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Captain's Log, Stardate 48082.4:  The Enterprise is proceeding at warp five to the planet Denali Two, where the Federation colony is reporting unusual seismic activity.  Denali Two's strategic location has proven valuable in monitoring Cardassian activity, and the Federation would strongly prefer to remedy the situation than abandon the colony.




Captain Jean-Luc Picard studied the faces of his senior staff as they sat around the polished wood conference table.  "Denali Two.  What do we know about this place?" Picard asked.


"Denali Two is a cold temperate to tundra world," answered Lt. Commander Data.  "At the equator, where the colony is located, temperatures average four degrees celsius, with 1270 mm annual precipitation.  Woody vegetation is dominated by retomus camalas, similar to pincea glauca of earth, and ---"


Mouths twitched around the table.  The gold-skinned android had never quite learned to gauge which details may or may not be pertinent to a given situation.


"Mr. Data," Picard broke in, "let me rephrase that question.  What do we know about the geology of Denali Two that might help us get to the bottom of this problem?"


Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge spoke next.  "Parts of the inner core of Denali Two have shown instability in the past, but nothing ever on this scale.  Denali Two has only one major land mass and the west coast of that continent, where the colony is located, has been experiencing landquakes and glacial slides.  The colony is in a coastal valley, and that makes it especially vulnerable."


Commander William Riker leaned forward, frowning.  "The colony numbers eight thousand people. Evacuating them will be more than a ten minute job --- if the Enterprise has to do it alone, it'll take a good eight hours.  Besides that, neither the timing nor strength of quakes can be predicted with perfect precision.  I recommend we contact all ships in the sector and put them on stand by for relief efforts."


Picard nodded in agreement.  "Has the scientific staff of Denali Two learned anything about the cause of the increased seismic activity?"


"Current theories center around greatly accelerated tectonic movement.  They have requested assistance in evaluating that theory," Data responded.


"Denali Two was established for primarily strategic, not scientific purposes," Lt. Worf interjected.  The Klingon continued, "Evacuating the colony would significantly decrease the Federation's defenses in the quadrant."


"Let's hope that won't be necessary," Picard replied.  He turned to Beverly Crusher.  "Doctor, I gather sickbay is on alert for any probable emergencies?"

"Ready as always," came the red-haired physician's crisp reply.


"Sir, we are entering standard orbit around Denali Two," Ensign Ro Laren's voice broke in from the bridge.


"Very well, Ensign.  Standard orbit.  Picard out."  Then, turning to Riker, "Number One?"


Understanding instantly, Riker motioned to the chief engineer and operations officers.  "Data, LaForge, arrange whatever technical assistance you need, and meet me in transporter room two, twenty minutes."  Turning to Deanna Troi, Riker continued "Counselor, I want you along, as well.  An earthquake can give anybody a good case of the shakes."


Ignoring the smiles, snickers, and very bad pun, Picard dismissed his staff.




Will Riker gazed at his surroundings:  Evergreens, mountains, and snow, so much like his native Alaska, complete with frost sparkling on pine needles and the thunder of pounding waves in the distance.  They had beamed into the open square in front of the colony's research laboratories, partly to give the away team a quick initial opportunity to see the area, and partly as an excuse, Riker admitted, to give them all a chance to breath some cool, crisp, unrecirculated air.  The colony's buildings were a perfect blend of beauty and functionality; although they had been constructed of standard Starfleet prefabricated units, someone had taken time to choose colors and an arrangement that fit with the surroundings as much as the native evergreens and gray rock outcroppings that dotted the landscape.  


We're within a kilometer of the ocean, Riker thought to himself.  I can smell it, the cool, salty breeze, the moisture that never leaves the air.  Growing up in Alaska had given him a strong appreciation of the outdoors, and he remembered the camping, hunting, and fishing expeditions of his youth.  Sure, his father wasn't the most understanding person.  But at least he introduced his son to rugged forms of recreation that still were part and parcel of Riker's life.  Maybe that's why I work out with a Klingon, Riker smiled to himself.  Batlith practice makes a good substitute for scaling the walls of ice caves.


If it wasn't for this mission, I'd probably find myself a good climbing cliff, Riker mused.  But wanting to stretch a few muscles isn't the only reason I'd like to get away right now, he confessed silently.  LaForge had enlisted the assistance of Ro Laren as part of the away team and, frankly, he felt distinctly uncomfortable whenever he, Troi, and Ro were all in close proximity.  No one to blame but myself, he thought in disgust.  If I hadn't gone totally berserk and mixed up Eris and Aphrodite when that Sutteran zapped all our memories ---


Three people emerged from the science center and strode up.  One of them Riker recognized as Commander David Urdu, the ranking officer of the base.  Urdu stood well over two meters tall, and Riker found himself in the unaccustomed position of looking up at someone during a face-to-face conversation.  However, Urdu's manner provided a direct contrast to his imposing frame.  The colony's commander was soft-spoken and, allegedly, the possessor of a playful sense of humor.  Urdu introduced his companions as Lt. Commander T'Paren, a Vulcan science officer, and Lt. Thalok, the colony's Andorian security chief.  After introducing LaForge, Data, Troi, and Ro, Riker and his team followed Urdu and his officers into Denali Two's science center.




Troi couldn't help smiling as she fell into step behind the group.  Will's so excited about seeing real snow, but he still gets nervous whenever he has to deal with Ensign Ro and me at the same time, she thought.  Maybe we shouldn't have been so hard on him.  Monogamy, after all, never has been one of his talents.  But, goodness knows, he did deserve our ganging up on him, and probably much worse.


The science building was like the others surrounding the square, modern but not sterile, three stories high, and soft moss green in exterior color.  Troi found herself likening the pitched roofs to the mountains rising against the distant horizon. 


As they approached the science center, Troi shifted her empathic abilities to a more professional stance.  She felt a sense of urgency from Urdu and Thalok; even T'Paren showed some ragged edges to her orderly Vulcan emotional control.  They were obviously exhausted, but Troi sensed that Urdu and his staff were maintaining their mental focus.  Within the science center, the staff was understandably tense, and the halls were filled with hurried, concerned scientists.  The air of anxiety was apparent even without using her empathic senses.       


The conference room doors parted.  Troi staggered as if she'd been slammed in the stomach.  Overwhelming emotion --- terror, rage, shame --- pounded through her.  Vaguely, she was aware of Ro and LaForge supporting her from each side, and Commander Urdu bending down over her. 


Urgently he asked, "Counselor, are you all right?"


"Such strong emotion," Troi gasped, her lungs hurting from trying to catch a breath.  "I'll -- I'll be  all right, just -- just a minute."  Not for a millisecond did she doubt the source of the pain.  There was only one human alive that she had bonded to enough to forge a link of this clarity and intensity.  But what?  Why?  She let them help her the rest of the way into the conference room and she sank into a chair.  Gathering herself, she saw Will Riker kneeling in front of her, his face blanched white.


"Deanna," he spoke slowly and deliberately, "I'm sorry.  Maybe you should go back to the ship.  This might not be the best place for you right now."


"No," she replied firmly, looking directly into his eyes.  "It is my duty to help these people through this situation."  And you through yours, whatever this is all about, she added silently.


A moment of silence followed, then Commander Urdu turned to the other two scientists who had been waiting in the conference room:  An engineer, Lt. Stephan Booras, and a civilian named Helen Sedna, a former geology professor on Earth before she "retired" to the combined roll of elementary school teacher and geologist for the colony on Denali Two.


The ensuing conversation centered on LaForge, Data, T'Paren, Booras, and Sedna, who took turns firing and shooting down theories for quieting the rumbling planet's core.  Troi carefully thinned her mental shielding, again feeling Will's pain and something else --- fear, but she was unable to pinpoint the source.  Too many strangers in one place, Troi concluded in frustration.


Trying harder, Troi attempted to mentally focus on each of the Denali Two personnel.  Urdu, tall, dark human who carried himself with a easy air of authority.  A quiet man, who leadership was never challenged.  Thalok, antennae twitching, a bit impulsive, but creative and confident.  T'Paren, impeccably Vulcan, yet carrying a dry sense of humor noticeable to everyone but herself.  Sedna, over sixty human years old but showing no signs of slowing down, somewhat motherly in demeanor, experienced not only in geology but also in humanoid nature. No real "peaks" of emotion sticking up anywhere, except possibly a bit of sexual interest from Booras, who was managing to keep his considerable intelligence and youthful energy focused on plate tectonics, in spite of his human male hormones.  The fear remained in the room, but Troi was no closer to isolating its source.


As the meeting concluded, Commander Urdu suggested Troi team up with the colony's psychologist, a human woman named Maria Ramirez, whose office was in the education center.  Urdu stated that Dr. Ramirez was facing quite a challenge in dealing with colonists' emotional responses to the environmental crisis and would probably welcome Troi's help and insight.


Riker approved of Urdu's Ramirez/Troi strategy and then directed LaForge, Data, and Ro to continue working with the local science team.  Riker stated that he was going to update Captain Picard on the situation, rose, and headed out of the room.


Troi's eyes followed his departure.  Why was he so anxious to get away?  Since when did mission reports require total privacy?


The education center, like the science complex, was a prefabricated, gable-roofed structure situated on the central square.  As she approached, Troi noticed how a retractable roof could be extended over the square during Denali Two's frequent rain and snowfalls. 


Maria Ramirez was competent, creative, and fiercely-devoted to her clients.  But with three landquakes, a near tsunami and two glacial slides in the last two weeks, her caseload had grown from challenging to overwhelming.  Ramirez had always maintained an "open door" policy, and people dropped in on her all the time.  However, her crisis-induced workload had forced her to become more formal in her scheduling, and Troi wasn't sure who was having more trouble adjusting ---- the colonists or Ramirez.  The psychologist wanted to be available whenever a client needed her, but lately she was having to say no to many of Denali Two's residents for the first time.  


"Dr. Ramirez, I am sincerely impressed with your ability to guide these people through a very stressful situation."  Deanna settled back in her chair.


"Maria.  Please call me Maria," Dr. Ramirez urged.  "I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I'm barely keeping up with it.  I could use all the help you and the Enterprise could provide."


At that instant, the door slid open and a small boy, breathless and excited, burst in.  "Dr. Ramirez, Dr. Ramirez!" he spouted.  "Somebody threw up out by the woods.  There's a big pile of puke, and none of the kids know who did it!"


"Tob, it's okay," Ramirez assured him. "If any of the children are sick, they will tell their parents, and the rain will wash the mess away.  I know it's scary finding something like that, but it'll be all right." 


The little face brightened a bit.  He nodded and was gone.


Deanna gave Maria a soft smile.  "Nice job, Counselor.  I need to check my appointments before I can set up a definite schedule with you.  Can we meet again at 14:00?" she asked, standing.


"As soon as possible." Dr. Ramirez returned the smile and saw her colleague to the door.


Two minutes later, Deanna Troi was out of the building and heading for the forest.


"It's cold.  It's cold.  It's cold," Deanna exhaled as she trotted across the now-vacant playground to the woods' edge.  It was vomit, all right.  Will, please tell me what is wrong.  I have never felt you so disturbed. 




Will Riker threw snow over his face and collapsed against a dead stump.  His thoughts were still spinning too fast to think clearly.  Don't panic, he told himself.  Live through this, and everything will be back to normal.  Just calm down.  You're just feeling a little sick.  A touch of the flu.  Vaguely, he remembered getting sick like this a few times as a child.  And the shadowy memory only intensified his terror.


Suddenly, he heard rustling in the trees and the beat of running steps.  "Will?  Will, where are you?  Come out. It's safe, I want to talk!"  The voice was unmistakably Deanna's.


Riker froze.  "Go away!" he hissed, and then dropped his head in frustration.  He had forgotten who he was dealing with.  His mental outburst would give away his location as surely as a ground flare.  Why was he so ashamed?  Why did he feel he had to be alone?  The footfalls closed in and stopped.


Riker looked up and saw Troi, about four meters away.  She rubbed her cheeks with her fingertips.  Tears, no doubt.


"Will," she pleaded, "I've never seen you in this kind of pain.  Please tell me what is happening.  I'm your friend.  I want to help."


"You can't do anything about this, and I don't want you to be hurt.  Please --- detach and stand clear.  It's probably just the flu, or something.  I'll be all right."  His tone was very controlled and determined.


"I reach out to you, and all I sense is a wall.  What could be so terrible that you cannot share it with me?"


"If you respect me, you won't intrude."  Will turned and marched out of the woods, leaving a confused Deanna alone in the frozen pines.




Something is wrong, Jean-Luc Picard concluded as he listened to his first officer's away team report.  Riker sat across from Picard in the captain's ready room, discussing the Denali Two crisis as they had discussed so many other missions before.  But this was different.  Picard leaned back in his comfortable chair.  There's definitely something's wrong with Will.  He's too controlled, too short in his explanations.  Not rude, certainly, but far from the gregarious first officer's usual style.


"--- and Commander Urdu and I gave the science team 48 hours to come up with alternatives,"  Riker finished.


"One last question, Number One?" Picard asked gently.  He continued at Riker's nod.  "Are you all right?  Is anything disturbing you?"


"No, sir," Riker replied stiffly.  "Have you noticed any problems in my job performance?"


Sensing a rising defensiveness in the younger man, Picard tried to keep the inquiry casual.  "No, not at all.  But I care about my officers on a personal, as well as a professional, level.  I respect your privacy, but I'm also willing to listen."


"I'm fine, sir"


The captain nodded and Riker departed.  Picard rose, went to the window and stared at the green and white globe that was Denali Two.  He let out a long, slow sigh.  The thought of a silent, withdrawn Riker bothered him almost as much as the landquakes still rumbling the planet below.




Later that night, Riker paced his quarters, tense, concentrating.  He stopped abruptly, turned to the closet, dug in a drawer, and pulled out an old white polar bear.  Most of the fur had been worn off the bear's body.  Riker held the bear for a minute, and plopped it down on the table near his bed.


Whatever it was he was feeling, it wasn't going away.  Hopelessness, fear, shame, and a feeling of being trapped.  Even two rounds with a holographic ambo-jitsu partner hadn't eased his tension.  And why was he afraid to go to sleep?  Was something terrible lurking behind his own closed eyes?


"Well, what would you do?"  Staring at the bear, Riker nodded.  "Good idea, lock the door, and try to get some sleep."




By the time Troi got back to her quarters, it was 22:15 hours and she knew she was exhausted but too keyed up to sleep.  The perfect night, Deanna reasoned, for a few chocolates and a chapter from SAGEBRUSH CITY, her latest bedtime western. 


The villain was threatening to kill his first hostage when Troi snapped back to reality.  She had sensed momentary panic, followed by a somewhat frustrated relaxation.  A combination somehow familiar ---


Deanna hit the combutton on her bedside table.  "Will, are you all right?"


"I'm fine."


"Will, did you just have a nightmare?"


"No."  A second later, "Yes.  But I'm okay."


"Will ---" Troi began.


"Riker out," came the decisive reply, with the sound of the closing communication link proving an abrupt end to the conversation.


Troi forced her mind back to Sagebrush City.




The next two days were filled with meetings, computer simulations, and contingency plans as Data, LaForge, and the Denali Two scientists struggled to find a way to stop the quakes.  Troi divided her time between the Enterprise and the colonists, while Riker, Worf, and Thalok coordinated an evacuation and relocation plan just in case one would be needed.


On the second afternoon, Riker was walking alone outdoors on the planet.  He had intentionally beamed down a half hour before his scheduled update with Urdu, hoping to air out his brain and shake the feeling of impending horror that still filled his soul. He was less than thirty meters from the complex when he felt the unmistakable rumble of a quake.  Not a bad one, but enough to rattle equipment and stomachs.  Hurrying to the center square, Riker found himself intercepted by a young boy. 


Tears stained the child's face.  He couldn't have been more than eight years old.  "Mr. Officer, Mr. Officer, it's my fault, I'm sorry, but it's my fault ---"


"Just a minute."  Riker squatted to the boy's eye level.  "What's wrong?  Is somebody hurt?"


"No, no.  But this is all my fault.  She told me if I was bad, something bad would happen to everybody.  I'm sorry, it's my fault!"


"What's your name?"  Riker quietly urged.  "Who told you this?"


"Joey Carrilian, and I'm sorry!"  Sobbing, the child spun away, losing himself in the crowd scurrying about the square.


Trembling and horrified, Commander William Riker stared at the child's retreat, feeling alone and lost in a great mass of people.




One hundred meters away, Troi released her white-knuckled hold on her makeshift desk and drew a deep breath.  Another quake, she thought, and the understandable fear and confusion it brought.  Suddenly, she snapped to attention as a second, more focused wave of pain hit her.  "Will?" she whispered slowly, and froze for a second, pondering.  Decision made, she tapped her communicator.  "Enterprise, one to beam up."




Data and LaForge stood facing Picard in his ready room. 


"Commander T'Paren's initial theory appears to be the most plausible," Data explained.  "The oceanic plate is slipping beneath the continental shelf at a rate approximately 4.7 times the historical average.  The accelerated tectonic subduction has, in all likelihood, produced the highly unstable seismic patterns.  Constant low-grade tremors are being recorded just off the continental shelf."


Picard rose and moved out from behind his desk.  "What can we do?" Picard asked.


"Lt. Booras' staff has been working with us, and we think we have an idea," LaForge answered.  "We could plant depth charges about 500 meters below the surface, just off the continental shelf.  Once in place, we could detonate them with an energy beam modified from the forward phasers.  If we can stop it, we'll have inertia on our side, and hopefully that will be enough."


"What about danger to the colony's population?" was Picard's next query.


"There is a 17 per cent chance that this plan will produce a quake up to 3.8 times stronger than the most destructive yet to strike the colony," Data replied.  "However, of the options available, this plan clearly has the highest probability of success."


"Commander Riker has worked out a safety plan with Commander Urdu.  Denali Two's buildings were constructed with the best anti-quake technology available.  The people should be all right, Captain," LaForge added, caution and confidence mixed in his voice.


"Where is Commander Riker?" Picard queried.


"I'm not sure, Captain," LaForge returned.  "He's been working by himself a lot lately."


Picard took in LaForge's statement, trying to show no outward response.  "When can you be ready?"


"Worf and I will have to rig the energy beam, and we'll have to work out the placement of the depth charges.  Give us twelve hours."  La Forge handed Picard the information disk for him to examine.


"Make it so."


The captain watched their exit and settled back in his chair.  Twelve hours.  Plenty of time to attempt another talk with Will.  Picard was weighing Riker's need for privacy against a captain's need to assure competence in his senior staff when his communicator beeped.


"Crusher to Picard."


"Picard here, Doctor."


"Jean-Luc, do you have a minute?"


"Yes, can you come to the ready room?."


"Fine.  I'll be there right away."




Beverly Crusher entered the captain's ready room, her face a mask of concern.


"Jean-Luc, I'm disturbed about Will."


Picard dropped his chin to his chest.  Slowly he lifted his face, gave Crusher a sad smile, and motioned for her to take a seat.  Crusher settled herself on the sofa.  Coming out from behind his desk, he sat down beside her.  Beverly had been a constant friend and confidant during their time together on the Enterprise.  He could always trust her perceptions, as well as her candor. 


"So am I," Picard finally replied.


"Deanna came and talked to me.  She was very concerned.  She knows Will better than anyone and is sensing emotions --- chaotic emotions --- that she has never felt in him before.  She likened it to hitting a cold patch of water when swimming in a warm lake.  It startles you, it's uncomfortable, and you don't understand why it should be there.  She said Will had made it apparent that something was bothering him, but made it equally clear that he wanted to handle the problem himself."


"Have either of you seen any actual changes in his behavior?"


Beverly shook her head.  "Hard to say.  With the Denali Two mission, everyone is tense and working an abnormal schedule.  Will canceled the poker game last night, but the announcement was probably academic.  No one could have made it, anyway."


"Yet you are worried."


"Yes", Crusher replied.  "I know Deanna.  She's my friend and not given to exaggeration.  She sincerely thinks something is wrong."  Crusher's expression shifted.  "Why, have you noticed something, Jean-Luc?"


Picard seemed reluctant to reply.  "Yes, he's not himself.  Too reserved.  Too - well - antisocial.  He's spending an uncharacteristic amount of time alone."


"I agree."


Picard squared his shoulders.  "If it isn't affecting his duties, we must respect his privacy.  However, I intend to instruct Counselor Troi to report any aberrant behavior, and I'll expect the same from you, Doctor."






Worf leaned one elbow on the Ten Forward's bar.  Commander Riker has been quiet lately, he observed.  It is one's right to have solitude when one wishes.  However, he is my friend.


He moved across the room to Riker's table, where the first officer silently downed a synthahol.


"Commander, do you wish to be alone?"


"No," was the curt reply. 


They sat wordlessly for ten minutes, until Riker suddenly asked, "Worf, what do the Klingons do to a adult who -- goes after -- children?"


Worf's eyes met Riker's.  "The usual punishment is immediate and painful execution."

The silence continued ten minutes longer, until Worf's communicator summoned him to engineering.




Deanna Troi paced her quarters, trying to put this together without Will's help.  This began, she reasoned, when Will entered the Denali Two conference room.  What had happened there?  There had been no negative reaction to Urdu, T'Paren, and Thalok; it had hit when they met the other two.  Will's emotions were terror, panic, and shame.  If either Sedna or Booras had shown any instant or unusual reaction to Will, Troi realized, she would have missed it, overwhelmed as she had been with Riker's own emotions. 


"Computer:  Service files:  Lt. Stephan Booras, engineer, and Helen Sedna, teacher and geologist.  Current assignments Denali Two."


Lt. Booras' records came up on Troi's computer screen first.  Studying them, she found nothing unusual, simply the history of young and rising Federation officer.


"Computer:  Correlate service records, Lt. Stephan Booras and Commander William Riker.  Did these two officers, at any time, serve at the same location?"


"No joint assignments" replied the pleasant female voice.


"Very well.  Computer:  Dr. Helen Sedna's record."  Troi scanned Sedna's service record.  She had taken a position as a Starfleet civilian scientist some five years earlier, and worked on Rana Six until two years ago, when, at her own request, Dr. Sedna was transferred to Denali Two.  Nothing in her time with Starfleet seemed significant.  Riker certainly hadn't been to Rana Six in the last five years, and Troi knew this was the Enterprise's first mission to Denali Two.


"Computer:  Personnel records.  Show me Dr. Helen Sedna's pre-Starfleet biography." 


"Unbelievable!" Troi whispered.  Wide-eyed, she studied the information before her.  "Professor of geophysics, University of Alaska-Anchorage, former residence Valdez.  Resigned Stardate 42206.  Will, she lived in your hometown!  But you left when you were only fifteen --- she must be thirty years older than you."


"What's the connection?  What's the connection?"  Troi muttered to herself.  Then, full voice, "Computer:  Biographical scan, Dr. Helen Sedna and Commander William T. Riker.  Direct output to computer monitor.  Other than past residence in Valdez, Alaska, Earth, is there any connection between these two individuals?"  Immediately, the incredible words began to imprint themselves across the screen.


 Troi forgot to breathe as she attempted to assimilate what her computer was telling her.  Dr. Helen Sedna's emergency contacts were listed as Sandra Swenson and Kyle Thomas Riker.  Kyle Riker, Will's father.  "Will," Troi gasped.  "You must know her!"


Troi resumed her pacing.  Given:  Will knows Helen Sedna, and recognized her in the science center conference room.  Their association was limited to Will's childhood.  And somehow, the mere sight of her invokes deep fear and shame.  Enough fear and shame to drive him into isolation.   Will wasn't this frightened facing the Borg, or even facing his own death via those vines on Surata Four.  The emotions are like, Troi silently concluded, the feelings of a tortured terrified child.  A child.  A child.  Like the child he must have been when he knew Helen Sedna ----


As ship's counselor, she had a responsibility to monitor the mental state of the crew.  As a friend, she wanted to help.  And as Imzadi, well, she could never just let go, even when reason told her to forget and move on.


"Computer:  Medical override, Ship's Counselor Deanna Troi.  List all items dispensed from the food replicator station in Commander Riker's quarters, in the last 48 hours."


"Five whiskey synthahols, four brandy synthahols."


Deanna shook her head.  "Computer:  Locate Commander William Riker."


"Commander Riker is in holodeck three."


And she was out the door.




The moss and lichens look so real, Will thought.  He was sitting next to a cold stream, birch and spruce towering overhead, and white mountains in the background.  He had set up the program during his first month on the Enterprise and had often retreated to this holographic forest in times when he needed solitude and time to think.  It had been a few months since his last visit; the last time had been during those tense days when he was waiting for Starfleet's decision on his involvement in the PEGASUS cover-up.  In that case, Starfleet had declared him "not guilty".  If only he could pronounce the same verdict on himself now.


Glancing at the small dome tent, Riker wondered if the nightmares and lack of sleep showed on his face.  Maybe they can see more than exhaustion in my eyes.  Maybe they know.  Maybe she knows.  Riker took a deep breath and squelched the thought.  Shut it off, simply think about something else.  Maybe he'd sleep better here tonight.  The safety plans were finished, and he couldn't add anything to Data and Geordi's efforts.  It was worth a try.


Why do I hate myself like this?, he thought, trying to shake some of the tension out of his shoulders.  Why?  Why did it have to happen back then?  And why did he have to remember it now?  Why couldn't the whole thing have stayed buried, dead? 


Unbidden, Riker's thoughts turned to the little boy on the planet.  He could still see the pain and fear on the child's face.  Was that how he once looked?  Did it all really happen?  Maybe it really didn't --- it was all so unclear and if it was real, why couldn't he remember more?  It was like his fantasies of his mother, thinking she wasn't dead, just gone away, and soon to come back.  He had felt so alone as a child.  Alone, and unwanted.  Maybe he had wanted the attention, asked for it.  Maybe he had no one to blame but himself.  No one to blame but himself. 


Riker dug in his knapsack, producing a multiplex knife and a small piece of walrus ivory.  Slowly he began carving the ivory, seemingly mesmerized by the white, smooth surface.  What should I try to make this time? he pondered.  How do you form a piece of dead tusk into regret and guilt?  Was it my fault?  I should have been able to stop it.  Why didn't I?  His blue eyes filled with rage.  Then he stopped, and holding the ivory in his open palm, he drew the blade across his fingers, and closed his bloody hand over the sculpture, staining the pure white scarlet. 




Pain!  Deanna nearly screamed as she rocketed down the corridor.  Searing pain, both physical and emotional.  Gasping, she reached the holodeck entrance.


"Will, open up.  It's me, Deanna!"


No answer.


"Computer:  Medical override, Ship's Counselor Deanna Troi!"


Will stood motionless, his back to the door. Not knowing what to expect, Deanna moved around him cautiously.  One of his hands held a knife. He was clutching something white in his other fist, and blood oozed from between his fingers.


Her voice was both sensitive and deliberate.  "Will, put it down.  It's going to be all right.  Just open your hand, and put the knife away."


Slowly, he spread his fingers and Deanna plucked the carving out of his one hand and drew the knife out of the other, folding it up and tossing both aside. 


Riker continued to stare at his hand.


Deanna grabbed a towel out of the knapsack, and gently wrapped it around the bloody fingers.  He still hadn't moved.  Slowly, she guided him to a sitting position on a nearby rock and settled herself nearby, not touching, but close. 


"Why did you hurt your hand?"


"Deanna," Riker said softly, "we've known each other a long time.  When I came on board the Enterprise, and found you here, I didn't know if we could be friends.  But now you're the best friend I've ever had.  In a lot of ways, we're closer now than we were together on Betazed.  I don't want to lose you."


"I will never stop being your friend.  No matter what, not ever,"  Deanna encouraged.  She chose her next words truthfully but carefully, ready to monitor any reaction.  "Nothing in your past will ever make me stop loving you."


Riker's response was strong and immediate.  A torrent of hurt and shame, cut off almost as abruptly as it had started.


            Troi breathed in and out slowly, calming her own racing pulse.  She felt she had only one alternative left.  "You know her. Why didn't you tell me?"


Will swung away from Deanna, his weight falling back against a birch trunk.  "I told you not to interfere!"


"You are trying to cover your fear and pain with false anger toward me.  Can't you trust me more than that?"


This time his voice was pleading.  "Deanna, please ---don't.  I believe you are my friend.  Please, just don't."


"You haven't eaten in two days, and you've had at least six nightmares in the last two nights."


"I'm sorry," he replied.  "I was afraid you'd pick up on something."


"I didn't come here to make you feel guilty.  I want to understand, I want to help."


He whirled to face her, eyes blazing.  "What's the matter, with me, anyway?  Is there a sign on my back or something?  We should be leaving Denial Two tomorrow.  Drop it!  You'd never be this intrusive with anyone else!"


Denial?  Denali?  Troi's lips moved soundlessly.  Instantly, feelings and thoughts and years of knowing the man before her all coalesced into a terrible conclusion.  "W--Will" she stammered, "when you were little, she tried to touch you, she tried to hurt you!"


"NO!"  He was backing up, crouching as if expecting an attack.


"Imzadi, tell me the truth!  How many times?!"


Will stood, frozen for a long moment.  Troi kept contact with the blue eyes, refusing to back down.  Suddenly, he went limp and dropped to his knees, shaking all over.  The reply was a bitter whisper.  "How many times?  Try how many years!"




A soft breeze floated through the holodeck, providing a bittersweet contrast to the storm of a few minutes earlier.  Riker sat, leaning against a tree.  Troi curled herself into his side, arms locked around him, trying to comfort him with her physical closeness as well her words.    


"Dad hired her as my sitter when I was seven.  When I turned ten, I persuaded Dad to let me stay alone, with just the neighbors looking in on me."


"Did your father know?" Troi asked gently.


"No, I don't think so.  God, I hope not.  No, he was so tied up in his career, traveling all the time.  He thought he had a child sitter he could trust.  I doubt he gave it a second thought."  Riker pulled in another breath.  "I didn't want it.  I would run out into the woods behind the house, but it was deadly cold and dark, and I just didn't have any other place to go.  Eventually, I had to return to the house."


"Will, you are not to blame.  SHE did this to YOU."  Troi let some of the intensity out of her voice.  "Have you ever told anyone about this?"


Riker shook his head no.  "I didn't think anyone would believe me.  I didn't even really believe it myself --- it was like it had happened to someone else and I had just read about it somewhere ... I didn't want you to know.  I like to think that the first time you were with a man was really beautiful ---"


She touched his cheek.  "You know that it was."


" --- and I never wanted you to know what my first time was like."


"I'm glad I know.  So much makes sense now."  She noticed Riker's quizzical expression, grateful that he was pulling away from his memories enough to make contact with the present.  "Why it was so easy for you to be close physically, and so difficult for you to trust me emotionally.  Why your resentment for your father ran so deep.  And why it was so important for you to always be in control, in 'command mode', even when the situation was a personal one."


"My father!" Riker hissed.  "He doesn't deserve anything but hatred from me.  And if I'm in control, then at least I know who to blame when something screws up." 


Troi felt his rage melting to sadness and took his hands in hers, feeling the icy cold of his fingers.


With a hopeless shrug, Riker continued. "And now, look --- the blood's on your hands, too."


Troi glanced at her stained fingers.  "I thought I made it clear to you long ago:  I'm willing to live with your joy and your pain."


Troi silently watched as Riker wandered around the campsite.  So much makes sense now, she thought, echoing the words she had just said to him.  The neglected and abused child, who through wit and charm became the life of the party, trying to conquer loneliness.  The neglected and abused child, who through hard work and courage became a leader, trying to conquer vulnerability.  So much that she had never seen until now.  Had love motivated her blindness, or had the memories really been buried that deep?

Riker turned to meet Troi's intent gaze.  For the thousandth time, he felt the eerie sensation of those black eyes seeing through to the back of his head and into the innermost part of his soul.  And for the thousandth time, he felt the closeness that scared him and somehow attracted him as well.


Responding to his emotions, Troi replied softly, "Will, does not the greatest security come from realizing that the person who knows you the best is also the person that loves you the most?"


Riker paused a moment longer and then sighed.  "Where do we go from here?"


"You are going to get your hand fixed, eat, and sleep," Troi answered firmly.  "Everything else can wait until tomorrow."


Riker's head dropped.  "There's a little boy --- Joey Carrilian --- on the planet.  I think she's ... doing this ... to him."


"Computer, is Helen Sedna still on the Enterprise?"  Troi asked.




Troi stood and took Riker by shoulders, shaking him gently until he looked up.  "The science team is still meeting.  The boy will be home with his parents.  He'll be safe tonight.  It can wait until tomorrow."


"We have to stop her from doing this to anyone else."


"We will.  Tomorrow."


She pulled him into a firm caring embrace, resting her face against his chest, listening to his heart slow to a normal beat and his breathing calm.


"Thanks, Counselor."


"You're welcome, Commander."




They were in sickbay, Riker was sure of that, but somehow the whole ship seemed strange and unreal.  Troi stood by his side as Alyssa Ogawa mended his hand, telling the nurse something about a careless mishap on the holodeck, another one of Will's endless list of accidents.  Fortunately, Beverly hadn't been on duty when they arrived.  She might not have accepted Troi's half-truth so easily, and the last thing Riker wanted to do was explain, or talk at all, for that matter.  Everything is different now, he concluded.  Would he be able to do his job, his duties in Starfleet?  And what about Deanna?  Right now, he didn't want her out of arm's reach, much less out of sight.  How would this affect their relationship?


Finally, they were alone, in the security of his quarters.  Still half-dazed, Riker slumped into a chair and dropped his head into his hands.  After an indeterminate length of time, he sensed Troi standing over him and looked up.  He saw her gentle smile, and the big bowl of split pea soup she held out before her.


"Now it's time to eat," Troi coaxed.  "Come over to the table.  Try to eat something."


He didn't want to move.  He looked into Troi's onyx eyes, and then let his own fall shut again.  Troi placed the soup bowl down and returned to Riker's side, putting her arm around him and guiding him to the table.  Riker sighed, and picked up the spoon.  Slowly, he downed the whole bowl, realizing he felt warm inside for the first time since he entered the science center conference room.


A half hour later, he settled into his bed, tucking the big red quilt under his chin.  He had reluctantly consented to let Troi sleep on his couch, after both the attempt to get her to her own quarters and his offer to vacate the bedroom were rejected.  She had concluded, simply, that he needed a familiar bed and a friend close by. 


She always gives me more than I deserve, he reflected, and then gave in to the exhaustion pulling him into sleep.




Deanna's eyes flew open as she shot upright on the couch.  One more nightmare.  She darted to the bedroom door, but he was already awake, sitting up in bed.  His breath was coming in short, strained gasps. 


"I'm sorry I'm keeping you awake," he said immediately.  "Can't you just detach or something?"


Tears filled her eyes.  "No, I've tried.  More times than I can count.  You are Imzadi.  I just can't let go."  She felt his total frustration and helplessness.


Riker dropped back on the bed.  "You can't stand guard over me forever."  He shivered and pulled the quilt back over his shoulders.


Silently, she moved across the room, pulled back the covers, and slid into bed next to him.  "It is the only way either of us will sleep," she whispered.


"Is this how you handle all your clients?" Will asked, halfway between tears and laughter.


"Of course.  I'm always jumping into bed with Geordi, and the captain.  Worf, too."


He pulled her close and Troi nestled against him, curling around him.  She opened one eye, and spotted the beat-up stuffed polar bear.  "You haven't introduced me."


"Deanna Troi, meet Josie, an old friend."


"Named after your mother?"


"Uh-huh.  They gave her to me at mom's funeral." 


Sensing another shift in emotion, Troi looked up at Riker's face.  Silent tears flowed down his cheeks.  Her own eyes were moist as her fingertips gently brushed his face.  "Will, in all the years I've known you, this is the first time I've ever seen you cry."


Riker's voice was unsteady, choked.  "Nobody's ever laid down next to me and just held me before."


Sadly, Troi rubbed her cheek against his chest.  "I am so sorry I didn't know about all this.  So many times, I would have been content to just hold you."


Riker took one last deep breath, reached down inside himself, and directed a thought at this special, precious person beside him.  "I love you."


A second later, his heart felt her soft, musical voice.  "I know, Imzadi.  I love you, too.  Sleep now."




Deanna woke, alone in the bed, stretched, and headed for the other room.  Will, still in his pajamas and robe, was seated at his desk, crouched over a computer padd.  He didn't notice her until she was less than a meter away.

"Uh, --- good morning," he said a bit uncertainly.


Troi smiled.  "Mind showing me what you've been writing?"


Riker moaned.  "It's really bad.  You know I'm lousy at this.  It sounds like something Data would write."


"I want to see it."


Fighting this sort of thing had never worked before, and certainly not in the last few days.  He held out the padd.


She read aloud:



Circles in the snow

the snows of long ago.

I remember the white and crusted woods

that day I stood in the snow

and swore I would survive this pain,

survive, and one day grow.


In time I learned to trade a grin

for a hollow sort of closeness.

Too far is lonely, too close is fear

and so I ran when I felt you near.


I never wanted you to know

about the circles in the snow

about the wounded child within

Would you still love me, if you ever met him?



Riker was genuinely embarrassed.  "It's not done.  I'll probably never finish it."  His face clouded.  "Deanna, it will be a long time before it's really finished, won't it?"


Troi knelt beside his chair, taking his hands in hers, her soul feeling his scars from the night before.  "It won't be all right tonight or even tomorrow.  But at least it's out in the open now.  At least you've started."  She smiled.  "Come on, let's get dressed.  We've got a planet to save."




The bridge crew was tense, focused, and leaning forward at their stations.


"Mr. LaForge, are the depth charges in place?" Riker asked.


LaForge turned away from the engineering station.  "Best as we can tell."


"Commander Urdu," Picard addressed the viewscreen, "are your people ready?"


"Yes, sir," Urdu replied, "and, Captain, whatever comes from this, we all want to thank you."


"Acknowledged.  Mr. Worf, target depth charges and activate energy beams, fifteen second blast."  And no one on Denali Two or the Enterprise took a breath for those fifteen seconds.


"Mr. Data, assessment!" Picard ordered.


Data scanned his console.  "Preliminary results indicate momentum is decreasing and plate interface is cooling.  The tremors have slowed by eighteen per cent.  I project they will cease within the hour."  He turned in his chair to face Picard.  "It appears we were successful."


A thunderous roar went up from the command center on Denali Two, with Urdu, Thalok, Booras, Sedna, and crew all cheering and slapping backs, and T'Paren --- was she smiling?


Riker slid a glance across to Troi.  One more duty still to perform.  "Commander Urdu, may I have a word with you, sir?  Privately?"




Troi tried to slow her breathing.  Air slowly in, air slowly out.  She used her carefully trained mental discipline to calm her heart rate and focus her thoughts.  She would need all her skills to see Will through the arraignment hearing.


Captain Picard sat at the head of the conference room table, with Dr. Ramirez just to his right.  He's not looking forward to this business, Troi thought.  She and Riker had filled the captain and Maria Ramirez in on the situation, and, as ranking officer present, it fell upon the captain to preside over the hearing.  He had expressed his concerns to Troi.  It would be difficult for even a consummate diplomat to remain impartial. 


Ramirez, for her part, was dealing with her own guilt as well as a fierce desire to see justice done.  The thought of this abuse going on, among the people she carried for, had both enraged and deeply horrified the colony psychologist.


Worf escorted Helen Sedna into the room and stepped back out into the corridor.  Sedna kept her sight on Picard, not making eye contact with Riker or any of the others.


Picard rose, and motioned her to a chair.  She remained standing, somewhat defiantly, as the captain formally spoke.  "Dr. Sedna, has my security chief informed you of your rights and the purpose of this hearing?"


"Yes" came the reply, a touch of annoyance in her voice. 


She's scared, Troi perceived.  She's scared and trying to cover it.


Picard continued, "And I understand you've waived your right to legal counsel?"


"Yes, of course.  I have nothing to hide."


Picard drew a deep breath.  "Dr. Helen Sedna, you are being charged with sexual assault to a minor child.  You will now hear the testimony against you. Upon hearing that testimony, I will decide if sufficient evidence exists to bind you over to the Judge Advocate General for trial.  We will hear the testimony against you at this time.  Commander Riker, please state the purpose of this hearing, the events you explained to me earlier."


Riker was in the corner of the room, as far from Sedna as space would allow.  His fear and pain felt like a certain multiplex knife in Deanna's heart. 


She can't hurt you now, Imzadi.  Say the truth. You can do it.


Riker started slowly.  "When I was a child, this woman looked after me, at my father's request."  He took a deep breath.  "And sometimes, --- many times, at night, she'd, she'd --- Riker turned to Sedna, defiance blazing in his eyes.  "You know what you did!"


"What did I do?"  Sedna sounded genuinely hurt and confused. 

Give me a break, Troi thought in disgust.


Riker glanced at the ceiling, but continued resolutely.  "I am referring to what happened when I was a child.  What you did to me."


Sedna shook her head.  "I knew your father, of course, and you.  That's a matter of record.  I helped your father take care of you for three years.  I don't understand what this is about, Willie."


Troi felt Riker's resolve slipping.  Don't drop it, Will.  Don't back down.  Get through this.


Riker stared her in the eye.  "Do I have to spell out all the gory details?  You would come into my room at night and ---"


Standing, Sedna took a couple of steps toward him.  "Willie!" she gasped. "What are you saying?  Why are you doing this?"  She paused.  "I remember that about you.  You always did let your imagination get the best of you."


Troi sensed something snap in Riker.  His eyes fixed on Dr. Sedna.  "You mean like Joey Carrilian?  I suppose he's imagining the landquakes are his fault?  Just like my mother's death and dad being gone so much being my fault?"


A moment of quiet followed.  The room crackled with tension.


Troi sensed Sedna's fear escalating to panic.  The woman approached Riker until she had him cornered.  "Will, you were a lonely little boy.  I don't understand.  You liked it when I held you.  With your mother dead and your father gone, you needed someone."  Sedna's voice was soft and soothing.


Troi felt Riker backing down again.  Come on, she silently urged.  You can do it, Will.  You know you're right.


Riker stared at the floor.  He was trembling, head to toe, but Troi wondered fleetingly if anyone else could see it.  "NO!" he exploded. "No, that's not going to work!  You can't convince me of that anymore!" 


He charged at her and she backed away, retreating behind Picard's chair. She turned to the captain, demanding,  "If I am in the hands of the law, let things be done in the legal way.  I should not be subjected to the insults of this person!"


"I've grown up!" Riker whispered, his voice harsh and dangerous as he fought for control.  "Joey Carrilian might not know how to fight you, but dammit, dammit, I do!  Tell me nothing happened with that boy!  I talked to him.  I saw it written all over his face and I damn well know who wrote it!"


The room was deathly still.  No one was breathing.


Deflating, Sedna slowly sank into a chair and sat motionless, expressionless, at the conference table. 

Troi stood by the windows, watching, while Riker circled the room, rage pounding out of every syllable, as he pulled the words from a throat raw with suppressed emotion,  "And I don't want to know how many there were between me and that boy.  But I do know this:  You will never, ever, ever, do this to anyone else, ever again."


Riker moved over to Troi, his neck and shoulders limp as he faced away from the stars and buried his face in his Imzadi's hair.


Sedna spoke again, low and threatening.  "You can't prove anything."


Picard turned to Ramirez.  "Doctor?"


Maria Ramirez stood and gave an account of her interviews with Joey Carrilian and his parents.  Riker kept his face hidden in Troi's ebony tresses, trying to close his ears and mind to the Denali Two psychologist's words.  Quietly, Ramirez finished her report and returned to her chair.


Picard broke the silence.  "Dr. Helen Sedna, based on the evidence presented here today, you are to be bound over to the Judge Advocate General, to stand trial for child assault on Joseph Anthony Carrilian.  Computer, end testimony."  Then Picard tapped his communicator.  "Mr. Worf?"


The Klingon appeared in the doorway, took Sedna by the arm, and silently led her out.  Picard and Ramirez quietly followed.


Deanna slipped behind Will, wrapped her arms around his waist, and whispered,  "It's going to get better now."


And for the first time, deep inside, he knew she was right.





Note:  Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, and Eris was the Greek goddess of strife.  Sedna was the name of an evil goddess of the ancient Eskimos.  When wronged or angry, she produced storms.



I would like to dedicate "CIRCLES IN THE SNOW" to three special friends of mine (they know who they are) whose courage and determination in overcoming the effects of child abuse provided the motivation for this story.