to her. "Look, if you don't
trust this place, we'll leave right now. I'll go by your instincts,"
he whispered huskily.

She thought for a moment, somewhat reassured that he was willing to
leave any time she gave the word. Still enjoying herself thoroughly
in this wonderful hideaway, she at last made her decision. "Thanks,
but I'd like to stay a while longer. I don't sense any danger here.
I was just curious, that's all."

"Good, because I'd like to explore things a little further myself."
His tone suggestive, he looked at her in a way he hadn't in years,
and his message came through loud and clear. But before she could
answer, he took off toward the waterfall again. "Come on," he
called, "you have to try this!"

Deanna watched him play in the waterfall like a child, and had to
smile. She knew what he wanted from her, and knew sensibly that it
wasn't right, but for some reason, her own desires were beginning to
outweigh her common sense. Something was obviously wrong here.
She couldn't be having these feelings for Will after all this time.
They were just good friends, nothing more. So why was she now ogling
his tall, strong body, outlined by the cascading water that curved
down his broad shoulders, as if she wanted something more? His
contagous white smile robbed her of any last shred of common sense,
pulling her toward him like a magnet. Deanna closed her eyes to
regain some measure of control over the wild thoughts entering her
mind. Something was wrong here. She had to warn him. This place
had to be affecting their minds somehow. She pushed off from the
spring's edge and quickly swam toward the waterfall.

When she got there, he had disappeared, so she went under the fall to
look for him on the other side. The cold water that pummeled her
head and shoulders was a shocking contrast to the heightened heat of
her skin; an exhilarating combination as she passed through to the
other side. She found herself immediately up against the rear cave
wall, the water pouring down behind her like a translucent curtain.
She looked in all directions, but still no Will.

As she turned and headed back under the cascade, a pair of hands
grabbed her from the side and pulled her close to a large steaming
body. She gasped in surprise, then banged a playful fist on his
chest. "Don't ever do that to me again!"

"Sorry," he laughed, then leaned down and tenderly kissed her lips.

She didn't resist the kiss, but when it was over, she pushed him back
a bit, studying his cobalt blue eyes. "Will..."

"Yes?" He held her cold hands in his and began to kiss her fingers
one by one.

She wanted to say that they should leave right away. That this place
wasn't safe. But the words wouldn't form... he was distracting her.
Her mind was so foggy. As his soft mouth made its way up her
forearm, she began to lose all track of what she needed to tell him.

"You were saying?" Will whispered in her ear, trailing kisses down
her neck to her shoulders.

"I was saying...I was saying," she closed her eyes as his hands moved
down to cup her breasts.

*I love you.* The thought came as a shock to her. What was she
doing? She did love him, and always would, but as her closest
friend - not like this. Not anymore. That was ancient history,
wasn't it?

Surprisingly enough, she got an equally spontaneous answer in her


It wasn't so much the word, which he had used with her many times in
the past, but the strength of the emotion that came with it.
Overwhelming love, devotion, admiration... she was the center of his
universe, more now than ever before. The emotions of his thoughts
were so tangible they made her scalp tingle - his mental voice
velvety smooth as all barriers between them lifted. Why hadn't she
ever noticed how beautiful his telepathic voice was before? Maybe
she had at some point but had forgotten. It had been so long since
he communicated with her this way, and she didn't recall hearing him
this clearly when they practiced together those many years ago.

Will brought his lips up from her cleavage to her mouth where she
hungrily accepted them, moving her fingers up the back of his neck to
caress his wet hair. Suddenly, he picked her up in his arms and
swung her around and around in the waterfall, laughing playfully the
way he hadn't since his youth. Deanna squealed and giggled as well,
feeling all of her adult insecurities, skepticisms, and questions
splashing away. Will had once accused her of being too mature for
her own good, and for the first time she could clearly see that he
was right. No more resistance. She had neither the strength nor the
desire for such grown-up trifles.

Quite suddenly, he tossed her into the hot spring again and she
landed with a yelp, the water quickly drowing out any further
protest. He then dove in after her and watched as she resurfaced,
shaking her mass of drenched hair behind her. Catching his dangerous
look, she backed away playfully, gradually swimming toward the far
edge, her wide eyes, betraying her arousal and anticipation, never
leaving his determined gaze. With slow calculation, he stalked her
through the luminescent pool. A predator hunting his prey. Deanna
drew further back until she connected with the edge. There was
nowhere else to go.

A grin tugged at the corner of her lip as her eyes followed his sleek
movements. He purposely took his time getting to her, teasing until
she could feel her heart racing, her chest rising and falling to
match her quickening breath.

At last he was there. His hands reached for her waist and pulled her
to him roughly. A thrilled gasp escaped her as he brought his mouth
to her neck and bit down gently. The evidence of his arousal pressed
against her thigh, and she felt a tightening that shot all the way up
to her stomach in response. Will's insistent lips moved quickly to
recapture hers as her arms came up to encircle his neck. His large,
masculine hands traveled down to her hips and gradually slid her
bikini bottom past her legs and tossed it up over the side of the
spring. Then following the curve of her waist to her chest, he
swiftly helped her out of her top piece, throwing it to join its
other half, and dipped his head to taste her full breasts.

He quickly removed his own bathing suit and groaned hungrily as her
hand first grasped and then began to stroke him expertly. Supporting
her firmly with his hands under her buttocks, he abruptly took hold
of her mind and body, filling every empty space within her, then her
soul, until the cave, the beach, Betazed, and the whole rest of the
damn universe melted away, leaving just a trace of pink.

"Where is Doctor Crusher?" Captain Picard asked the transporter chief.

"Uh, she left, sir. She told me to call you and then she just dashed
out of here."

"Did she say where she was going, Mr. O'Brien?"

"No, sir. She had me beam two men directly to Sickbay, so my guess
is she probably headed there. One of the men didn't have any life
signs, sir." O'Brien paused, then called as Picard quickly headed
toward the transporter room door, "To tell you the truth sir, she
didn't look too well either."

Picard nodded his thanks and turned down the hallway, tapping his
communicator. "Picard to Doctor Crusher." There was no answer until
he tried a second time.

"Crusher here." She sounded quite upset if he knew her typically
calm demeanor.

"Doctor, are you in Sickbay?"

"Of course I'm in Sickbay, where else would I be?" she snapped.

Picard raised an eyebrow. Something must have happened while she was
on shore leave. "I'm on my way," was all he said, closing the
channel and stepping into the turbolift.

He arrived in Sickbay to find a dissheveled Doctor Crusher in a
filthy bathing suit hurriedly gathering some medical equipment. She
dashed past him in a frenzy to a young man lying on a medical bed.

"Doctor, his life signs are stabilizing," Crusher's assistant

"Good. Keep him sedated for now," Beverly ordered, as she quickly
moved to the next bed over, where another young man had no life signs
at all. She barked orders right and left to assistants who clustered
around the bed, trying to revive a man who was quite dead. Picard
noticed the other doctors and nurses giving her pitying glances as
she continued to demand the impossible. She tried all of her tricks
again and again, refusing to let the young man rest in peace. Two
doctors told her that it was useless, but she snapped at them to
leave if they didn't want to help. Finally, no one was helping. The
medics stood back and watched her work furiously, her red hair
plastered to her cheeks in sweat, her hands shaking uncontrollably.

At last, Picard had seen enough. "Beverly," he called. When she
didn't answer, he took her by the arm. "Beverly," he repeated louder
this time. "It's over."

"Leave me alone!" she shouted, yanking her arm from his grip and
returning to her patient.

"Doctor Crusher, I order you to stop!" Picard demanded, taking her
arm again and pulling her away from the bed.

Appearing to be on the verge of panic, Beverly raised her instrument
filled hands to fight back. Then her eyes met his kind, gentle face,
and the tension in her body slowly released its death grip on her
muscles. Picard stared her down until she finally dropped the
medical equipment in her hands. Gazing at her bewildered assistants,
then at the floor in embarrassment, she stalked off to her office.
Picard followed closely behind while the others went back to work
tending to the young man who was still alive.

"Beverly, would you care to tell me what this is all about?" Picard
asked as the door closed behind them.

When she kept her back to him and didn't answer, he demanded, "What
happened to those ensigns?"

"I don't know," Beverly responded flatly.

Picard became tired of talking to her back. He stepped around to her
other side, then halted in his tracks. The last time he had seen so
many tears on her face was when Jack died. She was not one prone to
such strong physical expressions of emotion, which was one of the
things he admired most about her. Tears always made him a little
uneasy. Then for the first time, his eyes caught the large red marks
on her neck and chest.

"Good God, Beverly, what happened?"

Rather than answer, she brought her hands to her eyes and cried into
them, her shoulders gently shaking with her sobs. Moving closer to
her, Picard pulled her into his arms and she finished her outburst on
his shoulder. As she at last regained control of herself, the
captain began cautiously, "Beverly, what..."

"They tried to rape me," she answered, wiping at her eyes with the
backs of her hands.

"They did what?!" Picard could barely believe his ears.

"They attacked me on the beach, Jean-Luc. I was alone and defense-

"Hardly defenseless considering the condition they're in, I'd say.
How did you manage..."

"That's just it," Crusher interrupted. "I didn't do anything.
Ensign Spees died and I never touched him. Then something started to
affect Haley which made it easier for me to escape. I have no idea
what killed Spees, and why it affected the two of them but not me."
Dumbfounded with confusion, Picard remained silent for a moment. He
watched Beverly move away and head toward a closet where several of
her uniforms hung. She took out a full-length green lab coat and put
it on, pulling the front closed tightly around her. Then she went
around to the back side of her desk, where she felt safer, and sat in
her doctor's chair, running her fingers through her long, matted

"I don't understand this," Picard pursed his lips angrily. "What
could have caused these two ensigns to attack you? Ensign Spees has
a spotless record. He was recommended to the Enterprise directly
from Starfleet Academy as one of their top students. I don't know
much about Ensign Haley, but he seemed like a bright and obedient
young man."

"Haley..." Beverly shivered involuntarily at the sound of his
name. "He's the one who initiated this, I'm sure of it. He seemed
downright evil to me. Spees didn't want to go through with it, but
Haley convinced him somehow. Spees was such a sweet boy." Tears
welled in her eyes again at the memory of his innocent face - not
much older than Wesley. "I know he didn't mean to do this. He
wasn't in control of his actions, I could see it in his eyes."

"And you weren't the one who killed him. So we must for now assume
that whatever harmed these young men also had a hand in controlling
their actions." He crossed his arms over his chest as Beverly nodded
in agreement. "I'm going to order the immediate return of the crew
on shore leave. We must carry out an investigation before it's too
late." He came over to her side and took her hand in between both of
his. "Are you going to be all right?"

Crusher nodded, "I'm just a bit bruised and shocked. I'll be fine."

"I want you to have a doctor examine you and then go to your quarters
to rest. I'm sure your experienced staff can handle things from

For once, Beverly didn't feel like arguing. She wanted nothing more
than to take a hot bath and go to sleep, as far away as she could get
from the two young men in Sickbay.

"I will send Counselor Troi in to see you as soon as she beams up,
and I will check on you again myself in a few hours." He turned to
leave, then looked back at her. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes, I'm sure." She gave him a pathetic smile. "Thank you, Jean-

Picard exited Sickbay and made his way to the Bridge. Commander Data
released his command in the captain's chair as his superior officer
approached. "Mr. Worf, contact the crew members on shore leave and
have them beam up immediately," Picard ordered before he reached his

"Aye, sir," Worf responded.

"Sir, is there an emergency? I just learned of Ensign Joseph Spees'
death." Data inquired as he took his usual seat at navigation.

Before Picard could answer, Worf announced, "Sir, there is a message
coming in from the planet, from Lwaxana Troi - audio only."

"On speaker," the captain said, cringing just a bit at this most
unwelcome interruption.

"Jean-Luc, can you hear me? Why don't you answer? Jean-Luc?"

"I am receiving you, Mrs. Troi, how can I help you?" Picard sighed

"I want an answer and I want it now. Where is my daughter?" Lwaxana
demanded, sounding more than a bit upset.

"She is on Betazed enjoying shore leave, Mrs. Troi."

"Don't you dare feed me that garbage too, Jean-Luc. That's exactly
what your communications officer told me earlier, but I know it isn't
true because she's not answering me."

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand. What do you mean she's not
answering you?"

"By the Four Deities, do I have to simplify everything for you
people? I have been trying for the past three hours to contact my
daughter telepathically and she hasn't responded. Not only has she
not responded, but I can't feel her presence at all. Therefore, she
can't be on this planet, and she most likely isn't on your ship
either, since I would be able to sense her there too. What did you
do with my daughter?" She was on the verge of hysteria.

"Mrs. Troi, please try to remain calm. We are in the process of
trying to locate your daughter as well as other members of my crew.
I will have Deanna contact you as soon as we find her. I'm sure
there is a simple explanation for this."

"Very well, Captain, but remember, my daughter's life is in your
hands. If anything were to happen to her..."

"Understood, Mrs. Troi, Picard out." The captain signalled Worf to
close the audio connection. That accomplished, he
inquired, "Lieutenant, have any of our crew on shore leave reported
in yet?"

Worf scowled over his controls and punched a few buttons. "Everyone
should have reported in by now, but I register only two responses so
far, both from ensigns."

"What about Commander Riker?"

"He hasn't responded to the call yet, Captain."

"Hasn't responded?" Picard echoed in disbelief. "He should be back
in uniform by now; his shift begins within the hour. Mr. Data,
assemble an away team to beam down to the planet surface to find the
rest of the crew. There are eight members still missing, is that
correct, Mr. Worf?"

"Seven, sir. Lieutenant Montoya just reported in."

"Seven, then. Search the beach and those caves you mentioned first,
Data. And keep an open frequency."

"Yes, sir," Data stood from his post at navigation and headed up the
ramp. "Mr. Worf, you will accompany me." Two crew members quickly
took over their consoles as the officers left the bridge.

Commander Data ran his tricorder along the entryway of the jewel
studded cave, his silver eyebrows raised in curiosity. As Lieutenant
Worf finished dispatching his security team to search the cave's many
tunnels with flashlights, he approached the android.

"You found something, Commander?"

"According to these readings, this entryway did not exist five days
ago," Data reported without looking up from the tricorder.

"Do you mean this cave was set up as a trap?" Worf growled, his
muscles already tensing for battle. He looked at the large holes in
the ceiling where the stars twinkled through the misty sky, then
examined the cave walls, dimly lit by those eerie stones he didn't
trust. None of the missing crew members had been found on the beach,
so this strange cave was the only other place they could be.

"No, it appears to be a natural phenomenon." The science officer
pointed the tricorder at the ceiling, then moved slowly down to the
walls on each side of them. "Lieutenant, this cave is highly
unstable," he said, his yellow eyes meeting Worf's suspicious gaze.
Then directing the Klingon's attention to the small faults and
fractures channeling water down the cave walls, he explained, "The
carbonic acid flowing through these watery seeps is rapidly
dissolving the cavern walls."

"How much time do we have?"

"This particular wall has less than five hours before it begins
decomposition. However, some of the deeper tunnels may actually
remain stable for several weeks. I would need more detailed
information to be exact." Then turning from Worf, he spoke into the
air, "Enterprise, this is Commander Data."

"Go ahead, Data," Picard's voice came over the open frequency.

"Please download the complete schematics of this land mass into my

"Stand by, Commander, it's already in the works," the captain

Soon Data's tricorder began to register the information at a rate
only the android's positronic brain could decipher. When the
schematics at last came to a stop, Data nodded, quickly thanked the
Enterprise, and turned to the security chief. "We have very little
time, Lieutenant."



"Enterprise, this is Commander Data."

"Go ahead, Data," Picard's voice came over the open frequency.

"Please download the complete schematics of this land mass into my

"Stand by, Commander, it's already in the works," the captain

Soon Data's tricorder began to register the information at a rate
only the android's positronic brain could decipher. When the
schematics at last came to a stop, Data nodded, politely thanked the
and turned to the security chief. "We have very little time,

"Why don't we simply beam up all the humanoid life forms in this
cave?" asked Worf.

"That option has already been considered. The Enterprise can only
read those life forms currently wearing a communicator badge. The
missing crew members are most likely out of uniform since they are
not appearing on the scans."

"What is blocking the scanners from reading life forms?"

"Unknown, Lieutenant. I would theorize that it has something to do
with the crystalline structures on these walls, though that could be
an erroneous assumption."

The Klingon scowled. "What about the transporters? Can we beam out
someone who's not wearing a communicator?"

"Only if the Enterprise is given the person's exact coordinates,"
Data answered dryly.

"Then we will find their exact coordinates," Worf vowed, stalking off
to continue the search.

"You know, I've been wanting this for a long time," Ensign Ro
confessed, gently raking her nails across Geordi's bare torso.

"You have?" he responded, genuinely surprised. Her head was
comfortably situated in the soft spot between his shoulder and chest,
as he stroked her fine-spun hair. He wished he could see her real
face, not just for the pleasure of better knowing the woman he had
just been intimate with, but to discern from her expression whether
or not she was actually serious.

Ro gave a slight nod. "Uh, huh. Remember when we were 'cloaked' and
thought we were dead?"

"How could I forget that? Must've been two of the worst days of my

"It wasn't for me. I kind of liked the idea of being dead with you.
It was just the two of us, alone in the universe. To tell you the
truth, I was glad to be with the one person who has never judged me
or tried to change me. You probably understand me better than anyone
else ever has, Geordi."

LaForge smiled to himself incredulously. "Why didn't you ever tell me
this? You didn't seem too disappointed to be back in the world of
the living. I never would have realized..."

"I was rather subdued that night at dinner, if you remember. You
even inquired about it."

With his arm around her back, Geordi squeezed her more tightly to
him, his innocent nature making it difficult to doubt her words any
longer. He never would have guessed that this woman had any feelings
for him beyond casual friendship. Yet here she was admitting that
she liked being dead with her old pal Geordi. No one had ever said
anything like that to him before. Of course, he had never been in a
situation like that before either. Whatever the case, he certainly
hoped she really meant it, because he was falling pretty fast himself.

Ro felt his stomach rise and fall with a silent laughter he was
trying to keeping inside. "What's so funny?" she probed.

The laughter burst from his mouth and filled the tunnel, which echoed
back in almost musical harmony.

"What?" Ro asked again.

"Nothing, really. I'm sorry," he gasped. "It's just, look at us!
Lying buck-naked on the hard floor in the middle of a tunnel where
anyone could just walk along and find us. It just struck me as
funny, that's all."

"You want to see funny?" Ro suddenly pulled herself from his arms
and slipped her bathing suit back on. "Come on and watch a full
grown woman act like a child again! Let's go exploring!" she yelled,
jogging down the tunnel and disappearing around a corner.

Shaking his head in bewilderment, Geordi quickly dressed and dashed
after her. "Ro, wait!" he called, again thinking that this situation
was too good to be true. Something about Ro seemed out of control.
Not that he had ever been intimate with a Bjoran before and had any
idea how they normally acted in these circumstances, but she just
wasn't acting right for Ro Laren.

A piercing scream from the cavern ahead disrupted his doubts and
turned his playful jog into a heart-pounding mad dash. "Ro!" He saw
her as soon as he reached the entrance of a large cave, which seemed
to be missing its floor. Ro hung by her fingernails from the edge of
a cliff that obviously hadn't been there seconds ago. All about her
the cave walls were crumbling like day old cake. The tiny veins of
water that trickled down the sides were rapidly growing and
spreading, bubbling with a force that immediately turned solid walls
into fluid mud.

"Geordi!" she cried, desperately digging her hands deeper and deeper
into the thick sludge, searching for something solid to hang on

LaForge struggled to reach the panic-stricken ensign, but there was
nothing solid to stand on within five meters of her. He had no rope,
no communicator, and couldn't find so much as a stick to help. "Damn
it! Hold on, Ro, just hang on," he could barely hear himself yell
over the pounding of his own heart. He ran back down the tunnel,
frantically scanning the ground for something solid, but there was
nothing. Nothing!

The farther he went, the less likely it seemed he would find anything
to use between his current location and the beach where his
communicator lay, at least ten minutes away, even at his fastest
run. There was no way Ro could hang on that long. The cave itself
wouldn't last that long.

Just as he was about to give up and turn back to the collapsing
cavern, he spotted a long, seaweed vine growing along the ceiling.
It was certainly thick enough to support his own weight, but getting
it down and cutting it without anything sharp was another story. It
looked impossible, but he had to try. The ceiling was just out of
his reach at his highest jump, so he scaled the rocky tunnel wall,
using the large, mysterious crystals as footholds, then made a leap
for the vine. He missed and fell, slamming his left arm into the
rough opposite wall. The blood that oozed from his wound went
unnoticed as he made another desperate attempt. This time as he
jumped for the vine, his hand scraped hard against the roof. He
thought he had missed it again, but as he fell back to the ground he
found his fingers tightly clenched about the cord. The only problem
was that the vine was more brittle than it had appeared and he only
managed to get a half a meter worth before it broke off from the
rest. It was useless.

Spearing no time for despair, Geordi sprinted back to the collapsing
cavern, deciding that he would scale the slippery walls himself in
order to reach her, no matter how likely it was that he would end up
sliding down as well.

When he returned to her location, he found that Ensign Ro had
descended further down the wall and was attempting to climb back up,
her arms embedded in the mud up to her elbows, her legs completely
covered in the downpour. "Geordi, I can't feel my arms. And my legs
are going numb. It's so cold..." she said, sounding almost calm.
Then she gave an exhausted sigh. "Maybe I spoke too soon about
wanting to be dead."

"Nobody's going to die here. Now, I'm coming to get you. Just hold
on." Geordi gritted his teeth with determination as he released his
iron grip on the stable entry wall.

"No, don't!" Ro shouted, nearly startling him into falling head first
into the dark void below.

His hand returning to the cave opening, he let out the breath he had
been holding for God only knew how long. "What's the matter?"

"Are you crazy? You're not going to be able to help me if you're
down here holding on for your own life!"

"I don't know how, but I'm going to find a way."

Ro groaned loudly in frustration and pain. "Yeah, a way to kill
yourself too. Stop it, LaForge! What good would it do me for you to
die down here?"

"Stop saying that, you're not going to die," Geordi insisted as he
let go of the stable wall for good. "I don't understand why this
part of the cave is collapsing. The tunnels showed no signs of
disintegration," he said to take his mind off the impossible task he
was attempting.

"Geordi, stop!" Ro Laren warned.

He ignored her completely as his hands dug into the mud searching for
a hand hold.

Just before he made his move to scale the muddy precipice, Ro Laren
flashed him a strange, endearing smile. "Good-bye, LaForge.
Thanks... well, thanks." And she let go.


The Chief Engineer's cry shook the very foundation beneath him. He
stepped back onto solid ground just in time to see the entire cave
collapse into a sea of cold, black sludge.

"Doctor, he's regaining consciousness," Nurse Leigh quietly informed
Beverly Crusher in her office.

"Thank you," Crusher responded, her eyes fixed on her computer
schematics. It had been three hours since she had beamed up from the
planet surface. She had managed to get a bath and a change of
clothes in that time, but her attempt to sleep had proven a useless
venture, so she resorted to her usual refuge - her work. She had
been on the verge of dropping her brain-pattern investigation of the
men who attacked her when she suddenly spotted a strange aberration
in the hippocampus of Chris Haley's brain. Something she couldn't
exactly define in medical terms. It was almost as if the primal
aspect of his mind was giving off a strange wave pattern all its
own. It didn't make any sense, and worse, the longer she studied the
difference, the less detectable it became until she found herself
wondering if she had just imagined the whole thing; a result of the
trauma and overall fatigue. But was it just coincidence that Ensign
Haley was regaining consciousness now, just as the aberration she
found in his hippocampus decided to disappear?

At least Haley was awake enough now to tell her what had happened on
Betazed. Maybe he would be able to solve the mystery of his own
bizarre behavior. Beverly involuntarily shuddered at the thought of
looking at Haley's face again. Hearing his malevolent voice. Maybe
it wasn't such a good idea for her to be the one to question him
about this. But who else would be able to ask the right questions?

Crusher took a deep breath to steady herself, held her chin high with
resolve and forced herself away from the safety of her office.

Ensign Haley was sitting up in bed, staring at the doctor as she made
her way across Sickbay toward him.

For a long moment there was just silence between them. A thousand
questions ran through Beverly's mind, wreaking havoc with her
thoughts but never quite solidifying into speakable words. Luckily,
Ensign Haley decided to say something first.

"Doctor Crusher, I... I don't know what happened. I remember...
attacking you, but I don't know why I did it. I wouldn't blame you
if you had me kicked out of Star Fleet for what I did, or even sent
to the Brig, but I want you to know that I never meant to hurt you."
His eyes filled with tears as he turned his gaze away from her
emotionless expression.

Against her logical mind's better judgment, the good doctor's heart
softened and reached out to the apparently bewildered young
man. "Chris, I'm sure you didn't mean to hurt anyone. And if you
cooperate fully in helping us solve the mystery of what happened down
there, I'm sure we'll find that you weren't entirely responsible for
your actions. Something else had to be controlling you, otherwise
Joseph Spees wouldn't have died."

Chris grimaced as she said his friend's name, then nodded
tentatively. "I don't deserve your kindness," he mumbled.

A slight grin tugging at the corner of her lips, Beverly said, "Get
dressed. We've done all the medical scans we're going to do. I'll
meet you in the Observation Lounge in thirty minutes and we'll talk
about what happened." Then she walked away without a look back.

Captain Picard greeted Doctor Crusher with an concerned look as she
entered the Observation Lounge. She answered his silent question
with a whispered, "I'm okay."

Ensign Haley did not look up from his clasped hands resting on the
smooth tabletop, as Beverly sank into the chair across from him.
Picard took his usual seat at the head of the table, noticing just
then how uncomfortably empty the room was. It hadn't actually
occurred to him how many of his senior officers were missing, only
two of whom were accounted for on the planet surface, until his
senior medical officer had arrived.

"Mr. Haley," the captain began in his most serious tone, "we are
facing a crisis of multi-facets, with your brutal attack of Doctor
Crusher simply augmenting the situation. You may be our only key to
solving the mystery of my missing officers on Betazed and the death
of Ensign Spees. Under the circumstances, we are postponing any sort
of formal hearing we might have concerning your encounter with Doctor
Crusher. Our first priority is to gain as much information as
possible about this situation so we can retrieve the rest of our
missing crew. Tell us as precisely as you can what happened down
there. Even the most minute details might provide some clues, so
leave nothing out of your account."

Haley took a deep breath, then began, "As I told you before, Captain,
Spees and I had just finished exploring the 'Crystal Cavern' and were
heading down the beach to beam up when we came across Doctor
Crusher. My friend had been admiring her for a long time, and he
insisted we stop to talk to her. I was against the whole idea from
the start but I couldn't change his mind..."

"Wait a minute, Chris, I specifically remember you trying to coerce
Joseph into approaching me. Not the other way around." Beverly
tried to remain calm and professional, but just looking at his face,
which appeared quite harmless at the moment, made her stomach
contract with apprehension. She couldn't accept lies on top of this
already unsettling interrogation.

"I beg your pardon, Doctor, but I think you are mistaken. It was
Spees, not me. We look a little bit alike, it's understandable that
you could..."

"Don't you dare patronize me, young man," exclaimed Beverly with an
emphasis on the word "young," her usually remote temper suddenly
bursting to the surface. "I am a doctor. I damn well know what I

Haley looked away from her blazing scrutiny, his expression that of a
young child being scolded by his mother. "I meant no disrespect,
Doctor," he muttered meekly.

Picard put a soothing hand on Beverly's forearm. His compassionate
eyes immediately calmed her and she sat back in her chair, her tense
shoulders loosening. "Please continue, Chris," she conceded quietly.

The young man cleared his throat and went on cautiously, "Well, we
met Doctor Crusher on the beach and Spees gave her a gem stone he had
found in the cave. He told her he had always wanted to meet her and
that he would even pretend to be sick sometimes just to see her." He
paused in his story as if afraid to go on.

"What happened then, Ensign?" Picard prodded. When he didn't
respond, the captain repeated, "Ensign?"

Haley glanced up at his commanding officer, his jaw set with newfound
resolve. "She flat-out rejected him, sir. She, uh, told him that he
was too young for her and gave him back the stone that he had spent
the whole day searching for. He wanted her to have the best. She
rejected him and just walked away without a look back. Broke his
heart." He swallowed for effect.

Beverly opened her mouth twice to defend herself as he spoke, then
closed it again each time, realizing that no matter how cold he made
her sound, his words were for the most part true. Whether she wanted
to hurt Ensign Spees or not was beside the point. She had done the
only thing she knew how to do in such an awkward situation, and if
given a second chance, she would probably make the same decision

"And what did Joseph do then?" asked the captain.

"Well, he talked me into catching up with her. He begged me to
explain further how he felt about her because he couldn't take being
rejected again himself. Being his best friend I couldn't exactly
say 'no'..."

"Why not?" Beverly finally found her opportunity to dispute his

"I'm sorry, Doctor?" Haley gazed at her in melodramatic confusion.

"I said, why not? Why couldn't you tell your friend that I had
already given him my answer and that it was inappropriate for him to
press any further? Couldn't you see what kind of a position that put
me in?"

"Actually, no, ma'am. Joseph Spees was a good person. He had a
right to be heard out. He really cared for you. Excuse me, ma'am,
but I don't understand why that upset you so much. Most women would
have felt flattered by such attention."

Beverly felt her blood boil at the stereotype, and at his casual tone.

"Getting back to the incident..." urged Picard, "what caused you to
attack Doctor Crusher?"

Chris frowned, then returned to his previous unsullied expression.
"I don't actually know. In all honesty, sir, Doctor Crusher wouldn't
let me finish a sentence. Wouldn't hear me out, so I started to
get...well, mad, I guess."

Beverly squirmed in her seat. "Wouldn't...let... you..?"

The captain's hand went to her arm again and she bit back her protest
in deference to her commanding officer. She couldn't believe what
she was hearing. Who was this unfeeling monster he was describing?
Certainly not her. She would have listened to him happily if he
hadn't attacked her, first verbally then physically.

At a consenting nod from Picard, Haley finished his story. "I got
mad and that was basically the last thing I remember clearly. It was
as if someone else had taken over my body. Someone filled with hate
and violence. I saw myself pushing her to the ground and... trying
to... hurt her, then everything went black. I woke up in Sickbay,
remembering what I had done, but unable to believe it was me. I
couldn't believe it when they told me Spees was dead. I don't know
what killed him, sir!"

Picard studied his chief medical officer's troubled expression and
came to a quick decision. "Perhaps a brief recess would be in order.
Ensign, I want you to report back here at 1800 hours and we'll go
over your story again. There has to be some detail that's missing.
Something that would give us a clue to solving this mystery. In the
meantime I want you to reconstruct the entire experience on your
computer log, down to the finest detail. Perhaps you'll remember
something new along the way. Dismissed."

Chris gave a curt nod and swiftly exited the Observation Lounge,
obviously glad to be free of the tense meeting with the doctor, if
only briefly.

"Beverly," Picard's voice softened now that they were alone, "I
realize this is difficult for you, and I don't want to cause you any
further stress, but if you can remember any detail that he left

"I would have listened to him if he hadn't been so malicious in his
approach. He was threatening. He leered at me with that
manipulative grin of his. And he verbally attacked me before he said
anything else, which of course put me on the defensive," the doctor
rambled on as though she had never heard his question.

"Doctor, I know full well that you behaved appropriately with those
ensigns. I have never questioned that. Apparently whatever affected
them started a little earlier than Ensign Haley is willing to
believe. It must have influenced how he behaved toward you from the

"I don't think so, Jean-Luc. I think he's lying. I think he meant
to do everything he did. Something definitely occurred toward the
end of the attack or I would have ended up a rape victim, but I could
hear it in his voice today. That same manipulative, egotistic tone
that he used with me on the beach. He's lying, Jean-Luc. I'd bet
Counselor Troi on it... if only she were here."

Picard stood from the table and adjusted his uniform top. "Lying or
not, it doesn't sound like we're going to get any further information
from him and we're running out of time. If Will and the others are
trapped in that collapsing cave, we're going to have to resort
to more drastic measures to rescue them. I'm afraid I'm going to
have to put the rest of this proceeding on hold unless Ensign Haley
comes up with any useful information in the next two hours."

"Fine with me." Beverly gave a faint smile. "I'd rather not have to
look at his face again anytime soon. I think I might feel better if
you would allow me to return to the planet surface to help with the

Picard shook his head with a frown. "I'm sorry, but I can't risk any
further command staff in this search. Data reported that the cave is
rapidly disintegrating. They have very little time to find the
missing crew members. Besides, we're going to need you in Sickbay
when the away team returns."

He paused as a thought occurred to him. "Did Data have a chance to
finish his analysis of the stone samples he brought back from that
cave? I never ordered him to study those rocks, but he had an
interest of his own to do so," the captain seemed to be asking
himself, as he turned from the doctor and exited the Observation
Lounge. Crusher followed him onto the Bridge, knowing full well what
that raise of his eyebrows meant.

"Picard to Commander Data," he said to the air.

"Data here, Captain," came the quick response from the planet surface.

"Status report."

"We have found Lieutenants Arran and Davis and Ensign Fuko. They
have been beamed directly to Sickbay."

Picard braced himself. "Why? Are they injured?"

"They appeared physically unharmed. However, their mental
functioning seemed to be somewhat irregular."

The captain glanced at Beverly. She nodded understanding and left
the Bridge in a hurry toward Sickbay.

"What do you mean by 'irregular'?" asked Picard.

"It is difficult to explain since I often misunderstand Human

"They did not want to be rescued, Captain," Worf's deep voice came
over the open frequency.

"Explain, Mr. Worf," ordered the captain.

"Sir, they were engaged in...mating rituals and did not wish to be
disturbed. They ignored us when we notified them of their danger.
We had to force them to beam up."

"Force them?" Picard was again incredulous.

"It's this place, Captain. It's controlling their minds," the
Klingon spat in disgust. "I believe the entire away team is in
danger the longer we stay here."

Picard set the warning aside for the moment. "Mr. Data, did you ever
finish your analysis of the stone samples you brought back from that

"There was insufficient time to complete the scanning procedure,
sir. Do you require access to the information currently available?"

"Not unless you found any unusual element in their patterns."

"I was unable to determine their source of inner illumination, but in
all other features their compounds are typical of natural semi-
precious stones."

A memory suddenly struck the captain like a hearty slap on the
back. "Don't allow anyone to touch the crystals in that cave. If
anyone has touched them already, have them beamed directly to
Sickbay. I will have them replaced by other away team members. I
assume the stones cannot effect you, Data, since you have already
spent time studying them first hand. Mr. Worf, have you touched any?"

"No, Captain."

"Good. You may continue the search with Mr. Data. Alert the rest of
your crew immediately."

"Acknowledged," came Worf's curt reply.

The captain turned to the ensign replacing Worf at his station.
"Locate Lwaxana Troi and have her beam onboard. Tell her it's
urgent. I will meet her in Transporter Room Three."

Deanna Troi sighed languidly and smiled as Will Riker began his
second round of tender kisses down her chest. "So soon?" she
whispered in mild surprise.

He pulled back and met her eyes with the depths of his own stormy-
ocean blues. "Too soon?" His tone was questioning, but his
expression pleaded.

She immersed herself in his penetrating gaze, her mind opening fully
to his, wanting to merge with every part of him. She released the
floodgates of his surface thoughts and nearly drowned in the force of
his affection. She had never felt love this strongly before, not
even from her mother. Her heart jumped and she answered him with her
most passionate kiss, her arms circling his neck so tight she thought
he might protest. He didn't. Not for a second.

As his hands came down to explore her body again, she suddenly felt
cool wetness on her cheek. She dared not look at his face for fear
he would quickly tuck his feelings away in embarrassment and close
his mind to her. As long as she had known him she had never seen him
cry. She always knew when he was breaking down inside, but the tears
never reached his eyes. They usually surfaced on hers instead and
she acted as an outlet for him, since she was not afraid to feel and
show her own emotions.

Why he shed tears now was a mystery to her. She couldn't get beyond
the raw strength of his surface thoughts to the deeper motivations.
All she knew was that his current feelings were genuine and all-
encompassing. She excitedly accepted them into her mind and body,
letting his intensity become her own. It washed her away with a
churning force to match the hot spring until she could no longer tell
where her mind ended and his began.

Closing her eyes in sensual pleasure as his hands moved up her
thighs, she leaned her forehead against his chest and listened to his
strong, consistent heart beat. This was the Will Riker she had
fallen in love with so many years ago. This was her Imzadi, only
better. He was even more attentive now than he had ever been, and
the radiant love he felt for her made her eyes turn misty. Where had
all these feelings been hiding during their years on the Enterprise?
Deanna tried to puzzle it out, but none of it made any sense.

Her mind was too foggy to think rationally anyway, especially while
his mouth was making little angel kisses down her inner forearms.

Then there was an abrupt shift in Will's thoughts, catching Deanna
entirely off guard. His emotions became urgent and tense. He clung
to her as if he was afraid of losing her. His demanding lips moved
to her shoulders and chest in sharp, biting kisses. Quickly coming
back to herself, she realized that his firm grasp on her arms was
beginning to hurt.

*Will?* she called to his mind.

She wasn't sure if he didn't answer because he didn't want to or
because he couldn't hear her. His emotions were chaotic, his mind
rapidly closing to her. "Will," she repeated out loud.

He continued to bite her feverishly, nearly drawing blood, his hold
on her growing ever tighter. Abruptly, he lifted her out of the
water and set her on the edge of the spring. She rubbed her arms
gently, glad that he had finally released her, yet uneasy at his
strange behavior. It was cold outside of the hot spring. Goose
bumps surfaced along her arms and legs as she watched him emerge from
the water before her. She moved back a little to give him room, but
he didn't seem to want any. With one knee out of the spring and the
other leg on its way, Will caught her by the shoulders and pushed her
down on her back, mindless of the force with which her head hit the
hard stones glistening in the ground. His full weight came down on
top of her, restricting her air supply, crushing her ribs.

"Imzadi," he muttered, clumsily pawing her breasts and stomach.

Deanna gasped in shock and bewilderment. A few moments ago she had
wanted him - all of him, with the force of a black hole. But then
his emotions changed. He changed. His mind was completely closed to
her now, and he didn't seem to care that he was being too rough. He
had never been careless enough to hurt her before, at least not
physically. He had always treated her like delicate crystal, afraid
of shattering her. She could already feel the small cuts and bruises
forming on her back where the sharp gravel scratched into the tender
flesh pressed against it.

"Will, wait!" she exclaimed, what little breath she had hissing past
clenched teeth. "What are you doing?"

He didn't seem to hear her, nor did he notice that she was tense with
growing fear and far from aroused as he forced his knees down between
her legs. Deanna's first instinct was to stop him in whatever way
she knew how, but when she struggled beneath him, she found that he
had her pinned on all sides, the weight on his hands digging deeply
into her wrists, his legs trapping hers. Charged with engulfing
panic, Deanna tried to defend herself, but none of the tricks Worf
had taught her worked on Will, who was similarly trained in the same

"Stop it! Get off me!" she shouted. Her pleas were as useless as
her self-defense techniques as he forced his way into her.

Suddenly, his teary, bloodshot eyes met hers with such tenderness,
she momentarily ceased her struggle. He stroked her hair adoringly
as he just laid there inside of her, unmoving, his intense gaze
locked with hers. An eternity seemed to go by just like that.
Neither moving or speaking, Deanna trying desperately to search his
mind for some clues to his behavior, pushing against the thick wall
that continued to shield his thoughts.

Then his eyes changed again. As if a whole universe now separated
them, he was completely distant. Images of Jev flashed through her
mind and she shook her head against a wave of terror at the memory of
his violation, made fresh by this attack from the person she was
closest to. It couldn't be happening again!

As she renewed her struggle against him, Will moved his elbows up to
keep her arms pinned, and cast her a malicious grin. She had never
seen this expression on his face before, and it shocked her. She
gasped at the violence radiating from his thoughts. For the first
time it occurred to her that her very life might be in danger here,
not just her fragile psyche and aching body.

Seeming to enjoy her look of panic, Will brought his left arm up to a
firm lock across her shoulders and neck, constricting her airways
until she thought she might lose consciousness. With his newly free
right hand he took a handful of her long hair and slowly twisted it
into a tight rope between his fingers, pulling her head roughly down
to the ground, controlling her sadistically.

She opened her mouth to scream but he covered it with his own,
breathing his hot air into her lungs, his probing tongue nearly
gagging her. Her eyes filled with tears of horror as she squirmed
under him and clawed at his sides to no avail. His large body
covered hers completely as he yanked her hair down harder. This
motion of dominance seemed to arouse him and he began to thrust with
long hard strokes.

It was over very quickly. He climaxed within seconds, then rested on
top of her, dead weight. His hand immediately released her hair and
she frantically struggled to push him off of her. With a squeal of
shock she rolled out from beneath him and he flopped to the ground,

Gasping for air and choking on her uncontrollable sobs, she backed
away from his lifeless body. She tried to stand but a powerful
dizziness stole her balance, crashing waves of pain pounding at the
back of her head. As she fell to the ground in a heap, she saw the
cave grow dark around her, then black.



Deanna drifted alone through a frighteningly dark, cold place. A
million mysterious eyes watched and followed her movements as she
tried to find her way to...wherever. Icy gray shadows passed before
and behind her leaving silvery traces of energy in their wake. On
dim distant planes she caught brief glimpses of winged demons, ghosts
from her world and others, fire-breathing dragons, and even hairy
monsters, just like the ones she had believed lived under her bed as
a child. Only this time she felt confident that they could not hurt
her. This could only be a dream and dreams had no substance.

She could clearly remember what had just happened between Will Riker
and herself, though why she was conscious of all that during a dream
was a curiosity. Maybe the shock of being raped by her best friend
and lover had caused her to lose touch with her sanity. Maybe this
was the retreat of a frightened little girl when the world around her
didn't make any sense. This dark, shadowy realm certainly was
familiar enough to her. Maybe she had come here before, in her
troubled dreams after her father died.

Her senses were dampened. She had no sense of her body. Wherever
she was, the place had no scent. When she rubbed her fingers
together, no tangible feeling awakened her nerve endings. She
couldn't feel her bare feet on what appeared to be a rocky black
terrain below her. Though strange distant sounds ruptured the
deathly silence periodically, they didn't vibrate in a familiar
pattern on her eardrums, or register as anything distinguishable to
her mind. A mind too dream-dulled to think.

"Hello, Counselor."

The voice that cut through the darkness surprised her with its
realness. She turned with a gasp to see a vague Ensign Ro in her
bathing suit floating in mid-air next to her.

"You look like you've been having a good time," Ro smirked
sarcastically at Troi's nudity.

Finally something she could focus on. As Deanna's mind ambulated
toward clarity, she crossed her arms over her chest, an ineffectual
attempt at modesty, and leveled her eyes at the ensign. "This is
only a dream and you are not really here," she stated dryly, her
voice sounding alien to her own ears.

"Actually you're the one who shouldn't be here," Ro said, coming
around to face her. "I'm dead, you're not."

Troi regarded her, dumbfounded, almost afraid to ask, "What do you

"I was in the Crystal Cavern with Geordi when the walls crumbled and
I fell. I assume he made it out okay since I don't see him here.
But then, what are you doing here? Your life-force is still strong."

Deanna looked down at herself and saw that indeed her body was of a
different substance than the ensign's. She could see right through
Ro to the plains beyond, but her own body appeared quite solid.

"Trust me, Counselor, this is not a dream. Maybe you were sent here
to rescue me. I don't like it here. I always thought that when I
died I would be back with my Bjoran relatives - eternal bliss and all
that. I think I was sent to the wrong place. Or...maybe I deserve
this hell. Maybe I've been 'bad' a few too many times." Ro's image
rippled with sadness. "I'm just glad you're here," she continued.
"I couldn't stand to be alone in this place for much longer."

There was a horrid, piercing cry off in the distance and tingles of
fear raced down Deanna's spine. Her first real feeling since her
arrival here.

"Neither would I want to live in the company of one of those things
for eternity," Ro added.

"I don't believe in 'Hell,'" Deanna responded moments later, "And I
don't believe in this." On a whim she called out, "Whoever is
controlling this little scenario, I refuse to participate. If it is
myself, I will do nothing until I wake up. If there is someone else
in my mind, I demand that you make yourself known."

Instantly, a brilliant rose-colored mist wound its way toward them
through the darkness. Creatures and critters of all kinds scattered
as it passed, the atmosphere snapping with discharged electricity in
its wake. Troi and Ro floated motionless in the air that now
radiated a comforting, palpable heat, their eyes wide with
apprehension as the mist approached. It came to a stop before them
and four Betazoids stepped forward, clothed only in the protective

Troi knew immediately who they were: two women; one old with a large
sivan on her shoulder, and one young carrying a baby at her breast,
and two men; one old, holding a large staff, and one young with four
thin gills on his sides and a slightly bulging forehead in a V-
shape. The Four Deities - right out of Betazed mythology, traveling
from a dimension colored pink, symbolizing love. Now she knew this
had to be just an elaborate dream.

"We apologize for this most unfortunate inconvenience," the white-
haired elder woman said in a deep, gravelly voice. "Neither of you
should be here at this time."

The handsome young man glided forward like a dolphin, the pink mist
swirling around to loosely cover his form, and addressed Ensign
Ro. "Your time to awaken should not occur for many years to come.
That is why we are keeping you here."

Ro lifted a skeptical eyebrow at Troi. "Do you know what they're
talking about? Who are these people?"

Staring awestruck at the Betazoid version of God, Deanna
muttered, "These are the Four Deities out of Betazed mythology.
They are trying to tell you that your time to die hasn't come yet. I
don't know what they mean about keeping you here."

"Deanna Troi, you no longer believe in us. You have unlearned much
of your childhood, so I shall explain," said the young woman, who
looked much like the counselor, with her long black hair and large
Betazoid eyes. "You are not currently in a dream state, in fact you
are remembering what it is like to be awake. This place around you
is the Fourth Plane of existence wherein the souls of those trapped
by their fear or their anger reside, neither awake nor asleep.
Demons of the imagination rule this realm. Ghosts unwilling to look
into the light, and storybook monsters. All awakening spirits must
briefly pass through the Fourth to get to the higher planes of

"To the Fifth Plane where we reside, and beyond," the old, gray-
haired man interjected.

The young woman gave a short nod and continued, "You feel a sense of
familiarity because you have passed through here many times before,
as have we all."

The young man standing before Ro added, "We have held you here
because we intend to send you back to the place of dreams. The
incident that separated you from your body was most unexpected. The
sacred caverns you were exploring had remained hidden underground for
centuries until a recent shifting of the continents caused them to
resurface. We had already begun the process of disintegration when
you and your companions discovered the existence of the caverns and
endangered yourselves therein. We cannot reverse the re-shifting
already in progress, but we can correct the error of your passing.
"Please come with me and I will guide you back." He put a ghostly
arm around her shoulders and gently led her away.

Ro Laren glanced back at Deanna as her image began to fade into the
mist, unsure if she should cooperate, but compelled to do so without

As her companion disappeared, Deanna faced the remaining three
archetypes curiously. "I don't understand. If this is a place where
the dead go, why am I here if you say I'm not dead?" At a
condescending look from the old woman and her eagle-like sivan, she
corrected herself, "I mean, 'awakening'."

"You came here of your own accord," the kindly old man answered.
"Maybe you can tell us why you are here?"

The counselor thought aloud for a moment, "I had just been through a
traumatic experience, Will was unconscious, then I passed out..." she
paused as she realized, "Will! What happened to him?" She glanced
behind her to make sure he wasn't in a similar predicament.

"Your friend William Riker is unharmed, at least physically. He lies
unconscious in the Rites of Passage Chamber," answered the young
woman. "Do not blame him for his violent behavior. He was under the
direct influence of the ganzi stones, as were you."

*Rites of Passage Chamber, ganzi stones, it's all right out of the
prayer books of my youth,* Deanna thought, beginning to find it hard
to believe in her own theory that this was just a dream. She rubbed
her eyes in exhaustion. As she did this, she noticed that some
feeling had returned to her fingers. *I just need some time to
rest. To clear my mind for a while, then sort things out one at a

As the thought of home materialized in her mind, she suddenly found
herself there, back in her childhood bedroom in her mother's estate.
She was snuggled up under the covers of her old, pillowy-solf bed,
wearing her favorite warm, white nightgown. The young mother deity,
Felene, was sitting on the edge of the bed, adorned in a flowing pink
gown. She adjusted her sleeping newborn to a new position at her

"My goodness, that was quick!" Felene smiled kindly at Troi.

Stunned silent, Deanna bolted upright in the bed. Her eyes darted
around the familiar room, then her hands moved to the luxurious
nightgown that covered the full length of her body, the feeling of
its familiar weight seeming quite real. It was pure bliss to be
cocooned in softness, with no sensation of the bruises and injuries
she cognitively knew existed on various parts of her body. "How did
I get here? What's going on?" She looked at the matronly goddess
with a mixture of scrutiny and awe.

"This is where you wanted to be a moment ago. Have you changed your
mind?" Felene casually replied. When Deanna didn't answer, she went
on more seriously, "I am truly amazed by your strength of knowing,
Deanna Troi of the Fifth House, yet you remember so little."

"You speak in riddles." Troi's forehead wrinkled in frustration.
"What do you mean my 'strength of knowing'?"

"You do not understand that which is so simple because you do not
want to believe."

"Believe in what?"

"In the power of your spirit, Deanna. Look around you and observe
your power to create." Troi glanced again around the blossom and
honey-scented room as Felene continued, "You created all this from a
simple thought, and you did this while still within the confines of
your body. Quite a remarkable feat."

"What do you mean, I created this? You mean this place isn't real?"

"It's quite real in this realm. However, it is not the same as its
twin on the physical plane. You could remain here for all eternity
if you wished and nothing would ever change. Likewise you could
simply think yourself elsewhere and be gone from here in an instant.
You see, time does not exist here." She smiled again and gave a tiny
laugh. "You wanted a place to rest and think quietly, and here you
are. It's a charming room, full of simplistic memories to take your
mind away from all your troubles."

A long silence passed between them as Deanna tried to comprehend the
strange reality before her. "I still don't understand why I am here
if I'm not d... if I am not 'awakening'."

"That answer lies within you. If you would just take a moment to
listen, you would understand." The deity smiled again as Deanna
emitted a frustrated sigh. Then she looked at her Betazoid student
with interest. "This William Riker is a puzzlement to you. It is
difficult to feel such anger and mistrust toward someone you love, is
it not?"

Troi gave a sad nod, swallowing against tears that begged to be

"You must understand that he was not responsible for his recent
actions against you in the male Rites of Passage Cavern, or "Cave of
Knowing" as it is referred to in your prayer books. You didn't
remember the teachings of this ancient place built by the early males
of your homeland. Had you realized where you were, and believed in
its reality, you would not have allowed yourself or your companion to
remain as long as you did. In fact you would not have been there at

Deanna began to remember the teachings of the Caves of Knowing from
her childhood. There were two of them, one built by women for the
sole use of girls going through the first signs of puberty, who had
also just gained the use of their telepathic abilities, and the other
built by the elder men for Betazoid boys at a similar stage of
development. It was a time when the raw, untarnished power of the
young Betazoid psyche was harnessed by the ganzi stones and somehow
used to strengthen the planet - to keep her nature pure and vibrant.
Women and men were forbidden to enter the caverns of the opposite
gender, because along with the channeling of the youths' telepathic
abilities came the unleashing of their fear, their darker selves, and
their raw sexuality, making them psychically very powerful but
mentally unstable. In order to get to the more pure power source
within the adolescents, the stones supposedly enabled them to face
and ultimately purge their own inner darkness for the duration of
their stay in the caverns. And the length of their stay was
carefully monitored by guardians so they wouldn't risk the danger of
over-exposure to the ganzi stones.

It was an ancient initiation ritual that gradually died with the
passage of time. Eventually, as the unused caverns quietly
disappeared off the face of the planet, most Betazoids believed them
to be simply legends with no real substance. Most, except for the
heirs to the royal houses of Betazed, who were taught by their
ancestors never to forget their heritage, or to doubt their faith.

As the memories of what she had been taught coursed through her mind,
Deanna finally understood why Will acted the way he did. She
understood, but would she ever be able to let go of the feeling that
he had violated her? Whether he did so willingly or not, it had
happened, and the thought of him ever touching her again made her
skin crawl. This was definitely going to pose a problem if they ever
planned to renew their relationship. If there was to be healing, it
would have to come from a powerful source outside of herself.

"With but a mere thought you have already found a way to solve your
problem, Deanna," Felene's voice sounded in the darkness. "Your
creative powers are extraordinary. I am proud of you."

"What do you mean?" Deanna asked the empty room. She had been so
lost in thought, she hadn't noticed the sudden absence of the
matronly deity. "What did I do?"

"Wait and see what your spirit can create. It will be with you soon,
this answer to your dilemma, and you will have trouble believing it
at first. The eternal skeptic. But your inner knowing will quickly
win out, so have no fear." Felene again appeared sitting on the edge
of the bed. "I'm afraid it is time for you to make a crucial
decision, my dear. Your friend William Riker is in danger of
awakening before his time, just as Ro Laren did. He must be removed
from the Rites of Passage cavern before it collapses around him. Of
course you may choose to remain here if you wish, but the Four
Deities are powerless to influence his fate unless he enters the
Fourth Plane, which could cause irreparable damage to his physical

Deanna slid swiftly out of the bed. "How can I get to him?"

"The same way you arrived here, of course. It takes but a thought."
Felene trilled, a knowing smirk edging across her full lips. "Use
the secret exit to the left of the waterfall. You will not be able
to get through the way you came in. Several tunnels have already

Troi nodded understanding, then tried her best to conjure up a clear
image of the Cave of Knowing where she had left Will Riker's
unconscious form. She didn't want to remember that place now,
regardless of how beautiful it was, which made the image all the more
difficult to clarify. What would she say to him when he did wake
up? Would he remember what had happened? Would he try to hurt her

*This isn't working,* she thought, moving her hands to her forehead
and closing her eyes to concentrate harder. At one point she thought
she was there, with the cold, moist ground beneath her feet, but then
she lost her hold on that reality and was swiftly sucked back to her
childhood sanctuary.

"What am I doing wrong?" she groaned hopelessly, her eyes meeting the
soft gaze of her otherworldly mentor.

"Your negative emotions hold you back, the same way fear traps
spirits on the Fourth Plane. Open your heart, Deanna. Move beyond

The counselor swallowed hard and closed her eyes to make another
attempt. She tried to concentrate on her feelings in the cavern
before Will had become violent. The way he had made her laugh and
toss her inhibitions to the wind. The way he had made her body
shudder with his experienced hands and warm mouth. The purity of his
love for her when their minds had merged...

Will began to stir just as Deanna finished pulling on her bathing
suit. She slipped her arms through the holes in her beach jacket,
then quickly knelt beside him.

Riker pulled himself slowly to his knees, which impressed themselves
deeply into the rapidly softening ground, and shook his
head. "What...?"

Troi helped him to his feet and handed him his bathing suit and t-
shirt. "There's no time to explain, Will. We have to go."

At the counselor's urging, Riker dressed and followed her to the back
of the cave where Felene had described the exit to be. But she
couldn't find it. She checked along the back wall, the ceiling, the
side of the waterfall, it just wasn't there. "Oh, no. What now?"
she muttered to herself.

"What are you looking for?" Will asked, moving his hands along the
moist walls the way she did, guessing her answer before she could
verbalize it.

"There should be a secret door or something here."

Before he could ask where she got that information, the walls around
them slowly transformed to flowing mud. There was a terrible
rumbling sound beneath the ground and abruptly the floor surrounding
the hot spring sank into the water. Giant cracks raced along the
ground and sides in all directions as the cave began to disintegrate
about them.

Riker's foot slipped on the saturated earth and he fell flat on his
back. As Deanna tried to help him up, she lost her footing as well
and went rolling past him, toward the ever-growing whirlpool at the
center of the cave. She felt the cold mud slide up her legs and
under her bathing suit as her hands tried desperately to take hold of
something solid.

"Deanna! Grab my ankle!" Will shouted as his shoulder discovered a
hole in the wall behind him. He turned over onto his stomach and
pushed his hands through the hole and found a passage that felt solid
compared to the cavern crumbling down around them. His fingers
contacted a large rock and his grip locked on as Deanna finally
reached his ankle and pulled herself up to a secure hold on his leg.

The slimy passageway, which had nearly collapsed moments ago, now
formed itself tightly around Riker's body as if the entire wall and
all the levels above it rested on his mighty shoulders. Hand over
hand, using the hefty rocks lining the inside of the secret passage,
he pulled himself through the small opening.

Once she found her footing again, Deanna released her hold on Will
and crawled her way through the portal on her own.

The passageway disappeared in the mud-slide just as Deanna got her
feet through. Covered head to toe in sludge, the couple sat on the
other side of the cave, panting and shaking with the cold. Then more
rumblings could be heard in the distance and they simultaneously
decided that this wasn't the time to rest. The new cavern they were
in was barely high enough for Will to stand without bending over.
There were no ganzi stones that they could see, but there was a dim
light source up ahead. Will took her hand and they ran toward the
illumination in the distance. The tunnel smelled of salt and mildew
and the gray rocks that formed the walls had a multitude of colorful
fungi growing along their bumpy surfaces. The cold floor beneath
them was made of the same sturdy rock material, only smoother, almost
like pavement.

The light was farther away than it looked from the tunnel. They ran
for what a good five minutes before they at last reached its source.
It was a large center area where four tunnels met, each tunnel
entrance marked by a brightly lit torch. At the ceiling, which must
have been a hundred meters above their heads, was an opening that
revealed the midnight sky, strewn with stars. Each tunnel had a
matching set of crude steps, comprised of neatly cut grooves in the
walls that led all the way to the hole at the top. They were age-
worn and hazardous, not to mention rapidly losing their coherence
along with the rest of the cave.

"Well, we could try one of the tunnels, but I think straight up is
our best bet," Will suggested quietly.

Deanna agreed, her tone equally subdued. There was a tangible
tension between them. Each avoided looking into the other's eyes and
each spoke only when necessary.

They chose the set of steps that looked the most friendly and began
to climb, Deanna taking the lead while Will traveled protectively
behind. They had to stop to rest twice during their ascent, the
perspiration on their arms and legs mingling with the caked mud,
making it runny and itchy. Several of the makeshift steps crumbled
in Deanna's hands as she reached them and she was forced to stretch
her legs almost beyond their reach to skip over them. The rough stony
surface scraped against their skin leaving sore red marks and
bruises. But each continued to climb without complaint until they at
last reached the top.

Deanna was so relieved to see the sky again that she slipped while
trying to pull herself out too quickly. Will steadied her, then gave
her a firm push up. She in turn pulled him the rest of the way up
and they sank on their backs to the welcome ground, embraced by the
clear summer sky. They lay there for some time, neither touching nor
talking, simply catching their breath and resting their aching
muscles. They drank in the fresh night air as if they had never
tasted anything so good, and sighed with relief.

"Where are we?" Will was the first to break the silence.

"Shhh. Do you hear that sound?"

He listened for a moment, then smiled. "If that's the waterfall I
think it is, I know exactly where we are."

Deanna couldn't help but smile too. The situation was just so
ironic. It must be some kind of sign from the Four Deities.

"Jenaran Falls. It has to be." Will stood and saw by the light of
Betazed's three moons several familiar landmarks. "The twisted tree;
Green River; Starlight Rock; all here, just as I remember them...

"Green River sounds like just what I need right now. I can't stand
this itching much longer," Deanna said as she got to her feet.

The river was a short distance away, and when they arrived, Troi
didn't hesitate to immerse her entire body in the chilly water,
bathing suit and all, minus the soiled beach jacket that rested on a
large flat rock. Feeling understandably uncomfortable, she kept her
back to Will as she scrubbed the mud out of her hair, wincing as her
hands contacted the swollen area at the back of her head.

After helping himself to a quick scrub in the water, Will sat on a
rock at the shoreline, watching her from a short distance. He had
the strangest feeling in the pit of his stomach and his head was
pounding as if he had just woken up with a hangover. He had no idea
why he had been lying unconscious in the Crystal Cavern while Deanna
had been awake. And he didn't understand why the cave collapsed, and
how Deanna knew a way out of there. She didn't seem to be in the
mood to answer any questions at the moment, either, which only
increased his frustration.

Worst yet, he had just had the most terrifying nightmare of his
life. It kept replaying in his mind with perfect clarity over and
over again as if it had really happened. He just couldn't shake the
memory that he had assaulted the person he was closest to in the
entire universe. But it couldn't have actually happened. He wasn't
capable of such an act. Besides, he had been unconscious for some
reason. He could hardly be a danger to others in that position.

So, why was his best friend and confidant now shutting him out as if
he were a stranger? He watched her moonlit silhouette as she swam
dreamily upstream. Even farther away. He shook his wet hair and
rose from the rock, determined to face her and get some answers
before he lost his nerve. He walked along the shore, following her
shadowy form as best he could in the darkness. He heard a rustling
in the bushes and turned. When he found nothing there and looked
back to where he had last seen Deanna, he found nothing there either.

"Deanna?" he called into the night.

"Over here," she responded flatly from the nearby trees in the
opposite direction.

He quickly found his way back to her and eased his bulky form onto
the grassy patch she occupied. "What are you doing?"

"Nothing," she practically whispered.

"You're avoiding me. Why?"

She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them

"You must not remember what happened."

His eyes were suddenly drawn to the darkening rings around her wrists
and thighs, the red marks on her neck, the pain in her deep, midnight

"No!" He looked away in shock and disgust, knowing for certain now
that his dream had been real. "No," he repeated to himself in
disbelief. "I couldn't have!"

He stood suddenly and began to pace, his hand on his stomach, trying
to control the waves of nausea nearly overtook him. This couldn't be
happening. He never believed he could be capable of such violence,
especially toward someone he cared about, but here it was staring him
in the face.

*Impossible!* his mind protested.

But it was real. William T. Riker was a rapist! He stopped to
glance at her, then nearly retched as he saw the streams of tears
rolling down her cheeks. "Oh, God!" He knelt beside her, afraid to
touch her, unable to explain what he did, yet unwilling to let her
turn away from him. "How could I have done this to you?"

Deanna was nearly washed away by the strength of his remorse. She
knew that it wasn't his fault and that he would never forgive himself
if she didn't say something to ease his guilt, but more than anything
she just wanted to be left alone. To sort out her own feelings. She
didn't have the strength to comfort him right now.

Then it occurred to her that if she didn't find a way to help him
through this or at least put some distance between herself and him
for a while, his emotions would consume them both. She couldn't shut
him out the way she could others.

"Will," she mustered up enough compassion to reassure him. "It
wasn't your fault. You were under the influence of the ganzi stones
and you had an overdose. Don't torture yourself over this.
Everything is going to be okay, I promise." She wiped her eyes on
the backs of her hands and tried to manage a false smile. I didn't

Riker looked at her in disbelief. "What are ganzi stones?"

"The luminescent rocks in the cave. They were used by young Betazoid
men thousands of years ago to confront their dark sides. It was not
a place meant for women."

Will ran his fingers through his hair hard enough to make his scalp
hurt. "What..." He shook his head, then continued, "I don't
understand any of this. If you knew the stones were dangerous, why
didn't you warn me? Why did you go into the cave with me?"

"I didn't know either until after you passed out! And don't ask me
how I found out. I really can't talk about it right now."

A moment of silence passed between them as Will tried to digest this
new information. So, it wasn't his fault. He knew he wasn't capable
of such a disgusting act on his own. Maybe he did have a dark side
that he preferred not to acknowledge, but it would never have emerged
if it weren't for this bizarre situation.

However, the question remained, could he forgive himself for being
out of control and hurting someone he loved, even if he had been a
victim of circumstance? The damage it caused her could be permanent.

*Fucking Hell!* He allowed his anger to swell, since that was a far
more familiar emotion; easier to work with.

Nothing but questions now vied for dominance in his thoughts. "Would
you at least explain how I ended up unconscious on the floor? And
why the cave collapsed?"

"You passed out from overexposure to the stones, as I said earlier,
and the cave collapsed because it was never meant to be there to
begin with. The Four Deities destroyed it."

Far less than satisfied with these skimpy answers, he protested,
"What do you mean? You don't believe in the Four Deities, remember?"

Deanna couldn't sit there by him any longer, especially with the
condescending sound in his voice. Rapidly getting to her feet, she
pulled on her beach jacket grasped it tightly around her
shoulders. "I'm sorry, Will, but I have to be by myself right now.
Please understand and don't come after me. I'll be fine."

As she stalked off toward the river, Riker caught her by the arm.
"Wait a minute! You can't go off by yourself at night, less than
half dressed, with no weapon or shelter. This isn't a holodeck.
It's dangerous out there!"

"I know that!" she shouted back at him, yanking her way free of his
loose grip on her upper arm. "Will. I need to be alone!"

"I understand that, but why can't you be alone where I can at least
see you or hear you? How will I know if you're in trouble?"

"I'll let you know in my own way, trust me."

"I can't!" He moved to block her path, pain gnawing away at his
emotional state.

She looked up at his sharp blue eyes, her expression challenging.
"What do you mean, you can't?"

"I can't let you go, Deanna, not until I know for sure that you're
okay. You may need medical attention. You have to give me a chance
to help you after what I did!"

"Will, I assure you I am not in any need of medical attention right
now. And you could help me best by simply letting me go. I feel
trapped - suffocated."

He just couldn't release her after what had happened. He needed to
be near her, to protect her and take care of her. He had to make her
understand that he never meant to hurt her. If she went off by
herself in the woods and got injured now, he'd never forgive himself.
But she wasn't listening to him. Maybe if he came up with a
different excuse...

"I can't let you go until I'm sure those stones aren't continuing to
influence our behavior," he insisted, thinking she would see the
logic of this argument and stay.

"`Our' behavior?!"

"I don't think I was the only one influenced by them, if I remember
correctly. It's unsafe for you to leave now."

"There is nothing affecting my behavior, or yours for that matter!
The influence of the ganzi stones wore off a long time ago. I know
how they work. They are a part of my heritage. We are perfectly
safe now."

"I just can't take that chance, Deanna. You have to understand."

"You want me to understand that you don't trust my knowledge or my
judgment," she protested.

"At this particular time, I don't trust anything, not even myself.
Just look at what I did to you because of those damn stones! What if
it has some lasting affects you don't know about? We have to stay

"I would think that would be a good reason for us to stay apart," she
snapped at him mercilessly, and turned her eyes away from his
agonized expression.

"What if they send a rescue party for us while you're gone and we
can't find you?" he pressed on, searching desperately for the correct

"I'll sense that they're here and I'll return. Any more excuses?"
She turned to leave again.

"Deanna, don't do this."

She paused in her steps, but didn't turn around. "Why? Are you
afraid you'll be embarrassed if they discover you here alone?"

"What?? Where the hell did you get that? I'm just concerned for
your safety!"

She fingered the leaves of the low hanging tree blocking her direct
path. "Well, don't be. I'm a Star Fleet officer and I can take care
of myself. Besides, we are on my homeworld. I'm not likely to
encounter anything I've never seen before." Satisfied by his silence
that she had won her case, she pushed the large branch aside and
moved past it.

*Maybe she's still under the influence of the ganzi stones after
all,* Will thought. She's not making much sense. He had to take
some of his control back if he was ever to respect himself again.
"I'm sorry I have to do this," he muttered under his breath. Then
loudly, "Counselor Troi, as your commanding officer, I order you to
stay here. You will be given leave to journey on your own after the
rescue party arrives here and you are properly equipped to do so."

Deanna froze in her tracks, then pivoted on her heel stormed back to
face him. "You wouldn't dare." Her whole body shook with rage.

Riker swallowed hard and turned his back to her as he returned to the
grassy patch. "You have your orders, Counselor."

"How could you do this? After attacking me and insulting me, you
decide to pull your rank to control me?! I had no idea you were
capable of this level of egotism."

Her words stabbed him to the core. "I can do a lot of things where
your safety is concerned," he answered without looking at her.

"My safety? You don't really think I'm going to get hurt out there.
You just don't want to be left alone in your guilt. Well, what about
my feelings for a change? You conveniently forget to consider those
when they are of no use to you!"

"What are you talking about?" He turned and walked back toward her
in shock. "I always think about your feelings first! How can you
possibly believe that about me?"

"Is that so? Well, you certainly didn't consider my feelings when
you chose your career over me and stopped responding to my letters.
You didn't consider my feelings every time you chose the company of
the woman of the week over me!

This conversation was going in completely the wrong direction, but he
couldn't resist defending himself this time. There were things he
had wanted to say to her for years, and since she was the one who
brought it up, "Oh, not that again! You're the one who decided we
should just be friends while working on the same ship together. It's
not like I didn't try to renew things with you. I can't believe
this! You're always the one who pushes me away, and then when I find
company with someone else, you act like you never saw it coming.
Like I should reject all other women just because I can't have you!"

Deanna crossed her arms over her chest indignantly. "As if you tried
so very hard to get me back! You practically ignored me our whole
first year together on the Enterprise! You only acted like you cared
once when I was about to marry another man, and even then, you never
admitted that you wanted to renew things with me. Yes, you told me
how you felt, finally, three years later, and of course I pushed you
away at the time. It took you so long to get around to saying
anything, I couldn't bring myself to believe you were sincere.
Apparently you weren't, since you never tried again, and recently,
when I made it perfectly clear to you how I felt, you ended up two-
timing me with Ensign Ro! Were you taking my feelings into account
then?" Her eyes refilled with tears as she turned her back to him.

Will walked a few paces away from her, needing a moment to regain his

She had just beaten him again, and on a subject they shouldn't even
be talking about right now. *Let's see how much worse you can make
things, idiot!* he chided himself silently. Aloud he said, "I never
meant for that to happen," willing to say anything at this point to
pacify her.

"I'm sure you never meant for any of it to happen, but it did." She
was still steaming mad, roughly wiping away her tears, trying to get
her breathing under control. "Now, Commander Riker, you may press
charges against me if you wish, but I'm going away to be by myself!"
She dashed off into the thick forest before he could stop her.

"Deanna!" He watched her go, momentarily unable to decide if
stopping her was the best thing to do after all. Seconds later, when
he did go after her, she was already gone.

"Where is she?" bellowed Lwaxana Troi in the Transporter Room.

Picard cleared his throat nervously. "Ah, Mrs. Troi. Thank you for
coming aboard. We have some rock specimens we'd like you to look at."

"Rocks?! Why in the world would I care about a bunch of rocks, Jean-
Luc? Have you found Deanna yet? I want to see my daughter!"

The captain nodded as pleasantly as possible and took her gently by
the arm. "I will explain as we go, if you would just come with me,
Mrs. Troi."

She followed him out of the Transporter Room and down the long
hallway toward the turbo lift. "Well? What's this all about,
Captain?" she prodded, more in control of herself now.

"Sickbay," said Picard as they entered the lift.

"Sickbay?!" The Betazoid ambassador's alarm returned. "What is it?
Has something happened, Jean-Luc?"

She was violating his personal space with her overbearance and he
stepped back, needing some room to think - to breathe. He took a
moment to organize his words, then faced her. "About ten years ago
while I was attending a meeting on Betazed concerning the lost
Betazoid artifacts of the Fifth Century, the subject of mythology
came up. I learned the story of the Four Deities and the Caves of
Knowing where magical stones supposedly released the hidden demons
within those willing to face their darker sides..."

"Yes, yes, I know the story and you have it all wrong," Lwaxana cut
in impatiently. "What does all this have to do with Deanna?"

The turbo lift opened on Sickbay and Picard led his guest into the
doctor's personal office where Beverly and two assistants were
studying Data's stone samples with scanners. The crimson and amber
gems scintillated with an inner light so pure it reflected through
the glass case to the office walls, spilling into part of Sickbay.
Lwaxana halted in her tracks as her eyes came to rest on the mythical
stones. Picard had never seen her so quiet and subdued as she seemed
to float toward the dazzling light, her hands gingerly touching the
clear case. "By the Four Deities..." she whispered in disbelief.

The others in the room stood back and watched as the Daughter of the
Fifth House carefully lifted the screen and set it aside. She didn't
so much as squint at their brightness as she barely touched one hand
to each stone, then closed her eyes. No one thought to forbid her
from touching them; her air of authority beyond challenging. Several
moments passed as she remained motionless. The crewmembers in the
office held their collective breath in the silence.

At last Picard was about to pull her away when her eyes suddenly
opened and her hands slowly released the gemstones.

She turned to meet the captain's anxious gaze. "They are what you
think they are, Jean-Luc. Ganzi stones from the male Cave of
Knowing. It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen! Wherever
did you find them?" She heard his answer long before he said
it. "Oh, no! Your friends on the beach touched the stones
unknowingly?! Do you realize they could have died?"

Picard cleared his throat, anxious to get a word in before she read
his mind again. "One of them already did, Mrs. Troi. Many others
came close. Can you tell us more about how these ganzi stones might
affect human males?"

"That all depends on how much they know about the stones and how
focused their mind is. An average human male with no knowledge and
no telepathic abilities would become delusional after long-term
exposure. His negative emotions might consume him, causing him to
become violent around others. Or, if he's a particularly innocent
male with little sexual experience and a passive nature, he might
have hallucinations and die very quickly. Just about any male with
no knowledge of how to control the ganzi stones is risking his life
even with brief exposure."

Picard nodded understanding and glanced at Beverly. Her intelligent
eyes returned his gaze, a silent message exchanged between them.
They obviously couldn't hold Chris Haley responsible for his attack
on the doctor. They would have to let him go without further
reprimand. Likewise, Ensign Joseph Spees had just been another
victim of over-exposure to the ganzi stones. What then had become of
the other missing crewmembers?

They had gotten more exposure to the stones by now than anyone else
had if they were still in the Cave of Knowing.

"What about women? How would the male Cave of Knowing affect a
female?" Picard asked.

"It wouldn't bring out her negative side the way it would a man's,"
Lwaxana answered, her eyes returning to, and quickly becoming
transfixed by, the scintillating gemstones. "It would probably just
release her inhibitions. But I can't say for sure, because no female
has ever tried it, that I've heard of."

"I'd like to ask how the stones were created and placed in the caves -
it's a fascinating puzzle - but we have a situation of great urgency
to tend to. We're still missing four other crewmembers including
Commander Riker and your daughter somewhere in the vicinity, and
the cave is rapidly disintegrating. Can you fathom why the cave..."

He saw the anxiety spreading across her features before it exploded
from her mouth. "My daughter is lost somewhere in the male Cave of
Knowing?! But she doesn't belong there! Who knows what that could
do to her? No wonder she wasn't able to hear me calling her. The
ganzi stones block all outside telepathic communication!" She paused
a moment as another realization hit her. "By the Four Deities, did
you say there are men lost in that cave with her?" Lwaxana's eyes
went wide with horror.

"Commanders Riker and LaForge, yes," Picard answered, realizing just
then what jeopardy the female crewmembers could be in.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed again. "I have to get to her right away!"
The eccentric Betazoid took off at lightning speed for the exit.

The captain was right on her heels. "Mrs. Troi, I can't allow you to
beam down to that cave. It is off limits to anyone but highly
trained security personnel."

"Nonsense!" she completely disregarded him as she entered the turbo
lift. "Transporter Room... which one?" she asked Picard, who
followed her all the way.

"Computer, halt," he called out. The lift came to a sudden stop.
"Mrs. Troi, I cannot let anyone go down there. The cave is
collapsing. It's not safe."

"Why in the world is it collapsing?" Her voice became high and
shrill with ever-rising fear.

"We don't know why. Data and Worf are doing everything they can to
get some answers and find the missing crewmembers."

"Data and Worf," she sneered. "What do they know about Betazoid
heritage? I'm the only one who can understand the ganzi stones.
They won't find their friends without me! Computer, continue to the
nearest transporter room."

Picard knew better than to challenge her resolve when it came to her
daughter. He couldn't actually prevent her from beaming down to her
home planet any more than he could give her a direct order and expect
her to obey it.

Worf had been just about ready to give up his search for the missing
crewmembers when he found Geordi in the last cave left unchecked.
The chief engineer was hanging for his life on a single rock jutting
through the wall of a bottomless cave.

"Commander!" he shouted in surprise.

"Worf! Thank God! Ro is down there. Hurry!" LaForge ordered
through gritted teeth. His VISOR was missing. It had slipped off
his face with a downpour of mud some time ago. His arms were just
about ready to give, but he didn't care about the pain. All he cared
about was that Ro Laren might still be alive at the bottom of the
void below him.

The Klingon hit his communicator. "Worf to Enterprise. Three to
beam up immediately. One may be quite a distance below my location.
Lock on to anything the size of a humanoid within 50 meters of here.
There should only be three of us."

Geordi felt the familiar tingling seconds later, then with great
relief heard the voices of the transporter crew surround him.

Beverly Crusher's orders rang out above all others. "Take them to
Sickbay. Hurry!"

"Ro! Where's Ro?" Geordi cried as several pairs of hands lifted him
onto a stretcher.

A warm set of feminine fingers grasped his mud-covered hand
reassuringly. "She's right here with you, Geordi. She's
unconscious, but alive. Don't worry, we'll take care of her,"
Beverly answered calmly. "What happened to your VISOR?" she asked as
they traveled at top speed toward Sickbay.

"It fell off in the mud slide." A giant white smile broke across his
bruised and filthy face.

"She's alive!" he said to himself. "It's a damn miracle!"

"What about Deanna? Will?" Crusher asked Worf as they entered

"Still no sign of them, Doctor," the lieutenant responded with a
scowl. "Commander Data has not yet given up, and I am going back to
help. We WILL find them." Worf stalked out of Sickbay as if going
off to war, and nearly ran into the captain in the hall.

"Permission to beam back down to the surface, Captain," he requested
impatiently. "Commander LaForge and Ensign Ro are safe in Sickbay.
We have only two more crewmembers to find."

"Request denied, Lieutenant," Picard answered bluntly.


"I have just been informed that the luminescent stones in that cave
are hazardous to humanoids, even if you don't touch them. I have
just ordered the rest of the search party to return to the Enterprise
as soon as possible, except for Data, who is immune, and Lwaxana
Troi, over whom I have no jurisdiction." He frowned in annoyance.
"I think we could use you best on the Bridge right now, Mister Worf.
We need to begin scanning the outer surrounding area for anyone
fitting Commander Riker's and Counselor Troi's descriptions. They
may have found their way free of the cave by now."

Worf wanted desperately to return to the center of action on the
planet surface, but a captain's orders were not to be questioned.
"Aye, sir," he answered simply and headed for the Bridge.

Picard continued on to Sickbay where he found Doctor Crusher tending
to a nasty gash down Geordi's forearm. "There. How does that feel?"
she asked as she finished sealing the wound with a small surgical

"A lot better, Doc. Thanks." Commander LaForge bent his elbow and
twisted his arm to make sure there was no pain. Then he heard
someone approaching them, and immediately tensed up thinking it was
Ensign Ro. He had been afraid to inquire any further about her
because it might give away how he felt. Not that he was embarrassed
to let others know the truth - if she still felt the same way about
him. And he wasn't at all sure she did. While Beverly had examined
him, she had filled him in on Lwaxana Troi's information. If the
stones affected their behavior that much, there was a very good
chance Ensign Ro would think he had taken advantage of her and would
never speak to him again. Kind of like the cold shoulder Tasha Yar
had given Data years ago. Geordi couldn't bear that. He had fallen
in love with her in that cave, and his feelings hadn't changed at all
since then.

"How's our patient, Doctor?" asked the captain. Geordi released the
breath he had been holding for nearly a minute.

"Much better, thank you, Captain," he answered.

"Welcome back, Commander. I hear you lost your VISOR in the cave."

"Yes, sir. They can construct another one for me at Star Base 28...
that is, if we're still heading there for the conference."

"We may not be going anywhere if we don't find Commander Riker and
Counselor Troi," Picard replied, the tension evident in his voice.
"I'm afraid you may have to be without a VISOR for..."

"No problem, Captain." Geordi held up his hand to reassure him. The
last thing he wanted from anyone was pity. He had been without his
VISOR many times before and had survived just fine. The viewing
device was not the center of his existence. In fact, it was nice to
be without the constant headache it caused him for a while. "However
long it takes."

The captain gripped his shoulder in a gesture of friendship and
admiration, then went to check on Ensign Ro.

Doctor Crusher followed him across the room to the bed where the
Bjoran ensign slept quietly. Her life-sign readings were strong and
her numerous wounds well-treated. "She has several fractured ribs, a
broken arm, and a concussion, but she seems to be recovering,"
Beverly answered the captain's silent question. "It's a miracle she
survived that 45 meter drop at all. She had been buried alive for
several minutes before we found her, but I was able to get her
breathing again with little trouble. I don't see any signs of brain
damage, so I think she's going to be fine."

Picard's communicator beeped. "Worf to Captain."

"Yes, Lieutenant."

"Sir, we have located Commander Riker. We are beaming him to
Transporter Room Three."

"Acknowledged. I'm on my way."

Commander Data stepped outside the Cave of Knowing just in time to
see the entrance collapse behind him. He had gotten the rest of his
crew out earlier and had searched as long as possible without getting
trapped in the cavern himself. As usual his calculations had been
perfect - not a second of valuable time wasted. However, he had not
been successful in his attempt to locate Counselor Troi and Commander
Riker, which meant, for all intents and purposes, that he had

He wondered how this rescue mission would be viewed by Star Fleet; how
Commander LaForge and Ensign Ro fared; how his life would be
different without the presence of Commanders Riker and Troi; why
exactly the cave was collapsing at such a rapid rate and how it came
to exist there to begin with; what made the stones inside

"There you are, Mister Data!" a familiar booming voice interrupted
his simultaneous thought processes. "Where's the entrance? I must
be allowed to go inside. It's the only way to locate Deanna and

Data turned his dim yellow eyes to Lwaxana Troi, who stumbled over a
rock in the darkness and nearly fell. "I am sorry, Mrs. Troi. There
is no longer any entrance to this cave. In fact, 76% of the cave
itself no longer exists."

"What do you mean, there's no entrance? It's got to be here
somewhere!" She began to dig at the landslide with her bare hands,
tuning out all else in her hysteria. "Where is she? Where is she?"
she chanted to herself over and over again, getting nowhere with her
exhausting efforts.

Data watched in fascination as the mother attempted the impossible in
desperation to find her child. He understood that he had no
jurisdiction to prevent her from trying, so he stayed out of her way
and made mental notes of her behavior, until she hurt herself and
called for his help.

"Ouch!" Her hand had acquired a minor cut on a sharp stick, but
still she wasn't ready to give up. "Don't just stand there, Data!
Get over here and help me! You're an android. You should be able to
do this twice as fast as I can. We have to get them out of there!"

Data approached her and said, "I am sorry, Mrs. Troi, but there is
nothing we can do. The Enterprise has already beamed out all
detectable humanoid life forms within these caverns. If your
daughter is still in there, she is emitting no life-signs."

"But she can't be dead! I didn't feel her die!" the Betazoid
shrieked pathetically. "Even if she can't communicate with me, I
would have felt that!" Large tears spilled from her eyes as she
returned to her useless task.

*Mother? Mother, are you alright?*

Lwaxana froze in place, the sound of her daughter's mental voice
traveling like music on the wind. *Deanna? Oh, little one! Where
are you?*

*I'm near Jenaran Falls, in the rock circle. Do you remember?*

*Of course I remember, dear! Thank the Four Deities you're alive!
I'll be right there.*

"Oh, Data! She's alive!" Lwaxana threw her arms around the
android's neck, then dashed off into the nearby woods without another

Puzzled, Data watched her navigate her way into the forest, then
called out, "Mrs. Troi, where is Counselor Troi?"

"Near Jenaran Falls, on the north side, in the glen," she answered
from several meters away, her voice bubbling over with joy.

"Mrs. Troi, if you would return to my location, I could have the
Enterprise beam us directly to her."

"Of course you could," she said more calmly as she appeared again
through the trees. She was attempting to fasten a full-length royal
blue cloak to her shoulders. "I left this back with your crewmates,
who are wondering, by the way, if you have further need of them. The
captain just ordered them to beam up."

A fascinated grin tugging at his silver lips, Data tapped his
communicator. "Data to Enterprise, Mrs. Troi has located Counselor
Troi. Please beam us to the north side of Jenaran Falls in the glen
nearest there, and beam up the remainder of the away team."

Worf's deep voice came over the other end. "Stand by, Commander. We
have just located Commander Riker and are beaming him up now."

"Why is he separated from Deanna?" asked Lwaxana, mild alarm
returning to her voice.

Data nodded understanding, then spoke again, "Lieutenant Worf, what
was Commander Riker's location when he was discovered?"

Worf gave Data a series of technical coordinates that meant nothing
to Lwaxana. When the information was complete, Data translated,
"Commander Riker was discovered approximately one half kilometer to
the west of the location you requested we beam to. However, I do not
believe it would be advantageous for us to look there for Counselor
Troi, since the Enterprise did not find any other humanoid life forms
at that location."

"I wouldn't dream of going there, Mister Data. My daughter already
told me where she is - the place I described to you. Let's go!"

Data and Lwaxana appeared in a tiny moon-lit glen with the towering
water fall roaring to their right. Several seconds passed with no
sign of the counselor.

*Deanna? We're here, darling. Where are you?*

*'We're here?' Who did you bring with you, mother?* Her daughter
sounded very distraught.

*Just Data, dear. What's wrong? Why are you hiding?*

*Mother, I would like to speak with you alone. Does Data have to
stay here?*

*Of course not, little one. I'll just have him go back to the
Enterprise and leave us to ourselves.* "Commander, would you be so
kind as to go back to your ship and give us some privacy?"

"If you would prefer, I could have you both beamed up to the
Enterprise," Data suggested, taking no offense at Lwaxana's blunt

*Deanna, do you want to go back to the Enterprise, or stay here for a

There was a long pause, then a rustling of branches as Deanna finally
stepped forward from the trees. She met her mother's worried
expression, then averted her eyes to the ground as she walked
cautiously closer. Her long, thick hair was a tangled mess, her
bathing suit torn and filthy.

Lwaxana's gaze immediately came to rest on her numerous red marks and
bruises, and her eyes filled with tears of comprehension. "My poor
baby!" she cried, taking her battered daughter into her arms.

Biting her lower lip in an effort to maintain her composure a few
seconds longer, Deanna's hands came up to grasp her mother's sides
automatically. As she breathed deeply of her mother's familiar,
comforting scent, the tears rushed to her eyes and spilled unbidden
down her cheeks. She clung to her mother's strength, her fingers
squeezing the fabric of the royal blue cloak, as Lwaxana stroked her
hair soothingly and rocked her back and forth. She stretched the
cloak out and around her daughter, who hid beneath it, sobbing
uncontrollably at her shoulder.

"Mr. Data, why don't you beam us directly to Deanna's quarters?" the
older woman requested quietly.

"Are you sure Sickbay would not be a more appropriate location, Mrs.

"I'm sure, Data, thank you."

The commander managed the ambassador's simple entreaty without
incident and thankfully, without any further questions.




Geordi was startled by the sound of his door chime. He had been so
engrossed in his computer's auditory briefing of the situation on the
planet surface and the condition of his rescued crewmates, it came as
an unexpected interruption. He sat up in his chair and felt along
his uniform top for wrinkles. When he was somewhat sure he looked
presentable, he answered, "Come in."

"Hey, LaForge. Glad to see I wasn't the only one who lost something
in that cave down there," Ro's sultry voice came from the doorway.

Geordi's heart skipped several beats. He was caught completely off
guard. He hadn't prepared what he was going to say to her. "Ro!
What are you doing out of Sickbay?"

"Haven't you heard? I'm officially an outpatient as of this
morning. I'm recovering faster than they originally estimated. Of
course, I'm supposed to be confined to bed in my quarters, but I was
there for hours and you never came to visit me, so I decided to come
here. It's somebody's quarters, anyway."

She didn't hate him! But maybe she didn't remember what had
happened, and when it all came back to her... LaForge took a deep
breath to calm himself and tried to flow with the moment. He would
never know until he asked her.

"I...I can't believe you survived that fall," he commented
instead. "Letting go was the bravest thing I've ever seen anyone do."

"No, coming after me when there was no way in hell you could make it
was the bravest thing anyone's ever done. It was also the dumbest."

There was a short silence then, each searching for the right thing to
say. Geordi could hear the rustling of her clothing as she made her
way to his bed and sat down. "Thanks, LaForge," she added quietly.

He moved to the bed and felt his way along the edge for an empty
spot, then lowered himself down next to her. The fresh, familiar
scent of her filled his senses. "Thanks? For what? I was useless
to you. You almost died!"

"Actually, I did die, but that's a story for another time. The
thanks is for… caring so much. You have a very pure heart." Her
hand came to rest lightly on his arm. "Not to mention you're the
best lover I've ever had, and that includes Commander Riker."

His heart began to race again. So she did remember, and she didn't
hate him for it! This was not at all what he expected, but then Ro
had never done what was expected of her.

"I am?... But...Commander Riker??..." he stumbled all over himself,
feeling every emotion imaginable, yet unable to express any of it

Ro's slender fingers moved up to his face, gently stroking his
cheeks, his forehead, his mouth, then he felt her lips on his as she
breathed, "The best..."

Deanna took her time in the shower. She wanted to stay isolated
under the hot, relaxing spray of water forever. She hadn't realized
how cold she had been until her tingling skin furiously protested its
first contact with the heat. Once she finally got used to it and
feeling returned to her aching muscles, she decided it would be easy
enough to move her entire apartment into the shower. She could even
see clients from there. They could sit on the toilet and talk to
her. The captain could ask her advice over the comm channel. It
would work out just fine.

A sudden fit of sneezing immediately changed her mind. There were no
tissues in the shower. Her plan's first irreconcilable flaw.

*Deanna, are you ever coming out of there? Are you okay, dear?*

Troi sighed to herself. It was, for the first time in a long time,
incredibly good to have her mother there. She had been so strong and
comforting when they had arrived in Deanna's quarters and the
counselor had completely broken down, crying in her mother's arms
like she had when she was seven years old and it finally sank in that
her father was never coming back. Her mother had counseled her
through it like a pro, then and now. Lwaxana even believed her
daughter's farfetched tale of her time spent on another plane of
existence, discussing the meaning of life with the dieties. Possibly
the only person in the universe who would believe it.

They had talked and commiserated together, bonding on a deeper level
than ever before, for hours. Troi honestly didn't know what she
would have done without the elder woman's wisdom and understanding.
But now she needed to be alone. To rest and heal. Lwaxana was going
to get on her nerves again very soon if she didn't give her daughter
some space.

Lwaxana had wanted her daughter to take a long hot bath, but when
Deanna thought about it, she opted for the shower instead. The
concept of immersing herself in a pool of steaming water didn't
exactly appeal to her at the moment. She was drowning enough in her
own emotions as it was, not to mention his...

Deanna stepped out of the shower, slowly dried off, and slipped on a
full-length white robe, leaving the tender skin beneath bare. She
brushed through her wet hair as carefully as possible, but still
certain spots brought tears to her eyes when touched. A sensitive
bump on the back of her head made it impossible to do anything with
the hair there. Disturbed by the memory this particular bump evoked,
she threw the brush into the sink, wiped away her fresh tears and
running nose with a tissue, then headed for the bathroom door.

*I think I need something chocolate,* she thought on her way into her
bedroom. The sight of Beverly Crusher with medical bag in hand
standing in her living room stopped Deanna in mid-step. She really
wasn't in the mood to face anyone else at the moment. It had been
hard enough to tell her mother the details of what had happened
between Will and herself.

On Betazed, the only crime considered worse than murder was rape.
Consequently, few actual incidents of rape ever occurred there.
Betazoid males tended to be too quiescent to consider over-powering
the females, and even if they tried, the advanced telepathic
abilities of their race made it impossible to keep anything a secret,
especially a violent crime. Hundreds of people would come to the
rescue within seconds. This knowledge made her feel that she had
been violated in a way no other Betazoid woman ever had. The fact
that it came from someone she cared deeply about just made it worse.
It hurt too much to talk about just then, but there was Beverly,
looking like she wanted an explanation.

Troi sneezed again. She took a few tissues from her nightstand to
blow her nose, then, feeling suddenly very dizzy, sat down on her
bed. Crusher came up and sat beside her while Lwaxana watched from
the doorway.

"You don't look so good," Beverly said, feeling her forehead the old-
fashioned way. She pulled out her tricorder and did a full
scan. "Uh huh, 102.4 temperature, partial dehydration, a viral
infection forming in your lungs, a small head cold, various bruises
and abrasions, and a mild concussion. You're a mess, Counselor!"
She smiled warmly as she pulled out a few medical tools and
medications and went to work on her best friend. "For what it's
worth, Lwaxana already explained to me what happened - briefly, and I
promise to keep my mouth shut," the doctor admitted as she treated
the bump on Deanna's head. "I know you really didn't want to see
anyone else right now, but I insisted."

"I'm glad you did," Troi managed a weak smile. "I was hurting in
more places than I realized. Thank you for coming."

"The captain told me that Will barely spoke two words to him when he
arrived back from the planet surface. He's been extremely withdrawn
ever since. He even refused to let me examine him. I didn't want to
push it given his current emotional state," Beverly chatted while she
worked. "Have you spoken to him since you got back?"

"No, I haven't," was all Deanna could answer.

As the doctor checked some of the readings on her instruments, Troi's
eyes were drawn to the bruises on her friend's wrists. She took hold
of Crusher's arm and had a closer look. "My God, Beverly! Not you

"It was a close call, nothing like what you went through."

"It doesn't look like a close call to me. Why didn't you tell me?
When did this happen?"

"It happened a while after I left you on the beach. Two young

"Oh, Gods!" Deanna exclaimed again in disbelief and empathy for her
friend. "Why didn't I sense that you were in trouble?"

"Because you were already in the cave by then, dear," Lwaxana butted
in. She had been standing there so quietly, they had forgotten she
was in the room. "The ganzi stones blocked all of your telepathic
and empathic abilities, remember?"

"Oh, Beverly, I'm so sorry!"

"Don't, Deanna! This wasn't your fault. I had to convince Will of
the same thing. None of us knew what was going on. I wish you
hadn't seen my wrists. I didn't want you to be worrying about me
right now. It's time to heal yourself, Counselor. Your friends will

"But two young men... it sounds like a nightmare!" Troi refused to
let the subject drop. She was beginning to think they could heal
each other by sharing their common experiences. It was certainly
worth a try. It usually worked in group therapy situations.

"Who were they?" she pressed.

"Joseph Spees, who unfortunately died of overexposure before we could
get him back to the Enterprise, and Chris... Chris Haley." Her gaze
sank to the floor in sudden embarrassment.

Deanna's eyes grew wide with horror. "The same Chris Haley who..."

Beverly nodded.

"Oh, no." Her hand went to her forehead as her headache
returned. "I can't believe this!"

"Neither could I. If I had my way about things, I'd have him
transferred off the Enterprise. He's a conniving little liar. He
knows how to manipulate people and he uses them to his own
advantage. And now that we've found that he wasn't wholly
responsible for his actions, he's off the hook. Just like that!"

"Not necessarily," Deanna reassured her. "I've been wondering about
him ever since he and I had... that incident together. His behavior
was questionable even then. I think I'll order up some psychological
examinations on that young man. I don't think he's going to do so
well on them." She smiled deviously. "I know he's been spreading
wild rumors about me and I've been wanting to put that to an end

Beverly smiled too. "I would be most grateful."

"Consider it done." They shook on it, then laughed, each feeling
better already.

"So, you say it was a close call, what exactly happened?" Troi asked,
happy to be in the role of counselor again, and glad she had found a
way to skirt around the subject of Will and herself. She didn't feel
like getting into that one at the moment.

Beverly explained the incident in detail without shedding a tear,
though a lump did develop in her throat half way through her story.
She was nearly finished when the door chime sounded.

"Oh, no. It's Will!" Troi said, feeling her body tense up again.

"Perhaps you should talk to him, little one. You'll never get this
resolved if you don't," Lwaxana suggested.

"I know that, Mother, but it doesn't have to be today. And stop
calling me 'little one'."

"There, I think you'll live," Beverly announced when she had finished
healing what things she could. "Those nasty bruises will have to go
away on their own, unless you want to come into Sickbay for some very
time-consuming treatment. Do they hurt? I can give you something to
take the pain away." She quickly packed up her medical bag and rose
from the bed.

"Thank you, but they don't hurt," Deanna answered, then switched to
the subject at hand. "Beverly, you don't have to leave. Will and I
can work things out later."

"I think you should face him now while it's still fresh in your
mind. You of all people should know that the longer you wait, the
more you will have already blocked out important details. I'll see
you again tomorrow. How about I set up a private session for us with
Worf later this week?" She grinned as Deanna nodded
enthusiastically. "We can talk more afterwards. Good luck!" She
went to the door and opened it. "Hello, Will. I was just leaving.
Excuse me." Crusher sidestepped him and disappeared around the corner.

"I think I'll head up to Ten-Forward and take a peek around. See if
there are any good catches out today. Call me if you need me." She
placed a matronly kiss on the top of Deanna's head and patted her
cheek. Then coldly addressing Will, Lwaxana nodded curtly,
"Commander," as she slowly exited the apartment.

She ran into the captain in the hall on his way to check in on the
counselor. "Why, Jean-Luc! What a thoughtful gesture - escorting me
to Ten-Forward! You're so gallant. Or would you prefer your

The agony was plain on his face as she laughed and led him back the
way he had come.

The door closed leaving Deanna and Will alone.

The commander cleared his throat nervously then started right
in. "Deanna, I hardly know what to say. I know nothing I say can
excuse the horrible way I've treated you, and I'm sure you're
probably never going to forgive me for everything that's happened.
I'll never forgive myself for what I've done to you. I guess I just
want to say I'm sorry, for whatever good that does. I was completely
out of control and out of line down there." He waited where he was,
just inside the door, to see if she planned on responding to him or

When she didn't say anything, he mumbled, "Well, I guess that's all I
had to say. I'll leave you alone now."

"Will, wait," she called as he was half way through the door.

He came back into the room cautiously. Deanna emerged from her
bedroom and sat on the couch. "Please, come sit down," she invited
without meeting his eyes.

He lowered himself to the couch, but made sure not to touch her in
the slightest.

"So, did you ever report the fact that I refused a direct order?"
Troi asked sarcastically, the answer obvious.

"Of course not! Deanna, that was... it was just a desperate attempt
to keep you near me. I couldn't stand the thought of… of your
rejection. I couldn't accept the fact that I had just hurt the
person I cared deepest about, and in a way I didn't think I was
capable of. It was, well, a shock. I didn't know what to do. I
didn't know how to act."

*Imzadi, please forgive me.*

Deanna heard his telepathic plea and was stunned by its clarity. She
allowed herself to look into his eyes at last and saw his anguish.
He had never been this defeated as long as she had known him. It
melted her heart and tore at her soul.

Her eyes welling with a fresh round of tears, she answered, "Will, I
know it wasn't your fault, and of course I forgive you. You're
Imzadi to me. A bond like that can't be broken." She reached out to
tentatively touch his beard. "I just need a little time, can you
understand that?"

"Of course, I understand. Did Doctor Crusher take care of everything
you need? You look like you might be coming down with something."

"It's just a head cold. I'll be fine. Beverly took care of
everything. If it makes you feel any better, you were right about my
being under-dressed for a camp out. I'm sorry I gave you so much
trouble." She flashed him a shy smile that made everything seem okay

He couldn't resist putting his arms around her then. "Please don't
ever say you're sorry for anything that happened down there. I'm the
one who's sorry. I made all the wrong decisions. If it weren't for
my decisions, Beverly wouldn't have been attacked either. I knew the
two ensigns were planning to approach her. I just didn't know they
were under the influence of the stones. If I had…"

"You would have gallantly prevented them from going anywhere near
her," Deanna finished for him. "Don't you think Beverly and I know
that? This wasn't your fault, Will."

She was grateful for the hug and his kind words of apology, but she
didn't want to be this close to anyone at the moment, especially
him. He released her immediately when she pulled back. "Well, I'll
leave you alone now," he smiled, relief blatantly evident in his

He took each of her hands in his and very carefully kissed her
bruised wrists, one at a time. "I'll be back to check on you
tomorrow," he whispered as he rose to his feet.

"It will all be okay, Will. You'll see."

He nodded and trudged toward the door. Chancing a look back, he
asked, "Is there anything I can get for you?"

"Got any Marcellian chocolate on you? I've got the worst craving."

A charismatic, white smile broke through his serious countenance. "I
should have guessed. I think I can dig some up."

"I'd appreciate it," she covered her eyes with one hand in
embarrassment at her own predictability. Will promised to return
with the goods later, after she had gotten some sleep.

Deanna was finally left alone with her jumbled thoughts. Felene had
mentioned that Troi's wish to begin a new relationship with Will
Riker would come true and that she would have a hard time believing
it at first. Was this whole weird situation what she meant?

Would such a disaster as this propel them into a new form of
relationship? Or did Felene refer to something Deanna couldn't even
imagine? There was nothing left to do but wait and see what future
she would create for herself.

THE END… for now!