Author: Jana Wenzel (
Title: A question of the mind
Disclaimer: I don’t own a damn thing, even though I likely wanted to. All characters, names, rights etc. belong to Paramount. Don’t try, cause I don’t even have enough money to buy the fourth season on DVD. :-(
Summary: Everything should be fine, after Deannas and Wills reunion after the Briar Patch mission, but something is amiss and Paradise seems lost to the two Imzadi-bonded. On their new mission, they encounter a dangerous race, who teach them a lot about themselves and Deanna finds somebody, who will maybe separate her from her Imzadi forever...
Rating: NC-17 due to some fighting scenes and some more intimate encounters.
Authors note: This is my first story ever presented to anyone else, than myself. It is even my first story ever written totally from the beginning in English. I’m German, so please don’t look too closely at the grammaticals. I hope you enjoy yourselves and maybe give me a response to my story. Critics are appreciated. I’ve got a lot of stories in stock and if you like this one, maybe I’ll try and translate some of the others. Have a good time. ;-)

A question of the mind

Chapter 1
  It was about a year after the Briar Patch mission and the Enterprise E was being refitted in spacedock for their new mission. It was to be solely exploratory. The war with the Dominion had come to an end and the Federation was on search for new alliances. Now, that the Wormhole near Bajor was accessible again, the Enterprise was to explore the vast masses of unknown space in the Gamma-quadrant.
  All of the Crewmembers had got an extended shoreleave and Jean-Luc Picard had taken this chance, to visit his hometown La Barre in France. As Beverly Crusher did not know, what to do with her time, she accompanied him to the green slopes and hills of his homeland. When they arrived it was a short time, before the wine was to be brought in. Together they walked through the vineyards and plucked some of the ripe fruits.
“You know Jean-Luc. I believed they would have married until know.” Beverly managed to muffle around about three grapes. He nodded his head in agreement, chewed and spit the stones on the path.
“Yes. I thought so too. I’ve talked to Will about it but he did not seem very talkative.”
“Yeah, I saw that.” She chuckled and thought back to the last evening they all had been onboard the Enterprise. Guinan had given a little farewell-party and they all had waited for the moment, when Will would ask Deanna to marry him. But the moment had never come and the both of them seemed...frustrated. So Picard had talked with Riker about it in a private moment. Riker hadn’t taken it well at all. He had yelled at the Captain and told him it was none of his business. They had all been worried, but none of the two were ready to talk. Everybody on board had hoped, they would sort things out in their holidays, but they weren’t spending them together. In fact, Riker had rushed of to Risa, while she had travelled to her mother at warp nine.
“I wonder what’s wrong with them.” Picard surmised. Beverly nodded and ate another grape.
“I think we all want to know that, Jean-Luc. I can guarantee you; I won’t let her go that easily when I come to talk to her in private. I will drag all the nasty details out of her and then we two will see what we can do about these fools. What do you think?” She looked up at him with a wide roguish grin. He just smiled back and laid an arm around her.
“I think we should visit the nice little restaurant in Paris I told you about. Are you in?”
“As sure as hell!” Both went laughing down the path to the Picard residence.

Chapter 2
  Will Riker lay on his back and looked up, not really seeing the ceiling. What the hell was he doing here? He asked himself for the hundredth time. He should be with her, on Betazed. Damn it, he should have been married with her by now! What had gone wrong? What?!
  Someone stirred beside him and he closed his eyes and moaned. How could he have been so stupid?! He had hurt her, he knew he had. He could feel it, even know that she was light years away. She had wanted to talk to him the last week they had been on the Enterprise, before she went in for refit. He had avoided her and when they had talked, he stuck to business, rather than talk about their relationship or his feelings. She had caught him off-guard though one time. He had been training in the holo-gym and hadn’t put on the security lock. She went in, and heard him talk to himself, as was his habit, when he was alone and blew off some steam. What she had heard had never been for her ears to hear. When he had realised that she was there, it had already been too late. She had heard everything she needed to hear and had run off to her quarters. He had tried to contact her, to apologise, for what he’d said, but she wouldn’t listen. At last he’d got angry and bitter. And now he was here, instead of being with her and straighten everything out. God, he was such an idiot!
“Will, come here.” A woman whispered in his ear. He felt extremely guilty, when he felt a shiver run up his spine. Another pair of hands slid up his chest.
“Yeah Will. We’re not finished with you yet.” They dragged him down and covered his entire body with hot kisses. And even though he knew it was wrong, he gave in. He hurt so much and at least in these few moments, he could loose himself in the arms of these charming women. He would feel guilty beyond belief the next morning, but he didn’t care about that any longer when the kisses trailed longer south on his body...

  The sun began to rise over the city of El-Nar on Betazed and Deanna stood on one of the balconies when the sky turned from dark, velvet blue, to a light shade of pink and then becoming more red. She sighed and enveloped herself tight in a blanket. Why had she run? She should have stayed and talked to him, but what he’d said had hurt so much...When her mother had greeted her, she had instantly known there was something amiss. Of course! And after some minutes of prodding and probing she knew about everything that had happened. She had been infuriated and Deanna had just been able to keep her from calling Star Fleet and getting Will kicked out of the fleet. She shivered under the thick blanket and the chilly moistness of morning stole itself under her clothing. She hadn’t been able to sleep for the last days and she knew perfectly why. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw him and she ached to be with him, but he did not want to be with her. She sniffed back her tears and turned around. Her mother stood before her.
<You know, Little One, you shouldn’t be mourning for him like that. He obviously doesn’t know what he has with you and does not deserve your concern or anything else connected to a warm feeling.>
Deanna felt a lump rise in her throat and she suppressed the urge to scream and yell at her mother.
<He is just confused. We have yet another two weeks of shoreleave. He will come and talk to me and everything will be fine. You will see, Mother.>
She hated the uncertainty in her ‘voice’ but couldn’t help it. He had been so upset the last evening and he hadn’t even said good-bye when he left. Lwaxana draped her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and tried to comfort her. Softly she dragged her inside.
<Oh sweetheart, you know I only want the best for you and I can’t see that the best for you is to stand there every night and watch the sky.>
A tear ran down Deanna’s cheek, even though she had tried to stop that from happening.
<See there. The man you love shouldn’t make you cry, Deanna. He should comfort you and be there for you. Something Riker isn’t very good at. He never has been. I think this is the best what...>
“Just shut up Mother! Everything will work out fine! He will come! He will!” with that Deanna collapsed into a miserable heap on the thick Venarian carpet and wept fiercely. She didn’t care about her mothers attempts on soothing her. She just wanted him to step through the door at the end of the room, hear him say that he was sorry and that he loved her. She would forgive him everything and they would be married. She prayed to every god she knew about to let just that happen, but nothing happened. Under choking sobs she more crawled than walked to her bedroom.

  Deanna didn’t know how much time had passed, when she heard a soft knock on the door.
“Who is it?” she sniffed and rubbed her swollen eyes.
“It is me, Chandra. Is this a bad time? Shall I come back later?” She could clearly hear the concern in her friend’s voice. She raised herself from her bed and tried to prep up a bit.
“No, it’s all right. Come in.” She sat up and played with a lock of her hair.
Chandra Xerx’ head rounded her door and looked cautiously in. “You all right?” she asked. Deanna nodded and indicated for her to sit on the bed beside her. Chandra followed that.
<Dee, what is it? I could feel your distress from across town! Please tell me what is bothering you.>
Deanna wasn’t in the mood for soft, typical betazoid conversation. To talk about feelings and analyse them. She wanted to scream, yell and smash something against the wall! Chandra jerked back, when she felt the harsh emotions from her childhood friend, whom she thought she knew.
“What is bothering me?! This selfish, arrogant asshole! He is bothering me! I’ve taken more crap from him than any other woman would have and that’s how he thanks me for it!” Deanna trembled with all the emotions raging through her. The disappointment, the sorrow, the fury...but Chandra was just confused. The last time she had talked to Deanna, she had been full of joy and anticipation. She had waited for Deanna’s call, when she would tell her that she would get married. But now, it seemed all very distant to her.
“Deanna, do you mean Will?” Deannas blazing eyes were now focused on Chandra.
“Of course I mean Will!” she began to pace her room. “You know, everything seemed to go fine, after we returned out of the Briar Patch. It was just like we were young again. Do you remember when we first met here on Betazed?” a melancholic smile turned up Deanna’s lips and Chandra rolled her eyes. Of course she remembered. After her wedding Deanna wasn’t able to talk about anything else than a certain Lieutenant William Riker.
“Yeah, I remember.” she stroked some non-existent dust away.
“I mean, then he wasn’t much of a gentleman, but God! He was so passionate and when we were in the Briar Patch...” Her eyes grew distant and a smile twisted her lips. “Oh gods! I couldn’t get full nights sleep in about three months. We spent every free moment together and his kisses...let you forget every appointment you’ve got. And then his ideas for the nights...”
“Deanna! Hello! I’m not really here to listen to you, praising a man who has abandoned you. Look, your mother thinks you should meet some people and I agree with her. I give a party at my house in two days and you are invited.” She smiled and hoped for a yes. “I’ve invited the girls you know.” A smug grin appeared on both the women’s faces.
“Okay. Because of that and the old times, I will come. But don’t try to find me a ‘friend’ for the evening. Deal?” Chandra smiled, if a bit forced. She had already found an old friend, who had been in love with Deanna, when they all had attended the Betazoid University. Deanna had known and talked to him about it but he had never given up on her. He had been in at once, when Chandra had asked him to come.
“Deal. See you then.” She rose and was nearly out of the door, when Deanna spoke again.
“Say Alain I will be pleased to see him again but that I’m already in love with someone else.” Chandra sighed and nodded. To lie to an empath like Deanna was really difficult.

  He thrust his clothing into his suitcase. He had made his mind up. She needed him and he had been an idiot to ignore that fact. He looked around to see, if he’d got everything. It seemed so. They had his address and would send anything he might have forgotten. He closed his suitcase and fetched his jacket. His flight would leave in about ten minutes.
“Will. Are you leaving?” the two women who had ‘accompanied’ him yesterday stood in the doorway. He had no time for this and pushed past them.
“Sorry, but I don’t have time for this. My flight is leaving in about ten minutes.”
“Any Star Fleet emergency?” they both smiled and blocked the door. He pushed harshly past them.
“I’m sorry, ladies but I have to reach Betazed before this week is out. Someone special is waiting for me.”
“Maybe we should join you, Will. I heard Betazed is very beautiful.” He walked quickly but they followed him.
“No! I...I have to go alone. My fiancée-to-be is waiting there for me.” They both giggled.
“Well, tell her we took good care of you.” Furious he stalked down the hall and nearly ran out to the transportation pad.

Chapter 3
  The party was wonderful. Chandra had apologised for inviting Alain and making him hopes concerning Deanna. Even though Deanna had a nice evening with him and they danced often together. They were talking and having fun, just like it was when they’d been teenagers. It was getting late and many of the guests had already left.
<Dee, what is wrong? You seem happy but I can sense that there is something wrong.>
She sighed and turned her glass between her fingers. She looked down on them.
<It’s nothing Alain. My...I...God this is so stupid! My Imzadi and I...we’ve had some...problems. Nothing serious.>
<You can’t lie to me Dee. I’ve known you too long. And I...I...>
“Please Alain, don’t. You’d just feel sorry.” He nodded.
“Yes, I’m sorry. But I believe Riker doesn’t deserve such a charming person as you. I mean, where is he? If he loved you as much, as you claim, why isn’t he here to apologise?”
She rolled her eyes and sat back. Her patience concerning this subject was wearing thin. It seemed to her, as if everyone she knew had told her to abandon Will Riker.
“Listen! Will Riker is my Imzadi and I don’t want to hear anything like this from you or from anyone else! Anymore!” She had stood up, trembled slightly and clenched her fists. Hurriedly he stood up and touched her softly on the shoulder.

He enveloped her in his arms and drew her to him. She struggled only slightly. Why should she mourn? He had said so many things...She looked up into Alain’s eyes. He was so caring and she knew that he loved her. But it would be wrong. She was bonded to Will and she could never make Alain happy and she couldn’t be happy either. But his eyes were so caring and she ached so much...

Will had run all the way from the spaceport to the Troi villa. He hadn’t cared about the people. They must have thought he was mad and in a way they were right. When he reached the villa, it was night and near to midnight. He ran around the house and looked up to her window. It was dark. Should he go? No! Quickly he returned to the main entrance. Hard he rapped on the door. Nothing happened. No wonder. The rest of the house was dark too. He rapped again. He just wanted to repeat it, when the door opened and Mr. Homn stood before him in perfect clothing.
“Hello Mr. Homn. Please, is Deanna in? I need to talk to her.” Mr. Homn didn’t say a thing and Will rolled his eyes. He should have known! How was he supposed to find her now?
“Not at all!” he knew instantly who was talking to him from the authoritative ring of the voice. Mr. Homn stood aside and Will was confronted with a dishevelled Lwaxana Troi in a purple night-gown.
“Lwaxana please let me come in. I need to talk to Deanna. We...we had some problems when we left the Enterprise and I want to apologise.” She looked at him and it looked as if her eyes grew even darker.
“If you really have done, what I can read in your mind, she better never see you again.” He paled instantly.
“I...I...” He felt guilty and somewhat...empty. “Lwaxana I know, I have made an immense mistake but I want to make it up for Deanna. She has suffered enough already and I want to make her happy for the rest of her life.” She stopped his speech by raising her hand.
“Spare me your heroic speeches. In this instant Chandra is making sure, Deanna meets a man, who really cares for her wellbeing.”
He stared at her with wide eyes. Something made click in his head, he spun around and ran. Chandra! He knew where she lived. Her father, Gart, had invited him after he’d rescued her from the Sindareen attack on the museum.

  Deanna shivered and Alain drew her even closer. She pressed her hands against his chest.
<Please Alain. I can’t. My Imzadi and I need to sort things out. If we would pursue a relationship, it would be a lie! I could not live with that and you couldn’t do that either.>
He closed his eyes and placed his head against hers.
<Please Deanna. I know we could be great together. I would make you happy and you would never have to care about anything.> She shook her head and tried to untangle herself from his embrace.
“No, I can’t.”, she pressed harder, but he didn’t release her. She felt more and more uncomfortable. She wanted Will to come and help her. Alain was a good friend, but she did not love him. “Please, Alain!”
“Deanna!” At first she thought his voice was just her imagination but then she heard it again. “Deanna!”
It was Will! Oh my God, he was here! She tried to look around. There he was! It wasn’t a dream. Oh, it was so good to see him again and she had ached to feel him again in her mind.
<Imzadi!> He looked in her direction and smiled broadly. Then he saw what situation she was in. Instantly he crossed the room and pulled her away from Alain. He again, looked furiously at Riker. Chandra came to them and she tried to ease the situation.
“Please, there is no need to be upset.” She stepped between the two men. She could feel the competition between them and the subject of this fight was...Deanna. She clung to Will and looked lovingly up at him. He looked down at her, enveloped her in his arms and leaned down to kiss her.
“I’ve missed you so, Imzadi.” He whispered. She sighed and felt her heart rise with love. He had missed her! He had come back! She could feel the love emanate from him and envelope her in wonderful warmth.
  Before they could kiss, a rather haphazardly clothed Lwaxana Troi entered the room.
<Little One, no! Don’t! You have to know what he’s done in the time you were separated.>
And with that, she began to send all what she had discovered about Wills excursion to Risa. How he had betrayed Deanna with two other women on several occasions.
  Will knew instantly that Lwaxana was communicating with Deanna, when she went rigid in his arms. Concerned he looked down at her and wasn’t really sure, what Lwaxana was telling her. He saw a tear run down her cheek and he knew. Angry he looked at Lwaxana.
“I wanted to tell her myself, Lwaxana! I wanted to explain.” Chandra stood behind Lwaxana and looked at him full of disgust. Deanna was one of her closest friends. To see her being hurt by the man she loved more than anything just made her tremble with rage. Alain had the same feeling. He had loved Deanna since he saw her the first time and to see her hurt by this...this human bastard was more than he could take. He could clearly ‘see’ all the nasty details, thanks to Lwaxanas high telepathic abilities. He tore Deanna from Rikers arms and hit him square in the face.
“You garnolian slug! How could you do something like this, even though you had her love? How? How could you abandon a woman like her? But it’s no wonder, is it? Humans do not know, what it means to really love someone!” Riker snatched Alains shirt and drew him up to his level.
“Don’t ever tell me something about love!” He managed to press out between clenched teeth. He felt so humiliated by what Lwaxana had done and he was frightened what would happen now. Now that Deanna knew. “I’ve tried to gather enough courage for over twenty years to ask her to become my wife! She is the most wonderful woman in the universe and you can’t even in your dreams imagine how god damn it frightens me! In my entire life, I haven’t felt so strong for another person. I love her and I will make it up to her.”
“Will.”, they both turned around when they heard Deannas voice. Tears were running freely down her cheeks and the hurt in her eyes made Will's heart skip more then just one beat.
“How could you, Will? How could you do this to me?” He reached out to her but she took a step back. The wish to kiss him had vanished totally. Now she only wanted to hit him. But that feeling also vanished when she looked into his eyes and saw the distress in them.
“Please Deanna, I can explain it all. I...was hurt know how bad I am with expressing my feelings...” It all seemed so hollow. His explanations only a bad excuse. She sniffed and swallowed.
“I don’t want to hear anything from you again, okay? I’m...finished with you.” The last sentence she nearly whispered.
  But for Will it sounded as if a thousand Deannas would scream it at him. He felt like his entire world shattered into a thousand pieces and now only consisted of these four words. She pushed around him and headed for the door. Will stood paralysed in the Xerx’ living room and stared out before him. She...she had gone. It was over. And again it was his fault. He had spoiled it all! He!
“No.”, he whispered and tears ran down his face. “I...I can explain.” His voice was merely audible. “I love you, Imzadi.” His voice roughened with his tears.
  Chandra stared at Riker. His anguish, his hurt...She could understand that Deanna had fallen in love with him. She had never thought him able of so strong feelings. She could sense that Alain was as stunned as she was. Lwaxana had left with Deanna. She looked back at Riker. His chest began to heave in spasmodic sobs.
  No! No, she could not leave him. She hadn’t left him. She would never. She...she loved him. And they were Imzadi. She couldn’t. She just couldn’t. No, no!
“Imzadi! No!!” He collapsed into a sobbing heap on the carpet floor.
  <Oh, Little One! I’m so proud of you!> Lwaxana send to her daughter who seemed to be unaware of her presence. She stepped up to her daughter. <Little One?> She reached out to touch her.
“No mother! Leave me alone. If you wouldn’t have interfered, Will would have talked to me. I know. You spoiled it all and you’ve reached your goal. You separated my Imzadi and me. I hope you are happy now.” Silent she walked down the street and Lwaxana had the feeling her heart was being squeezed hard. Had she done the right thing? She only wanted to protect Deanna. Didn’t she understand?!

Chapter 4
  Picard walked onto the spacestation and breathed in deeply the distinct air of a spaceborne facility. It felt good to be in space again. Beverly had liked to stay a bit longer in France but he had made it up to her with some bottles of wine. He had also extended his stock on the Enterprise with some of his personal favourites. He had also the feeling that things between him and Beverly had progressed. Because of that, there was a little spring in his step. He wanted to examine the ship, before he took it out into the gamma-quadrant. The chief-engineer of the refit station greeted him at the airlock.
“Welcome Captain Picard. I hope you’re in for a surprise?” The tall woman smiled and opened the airlock. Picard returned her smile and nodded.
“I am. I hope you have taken good care of the Enterprise, Commander Nuriel.” They shook hands and walked onto the ship.
“Hey! Wait for me!” Someone shouted and they both turned around. Riker walked up to them and gave them a lopsided grin. “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t sleep very well.” Picard nodded and reached out for his second-in-command.
“No problem, Number One. You came in time. Commander Nuriel was just about to show us some surprises she has installed on our ship.”
Riker flashed one of his famous smiles at Nuriel, who returned his broad smile and extended her arm.
“Please. You have a lot to see.”

  Deanna yawned and stretched. She hadn’t slept well and had stood up early. The time until Beverly came for breakfast, she had spent with reading the files on the new crewmembers. She had been surprised to read the name Xerx on one of the charts. But had been twenty years. Chandra had been pregnant when she had married. Nothing could be seen at the time but Deanna knew. She could feel it. Chandra knew it too but wanted to surprise her parents and her husband. He would work in engineering with Geordi and she intended to visit him once or twice. She was sure that he would keep in touch with his mother and this gave Deanna a good possibility to keep better in touch with Chandra. Her door chime craved her attention. She rose, rubbed her eyes a last time and then answered the call.
“Come in!” As she had suspected it was Beverly. A broad grinning Beverly. Deanna could feel her friend had something important to say.
“Beverly? What happened to you?” She quickly walked in and took Deannas hands.
“Oh Dee! It was so wonderful in La Barre! Jean-Luc can be so gentle and...emotional! He is hopelessly romantic you know.” Her eyes glittered with excitement and they sat down at the breakfast table.
“You seem to have had a very good time, Bev. Please! Tell me more.” Deanna sipped some of her coffee.
“Oh no! If I begin, I will get lost and then we will have no time to talk about you and Will. I hope you have sorted things out, because I already have bought a wedding gift for you and Will. You don’t know how difficult...” Her voice trailed of when she saw Deannas face. She had gone pale and rigid. She sat totally still.
“ haven’t talked, haven’t you?” Beverly felt concern and agitation. Something was seriously wrong.
“Dee? Dee, what happened?” She rose and knelt down beside Deanna’s chair. A tear ran down Deanna’s cheek.
“He...he flew to Risa. I went home to Betazed. My mother and Chandra tried to convince me I should not wait for him. They tried to bring me together with an old friend, Alain, who was in love with me, since we met for the first time. We were on a party. Alain and I were one of the last there. He tried to kiss me and convince me, he was the right man for me. Then Will came. I was so happy to see him again and all my anger towards him had gone. I knew everything would be alright.” She sniffed and tried, without luck, to hold back her tears. “Then my mother came and showed me, in every detail, what Will had done on Risa.” Beverly’s eyes grew large.
“No!” She whispered. “No, he couldn’t. He would never...” But Deanna confirmed her worst fears by simply nodding in agreement.
“He...would have told me himself. Would have apologised but Bev! Two women! We were only separated for about a week! How could he so easily forget?” Beverly shook her head, folded her arms around Deanna’s neck and drew her close to comfort her.
“Oh Dee, I’m so sorry!” And she had been ranting about her holiday with Picard!

  Riker looked full of awe up the altered warp core. Several new components had been added. He prodded to one of the gel packs in a slack.
“Hey! Careful! That’s not something to play with, Commander.” Nuriel warned Riker. Picard grinned at him, rolled his eyes and mouthed ‘Women’. Riker waited until Nuriel turned to explain something else and then grinned at Picard and nodded. She turned around and looked at the two men. She flashed them a lopsided grin and planted her hands on her hips.
“I think there is something going on. Something chauvinistic. Don’t you think so too?”
Both looked at each other exceedingly innocent.
“No!” “Never!” They both said in unison. Nuriel laughed and motioned for them to follow her.
“The new components are mostly organic. They ensure a faster and surer way to control the matter-antimatter injection. The new components have near to nothing in common with the old ones and I will need a second chief-engineer.”
Picard and Riker had the same thought.
“Geordi won’t like that at all.” Riker voiced the thought. Picard just nodded. Nuriel shrugged.
“No matter if he likes it or not, he will have to accept it. A special trained engineer has been assigned to your ship. He just left Academy and might be a bit...enthusiastic.” They all chuckled and continued their tour through the ship.
  After about four hours Nuriel left, to continue with the last touches of her work. Picard had beamed the wine aboard and was now carrying it with Riker to his quarters.
“You know, Number One. Before we go on our next mission, I would like to have an evening together with you, Beverly and Deanna. We have more than enough wine for that.” His grin disappeared, when he saw Rikers eyes. Picard waited until they had entered his quarters. He set the wooden case on his dinner table and turned to Will.
“Either you haven’t talked to her or you have done something exceedingly stupid.” Riker drew in a deep breath and sat down on one of Picards chairs.
“The second one is the right one. I...rushed of to Risa instead of talking to her and there...I met two...” Picard thrust his arms to the ceiling.
“You idiot! I can’t believe this!” He sat down opposite Riker, who raked his hair.
“I know, I know. I’ve said this often enough to myself.”
“I think of you and Deanna as two of my dearest friends. I wish for you only the best and trust me; I will try everything to get you two together again. It has been to damn long. I will talk to her for you and make it clear, that you”- he punched Riker in the chest -“are a damned idiot and that you are totally lost without her. Or do you disagree?”
Riker shook his head. “No. You’re right.” Picard placed a hand affectionately on Rikers shoulder.
“I’m angry at you but I can also understand your feelings. It is a long mission and we have a lot of time to set things right.” He patted Rikers shoulder a last time and began then to store the wine.

Chapter 5
  “No way, sir!” Geordi planted his hands firmly on the conference table. His eyes flashed with anger.
“I have studied the new components all of my holiday and I will have no problems dealing with them. I don’t need an over-enthusiastic Ensign to scuttle around me and make suggestions!” He fumed. Nobody had told him about this. He was skilled to deal with the new situation. Hell! He had spent his whole vacation on learning about the new components and now he got to know, it wouldn’t have been necessary! He had even turned Leah Brahms down more than one time because of that!
“I know Geordi. This was a surprise to me too. I have full trust in you and your abilities but it is Star Fleet issue concerning the new developments. One engineer for the organic components and one for the technical ones. Your new partner is a certain...Ensign Taril Xerx. He’s betazoid.” Picard laid the PADD down and looked at his chief-engineer. He again thrust his arms to the ceiling.
“Oh great! A betazoid? This will be fun. He will stand beside me and analyse every thought I might get. Captain, I object. This will never work. Data is as good a second chief-engineer as this boy could ever be. He has much more experience and has already worked with those materials. He himself consists of some organic components! Hell Captain! Why not him?”
“I don’t understand either, Mr. La Forge, but my orders are clear. We have no other choice than to accept Star Fleet orders and do the best we can. Counsellor Troi is also betazoid and you feel rather comfortable around her, don’t you? Make this young man feel at home Geordi. As I have heard, it is his first deep space assignment. No need to make him more nervous.”
Geordi nodded in defeat. He could understand the Captain. This had all been set by Star Fleet Command a long time ago and he couldn’t alter it now anymore.
“Yes, sir. I will do my best.” He nodded to his Captain and gathered his PADD up from the table.
“I know you will, Geordi. We will clear the dock at 0800 tomorrow morning.” Geordi acknowledged the order with a wave of his hand and disappeared into the turbolift. Picard sat back in his chair and chuckled. Oh my! Ensign Taril Xerx would get a rocky start.

  Deanna sat in her office and was doing some paperwork, when the door chime sounded. Confused she looked up. She had no appointments for the next six hours. It chimed again. Quickly she straightened her composure and centred herself.
“Come in.” The doors opened and revealed a large, handsome, young blond man with a wide grin on his face. With a smile Deanna rounded her table.
<Taril! It’s so good to see you again. Last time I saw you, you had just finished High School.> He stepped inside and gave her a hug.
<Aunt Deanna! I’m sorry for not calling you more often, but the studies at the Academy...>
<Can keep you busy. I know, I know. Please, sit down. We haven’t talked in such a long time.>
They sat down on her couch and talked about this and that. About Chandra, Tarils father, his brothers and sisters and his excitement about being second chief-engineer on the Enterprise. The flagship of the Fleet. They sat there and talked for nearly two hours, before the door chime again sounded. Deanna wasn’t confused this time. The day was turning out to get better and better and she wondered who would come through this door and make it even better.

  Will had a long time thought about how to make it up to her. He had had a long talk with Picard the other night. His mentor had made it clear that he was furious about Wills behaviour towards Deanna and that he better think of something really good to make it up to her. He had thought about that a lot and had come to a solution. He wanted to introduce this solution as quickly as possible. He wouldn’t accept that Deanna had said it was over. No! He could feel her stronger than ever over their bond and he wanted her to know that he loved her and wanted her to be happy.
  He had looked over her schedules for today and knew she had more than enough time to talk to him today. After shore leave the most crewmembers didn’t need counselling and she had a lot of free time. He stood in front of her door and breathed deeply.
“Okay Will! You can do this. You have to straighten that out and if it should take all your pride and dignity, so be it!” He nodded to himself and then pressed the doorplate, to let her know he was there. It was only a short time, before she replied. He walked in and already wanted to begin to talk, when he saw that she had a visitor. He stopped dead in his tracks. He didn’t know what to say. He had expected her to be alone.
“I...I...I thought you would be alone. I mean...I...” He dropped of, when he saw her expression cool. When he’d come in, she had been smiling and it had lifted his heart to see her like that but now she just seemed to be blank.
“Commander, what a pleasant surprise.” Her voice was cold and neutral and condemned her sentence a lie.
“May I introduce you to our new second chief-engineer, Ensign Taril Xerx.” Rikers gaze snapped from her to the young man sitting beside her. He looked angry back at the Commander. Of course he knew. Chandra or more likely Lwaxana must have told him what had happened.
<Shall I stay, Aunt Deanna. I believe when I’m here, he will not try anything. He’s to much a coward!>
She looked directly at Taril and slowly shook her head.
<It’s okay Taril. You have yet to talk to Commander La Forge. He will not hurt me physically. I can take care of myself. And besides, he and I have to work close and it is best if we clear this here and now.>
Taril nodded, but was still very uneasy. She gave him a hug and send him on the way with a gentle nudge.
  When the door hissed shut behind him, an awkward silence entered the room. Will did not know what to do with his hands and he was very nervous. He clenched them into fist and unclenched them again, because of the sweat. Deanna just stood there, opposite of him and stared.
“I think ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough to make it clear to you, how much I regret what happened.” He began. She said nothing and merely looked at him. He shifted his weight uncomfortably from one foot to another.
“I...I...” He closed his eyes and sighed. “Deanna I love you and I want to ask you with all my heart just to give me another chance! I know I don’t deserve one but if you just finish it like this, without letting me try apologise something else for you that could make all of it up to you...You would kill me Deanna.” He stepped closer up to her. “Maybe not right away, but I would die. One bit at a time, until nothing of me would be left.” He took her hands in his. They were icy cold. He gently rubbed them. All the time he looked at his boots. He hadn’t enough courage to meet her eyes.
“I don’t want you to just forget what happened. You have every right to be upset and angry with me, but I beg you! Let me try to make it up to you! Please Deanna! Imzadi!”
She hit him. Hard. Disbelieving he looked up at her and saw the tears running down her cheeks. He didn’t know if this was good or bad. She trembled and he could see the searing rage in her eyes.
“Don’t you ever again dare to call me that! You lost that privilege on Risa, when you cheated on me!” Roughly she brushed away the tears. He cringed when she mentioned Risa. He opened his mouth, but she poked him in the chest hardly and her eyes were looking directly into his soul.
“You never loved me as much as you always claimed. If you would have, then you wouldn’t have been able to do this to me. You would never even have considered it! You may desire my body, the sex we had, but you do not love me.”
  It hit him deep that she thought he didn’t love her, because he did. Fiercely. He couldn’t sleep; he ate near to nothing and was often distracted. Picard had already reprimanded him more than once because of this lack of concentration. Tears stung his eyes and he felt empty, hollow and as if a hand had just ripped out his heart and now squeezed it right in front of his eyes. He tried to suppress these feelings but they were to strong. “I think I better go now.” He managed to say, before he rushed through the door and to his quarters, where he once again began to cry fiercely. She would never come back. He had screwed it again and now he would be alone forever!
  Deanna lowered herself onto her couch, because she wasn’t sure her legs would support her. Why had she said such cruel things to him? She could sense that he loved her and how sorry he was. But he just couldn’t come, tell her some sweet things for her to hear and then return to how it had been, as if nothing had happened. No. She trembled and felt very cold.

Chapter 6
  The next morning all senior officers were on the bridge to witness, as the Enterprise again took flight to unknown space. Normally there would be chatting and joking after such an event but the atmosphere on the bridge was very close to chilly. News travelled on a ship with warp speed and by now everyone knew that the relationship between the Counsellor and the Commander had gone somewhere seriously wrong. Some said it was his fault. Others believed that she had screwed it. The few who knew all the details kept them to themselves.
  Picard settled into the centre chair and glanced to each side. He was sure Riker believed he was not being watched, because he looked at Deanna with so much longing and hurt. He knew they had talked to each other yesterday. It had been his advice to Will. Maybe not so good an advice anyway. It didn’t seem to have become better but even worsened. If that was even possible. He glanced over at Deanna. She worked at a PADD and seemed not to see Riker looking at her. But he had been wrong. Just when he wanted to turn his gaze back to the viewscreen, she lifted her eyes and looked directly at Will.
  Her eyes had always been dark but now they seemed even darker to Picard. To say her gaze was unfriendly and cold was making the Arctic a tropical jungle. He saw to his first officer. Poor lad! He really had screwed things and Deanna wasn’t going to make it easy for him. That was, if she was ever to take him back. That was the thing Picard feared the most. Will had finally come to terms with his emotions towards this woman and if she now abandoned him…he was sure Will would commit suicide. They had gotten so close.
  He saw how Riker no longer could look into Troi’s eyes, bit his lower lip and looked down at his own station. Picard sighed. No, she was going to make him pay. Hard.

  She sighed relieved, when she was able to leave the bridge for one of her first assignments. He had looked at her all the time and it wasn’t easy for her to stay so cool towards him. Apart from everything else, he was her Imzadi. She stepped out of the turbolift and walked down towards her office. She didn’t want to think about it. He had screwed things the last time! She was finished with him! Yes! She would move on now! If it wasn’t for his eyes and the way he looked at her, when they were alone…No!
Hell! He had fucked two other women while he was only one week away from her! Or…maybe it had been her fault…Maybe she hadn’t been able to give him what he needed. She hadn’t felt good some weeks earlier. Before the Enterprise went into spacedock. This feeling of illness hadn’t stopped even now. She thought it had been the stress and the anticipation for Will to ask her to marry him. But that was no longer an issue and she still felt ill.
  With a sigh she stepped into her office and sat at her desk. No more thoughts like that, Dee! You are ships counsellor and supposed to help others with their problems. You can later on talk with Bev about your own problems, but not now.
  She looked on her schedule and saw a tiresome hour ahead. Lieutenant Railington and her husband were coming for marriage guidance. Not really something for her to start with. She straightened her back and breathed deeply. She was ships Counsellor and she would do her duty.

  Riker went over to one of the science stations. He needed some time for himself. In his seat he felt too much on display. Nobody sat at the station and he initiated a totally unnecessary sweep of the area. He could sit in silence and brood.
  She wasn’t going to make it easy. He still felt shivers run down his spine, when he thought about the way she had looked at him. He had felt relieved when she left the bridge and on the other hand he felt…alone. He wanted her near him, but if he was near her, his conscience would nearly kill him. He raked his fingers through his hair. He wished more than anything to be able to go back in time and stop all this from happening. He hadn’t slept for three nights now and it began to show. He had black rings around his eyes and he felt utterly fatigued but every time he closed his eyes for a longer period of time he saw Deanna stand in front of him, crying and leaving, saying it was over and that she hated him. That they no longer were Imzadi.
  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone move up to him. It was Data. He closed his eyes and sighed deeply. He had no intention of explaining anything to the android, but he knew how persistent his yellow-golden friend could be.
“Can I help you, Commander?” Data asked politely. Riker only shook his head.
“No, Data. Only if you could turn back time, but I think that’s even impossible for you.”
Data nodded in his a bit stiff way.
“That is right, sir. Although I see that you are not well. I think of myself as a friend of you and because of that I would like to inquire if I could be of any help to you in your current distress?”
At least some constants were still present in his universe. Data was as formal and correct as ever. With a small smile he turned his gaze up to the android.
“I’m sorry, Data, but I believe you can do nothing for me.” Data eyed him and then lay his head on one side, just like an interested bird.
“You do not look well, Commander. Maybe you should see Doctor Crusher.” He suggested. With a melancholic smile Will answered: “What I need, I can’t get from Doctor Crusher.” Puzzled Data drew up his eyebrows. With a smile Riker looked up at him.
“Thank you, Data. I appreciate your concern, but I have to straighten that out myself.” He gave the android a comradely slap on the shoulder. Data stayed next to the science station and watched, as Commander William Riker stepped onto a turbolift and left the bridge long before his duty was at an end.
“Interesting.” Commented Data and returned to his station.

  For the rest of the journey to Deep Space Nine Deanna avoided Riker as much as she could. When she had to work with him, she always wanted to do it in a public place, like the bridge or Ten Forward. He wasn’t comfortable with that at all. By now all of the crew had somehow found out how he had betrayed Deanna and he was sure he could thank Taril Xerx for that. The crew pierced him with their glares and many of his friends avoided him or didn’t even any longer talk to him.
  One Friday, it was Poker night, no one came. Now he felt totally alone and abandoned. Nobody wanted to talk to him as a private person. If anybody talked to him, they always did with ships business in mind. Never a private issue. He felt hurt beyond belief that his best friends now also turned their backs on him. He could understand Deanna and he could also understand Beverly’s somewhat icy attitude towards him, but hell, Geordi? Daniels? Even Data! He decided to clear things up. One for one. And he decided to start with Geordi.

  “No, no, no! We can’t skip the maintenance. It’s already overdue!”
“I know, sir. But, in order for this warpcore to function within Starfleet parameters, I need to let it run at maximum until we reach Deep Space Nine.”
Geordi couldn’t believe it. This kid was so much by the book; he could recite nearly every page of the warptechnicians handbook!
“God! We’re out in space here! This is no goddamn’ simulation! This is real! I don’t care what Starfleet regulations say about this, but I have to shut that down and send my men into the Geoffries tubes, okay? And if I don’t do this, this whole damn’ place may blow up right around us! So get lost and don’t come with any more Starfleet rules! This is deep space travel and no Academy simulation!”
Frustrated and angered he left an intimidated Ensign Taril Xerx in the middle of Engineering. All the other officers had stopped in their work, to observe the heated discussion between the two. Now many of them turned with smiles back to their work.
  Taril breathed deeply. He hadn’t thought it would be so difficult. He had soon discovered many things were different when you actually went on a deep space mission rather than just exit the holodeck at the Academy. He looked up at the huge warpcore. Commander La Forge had a very personal connection to it. He knew one of the constructers personally and had many times altered the core, so as to save the Enterprise or just to get more power out of it. He was a leading expert on warpcore propulsion and he…who was he? An ensign, fresh from the Academy, still green behind the ears and here he stood and wanted to say to Commander La Forge how he should do his work!  In awe he put his hand on the matter/antimatter mixture chamber. He could feel it vibrate with energy. He sighed. No, it wasn’t easy, but in time he would do it. He would get the respect of La Forge and from the others in Engineering. It only needed time. Confused he looked up and scanned the room. His face took on a grim look, when he discovered Commander William Riker.

  Riker looked around the room and when he couldn’t see Geordi, he walked directly for the Chief Engineers office. There he sat behind his desk and prepared to shut off some main systems. Riker went into the office and shut the door with one of his personal codes. Puzzled Geordi looked up at him.
“What’s that for?” He asked and the maintenance was forgotten, when he looked into Riker’s eyes. Will placed his hands on Geordi's desk and looked him in the eye.
“Geordi, please tell me, you don’t hate me!” Now La Forge was all the more puzzled.
“Why should I hate you? Oh…The poker game! Ah, well…Leah called and we had a chat. A rather long one. Sorry, I just forgot.” Riker nodded.
“And so did Data, Daniels, Beverly and Deanna.” Geordi’s eyes widened.
“They all didn’t show up?”
“None of them and don’t pretend that you do not know. I bet that Xerx boy told you right away, what happened between me and Deanna.” Geordi flinched.
‘Caught.’ He thought. “Well, I’m not going to say he didn’t but I told him I wanted to hear both sides of the story. I just got what he had from Lwaxana and I mean she’s not really neutral in this now, is she?”
Slowly Will sank into a chair and covered his eyes with his palms, as he silently chuckled.
“One could say that.” He sighed deeply.
“Geordi, I don’t know what to do! I love her and I can’t live without her anymore. Please! Help me!” He nearly fell on his knees before La Forge.
“Whoa! Slow down now! You, ask ME what to do, to get a woman back?! Oh, wait a moment! I need to get my calendar and make three big X’s. Will-the Thrill-Riker asks Geordi-the Looser-La Forge for help! My.”
Riker flinched in his chair.
“I would never call you that Geordi and you know that. Deanna doesn’t want even talk to me in private any more. If I try, she just rants on with something about ships business or an appointment she has. I’ve tried to invite her to dinner, so that we could talk in private, but she didn’t even answer!”
Geordi looked at his friend for up to twelve years now. He had always seen him as a happy, self-confident, ambitious man. And with the Counsellor…He had never experienced true love fully, but he thought his two friends had. He had been so happy to see them together after the Ba’Ku mission and now…everything seemed so wrong. Especially Riker’s whole attitude. He had rings around his eyes, looked fatigued and was depressed. He even saw a tear slip down his cheek. That alarmed him the most. Riker was not a man, who cried in public!
“I don’t know what to do Geordi. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat; the Captain has already reprimanded me twice for lack of concentration and that only today. I’m at the end…She really meant it, when she said she was finished with me.” He sounded like all his spirit and even his will to live had left him. With eyes full of tears and sorrow he looked at Geordi.
“Deanna has become my life. I don’t know how to continue without her.”
  Geordi sat stunned. Shit! Why him? Couldn’t he have gone to the Captain? He always knew what to say, but Geordi was at a total loss.
“Ahm…I…I believe everything will work out, Will. Don’t worry. She loves you too much to send you to hell. Even if you did what I heard what you did. But she will not make it easy for you, what I can understand. You have to give her time to think and room to breathe. In time she will come to you to talk. You’ll see.” There! That sounded good. Not too optimistic, but not too bad too. Just vague enough. He saw a spark of hope ignite in Riker’s eyes.
“Do you really think that?” Riker sniffed and brushed the tears off his face. With a soft smile Geordi nodded and added in a low tone of voice.
“I do not just think that, I know it! Just give her time.” Both men stood. None of them looked at each other. With one step Riker was in front of Geordi and hugged him hard. They both clapped each others back. Quickly they parted and looked around if anyone had seen their embrace.
“Yeah, bye.” Both said, without looking at each other and then parted each on their own business.

Chapter 7
  The stop at Deep Space Nine was rather brief. They only took some extra replacement-parts on board and some new crewmembers, which completed the crew. Now they were fit to enter the wormhole and look what was out there.
  Picard stood, when they were approaching the wormhole. With wonderment he stared at the swirling colours and smiled broadly.
“Magnificent!” He whispered. Beverly sat in the guest chair, near the command centre and smiled. He was one of the most experienced men she had ever known and yet he looked like a little boy in a candy shop at the sight of the opening wormhole. Deanna was there too and for the first time in many days, Beverly saw a relaxed smile on her lips, as she looked into the swirling colours. Her gaze came to rest on Commander Riker. The look on his face, as he saw Deanna smile…She wouldn’t have believed he had cheated on Dee, if she hadn’t told her so herself. Such a pity! But men! What could a woman do? She had seen how the crew reacted to the Commander and she had stopped playing hard on him. She felt she didn’t need to, now that everyone did it. And he seemed to regret what happened with all of his heart. Jean-Luc had even talked with her about confining him to his quarters until he got some sleep. He looked like hell!
  Again she looked back to Deanna. She didn’t look good either. Maybe she should take the monthly medical check-ups a little early. It would be the best for the both of them. But right now, she only wanted to enjoy the sight. With a huge smile Picard turned towards her and she could feel how it lifted her heart. There was something in his eyes…A certain glint. She couldn’t help but smile back at him and feel a little giddy.
“We are now right on the cusp of the wormhole, Sir.” A young ensign at the helm broke the magic moment. Instantly Picard fell back in his old role as ships captain.
“Take us in, Ensign. One quarter impulse.” And with that the Star ship Enterprise entered the wormhole and flew to new areas in space, where no man had gone before them.

  With a sigh of contentment Picard settled into his chair. He was happy to be out here once again. After the Dominion Wars his missions had all too often been rather dull. Negotiations here, a diplomatic occasion there. But that, what they were doing right now, venturing into unknown space, was, what had drawn him to Starfleet when he had been a young man. He looked to his right. Riker looked not as harassed as he had the last few days. Maybe he had taken him up on his advice, to get something from Beverly to let him sleep. He shook his head minimally, so the rest of the bridge crew wouldn’t notice.
Will was the son he’d never had and Deanna…well, she was also like a daughter he never had. And now to see the two of them suffer so much. He hated it! He could beat Riker on the head again and again for what he’d done, but on the other hand, he felt that he had to help him in his distress. Nobody else did. Of course he had seen the reaction of the crew towards the normally well-liked Commander. Even Beverly would not talk to him, if it wasn’t concerned with ships business. He was the only one, who talked to Will in private. Nearly every evening Will sat in Picard’s quarters, got drunk on Synthehol, wished for real alcohol and then stumbled home. It couldn’t continue like this and something had to be done. Fast.
“Sir, we have passed the wormhole and are now en-route to the first set of coordinates, which will bring us to the border of explored space.” The Ensign at the helm reported and ripped Picard out of his brooding. He nodded.
“Good. Let us get on the way with warp 6. I’m in my ready room. You have the command Number One.” With that he rose and left the bridge. Riker nodded and took his place in the centre chair.

  He didn’t dare look at her. Her icy stare was on him, every time they had a senior staff meeting and it was always nearly too much for him to take. She never smiled when he was near and he longed so much to see her smile and laugh again. He had even considered leaving the Enterprise, so that she could at least be happy in her job without running into him and be reminded of what he’d done to her. He sighed and scrolled back on the PADD to the parts he had missed, according to his brooding. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Deanna. She was leaning slightly forward and her long hair cascaded down over her shoulders. He ached to touch it and smell her distinct shampoo. Nobody else he ever knew used it. It smelled a bit of flowers and something else, he never had been able to pinpoint exactly. His eyes grew distant and a slight smile lighted up his face, as he thought about the last time they had been together. Their lovemaking hadn’t been so fierce like it had been all the times before, but much more tender and romantic.
  He recalled every detail as had it been yesterday. The evening had started with a candlelight dinner he had cooked himself. They fed each other from the others fork and looked into the others eyes all along. When they had been finished he had removed everything from the table except the candles. Then he had reduced the light, until the candles were the only light source. He had wanted to sit down and cuddle with her, but she had had other plans. She asked him to dance with her and he gladly agreed. They danced through his quarter to a slow tango and he drew her close to him. He breathed in her scent deeply and revelled in her presence. Not only physically, but also in his mind.
  She had started to nibble at his neck and the places of his chest, his shirt did not cover. He closed his eyes and bowed his head down to her. Their mouths met and the kiss they shared…It was one of the most erotic moments in his life and it had only been a kiss! They brought wonderful plunder to each others mouths a long time, before they even considered taking of their clothes.
  As Riker slipped deeper and deeper into his memories, reality around him sank into nothingness. He only revelled in the memories of touching Deanna’s skin. Probing her mouth with his tongue and slipping his hands over her perfect body! Making love to her with a frantic need for the things only she could give him. Making him whole, making him feel good and making him feel…equitable. She was the only woman, who had ever given him the feeling he would be able to do everything right in the future. All of his doubts disappeared when he looked into her loving eyes. He just wanted to stay forever in this moment…
“Commander!” He shot up out of his seat. Confused he looked around.
“What? What is it?” he looked around and searched for something unusual. The only thing unusual was…that Deanna looked at him! She actually looked at him! Not friendly or lovingly, but it was an improvement to before.
“I…sorry, Counsellor. What were you saying?” He asked and leaned forward, so as to be able to better hear, what she had to say.
“Would you please stop to intrude into my mind?” He looked dumbfounded.
Had she felt what he had been thinking of? Of course she must, because they were Imzadi. His face turned red and he averted his eyes from her stare. He didn’t know what to say and was awfully sorry. When he finally looked up, she had risen from her chair and was on her way to the aft turbolift. With longing in his eyes he watched her every movement.

  When the liftdoors closed, Deanna leaned her head back and let a hiss of air slip from deep within her. His thoughts had been rather erotic and she couldn’t deny the impact it had on her. She had left the bridge to escape his pleading gaze and his hurt. She knew, she took it hard on him, but she felt, she had every right to do so. The doors opened and she walked to sickbay. She needed to talk to Beverly. Was she making a mistake? Should she let Will come back. Of course not right away, but eventually. She had to admit that she missed him. His smile, his strong arms around her at night, his laughter and his presence in her mind. When they had renewed their bond it had been pure bliss, but now it again began to dissipate. She didn’t know what to do and what caused her further concern was her ongoing illness. She hadn’t wanted to talk to Beverly about it, but it seemed a good thing to do.
  Alyssa saw her coming into sickbay and greeted her with a compassionate smile. That she hated too. Everybody was dancing around her on eggshells, ever since Taril had spread word about William Rikers cheating on her. She liked the son of her best friend very much but in that he had gone too far and she hadn’t talked very much to him since then. Although she didn’t like the attitude everybody seemed to have towards her, she returned the smiles always warmly and with a whispered thanks.
“Doctor Crusher is in her office.” Alyssa informed her. Deanna flashed her her practiced smile and went into Beverly’s office. She was just looking at some information on her latest patient when Deanna entered. Her head snapped up and she pushed a button and the screen went black.
“Dee! What’re you already doing here? I thought you still had bridge duty?” Deanna only nodded.
“Yes, I know, but I couldn’t bear being around him any longer.” She saw into Beverly’s eyes and saw understanding there. Although it was for the wrong thing.
“No, it’s not because his mere sight repulses me, but much more that I miss him terribly Bev! I have slept with him in the same bed before this happened for nearly a year. We shared an amazing relationship and it was comforting beyond belief. I even thought we were ready to take the next step. Get married and have children. But I guess I was wrong…” She slumped into a chair and a single tear rolled down her cheek. Quickly Beverly jumped to her feet and was kneeling at Deanna’s side, pulling her into a comforting embrace. Deanna couldn’t hold it back any longer. She missed her Imzadi fiercely and she wanted him to apologise and back.
“I just don’t know what to do. I want him back with all my heart, but I don’t think I could ever trust him again! What am I supposed to do?!” She wailed and collapsed into a miserable heap. Beverly drew her close to her and tried to soothe her.
“Shh, Deanna. It will all be alright. You will see. You two will sort it out. Your relationship has survived much worse things.” She wasn’t quite certain of her last statement, but hell! Their love had survived for over twenty years! That had to mean something.
“Deanna, I have never seen to people more destined to be together than you two. Maybe you should just give into your feelings.” Deanna’s sobbing subsided and Beverly gently removed the last moistness from her face with the gentle brush of her thumbs.
“Are we alright?” She asked and smiled encouragingly. Slowly Deanna nodded and had to laugh a bit.
“A little intimidating, isn’t it?” Beverly laughed also.
“It would be, if we were men. But, thanks to God, we aren’t and therefore, we can express our feelings freely.” They both laughed again and Deanna sniffed a bit.
“Care for a chocolate?” Beverly asked and Deanna’s eyes lighted up in the same instant. Again they both laughed. Beverly just wanted to go over to the replicator, when Deanna rose from her seat.
“No Beverly. Sit down, I’ll get it. You’ve done enough for me today.” They shared an understanding smile and Beverly returned to her seat behind her desk. Shortly after Deanna joined her with two steaming cups. With delight she inhaled the odour of her coffee, but she smelled something unfamiliar too. There was the smell of hot chocolate, but something else too. She leaned over, just as Deanna was drinking.
“Have you altered your recipe?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Deanna tipped the cup, so Beverly was able to get a look. What she saw appalled her.
“Please don’t tell me that is woodruff jelly!” Deanna looked down into her cup and creased her brow.
“Why, yes, it is. Tastes wonderful. Want to try?” Beverly’s mouth went instantly dry.
“No, no thank you. I think I stick to coffee today.” Deanna just shrugged and sipped her drink.

  Jean-Luc Picard sighed with content and leaned back on his couch. Beverly Crusher walked around his table and sat beside him. Their position was just a notch away from snuggling.
“You know, Jean-Luc, I’m concerned about Deanna.” She told him quietly. He nodded in understandment and rearranged himself, so that she could lean to his chest, what she gladly did.
“Yes. I’m concerned for her too, but my main concern lies with Will. He’s so much not himself. I’ve checked his replicator logs and discovered that he has eaten next to nothing in the last few weeks.” Alarmed Beverly looked up at him. He just saw at the wall opposite of them.
“I’m afraid Beverly. Will is the closest I have concerning a son. To see him like this…it tears me apart. And Deanna…I can’t even begin to say, how much it hurts to see her like this.” She was surprised by this sudden outburst of emotions from him. Normally he had all of them under perfect control. She caressed one of his hands and looked into nothingness.
“Yes. I understand what you mean. Deanna is my best friend. And Will…he is like a brother to me. To see them like this is…catastrophic. I told her today that everything was going to be fine, but they are both so pride persons. He could never make the first move and I think she is beyond always giving him a sign. This time it’s his turn.” He nodded and bowed his head a bit, so he was able to smell the scent of her hair.
“It’s definitely his turn right now. Maybe we should arrange a dinner between the two of them. Without them knowing it.” He saw down at her. Curious blue eyes shone back at him. “We set them up. You go to Will and tell him, you want to have a private dinner with him, concerning Deanna. He will under no circumstances deny you. Then I will go to Deanna and tell her that we have a dinner between all senior officers in Wills quarters. Unofficial of course. To celebrate that we are again back in space, where we belong. She will think it an important occasion, which she has to attend to. But, no one will be there apart from her and Will. Then one of us must block the doors, so they have enough time, to discuss things.” He beamed and with very confident with his solution. She only shook her head.
“Jean-Luc! You can’t just trap them together in Wills quarters and hope that they will sort things out. That needs longer than just one evening! How long do you want to keep them locked up in there? Two months?!” She smiled. It didn’t lack some kind of amusement. He returned her smile broadly.
“Well, as long as it is necessary. I think about a week will suffice.” They both laughed and Beverly shook her head again.
“No, my dear Captain. I think it is better to stick with the dinner plan and to drop the part about locking them up together.” He smiled tenderly down at her and softly brushed a strand of her red hair away from her eyes.
“I think we have a deal.” She smiled and took his face between her hands.
“Then let’s seal it then?” She asked coyly and before Jean-Luc knew of it, she kissed him full on the mouth. Fully surprised he pulled back, only to lower his head again with a broad smile.
“You know how to seal a deal, my doctor.” He whispered.

  Will was surprised, when Beverly Crusher walked into his office. Normally she only talked with him about ships business and was utterly cold towards him. No wonder. She was Deanna’s best friend. Although, in the last few days, she had been nicer to him. He wanted to win her back, as a friend. So, he stood up when she walked into his office and tried to be politeness in person. When she had refused everything he had offered her, he sat dispirited behind his desk again and raked his hands through his hair.
“What is it Beverly?” He asked and he sounded terribly tired to Beverly. Concern welled up in her.
“I wanted to talk with you. About Deanna.” His head snapped up instantly. Would she know something about Deanna’s feelings towards him, for the moment? Of course she would! They were best friends and Deanna would tell her everything. This could be his chance to get some messages through to Deanna through Beverly. He didn’t doubt one minute that Beverly would tell Deanna everything about their conversation.
“Yeah, good. What…what do you want to know?” Nervously he clenched and unclenched his fists.
“Not here. Let’s meet for dinner at 2100 hours in your quarters.” She turned to walk out again and he jumped out of his seat.
“Okay, at 2100 hours. Beverly!” She turned around and saw his fatigued features. He had lost weight. She could clearly see that. His uniform didn’t really fit him anymore.
“How…how is she? I mean, she is fine, isn’t she?” The concern in his voice could have made her cry.
“She isn’t sick or something Will. That’s not why I want to talk to you. She is fine. As fine as she can be with what happened.” He lowered his head and nodded.
“Yeah. Thank you. See you later then.” Quickly she left his office. She didn’t want to see him crying.

  Picard didn’t like lying. He thought of it as being…dirty. He couldn’t really pinpoint why, but he just felt like that. So, when he walked into Counsellor Troi’s office, he felt guilty from the first moment. But with his strong will, he was able to suppress all of this. With a smile he greeted the Counsellor.
“How are you doing, Commander?” He asked her. She looked up at him and returned the smile. He could see though that it didn’t reach her eyes, as it had always done before.
“I’m fine, Captain. Thank you for asking. Would you like something to drink?” He waved with his hand.
“No, thank you. I regretfully do not have the time. I just stopped by, to inform you that all senior officers are to meet in Commander Riker’s quarters for a welcome-back-dinner and maybe a nice round of poker. It’s unofficial, but it wouldn’t be the same, if you wouldn’t come, Counsellor.” She swallowed and Picard feared she would decline, but her sense of duty didn’t fail him.
“Of course will I be there, Captain. When will it begin?” He smiled broadly.
“At 2100 hours.” He turned around to leave. Shortly before he left, she called after him.
“See you tonight then!” With a bit forced smile he turned around and nodded.
“Yes, see you tonight.” And with that he left.

Chapter 9
  Nervously he looked everything over. The candles on the table were not too much and the food was ready. He breathed deeply and tried to calm himself. He looked at his watch and saw that it was only a few minutes until 2100 hours.
“Okay, calm down! It’s only Beverly and she isn’t going to eat you. At least not right away.” He murmured to himself. He looked down at himself. He hadn’t felt like dressing up. It was only to be a dinner between two friends, so he had stuck to black trousers and a white shirt. His door chime sounded and he closed his eyes. Okay, now he only had not to panic. Easy enough. He turned around and his gaze went over the table in a last controlling glance. Oh no! He had forgotten the wine! Quickly he stepped up to his replicator and called: “Come!” He didn’t want Beverly to think he wasn’t interested in what she had to say.

  Deanna didn’t know how she should survive this evening. She would have to eat with him and as not to be impolite, stay a bit, after the dinner was over. She swallowed hard and proceeded down the hallway. She hadn’t seen Beverly or one of the others to talk to. She assumed they were already there and they were just waiting for her. The only thing lightening her mood, were Will’s surprising abilities with the replicator. She had often tried to copy him, but it never tasted like the things he made up. She stood in front of his door and breathed deeply.
“Calm down, Deanna. He won’t be able to do something stupid with all the others present.” She breathed deeply and then pressed his door chime. For a short time there was nothing and then he called for her to enter. Quickly she took the step inside. It was exactly as she remembered it. He stood with his back to her at his replicator. Confused she looked around. None of the others were there.
“Sorry for reacting late, Beverly, but I forgot the wine.” He apologized. Well, Beverly would at least be coming too.
“It’s me, Will.” He swung quickly around on his heels and she was stunned at his intense glance. He held a green bottle in his hands. It slowly but definitely slipped from his grasp.
“Deanna…!” He whispered astonished. The bottle slipped from his fingers and ripped him out of his stupor. Frantically he tried to catch it, before it fell to the floor.
“I…I wasn’t expecting you.” He said as an apology. He saw in her eyes that it was the wrong thing he’d said.
“Oh, you weren’t expecting me, but the rest of the senior officers? I can understand that you don’t want to party with poor little Deanna!” She bit back coldly.
  He shook his head quickly. She stood in his quarters and his table was set for a dinner for two! He wouldn’t spoil this chance and he would fall to his knees the next time he saw Beverly.
“No! It’s not that. It’s only…Beverly came to me today and said that she wanted to talk to me about you. I just…wasn’t expecting you, but Beverly. That’s all. I’m happy that you came and not Beverly. It gives us the chance to talk. Really talk.” Hope glinted in his eyes and he wished with all of his heart that she would give him a chance.
  She saw into his eyes and for a moment nothing else existed. She just couldn’t go. Not with these wonderful, pleading, blue eyes on her. Slowly she nodded.
“I think we have been set up. The others must think it is about time for us to talk about certain things.” She was proud of her steady voice, because the rest of her felt not in the least so sure, like her voice.
  When he heard that she would stay and talk to him, his features lightened up and he smiled. She felt herself melt. She had never been able to resist him, when he looked so vulnerable and yet so cute. Quickly she reigned in her thoughts and walked up to the table. He was instantly beside her and pulled out the chair for her. When she had settled herself, he lit the candles, opened the wine bottle and poured her some of it. When he was finished he sat across her and lifted his own glass of wine.
“To a promising evening.” She only nodded and took a sip of the red beverage. She looked down at her plate. He had made a rather simple Earth delicacy, Spaghetti Bolognese with a bit of Parmesan cheese.
  With surprise she felt that she really was hungry. When she had been on her way to him, she had thought she would get sick, but now she felt like the total opposite.
  With delight he saw, how she savoured the food. He barely touched his and only watched her eat. He shortly closed his eyes, breathed deep and took up the small remainders of his courage and pride.
“Deanna, I’m very happy that you are here and willing to talk to me, or at least give me the chance to talk to you. The last weeks haven’t been easy, for neither of us.” He looked up and saw to his surprise that she wasn’t listening at all. She was too caught up in eating.
“This is delicious. Pass over the cheese?” Confused he nodded and handed her the bowl with Parmesan cheese. “What were you saying?” She asked and dug into her meal again. He was thrown off course by her odd behaviour and had lost his line of thought for a moment. ‘At least she is enjoying the food.’ He thought.
“Well, as I was saying, this conversation is something I have wished for in weeks. It gives me the opportunity to explain why I did certain things. And to apologise.” With that he lowered his head in guilt and waited for what she had to say. He had not to wait long.
“Will?” His name sounded like music from her lips! He lifted his head again and looked at her. She looked him straight in the eye and he was as always spellbound by her deep, dark eyes. “I have a question for you.” He leaned himself a bit forwards to better hear her every wish.
“Everything, Deanna.” Impatiently he skidded on his chair.
“Are you going to eat that?” He was dumbfounded.
“What?!” He had awaited anything and had been prepared to bare his innermost thoughts at her slightest wish, but this?!
“Are you going to eat that?” She pointed with her spoon at his plate, which had barely been touched. Disappointed he leaned back in his chair.
“Feel free.” He pushed it over to her and she instantly snapped the plate up from the table and shoved it all onto her own plate. He looked at her with wide eyes. Normally she didn’t eat half as much and now this! Concern grew inside him.
“Deanna, are you all right?” She looked up and seemed confused by his question.
“Why, yes. Why shouldn’t I be?” He smiled a small smile.
“Well, one of us seems to be extremely hungry, don’t you think?” She looked at him, then at her plate and then at his. Her eyes grew wide. She let her spoon and fork fall, as if they had become white-hot in one instant. She dabbed her mouth with her napkin and took a sip from her wine.
“Didn’t get a proper breakfast.” She muttered and looked uncomfortable. He was now really concerned for her.
“Should I get Beverly?” She shook her head.
“No. It’s all right. I’m fine, don’t worry.” She straightened her composure and seemed calm again, but he could see the ongoing turmoil in her eyes. “What do you want to say?”
“Maybe we should have this conversation later? I mean, you don’t seem to be as all right as you try to pretend.” He argued with caution. Again, he had chosen the wrong words.
  With a disappointed huff she rose and threw her napkin onto the table.
“I don’t see why you wanted so desperately to see me. Obviously you don’t want to talk to me. Now that I’m here you’re coming up with some concern about my health – which is absolutely fine, I can assure you – just to be able, to chicken out again!” Now he was growing angry too.
“Now stop it right there! Only because I’m concerned about you, doesn’t mean I do not care about you! I would think it proves much more the opposite.” She turned away from him and headed for the door.
“I’ve had enough of this!” She hissed. How could he dare! He was such a self-righteous, pompous ass! The doors hissed open and she left quickly. Quick footsteps were heard behind her.
“Wait! We’re not finished with this yet! You can’t just walk away like that! Deanna!” She heard his voice roughen with tears. She closed her eyes and picked up her pace.


Chapter 10
  Geordi had ended his bridge shift and now waited for Picard to take over command. And he waited for news. Beverly had told him everything about their plan and he had been very excited and hoped that all had worked out fine. He saw how his Captain walked onto the bridge. Since yesterday he seemed to have a slight spring in his step and he smiled much more often than he had done before. Quickly Geordi walked over to him.
“Did it work? How are they?” Picard seemed just as excited as Geordi.
“I don’t know. I walked past his quarters tomorrow, but I haven’t seen anything. I believe we have to wait until they report for bridge duty.” Disappointed Geordi slumped back against the next wall. He had to be in Engineering in the next five minutes. Picard saw this and smiled an impish smile.
“Mr. La Forge, I would like you to monitor the warp core from here and give me reports on how it is faring. After all, we are flying with experimental propulsion.” Geordi beamed at him and went quickly to the main engineering station on the bridge.
“Aye, sir!” He acknowledged.
  They did not have to wait long. The first to come was Deanna. She looked her normal, a bit distanced, self. Several minutes late, came Commander Riker. He looked like he had been beaten up badly by at least four ill-tempered klingons. His hair was a mess, he had dark rings under his eyes and he looked more hopeless and fatigued than ever. The moment he stepped onto the bridge, the room went instantly silent. With a silent sigh Picard looked to Geordi and shook his head. Both looked very sad.
  Will only looked shortly over to her. It was obvious she wasn’t interested in him or anything he did. He sighed and felt as miserable as never before in his life. He only nodded as a good morning to everyone present on the bridge and looked silently at his station.
She had just walked away. Only because he was concerned about her! Couldn’t she see? He wished for them both to be at their senses full use, when they talked about their future and his past failures. But he was now convinced that is was too late. She would never take him back. Never…An eternity alone. Without her, the loving touch of her mind and her ability to make him feel fully relaxed. He slipped deeper and deeper into depression and was glad. He was empty and this depression was at least something to fill that void inside him.

  Data hadn’t seen any of this happen, because he was too much occupied with the data he got from a set of coordinates straight ahead of them. In curiosity he wrinkled his brow and turned around.
“Captain, I have found something rather fascinating.” He looked at his Captain, who seemed preoccupied with something else. Data followed his glance and saw a definitely dishevelled Riker sit beside him. Now his brow wrinkled in confusion. According to Beverly Crusher he and Counsellor Troi should have been fine.
“Commander, you seem to be very ill. Has it something to do with…” Picard quickly cut him off.
“What did you find, Mr. Data?” He didn’t want the android to poke to Riker’s fresh wound. Data did not seem insulted by this rude behaviour and just went on.
“The sensors indicate an artificial device straight ahead, sir. It seems to be an unmanned buoy of some kind. It sends a signal in a regular pattern.” Picard's curiosity was roused.
“Can we put it on the view screen?” Anxious he stood to his feet. Data swivelled around in his chair and checked his station.
“No, sir. We can only get audio.” Disappointed Picard looked up at the huge view screen.
“The signal is too complex. Our computers can not decipher it.” All eyes were now on Data. Geordi was the first one to speak again.
“Wait a minute. Our communications array has just been updated with the newest of technology. I can’t believe we cannot receive this message.” Data turned his seat, so he would be able to look at Geordi.
“I’m afraid that I am telling the truth, Geordi. We cannot possibly process the amount of information sent to us.” He looked again at Picard. “I believe it is an interactive hologram. This technology is still in the process of research and has only been used by Starfleet rather randomly.”
Picard only nodded at this a few times and then ordered: “Put it through, Mr. Data.” Data’s fingers glided over his controls and soon a deep voice was heard. But they could not understand the language it spoke. Everyone on the bridge was looking at each other. Even Riker and Troi, but they quickly averted their eyes from the other.
“Data, why isn’t the universal translator translating the message?” Asked Riker and this mystery seemed to give him back something of his old self. The situation was familiar. He had to concentrate on his job as first officer and couldn’t let any other feelings get in his way. This helped him to push past his despair.
“It is trying, sir. But it cannot make sense out of it. There seems to be an unknown component.” Picard looked to Riker and was relieved to see some of the old sparkle in the eyes of his Number One. Picard turned back to Data.
“Can you discern what kind of unknown component that is?” Data worked on his station for a couple of seconds. Geordi tried to aid him, from his station, by rerouting the most of the computers free potential to Data’s station.
“No, sir. I am sorry.” Picard nodded slightly disappointed.
“No problem, Data. We will have more than enough time to analyze the signal.” He patted the android on the shoulder. As he went back to his chair, the android swung around in his chair again, to be able to look at Picard.
“Sir, I might add that the buoy is approximately 900 years old. It can be that it has been damaged in some way.”
“Yes, Data. That must be it. Let’s go on from here. Do you have the first coordinates from the astrometry?” the pale android nodded and looked at his station again.
“Yes, sir. 265 mark 159 to 806 mark 114. It will take us to a solar system with at least one class M planet. If not more.” Picard nodded satisfied and seated himself.
“Lay in a course and get us underway with warp 6!” He ordered. The young ensign at the helm plotted the course.
“Course laid in, sir.” Picard lifted his hand in his unique gesture.
“Energize!” With a bright flash of light they were on their way to absolutely new shores!
  Behind them, unnoticed by their sensors, a small antenna came up from the buoy and began sending a strong, short signal. If the Enterprise had been able to translate it, it would have warned them. Because it said: “Hostile intrusion in sector 4568930! The Federation starship Enterprise passed guardian 59756345215 at stardate 3486.159. Approximately 800 warriors aboard. Weapons pose no threat. Destruction is recommended!”


Chapter 11
  With normal Federation and Starfleet efficiency the starship Enterprise began mapping this region of space. On their way they discovered two gas giants on collision course, which held them back for about two days. In this time, Geordi, Data and all the science staff were running all double shifts, to be able to gather as much information and data as possible. Everybody in engineering was having a hard time, because of all the double shifts. Especially Taril Xerx, who was the only one in the whole engineering crew, who had the feeling, he had to redeem himself. At first, everybody had disliked him for his ‘By-the-book-attitude’. Now they disliked him for being a talker. He had told everybody who wanted to know about Riker’s unfaithfulness towards Troi. Many had been angry at the Commander, but after they had seen how much he had suffered because of his mistake, they had backed away from their negative attitude and disliked Xerx for his behaviour towards Riker.
  He sat at a station and tried for the thousandth time to boost the power for the sensors, when his eyes just didn’t want to stay open. He had the feeling his eyelids were made of lead and the control board in front of him looked awfully inviting. Even the cosiest cushion wouldn’t have looked better to him. With difficulty he stifled a yawn and tried to remember when it had been the last time he had slept. He did not know.
  Geordi sat in his office and looked through the glass out into main engineering. With a nod of approval he noticed that everyone was performing nicely. Except…He saw how Taril Xerx’ head draw down and then snapped sharply up again. He had to stifle a laugh after the third time. The poor boy had taken a four shift marathon. No wonder he was exhausted. Geordi rose and went over to him.
“Why don’t you go to bed, Ensign?” Taril looked with wide eyes up at him. They had a certain glassy look about them, which he knew all too well from young Ensigns, who wanted to prove themselves.
“Oh no, sir. I’m all right. I’m…” He yawned deeply and Geordi believed he could see a light at the other end! “Wide awake.” Xerx ended his sentence.
“Yeah, I see that. Now, get out of here and in bed. That’s an order, Ensign!” He smirked and pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. Taril’s shoulders slumped and he nodded.
“Yes, sir. I’m on my way.” Dispirited he made his way for the exit. Geordi couldn’t just let him go like that. He had seen how his men had taken it out of Xerx and he pitied him.
“And Xerx!” He called after the young man. With a clearly depressed look he turned around.
“Yes, sir?” Geordi smiled at him.
“Good work.” He gave him a thumbs up and then returned to his office. Taril beamed with a smile behind him and thought now much better of sleep and his service aboard the Enterprise.

  William Riker stood in one of the private observation lounges. It was quiet and nobody was there. It was just him and the universe. He had been in this room often. But he had never been alone. Deanna had always been with him. They had made this room a kind of…extension to their quarters. They had had dinners here. Preferably candlelight dinners. Soft music, which matched the sight outside. Either of a solar system or the warp flight pattern of the Enterprise. He had danced with her here and they had even made love here. With a smile he thought back on these times. In fact, she had very much enjoyed it, when they had been in orbit around Betazed with a Bach serenade playing in the background. He slumped in the nearest chair and stroked lovingly over the fabric, which was so familiar to him and had once been associated with love, contentment and fulfilment. But now it only held a memory. A memory of a joyful past he would never be able to return to.
“What went wrong?” He silently whispered to himself. He knew what had went wrong, but before that on Risa happened, what had been wrong then? He had been happy beyond belief in Deanna’s arms. She had been everything he had dreamed of and more. They had matured in the time that had past between their first affair and now. It had by no means diminished their love for each other. Like good wine, it had only grown better and much…deeper. He looked into his palm and drew his index finger over the small golden ring. It was much too small for one of his fingers, but he knew it would have fitted Deanna’s ring finger perfectly. Kismet, fate, Schicksal, skæbne, delfayala and what other words described his Imzadi for him. She was his fate. He had long pondered if he should have bought her a ring with a diamond, but it didn’t seem to fit her. Her beautiful, radiant smile, would have been the diamond in the ring. He smiled and read the engraving.
‘ To the only woman I ever loved. My fate, my delfayala, my Imzadi, my wife.’
He had to swallow hard not to cry, but it didn’t help him. Choking sobs freed themselves from his body and he just wanted to die. She was gone. Forever…

  Deanna sat in sick bay and stared before her. Beverly approached her with a scanner.
“Penny for your thoughts.” She said softly. Deanna saw directly into her eyes and she was shocked by the sorrow and sadness she saw in them.
“Did I do the right thing, Bev? I mean, he was only concerned. I don’t know what to think any longer. I love him more than anything. Even now…” Her last sentence ended in a whisper. Beverly sat beside her best friend on the bio bed and drew her into an embrace.
“I don’t know Deanna. I thought I would do the right thing, by bringing you two together. That was wrong. I did not realise that I should let you take it all with your own pace. But as much as I’m concerned about you, I’m also concerned about Will. He feels so guilty. Please tell me you are going to take him back.” She looked into Deanna’s face. She just stared in front of her.
“I don’t know Beverly. I don’t know if I ever can trust him again. It’s not the first time he let me down. No. Not again! This was the last time William Riker transformed me into a sobbing wreck.” She looked determined. Beverly shook her head and drew her closer.
“O, don’t say that! You do not mean that, do you?” Deanna looked at her and she had to swallow.
“I might.” Was her only answer. Beverly nodded and then began to examine her.
“You’re okay. There are some fluctuations in you hormone levels. I will check that out later.” Deanna nodded and left sick bay. Beverly shook her head, as she began to look into Deanna’s readings. Man, if she did not let Riker back, he would just die. And she would grow bitter, old and unhappy for all eternity. She and Jean-Luc had definitely to look into that matter again. When they did, they could again have dinner and maybe…Her thoughts snapped back into reality instantly. That couldn’t be true! Quickly she scrolled back in the data stream to again look at these particular hormone levels. Well, she had definitely do something about the situation now.


Chapter 12
  Deanna stepped onto the bridge to begin her shift and relieved Data off duty. Although the android now could have gone to his quarters or something alike, he stayed on the bridge and monitored his station at OPS. She sighed and massaged her temples a bit. A headache was coming and she knew why. She hadn’t been able to sleep properly since her break up with Will. She had grown too damn accustomed to having him beside her. Now she missed him, like she would miss a part of her body. She slept normally, but when she awoke, she felt not at all refreshed. In fact, she felt even drowsier than she had before going to sleep. That would wear off during the day, but it nonetheless concerned her. She didn’t believe it was normal to love him, even though what he had done to her was more than cruel. Deanna knew that Beverly agreed with her, but also she thought it was time for Deanna to take him back. Could she do that? She had said no, but did she really mean it?
“Counsellor?” Data’s voice pulled her away from her brooding and her body twitched a bit. “I am sorry, Counsellor. It was not my intention to frighten you.” She smiled at him and shook her head.
“It’s okay, Data. I had my mind on other things. What is it?”
“We are entering the first solar system on our course. The fifth planet has hailed us as soon, as we entered the system and dropped out of warp.” She drew up her eyebrows in wonder.
“It’s just like they have been waiting for us…” She muttered. Data leaned forward.
“What did you say, Counsellor? I am afraid, I did not catch it.” She only shook her head.
“It’s not important, Data. Captain to the bridge!” She called out. “Let’s greet them properly.” She smiled at the android, who only nodded and turned back to his station.
  Shortly after Deanna had called for Picard he walked onto the bridge with Riker in tow. The latter didn’t look well at all. She avoided looking at him and turned to the Captain.
“Sir, the inhabitants of the fifth planet are hailing us. There are no other inhabited planets in this system.” He nodded and turned to the huge view screen, while Deanna took her seat next to the centre chair. Riker took the other seat.
  Picard drew his uniform down in his unique manner and then felt prepared to talk to the ‘aliens’.
“Open hailing frequencies, Lieutenant!” He ordered Daniels. He nearly responded instantly.
“Hailing frequencies open, sir.” Picard drew in a deep breath and began his speech.
“I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation starship Enterprise. We come in peace and want only to explore.” Everybody on the bridge was tense with anticipation. The screen flickered and then showed the face of a…human! Or at least it at first looked like it. When the man on the screen turned his head, there could be seen horns protruding from his hair and that his skull was oblong to the back. He wore a gold and silver headband and a deep green sash around his upper torso.
“Welcome to Valuridaynieai travellers of the sky. I am Hierias, representative of my people for visitors from the sky. Please, feel free to enter orbit around our world and to enjoy our hospitality.” His pleasant, soft voice strung a cord in everyone of them and they felt welcomed.
“We thank you for your kind invitation and will take you up on it immediately. Could you please forward the coordinates to us, where you want to meet us?” Hierias only nodded and then the communication was terminated. Data looked at his station.
“Coordinates received, sir.” Picard turned with a smile around and found out that everybody else on the bridge was also smiling.
“Nice people, aren’t they?” Deanna nodded enthusiastically. She looked very much forward to meeting them.

  Elegantly the Enterprise established a geosynchronous orbit around Valuridaynieai. A beautiful world with small oceans and huge plains. Riker stood and assembled an away team. Data, Daniels, Deanna, Ensign Varlik and himself. On their way to transporterroom 4 he asked Data how evolved they were.
“It is fascinating, sir. They seem to have no industry. According to our scans, they do extensive farming, but near to nothing industrial. Although they seem to have an advanced technology.” Riker arched an eyebrow. No industry, just farming? That sounded indeed a bit odd.
“Well. At least we have something we can talk about then.” He smiled a small smile at Data and stepped as the first into the transporterroom. Shortly after they were beamed to the planet’s surface.
  Surprised Riker looked around himself. There were no buildings and nobody to greet them. The other members of his team seemed just as confused as he.
“Are these the right coordinates, Data?” He asked the pale android and shielded his eyes against the sun with his hand, while he was peering over the vast plain they stood on.
“Positive, sir. These are the coordinates we received. It is most curious that nobody is here.” Daniels stepped past Data and up to Riker.
“You can say that again.” He muttered under his breath. Data drew his brow down in confusion and then just shrugged. ‘Humans!’ He thought to himself.
“I don’t like this at all, sir. I recommend we return to the Enterprise and check it all over.” Riker squinted against the sun. He shook his head.
“No, Mr. Daniels. We are going to wait here for a couple of minutes. I’m sure they will show themselves shortly.” Daniels made an unbelieving face.
“If you say so, sir.” He strolled off a bit and opened his tricorder.
  Will saw to his right. Deanna had turned her head up and had closed her eyes. She clearly enjoyed the warming sun directly on her face. Something rare if you constantly travelled through space. He sighed deeply. She was so beautiful! He drew on the last remnants of his courage and stepped up to her.
“Do you…sense anything, Counsellor?” She twitched and he quickly stepped away from her again. Both were intimidated and felt uncomfortable.
“I only sense peace. Nothing is threatening to us here, sir. In fact, they are coming towards our position. They are confused.” Riker wrinkled his brow in wonder.
“Now, why are they confused?” He said to himself.
“I don’t know, sir” Answered him Deanna. Data stepped up to them and squinted against the sun.
“Sir, I must inform you that at least five riders are approaching fast.” He turned to Riker.
“That must be our welcome committee. Let’s wait for them here and see what happens.” The rest of his team nodded and took up positions behind him, so that the Valuidaynieaians would recognize him as the leader immediately.
  Shortly before the group of riders reached them, they had to pass a small valley. When they came out of it, they were nearly upon the away team. Riker recognized the leader of the group as Hierias. As the group drew nearer they all had the distinct feeling something was wrong. After another two minutes Varlik mouthed their question.
“Where are the mounts’ heads?” The answer presented itself, when the group reached the top of the small hill just before them.
“Centaurs!” Deanna whispered amazed. All of the five ‘riders’ had a normal torso, but everything under that was much similar to that of a horse. Their hooves were of a deep black colour and their fur reached from black to sparkling white. They moved with a natural beauty that was breathtaking. Hierias came to a halt in front of Riker and towered over him. With practiced grace he lay down on his four knees and greeted them. In similar fashion the rest of the group went to their knees and greeted them. Riker gave his team a sign and they went to their knees too, so that they were on nearly the same level. They had to keep their thighs straight.
“Welcome to our world, travellers from the sky. We feel honoured by your visit.” Hierias began his speech. Riker dipped his head in thanks.
“I thank you very much for your hospitality. We feel as honoured as you do, by being welcomed so warmly.” Hierias’ features lit up after the last sentence. As did the faces of everyone from his group.
“We would like to invite you to our capital to share a drink with us and maybe have a meal. Travelling through the sky must have made you all hungry.” The young woman, with the sparkling white horse body had spoken. Riker turned his head to her.
“That would be just wonderful.”


Chapter 13
  The capital was a wonderful sight. It was totally different from any city the team from the Enterprise had ever seen before. There were near to no stairs. If there were any, the steps were too high for the away team to take, without climbing. Data would of course have no problems with them. The centaurs, or more properly the Valuridaynieaians, seemed to know that and protected the away team’s dignity, by choosing routes with ramps. They all looked a bit dishevelled after their ride on the centaur’s backs over the plains.
  The centaurs had expected them to arrive in a ship and had wanted to provide them with a spacious landing site. With apologies they had asked Riker and the others to let them carry them on their backs to the capital, Kundinayiae. Many of the younger centaurs were fascinated by these strange beings with only two legs and no fur other than on their heads. The strong bronze, who had carried Data lifted his authoritative voice and cleared their path. Still many Valuridaynieaians looked at them curiously from windows and side streets. The buildings in the city were mostly made of clay. The clay had not been burned into bricks, but it seemed as if the house had been built completely and the whole thing then had been burned. Only a few buildings were made of stone and the most streets were made of stone. The building towards which they moved was the biggest of them all and the grandest. Huge columns supported a balcony over the entrance and many intricate carvings surrounded every column at the top and around the huge portal. Deanna thought it most curious that this building had no door. She saw up at the white female beside her, on who she had ridden to the city.
“Why has the building no door?” She asked. Graciously the woman, who had introduced herself as Alieyna, leaned down towards Deanna.
“It is the house of the community. Everybody has access to it every time. In the winter it has a door, but only to keep out the cold. It is never locked.”
They passed the public place in front of the building. The sight was breathtaking. Deanna looked at the others from the away team. Data must have activated his emotion chip, because tears streamed down his face. It was wonderful! Beyond wonderful. A huge park was in front of the building and to say it looked like Paradise wasn’t doing it justice in the least. Cherry like trees in bloom were scattered on a lush carpet of green grass. A weeping willow was positioned near a beautiful little pond, which even had a little ‘engineered’ waterfall. Near the pond, nearly covered by the branches of the weeping willow, lay a pair of centaurs, obviously in love with each other. A light breeze catched the branches and the flying white petals of the cherry trees made it all just more breathtaking.
  The centaurs stood of a bit and watched the visitor’s reaction with satisfaction. Hierias stepped up to Riker and leaned down.
“Shall we proceed?” He whispered, so as not to pull them too harshly out of their wonder. Riker smiled apologetically at him.
“Yes. Yes, let’s go on.” He followed Hierias inside and so did Varlik with the other centaurs. Deanna wanted also to follow, but saw that they had forgotten somebody. Data still stood totally entranced in the middle of the park. With a smile she walked up to him.
“Are you coming, Data?” He turned to her with tears in his eyes.
“In my entire life I have not seen anything as beautiful as this.” He whispered and she discovered to her wonderment that his voice was raw with emotion. She smiled softly and took him by the arm and led him on to the entrance, where Alieyna was waiting for them.
“Me too, Data. Me too.” She whispered and squeezed his arm a bit.
  Inside it was pleasant cool. Not too cool. Deanna looked around. Plush carpets lay on the floor and the sound of the centaur’s hooves was merely audible. They were led into a room with a huge table. It was laden with foods and drink. It was set in a height that the centaurs could it from it easily, when they knelt. Their form of sitting. The Enterprise officers discovered to their astonishment that there were chairs for them. Hierias explained.
“We do not often have visitors from the sky, but despite that, we are prepared.” He smiled and indicated with his arm that they could take freely. Riker’s gaze went over all the things on the table and discovered something quite peculiar. There was no meat. Data seemed to have discovered the same thing.
“You do not seem to consummate meat.” He observed. The black, who had carried Varlik nodded and took from a salad in front of him.
“That is right, Mr. Data. We are what you would call vegetarians. Our system cannot process meat. We would get sick.” He put some of the salad in his mouth. Data nodded.
“I think I understand. That must be the reason you only do farming. A hunting industry would be of no use to you.” Hierias chuckled.
“Very right. It would only be a waste of energy and resources.” He turned to Riker. “I hope your Captain will also visit us. Have we insulted him in any way?” Riker nearly spat back the swallow he had just taken. Quickly he shook his head, when he saw the concerned faces of the Valuridaynieaians.
“No! No, you haven’t insulted him. It is standard procedure. We take up contact and when we discover there will be no problems with the society present, the rest of our officers will beam to your planet. Of course just in small groups.” Hierias seemed a bit insulted.
“We offered you our hospitality.” He pointed out. Riker sighed, but then Deanna jumped in.
“Many species offer us their hospitality, but regretfully some of them are not honest. We are only cautious. It was never your fault. In fact, your planet seems so peaceful, so perfect…” The centaurs beamed with pride. “It just seems too good to be true and we tend to see things that aren’t there and what is this fruit? It tastes delicious!” She took another huge bite and the red juice ran down her chin. Hypnotized Riker looked at it and would gladly have licked it off of her. She did not seem to see his stare and stopped it with her middle finger, only to suck it clean afterwards. Tolienays laughed. His voice was very deep, which was no wonder, because he was the biggest centaurs of them all and had carried Data with an ease Deanna only could admire.
“It is Arula, Miss Troi. A fruit our children appreciate very much, because it is so sweet. Covered in Tasula it even tastes better. Here, have a try.” He presented her a plate of the strawberry-sized fruits covered in…chocolate! She had no doubts that this Tasula was chocolate. With shaking fingers she took one of them and nibbled at it. She closed her eyes at the intoxicating taste and moaned silently in pleasure. The centaurs looked curiously at each other.
“I’m glad you like it.” Tolienays said and smiled broadly. Riker was smiling just as broadly at seeing his Imzadi savour her favourite dessert.
“You must understand that our dear Counsellor has a special relationship to chocolate or Tasula as you call it.” The tension was effectively eased and they sat and eat for another half hour. When they were finished, Deanna had nearly devoured ¾ of the Arula fruits in chocolate. Her hunger concerned Riker a bit, but he wouldn’t ask her about it. He had done it once and it had only gotten him farther away from her than ever.
“I will contact my Captain and tell him that everything is all right and that your people are willing to offer us their hospitality. Then, with you permission only of course, will groups of officers from the Enterprise beam down to your planet. At coordinates you define.” Hierias lit up like a candle and rose from his sitting position.
“Yes. I will take you to our communications array so that you can contact your ship. I think it is best if your groups landed here. We can’t send groups out to get them from the plains in to the city. We harvest some of our main crops now and need every hand at work.” Riker smiled and rose to his feet.
“No need to take me to your communications array. These badges are communicators and enable me to speak with my ship at any time.” Hierias looked at the device in wonder.
“But it is so small!” He exclaimed. Riker laughed.
“Yes it is, but I can assure you that it works.” He tipped the badge and looked upwards even though it wasn’t necessary.
“Riker to Captain Picard!”
“Picard here, Number One. Go ahead.” Came the reply instantly.
“Sir, we believe there to be no danger to any of the crewmembers. Hierias and his people have welcomed us warmly and invite us all to come and visit. We even insulted them a bit by our cautiousness.” Hierias shook his head now and looked a bit scared.
“Oh no! I did not mean it like that! We just…I mean…how should we have been able to threaten you?!” Will smiled a bit and patted his shoulder reassuringly.
“Wait a minute, Number One. I will be at your coordinates immediately.”
“Yes, sir. We will wait for you here. Riker out.” He looked to Hierias.
“And what do we do now?” The centaur asked.
“We wait. It won’t take long. I promise.” Riker smiled once again.
  Shortly after a high pitched tone caught their attention and Picard and Doctor Crusher materialized out of a blue swirl. Hierias and Alieyna stepped backwards in astonishment. Both sides were silent for a time, as one regarded the other. Hierias took the first step. He knelt down and greeted the Captain, as he had done with Riker.
“Welcome to our world, traveller of the sky. May we invite you to a meal? Travelling must have made you and your companion hungry.” Both Picard and Crusher didn’t know what to say and turned to Riker, who waggled his eyebrows at them. Picard cleared his throat and found his voice again.
“Yes, thank you. That would indeed be very nice.” Together they went back to the table.
“That screams for payback, Number One.” He whispered, as he passed Riker, who wore a big smile. Their faces had been priceless!

  Deanna still sat at the table. Normally she would have been more than full at this time, but she still felt hungry. She saw Beverly and the Captain approach. She indicated for Beverly to come to her and gave her one of the Arulas.
“Taste that Beverly! I assure you, nothing in the universe tastes better than this!” She said eagerly and bit into another of the sweet fruits. Beverly smiled at her enthusiasm and tasted it. She smiled.
“Tastes good, but a little too sweet for me.” Deanna shrugged and turned back to her plate. Tolienays had kept her with company and now greeted Beverly.
“I have found out that Deanna is a Doctor of the mind on your ship. What is your position?” He asked politely and offered her a salad. She took against it with a bright smile.
“I’m a physician. A Doctor of the body.” She explained. His face lit up and he shuffled around the table on his knees toward her.
“Really? I am a physician too.” He said with enthusiasm. She looked at him and his broad muscular chest. She couldn’t believe that this man should be a physician.
  A high pitched sound made them turn their heads. The first groups from the Enterprise arrived and were met by Alieyna. She helped them to orientate themselves and showed them the city.
  Many hours passed and the two women had changed their location together with Tolienays and now sat in a secluded corner of the park. Tolienays had brought some bottles of an orange beverage with him, which he called for Ruineaisol. It was made out of vegetables but tasted very good. Beverly suspected there was a bit alcohol in it too. She took another swig of the beverage and looked closely at Tolienays.
“I would never have thought you to be a physician.” She said. Shit! There was definitely alcohol in that damn drink! Deanna looked at her with wide eyes, surprised by her rudeness. Tolienays only laughed.
“Why? Because I’m big?” He asked. Beverly shook her head.
“No, well yes. I would have thought you to be some kind of security guard or even a member of the military.” She explained. He looked confused at them.
“We don’t have a military. We don’t need one. The guardians of the sky watch over us. Oh, why do I tell you that? They surely told you so themselves!” He smiled broadly. But his smile faltered, when he saw their puzzled expressions. Deanna set down her cup and folded her hands in her lap.
“Tolienays, your people are the first we have met in this region of space. You are the first ones we have taken up contact with.” His eyes grew big.
“That can’t be! The borders! You must have passed them and by doing that, encountered the guardians!” He was very upset now. He rose to his hooves and danced nervously on the spot where he stood.
“We caught a signal, but it was damaged and we couldn’t find out what it said. We encountered nobody.” Beverly said. Fair now shone in his eyes.
“You have to leave! Immediately!” He said, now panic clearly in his eyes.
“But…” Deanna began, but he shook his head ferociously.
“You have to leave! Now! Oh, the guardians will be angry at us!” When he looked at them again, anger shone in his eyes. “Leave us! Now!” And with that, he galloped away. Surely to inform Hierias. Beverly and Deanna looked at each other.
“What was that all about?” Deanna asked puzzled. Beverly only shrugged.


Chapter 14
  In near to no time, the centaurs had all Enterprise crew members back at the community building. They refused to give them any information and just demanded of them to leave immediately. Picard tried to talk to Hierias, but he did not want to listen, turned away and walked out on them. As did all the rest of the centaurs. At the entrance Hierias stopped, while the other centaurs went out.
“Please respect our wish to leave us. You said you were peaceful explorers and we trusted you. We did nothing to harm you and were very open. Just leave.” Puzzled the crew members looked at each other. Picard turned to Troi and Crusher.
“Do you know were this change of heart comes from?” He asked.
“They are terrified, Captain. They do not have any military force. They are protected by what they call ‘the guardians of the sky’. Obviously another space faring race. Tolienays knew about the signal we received and it seems that we should have asked permission to enter, before we ventured on.” Picard shifted his weight from one foot to the other and deep cresses were now on his forehead.
“You did say that we thought the signal was damaged?” Beverly nodded.
“Yes, sir. But either he didn’t hear it, or he didn’t believe us.” Deanna crossed her arms in front of her.
“These are most unsettling news.” He looked around himself in search for Riker. He spotted him and ordered him with a wave of his hand to him.
“We will return to the Enterprise, Number One. Make sure everyone is transported back. As soon as we leave orbit, we will have a senior staff meeting.” All nodded and then parted to do their job.

  Picard opened the staff meeting by looking at each of them in turn.
“This is most unsettling. Obviously the signal was not damaged, but, as Data had already assumed, it was only way too advanced for our communications array to process.” Geordi seemed very uncomfortable with these news. To get to know the machines he loved were insufficient was nearly more than he could take.
“I want you, Commander La Forge, to analyze the signal. Data will assist you.” Geordi nodded dispirited. Data leaned forward and there was a distinct glow of curiosity in his eyes.
“Sir, I would recommend to draw on Ensigns Xerx’ special abilities with communications. It was one of his major topics at the Academy. He may prove to be a valuable asset to our team.” Picard nodded still in thought.
“Good idea, Mr. Data. Make sure he is informed.” Data nodded and Picard looked at the rest of his staff. Counsellor Troi had traded her usual chair at Riker’s side with Data. To outsiders it would have looked totally normal, but to everyone else in the room it was terribly wrong. Well, apart from Data, who again had shut off his emotion chip. He mostly turned it on, when he was off duty, or shortly before he went to bed.
“Mr. Daniels, I want you to inform me of any sensor anomalies, even if they are at the edge of our sensor range, understood?” Daniels only nodded briefly. He felt nothing more to be necessary.
“Good then. Dismissed.” Picard rose from his chair and walked out of the room. Beverly closely behind him.
  Will looked at his boots and thought about what he was supposed to do now. Another few hours alone, before he again had to report for duty. Just perfect! He sighed and walked towards the nearest turbolift. What was he supposed to do with his time? He had no idea whatsoever. All of his friends had something to do and those who were free, wouldn’t spend time with him. He decided to blow off some steam and that meant for him, going to the holodeck and beat some poor holo-generated villain up badly. As he entered the yellow-gridded room, he was not inclined to call up one of his normal programs. Instead, he walked into the middle of the room and clenched his fists. He felt his anger; his despair and all the suppressed feelings of the last weeks boil up in him. The helplessness, the feeling of being utterly lost and alone…”Computer! Training room from program Riker Beta 6.” A room with punching bags and weights appeared. In the middle of the room was a large mattress on the floor. He practised his skills in boxing and various martial arts here.
“Now add an exact image of Commander William Riker on the mattress.”
*Unable to comply. The generation of actual people is forbidden by Starfleet law.*
“I know that, goddammit! Override! Authorization Riker pi gamma theta seven seven omega.” He burst out angrily. With a beep the computer complied and a computer generated Riker appeared on the mattress.
“Computer! Feed him with martial arts data. And then let him attack.” Again a beep as reply and only a few seconds later the generated Riker attacked.
  He had no chance. Even though he was Riker’s exact image, in body and in ‘mind’, he stood never a chance. When the generated Riker lay unmoving on the mattress, the real Riker still punched him up badly. He had straddled the holograms chest and hit him in the face. Again and again. The holograms ‘nose’ was ‘broken’ and his ‘blood’ was all over the place. If someone would have walked in, he would have thought Riker was nuts, because he the whole time was muttering something through clenched teeth. It was not to understand, but to Riker it was like a mantra.
“You screwed it all again! You screwed it all again! You screwed it all again!”
This was altered sometime by: “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” While he muttered this line, he struck his counterpart harder than he had intended and with a definitive crunching sound, the holo-Riker’s neck broke. Breathing heavily Riker stood with spread legs over his victim.
  Interesting. He had never tried to imagine himself dead, but he had always thought he would look…otherwise. The computer had done a good job. It looked exactly like him and it had even been able to give him a bloody nose. But that was all. He felt an odd sense of satisfaction of seeing himself ‘dead’ there. He didn’t think it was rather healthy to think in that way of oneself, but it was not important to him. The doors behind him whooshed open.


Chapter 15
Geordi and Data walked into engineering. They were eagerly discussing their problem and went straight to Xerx, who was working with another ensign on the warpcore. They were replacing a gel-pack. Geordi furrowed his brow.
“What is it?” He asked concerned. Xerx turned to him and the ensign proceeded on his own.
“As I feared the components weren’t able to ‘get used’ to the circuitry. It’s the result of the shutdown. I said we should run on full en route to DS9.” He shrugged and looked down at a PADD he held in his hand. “Fifteen gel-packs have to be replaced. I have my men working on it. It won’t take long, maybe half an hour.” Geordi blew out his breath through his teeth. He put his hand on Xerx’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry Taril. My fault. You can write that in your report, okay?” Xerx nodded. “We need your help. Data said you have another specialty being communications?”
“Yes, sir. I first wanted to become a communications officer in the diplomatic corps, but when I first laid my eyes on a warp core, I just couldn’t resist and changed my main topics.” Taril beamed at him and Geordi saw the familiar glint in his eyes. He knew it from his own mirror image.
“Now that’s something I understand. We came upon this signal and the array wasn’t able to process it. We thought it was damaged, but we got other information. The Captain needs us to decipher it.” Xerx’s eyes were round in wonder.
“What do you mean the array couldn’t process it? That’s impossible! It’s state of the art technology. New of the new. Not even the ships currently build in the yards are equipped with this!” He sounded definitely insulted by this and Geordi liked him more and more.
“It is a state of fact, Mr. Xerx. If you would please join me at this console, then I will show you the signal we caught up.” Data indicated towards a console. Taril joined him and looked at the numbers and signs, which were scrolling past his eyes.
Geordi watched him closely and was satisfied with the concentrated look on Xerx’s face.
“What do you make of it?” He asked the young betazoid. Xerx scrolled back in the signs and pointed with his finger.
“There is the normal part. Picture, sound, etcetera. This one though.” He tapped the next huge block. “Is something altogether different. I think it’s some kind of hologram, but that’s not all that there is to it…” He leaned forward and studied it closer.
“Fascinating!” He whispered. Data and Geordi looked at each other and Geordi smiled.
“I thought too it was a hologram. Interactive even. But on the bridge are no holo-emitters, so we were unable to call up on it. And if we had, this block would have made it impossible.” Data pointed the area out. Taril studied it closely. Slowly he shook his head.
“Hm…no. No, I don’t think so. Maybe we should take all this down to the holodeck and try it out.” He looked questioningly at his superiors. They both nodded.
“Good idea. Let’s go. As I know the Captain he wanted the answer for all of this yesterday.”

Shortly after they stood in front of the holodeck. Geordi checked the controls and saw that it already was in use.
“Aw, that was unfortunate. Computer! Who is in holodeck three?”
*Commander Riker is currently in holodeck three.* They looked at each other.
“Well, I’m sure he will give us some time to check this out.” Said Geordi and walked into the room. The first thing he saw was all the blood. “Commander!” He called alerted. Riker stood with his back to him.
“I’m fine Geordi. Computer! Delete program!” The room vanished and with him all the blood. Riker turned around and they all took a step back. There was something in his eyes…something dangerous. Something dead. “I was just finished.” And with that he left. Geordi, Data and Xerx looked after him.
“What was that all about?” Taril asked. Geordi shook his head.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” He whispered.

He walked to his quarters. He wasn’t aware that he did, until he stood in front of his door. He sighed and took the last step inside. It was empty. As always. Nobody to greet him. He had even considered getting himself a pet. Something that would be glad when he entered a room. It would be an immense improvement to his present condition. He dropped into one of his chairs and played with a vase that had stood on his table. Deanna had always seen to it that there were flowers on his table. He hadn’t taken care of that, but he hadn’t removed the vase. He just couldn’t. With a crash it shattered, as he brought it down on the edge of his table. The shards were all over his floor. And a very sharp one in his hand. He drew it over the palm of his hand and blood spilled from the small gash. Fascinated he looked at his blood, running over his hand and arm and then dropping on his carpet. He turned his palm over and one drop after another fell to the floor. It couldn’t be seen. His carpet was dark and therefore, the blood wasn’t visible. But if there was more…He turned his arm around again and looked at his wrist.
“So easy.” He whispered. It would be so easy. A little twist of his hand and then it would be over. His blood would flow from his body, as his spirit had from his soul. He would feel cold and sleepy and then he would close his eyes. The End. No hurt, no disappointments, no anger…It would all be over.
/Do it! Come on, do it! She hates you and what do you have left in life? Do it and get done with life!/ A voice inside him shouted. A tear rolled down his face. /What is there left to live for? A lonesome life as a respected Admiral. Old, alone, frail and without purpose! Do it!/ He closed his eyes and drew a shaky breath, while his hand with the shard drew nearer to his wrist. It could be over so quickly…No more hurt…That sounded wonderful! Never again to see the disappointment in her eyes. Her bitter anger at being betrayed by the man she loved more than anything else, whom she just again had learned to trust.
“I’m doing this for you, Imzadi.” He whispered and a wonderful calmness came over him. Then everything went red.


Chapter 16
The doors whooshed closed behind Riker and they looked at each other. Data gazed at Geordi like a curious bird, with his head a bit askew.
“I think the Commander is in need of medical attention. He seems to have sustained damage to his nose and he was not his usual self, as I have perceived it in the last years.”
Geordi nodded.
“You’re damn right Data. He isn’t his usual self. He is madly in love.” He muttered and walked to the arch. Taril was gazing down at his boots deep in thought.
“Do you really think that? I mean, that he’s in love and such?” Geordi went on with his work while he answered.
“Why, yes of course. You haven’t seen them together. Man! I haven’t seen a pair more in love with each other. They knew it instantly when the other was coming into a room. When the other was in distress or in joy. Had some kind of special bonding. Will tried to explain it once to me, but I never quite understood what he meant. Fact is, he would never betray Deanna and I’m very sceptical towards the things, which happened on Risa. Something is not right there and I intend to find out some time. Right, Data?” The android nodded and reviewed something on his PADD.
“Right, Geordi.” He turned to Taril. “Commander La Forge and I intend to find the women with whom Commander Riker had sex with, so as to find all the facts about this episode. Hopefully we will be able to aid the Commander in winning back the Counsellor. She seems to be as much affected by this as Commander Riker. She has shown rather peculiar behavioural curiosities.” He stepped up to Geordi and helped him feed the information into the holodeck.
“That should work. Want to check?” He asked Taril, who came over and looked at the programming. He nodded slowly.
“Looks good to me. I would alter this section. It will better draw on the resources and might activate the unknown component.” He pointed with his finger. Geordi nodded and made the needed arrangements. Then he hit his combagde.
“La Forge to Captain! Sir, we will now attempt to decipher the message with the help of holodeck three.” The brisk voice of the Captain answered instantaneously.
*Very good, Mr. La Forge. Proceed and keep me posted.*
“Yes, sir. La Forge out. Okay everybody, let’s get this moving.” He punched the control, which would activate the program. Nothing happened. At least not at first.
The room went completely dark and a tall, very tall, figure shimmered into existence in the middle of the room. His face was not discernable and the only light, came from someplace above its head. Geordi and Taril smiled at each other and Data only nodded in approval of their achievement.
“Geordi to Captain! We have been successful in calling up some of the information.” That was when it began to speak and all hell broke loose…


Chapter 17
Taril looked immensely proud at the thing in front of him. It wasn’t able to speak, but at least, it was there. That was already an achievement. Better than nothing. He would very much have liked to see the face of this guy. He leaned forward toward it and believed he could actually see how it opened its mouth, as Geordi reported to the Captain. He just wanted to make Geordi aware of it, when something slammed through all his carefully erected barriers. Even the deepest ones. Those, who protected his core. His soul. The man he was. And it was saying something, but he couldn’t understand it, because it was way too loud. It was like a plane would lift-off right next to you, but ten times louder. He screamed in pain and clutched his head. Desperately he tried to make it stop. Stop…Just stop. He couldn’t feel, couldn’t think, couldn’t hear. Oh Gods! Why didn’t it stop! He was banging his head against the floor, so as to be able to feel at least something!

Geordi was just reporting to the Captain, when Xerx behind him began to scream and he wanted to ask him what was wrong, but he felt like something was having his brain gripped tightly in an iron clamp. He felt only dull and wasn’t able to do anything. Picard’s disembodied voice rang from the bridge.
*Geordi! What is going on down there? Answer me!* But nobody answered. Data tried to get a hold on the situation and help his friends, but wasn’t able to do so. He wanted to shut down the program. That was, when he realized that it had somehow been able to load itself into the main computer core. He hit his combagde immediately.
“Data to Captain! The program is loading itself into our computer core. I recommend red alert! It may help to stop this.”
*May, Mr. Data?*
“Yes, sir. I am not certain. We have never dealt with this kind of technology before.” His fingers flew over the controls. He heard the red alert claxons on the bridge. With the red alert certain programs in the computer were activated, which were engineered to stop something like this. Data wasn’t sure they would be sufficient. This technology had proven itself to be very intriguing and dangerous. Behind him the figure spoke in a deep rumbling voice. Data couldn’t understand it, but a subroutine was already analyzing what he heard and comparing it to other languages.
*Data! Have you contained it yet?* Picard asked anxiously from the bridge. Data worked hard on the station and with a flash the hologram vanished and Geordi and Xerx stopped writhing on the floor.
“Yes, sir. I think we need a medical team in holodeck three. Ensign Xerx seems to be the most affected.”
*A team will be immediately dispatched. Be sure that this program is not reactivated by some mistake. I will meet with you, Commander La Forge and Ensign Xerx in Sickbay. Picard out!* Data nodded, even though Picard could not see him. It was a habit nearly every crewmember on the ship had and he found it only natural to emulate this kind of behaviour.

When the red alert sounded, Riker let the shard fall surprised and was on his feet instantly. He walked out of his quarters, but stopped at the door. He looked back at the shards and the blood on his carpet. It couldn’t be seen of course, but he knew it to be there. First now it dawned upon him, what he nearly had done. He shivered and jogged to the nearest turbolift. Pushing every thought about suicide far, far away. When he stepped into the turbolift, he leaned against the far side of it and breathed deeply.
“Bridge!” He ordered and the lift obeyed him instantly. After a few seconds he stepped onto the bridge and walked up to Picard.
“What is it? I can’t see any hostile ships.” He scanned the viewscreen and then the various stations with the help of his own station.
“The threat comes not from without, but from within.” Answered Picard him a bit cryptically. Riker’s head whipped around and the look with which he eyed Picard made him nervous and concerned.
“Are you all right, Number one?” Quickly Riker nodded and looked down at his own station again.
“Yes, sir. Perfectly fine.” The Captain believed him not one minute, but preferred to let it drop.
“I will meet with Data down in Sickbay. Geordi and Ensign Xerx seem to have been injured during the activation of this message. We need to find out as much as we can.” He rose and stepped into the aft turbolift. Riker closed his eyes and breathed deeply. His shoulders began to relax, when he heard Picard’s voice from behind him.
“Number One, I am waiting.” Surprised Riker looked up. Quickly he joined his Captain. When the doors closed Picard ordered: “Sickbay!” and then it went silent.
“You might want the Doctor to have a look at your hand.” Picard stated silently. Riker tried to hide his hand somewhere behind his back, but the damage was already done. He felt Picard’s hand on his shoulder, but wasn’t able to look into his mentor’s eyes.
“Will! Will, look at me! You’ve got to pull yourself together. It is hard, I can see that on you, but do not give up your hope! Do not give up yourself. There is still hope! Believe me. Deanna misses you. Beverly told me so. But you’ve got to give her time to cope with all this. I am there for you, Will. And I will always be!” He locked eyes with Will and held it. He took Riker’s hand firmly in his.
“We are going to cope with this together, Will. I will not leave you to despair and loneliness.” A tear ran down Riker’s cheek and then he pulled Picard towards him and gave him a bone cracking hug.
“I am forever in your debt.” He whispered in Picard’s ear and tightened the hug for a small second. They stepped away from each other and when the doors opened, nobody would have been able to tell that there had been a very emotional moment between the Commander and the Captain.

Deanna had tumbled into sickbay with a head cracking headache and had wanted to call for Beverly, but then she saw Taril lying on one of the bio beds. Quickly she rushed over to him. Ogawa was tending to him.
“What happened? What’s wrong with him?” Ogawa led her away from him.
“Don’t worry. He will be fine. He suffered a telepathic overload and his psychosynine levels are way too high. He will be fine, but he will have a terrible headache when he awakes.” Deanna massaged her temples and drew a deep breath.
“Yes, I know what you are talking about.” Concerned Ogawa scanned her and pushed her towards another biobed.
“Please sit down, Counsellor. Your psychosynine levels are also elevated. We will run some tests to be sure it is only of passing nature.” She smiled reassuringly and left Deanna. Deanna though was not at all reassured. Anxiously she looked over at the unmoving Taril.
“What the Hell happened?” She asked and rubbed her head. It was hurting and throbbing like after her night with Zefram Cochrane in the Crash & Burn. Only at little more worse.
The doors to Sickbay whooshed open and Picard and Riker stepped in. Data approached them immediately. Deanna tried not to draw attention towards her, but she knew Will would look for her and she did not want to meet his eyes. His concerned stare.
“What have you got, Doctor?” Picard asked and Crusher began briefing him on Geordi’s and Taril’s medical condition.
“Geordi is fine. He will awake with a headache very similar to the one he suffered through the years from his Visor. I doubt he will even recognize it. His new implants do not inflict pain upon him, but they are kind of new. Xerx on the other hand has suffered much worse.” She walked with Picard over to him. Riker still stood at the door and looked at Deanna. She did not lift her head or acknowledge that he was there.
As he walked into Sickbay with the Captain, he made a general sweep of the room, as was his habit. His eyes fell upon Deanna and only then it occurred to him that she must have suffered the same as Xerx. Maybe a bit weaker, but still the same. He barely heard Crusher talking and looked at her. Hoping she would give him a sign, whether she wanted him to talk to her, or just to stay away. As he stood there, she didn’t even seem to know he was there. He breathed deeply. He had to talk to her and now was as good a moment as any. He walked up to her and then they just looked at the others boots. Deanna sitting on a biobed and him standing in front of it. Both of them not able to look into the others eyes.
“You alright?” He asked in a low voice. She just nodded. He did not know if she just did not trust her voice, or if she thought it not necessary to answer him. Some moments past and he felt more and more uncomfortable. He felt the need to say something and because nothing else came to his mind, he just asked again.
“Are you alright?” She sighed and he heard a distinct annoyed tint in it.
“Yes. Yes, I’m alright.” She answered him and he couldn’t at all concentrate on what she was saying, but just again wonder at what a wonderful voice she had. Kind of musical with her distinct accent. He gathered his courage and touched her at her chin, to draw her gaze to his own.
“You sure?” He asked softly.
She went totally rigid when he touched her. It had been such a long time and just this feather light touch of his fingers against her chin sent jolts of electricity surging through her body. Oh gods, how she wanted to caress his cheek in the same way. And when she looked into his eyes…The concern, the devotion and love she saw there. His soft voice…it was, as if nothing had happened. As if nothing had gone awry between them. But it had. Terribly so and she was at the shorter end. She wanted to nod again and looked down at his arm. With eyes wide in shock she looked up at him. He quickly withdrew his hand and seemed terribly uneasy under her stare.
“I…The Captain.” He pointed behind him, walked a few paces backwards, clapped his hands, turned and joined the CMO and the Captain, before she could ask just how and where all this blood came from.


Chapter 18
Beverly and Picard watched all this unfold from a distance. She had crossed her arms in front of her and was leaning against the window of her office.
“That looks good. I hope she will give him a chance.” She sighed and drew her hand through her hair. He nodded silently. His face was grave and she wondered why he looked so concerned. Sure, something had tried to take over their computer core, but thanks to Data that had been no problem and Geordi and Xerx would recover fully. So what bothered him so much?
“What’s up Jean-Luc? Geordi and Taril will recover just fine. They will not even suffer from lasting injuries.” She stepped up to him and put her arms around him. He looked around him; to be sure no one saw them, before he returned this gesture and drew her tightly towards him.
“I am not concerned because of this incident. I have every confidence in you and your abilities. I am concerned about Will and his mental condition.” She looked puzzled at him. He sighed and shook his head and planted a kiss on top of her head.
“It is not for me to tell you about it. The only thing I can say is you may want to have a look at his arm.” Her eyes were wide, when she drew back and looked at him.
“You don’t mean…I mean, you are not saying he tried to…” He put up his hand to stop her and closed his eyes and defeat was clearly written over his face.
“He has nothing left Beverly. He is desperate.” He explained and drew her tighter. He himself had been very close to this nothing too. Much too close. He breathed her scent in deeply and revelled in her presence and that she was his girlfriend. Girlfriend! Man, how that sounded! He approached well his seventies and he called her girlfriend. Lover was also not appropriate, because he felt that their relationship went so much deeper.
Beverly snuggled up closer to him. She could feel his uneasiness at all this business. Should she tell him? After all he was the Captain. She sighed and untangled herself.
“Jean-Luc, there is something I need to tell you.” She started. That was when Will joined them. Oh man! What unfortunate timing. She looked over to Deanna, but saw no smile on her face. She looked rather shocked and Beverly saw why. Her eyes were immediately drawn to his arm and hand. She saw the dried blood on it and snatched his hand, as soon as he was near enough.
“William Riker! What did you do?” He tried to smile his normal flamboyant smile, but she could see the sadness and agony in his eyes.
“Ah! That’s nothing. I just stumbled in my quarters, when that thing tried to take our computer over. Caught a vase in the fall and got a shard between my palm and the floor. Outcome was not so good.” He raised the hand in front of her face. She scowled at him, but did not ask him further. Secretly he was thankful for that.

After several hours Taril awakened from a deep, dreamless slumber, induced by a hypo spray. He opened his eyes and quickly closed them again, because the lighting of Sickbay hurt them. He felt it like needles were stung into them. A fierce pounding headache wasn’t making things any better. He felt a hand on his shoulder. He opened his eyes to small slits and was able to see Geordi La Forge leaning over him.
“How are you doing?” La Forge asked in a low voice. Taril could already feel that his voice would be raspy. He could barely remember that he nearly had screamed his lungs out.
“As if ten Klingons, four Cardassians, six Nausicaans and nine Breen had beaten me up badly. I think ‘like hell’ describes it very well.” He groaned and heard Geordi chuckle silently.
“The same over here. Even though I’m accustomed to this headache. Doctor Crusher said yours is worse than mine, so I guess I was the lucky of us two, hm?” Now it was Taril’s time to chuckle.
“Yes, sir. So it seems.” Geordi patted his shoulder and smiled.
“You did good work. See you soon in Engineering.” Taril was about to slip into another deep sleep, when he heard La Forge another time. “And Xerx! Drop that Sir-thing, okay?”
Taril managed to salute. “Aye, aye.” He murmured and when his eyes closed he was instantly asleep.
The next time he opened his eyes nurse Ogawa was looking down at him. He smiled and she gave him a radiant smile back.
“Back among the living?” She asked playfully and he frowned in mock indignation.
“Now is that the proper way to handle patients?” She ran a scanner over him.
“Only if the patient sleeps clear through two days.” His round-eyed astonished look made her laugh and he propped himself up on his elbows.
“You are kidding, right? I mean, I could never have slept two days through! I…No! Now I know you are kidding me. If I really had been asleep for two days, I had to wake up at least two times, to go visit the toilet.” She bit her lower lip and tried to contain a snigger. His eyes got even rounder and the look of incredulity was more than enough to send her into a fit of laughter.
“No! You can’t be serious! You mean I…I peed on…” Quickly she shook her head.
“Oh no. Don’t worry. We took care of that. Of course just a male nurse.” She winked at him and he flopped down with a deep sigh.
“Afraid of losing your dignity?” He opened his eyes again and saw Deanna approaching him. He was glad to see her well. If that thing had so easily attacked him, what had it done to her?
“Are you okay, Dee?” She nodded and sat on his bed. Ogawa excused herself and was gone.
“I was released yesterday. Beverly kept me for observation. When you did not wake up, she was concerned, but I reminded her of the betazoid brains ability to heal itself. I said you only needed time to come around and here you are. Perfectly well and your psychosynine levels well within parameters. Although, she wants to keep you here another night.” He had just been about to stand out of the biobed, when he heard her say that.
“What do you mean, another night?” She sniggered a bit.
“I mean, another night. It’s not so bad down here. One could think you men had a natural fear of Sickbays. Will is just as…” Her voice dropped and her smile vanished. Taril laid his hand over hers.
<Are you okay? Did he do anything while I was out?> She laughed bitterly.
<You mean apart from trying to commit suicide? No, he didn’t.> He stared at her unbelieving.
<He…he actually tried to commit suicide? But…but why? I mean, he’s Commander of the Enterprise and chances aren’t bad he will get his own command in the near future. Why should he kill himself? I don’t want to insult you, but you can’t be so important to him, if he so easily can cheat on you, as he did on Risa.> She stood and paced the room in front of his bed.

<So you just plan to give in to him. Allow him to get away with cheating on you.> He watched her walk. She stopped and stared frustrated at the ceiling.
He shook his head furiously.
<Only because this man does not realise what he has with you, doesn’t mean other people don’t. You are a beautiful woman with a lot of resources and a hell of a lot to offer! Don’t you dare to say, you are insufficient or something like that!> She turned and smiled shyly at him.
“You know what to say to a woman, don’t you?” The tension in his shoulders eased, when he saw her smile.
“At least one on this ship has to know.” She hugged him tightly and laughed together with him.


Chapter 19
Data sat at his station on the bridge and was still pondering the words the holographic being had spoken. He had cross-referenced with every language he knew and had still no clue, as to what it could mean. Most intriguing. The turbolift doors whooshed open and Counsellor Troi walked onto the bridge. She seemed a little more relaxed than she had been, when he had met her this morning. She sat to Picard’s left and he leaned over to talk to her. Although he did it in a very low voice, Data could still hear what he said.
“Is Mr. Xerx well?” She smiled at her Captain. Of course he knew what had her so distracted.
“Yes, sir. He awoke some minutes ago and is fine. Beverly wants to keep him for observation though. He wasn’t really thrilled at that notion.” Picard nodded with a small smile.
“I don’t know why nearly every member of the crew carries a dislike for Sickbay. It certainly can’t be because of Beverly!” He looked at Deanna and then at Riker and saw to his relief that his first officer smiled. It was the first smile he had seen from this direction in the last two days.
“We do not all get ‘special’ treatment, Captain.” Riker reminded him. Picard snapped his fingers and pointed at Riker.
“That must be it. Next time she brings me some cake, I will refuse.” He nodded to himself and saw out of the corner of his eye, how Deanna smiled. The rest of the officers present on the bridge could feel the tension, which had been present just since the Enterprise had cleared spacedock ease.
This cheeriness was disrupted, when the Enterprise dropped out of warp for no discernable reasons. Picard looked up and Riker walked over to the Conn.
“What happened? Why did we drop out of warp?” The Captain asked the ensign at Conn. The ensign shook his head and worked on his station. Riker looked over his shoulder at the readings.
“I don’t know, sir. The warp bubble just collapsed!” Picard got a really nasty feeling about the whole situation.
“Mr. Daniels! Immediate scan of the area! Look for everything out of the ordinary.” Daniels began at once to scan. Deanna could feel all the aggravation and leaned over to the Captain.
“What do you think it is, sir?” She asked in a low voice, so as only Picard could hear her.
“The guardians of the sky.” He answered in the same low voice. She tried to focus outward but could feel nothing.
“I do not sense anything out there Captain.” He nodded and saw up at Riker, who had returned from Conn.
“We encountered a massive energy disruption, which caused subspace to collapse around us. It was much too focused to have been a natural incident. It had extremely good timing as well. We were just out of reach of Valuridaynieai. No help from that front.”
“Well, then let’s get the Hell out of here. Picard to Engineering!”
*Engineering, La Forge here! Sir! What did we just hit? It’s chaos down here.* Warning claxons could be heard through the com link.
“A massive energy disruption.”
*Aah, shit! Sorry, sir. That explains a lot. Were on it, but it will take us some time to get the engines operational again. At least half an hour.*
“You have fifteen minutes, Geordi and then I want to leave this place. Picard out.” Impatiently he drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair.
“Nothing unusual on the sensors, sir. Long and short-range. There is nothing there, from which the energy disruption could have originated.” Daniels chimed in. Picard and Riker looked at each other.
“Cloaked ship?” Asked Riker. Picard stroke his chin with his thumb and nodded.
“Scan for a cloaked ship Daniels. Data, assist him.” Riker ordered. At once the tension levels were up to their former level again.
For some time it was silent on the bridge, while everyone was doing his or her job. Then Daniels reported.
“Nothing, sir. I have scanned for all the indications for cloaking devices we know of, but there is nothing.” Everyone seemed to let out the air, which they had held since they had dropped out of warp. Picard nodded, closed his eyes and sighed.
“We’ll wait for engineering to get the engines online and then we will proceed on our former course.” The ensign at Conn nodded and began plotting a new course. He would never use it.


Chapter 20
Daniels blew out the air he’d held, since the ship just dropped out of warp. He had awaited an attack and was glad when none was forthcoming. He kept though a sharp eye on the long range sensors and was prepared to raise shields at a moments notice. He didn’t like the whole situation and would first be at ease, when they were on their way again. He wanted to check the status of the shields, when he discovered…that the whole power for them was drained! Alerted he crosschecked it again. Where had all the energy gone? He tried to find out, how this all could have happened, but he had to inform the Captain. It seemed that the crisis wasn’t over yet.
“Sir, we have a serious power drop in the shields. I can’t bring them online if needed. Navigational shields are all I can give you.” Picard’s and Riker’s heads snapped around and looked with wide eyes at Daniels.
“Seems we have friends out there.” Commented Riker. Picard nodded.
“Try to restore power to the shields. We might need them.” Picard ordered Daniels, who immediately began working on it.

Data found the whole situation very intriguing. He tried to find out where the disruption had originated, while at the same time tracing the energy of the shields. He creased his brow in wonderment. The tampering with the shield power system seemed to originate somewhere on the bridge! Could they have a saboteur onboard? His fingers flew over his controls and tried to find out. His gaze was drawn to the Conn. The ensign’s fingers worked just as fast, which Data knew was impossible for his race. He turned his head a bit and was able to catch Riker’s attention. He looked at the ensign, then at Daniels, again at the ensign and then again at Riker. Data had become better in reading facial expressions and was certain that Riker had understood what Data wanted to say to him. He nodded slightly and bent down to the Captain to tell him. Meanwhile Data had an eye on the Conn. He saw the Commander walk to the far side of the bridge and take a phaser from a small slot there. He walked back and stood behind the ensign.
“Stand back from that console ensign! Slowly!” He ordered. The young man cast a glance behind him and saw Riker standing with the phaser at the ready. He moved so fast that, although Riker fired the same instant he moved, hadn’t hit him. The ensign hit his arm and said something with a voice way too deep for somebody of his stature.
Alarms began too beep all over the bridge and the viewscreen showed them a flimmer and then all the stars were gone! The light on the bridge went out and then the secondary systems kicked in.
“Mr. Daniels! Raise shields! Red Alert!” Bellowed Picard, but it was all way too late.
“A tractor beam has locked onto us and is draining us for energy. We can’t raise shields. What we see in front of us is a…ship, sir.” Data was in absolute awe. It was big. More than that! It was huge! He had never encountered anything of these immense dimensions.
Behind him Riker again aimed at the ensign and again it moved too fast. There were several flashes of light and now there were towering forms beside everyone on the bridge. The one in front of Riker pointed a weapon right at his temple and then grabbed the phaser from him. Data rose from his seat and the form beside him indicated for him to sit down. When Data didn’t comply, it drew a weapon. Data kicked it out of its hand and tried to render it unconscious. Surprised he had to discover that at one moment he was attacking and the next…he was on the defensive! He picked up the speed of his movements, but the form just seemed to adapt!
The largest said something and Data discovered it was the same language that the hologram had spoken. It didn’t seem to have the same effect on people as the hologram had though. The one at the side of Deanna looped his arm around her throat, drew her head back and then three long blades protruded from its other hand. Just mere inches from her main artery. Immediately all movement and fighting on the bridge stopped. Riker was deadly pale. He was as white as a ghost and for the first time in months they looked deeply into the others eyes and he could hear her in his head.
<Imzadi! Help me!> Without thinking he jumped forward to help her. He never saw the blow coming.


Chapter 21
Deanna could feel the cold steel of the blade against her neck. She didn’t dare to move, less the blade sever her main artery. But that was only on an unconscious level. All the rest of her thoughts were directed towards Will. Her Imzadi. She looked deep into his eyes for the first time in months and scolded herself for being so immensely stupid. She should have taken him back. She should not have been so stubborn. She should…but that was not relevant anymore. They would die out here. They all would die! She called out to him. She wanted him near her. She wanted to die in his arms.
And he, literally, jumped at her command. It was obvious what he wanted to do, but he would never accomplish that. The form beside him stretched out his arm and hit him. It wasn’t much and it seemed to be almost an afterthought. The result was that Riker lay sprawled on his face on the bridge. Deanna wanted to move, but the feeling of the sharp weapon against her neck prevented her from doing so. Picard though, was not hindered by blades of any kind and knelt beside him. He examined Riker in the best way he could and when he was finished a sigh escaped him. He looked up at Deanna and just nodded. He was well. Unconscious, but well. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath of relief.
The largest seemed to bark orders and the others followed them very efficiently. The officers were gathered in the middle of the bridge, while the strangers operated the stations. They did it all with a frightening familiarity, as if they had constructed the Enterprise. The ensign no longer looked like a bolian. He seemed to have shut off whatever device enabled him to appear as a bolian. He sat back at Conn and set the ship in motion. With gaping mouths the bridge crew watched, how the other vessel opened and the Enterprise, the whole damn thing!, fitted into it. Easily. They could even see three more ships standing in this enormous ‘shuttle bay’. The whole ship shook a bit, when huge clamps attached themselves to the ship in order to hold it in position. The Enterprise had never been designed to land. Not to talk about fitting into a shuttle bay! As three of the aliens still worked on the stations, the others ushered the crew into turbolifts. One picked up Riker and carried him, as though he weighed nothing at all.
On their way down to the shuttle bays, they met the rest of the crew. All of them accompanied by the aliens. Picard tried to get into contact with Geordi. It wasn’t easy to find him. The Enterprise after all carried a good 900 people. And to make it just more difficult, Geordi wasn’t one of the tallest persons. Although he managed to find him and get near enough to talk to him.
“Geordi! How are you and the rest of the crew? Did anyone manage to hide or to escape?” He asked in a low voice. Geordi had a cut on his forehead and a bit of blood ran down his face. Concerned Picard looked at him. Geordi walked closer to him.
“Don’t worry, sir. Just a small cut.” He sighed and wiped his face free of sweat and blood. “No one got away, sir. They were too damn efficient. Even Lieutenant Carlos, who had been in a Jeffries tube didn’t get away. I believe they had locked on to all of us and sent one for all of us. No escape. I didn’t even manage to block the computers! But somehow I believe that wouldn’t have held them too long, keeping in mind how easily their holo got around all our security locks.” He sighed again and trudged on. Picard tried to see, if everybody was well. Some had bruises or cuts, like Geordi. He stopped and watched all those, who passed him. He smiled reassuringly at them and clapped some on their shoulders.
Something hard bumped into his thigh and he turned. Nurse Ogawa smiled apologetically at him. She operated an antigrav unit.
“Sorry, sir. But we had to evacuate sickbay in a hurry. And these guys are not the most patient ones.” As if summoned one of them showed up and indicated for her to continue on her way. It stopped in front of Picard who didn’t move an inch.
“Where are you bringing us? What will happen to my crew? Why are you doing this? I want to speak to your superior!” It turned its head at an odd angle, just like Data did and Picard could see a real cascade of tiny braids fall over its shoulder. It had a striking resemblance to dreadlocks. But much more orderly. Each braid had its own pattern and nearly each had two or three pearls in it. It nudged him in the ribs with an oblong weapon, which Picard surmised was a phaser rifle of some sort. He obeyed but did send it a look that had intimidated tyrants and madmen, but it didn’t seem to touch it in the least.
They reached the shuttlebay and they were not the first ones. A lot of crewmembers and their respective families were already there. A ramp had been attached to the ship and the crew was herded down that ramp under the watchful scrutiny of the aliens. When he walked out onto the ramp he couldn’t believe the enormous size of the whole place. The three ships he had seen over the viewscreen were just the beginning. Hundreds more stood at the whole length of the bay. Varying in size and shape. There were also other machines of which he had no idea, what they were. But they looked definitely like weapons. Out on the flight deck, the aliens were splitting the crew up in groups and examined them. From his high vantage point he could see Beverly’s red hair and quickly picked up his pace, to catch up with her, before she was sorted into a group without him. Geordi, Data and Deanna seemed to have had the same idea, because they were all there, when he caught up with Beverly. She had been the easiest to spot, because of her red hair.

“Data, report.” Muttered Picard to the android and helped Beverly push the antigrav unit, upon which Taril lay. All strained their ears, to hear what Data had to say.
“The aliens seem to be utterly familiar with the ship and its systems. I believe the buoy somehow tapped into the computer without us noticing and send it all to a base or a ship nearby, where after this ship may have been dispatched to intercept us. I believe the bolian ‘ensign’ joined the crew on Valuridaynieai. I did not know him, but I simply thought I had not met him yet, because of my schedule. This bay seems to occupy all the underside of the ship. It runs the whole length of it. I have studied the movements of our captors and advice against any hostile action. They are fast enough to block and counter my fastest attacks. I was not even able to study their technique to copy it.” This caused the others to raise their eyebrows in wonder. “I tried sheer force, but their resilience is admirable. I know I broke my opponents arm in order to render him unconscious, but when I hit the next time, it was whole again.” Uneasiness crept up the others spines.
“You mean it healed itself within seconds?” Asked Geordi in wonderment. Data only nodded.
“Commander Riker would never have been successful in freeing the Counsellor.” This caused Beverly, Geordi and Taril to look at her.
“Freeing?” Asked Taril and Beverly in unison, concern clearly visible on both their faces.
“I explain later.” She muttered and looked over at Riker's body, which lay between one of the groups. He seemed to just have been dropped. She hoped he hadn’t been injured further.
They were now approaching the aliens, who made the examinations. They looked smaller and slimmer than the ones, who had captured them. They did also not wear the armour-like uniforms the others wore. They were simply clad in blue, much similar to the blue of Beverly’s old med-jacket, which she had taken with her from the old Enterprise. They ran scanners over all of them. First Data. The alien who had examined Data exchanged a few words with one of the armoured aliens and this one dispatched two, to watch out for Data. Geordi smiled at this. They were still cautious about Data, even though they had already proven their superiority concerning the android. The next was Geordi. The large one only pointed in the direction of one of the groups and didn’t deem it necessary to dispatch someone to watch out for him. That wounded his ego a bit. The next was Beverly and Taril. They were led to a group only consisting of med-personnel and injured. The next was Picard. He held his head high and tried to look his counterpart in the eye. This was very difficult, because he didn’t know where their eyes were and their faces were either hidden by hoods or by the armour they wore. He was led away from the med-group. He tried to walk over to them, but bumped instantly into the alien, who had been assigned to him. When Picard didn’t budge, it gave him a gentle nudge in the right direction. Beverly could see this and looked Picard deep into his eyes. She shook her head gently and he understood. He should not put himself at risk. She would be okay. He turned warily around and walked over to his assigned group.
Now it was Deanna’s turn. She felt a little unsure. All her friends had been waved through already and now she was all on her own. She stepped up to the towering figure with the scanner in its hands. Carefully it scanned her…and again…and again. Now she knew something was wrong. The others had only been scanned once. She had already been scanned thrice and now even a fourth time. The alien began to speak to the armoured one and showed it its scanner and indicated something. Deanna wondered what the difference was between her and her crewmates. Sure, she was an empath, but Taril was much more powerful than she. The armoured’s head snapped to her and she found herself to be the focus of its intense scrutiny. It called something out and all over the bay…the beings went to their knees and hailed her! Puzzled she looked around herself. She met Picard’s gaze.
“What did you do?” He called. She shrugged.
“I don’t have a clue, sir. But I think it may help us!” She answered. Further conversation was prevented, because all the aliens came to their feet again and four of the armoured aliens approached Deanna. She swallowed. Maybe she was some kind of sacrifice to whatever Gods these people worshipped. They escorted her out of the bay and left very concerned friends behind.


Chapter 22
The first he felt was pain. Something had hit him, but he didn’t know what. He grunted and tried to turn around. He opened his eyes only as wide, so there were two small slits. The only thing he saw was a smooth metal surface. He wasn’t on the bridge anymore. He had to be on the alien ship. Somebody helped him turn around and he squinted against the overhead lights. His helper rearranged his position and now shielded him with his body, so that he could open his eyes fully. He tried to sit up and was helped by a number of hands. He looked around and couldn’t believe what he saw.
“Man, this place is huge!” He whispered.
“Are you okay, Commander?” A woman had spoken. He looked at her and recognized her as TuLark. Daniels nightshift equivalent. What would security be without at least one klingon? He only nodded and indicated her to help him up. His gaze swept over the various groups and tried to find her. He had to find her!
“Will!” Someone called from his left. He turned around and saw Picard in one of the other groups. “Are you okay?” He called over. Will nodded.
“Yes, sir. Only a little pain in the neck. Where is Deanna? I can’t see her.” Picard’s facial expression wasn’t going well with Riker at all.
“They took her somewhere. It’s now already half an hour. We have tried to talk to them, but they do not seem to understand us. Data has tried in every language he knows. He is at it even the moment we speak.” Riker heard nothing of the last sentences, because the first had hit him deep. They had taken her! He had to rescue her! At once he turned towards the nearest door and ran. All aliens were the same instant he started aware that he moved. One of them, at least a good ten meters away, sprinted and then set off. Elegantly it sailed through the air and landed directly in front of the door Riker had intended to use. But he did not stop. He was furious and mad with concern for his Imzadi. He roared with fury and charged full into the alien, which was at least two heads larger than he. And surprisingly enough, he was able to wrestle it down and punch it in its face. At least Riker hoped it was its face. He struck again and again, until it no longer moved. He jumped up and wanted to proceed, but was now faced with two of them. He snarled and got ready for the fight. And it seemed that for the first time he was getting an emotional reaction from them. Before they had seemed distanced and disinterested, but now they seemed angry. He had beaten up one of their comrades and they did not take that well. Before they could attack an ear-splitting roar sounded through the bay. A small alien appeared. It wore armour though, not like the other smaller ones, who wore robes. It seemed to be their commanding officer, because they at once stopped their aggressive behaviour and stepped back from him.
She looked at him intently and ordered him with a nod of her head, to go back to his group. Crewmembers closed in on him and drew him back. The tension in the room could have been cut with a knife. Everybody knew if Riker made a wrong move, all Hell would break loose. Some wanted that more than anything, others feared it. Especially the parents and children.
“That’s enough, Number One! Stand down!” Picard called in his authoritative voice and walked over to Riker. Nobody tried to stop him. Picard grabbed Will’s arm hard and tried to force him, to look him in the eye.
“We can’t do anything for her, Will! We have to think about the other crewmembers! The children!” He tugged again at Will’s arm. “We have to focus. We can’t accomplish anything on Deanna’s behalf right now.” Slowly Riker retreated and everybody drew a relieved breath. Although he retreated, he eyed the aliens darkly and promised himself to grab the first chance, which presented itself.

Deanna had no idea where she was. She had tried to keep track of all the turns and tours in lifts, but she hadn’t been successful. Now she sat in a sparkling white room with nothing in it, except a kind of sofa and a door opposite the one through which she had entered. She wanted nothing more, than to join the others in the ‘shuttlebay’. She wanted nothing more than to feel Will’s arms around. She admitted it freely. She was scared as hell and she knew that only Will would be able to make her feel better. She shivered and rubbed her arms. The room was not cold, but she was cold on the inside. She rocked back and forth and bit her lip. She had the feeling that hours passed, but it was probably only a few minutes.
The door on the other side of the room opened and a female alien entered. She beckoned Deanna to come and walked into the new room, to take the lead. Quickly Deanna stood, but then hesitated. As she thought about it, she did not know what to await on the other side. On the other hand, what choices did she have? If she just remained here, they would just find a way to take her to this other place by other means. She took a cautious step toward the door. The alien turned around and waved for her to follow. She did it in no threatening manner. Deanna found she had no choice but to follow. After a few minutes, they reached an enormous hall. It led towards a huge portal with heavy wooden doors. Intricate carvings covered it totally and Deanna could only gape at this masterpiece of handwork. It must have taken at least five masters to finish this work in at least three to four years. If not more. Two of the largest aliens she had seen until that moment flanked the doors. They leaned their heads back and bared their throats, before each taking an equally fine worked golden handle and with a powerful tug opened the portal. The female walked through, while Deanna remained outside, unsure of what to expect. Again the female waited for her. Deanna swallowed hard and made the last step through. As soon as she was through, the portal again shut behind her. Now she had the distinct feeling of being trapped and panic manifested itself, by crawling up her spine.
And then she felt it. She had felt it already earlier. When she had entered the ship, but it had never been as strong, as it was right now. It hadn’t been so strong and not so…clear! She looked up and saw where the female was leading her. Her eyes were round in wonder. Windows! She had never seen such big windows! They covered the entire wall opposite her and showed the distinct pattern of stars of a ship at warp. When she looked up again, the female alien had gone. Unsure of what to expect, Deanna walked to the middle of the room.
“Hello! My name is Deanna Troi. I am a Starfleet officer. The others you captured are also officers. We serve all on the Enterprise. We are here to explore. We do not want to hurt you, or those who you protect.” She hoped the last would encourage them to speak to her. It was more an afterthought, but she didn’t doubt that these were the ‘guardians of the sky’. Nothing happened and she had no idea what to do, or what they expected from her.
The presence she had been sensing all the time, brushed her mind softly and Deanna could feel how her breathing slowed and she became much calmer. They would not hurt her. They would never dare to hurt her. A hidden door opened and a small group of aliens entered. Deanna didn’t see them coming. She was totally caught up in this presence. It was all around her and hugged her. Comforted her and made her feel safe and content for the first time in weeks. Her eyes drooped and she didn’t feel how the aliens took off her uniform and clothed her in a flowing white gown. A long golden chain around her, helped to shape it, so it did her legs and hips justice. The end of the chain dangled between her legs and helped to hold it in place, should she move quickly. A seat was moved over to her and she sat, without being aware of it. She was only dimly aware of her body. The rest of her was soaring through space with this other presence. It was immensely powerful. Not even her mother could be compared to what Deanna felt in this individual. Her mothers powers were compared to those she felt nonexistent. It was like a bright shining light in her mind, but the light didn’t blind her or hurt her. It much more showed her new ways to go. The aliens brushed her hair and braided it and interlaced it with jewels and gold. After they were finished, Deanna looked no longer like the ships counsellor of the starship Enterprise, but much more like a princess. She stood again and when she opened her eyes, she saw so much more! No. They would not hurt them. None of them. And especially not her. Not them.


Chapter 23
Beverly was pleased with herself. These were by no means ideal conditions, but her staff kept up fine and the evacuation of Sickbay had been swift and orderly. No one had panicked and there had been no chaos. It had looked otherwise though. She smiled a bit at this thought and looked through the bay. The other groups had settled down and everybody seemed to wait. The aliens still stood and had a wary eye on them. Especially on Will Riker, who sat with a dark scowl among his group and pierced the aliens with his gaze. She too was worried as hell concerning Deanna, but she couldn’t accomplish anything. They had been able to deal with Data with no problems. What should she do what the android wasn’t able to? She caught Picard’s gaze and gave him an encouraging smile. Hours had passed by and she knew how he hated to just sit there and do nothing. She wished she could comfort him, but every attempt to change group, was immediately stopped.
Just when she wanted to lie down, something happened. A group of four aliens walked in. They marched perfectly in synch and all the other guards present saluted to them. All of them apart from the small female. She seemed infuriated. She walked up to the large guards in even more impressing armour than the armour the normal guards wore. They talked in low voices with each other. The female didn’t seem to accept what she was told and protested, until a low growl was audible from the one she was speaking to. She nodded reluctantly and pointed at the groups. The four guards moved immediately forward again. They split up and searched every group. One pulled Daniels away from his wife and his little daughter. Another pulled Geordi up and because Geordi was rather short, he dangled for some moments in the air, until he was released. He huffed and tucked on his uniform. Beverly was surprised to see, that the guard coming towards her group was a female. She seemed way too large. The only females she had seen until now had always been smaller, but she seemed to be a total different case. She stopped right in front of Beverly and ordered her with a flip of her hand to stand. Beverly did so and followed her over to Geordi and Daniels. The strongest build escorted Data and never left his eyes from the android. The one who had got Daniels walked over to Riker's group. The female got Picard and as soon as he joined the group, Beverly gripped his hand and pressed it reassuringly. Geordi and Data moved closer and Daniels looked out what was happening around them.
“It seems the time to talk has finally come. Counsellor Troi has obviously been able to make first contact and convince them at least to listen to us.” Picard began. Data nodded.
“It would seem so, sir. These guards are all approximately ten centimetres larger than our present guards. Judging their armour, I would say, they are the personal guard of their leader.”
“That’s not all Data. You should see them through my eyes. They are glowing red! Even through their armour.” Picard’s brow creased.
“What do you mean, Geordi?”
“I mean, sir that these guys have the most unbelievable blood circuit I have ever seen. I am willing to bet all my hard earned money that they have at least two hearts. If not more. Their armour would be able to withstand the heaviest phaserblasts.”
“You mean handphasers?” Picard asked hopefully, but he knew the answer, before Geordi even said it.
“I fear I must say no to this. I mean smaller phaserbanks. Like the ones on our shuttles. You could shoot at them, blow them away a few metres, but they would just stand up and come back again. Really angry!” Daniels swallowed hard when he heard this. How should he be able to protect his family from these guys? These were walking killing machines.
“Take your filthy hands of me!” The scream seized instantly their attention. Even before they turned around, they knew who had spoken. As they had assumed, Riker stood with spread legs and balled fists in front of the leader of the elite guards. Riker seemed prepared to rip its head off any time.
“Touch me again and it’s the last thing you do in your entire life!” He growled and tensed all his muscles. The leader of the elite guards stepped back, not at all intimidated, but it seemed, as if he wanted to pay Riker respect for his courage. Riker eyed it suspiciously and walked over to the others.
“What is this all about?” He asked, as soon as he was near enough to be heard.
“We don’t know, Number One. But we believe Deanna has been successful in establishing first contact and now they want to talk to us. At least it's what I hope is going to happen.” The last sentence he mumbled low enough, so only the senior officers could hear him. He did not want to worry the crew. They had more than enough to worry about. The guard took positions before and behind them and began to lead them out of the bay.

They were walking for a long time and Picard was absolutely positive that only Data would be able to find the way back, if they were able to escape. Long halls and rides in turbolifts and when they at last stopped in front of two huge doors with intricate carvings, he was sure they were at the other end of the ship. Two guards took each a golden handle and pulled the doors open on silent hinges. Warily they entered the huge chamber behind. The guards left them at the entrance. With a loud bang the doors shut behind them and they felt trapped inside the huge room. Beverly was awestruck by the size of the windows, which covered the entire back wall. In front of this large window sat a tall slender woman on a throne like chair. Her posture was upright and you instantly knew she was a kind of royalty. But what caught the Enterprise crew’s eyes was not the stranger, but Counsellor Deanna Troi, standing in a shining white gown beside this alien woman. And when she looked at them, they saw to their horror she no longer had normal eyes. Her eyes were totally white and there was no recognition in them.


Chapter 24
Will had the feeling his heart was squeezed hard. What had they done to his Imzadi? He took several steps toward her and scrutinized her.
“Imzadi. Is that you?” He asked cautiously. It triggered no reaction on her part. A hand gripped his shoulder and drew him back.
“Stay back, Number One. We don’t know what they have done to her. We must be cautious.” Will swallowed heavily and joined the others again. He ached to hold her in his arms and protect her and heal her of what they had done to her. He wanted to see her deep dark eyes, which always captivated him and made him feel loved.
The female on the throne rose and took a step towards the senior officers. And then Deanna opened her mouth to speak.
“Welcome Strangers, aboard the warship Ki’Tul. I am Warmistress Alfalan.” Her voice was strangely altered. As if she was not just speaking with one voice, but with a dozen or so. It reminded them way too much of the Borg. Picard took a step forward and bowed.
“I am most honoured Warmistress Alfalan. May I introduce…”
“Release her!” It was Will’s voice. He hadn’t been able to contain himself any longer. To see the woman he loved be used as a kind of tool hurt him deeply. “Release her! We did nothing wrong! If you want to punish somebody, then let it be me, but release her! She would never do anyone harm!” He had taken several steps forward and was now merely three metres away from the alien and Deanna.
“Deanna has chosen to help me in communicating with you. I am not able to speak to you and she has volunteered as an interpreter between our people. She is well and happy, I can assure you.” Will took another step forward.
“I do not believe you! Let me speak to her! Please.” There was a moment of silence and everybody held his or her breath. Then the alien tipped her head a bit and focused again on Riker.
“She does not wish to speak to you. But be reassured that we would never harm a woman, who has been blessed by life. She is safe with us. Safer than she ever will be with you.” In the last sentence was a distinct edge and frostiness. Will was crushed. She wanted more to stay with these total strangers, who maybe would kill the entire crew, than to return to him and her friends. He didn’t know what to say.
“We have reviewed the data in your ships computer and Deanna has told me a lot about your mission and the Federation. We will accommodate you and your crew in a part of our ship and we will meet again for dinner. Until then I wish you a successful day. Nilchawso ihihmdzae.” With that she turned away from the senior officers and Deanna followed her out through a back door. As soon as this door was closed the portal opened and their guards stepped in again. Just when they were on their way out, the guards turned back again and so did all the senior officers and saw, Riker still standing, where Deanna had just stood a few moments before. He stared on the ground and his gaze went into nothingness. She wanted to stay with them. He knew it. Although this alien had spoken through her, he knew with absolute certainty that she wanted to stay with them. That she wanted to leave him for good.


Chapter 25
After they had been led out of the chamber, their guards had taken them back through half of the ship and each given them quarters. Picard and Beverly got one together and were a bit intimidated. How did the aliens know about their relationship? A little uncomfortable they entered and were astounded by the size of the quarters. It was as big as Ten Forward and the Bridge together! The lighting was low and the dark blue carpets and golden decorations gave the room something royal and…well…glamorous. Beverly went exploring immediately, while Picard stepped up to one of the windows and looked into space. They were still travelling at warp and he wouldn’t be able to pinpoint their location. He wondered if he even would be able to. From his window he could see one of the ships warp nacelles. Again he was rendered speechless by the mere size of this enormous construct. He knew that the size didn’t matter much in space, but to power all this…He would like to know what kind of energy source they had. Did they have a warp core, like the Enterprise, or something altogether different? From what he had seen, they had a cloaking device and that alone should take a lot of energy. To cloak something this huge!
“Unbelievable.” He whispered.
“What is unbelievable?” Asked Beverly and walked up to him. Her hand rubbed over his back and she gave him a reassuring smile through the windows mirror effect. He reached behind himself for her other hand and kissed it.
“This ship. It is enormous and I bet Geordi would gladly give his right hand to have a look at their engines.” She chuckled and leaned against his back.
“Do you think they will allow us to talk to the others?”
“How shall we ask them? It seems that only their Warmistress understands us and can speak our language. And that only thanks to Counsellor Troi.” He could feel how she held him tighter.
“Do you think she is well? That she does this out of free will?” He turned around and drew her into an embrace. She buried her head at his chest.
“I don’t know Beverly, but Warmistress Alfalan seemed honest. I do not think they will hurt her.” He heard her sigh and she looked up at him. Something in her eyes set off red alert claxons in his head.
“There is also something else, which I have tried to tell you for some time now. Remember when the Warmistress said, they would never hurt someone, who had been ‘blessed by life’?” He nodded. “Well, Deanna has been blessed by life. Or more precisely, by Will. She is about two months pregnant with his child.”

Will paced his quarters furiously. He didn’t see the splendour of the place. He just wanted out of this room and find Deanna. He had to find and free her from this…thing. The aliens weren’t foolish though. They had posted guards in front of his room and as soon as he walked to the door, so that it opened, they crossed some kind of lances in his way, so that he wasn’t able to leave. He felt as if he was in a prison. Like a caged animal he moved restlessly through the confines of his golden prison and awaited eagerly the coming of the dinner. There he would be able to free Deanna from the oppression of that alien. He was sure he could do it. She had once taught him how to meld their minds and that was what he intended to do. He would meld his mind to hers and then fight that thing off! He would rescue her and leave with the rest of the crew. He would have her back and they would be happy. He smiled into the darkness. She would be happy with him. She couldn’t stay here; be happy here. He couldn’t be happy without her. She could only be happy with him, because he could only be happy with her.
Half an hour later his doors opened and one of the aliens stepped in. It gestured for him to come with him and he rose from the couch to follow. He had made his mind up and knew what he had to do. Outside were the others already gathered in a small group, flanked by four of the towering aliens. As soon as Riker had joined them, they marched with them towards one of the lifts. Perfectly in synch. The whole trip was even longer than the one they had to make before. All of them again in awe of the ships size. Well, all of them except Will Riker. He wasn’t looking nor right or left. He was focused on only one thing. To rescue Deanna and live with her happily until their end. That was all he wanted.
They reached a large antechamber with wooden double doors. They were just as beautiful as those they had seen before, but the carvings were different and they were laid in with gold and silver like metal. This seemed to be some kind of official meeting chamber. Floor, ceiling and walls were covered in marble and were adorned with beautiful mosaics of solar systems and suns. The suns seemed to be the most prominent. The centre of the ceiling was a dome and the whole dome was deep blue marble and twinkling in the shallow light of golden lamps were millions of small stars! They showed the awestruck onlooker a breathtaking view of a spiral galaxy.
“Intriguing, Captain. This mosaic is an exact image of our galaxy. Every star is at its right position.” Picard’s mouth just hanged open. It was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. He only hoped he was able to successfully take up negotiations with this race. Their craftsmanship was enormous.
“What are the stars, Data? They are really twinkling!” Beverly exclaimed in wonderment.
“As far as I can see it, they are a kind of diamond. Wouldn’t you agree, Geordi?”
“Yes. They have been cut, so that their facets reflect the light in a flickering way. That gives you the impression they are twinkling. Man! I’ve never seen anything like this!” Beverly looked smiling to Geordi. His childlike wonder was growing by each new thing he discovered onboard this ship.
The doors were opened from the inside and they cautiously stepped inside. Waiting for them were four of the aliens. One of them, they already knew. The small female, who had headed the initial attack on the Enterprise, stood behind one of the large chairs around a long, heavy mahogany table. The three others eyed them with cautious interest. According to their armour or clothing, they were other leading officers on this ship. At the end of the table stood an intricately carved chair, which seemed to be made out of a singly piece of wood. It looked as if it never could support the weight of any of them, let alone one of the aliens. To the right of this chair stood a male alien with the most magnificent uniform. Its armour was a deep blue with gold and green decoration all over it. When it turned its head towards them, a cascade of tiny braids fell over its shoulder. It seemed to be a custom of their warriors. The small female had also many braids, but the majority of her hair was falling freely. The two others had normal clothing and no armour on them. One was in blue and the other was in orange. While the female and the male wore helmets, the other two wore hoods.
Uneasy silence settled between them and the Enterprise crewmembers stayed where they were and stood even a little closer together. Nobody had asked them to sit down. The silence stretched on. When Will nearly couldn’t bare it any longer, the doors behind the chair at the end of the table opened and in walked a white clad female. She stepped to the left of the door and waited. Slowly Alfalan walked in and behind her came Deanna. She still had the white eyes and seemed not even to see her friends at the other end of the room. Will saw now his chance. Before anyone could do anything, he had jumped onto the table, ran the length of it and jumped off in Deanna’s direction.


Chapter 26
He could do it! He had nearly reached her! He jumped off…and had the feeling he was smashing into a wall. With a thud he landed on the floor. His neck hurt like hell, because he had smashed headfirst into whatever had stopped him. Stars were dancing before his eyes and he shook it, to clear his vision. That was, when something lifted him by his throat. It did so very slowly. Desperately he fought for breath and his feet kicked useless into the air. He was able to look at his opponent and his eyes grew wide. Glowing, golden eyes looked into his.
Picard wanted to shout something and order Riker to stop, but it was already too late. He jumped off…and seemed to bump into a wall of air! The next thing he knew was that the other four aliens left the room. Puzzled the Enterprise crew looked after them. Picard looked worried back to Riker. He now hung in the air and according to his movements, something was clutching his throat. The air in front of Riker shimmered and the most gigantic alien he had seen until now held Riker at its outstretched arm! As if the Commander would weigh nothing! Alfalan stood totally calmly behind it and watched how it slowly strangled Will Riker.
“Please! Stop it! He only wanted to reach Deanna. He would never have hurt you! He only wanted to rescue her.” Picard shouted. Alfalan stayed utterly composed.
“She is much safer with us than with this individual. We will protect her and her blessing better than any of you ever could.” A cold shiver ran down Picard’s spine, when he heard Deanna again speak with more than just one voice. How Alfalan managed that, he didn’t know.
“That may be true, but you must see that Deanna loves him. And he loves her. How else do you explain his immensely foolish actions? He would never be able to escape from you. Our ship is in your hangar and your soldiers are for us invincible. He is madly in love with this woman and if he knew she was pregnant with his child…”
That piqued the interest of everyone in the room. Riker’s head had snapped around and his eyes were opened wide. He struggled harder now, but the towering alien just tightened its grip. Relieved Picard could also discover a reaction from Deanna. Her hand had glided to her abdomen. Even though her eyes still were milky white, she seemed to be miles away. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Her small form shuddered and her knees gave way. Data took a step forward to go to the Counsellor and help her, but instantly the towering alien stepped between them with a deep, deep, deep growl. It was so deep a tone that the Enterprise crewmembers could actually feel it in their bones. Picard did not want to be near it when it actually started to roar.

The bald man on the other side of the room had said something about her. About the presence inside her. It became now clear to her that it wasn’t something she had felt from Alfalan, but it was inside her! A new spark of life had been ignited inside her and she could feel it grow. A child! She was with child! Full of joy she wanted to share this feeling of joy and fulfilment with Alfalan, but the light, which had led her and protected her, moved away; out of her reach. Desperately she tried to hold on, but without success. The world around her returned to the limited way she had seen it before. No longer were there the immense possibilities, the voices of others, the absolute clarity of thought and emotion. A way of communication which never could be misinterpreted and was absolutely perfect.
“No! No, let me back! Let me back, Alfalan! Please let me back!” She sobbed and stumbled on her knees toward the royal female. The white clad female on the left side of the door now stepped forward.
“I am sorry Deanna, but I can no longer be in contact with you. See how addicted you have become to it in the short time we were connected. You and I cannot stay in connection, because your child and your mate need you in this world.” Deanna looked at her with tears in her eyes. “It has to be this way, child.” Softly Alfalan caressed Deanna’s cheek with her delicate fingers and brushed the tears away. Carefully she helped Deanna into one of the chairs. She straightened her posture again and looked at Captain Picard.
“Please Captain, sit down.” She extended her hand in an inviting sweep.
“What about Commander Riker?” Picard asked and she saw how he clenched his fists. She looked to the Commander. His motions had ceased and he now only tried, not very successfully, to breathe. His face had turned a crimson red.
“Kul tainoe, Eifetie!” No one understood what she was saying, but the alien dropped Riker immediately. Gasping and coughing he lay on the floor and tried to breathe deeply. Beverly at once rushed up to him. The alien took up a place behind Alfalan, who had settled herself into the chair at the end of the table. She took of some salad and began to eat, as if nothing had happened. Beverly and Geordi lifted Riker into a chair, while Data and Daniels the whole time had an eye upon the towering bodyguard, because that was definitely his job. Cautiously the others sat around the table.
“Why did the others leave?” Data asked curious.
“To understand that, Mr Data, I will have to tell you a bit about my people. Our population is parted into three main groups. The main group are the Eviat. Normal people, without specified talents. They are about 56% of the population. The Anuat, the warriors, make out about 24%. They have some special talents, which make them fierce and very dangerous fighters. The next 19.999 991% are Laniat. Telepaths as I am. Although there are no other telepaths as powerful as I. Now you are going to ask yourself, what about the last 0. 000 009%? These are Koviat. Sulin-Avya as my trusted friend Kalvolin Tar here. They are very seldom and very, very dangerous. Already from birth infected with a creature that continues to grow within them throughout their lives. This parasite takes over its host’s body in times of emotional stress. Then, a normally totally peaceful individual can turn into an unstoppable murdering machine and release carnage upon innocents. It is my duty to prevent anything like that from happening. It is considered dishonouring to look directly at a Koviat, so therefore all of the others left.” Everybody looked at her wide eyed and then at the towering figure behind her. He stood there, as if he hadn’t heard anything of what had been said.


Chapter 27
After a time of uneasiness, it was Data who spoke up first.
“Emotional stress can be anything. Could you maybe be more precise?” Alfalan nodded and put a small fruit into her mouth.
“Of course Mr Data. Emotional stress is for Koviat any emotion, which exceeds the normal. They are not allowed to read anything, except from rational data and facts. They are not allowed to drink alcohol or eat food which would be called delicate by you. Talking is also not allowed. He is only able to hear me, because I can speak his language. The Koviat are taught a special language. This is not understandable to others of our race and only their guardians are able to communicate with them. It is my job to keep every information from him, which could upset him or even amuse him, because a fit of laughter would have the same effect as an outburst of anger.” Beverly looked at her wide eyed.
“He is a slave!” Picard put his hand on hers, so as if he wanted to prevent the words from slipping out, even though they already had. Alfalan did not seem insulted though.
“This may seem to you so, but he is much better of than the most of his kind. He is at least alive. All other Koviat who are born, are killed after their birth. They are just too dangerous.”
“How can you just kill small children?!” Exclaimed Daniels shocked. He had two children himself and he could never have killed a child. Not even if his life depended upon it.
That had been too much though. Alfalan stood from her chair and seemed angry. The voice of her interpreter grew more menacing.
“Do not think we coldly murder our children! You have never seen a Koviat child being born. I have. Remember what I told you about emotional stress. Now think about how much emotional stress a child is in while being born! The Koviat babies cut their way out of their mothers’ wombs, just to attack every living thing within their range. A sea of blood, caused by an innocent child, who lies as the only unharmed in a red room. As soon as the healers detect a Koviat to be born, they do their best to kill it, before it even leaves its mothers body. Kalvolin is one of the most powerful of his kind, if not even the most powerful. He survived in his mother’s body until birth and they couldn’t even kill him by headshot. He lived, no matter what they tried and after a time, they had to give up. They contained him with the help of a telepath and he grew into what you see before you. His mother survived barely. She does not want to see him, because she is mortified that she gave birth to a Koviat. Our race is often only able to conceive once. She and her husband have tried, but she and her husband are infertile. Their only child a killing machine, abhorred by everyone, even his own parents. Shortly after they chose death.”
Again it was silent inside the room. The crews gaze was drawn to the, now named, alien.
“Kalvolin and I have been together for quite some time now and as I am his guardian from this parasite, he has become my physical guardian. You do not have to fear him. He will only act on my command.” She continued to eat. Picard breathed deeply and tried to smile.
“I am very honoured by your openness Warmistress Alfalan. I would like to return this openness with a meal aboard our ship, the Enterprise, where we can talk and we can acquaint you with some of our traditions and tell you some things about our world. Our invitation of course extends to as many people as you want to bring.” He assured her.
She nodded thankfully and Picard thought he could see her smile.
“A very intriguing offer. I will consider it. Now, please eat and relax. The others will join us shortly. Nulleion, Efeiti!” the last seemed to be an order and instantly Kalvolin Tar vanished. He just seemed to puff out of existence. Riker rubbed his eyes. Nothing betrayed Kalvolin’s attendance.
They were still looking shocked at the now vanished Koviat, when the door behind them opened and the four aliens re-entered the room. They stood again behind the chairs, they at first had wanted to sit in. First an alien and then a member of the Enterprise crew, then again an alien and then again a member of the Enterprise crew. The sitting order wasn’t perfect, because there ware only four aliens, but seven Federation members. It didn’t seem to disturb them. Alfalan’s interpreter stepped closer up to her.
“May I introduce you to my senior masters? At my right sits Kun Havi Lev, Shipmaster. He is my second in command. Iljana Varu Sai, Troopmistress. She commands the warriors onboard this ship. You have met her already, I assume. On my left is Nolukai Nenu Loo, Master of Healers. He is also my connection to the civilians aboard. And last Erralek Kolu Ner, Master of Powers. He is what you would call my chief engineer.” She pointed at every introduction at the individual she was talking about. Crusher had thought the male in the blue robe was her colleague, but it was the male in the orange one. All four nodded shortly and mumbled a kind of Hello, which no one from the Enterprise understood.
“Deanna has been very open to me and I have relayed the information I got from her to the others aboard. Everybody knows your name and status. Shortly they all will know your language and will be able to understand you. For now, I only taught those in this room your language. Your openness and your obvious interest in peace shall be rewarded. Normally we do not grant other races to see our faces, but I will show you, because of your honourability.” She moved her slender hands up to her hood to take it off.


Chapter 28
Kun eyed the aliens suspiciously. He didn’t trust them, as his mistress did. It was obvious one of them had tried to attack her. He knew about the freak, who watched out for her. He hated even to think about the likes of him. And he knew exactly where it stood. The aliens had been all staring at a spot behind Alfalan’s right shoulder. A place where he used to stand! How could this…
<Shipmaster, you seem distracted.> Her musical voice whispered into his mind and pulled him out of his brooding. She was talking to the bald alien and at the same time talking to him. He had always admired her for her ability to do many things at once. He could also feel, how she taught him the aliens’ language. He had become used to her presence in his mind and felt it to be a loss, whenever she wasn’t talking to him by these means. Her interpreter wasn’t even approaching the satisfaction it held to bask in her presence, her thoughts and her…glow. He was not telepathic, but he knew he only had to consciously formulate and answer and she would know.
She somehow telepathically ‘smiled’ at him and he felt better. Then he saw what she was going to do and could no longer contain himself. He jumped out of his chair and grabbed her wrist in his hand.
“I cannot allow that to happen, Warmistress! They are not worthy of such a treatment.” The aliens looked worried. Good. A smug smile was spreading on his lips, when he heard it. A deep growl from behind her right shoulder. He was an experienced fighter and was able to size up his opponent thanks to his growl and he knew immediately that this Koviat was way out of his league. He paled slightly and drew his hand back very slowly. The growling stopped first when Kun had seated himself again.
<Do not worry. I know what I am doing and keep in mind who is the superior, Shipmaster Havi.> He bowed from his seated position and the tension left the room. He had to look on helplessly, while she broke one of their most strictly held customs.

Alfalan again took up her hands to remove her hood. Unconsciously the Enterprise crew leaned forward to see better. The shadows lifted gradually from her face. The first they could see clearly was her chin; followed closely by her sensual mouth; high cheekbones an elegant nose. Her skin was a pale ivory and her eyes…Under a milky sheen a golden colour was just discernable. But there could be no mistake. The Warmistress of the Sulin-Avya, the leader of this enormous vessel, was blind. Long black hair was intricately braided and hung into her dress. Her interpreter came up from behind and carefully pulled it up into the free. Golden chains and gems had been worked into the braids.
An odd noise came from Riker’s right. With wide eyes he observed how the helmet of the Troopmistress folded up into small strips of metal positioned on her brow and behind her ears. These two were connected with each other and the ones behind her ears were connected wit a ring now clearly visible around her throat. Her long hair had a deep ebony colour and was also braided. Her intense green eyes looked into his. Her skin was nearly the same colour. Will spun around to look at Kun Havi Lev. He was more yellow. His skin and his hair, while his eyes were deep orange. He looked to Alfalan. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. Her oblique, almond eyes reminded him of Deanna’s. The lack of colour though disturbed him. And…what was that? Could it really be? He blinked twice to be sure. Yes! A pointed ear poked out of her hair. He quickly looked the two others over. Indeed. They had pointed ears. And what for pointed ears that were! The points were long and got thinner the higher you got. Iljana had even an earring in her top-tip of her ear. It was connected through a chain with two more rings. One halfway down and the other at her earlobe.

Picard was spellbound. She seemed to just have jumped out of the fairytale book his mother always had read for him, when he had been a child. She had something distinctly elflike to her and her elegant movements only strengthened this impression.
“Not what you awaited, Captain?” Her interpreter asked him. He could only shake his head. Quickly he regained his composure and smiled a bit sheepishly.
“Your appearance reminds me of fairytale creatures from my home world. They are called elves. Very elegant and wise creatures, who live for hundreds of years and are one with their surroundings. When I was younger, I wanted to be an elf.” She returned his smile and was confronted with rather long and sharp canines. Uneasiness seized him again.
“Do not fear, Captain. We do not eat our guests.” The deep voice belonged to the Healer next to him. What had his name been? Nolukai Nenu Loo!
“I know many cultures, where the sharpening of ones teeth is normal, because of social preferences. I was just surprised.” He ate a bit from his plate. The Healer laughed.
“We do not sharpen them, Captain. We are born this way. It has to do with our ancestors. We are descendants of carnivores. Some of us more than others.” Beverly leaned over in interest. Her brow furrowed in confusion.
“What do you mean with that?” She asked and took a sip of a champagne-like beverage.
“Shipmaster Havi and Troopmistress Varu are better equipped to survive in a fighting situation. They are healing much faster and they have longer claws. Many are today born without this treat. The Warmistress I and for example have no claws at all. We would be utterly defenceless, if a combat situation would arise.”
“You would not be defenceless. The Shipmaster and I are here to protect you, if the need should arise.” Picard, Beverly and Nolukai looked over at the obviously aggressive Iljana.
“It was never my intention to imply such a thing. And I believe our guests have proven their friendship and peacefulness. If the Warmistress trusts them, then I will too. Her affirmation is enough for me. How is it with you?” She snarled at him and it flashed in her eyes. Her canines were showing off fine and Picard saw that her canines were slightly longer and pointed inward. When she bit into something it wouldn’t come loose easily. Nolukai only smiled relaxed at her and drank from his glass.
“Do not think I am so soft minded as to not attack you, just because you wear an orange robe, you quack!” He chuckled and bowed toward her.

Alfalan looked to her left. Deanna was drooping in her chair and Alfalan could clearly sense how sleepy she was. It had indeed been a very busy day and she knew that those who had been blessed needed sleep. She sent a message to her interpreter, who rose from her chair and raised her left hand. The other Sulin-Avya in the room immediately fell silent. Data talked on, until Geordi nudged him in the ribs. They had been talking animatedly with the engineer of the Ki’Tul.
“It is time to retire for the night. I have pondered your offer Captain Picard and will gladly alone take you up on it. I am very interested what you are going to tell me.” She rose from her chair and the others did so immediately. “Deanna will not be able to walk. She is too exhausted.” Data began rounding the table, but Riker was instantly at her side.
“I will carry her.” Softly he brushed a strand of her hair away from her eyes. She tried to shake her head no, but Will just ignored her and lifted her as if she would weigh nothing. He cradled her closely rocked her gently. Her eyes fell shut and in no time she was asleep.
Alfalan looked directly at Will. He had to lay his head back a bit to do so.
Her smile and her voice inside his head calmed him heavenly and he felt light and hopeful for the first time in months.
“Take them to their quarters. They are to be escorted to their ship tomorrow. I have a meeting with them there. Sleep well my children. Your sleep will be watched over.” The four masters all kneed, mumbled something and laid their heads back. Alfalan turned around and left the room with her interpreter in tow. And, doubtless, her invisible bodyguard.

The double-doors opened and the guards walked in to take them to their quarters. Will looked all the time at the sleeping Deanna in his arms. The rest of the world had sunken into nothingness. She was so beautiful when she slept. She sighed, circled her arms around his neck and snuggled up to it. With a soft smile he looked down at her. Everything would be fine. He would see to that. And then it would only be her, him and their child. Softly he kissed her on her forehead. “Sleep well, Imzadi.” He whispered into her hair and shed a tear. It was pure bliss to hold her in his arms again.


Chapter 29
With the guards in the lead, they walked through the quiet and slightly dimmed corridors of the Ki’Tul. They all felt sleepy and safe. Even Daniels. The first to leave them were Data and Geordi. Their quarters were close together. The next was Daniels. His wife and children were already waiting for him. He wished the Captain and the others a good night and went smiling with his family. Now it was only Picard, Beverly, Will and Deanna. Beverly leaned over to Deanna and checked her once over.
“I wish I had my Tricorder, but I think she is well. Tomorrow we will again be onboard the Enterprise and I will take her to Sickbay.” They arrived at Picard’s and Beverly’s quarters.
“Good night Will. See you tomorrow.” Smiling Beverly went first in. Picard lingered behind.
“Alfalan gave you a new chance. I hope everything will work out fine for you.” Will smiled softly and drew Deanna a little tighter up to him.
“Trust me, I wont. Now that I know that Deanna is pregnant with our child!” The light in his eyes said everything. Picard knew he would do anything to be together again with Deanna. She was giving him everything he always had wanted. A family.
“Good night Will. I see you tomorrow on the Enterprise.” Will nodded and then followed the aliens to his own quarters.

Slowly he walked into their quarters with her still in his arms. He sat on the sofa and rearranged her, so she was sleeping comfortably. He moved his shoulders a bit. She had gotten a bit heavy on the last few metres, but he would never have admitted it. Smiling he looked down on her calm face and brushed a strand of hair away from her eyes. Loving he let his fingers draw the contours of her elegant face. She was a princess in his eyes. Sleeping beauty. He chuckled.
“I’m not very good at the prince-part, sorry.” He muttered to her. He put her legs up on the sofa and laid her head on his lap. He caressed her face and watched her sleep. He had missed her so. He felt that he had to tell her something, even though she couldn’t even hear him. But she had ignored him for so long and he missed talking to her. Really talking to her. Not about the crew and the ship, but about them, what they planned and their flirting games. He sighed.
“What happened to us, hm Imzadi? This is the most fucked up situation I have ever been in. I do not really know how I ended up here, with you pregnant and all. He put his other hand on her belly. It was flat and muscled. Just the way he remembered it to be. But…he thought he could feel a slight rise in it. He smiled. His child! A son perhaps! He bowed down to her and kissed her on her brow.
“You are the most incredible woman I have ever met, Miss Deanna Troi. I even tried to marry you. Well, ask you, that is. But…I…I couldn’t find the right words. It’s not easy to say ‘I love you and want to ask you if you want to be my wife?’, when you look with your gorgeous eyes right into mine. I love that and I love what I see…and I fear it. How can anything this whole consuming be true? How can it be real? I fear that I wake up and you are again on the other side of that damned bulkhead?” He sighed and shook his head. She still slept deeply and peacefully. He smiled and brushed back her hair. He looked at his hand and had to think about what he nearly had done.
“I…I broke your vase.” He swallowed. “I will buy you a new one as soon as we are somewhere they have vases. Maybe these people are taking us somewhere there have things like that. Well, one of their glasses could pass as a vase for us.” He had to laugh. She stirred on his lap and he immediately stopped every movement. He dreaded that she would wake up and demand to be brought to an own quarter. But she slept on. Now with a small smile on her face. He felt her fingers slip over his hand. Automatically their fingers interlaced. He looked down upon it. It looked good. He again scooped her up in his arms and took her to bed. Careful he laid her on the bed and drew the sheet up around her. As soon as she was left without body contact from him, she began to stir in her sleep and her expression grew troubled. Quickly he shed his shoes and slipped under the sheet and drew her back flush up to him. She instantly calmed, turned and snuggled up to him. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against hers. It felt like heaven lying with her this way again.
“Oh God did I miss you, Imzadi!” he whispered and a tear rolled down his cheek. He could feel her hands searching their way under his shirt and resting on his bare back. He had again to chuckle. She loved the feel of his skin. If she knew how much he loved the feel of her skin! But he had no right to take as much freedom in this as she had, so he kept his hands where they were. Around her. Over her clothing. He looked down at her face and just wanted to kiss her, but he reigned himself in.
“I love you Deanna Troi and I will do anything you wish for you and our child. I hope you only grant me the privilege to be a real father for our child.” He kissed her on her brow and then went to sleep.

Deanna lay awake. She had been awake since he had joined her in bed. At first he had been drowsy and didn’t know where they were or what had happened between them. She only knew he wasn’t there and that was wrong. Then he had joined her and everything was okay again. Apart from this nagging, irritating little voice in the back of her head. She just snuggled up close to him and searched for his smooth warm skin under his clothing, as she always did. And then he spoke; and everything came rushing back. The soft kiss on her brow went totally unnoticed by. She wanted to jump out of bed or something, but her body didn’t budge. It didn’t even go rigid or something. Her mind was in panic, but her body was totally relaxed. She could feel how he drew her close to him and went to sleep. She struggled for control over her limbs, but nothing happened. And worse! She felt how she began to like it! Against her will she began to relax and relish being in the arms of her Imzadi again. Despite for what she had said to him on Betazed, she longed to hear this term of endearment from him again. She longed to feel his presence in her mind and she hated to admit it, but she wanted to make love to him. His scent in her nose and the feel of his muscular back and body under her hands wasn’t exactly making it better. Oh Gods, he had lost weight and she could feel his muscles better. He had kept his wash board belly and his arms were just as she remembered them. Her hands wandered almost on their own over his body and appreciated it in their whole own way. She drew her nails lazily over his ribcage and could feel how he drew her even closer. His hot breath fanned over her ear and neck and she shivered in delight. It felt so good! She just couldn’t resist, opened his trousers and explored this area with her hands. His butt was as firm and well shaped as ever. She could feel how his breathing grew ragged and his hands were now beginning to wander over her body. His mouth worked its way through her hair and kissed her on her ear and neck. Nothing was wrong. They were in love, why shouldn’t they enjoy it? But her consciousness brought her back again and again. She could by now feel his hardness against her leg and didn’t want it to end. She had been without him so long!
“Imzadi!” He breathed into her ear and she shivered and wonderful gooseflesh covered her entire body. Oh Gods she wanted him! But he had cheated on her, the Gods knew how many times! Tears ran down her cheeks, as the conflict within her raged on and the sleeping Will was raking havoc on her senses. She could feel his hands searching for an entrance under her white garment. She sobbed and backed away.
“No! No, I can’t!” She saw how Will’s eyes slowly opened and his confused looking eyes came quickly to a rest upon her. He looked down at himself, when she did so and saw that his trousers were open. His head snapped up and he quickly closed it again.
“I…I am sorry, Deanna. Really. Please. Please stay!” He pleaded. She looked at him. Really looked at him for the first time in months and saw how fatigued and miserable he looked. Her hesitance seemed to him be a sign for her considering if she would leave. He grabbed one of the pillows and was on a crawling retreat to the other side of the bed.
“I sleep on the floor or on the sofa, or wherever you want me to sleep, but please don’t go!” The distress in his eyes was intense and she felt compelled to calm him a bit.
“Will, please stop.” He shut up immediately. “You can stay with me here, as long as you do not try anything.” It was good he wasn’t his usual self, because if he had been, he would have pointed out that it had been her, who had begun all this. Right now though, she didn’t thought it was something he ought to know. His bobbed up and down the whole time, while she was getting back into bed.
“Stop that and go to sleep.” She ordered him and he instantly did so. After a short time they were both asleep. Both longing for more.


Chapter 30
Alfalan walked into her private quarters and with a nod of her head sent her interpreter out. As soon as the door closed behind her, the air behind Alfalan wavered and Kalvolin shimmered back into existence. Alfalan’s interpreter wasn’t just that, but also her eyes. As Picard had observed correctly was she blind. Already from birth. At first she had worn a sensor net, which could show her the contours of her surroundings and prevented her from bumping into things. Not very distinguished behaviour for a kind of princess. Her telepathic abilities were showing and developing very early and after a short time, she was able to access other persons’ optical centre in their brains. Through these means, she was able to see. It was though always tinted through the person’s personal view on things, and she was never able to obtain a totally neutral picture.
Many Healers had discussed why she had been born this way. Without sight, but with an enormous telepathic potential. They had never found an answer. Officially. Alfalan knew the truth, as always. To try and hide something from her was near to impossible. She had been overbred. Her family had always wanted the best telepaths in their line and had often married close relatives to reach that goal. She was the outcome. Blind, but immensely powerful. So powerful that she even wasn’t able to mate. She smiled sardonically. All these years of strict breeding policy and now her line died with her. Oh, she had a brother, but her father had mated with another woman. Her mother had died in a shuttle crash. Very ironic. Kalvolin poured her a glass of nilik juice. Her favourite.
“Take off your helmet, Kalvolin. It confuses me to see through your glasses.” His helmet glasses were designed to keep everything out, which could cause any emotion inside him. This included colours. What Alfalan allowed him was forbidden by law, but who should know? It was only the two of them.
“Were you successful, Mistress?” His deep voice asked her. She could feel it reverberate through her bones. He was close up to her and helping her settling into a high relaxing chair. She had to smile. Even if she should be totally blind someday, Kalvolin would always be easily discernable from any other person alone through his voice. She sighed and leaned back. Kalvolin activated the field around them. Now it was only the two of them. All the other voices were gone. Alfalan relaxed a bit more, now that she only had to control Kalvolin’s black soul.
“I fear no. Deanna is not easy in forgiving and I can understand her. What William did is not easily forgiven. I have been searching his mind and could find no reason for his treachery. But I did find out, that his memories about that planet Risa are very hazy. I believe he wasn’t at his senses full use when he did it.” Kalvolin took the glass of juice from her hand and brought it back to the small glass table. The door chime sounded through the vast chambers. Kalvolin’s helmet moved back into position. First then did Alfalan answer the door.
“Please enter!” She called. She couldn’t feel who it was, because the shield was still in function, but he announced himself.
“I hope I do not disturb you, Warmistress.” It was Shipmaster Havi.
“I wanted to retire, Shipmaster. I had many things on my mind lately.” She couldn’t see him, but she hadn’t to know that he was nodding.
“I only wanted to tell you that the aliens have been brought to their respective quarters and I wanted to talk to you about their invitation to you.”
“Yes, Havi. What about it?” Than she heard Kalvolin’s deep growl.
“What is it, Efeiti?”
“He wants to walk past the shield. Shall I let him pass?”
“No. I am tired and want a bit peace of mind.”
To Havi she said: “Please stay where you are, Shipmaster. It has been a very busy week and this is the first time I have enough time to rest and sleep. What is your problem with me visiting the Enterprise?”
“I do not trust the aliens. You shouldn’t go alone!”
“I am going with my Efeiti. Do not worry. He will be more protection than all our warriors aboard this ship.”
“The freak?! You trust your life with this…this deformed monster?” An even deeper growl filled the room. “How can that be? Did it understand me?” He sounded definitely nervous.
“No, Shipmaster. But freak sounds in every language the same. Insults have all the same ring to it.”
“Shall I kill this jabbering idiot? You need to sleep, Mistress.”
“Tsk, tsk, Efeiti. Havi is a good Shipmaster and I still need him. You can growl on, maybe he will then leave sooner.” With a smile she returned her entire attention back to Havi.
“My Efeiti is more protection than I really need. I know some means of defence myself; more dangerous even than the Koviat who protects me. You may go now, Shipmaster. We will talk tomorrow.”
“Yes, Warmistress!” He sounded not at all satisfied, but left all the same. Kalvolin reappeared and removed his helmet. He stepped up to his mistress.
“What a jerk!” Alfalan had to laugh and let herself be carried to bed.


Chapter 31
Beverly sighed with contentment as she walked into her Sickbay. Oh it was good to be home again! Ogawa and the others were just bringing in the equipment they had taken with them, when the ship had been ‘evacuated’. The sigh of contentment quickly changed into one of despair. Right now, Sickbay was one huge mess. Everything had to be laid or put back in its place and that could take them some days. The doors behind her whooshed open and Deanna walked in.
“Good morning Deanna! How do you feel?” She walked over to her best friend.
“Good morning Beverly. I’m feeling fine. I think all I needed was a good night’s sleep. Apart from that, I think it perfectly normal for pregnant women to be a bit sleepy.” At these words she smiled brightly and caressed her abdomen. Beverly returned her smile.
“Oh yes! I used to fall asleep in my classes, while I was pregnant with Wesley. Shall we have a look at your little one?” Eagerly Deanna nodded and followed Beverly through the labyrinth of equipment on the floor to one of the free bio-beds. Beverly activated it and brought a view screen in position for Deanna to look at. As she was calibrating her tricorder, she thought about somebody else.
“Deanna? Have you and Will talked about this?” She asked in a low voice. Deanna stayed silent. “I take that as a no.” Beverly sighed deeply and ran the first scan.
“You should talk to him. I know that you still are angry with him for what happened on Risa, but the situation is now totally different. You await his child and I think he will be a great father.” Deanna shot up from her lying position and glowered at Beverly.
“We don’t know if this child is from Will! It could be any ones! Maybe another entity has entered my body! I don’t want to have his baby!” Tears rolled down her face. That was when she saw him. He stood in the doorway with a bouquet of her favourite flowers. He was deadly pale and a single tear rolled down his face. His arms went slack and the flowers fell to the floor. She could see his heart break. The hurt was clearly visible in his eyes. It wasn’t just hurt, but agony. He opened his mouth, but nothing came. His eyes watered and at last he was able to push words past the lump in his throat.
“I should go now.” He turned and literally ran from Sickbay. Deanna curled into a ball and wept fiercely. She didn’t mean it! Couldn’t he see that? Oh Gods, why had everything to be so complicated between them? She only wanted to turn back Time and be together with him, as they had been after the Briar Patch mission. Heaven couldn’t have been more wonderful. Oh she wanted back to those times of laughter and happiness, when they had been without a care, just like they had been in the Jalara jungle.

Will stumbled unseeing through the halls of the Enterprise. His breath was coming in racking sobs and he had no idea where he was going; and he didn’t cared. Nothing mattered anymore. She hated being pregnant with their child. He had clearly heard it in her voice. And he had hoped that the child would bring them back together again! How foolish of him. He even had wanted to propose! He had been among the first groups to be brought back to the Enterprise and had used this time to go to the arboretum and get her favourite flowers. Not an easy job, because the gardeners jealously watched out for them. He felt like his limbs were made out of lead. Life had lost its purpose for him. First it had been becoming a star ship Captain, after that being together with Deanna and after that being a father and her husband, but that was all over now. Deanna would hate him for all eternity and the worst was, he was agreeing with her. He was disgusted by himself and only wanted to release some of his stashed emotions.

Taril and Geordi were talking excitedly about the Ki’Tul and what the chief engineer of the Ki’Tul had told Geordi at the banquet the night before. Taril hadn’t been able to participate.
“As I understood it, they have not only one warp coil, but three! Apart from that they are not really warp coils. They are using much more organic material and they do not build them, but grow them! This takes about fifty years and then the warp coil is ready to be built into a ship. There it grows on. And with it growing, its power output is growing too.”
“Fascinating! Do you think we might get a peek at one of them?” Taril asked him and they rounded a corner.
“I hope so. When the Warmistress comes to the banquet tonight, I will ask her. I would like to see their main engineering. If it is as the rest of the ship, it has to be as big as a museum!” Both laughed. That was when somebody ran into Taril.
“Hey! Watch out.” Taril said, but wished he hadn’t been so rude, when he saw into Riker’s icy blue eyes.
“Watch out? I give you watch out!” He screamed and floored Xerx with a jaw-cracking uppercut. With a wail Taril fell to the floor and held his jaw. Geordi tried to step between them, but it only resulted in directing Riker’s anger at him. Unlike Xerx though, he was able to dodge Riker’s punch. He wasn’t very controlled about the business and it was rather easy for Geordi to avoid his Commander’s fists.
“Will! Calm down! It was an accident!” He yelled at his friend who now circled him and was looking as if he wanted to rip him into small pieces.
“An accident? Was it also an accident that he spread my and Deanna’s business over the whole ship? Or is it an accident that he the whole time tries to convince Deanna to find someone else? Damn it! It might even be an accident that she got pregnant! But thank the Gods she is doing something against it right now! Who wouldn’t? Who would want to carry Will Riker’s child?” His voice grew louder and more ragged with each sentence.
“Will you know that isn’t true. This is new to her. One day you are the bad guy who cheated on her and the other you are the father of her first child! She needs time to cope with this.” Again he had to tackle Riker and had to take some painful punches into his side. Still they were circling each other in the hall.
“Time! Fuck time! How much time does she need, Geordi? Tell me that! She has had ample time to consider it all. I have tried to apologise several times, but she doesn’t even want to listen! Whose fault is it now Geordi, hm? I can’t even see into the mirror anymore, because I’m so disgusted at the sight of my own face that I have to vomit every time I see it. If she wants me to feel bad, then I’m well overdue!” With that he lunged for Geordi again, but due to the chief engineer’s small form, he missed him clean. Again they circled each other. Somebody tapped Riker on his shoulder. Angry he turned around to knock this idiot out too, but before he could do that, a fist landed in his face and his world went black.

Panting Geordi leaned against a bulkhead and held his aching side. He smiled up at TuLark, who warily stepped over Riker’s unconscious form.
“You okay, Geordi?” She asked. They worked often together on the nightshift.
“Yeah. My ribs hurt like hell and I think he broke Taril’s jaw. Let’s get them to Sickbay.” She nodded and lifted Riker over her shoulder. Geordi helped Taril up on his feet and tried to help carry Riker. Man, this day began not so well.


Chapter 32
Deanna lay on the bio bed and had to sob from time to time, even though the tears had stopped flowing. She was clutching the flowers tightly and breathed their scent deeply. She wanted all this to stop. She wanted an easy solution to it all. A solution, which would keep her dignity and would bring her Will back. But such a solution wasn’t forthcoming. How should she unravel all this? Will was now not just the asshole, who had cheated on her, but the father of her child! She sniffed and sat up. Beverly came over to her with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
“Come on, sweetheart. Drink this.” She whispered and while Deanna took a sip from her favourite beverage, Beverly smoothed her dishevelled hair a bit down.
“Feeling better?” She asked her best friend, who only nodded, looked down into the mug and sniffed from time to time. Beverly smiled lopsidedly, sat beside her and drew her into an embrace.
“Penny for your thoughts.” Bev murmured, while she rubbed Deanna’s back. Deanna put the mug into the hand, which held the flowers and brushed the wetness off her cheeks.
“I only want it all to stop Beverly. I want my Will back and at the same time I can’t stand to be around him and I sure as hell can’t trust him. What am I supposed to do?” She looked for guidance into her elder friends eyes. But Beverly had no answer. Disappointed Deanna looked down at her lap and again into her mug.
“Why do I ask you? You had it so easy…” Beverly sat up straight.
“What do you mean, I had it easy? It wasn’t easy at all!” Deanna huffed.
“Oh yes, I forgot! Well Beverly. For one, when Jack and you fell in love, he did not run away and leave you broken hearted. When you told him you were pregnant, he was happy and wanted to marry you and I do not believe he cheated on you, now did he? It is true that he died some years after that, but still…your relationship was fairly easy.” Deanna looked to Beverly, whose green eyes were filled with anger.
“Now listen up young lady! It may seem to you that Jack’s relationship with me was fairly easy, but I never told you about the hard times. His parents were bullying him to leave me alone. My family hated him and I was angry, because I was with child at so young an age! Do not believe it was sunshine and happiness all along. We had our hard times. Sometimes, when he was underway with the Stargazer, I was wondering if he wasn’t cheating on me and we came very close to getting divorced, if it hadn’t been for Jean-Luc and of course Wesley. You haven’t leased misery and despair all for yourself!” After that tirade Beverly’s chest heaved, because she had talked herself up into such anger. All the old memories came back to the surface and she felt a bit guilty about how happy she now was with Picard. After all he had been her late husband’s best friend.
“I’m sorry, Bev. I didn’t think before I talked. I think I just wanted to lash out at somebody and you were the only one in range. I apologise.” Beverly sighed and then smiled. She drew Deanna tight to her.
“No apologise needed. I know how testy pregnant women can get.” She winked at Deanna and the anger in her eyes was replaced by a mischievous glint. Both women had to smile and leaned into each other.
“What would I do without you, Beverly?”
“Probably go to Jean-Luc and believe me, he wouldn’t have been comfortable with this situation at all!” As they imagined their Captain’s face they had to laugh loudly and Deanna felt some of the tension leave her muscles.
“It feels good to laugh again. Thank you Beverly. I think I will go home and get some water for these.” She nodded with her head towards the flowers and jumped off the bio bed. “I see you tonight at the dinner.” With that she walked out. Beverly remained seated on the bio bed and swung her legs back and forth like a schoolgirl. Deanna had reminded her of many things. Things from the past, which she head vowed never to forget, but she had done so. And it only now occurred to her.
“You look sad, Butterfly.” She looked up and right in front of her stood the man, who had taken the place in her heart, which Jack had left bare when he died. His soft smile and his hand caressing her cheek told her clearly they were alone. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Please hold me tight.” She whispered and he complied immediately. She clung on to him for dear life and cried for another man, who had left her life much too abruptly. She heard his voice near her ear. “I’m here for you, Butterfly. And I always will be.” And his murmured words were true. After Jack’s death he had seen to it all for her, because she had been in shock. But already before that. He had always been there for her and Wesley. Sometimes even more than Jack himself.
When she had herself again under control and drew back from him he softly brushed away the tears. Concerned he looked deeply into her eyes.
“Are you alright?” She smiled sheepishly and lowered her gaze.
“Yes. I…I’m sorry Jean-Luc. Deanna and I had a talk about some things and it reminded me of times past. That’s all.” She smiled at him and the concern evaporated when he saw her smile. She hopped down from the bio bed and they walked into her office.
“What brings you down to Sickbay? You had your monthly check-up already twice, you know.” A mischievous glint shone in her eyes. He drew her tight to him as soon as the doors closed behind them.
“I remember having a third check-up. A very thorough one at that.” He whispered into her ear and kissed her on her neck. She giggled girlishly and circled her arms around his neck. They looked deeply into the others eyes.
“How could I forget that one?! But now that you are here, we shouldn’t waste the time, now should we?” She asked, nibbled at his lower lip and thanked God her new office had no windows; because if, he would never do the things he was doing now. She had discovered that he was a very passionate man, when he was off duty and they were alone. And he had a very cute sense of romanticism. He had once surprised her with a candlelight dinner after a very long shift. And the candles had been the only light source. He had strewn rose petals all over her quarters and he even had carried her to the table. She could feel his hands on her butt and didn’t mind in the least. He was getting braver as their relationship moved on. He was about to lift her, when the doors behind them whooshed open.

Geordi stumbled with TuLark, Riker and Taril into Sickbay. It looked totally empty. No wonder. Everybody was surely busy getting settled into their quarters again and to look, if all their things were still there. He stumbled over a crate with medical supplies and swore about lazy med technicians.
“Hello! Somebody here? We have wounded here!” He called, but nobody answered. He creased his brow in wonder. Beverly would never allow all of her staff to go. Quickly he walked over to her office and punched on the door button. His eyes grew wide, when he saw what the dear Doctor and his Captain were doing. When the two heard the door open, they immediately stepped away from each other, but the damage was done. Geordi swallowed, while Picard looked utterly uncomfortable and Beverly a little intimidated drew her wrist over her lips to clean her lipstick away.
“I…ah…we’ve got wounded.” Geordi said with a small voice. Beverly quickly rushed out of the room. She was saved by her duties, but Picard and Geordi were left standing there. Both very intimidated. Picard pulled down on his tunic and regained his composure.
“I trust you, Commander, in keeping this between the three of us.” With that he stepped around a round-eyed Geordi, who was only able to whisper a weak “Aye, sir.” before Picard was gone. Not without patting Beverly on her behind and Geordi had to blink twice, to be able to believe what his eyes had shown him. He was only grateful TuLark had left and that Riker was unconscious and Taril too much caught up in his own pain to notice any of this. This day was getting more interesting with every minute. He wasn’t so sure, if he wanted to ask permission to see one of their warp coils. It might blow up around him.


Chapter 33
Alfalan walked into the room, where they kept Kalvolin while she slept. They had no other telepath aboard who was powerful enough to control him, when she wasn’t there. He was without his armour and wore only shorts. She had sent her interpreter out and was now seeing through the eyes of the control-technician. He was there to observe every move Kalvolin made and if the black soul used the opportunity to take over Kalvolin’s body while he slept. She had encountered that some times. It wasn’t easy to drive it back, when it had done that. It then had a very strong grasp on Kalvolin’s soul and his body. She reached into the control-technicians mind and shut off everything but his sight. Within no time he was asleep at her command. His eyes though were wide open and showing her the way. It was a woman, she could see that. Normally it was a man, watching Kalvolin. Koviat didn’t have to do physical exercise to keep their good form. Their body did the job itself. The scientists weren’t sure if the black soul did it, or if it was natural for the Koviat. Some Anuat showed the same ability and she was convinced it was a normal treat of her race, only that it was more prominent in the Koviat.
The technician appreciated Kalvolin’s good form…and so did Alfalan. His broad muscled chest was heaving in a deep, rhythmical breathing. He obviously was still asleep. He was only allowed to sleep, when she was. Thick chains held him tight against the steel wall. The length of these chains could be varied from the technician’s board. Every such manipulation had to be authorised by not only her, but also from the Shipmaster and the Troopmaster. She had though no intention to do so. She could see the various claws on his body. They hadn’t been counted all, because if he did not use them regularly, the openings would grow together. Right now she could count 23 openings. Her hand glided appreciatively over his taut, muscled wash board belly and she was amazed at how smooth his skin was. It wasn’t the first time she touched him, but she was still amazed every time.
“Like what you see?” Her head and attention snapped to his eyes. As she had suspected, not Kalvolin looked at her, but his black soul. “Release me and I will send you to a screaming, blinding sexual oblivion.” It sneered and Kalvolin’s tongue glided over his sharp, long, barbed canines. She could feel her body shiver, but her mind did not react to this.
“I can see you want me. Release me and I will show you what it means to be alive. What it means to be screaming for more!” She guided the technician’s hands to tighten the chains.
“I know who you are. Do not waste your energy. You know me and you know your efforts are useless.” He twitched and she knew why. Kalvolin had awakened and fought it. Kalvolin’s body struggled against the chains and it snapped after her with his long teeth.
“You frigid slut! You really need to be fucked up for good! When I get you into my fingers, I will give you what you deserve! I will fuck you and if you don’t want to, I will do it nevertheless! And you will scream for more and while you suck my dick, I will cut you open and fuck your damned brain! And then…” Alfalan had enough. She slammed through all the black soul’s barriers and banned it to the recesses where it belonged. Kalvolin was breathing raggedly now. Sweat ran down his muscled, royal blue body and when he looked up at her again, his eyes were their normal deep violet with golden specks. She had never told him, but she loved these eyes. What nobody apart from her knew was that Kalvolin was an artist. He had the soul of a poet and was a very peaceful individual. She pitied him and hoped he would someday find a way to be free from his black soul.
“Forgive me, Mistress.” She shook her head and softly caressed his cheek. He looked up at her and she smiled at him.
“I know who talked to me, Kalvolin and that you never would say such things to me.” She could feel how it stirred again, but was able to contain it.
“Never, Mistress. Not even if my life depended upon it.” For a time they only looked into the others eyes and shared a companiable silence.
“We have been invited to the Enterprise. You will accompany me. As I understood Deanna, their medical facilities are much more advanced than ours and I believe they will be happy to try and help us with your problem.” She smiled broadly at seeing the hope igniting in his eyes and the small smile on his lips. She held these moments very dear, when Kalvolin smiled, because he didn’t do it very often. She cherished these private moments with her Efeiti, because the rest of the time, he would be invisible and if he was visible, he had to keep on his helmet. Only when they were alone, she could look into his eyes.
And it was in times like these that she cursed her telepathic gift, which kept her from mating and Kalvolin’s black soul. If these two things weren’t existent, she knew they would be together.
“I will wait outside, while you don your uniform. Then we will have a small breakfast.” With that she left the room. She wasn’t allowed to be present when he took on his armour, because he was naked underneath. She only prayed that Beverly Crusher could help them both.


Chapter 34
Picard looked out the windows in the conference lounge. The table had been set for a dinner for nine. All the senior officers of the Enterprise would be in attendance and Alfalan. Alone, as she had wished it. Everything should be fine, but he found it to be very disturbing not to see stars through these windows, but walls of metal. It was wrong. He sighed and tugged at his gala uniform.
“Feeling uncomfortable?” He turned around and looked into the deep onyx eyes of Counsellor Deanna Troi. He smiled and drew his forefinger through his collar.
“All our advanced technology and still we haven’t learned to make comfortable gala uniforms.” They both laughed silently.
“If it makes you feel better, Will is just as uncomfortable with his gala as you are.” She told him silently and smoothed her own uniform down the front. Her hand came to a rest upon her belly. An uneasy silence entered the room.
“Deanna, I think you should give him a chance. He is trying to apologise for what he has done to you. I hope you do consider a future with him. I think it will be the best for you two, to sit down and have a quiet talk about it all. He very much wants to be a father for the child you are carrying.” Deanna looked up into his eyes and he had to swallow at seeing such sorrow and turmoil in her eyes.
“I know, Captain. I want to have him back, but I could never again trust him and the child would feel that. How can I do this to Will? And to the child?” To that, Picard had no answer.
“A Sulin-Avya delegation has entered the shuttle bay. They will escort Warmistress Alfalan to the lounge.” Data informed them. He had silently entered the room without them noticing it. Picard nodded.
“Good. See to it that all senior officers are here when she arrives, Mr Data.” Data only nodded and left the room again. He seemed perfectly comfortable with his uniform.

Alfalan walked through their shuttle bay and could feel the others amusement about how small all this was. She had to agree. The Federation people were proud of this ship, but compared to the Sulin-Avya fleet it was not even a patrol-cruiser class 1. Good, the Ki’Tul was the largest ship in the fleet. There existed only two other warships of the Tirtania-class. The Ni’Vat and the Ka’mje. Both light years away. The corridors of the Enterprise were so low, that they were only able to go upright, when they walked in a line. Something her guards didn’t appreciate very much.
<How is the height for you, Efeiti?>
<Much too small, but these people do not seem to grow very much. I hope the room where we are supposed to meet is a bit higher.> She had to smile in the darkness of her hood.
The Enterprise crewman, who escorted them through the ship, seemed to be very uneasy about his task. Who wouldn’t be? He had six fully armoured elite guards behind him, a Koviat and the leader of these people. He would probably tell his grandchildren about all this. She liked these people. In their short lives, they experienced everything so much more intense.
“We are here.” Stated the young man and indicated for Alfalan to walk through the next door. She nodded thankfully to him and walked past her guards and through the door. Her interpreter wanted to follow her, but she held her back.
<Deanna will be my interpreter. It will be easier for them.> Her interpreter only nodded and positioned herself cross legged on the floor to meditate.
With her head held high, Alfalan entered the lounge.
All senior officers of the Enterprise greeted her in their gala uniforms. As soon as the doors closed she motioned for Kalvolin to deactivate his cloaking device. Obediently he shimmered behind her into existence.
“Welcome aboard Warmistress Alfalan. Please, have a seat.” Picard drew out a chair for her and she settled into it with easy grace. Kalvolin remained standing behind her, while the others took seats around the table. Picard motioned for two crewmembers to bring in another plate and chair. Confused Alfalan looked to Picard.
“Why do you bring out another plate?” Deanna asked in the now familiar poly-voice of Alfalan. He had wanted to sit down, but now raised himself again.
“We thought your companion would like to join us. We are sorry if we have offended one of your customs.” She stroke back her hood and Kalvolin reverently lifted her hair out of her dress. With a bright smile she lowered her head a bit.
<Sit down Efeiti. These people have invited you to join them at their table.> Kalvolin nodded and sat opposite Alfalan in the chair brought for him. It was much too small, but he didn’t mention it.
“Aldei nuvaye.” He said in his deep, rumbling voice and the Enterprise crewmembers looked puzzled at each other.
“He said: ‘Thank you.’” Alfalan explained. The others only nodded and Picard motioned for the Ensigns to bring in the soup.
<Efeiti. It is not polite to sit at a hosts table with a helmet on.> Kalvolin bowed his head in her direction and with a slight hiss, his helmet folded itself up, just like Kun’s and Iljana’s had done. Fascinated the crew looked at the deep blue coloured man.
Deanna couldn’t believe that this man should be a threat to anyone. He was a very strong Sulin-Avya, yes, but his eyes were not the ones of a cold blooded murderer. They were the eyes of an artist, a poet. His face was calm and he had very charismatic features. He had that certain something. A something he shared with Will. The something, which would drive flocks of women into their arms. She could see and feel that this was also not lost on Alfalan. Kalvolin on the other side was totally oblivious to this influence he had on women. She wished that Will was just as unaware of that as Kalvolin.

Will saw how Deanna stared at Kalvolin and didn’t like it one bit. The Sulin-Avya was very tall and as far as Will could tell he looked good. Although he was no expert in judging things like this. But Deanna’s looks. That was something he could judge. And he didn’t like them at all. She was his! He belonged to her. She couldn’t just get herself an alien and then raise her…their son, with him! He wanted to be the father for his child.
A soothing presence entered his mind and he cooled down again.
<Do not worry William. I will never allow her to have Kalvolin.> Relieved he smiled at Alfalan. This again resulted in a low growl from Kalvolin. He quickly averted his eyes from the Warmistress and noted for himself that he better not get near that woman, if he wanted to remain in one piece.
“Kul tainoe!” the crew recognised this command from their earlier visit and as before, Kalvolin immediately obeyed.
“I am sorry for my Efeiti's behaviour, but his duty is to protect me and he takes this duty very seriously.” Apologetically she smiled at them all. Deanna though was not the only one to assume that it was slightly more than that.


Chapter 35
Taril was overwhelmed by her presence as soon as she entered the room. Deanna had prepared him for it and talked with him, but nothing could have prepared him for this all consuming experience. While she talked to the other senior officers they had a totally different conversation. His body was able to do normal things, such as eating, but if someone would have talked directly to him, he would not have been able to answer, because he was too much caught up in this experience. And then he felt something else. Or rather somebody else. It was a familiar presence. He smiled at Deanna and she smiled understanding back. But there still was something else. Something dark. Something dangerous. Before he curiously could reach out a block slammed down in front of him.
<DO NOT TRESPASS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!!> It rang in his head and he winced and pressed his eyes shut. All eyes were now on him.
“Are you not well, Ensign?” Data asked him. Taril smiled apologetically and shook his head.
“No, Data. I’m fine, really. Just a little headache.” He saw to Alfalan who hadn’t even stopped talking to Picard. His head hurt and he occupied himself with his soup.

Beverly saw to Kalvolin and saw that he hadn’t tasted the soup yet. He just sat in his chair and watched them eat. Smiling she tried to draw on his attention.
“Don’t you want to taste the soup?” She asked. Picard and Alfalan stopped talking.
“He cannot understand you, Doctor Crusher. And he prefers meat.” She again turned to Picard who talked animatedly to her again about the Federation and the Enterprise’s mission. Nobody paid attention to Kalvolin, who had taken his spoon up and looked at it indecisively.
He had never eaten with utensils. His physical strength just exceeded his control. Because he was growing every day, even though he should have been outgrown by now, he was a little bit stronger every day. The few utensils he had used during the years all ended bended and broken. Even the sturdiest ones.
<They deride you! Look at their smiles. They think that you are a mindless idiot. They think of you as Alfalan’s pet. Duck, bark, sit. We will give them sit! Come on!> He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
No. The people of the Enterprise weren’t mocking him. They were nice to Alfalan and she liked to be around them. That was for him enough. He looked up, when the young ones brought the meat in. It looked delicious and he only now remembered how long ago it was, since he had eaten. At least two weeks. The roast was placed in front of the bald one and he seemed to ask Alfalan something. The roast wasn’t cut, so he suspected he asked her, if she would do the honour of cutting. She nodded her head in agreement and he knew this to be his cue to stand up and do it for her. He waited though for her permission.
“Would you do us the honour of cutting the roast, Efeiti?” She asked him with her wonderful, musical voice. He nodded and rose. Alfalan relayed to him, how much the others wanted of the roast and he was able to part the roast up in his mind, before he went to the actual task. With practised ease he cut the roast with his right-hand middle-claw, while his left-hand outer-claws held the roast in its place. As soon as he was finished he sat down again. Everybody stared at him and he felt very uncomfortable. He had just cut the roast! What would be so damn abnormal about that?!
<Calm down Efeiti. They do not have claws as you do.> She sent to him and he calmed down again.
Alfalan could feel the black soul stir. This situation was new to Kalvolin and she thought he kept up fine.
“Would you please stop staring?” She asked them politely. At once they all averted their eyes. Beverly had the hardest time doing this.
“Is this…I mean, have you all…is that normal?” She seemed more amazed than frightened. Alfalan had to smile. Oh yes, these people were very special.
“Yes, Doctor Crusher. Every warrior of the Sulin-Avya has a certain amount of claws. Some more, some less. Koviat have the most of them all. Kalvolin’s haven’t been counted fully until now, because if he doesn’t use them, the openings grow together again. Should he need them again though, they just cut through the flesh.” Some of them gulped at the mental pictures her description painted. Alfalan took a sip of the wine and proceeded with her meal.

Kalvolin had taken a piece of the roast, but didn’t know how to eat it. They were all using the utensils, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to use them and he didn’t want to eat with his fingers in front of his mistress. He watched her eat. Her movements were elegant and perfect. He only wished he could move like her. Unsure of himself he reached for the utensils and tried to handle them. He could feel them bend already and tried to ease his grip. Without much luck. Again they looked at him. His uneasiness began to rise. The black one even smirked and that made him angry. At once the voice in his head set in.
<See! I told you! They mock you! If they were as nice as you thought they wouldn’t laugh at you! Let’s give them a lesson in good behaviour!> And he agreed on that. He wanted to say something, but it was already too late. He could feel the control slip. No! Desperately he fought to win it back.
<Idiot!> It said and slammed a ‘door’ shut in front of him and all he could do was watch and bang on the ‘door’ and scream for it to let him out. But it wouldn’t do that. He knew it. It wouldn’t let him go, before it had shed enough blood to still its blood thirst. And worse still, it wouldn’t stop, before it had stilled its sexual hunger. The thing he feared the most.
Sometimes the Koviat were let loose upon an army and Kalvolin couldn’t sleep for many nights after such an event, because what he had seen had been so horrible. The cruellest thing though was that he knew it was his own hands which did this! His own claws. His own body…
<No! No let me out! Don’t hurt them! The mistress was proud of me!> But all of his cries were futile and went unanswered, while the black soul prepared for its attack.


Chapter 36
Alfalan enjoyed the company of the aliens. They were very polite and oh so curious! She couldn’t help but smile at the Captains words. He sounded so confidant! She knew how old he was and on the home world a Sulin-Avya of his age wasn’t even allowed to stay out after dark. They slowly warmed up to her and Kalvolin. The roast was carried in and Picard offered her to cut it. He couldn’t know that it was her forbidden to take any knives into her hands. She asked Kalvolin to do it. With normal efficiency he went about his task. It was the first time they saw a Sulin-Avya use his claws and she was eager to see how they would react to this. She knew about the usage of the warriors claws to hold Deanna in check, but as she had surmised, they had thought it was a part of the armour. Kalvolin felt utterly uncomfortable and she could feel it stir inside him. She soothed him and bade them not to stare at him. They obeyed her immediately. She continued her discussion with the Captain and Beverly, while she also ‘talked’ to Deanna and to Taril. She only checked Kalvolin from time to time, but he was doing fine and keeping the black soul good in check. That was her mistake.
She was ‘talking’ animatedly with Picard, when something caused her to pause and to look at Kalvolin. He seemed totally caught up in his meal and did not lift his head. She saw he again had bent his utensils. She sighed. She had tried to teach him how to eat with utensils without bending them, but hadn’t been successful. Something else was bothering her though. She stopped talking to Picard, because she feared something might have gone wrong.
“Efeiti! Look at me!” She ordered him. He did not comply. The Enterprise crewmembers were now also looking at Kalvolin, all of them shifting nervous on their chairs.
“I told you to look at me!” She said through Deanna. His head snapped up and an evil grin was seen on his face. His eyes were no longer violet, but entirely black.
“Yes, Mistress?” He asked in a mocking tone. At once Alfalan tried to drive it back, but it had a strong grip on Kalvolin. An even stronger one than this morning. She knew what that meant. Kalvolin had to have given up control willingly. Maybe just for an instant, but that was enough for it.
< Leave Kalvolin alone. You know that you cannot win!> It leaned Kalvolin’s head back and let out a short laugh.
“Maybe I cannot win, but I sure as Hell can have fun!” She felt his intent and instantly tried to counter it.

The creatures in this room were so frail. They wouldn’t be much fun, but outside was an entire ship he could have fun with. Thousands of people, whom he could test new ways on killing on. Slow killing. An evil grin spread on his lips and then he heard Alfalan order this idiot Kalvolin to look up. He didn’t react to it. He wasn’t Kalvolin after all. She ordered him again and only because he wanted to enjoy the shocked expressions of the aliens, he lifted his head.
“Yes, Mistress?” It was seldom he saw her delicate features himself. Often he had top pluck these information’s out of Kalvolin’s memory, but today he saw her. He imagined what he wanted to do with her and he could feel the heat rise in his body. Because that was what it was. His body. Not Kalvolin’s, but his!
She ordered him telepathically to leave Kalvolin alone. He hated it when she did that! He was not telepathic and it was his only weakness. He had tried to build defences against it, but hadn’t been successful. He knew he hadn’t much time and the only thing he could prolong his freedom with, was to shock Alfalan. He sniffed a bit and could smell that the female beside him was pregnant. Excellent! He was hungry anyway.
“Maybe I cannot win, but I sure as Hell can have fun!” He lunged for the female, but she just flew out of his reach. With a frustrated roar he tried to follow her, but was finding himself slammed to the wall in the next moment.

Deanna suddenly felt herself being lifted and hurled through the air. Right into Data’s waiting arms. Behind her, she heard a roar and the whole table shuddered and fell to one side. The next they heard was a deafening slam and a crunch of bones breaking. Shocked and shivering they looked at the two Sulin-Avya. Kalvolin was now pressed against the wall by what seemed to be an invisible force and Alfalan stood right in front of him. And for the first time, they heard her speak herself.
“You should have known that I could predict your move. Now leave Kalvolin alone and give him back control!” It turned Kalvolin’s head and a nasty hissing noise left his mouth.
“Maybe I don’t want to go. Maybe I just kill him.” With a sneer he sized her up.
“You would never kill your carrier. Without him, you would die.” It looked deeply into her eyes.
“Are you so sure of that?” The question was merely a whisper.
“Free my Kalvolin. Now!” It grinned and showed off Kalvolin’s fangs.
“Your Kalvolin? How sweet! Material for an undying love story I would think. Wouldn’t you, my Mistress?” He laughed out loud at her stricken expression and found it to be enormous stimulating, when he heard the wails of agony from Kalvolin and at the same time hurt Alfalan. Oh bittersweet torture had always been his favourite.
What he didn’t know, he had stepped over a certain line. When Alfalan opened her mouth the next time, she didn’t do it to talk, but to command and that was a tremendous difference. She didn’t just say the command, but thought it also and that made it impossible for you to act against the command.
“Free Kalvolin!” she ordered and he couldn’t do anything else than comply. As soon as he had opened the ‘door’ to the part of his body, where he had stowed Kalvolin away, he was showed into the same place and lost immediately control over his body. He tried to get out, but the door was locked very tight and he surmised it would take him a long time to get out of here again.
Alfalan turned to look at the Enterprise people. They all stared at her and by the glazed look in her eyes she could see that they had heard her command. She sighed.
“Be at ease.” She told them and they slowly returned to normal. Now they were staring at them in fear. Alfalan returned her attention to Kalvolin. His eyes had returned to normal and a single tear ran down his cheek. Softly she brushed it off and stopped to hold him in place. His legs were trembling and she helped him to sit down on his chair.
“What happened?” Picard asked. Alfalan looked to Deanna, but she was busy embracing her mate and he didn’t seem to want to let her go anytime soon. She had to smile at that. Finally they were getting somewhere. She had to answer the Captain mentally, but due to her powers this was no problem. She just sent to them all at the same time, so no one was left out.
<The Black Soul was able to take over control of Kalvolin’s body. It wanted to ‘have fun’ with you. I could send it back to where it belongs. It is no longer a threat.>
Beverly took a step towards Kalvolin and eyed him with great interest.
“I do not want to be rude, but could I maybe look at him in my Sickbay? I know that your equipment has to be much more advanced than ours, but I would like to have a look for myself.” Alfalan nodded.
<We will meet you tomorrow in your Sickbay. Now please excuse us.> She helped Kalvolin to his feet and when he stood without swaying too much, he activated his helmet and took up position behind her. Together they left and as the doors opened, he vanished. Surprisingly they did not feel scared, but much more...sad. Why, they didn’t know.


Chapter 37
Alfalan sat on her luxurious couch and tried to relax. She had clearly felt its intent tonight and with it certain images, she only wanted to purge from her memory. Images of Kalvolin ripping out Deanna’s baby and devouring it in front of her eyes, only to see her cry. Only to give it enough time to kill her. She had helped Kalvolin sleep. He had been very worried and ashamed of not being able to control the Black Soul. She sighed and leaned her head back. A tear slipped down her cheek and she hoped with all her heart that Beverly Crusher would be able to help her.
“Are you not well, Mistress?” It was her interpreter of this week. Alfalan opened her unseeing eyes again and smiled.
The young woman drew nearer and sat on the floor beside her.
“Did it try to escape?” She asked breathless. Alfalan closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Her interpreters tone was too eager. This was no kind of game. Not meaningless gossip!
It was mortally dangerous! Didn’t she see that? But then, she had never seen it escape. Alfalan sighed again and closed her eyes, while pinching the bridge of her nose.
<Notify Shipmaster Havi that an Anuat, an Eviat and I are to go to the aliens’ ship tomorrow. They would like to examine us. If he objects, say that my decision is final in this matter.> She nodded and quickly withdrew from the room. Alfalan sat alone in her quarters, unseeing and wished not for the first time in her life, to be without her powers and to be a normal Sulin-Avya instead. With a normal life.
A beeping noise raised her from her brooding. Cautiously she felt her way to her desk and sat down. Her fingers were very sensitive and in a way she could see with them, when she needed to. Quickly she found the right button and opened the channel.
“Yes?” She could talk herself now. Over Comm-channels it was very difficult to influence others. She could do it, but only if she concentrated on it.
“Hails Warmistress Alfalan.” By listening closely to the voice, she could identify the other as Clancouncillor Mijhavi.
“Hails Clancouncillor. What can the Ki’Tul do for the council?” She bowed her head slightly.
“The council has received your communiqué about these aliens. We are very interested and request that you bring them here.” Alfalan raised her eyebrows. She hadn’t anticipated such a quick response to her message.
“Whatever the council wishes shall be done.” She answered.
“Good. How long will it take you?” She accessed this information from their pilot’s brain and answered then.
“We will be in range of the home system in four days. We will proceed with a Juggernaught and enter standard orbit at noon the fifth day.”
“Very well. The council will be informed and we await your arrival. Have a safe journey, Traveller.”
“Have a safe journey, Host of Dreams.” They ended their communication with the traditional good-byes and again Alfalan was alone in the dark. Her brow creased deeply. Why had the council answered so quickly and why were they breaking normal tradition, by inviting the Federationists so early into the heart of the Sulin-Avya Protectorate? Other member worlds had to wait many hundreds of years, before a first delegation was allowed onto the Sulin-Avya home world. What had happened at home?
She notified the pilot of the shift in course and then retired for the night. Havi would try to convince her tomorrow not to go to the Enterprise, but she wanted to give Beverly the possibility to examine Kalvolin.

As anticipated Havi asked for an audience the next day. She sent her interpreter to invite him in. She was presently eating her breakfast and waiting for Kalvolin to wake up. Fuming Havi entered her inner quarters with her interpreter barely in tow.
“I cannot allow you to endanger yourself, Mistress. We do not know if we can trust these aliens and you want to give them the possibility to examine us!” Alfalan looked up into his eyes and dipped her mouth with a sparkling white cloth.
“Sit down Shipmaster Havi. Have you eaten breakfast already?” She asked him calmly. He snarled in his fury and his canines were showing off fine.
“Oh please stop that, Shipmaster! The council has requested to bring the Federationists to the homesystem. A little examination will not hurt us!” This piece of information shocked him even more than her wanting to visit the Enterprise again.
“What?! I can’t allow that!” Alfalan’s eyes contracted to small slits and her ‘voice’ was laden with menace.
“It is the will of the council, Shipmaster. It may not be to your satisfaction, but you have given an oath upon your honour that you would carry out every order of the council!”
“Yes, but I have also given an oath to protect every Sulin-Avya and those who have joined our alliance.” He seemed not at all intimidated.
“That is correct, but you may have forgotten that every member of the council has given the same oath. Not only on their honour but on their life and family! Now, Shipmaster, prepare an escort to bring me to the Enterprise. See to it that I am accompanied by an Anuat end an Eviat. Everything else has been decided already and does no longer lie in our hands to alter. Accept what has been ordered by the council and do your duty to the protectorate.” She could feel him struggle, but at last he stood, bowed shortly and strode with large strides toward the exit.
“And Havi!” She called after him. He breathed deeply and turned around to her.
“Yes, Mistress?” He stood perfectly at attention.
“If you ever again take snarl at me, I will take that as an insult and you know what that means.” He gulped, bowed again and exited quickly. If a Warmistress or master was insulted his honour was diminished and there had to be a battle of honour in which the master or mistress could win his or her honour back. Alfalan was in no condition to fight hand to hand, because telepathy and other psychic abilities were not allowed. She was allowed though, to pick a warrior to fight for her and that would under every circumstance be Kalvolin. Havi knew that and he knew also that he had not a shimmer of a chance against Kalvolin.


Chapter 38
In a long procession they walked up the ramp and into the Enterprise. Kalvolin, as always, closely behind Alfalan. The Anuat and the Eviat were not completely comfortable with walking into the aliens’ ship. Alfalan assured them that nothing would happen to them and that the aliens never would do them harm. Alfalan ordered her guards to stay behind at the shuttlebay doors. They tried to protest, but she pulled rank and they had to oblige. With long strides she walked purposeful through the ship. The two members of her crew and her interpreter could barely catch up with her. A crewmember of the Enterprise had been dispatched to bring her to Sickbay, but she already knew the way, thanks to Beverly and a little brain scan. He was quickly left behind.
In Sickbay they were greeted by Picard, Beverly, Riker and Deanna. All of them greeted her and the rest of her entourage friendly.
“You found your way alone, Warmistress?” Asked Picard and frowned. He remembered clearly giving Lieutenant Alvarez the order to bring them here.
“Yes, Captain. And please call me Alfalan. We are equals in rank concerning our ships. I took the liberty to gather the needed knowledge from your crew’s brains. Especially Doctor Crusher was helpful, because she knows the shortest ways.” With a smile Alfalan nodded to the red headed Doctor.
“These are Jonu Vart Ste, an Anuat, and Falai Nemi Nor, an Eviat. To study a Laniat, I give myself into your capable hands.” She bowed slightly towards Beverly, who returned the bow politely. The other two Sulin-Avya seemed shocked at the extent of openness towards these underdeveloped aliens. Alfalan now spoke to those two.
“Be notified that the council has asked me to bring these people to the homesystem. They are to be treated with utmost respect. And another thing. You will see a Koviat.” Their eyes grew large and they began to shiver in fear and retreated to the door.
“Hame nok Vai!” Alfalan ordered and they stopped immediately. “Do not worry. He is under my control and no dishonouration will be placed upon you. This will stay between us and nobody else will know.” The two just nodded. Alfalan gave Kalvolin a sign and he shimmered behind her into existence. Immediately the two others tried to bring as much space between them as possible.

Beverly could see that this could end in problems. She nodded to Ogawa and another nurse, who gently took the other two Sulin-Avya away from this room and into another. They could still see everything through a large window in the wall. The distance seemed to be to their liking though and they seemed to relax. Ogawa and the other nurse began to explain the tests they wanted to run on them. Beverly nodded in appreciation.
“Warmistress, if you would excuse me for a moment. There is one small thing I have to do, until I can take care of you and your bodyguard.” Alfalan nodded to her.
“Of course Doctor Crusher. I will wait here for you. It gives me the opportunity to talk to Jean-Luc.” She smiled to the Enterprise’s Captain, who returned her smile brightly.
“May we use your office?” He asked Beverly. She smiled, gave him a peck on the cheek and gave him a gentle shove in the right direction. Their relationship was no longer a secret and she saw no use in pretending it wasn’t existent. He seemed to think the same, because he wasn’t as reserved as he had been before.
Beverly took Deanna to a near bio bed and Riker followed the two women. Deanna had talked to him and had asked him to come to the first real examination of their child. She knew how much it meant for him to be a better father than his had been therefore she wanted to give him the chance of being a father. He had hoped she would let him back more than just that, but that seemed as far as she would let him come close to her at the moment. Beverly positioned the screen as she had done it the day before, so Deanna and Will could have a look at their baby.
“Okay, Deanna. Relax and breathe normally.” Crusher smiled at Deanna, who was a bit nervous. Will shifted also from one foot to the other. He was just as nervous as Deanna was.
“I will initiate the scan now.” They heard Beverly’s voice as if it was coming from a far away place. Their gazes were fixed on the screen in front of them. At first the picture wasn’t very clear, but it sharpened by every second. Without being aware of it, they had laid an arm around the other and leaned into the other. It just happened on pure instinct.

Will didn’t know what to say. It robbed his breath what he saw there. This was his child! He had helped create it! It was marvellous and even though it still didn’t look much like a human, he thought it to be immensely beautiful. A big lump formed in his throat and he squeezed Deanna tighter. He thanked every God in the universe that she had allowed him to come and see this.
Deanna nearly fainted of all the emotion. Her own and Will’s. She would never have imagined it to be so intense. Tears ran down her cheeks and she had to smile and softly trace the screen. Their baby. A baby born out of love and total commitment. After she had discovered she was pregnant, she had quickly counted the days and knew exactly when she had been impregnated. Two months and four days ago, Will had invited her onto the holodeck. They had had a romantic candlelight dinner and after that a walk in the moonlight. The setting was perfect and she had felt he had wanted to say something very important to him. She had patiently waited for him to gather courage and at a waterfall he seemed to have reached his goal. He turned to her, looked directly into her eyes...and she could feel how all the things he had wanted to say were flying from his head. Frustration had overcome him, but she prevented the perfect moment from shattering by kissing him long, softly and ever so sensually. When he opened his eyes again, their colour was a stormy grey and she could feel him pressing her to him. She didn’t care that she barely could breathe. His head lowered and they shared one of the most wonderful earth-shattering kisses they had ever had. And Gods, he was so good at those! The memory alone let her cheeks flush. The rest of the night was an incredible erotic experience and she couldn’t really remember where one thing started and the other began. It had all been a blur, from the moment on, Will sent her screaming for more the first time over the edge only by the help of his fingers and his expert mouth and tongue. She shivered in delight when she was reminded of his ministrations. She had felt she was losing her attractiveness with getting older and such, but he made her always feel like the girl she had been in the Jalara Jungle. Young, inexperienced and stunningly beautiful. An expression he himself had used once. She had to smile at fates weird sense of humour. At the waterfall in the Jalara Jungle they had first discovered their Imzadi bond, and reassured it was there many times, and now Will had impregnated her at another, if engineered, waterfall. A sob from her right caught her attention and she looked up. Tears were running freely over Will’s face and his gaze was fixed on the screen.
“It is beautiful Imzadi! I am sure you will be a good mother.” He managed to say. She gently drew his gaze to hers and smiled at him. His whole demeanour lightened up, when she looked at him like that and first now she became aware of the power she had over him.
“Maybe Will, but I think you will be the best father ever to be.” She had barely ended her sentence, when she was crushed to his chest in a bone cracking hug.
“Thank you Deanna! I will not disappoint you! Never!” He whispered into her ear. She relaxed in his arms and enjoyed to be within their protective circle once more. Nothing in the universe could touch them here.

Alfalan saw all this unfold from a distance. Picard stopped talking when it was obvious her interest lay somewhere else. He looked over to the two also and saw that Beverly was approaching them now.
“I thought I give them some time for themselves. The child is well and Deanna is in perfect health. They are currently having a look at it.” She smiled, when she saw Deanna softly caressing the screen with her hand, as if she actually could touch her baby. Will’s hand joined hers and all three of them were surprised and happy seeing Deanna smiling at Will.
“That looks good.” Picard muttered. Alfalan nodded and then turned to Crusher.
“You said they were looking at their blessing. But how is that possible?” Beverly eyed her with large unbelieving eyes.
“You mean you cannot show the insides of a Sulin-Avya with the help of medical scanners?” Alfalan shook her head.
“We tried with normal scanners, but the tests were quickly stopped. Too many casualties.” Picard shivered at these words. But it didn’t lack some kind of grim humour. To be scanned to death...He had never heard about that one. Alfalan seemed to be catching up his thoughts.
“Oh no, Captain. It didn’t kill people, but their regeneration rate was diminished and they were in a lot of pain all the way through the regeneration process. It was not...human to do such things. Don’t you say it like that?” She held her head a bit askew.
A deep growl led their attention to Kalvolin, who was attended by a young ensign, who looked very intimidated at the large alien. Beverly sighed and looked at Alfalan and Picard.
“Work calls.” She chimed and was off.


Chapter 39
Ensign Carusso was glad he could go, when Beverly took over. Kalvolin continued to growl, but she only slapped him on his arm and smiled motherly.
“Behave, my friend. If you are nice, you will get a surprise as soon as we are finished.” He rubbed his arm, where she had slapped him and she would bet all her belongings that he was looking at her in utter disbelief. She knew she hadn’t hurt him. Obviously it needed much more to injure this man, if he was the bodyguard of Alfalan. Alfalan came up behind Beverly.
“You can deactivate your helmet, Efeiti.” She allowed him. It folded itself back and his eyes were round in wonder.
“She hit me, Mistress!” Alfalan had to laugh at his tone of disbelief and a bit indignation.
“Yes, but I don’t think she hurt you, now did she?” He seemed to be a little uncomfortable with the situation and shook his head.
“No, she didn’t.” Alfalan smiled at him and gently touched him at his shoulder.
“Doctor Crusher only wants to help you. Be nice and do what she tells you to. She even wants to give you a piece of candy when you are finished.” Alfalan’s smile grew and Kalvolin’s lips turned a bit upward.
Beverly looked at Alfalan to get her permission to continue. The royal Sulin-Avya nodded to her and she began with her first scan. He was in perfect health and she hadn’t expected it to be another way. Over about three hours Beverly gave all she got. She used every scanner and examine device she had on him. She took a hair sample and wanted to analyse his blood, but she couldn’t reach a vein. She had taken so many scans that she hadn’t had a look at them until now. With wonder she discovered that all his veins were protected by a shell of cartilage-like material. It was very resistant, but still flexible. She looked up at him with round eyes. He looked back curious.
“You astound me more and more with every moment.” She whispered and then smiled. He smiled reluctantly back, not really sure of himself. Her smile softened and she rubbed his arm reassuringly.
“I have to talk to Alfalan. Just stay here.” She made explaining gestures and walked over to Picard and Alfalan.

Even though Kalvolin didn’t like to be prodded and examined, he liked the red headed female very much. She wasn’t scared to touch him and she talked to him, even though he didn’t understand a word of what she said. That though seemed not to disturb her. He wished he could speak their language to at least say thank you. He knew why Alfalan had brought the other two. It should look like she was giving the aliens the opportunity to study every part of the Sulin-Avya race, but he knew better. He was the only reason for this. She hoped the Federationists would be able to help remove his black soul without killing him. And according to what he had seen until now, they might be able to do it. Their medical equipment was much more advanced than what he had seen before. Now that he thought about it, it made sense to him. They could not regenerate at such a rate, as the Sulin-Avya. They had to treat their injuries and diseases over a long period of time.
He looked up and saw that Beverly was returning with Alfalan.
“The Doctor would like to take a sample of your blood, Efeiti.” He nodded and his middle claw snapped out.
“I need something to fill it into.” Alfalan nodded and talked in that curious language to the Doctor. She gave him an ampoule. He indicated with his finger a height, to ask how much she needed. She smiled brightly at him and indicated she only needed a few millilitres. He nodded and cut into his arm, but didn’t remove his claw. The tip of it he held into the ampoule and a steady stream of blood ran into it. It had a very dark colour and was a bit viscous. Beverly nodded and motioned for him to stop. He removed his claw and his skin was instantly intact again. The last blood he licked from his arm and claw, before he let his claw slide back. She smiled brightly at him and said something in her language he couldn’t understand. When she was occupied with his blood sample he eagerly tugged at Alfalan’s sleeve to get her attention. She smiled brightly at him and came a step nearer.
“What is it, Efeiti?”
“I want to say thank you. In their language. Only these two words, Mistress. Please!” She couldn’t resist his pleading eyes and clapped his hand gently, which lay on his leg.
“Okay, I will teach you. Try and speak after me.” She raised her index finger in front of his face to get his undivided attention. “Thank you.” She said very slowly. He mouthed it silently after her.
“Now try.” She encouraged him. A little uncomfortable he looked around.
“Thaaank yooouuu.” It sounded very funny with his deep voice. Alfalan was able to suppress her smile, because she could feel that this was very important to Kalvolin. Her interpreter though had not as much control over herself. She began to giggle and Alfalan could feel it stir inside Kalvolin. She shot her interpreter an icy glare, which could have killed if she wanted it. Immediately the giggling stopped.
“This wasn’t a good idea.” She heard Kalvolin murmur. At once she stood at his side again. She softly rubbed his back and smiled at him.
“No. It is a good idea, Efeiti. You will see. Doctor Crusher will be very happy if you say thank you to her.” He looked up from his lap.
“Do you really think so, Mistress?” She nodded and closed her eyes.
“Don’t worry. Beverly is much more sensitive than my interpreter.” This brought a small smile forth and she left him again to Beverly’s examinations. Alfalan was just thankful that her interpreter was not able to understand what she had said. She only used her mouth, but her brain lacked the ability to understand what was been spoken. Therefore and because of her immense powers she had to shift interpreter every week. If she used them over a longer period they could come to understand what she said to Kalvolin and even become addicted to her presence in their mind as to a drug. Deanna was close to such a state already after only two days.

“What was the problem?” Asked Captain Picard as Alfalan came back again. He had been out of earshot, but even if he had been within, he would only have been able to understand Kalvolin’s attempt at saying thank you.
“Doctor Crusher wanted a sample of Kalvolin’s blood. His veins are protected and his wounds close very quickly. If you would draw a knife over his arm, it would cut his flesh, but as soon as you would lift it, his wound would be closed again.” Picard’s eyebrows flew up.
“Really?” He asked unbelieving. She smiled at him and they sat again in Beverly’s office. He got her some refreshments. They watched as Beverly came back to Kalvolin with something hidden behind her back and a bright smile on her face. Picard had to sigh. His butterfly looked so beautiful! Alfalan had to smile at his thoughts and followed with interest what happened now.
With a huge smile all over her face she walked up to Kalvolin again. He eyed her with interest. He could feel she wanted to say something and that she had something for him.
“It is a tradition in my Sickbay that brave patients get a reward. And you have been a very brave patient.” She pulled her hand from her back and presented him with a...lollipop! With round eyes he looked at her and she could see the question in his eyes. She sat next to him on the bio bed and took off the paper for him.
“It’s a sweet. You can eat it, though you normally suck it.” He creased his brow and didn’t understand a word of what she said.
<It’s a sweet, Efeiti. You take it at the stem, put the round thing in your mouth and suck at it.> He smiled after Alfalan had explained it to him. Beverly held it for him to take it. Careful not to hurt her, he took it and grinned at her.
“Thaank yoouu.” He said and Beverly’s face lightened up in wonderment. She smiled even broader.
“No problem. So, let’s go on with the tests, shall we?” She asked. His eyes gleamed and he put the lollipop in his mouth. The taste virtually attacked his senses and he had to grip onto the bio bed. He could feel Alfalan reach out to him and contain it for him, because he just couldn’t. This...this was exquisite! This sweetness! He had never tasted anything like this! Everything he ate always tasted incredibly dull, but this...He closed his eyes and purred in delight of the taste.
Beverly wanted him to make a stamina test next and wanted to help him into the running machine, but noticed he hadn’t followed her. She looked back and saw surprised that he sat totally entranced on the bio bed and sucked on the lollipop. With a puzzled look he saw to Jean-Luc and Alfalan. She had closed her eyes and frowned as if she was in deep concentration. Beverly quickly walked over to them and could hear Kalvolin purr behind her. It was a sound very similar to that of a cat. A very, very large cat.
“What is it?” She asked the Captain. He only shook his head and the interpreter answered for him.
“The Koviat has let go of all control and now my Mistress has to struggle with the black soul directly.” Beverly’s mouth was agape.
“Only because of a lollipop?” The young Sulin-Avya woman only nodded. “That...I mean...Has he never tasted something like this?!” Beverly asked totally puzzled. Every child got at one time or the other a lollipop or some other piece of candy. The interpreter shook her head.
“No, he hasn’t. All his meals are kept neutral, so that he is not loosing control, because of the pleasure a spicy meal can create. You see what happens.” Alfalan’s breathing returned to normal and only now it became apparent to Beverly that the Warmistress hadn’t breathed at all.
“He has it under control now. He needed some time to adapt to it.” She explained through her interpreter. Crusher nodded and walked over to him again. He smiled and she could see a tear running down his cheek.
“Shall we take up the next test?” She asked silently and gently tugged at his arm. He nodded and followed her to the running machine. Even though there had been the grave danger of this black something escaping control and releasing carnage upon the Enterprise, Beverly was glad to have been able to provide Kalvolin with a new, happy experience. Something he didn’t had often, of that she was sure.


Chapter 40
Beverly adjusted the machine to a moderate speed and set Kalvolin to his running test. With a shudder she thought back on her Academy days, when she had to take this test. She was so exhausted; she couldn’t lift a finger, after she had been finished. He jogged with a grace and ease which could only be admired. He was occupied for the next four hours. She went over to the room, where she had left Deanna and Will. Ensign Carusso had taken over for her and Deanna was just leaving. Will still sat at the bio bed and stared at a PADD. Beverly walked over to him and looked over his shoulder. It was a picture of the foetus. With a soft smile she laid a hand on his shoulder. He did not look up to her, but was still totally entranced by the picture.
“It is amazing!” He whispered. She only nodded. “How long until you can determine its gender?” He looked up to her. She rounded on him and pulled a chair up to him.
“Before we go talking about gender, names etcetera, maybe you should first clear things up with Deanna.” Guilty he looked at his hands and then to the wall.
“I...What should I say? I’ve apologized at least a hundred times, Beverly. She may have forgiven me, but she will not allow herself to trust me again and if I’m honest, I can understand her. I wouldn’t trust me, if I was her.” He sighed, drew his fingers through his hair and then looked with a smile at his child.
“Maybe Deanna and I will never get together again, but I will be a good father to my child. A better father than mine has ever been. He will not see me as often as I would wish it, but I will be there as often as I can.” Beverly sighed and closed her eyes.
“You have given up already.” He seemed not to hear her. “Will! I’m talking to you!” With a frustrated sigh he looked up at her.
“What do you want me to do? Turn back Time? Because if it isn’t that, then I have to tell you that I have tried anything else already! God, Beverly, I even walked crying through this ship without noticing it! If she wanted a sign that I had been thrown off balance, it couldn’t have been more obvious.”
“Maybe so, but women need to hear these things, Will. She needs to hear from you that you are sorry, that you love her and that you cannot live without her. And you need to tell her the real reason for going to Risa instead of staying with her and getting married.” His shocked expression drew a laugh from Beverly’s lips.
“You didn’t really fool anyone by saying you weren’t ready for this commitment or by saying it would be too dangerous, because of your position as First Officer of the flagship and her then becoming a potential kidnapping victim.” He mumbled something and dropped his head. With a soft smile she rubbed his arm and tried to help him.
“It’s just...when I look into her eyes...what I see is so...perfect. She is perfect. She has become everything to me, Beverly, but that isn’t what ‘bothers’ me. Every time I saw this all encompassing love in her eyes for me...I every time asked myself if this was real. If something this wonderful could really exist. I was full of doubt and how could I ask her to marry me, when I doubted my love in her. Of course all of this was extremely foolish and now I have paid the price. The second time.” Both sat silent and in thought for a moment.
“I have to go Beverly. My shift begins in a few moments. See you at the next examination.” With that he walked out of Sickbay. She looked after him and sighed.
“How the Hell did we get here?” She asked into the empty room, sighed again and turned back to her duties at hand.

While Kalvolin was doing his running test, Beverly could focus her attention on Alfalan. At first a physical scan was made. Beverly suspected that she would weigh a little less than other Sulin-Avya, but not so much. Considering her height alone, Beverly would have expected her to weigh more, but she didn’t. But she didn’t look as if she was suffering from underweight either. The answer presented itself in her bones. They were near to hollow and very fragile. Kalvolin’s on the other hand were massive and rather heavy. Alfalan had not so many muscles as Kalvolin and muscles weighed also a lot. Her body seemed to be only as much as she needed to carry her brain with a certain amount of dignity, because her brain was her most prominent organ. Beverly made many different brain scans and couldn’t believe what she saw. Her psychosynine levels were off the scale and it was normal for her! Her brain was parted into five lobes; one of them resembling the lobe Betazoid’s had for telepathy.
She didn’t even see Picard standing behind her and smiling broadly at her excitement, while she scuttled around Sickbay murmuring how fascinated she was by all the things she was finding. Alfalan shared an amused look with him and both had to smile even broader.
“Do you want to take the same physical tests? You don’t need to, but if you want?” Beverly looked up for the first time in some time now and saw then smiling at her.
“What?” Picard had to laugh. “What is it?” She asked him and slapped him with a smile on his arm. He flinched back, as if she really had hurt him. He looked at her with big puppy eyes.
“You now, that could end with me needing serious treatment.” They looked deeply into the others eyes and Beverly had to smile seductively.
“I’m absolutely convinced it will end in very serious treatment.” He gave her a kiss on her cheek and pulled her into an embrace.
“I have to go now. See you tonight then.” With a cocky smile and a roguish glint in his eyes, he left them. Beverly sighed happily and turned to Alfalan. Her face was unreadable now. Crusher wondered why. With a wave of her hand she dismissed her interpreter, who bowed and then left Sickbay. Beverly wondered where she might be going.
<To Ten Forward. I told her she should wait there for me.> A little surprised Beverly staggered a step back.
“Oh, excuse me. I’m not accustomed to having someone talking to me telepathically.” She apologised and led Alfalan to another scanner.
<Yes, I have found you Humans to be without much potential in that respect. No offence meant.> Beverly smiled and worked the controls.
“None taken.” She only answered. Alfalan saw to the ceiling and seemed to think about something.
<Although Commander Riker shows some talent in that area. He’s no telepath, but he nevertheless knows how to send and he isn’t disturbed when I talk to him telepathically.>
“That must be because of Deanna. They are very close and she taught him how to send. They have some kind of bond, which connects them at a very basic level. Maybe she has told you about it. Imzadi?” Alfalan nodded and stepped away from the scanner array, after Beverly was finished.
<Yes, she did. It is a very powerful connection they have and I can even see it. It’s...I cannot describe it in words. I seldom have to articulate, what I perceive.>
“No problem. I never really understood it. The only thing I understood was that it was this bond, which kept them together and I hope it will do so now too.” Beverly sighed heavily, then smiled and led her to a chair with a stirrup-like pulling mechanism attached to it.
“This will test your strength. You grasp it here and then pull it upwards.” She demonstrated it to the Warmistress. Alfalan nodded and took the stirrup into her hand. When Beverly nodded, she began to pull. Alfalan gasped and seemed to struggle with it and Beverly couldn’t believe what her instruments showed her. Alfalan couldn’t even lift eight kilograms! She seemed to try, but wasn’t able. Quickly Beverly signalled her to let go. With a sigh of relief Alfalan dropped the handle unceremoniously. She seemed to be out of breath and needed some time to regain her composure.
She sent to Beverly. Crusher smiled and scanned her with her tricorder.
“No problem. We will jump over the physical tests.” Alfalan smiled and then fixed her eyes on the handle. It lifted itself into the air and Beverly quickly rushed over to her instruments. Alfalan was completely relaxed and smiled when Beverly looked at her with wide eyes. Alfalan was just now ‘lifting’ a shuttle craft and her pull was still increasing.
“How long can you hold this?” Beverly’s voice was just a whisper.
<As long as I wish. My mind has only the boundaries I set for it.>
“Amazing!” Alfalan had to laugh out loud. It was a very musical sound.


Chapter 41
“Doctor!” A young nurse called from the main room and Beverly quickly walked out to her. Alfalan followed.
“What is it, Antonia?” Beverly asked and the nurse only pointed with her index finger at Kalvolin. The Sulin-Avya had changed his running tactics with the increasing speed of the running machine. His knees were now bended the other way around and he was running on all fours. He was moving as smoothly as a panther and it was very aesthetic.
“What is the problem?” Beverly asked Antonia. The young woman looked not too comfortable.
<The joints give a very nasty popping noise when he does this. I believe it scared her.> Alfalan explained. Beverly only nodded and looked to the other two. They were also in running machines and the Anuat was running in the same fashion as Kalvolin, while the Eviat ran normally. The Sulin-Avya woman was sweating and the male also, but only a bit, while Kalvolin didn’t seem tired in the least.
“How long have they been running?” Beverly asked Ogawa. She checked a chronometer near to her.
“About three hours and twenty-seven minutes.”
“Good. When they are finished and they should have questions, answer them all absolutely honest and free, okay?” All of her staff nodded. Beverly again joined Alfalan, who was waiting patiently.
“Your examination is complete.”
<When will you know if you can remove the black soul from Kalvolin?> Alfalan asked her eagerly. Beverly sat behind her desk and interlaced her fingers.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I will have to analyze every bit of information we have sampled today. Then we will have to find out what is different about him. I would like to scan him, when it has taken over his body, but I think that is too dangerous.” Alfalan only nodded. “We have a lot of information to work through, but with a bit of luck and with Data’s help, will I maybe in a day or two be able to give a hypothesis.” She had to smile at the light of hope, which ignited in Alfalan’s eyes.
“But I can’t promise anything.” Alfalan smiled understanding.
<I know, but this is better than the nothing of before.>
“That it is, indeed.”

Deanna walked into her quarters and was surprised to find that a jungle spontaneously had chosen to grow inside it. She fought her way to her desk and found a note on it.
‘I hope you like them, Deanna. Thank you for letting me participate. Will.’
She dropped the note and had to smile, while she walked again through her quarters, now no longer annoyed, but feeling...cherished. She sat down at her desk again and swivelled her computer around.
“Computer! Give me a connection to Commander Riker’s quarters.” A slight beep was audible.
“Commander Riker is currently on the Bridge. You can leave him a message.” Deanna sighed. She had hoped to be able to talk to him personally.
“Record message for William Riker!” She ordered.
“Hi Will. Thank you for the flowers. The next examination is in a week and I would like to invite you to come with me. Good night. Record end!” The computer only beeped and then she leaned back in her chair. Feeling very comfortable and at peace with herself. Smiling she looked at her belly.
“What about us two taking a nap, hm?” She asked and caressed her stomach. With a yawn she stood and fought her way through the jungle to her bedroom.

Will had gone straight to the bridge. It wasn’t necessary, since they were no longer in space and the bridge nearly was void of personnel. But he felt safe here and he could get a little breathing room here. Nobody here dared or had time to talk to him about Deanna and that he should apologize to her. Picard was of course also here. Although Will was a bit puzzled by his presence. Since his relationship with Beverly was no secret anymore, he spent his free time always with her. But then, the normal duty plans showed that he was on duty right now, even though it didn’t matter much. But who was he to argue with Picard? He had used his duties to flee from Sickbay and Beverly’s prodding questions. He was still a bit uneasy that she knew, why he hadn’t asked Deanna to marry him.
He shook his head, to rid himself of these thoughts and looked to the viewscreen. It was disturbing not to see stars, but to see a metal bulkhead.
“Not feeling comfortable with that either?” He saw up again and saw his Captain standing in front of him. A slight smile tugged the corners of Will’s mouth a bit upwards.
“Not really, no, Sir. I only know this kind of view from shuttles and the Enterprise is a damn’ large shuttle, if I may say so, Sir.” Picard chuckled and patted him on his back.
“For the time being, there are no really urgent matters that demand our attention. I know though that you will need something to occupy you with, so I have talked with Alfalan about that. Their Troopmistress is willing to give you a tour of their ship. Geordi and Mr. Xerx will accompany you until you reach Engineering. I believe they need to be welded from their machines.” Again Picard laughed. Will had seen how Picard grew more and more relaxed during his ongoing relationship with Beverly and thought it to be good for his Captain. “Anyway. She will also show you some of their fighting techniques. You better watch out, Will. Data says that he wouldn’t stand a chance against one of them in a serious combat situation.” He raised a cautioning finger. Will smiled down at him.
“Don’t worry, Sir. I have to be in one piece to be a proper father.” They shared an amicable silence and when Picard spoke again, there was deep affection in his voice.
“I am so happy for the two of you, Will and I think you will be a formidable father.” Will nodded and smiled in silent thanks for this compliment.

A low beep from the computer and Beverly’s voice roused both their attention.
*Doctor Crusher to Picard.* He smiled broadly at Will and tapped his combadge.
“Yes, Doctor. What can I do for you?” He asked formally. They had agreed on using rank when they were on duty.
*I have finished my examinations of the Sulin-Avya and will begin with the analysis immediately. I would like to request Data to help me, Sir. The physical makeup of the four is very different from each other.* He nodded, even though Beverly could not see him. Riker had to smile. It was a habit nearly every Starfleet officer had. Apart from Vulcans of course.
“Permission granted.” He waved for Data to leave the Bridge who had heard the conversation. The android only nodded and then left. “He is on his way now. Is there anything else?”
*Actually there is. I fear I have to cancel our appointment.* Picard’s face fell and Will had to struggle not to laugh. *The amount of data is larger than I thought and I fear I will have to work overtime.* He sighed and a similar sigh could be heard from the other side.
*I’m sorry Jean-Luc.* She added silently. He smiled softly and bowed his head down to his communicator.
“No problem, Butterfly. Maybe I will visit you tonight then.” Aloud he only said: “Picard out.” and ended the communication.
“If I may, Sir, I would like to say that I am very happy for you two. It was about time.” Picard stared with large eyes at his leaving First Officer, while Will only smiled sadly and stepped onto a turbolift.


Chapter 42
Kun sat in his command chair and was in a really bad mood. All his officers knew that and tried not to get in his way. The large viewscreen, which occupied the entire opposite wall, showed him the normal view of stars, when the Ki’Tul was at warp. The blue swirls normally had a calming effect on him, but not today. Not when his Warmistress was laying everything bare before these aliens they didn’t even know and whom he didn’t trust. Normally he could talk to her about things and she would listen to his advices, but since these aliens had come aboard everything had changed. He cracked his knuckles and the male Eviat, manning one of the science consoles, flinched at the ugly sound it made. Kun had to be cautious with this, because if he used too much pressure, he would break his own bones. No problem of course, but letting them heal would only cost him time and resources. It would be a nuisance, even if it only took a few moments.
He heard someone approaching him from behind and could soon smell that it was Iljana. He wondered what the Troopmistress wanted.
“Shipmaster Havi?” He waited with his reaction. It wasn’t appropriate to react immediately. Only in combat situations.
“Yes, Troopmistress, what can I do for you?” He asked and turned to her.
“I am here to inform you that the Warmistress has granted the First Officer a tour of our ship. Their Chief Engineers will be taken to Master of Powers Erralek.” His roar started as a low growl deep in his throat.
“WHAAT?! I do not give my permission! The aliens will not be allowed to enter!” Iljana seemed to be very uncomfortable with the whole situation.
“But, Master. It is her wish.” He snarled at her and his claws sprang to their openings.
“Are you challenging me, Troopmistress? It may be her wish, but for the safety of the Sulin-Avya and our charges, I cannot allow this!” She laid her head back and bared her throat, before she left the bridge. With a growl he settled back into his command chair. Everybody on the bridge looked at him.
“Monitor your stations!” He bellowed and all instantly scuttled to their stations to resume their work. Silently fuming he sat in his chair. When his Mistress came back they had to have a long talk about things!

Beverly sighed deeply and drew her hands through her hair and over her face. She had worked for five hours on these data now and it looked as if she had to spend another five hours only to get a general view over everything. Data, his normal diligent self, stood at a screen and the data was scrolling so fast that it to her only was a blur.
*End of test sequence.* The computer announced and he turned to her.
“Absolutely fascinating Doctor. The amount of their equivalents of white blood corpuscles is about a hundred times higher than in the average human.” She smiled at his enthusiasm.
“That could indicate why they are able to heal so fast.” He speculated. She had to yawn. “Do I bore you?” Data’s face was filled with concern. She had to smile and wave his concern off.
“No Data. It’s just me. I am a bit tired, that’s all. A good coffee will help me to come around again.” She pushed herself out of her chair and walked over to the replicator. Stretching and yawning she leaned against the wall.
“Anything for you, Data?” The android looked up from a PADD.
“No, thank you. For the time being I do not require nourishment or fluids of any kind.” She had to smile at his way to express himself.
“Data, why do you no longer activate your emotion-chip when you are on duty?” For a long moment silence settled between them, only broken by the quiet hum of the replicator producing a coffee.
“I thought about it a lot, before I made my final decision. I have discovered that everybody has grown accustomed to my superior abilities, among them my lack of emotion to cloud neutral judgement. I found myself unable to fulfil my duties with the same efficiency as before, because my emotions were in my way. Because of that I have decided only to allow me feelings, when I am off duty.” She sat across him and eyed him intensely.
“Data, it is not a matter if others expect things from you. You should be free to experience your emotions as we all are.” He laid his head to one side.
“A question Doctor. If everybody should be free to experience their emotions, shouldn’t we stop Warmistress Alfalan from suppressing the symbiotic life form inside her bodyguards’ body?” Her eyes grew wide.
“Data, that’s not the same! It would kill thousands if it was allowed to reign freely.” He nodded.
“Exactly. If I would not be able to use my superior abilities, the Enterprise would have been destroyed or many people would have died on various occasions. You see Doctor? It is only to the benefit of all that I only allow myself feelings in my spare time.” She didn’t know what to reply to that and instead studied the readouts in front of her.

Will, Geordi and Taril waited in Shuttlebay two for their escort to the alien ship. An uncomfortable silence had settled between them and Taril kept as large a distance between them as he was possible, without being rude. Will sighed and walked over to him. The young Betazoid tried to avoid him, but soon bumped into a wall.
“I do not bite, Ensign.” Will told him and chuckled a bit.
“Maybe not.” Conceded Taril warily. Will sighed and drew his palms over his face.
“I’m sorry. Okay? I was...emotionally devastated and when you bumped into me...I no longer had myself under control and I wish to apologise for you being at the receiving end of my wrath.” He offered Taril his hand to shake. Not really knowing what to make of this, Taril took Riker’s hand and shook it.
“See? Nothing happened.” Will smiled. He then sighed and looked to the ramp. Nobody was in sight.
“They are overdue.” He commented and Geordi nodded, while he walked up to them.
“Yeah. And judging by their behaviour, that’s really odd for them.” Will nodded.
“I think so too. Maybe we should contact the Warmistress. Maybe her order wasn’t received on the bridge of the Ki’Tul.” The two senior officers looked to Taril, who felt utterly uncomfortable under their combined gazes.
“Sounds like a good idea to me.” He piped up.

Before they were able to contact Sickbay, Alfalan and the other three Sulin-Avya walked into the Shuttlebay. Her bodyguard was again invisible. She seemed puzzled that they were still there.
“Did Troopmistress Iljana not show up?” She asked through her interpreter. Riker took a step forward and bowed to her.
“I fear no, Warmistress. We just wanted to contact you. Maybe your order hasn’t been received.” Her eyes grew distant and a small crease became visible at the bridge of her nose.
“Don’t fear, Commander Riker. My order was received.” Her voice held a warning for whoever hadn’t obeyed her and Geordi, Taril and Riker looked at one another. Meanwhile Alfalan left for her own ship. The three men could all agree on they didn’t want to be in the guys shoes, who had upset Alfalan and not obeyed her orders.


Chapter 43

With long strides Alfalan walked onto the bridge of the Ki’Tul. Kun sat in his command chair with his back to her. Everybody in the room stood, went to their knees, hailed her and laid their throats bare. Kun remained seated. Alfalan could overlook this, but only because he had served her loyally for many years. She rounded on him and looked into his eyes.

“Why did you counter my order?” She asked. He looked shortly up to her and then back to the view screen.

“It was the only thing I could do.” He answered casually and went on with his work. The PADD he had been studying went flying from his hand and into the next bulkhead.

“I have been patient with you, Shipmaster, but my patience is wearing thin!” He looked up and his eyes were laden with menace.

Your patience? What about my patience? You lay everything about us bare before these underdeveloped aliens and you suppose me to stand by and let it happen? I have every respect for you Warmistress, but I cannot let that happen!” He raised his chin and his eyes asked her to challenge him. She stood at attention and nodded.

“Fine. If you want it this way, then you shall have it! I order you to send Troopmistress Varu to accompany the Enterprise officers around our ship! And I order you to apologise to them for your unfounded distrust!” He rose from his command chair and leaned down to her.

“If I would do that, I would be lying and that would not be honourable. I must deny you, Mistress.” The last came out with a provocative hissing sound. It was deadly quiet on the bridge.

“You will apologise for that immediately and carry out my orders, or you know what will happen.” She whispered to him. His muscles were working hard and his knuckles cracked loudly.

“I apologise.” He pressed through gritted teeth, turned on his heel and walked out. Alfalan took a deep cleansing breath. Why had he to be so xenophobic now? Normally he was an intelligent man. Before he could leave, her sharp ears heard him mutter something and in the next moment, he was slammed to the next wall. Seemingly by nothing but air. Immediately she contacted Kalvolin.

<What is it, Efeiti?> his Black Soul was firmly under control. What else could it be?

<He called you something. I don’t know what, but I know it was an insult.> She walked up to Kun, who had trouble breathing. He tried to free himself, without much luck.

“What did you say, Shipmaster? I couldn’t hear you.” He snarled and by judging his facial expression, Kalvolin did something very nasty to him because of that.

“I did not understand.” She asked him again. He opened his mouth to speak, but only a strangled gasp escaped him.

<Give him the opportunity to answer me, Efeiti.> At once Kalvolin loosened his grip on Kun.

“I...I said: ‘Traitor’.” Kun panted. Her eyes grew round. Kalvolin’s grip came in again in full force.

“You called me a traitor?!” She asked him outraged and snarled herself at him. Very few knew, but she had inherited some Anuat blood. Her eyes glowed and her irises became more visible through the white sheen. Kalvolin’s grip was no longer needed, because she now held him herself much tighter.

“How dare you call me a traitor? I have sacrificed more than you could ever imagine for my people! You don’t know of my motives! Don’t make the mistake of judging me too quickly. I am only taking care of an ancient problem, which has lain upon all our consciousnesses for generations! Traitor indeed!” He fell to his knees and gasped for air. Popping noises were audible, as his ribs went back to their natural positions. Alfalan left in long strides, her interpreter behind her. Everybody on the bridge hurried to bow to her and mumble a hail. She didn’t hear them. At the door she turned again towards Kun.

“Be aware, that I cannot let this stain be on my honour. You are hereby challenged for a Battle of Honour! It will though not be to the death. Your long years of service are not forgotten.” With a silent hiss the door closed behind her and Kun coughed, while he held his ribcage with one arm. Never would he be able to stand up to the Koviat. He wouldn’t even last a minute.

The news of the Battle spread like wildfire through the whole ship and within no time, Iljana heard it too, while she guided the three officers from the Enterprise through the ship. While the aliens looked wide-eyed at the interior of the Ki’Tul, she looked wide-eyed at the officer, who had brought her the news.

“You are kidding, right?” The man shook his head.

“I am sorry, no Mistress. He insulted her and her honour was diminished in front of the whole Bridge crew. She had to call for a Battle of Honour, or she would have lost her right of Command.” She hit her calf.

“When is it?” She looked to the aliens. They were still too occupied with the ship, to have recognised that her attention was somewhere else.

“It is tonight at 2100. In the large Ceremony Hall.”

“Good. Go back to your station and see to it that people tonight do not leave their stations, just to watch this unfold. It will be over very quickly.”

“You think she will pick the Koviat to fight for her?” Iljana was getting irritated now and bared her canines and a low growl came from her throat.

“Of course she will pick him! He is her guard.”

“But still...The dishonouration...”

“Kun should have thought about that, before he insulted Alfalan! Then he could easily have avoided this. Now get back to work!” The last sentence was accompanied by a hiss and the officer quickly scampered off. She composed herself again, before she again turned towards the aliens. She would drop the two engineers off at Kolu’s. Then she only had to show the Commander around. She would cut his tour short and then go and talk to Kun. She had to convince him to go to Alfalan and apologise in front of the crew.

“Please! Our next stop is Main Engineering.” The two engineers couldn’t close up fast enough, but their Commander came slower over to her. She wished he would hurry up a bit.

“Please, Commander. Hurry up a bit.” He quickened his step, but it was still not fast enough for Iljana. She lead them through the next corridors, sighed and rolled her eyes.

“You don’t like doing this, don’t you?” Surprised she looked to her left. Without her hearing it, Riker had closed the distance to her. How had he done that? She should have heard him! She creased her brow and looked down on him.

“How did you do that?” Riker seemed puzzled.

“How did I do what?”

“How did you manage to sneak up on me? Not even my officers can do that.” Riker only shrugged.

“I don’t know. Maybe it is the way I walk.” She watched him walk and with a small smile Riker could see, how she really peaked her ears.

“You could be right on this aspect. I would be very interested, if you could show me how.”

“Of course. I would be honoured.” He was a bit puzzled at this request. They stopped at two huge doors. They were, unlike all the others, made of solid metal.

“These doors are made out of Lucodelium. They can hold the explosion of the warpcore inside. We have to go into dock in a few weeks though, because it has nearly finished its second growth-period. Then we have to insert doors of Ronium.” She punched in a code and the large doors opened with loud metallic sounds. When the gaping Enterprise engineers passed the doors, they could see that they had at least six locks, each one massive enough, to withstand hard phaserblasts. In the middle of the gigantic room was a warpcore, which seemed slightly out of place, because it didn’t really fit into the whole mechanism. It was too small. With mouths wide open, they saw, how the core pulsed with energy. It was now four levels high, but it obviously was meant to be more than twenty stories high. At each level was a conduit connected to the organism-like warpcore. A group of engineers was carrying a large tube through the room and Master of Powers Erralek was hollering commands. It seemed as if a new level would be acquired shortly and everything had to be prepared for the next conduit to emerge. Iljana gave a short roar and the most turned around. Kolu swore loudly and screamed they should keep attention to the machine. He gave command to his second in command and came jogging towards them.

“This is very bad timing, Iljana! A new level is about to emerge and I don’t have time for playing guide!” He bared his teeth. His canines weren’t as impressing as Iljana’s, but still dangerous. She pulled him away from the three Enterprise officers, who still stared wide eyed around the room.

“I don’t care if you have time or not. Alfalan ordered me to bring them here, so that you could talk to them about engineering stuff. I did that. Now I have to get as quick as possible rid of Commander Riker, so that I can talk Kun out of this Battle of Honour!” Kolu’s eyes widened.

“So it is true? I thought it was idle talk.”

“No it is true and if we want to keep him as Shipmaster, you better take these two aliens off my hands!” She hissed. He sighed, shortly closed his eyes and nodded then.

“Okay, okay, but tell them to keep out from underfoot!” He warned her. She nodded and returned to the three Enterprise officers.


Chapter 44

Geordi LaForge could barely believe his eyes. He and Taril reverently walked farther into the huge room and tried to take everything in.

“This is amazing!” The Chiefengineer of the Enterprise whispered. Taril only nodded. He was not sure of his voice. Riker was not as nearly as amazed as the two engineers, but was still in awe of this enormous construct.

“So guys, when do we get you out of here?”

“In about three years, Sir. Plus minus four or five.” Taril whispered. Will and Geordi had to chuckle at this. Riker set his arms akimbo and shook his head.

“This is extraordinary!” He said silently. Geordi nodded with a wide smile.

“You can say that again! I have a thousand questions about this thing and if we had taken Data with us, I’m sure he would have at least a million more.”

“Then it’s better we haven’t taken him, because the Ki’Tul’s Chiefengineer has better things to do, than answer a curious androids questions.”

While they had talked, Iljana had returned after her brief chat with Master of Powers Erralek.

“You are absolutely right, Commander. The reason why it is chaos down here right now, is because a new level is about to emerge. A very dangerous process. The energy conduits have to be in place, before that happens, or else...”

“Or else...?” Taril asked still looking around the room and ended up with looking at Iljana.

“Or else, this room and everybody present, will be busted to Hell, as you say.” Riker had to chuckle at this and because of Taril’s stricken expression.

“Have a nice day, Gentlemen. And...If I may say, it was an honour serving with you.” He turned to Iljana.

“Shall we proceed with the tour?” A slight smile turned her lips upwards a bit.

“Of course, Commander.” And with that they left. Taril stood dumbfounded.

“He was making a joke, wasn’t he?” He asked meekly. Geordi laughed and clapped him on his back.

“Of course, Taril. Relax. As much as I understood the Chiefengineer of this marvellous vessel, she is a kind of flagship and that means that they are all very capable of doing their jobs. So, I don’t think there is any reason for fear my friend.” A last clap on Taril’s shoulder followed and then he left for the bustle of activity around Erralek. Indecisive Taril stood where Riker and Iljana had left them, but then picked up his courage and followed Geordi into the Lion’s cave.

“That was a cruel joke.” It was the first thing Iljana had said to him, after they had left Engineering. That had been about twenty minutes ago. They had been wandering in silence through the ship and Riker was sure that they had come about twelve decks higher.

“Maybe for Xerx, but Geordi wasn’t very disturbed. He knows my humour.”

She harrumphed and opened another door. The only reaction Riker was capable of, was a weak: “Wow.”

Before him was the largest gym hall he had ever seen. It was at least 700 metres long and 300 metres wide. At the other side of it, he could barely see a group of people practice some kind of martial arts.

“Welcome to our main gym. Here we can train our combat skills. It is also a welcome distraction for other parts of the crew. But mainly it is used by our troops.” She began walking inside the room and Riker slowly followed her.

“Troop exercises are also held here.”

“Don’t you have Holodecks?” He asked curious. Her brow creased a bit.

“We have decks designed to be different forms of habitats. Desert, jungle, forest...”

“No, that’s not what I mean. We can create all of these in one single room ,which is rather small, I might add.” She looked down to him. He saw that they were moving towards the group that was practising.

“How can that be possible?” She seemed really interested.

“Nothing inside our Holodecks is real. With the help of forcefields, tractorbeams and replicators, we are able to create any setting we want. Our computer is programmed with various scenarios, in which we can hone our skills and relax.” Her eyes were wide.

“I would like to see that.”

“No problem. If you want, I will arrange a tour for you through the Enterprise. Although I doubt it will be as impressing as this tour has been for me.” Her mouth drew into a smirk and he felt anger rise within him. But then...the Ki’Tul was a much larger and impressing vessel than the Enterprise and she seemed to be the equivalent of a Second Officer. Of course was she proud of her position and her vessel and had to look down upon ‘tiny’ vessels like the Enterprise.

They had reached the group and he watched their training. Their movements had something fluid about them. It was very beautiful to watch. A young Sulin-Avya became aware of their presence and roared an order. Immediately they all stopped, turned in their direction and bared their throats, while they hailed Iljana in their own language. Riker asked himself, why the Universal Translator still hadn’t been able to translate the spoken words of their hosts. He was puzzled because of this inability of the otherwise totally reliable piece of technology.

“Proceed.” Ordered Iljana in Federation Standard. He was thankful for her consideration of his not understanding their language. Although he wasn’t sure if this was her way of showing him that she accepted him, or if Alfalan had ordered her to talk to him only in Federation Standard. He thought the last one was much more plausible than the first. The youngsters continued with their training.

“These are adepts. They will gain outdoor status in a few months. Then they will accompany our troops and learn from them directly in the field. Until then, they are my responsibility. They have to be trained in armed and unarmed combat, as well as in demolition, survival in the field, cooking, hunting, scouting, etc. It is a very big assignment, but I rather enjoy it.” Riker could see it in her eyes. They gleamed with pride, as she took in the graceful motions of her pupils.

“I can see that. And you can be proud of them. I have never seen anyone move as graceful.” A deep hearty laugh came from Iljana. Puzzled he looked to her.

“You’ve never seen a grown and experienced warrior in combat, Commander. This is rather...dull in comparison to someone like Shipmaster Kun or me. We call it Darihanjuan. Flowing River. We strive to let one motion go so seamlessly into the other, so it seems, as if the whole attack looks like one fluid motion. It is much more difficult to counter an attack, when you don’t know, which move will come next. For the trained eye, it is rather easy, but if you watch great Masters, as for example Fleetmaster Avian, you wouldn’t be able to discern one attack or countermove from the whole dance.”

“You call it a dance, when you fight?” He smiled. She waved with her hand toward the youngsters.

“What would you call it?” And indeed, it looked as if they were moving to some unheard melody.

“How long do you have to practice, to reach their level for example?” He crossed his arms.

“The training of an Anuat warrior begins when he’s able to hold a dagger. In your reckoning at the age of three. A daily training period of at least six hours per day is scheduled. The training takes place beside their school education. As they grow the six hours are extended to nine. Fulltime warriors as I and Kun practice in our spare time and there is also a training with our units. All in all, it is about up to about ten to eleven hours, if we can.” He stared wide eyed at her. A slight smile parted her lips.

“You must know, Commander, that we only sleep every forty-nine hours.” He smiled weakly.

“Well, I must say I didn’t even train half as much in my whole career.”

One of the large doors opened and fifty Sulin-Avya marched in in perfect order. The youngsters stopped their training and walked off to one side. Iljana took Riker with him.

“You see, why we need so large a gym? When training is scheduled, at least four or five of our units train here.” He could feel the vibrations in the wooden floor and saw more Sulin-Avya enter through other doors and heard them approach behind him. Suddenly all movement stopped. Wary Riker looked around. All of them were carrying small staffs in their hands. An order was roared and throughout the gym, all Sulin-Avya raised the staff and it unfolded itself into a kind of spear. Then, movement started in one end of the Hall and like a wave it moved through the ranks. All of them in perfect synchronisation. And now Riker saw, why they called it a dance. All of the men and women moved in a kind of swaying rhythm. He couldn’t see, where one move ended and the other began. And they picked up their speed! He might have been able to copy one or two of the moves, but only in a kind of slow motion. Two Sulin-Avya stood before the whole group and they roared an order in both directions. Immediately the movements were altered and he could now hear a drumming rhythm, undoubtedly coming from the staffs, hitting the floor, but he couldn’t even see them doing it!

“I hope we never will be enemies.” Riker whispered. Iljana smiled a cruel smile.

“A very wise decision.”


Chapter 45

Beverly had fallen asleep at her desk and Data hadn’t wanted to rouse her from her sleep, so he had downloaded some of the data on a PADD and had gone home to Spot. It was that way, Deanna found her. With a lopsided smile, she woke her friend. With bleary eyes she looked up at Deanna. With a yawn she rubbed her eyes.

“What time is it?” Deanna smirked and sat on her desk.

“Oh...about 2200.”

“Oh no! I was supposed to meet with Jean-Luc!”

“Don’t worry. He sent me down here to look for you and try to pry you away from your work.” Beverly looked around her office.

“Data?” She asked.

“Has gone home and is working on the data and will have a report prepared for you first thing in the morning.” Again Beverly yawned.

“Really? Well, then I guess (yawn) I will go home.”

“Good idea.” Deanna clapped her on her back, while Beverly rose from her seat.

“Before you go, I would like to ask, when you have scheduled the next examination?” Beverly rubbed her eyes, while she thought about it.

“Ah...Next week...Thursday at 1300?” Deanna beamed.

“Good. I will tell Will.” At that Beverly’s eyes popped wide open. But Deanna didn’t see that, because she already was leaving.

Alfalan sat in her inner quarters and tried to relax. She was listening to the voices of the crew and tried to check the feeling. Many were agitated, because of the Battle of Honour. She sighed. She had hoped it wouldn’t be necessary, but Kun had stepped over the line, by insulting her in front of the whole Bridge crew. Kalvolin walked over to her and set a glass of Nilik juice in reach of her hand.

“Will I have the honour to fight for you tonight?” He asked in his deep voice.

“Yes. I will take care of your Black Soul for the largest part. Please concentrate on not killing him.” Kalvolin bowed his head slightly.

“As you wish.” She smiled softly at him and wanted to stretch out her hand, but didn’t do it. Touching him was forbidden, but from time to time, she stepped over that line, because she just couldn’t rein in the urge. Instead she took the glass of juice and took a small swig.

“We have to cut the affair with the Narwuli short. What would you suggest?”

“The Narwuli are cowards. If we come in with all our forces and make a big show if it, they will immediately stand down.” She smiled and nodded.

“I thought the exact same thing. You will accompany me upon a Glider.” He only nodded. She sighed and contacted Iljana. Within a few minutes the Troopmistress entered her inner quarters. Kalvolin was of course invisible.

“You wanted to see me, Mistress?”

“Yes, I wanted to talk to you about the Narwuli.”

“What about them?”

“We have an appointment with the Council. We have to cut the affair short. I want you to mobilise all our Anuat. I want to come in in full force. I hope that their troops will be so dispirited that they will stand down.” Iljana pondered that for a moment and nodded then.

“I will inform the troopleaders and the Anuat will be ready.” She stood at attention.

Alfalan nodded and smiled a little.

“Thank you. Have you been able to talk Kun out of the Battle.” Iljana shuffled in uneasiness with her feet.

“I have talked to him, but he is still convinced to have acted in the best interest of the crew and the Protectorate. I told him he was wrong to say that you our people, but he wouldn’t listen.” Alfalan sighed and shook her head.

“Poor stubborn Kun.” Iljana felt a shiver run down her spine. Alfalan’s tone of voice wasn’t very promising.

“If I may inquire, Mistress, have you picked the Koviat to fight for you?” Alfalan’s none seeing eyes looked directly into Iljana’s and the Troopmistress felt uneasy under this stare, which seemed to penetrate her to her soul. Alfalan may be blind, but she saw much more than most did.

“Of course you may. I have indeed picked my Efeiti to fight for my honour. I would trust nobody else to defend me and my honour better than him.” That hurt. Iljana’s ego had taken a blow here, but Alfalan was of course right. The Koviat was a better defence than hundreds of her warriors and she herself. She had seen him train once. She had asked the Councils permission and had been astonished. Fleetmaster Avian was in comparison to him a beginner. His movements were so flowing that she, with her trained eye, hadn’t been able to discern the attack and defensive patterns. She knew what Kun was up against, but the Shipmaster had no idea at all. She had told him so, but he had not wanted to listen. She cursed his sense of honour.

He bowed to her Mistress and walked out again. She heard the slight sound of a cloaking shield and turned. She could no longer see her Mistress, because her Efeiti stood in front of her. She cursed under her breath. Had Kun only listened to her!

Picard sat at his desk and read a book he had bought on Earth, before they had taken flight to unknown shores. It was very entertaining. A crime story. He had got a hang for these books, since he had discovered Dixon Hill. Now that he had solved every of his cases on his own on the Holodeck, he was searching for a new challenge. He had the feeling that he had found it here. Martha Grimes’ Chief Inspektor Jury was both funny and clever. Always when he thought he knew who the murderer was, a new fact came up and his guess was blown to pieces. He had to chuckle, when Aunt Agatha once again plagued his cousin Melrose Plant. He would never have patience to keep up with this woman. His combadge beeped and he sighed and closed the book, while he slapped the small badge.

“Picard here.” A woman answered him.

*Sir, Warmistress Alfalan wishes to speak to you.* He nodded and stood.

“Reroute it to my deskscreen. Picard out.” He sat behind his desk and soon the Federation logo was replaced with Alfalan’s beautiful face. He smiled and bowed his head.

“Warmistress. What can the Enterprise do for you?” She smiled and bowed her head a bit.

“Your offer is generous, but for the time being, I am not in need of your help, but much more of your attendance.” He creased his brow.

“My attendance?” She nodded.

“Tonight at 2100 will be a ceremony. I am in need for your attendance. Yours and Doctor Crusher’s.” Picard was puzzled, but he wanted to learn more about these people and this was an opportunity he just had to take.

“I will be glad to come. I will have to contact Doctor Crusher about this, but I am sure that she will be glad to come too.” Alfalan beamed at this.

“Very good, Captain. You will be escorted by my guard to the Ceremony Hall.”

“Is gala uniform required?” She nodded.

“Yes, please. It is very important.” He nodded only.

“Very well, until tonight then.” He bowed his head again and Alfalan severed the comlink. He was a bit insulted about that, but Alfalan had under every circumstance the higher position and it was her good right. She was possibly not accustomed to do it any other way. He leaned back in his chair and stretched a bit. Two hands slid over his shoulders to his stomach. With a smile he reached behind him and tangled his hands in Beverly Crusher’s copper hair.

“Did I wake you?” He asked her silently. As she rounded the chair to sit on his lap she shook her head.

“No, you didn’t. I was awake already, when I heard you talk to Alfalan. What did she want?” She knew that he couldn’t tell her, if it concerned important business, but she was curious by nature and couldn’t help it. He smiled and kissed her temple.

“She asked if we could attend to a ceremony at 2100 of their ships time. It’s quite important and gala uniform will be required, my dear Doctor.” She smiled down to him and caressed his chin with her left index finger.

“You know that I would have to go back to my quarters to get it.” They looked directly into the others eyes.

“Maybe we could program the replicator.” He breathed, while his mouth sought that special point right under her ear. She sighed content and pressed his head to her.

“Maybe...” She uttered with a sigh. “But until then..” She leaned back, to be able to look into his eyes. They fascinated her every time anew. “I still need some sleep.” A teasing smile played around her lips, while she lead Jean-Luc Picard into the bedroom.

A few decks below, William Riker was working out in his quarters. He had got an aversion against the ships gym, because the other crewmembers had reacted so negative to him. When he had entered the gym before all this had started, they had greeted him and when he hadn’t brought a partner, the Ensigns had always wanted to help him with the weights. Now, nobody cared and if he asked them for help, they said, they had no time. Which of course was a lie. Therefore he now did it in his quarters and had improvised a bit. Instead of lifting weights, he now lifted his chair or his couch. That was of course not so good as lifting weights, but it was all he had. Right now he was doing sit-ups, while turning his upper body right and left. He had begun sweating and taken off his T-shirt. Also something he had never done in the main gym. But he had nothing to be ashamed of. If his problem with Deanna had done him any good, then by helping him in loosing weight and getting more training. The buzz of his door made him stop. Puzzled he stood. Who would come to his private quarters, apart from Picard. He put a towel over his shoulders and cleaned his brow.

“Enter!” He called out. It was Deanna! A smile lighted up his face.

Deanna had seen to it that Beverly was well in her quarters, before she wanted to talk to Will. A small, unofficial counselling session had held her back some time, but the problem was quickly solved. Now she stood in front of his door and hesitated to enter the horrible familiar code for it. She sighed, looked down upon her boots and shook her head. She stood at attention and pressed his buzzer, while she picked up her courage. The last time she had been in there, it had ended in disaster. After a few moments he asked her to enter. When she entered, her mouth was instantly dry. His wide smile and his body...OH GOD’S! A deep ache manifested itself in her stomach. She wanted to cross the room and cover this sexy body with her hands, while she kissed the life out of him. The slight glistening of sweat was visible on his face and under his chest hair. He looked so immensely masculine! Minutes went by without both of them saying anything. At last he took a step forward and she had to discover that she was rooted to the spot.

“Can I do something for you?” He asked, his voice low and pure velvet. She felt an inner shiver run through her entire body. It was the same voice he used, when they had...No! She had to think about anything else. She closed her eyes and lowered her head, while she consciously tried to keep her thoughts from these dangerous memories. When she looked up again, he stood directly in front of her, concern in his wonderful blue eyes.

“Is anything wrong?” His hand hovered mere millimetres over her arm. Oh how she wished he would close this distance. It felt like his hand was light years away. She looked deeply into his eyes and lost herself. A smile drew up her lips.

“Nothing is wrong. I only wanted...” Her voice failed her. Her gaze was again and again drawn to his lips. She wished he would throw everything to the winds and press these wonderful lips upon hers and kiss all her hurts away. Kiss her, until her world was only him and she knew it would be the same way with him. He took another step and his smell was overwhelming. She had always loved his smell. He looked down into her eyes and the air between them was charged with unfulfilled desires and needs.

“What?” It was merely a whisper and his hot breath fanned cruelly over her lips. She opened her mouth to speak, but suddenly she had them pressed to his in a desperate kiss. Within seconds, his strong arms were around her and pressed her to his hard body. Their tongues duelled wildly and Deanna dug into his hair with her fingers. He felt so wonderful! She could feel how he cried. She pressed herself up against him and raised her hips against his. His right hand wandered to her butt and cupped it reverently. But that was not what she wanted! She wanted him to take her without thinking about what she wanted. She wanted him to take her to his bed and send her to a screaming oblivion where nothing existed but them.

His mouth wandered to her ear and she swallowed a gulp of air deeply. It felt so good and she hated herself for her weakness. What if he now thought he could cheat on her all that he wanted and she would always come back to him.

“I’ve missed you so, Imzadi!” He whispered hoarsely into her ear and she felt a shiver run up her spine and a tear on her cheek. How had she wished to hear this term of endearment from him. But was it as important to him, as it was to her? Did he really mean it, when he said it. She was not sure.

He was in seventh Heaven! She tasted the same as in all his dreams. He felt her shiver under his hands and pressed her harder against him. He never wanted to let her go again. They would be together for all eternity. Her hair smelled so wonderful! He felt her hands on his chest...and they wanted to press them apart! No...but..why? he of course stepped back.

“Deanna?” He asked breathless. All his anguish in his voice. His whole body ached to hold her again. He begged her in his mind to let him back. She did not meet his gaze.

“The next examination is next week, Thursday at 1300.” She murmured and while she left, he saw how she drew her fingers over her lips. He felt like he had been granted paradise for a moment and then been cruelly ripped away. His head sank down upon his chest and he breathed deeply to be able to contain his feelings. In the short time she had been there, she had been able to leave him with her distinct smell and a burning desire for much more than that. He tore the towel from his shoulders, ripped off his boxers and stepped under an ice cold shower, while he whimpered and tried to contain his tears. But wasn’t very successful.


Chapter 46

The large Ceremony Hall had been outfitted with the traditional, eightsided ring. Iljana took it all in with a mounting feeling of unease. She had the distinct feeling that Kun would die here. Why had he to be so stubborn! Again she had to curse under her breath, while she again thought about how large the Koviat was. She never thought it possible, but it had actually grown since she had seen it the last time. An Eviat of the maintenance crew had the misfortune, to bump into her. She hissed at him and bared her canines. Quickly he scampered scared off, while she growled low in her throat. All this mess, because of these damned aliens! She wished they had never entered their space. She heard someone stepping up to her. It was Nolukai, Master of Healers. She sighed and closed her eyes.

“What do you want, quack?” His ironic smirk was not in place as normal.

“I wanted to ask you, if you had been able to talk Kun out of this idiotic show.” His voice was deep and low. She sighed and turned around. He was remarkably tall for an Eviat and she was sure that one of his ancestors had been an Anuat.

“No, and this is no show. It is about Kun’s and the Mistress’ honour. It is very important.” He chuckled low in his throat.

“You know that this honour thing is no longer taken this closely. She could have thrown him in the brig for a day or two for insubordination and that would be it. But now he is being cut into pieces by a Koviat! What honour is there in that? Alone by looking into his face, he will receive more dishonouration than by insulting Alfalan.” Her head whipped around and her braids danced over her shoulders.

“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand! We Anuat value honour still very much, even if the majority of our people seem to have forgotten what that word means!” His eyes were aflame with anger.

“Oh yes! Only the Anuat have a feeling for honour. Sure! Sorry that I forgot.” She turned again towards the ring. She had enough of his talk. He would never be able to understand her. He had been raised with totally else beliefs and regulations. But he wouldn’t have it. He stepped in front of her and thus forced her to look into his face.

“Now I will tell you something important and you better listen! My grandfather was an Anuat and he died in a Battle like this and you know for what? Over an insult that meant nothing! It was uttered, while we had a party at our home. A good friend had been blessed and her husband had made a coy remark. My grandfather took it very seriously and called for a Battle of Honour. Nobody thought it necessary, not even his wife, who, I might mention, also was an Anuat. The young friend of mine said that he was sorry, but my grandfather would hear nothing of it. He was a great man, but was killed for nothing! His death had no sense! And I don’t see any sense in this! Now tell me again I don’t understand. I have been raised by my grandfather in the ways of the Anuat, because he thought it to be important for my career as Healer. So that I would be able to understand my patients. I know what this is about and THIS isn’t its purpose and it wasn’t, when he asked my friend for a Battle.” Iljana didn’t know what to say. She had never talked longer to the Master of Healers. Had never been aware of his background. The only thing she could think of to say was: “That explains your temper.” A short, barking laugh came from him at this. He leaned forward and looked deeply into her eyes.

“That is everything you have to say about this?” It was followed by a low hiss.

“Don’t challenge me, quack! You don’t know what you are up against!” She was getting angry now. His ironic smirk came in in full force.

“So, when you run out of words you fight? Well that is the way of the Anuat as I remember them. When they run out of arguments, which doesn’t take very long, they fight.” Iljana bared her canines, lifted her arm and her claws were ready to strike. He looked directly into her eyes and did not move an inch.

“Come on. Do it and prove me right!” He snarled. It took her an immense effort to lower her arm, but her claws did not snap back. He harrumphed and nodded to himself.

“As I thought. I will see what I can patch together after the Battle, but I fear that the Koviat will cut him to shreds. I hope you’re in the mood for Ginrasch, because that will be the only thing Kun will be after this mighty killing ritual of yours.” With that he left and she was left with more anger than before. Of course Nolukai was right and she despised this unnecessary show of strength. It made this ritual a farce. But she couldn’t just agree with the Healer. It was a sacred thing among the Anuat, who valued their honour above all else. Without their honour, they were nothing. If a Sulin-Avya lost his honour, nobody was allowed to talk to them. They were on their own and mostly committed suicide. Sometimes, they were able to restore their honour by doing this, but mostly, they were to be buried in unclean earth. Without the traditional ceremonies and the arch of ancestors. Her hands trembled and she could only draw her claws back with a mighty effort. She drew in a deep breath and tried to relax. If Kun died tonight, he would die in Battle and what a battle that would be. He would be buried with all honours and that was the only thing that soothed her. She only hoped that Alfalan had enough mercy to let him die and not to let him give up of his own accord. In Kun’s eyes this was even worse than being dishonoured.

Beverly had replicated a new gala uniform and was just now brushing her hair out with a brush she had also replicated.

*I have to move some of my things to Jean-Luc’s, if I don’t want to have two things of everything.* Picard walked in behind her and looked puzzled around.

“Have you seen my gala jacket?” She smiled and pulled her brush again through her hair.

“Where you put it last. Over the back of your chair, at your desk.” He snapped his fingers and was out again. She shook her head. Men, what would they do without women to look out for them? Probably run around naked. At the picture this painted in her mind she had to laugh. Picard poked his head in.

“What’s so funny?” He tried to close the upper clasp of his uniform. She rose, shook her head and walked over to do it for him.

“Nothing. Just thinking.” She smiled as she closed the clasp at her first try and gave him a small kiss. A small smile turned up the corners of his mouth.

“I know this smile, Butterfly.” He warned her. She just couldn’t contain herself any longer and went into a fit of laughter. He laughed with her, even though he did not know why. When she had herself under control again, she merely said: “You don’t want to know.” Unconvinced he looked at her.

“Really?” She snorted with a laugh.

“Yes, really.” He caressed her cheek softly. She looked into his eyes with her green ones and he once again lost himself in them.

“Shall we?” She only nodded and they held hands until the doors opened in front of them. He still wanted to uphold some of his image.

As they entered the Shuttlebay of the Ki’Tul, they were taken in the middle of four large guards. All of them in full armour and armament. Picard wondered what kind of ceremony this was going to be. After a rather short trip through the gigantic ship, they entered a huge, cavernous room, with a kind of ring in the middle. The ring had eight sides and at each, stood an elite guard. They also were in full armour. A podium had been set up at one side. The four guards lead him and Beverly there. One of them indicated politely for them to sit down on both sides of a large throne-like chair. Obviously this was, where Alfalan was supposed to sit. Beverly leaned forward and looked with an eyebrow risen in question. He only shrugged and shook his head. He didn’t know what all this was about.

The large doors opened again and a group of men and women, obviously Laniat, entered, who carried various instruments, which they played reverently and masterly, while they sang a soft hymn. Behind them came Alfalan. Her dress was as sparkling white as ever, but now she wore a deep blue cloak with golden brimming. When she came nearer, Picard could discern certain patterns and saw for the first time the writings of these people. It was fragile, with long lines and circles. It was very beautiful and he wondered if they were still writing in hand, or if their computers did it for them. These thoughts went flying out of his mind though, when the procession neared the podium. In honour of Alfalan he rose from his seated position and bared his throat, as it seemed to be the custom of these people. He knew that Beverly would do the exact same thing. They had talked about this on their way here. Alfalan’s hair was braided even more intricately and she wore a kind of crown, with long golden chains connected by a ring to her ear halfway down. At each end hung a gemstone. They looked like diamonds, but every now and then a shining light would explode within them and they would get a golden glow, which dissipated until the next explosion. Elegantly as ever she settled into her chair and her interpreter stood right behind her, at her left side, with one hand on the chair.

Another procession entered the room. This time through another door. The music was not light and flowing, like it had been when Alfalan entered, but it was a strong drumming rhythm, which immediately entered your body. You just wanted to drum with them. Jump up and join in. It was a group of Anuat. They had bared their torsos and the drums were hanging by leather straps. Each leather strap was embroidered with various colours. Behind them came the Shipmaster, Kun Havi Lev. He had also bared his chest and his muscled torso was gleaming golden in the dimmed lighting of the hall. He stood right opposite of Alfalan. Picard got the uncanny feeling that this wasn’t some kind of peaceful ritual, but much more a kind of contest and that he and Beverly, or more precisely the crew of the Enterprise were the cause for this event. Troopmistress Iljana entered the ring and her armour gleamed in the sharp light only cast there.

“We are here today, because Warmistress Jatiel Alfalan Relor Nar has called for a Battle of Honour. The call was heard and Shipmaster Kun Havi Lev has come to answer it!” Her authoritative voice rang clear and strong through the huge cavern.

“Shipmaster Havi will fight for himself.” She turned to Alfalan. “Who will have the honour of fighting for you, Warmistress?” Before Alfalan spoke, she dismissed the musicians of both groups with a wave of her hand. First when the doors had closed behind them, her interpreter opened her mouth.

“The Koviat Kalvolin Tar, guard of my body, will fight for me.” When she had ended her sentence, Kalvolin shimmered into existence. He stood right opposite Kun. Picard wasn’t sure, but he thought he could see, how the Shipmaster swallowed hard. Kalvolin was still in full armour, but a slight hiss told Picard, that he just now was getting rid of it. The fragile looking metal straps on his body did not seem able to produce his normal armour. With practised ease, Kalvolin took them off and entered the ring. Iljana was dwarfed by his immense stature. She turned to Kun.

“A Koviat has been chosen as your opponent. It is your right to step down. No further dishonouration will be placed upon you.” She hoped he would see the foolishness of his action and step down, before he was killed in this meaningless conquest. He stood at attention and raised his chin. With one large step he entered the ring.

“I will defend my honour!” He exclaimed loudly and Iljana shortly had to close her eyes and breathe deeply.

“The call has been answered.” She declared and left the ring. The guards at each side of the ring activated a small rod. Within no time, a blue shimmering forcefield was erected and stretched itself in a dome to the ceiling.

“Two go in, only one will leave. That is the rule of the Battle.” Iljana clapped her hands over her head. “I declare this Battle as opened!”


Chapter 47

It was chaos in engineering. Geordi and Taril had been taken up into the crew, who was carrying the new parts to the upper levels. It was no easy work, because the tubes were quite heavy. Taril dropped his share of the load unceremoniously at his feet, when he reached their destination. Geordi again, sat his share softly on the floor and saw to it that nothing would topple over. Taril admired him for his stamina. He could see that LaForge was sweating profusely and was out of breath.

“Don’ that...again.” Geordi panted. Taril swept his brow free of sweat and leaned to the next wall.

“Sorry, but I just couldn’t hold on to it any longer. My arms feel like they were made out of jelly.” He shook them to make a point of it. Geordi was leaning forward and had his arms planted on his thighs. He waved it off.

“It’s...alright...if...Erralek hasn’t...seen you.” He swayed a bit. Concerned Taril laid his hand on Geordi’s back.

“You okay?” He could feel how exhausted Geordi was.

“I’m (He gulped down air) I’m fine. Don’t worry.” His legs gave way under him and he sat with a thud on his butt. “Just need to rest.” Erralek walked over to them and looked concerned to Geordi and then to Taril.

“Is he going to be okay?” He asked tentatively. Taril smiled a small smile.

“I think so, but he needs some time to rest.” Erralek nodded and then beamed at them.

“You both did a good job. Thanks to you, we have some time, until the really tricky stuff begins. My men will bring the new tubes in position. Come, let’s have some refreshments in my office.” At the word refreshment, both Geordi’s and Taril’s face lit up like a lamp. Erralek had to laugh at that.

With a sigh of relief, Geordi let himself drop into one of Erralek’s chairs. Taril dumped himself just as Geordi had into one of the large chairs. Erralek went over to an alcove and ordered drinks. He pressed the chilled glasses into the Enterprise officers’ hands.

“Drink slowly, or I will have to call Nolukai.” He warned them. Without heeding his warning, they gulped half of their drinks down. He chuckled at this and nipped at his own drink. He checked something on a panel and nodded.

“We will be finished around midnight, our ships time. You helped us very much and didn’t get as much in the way as I feared.” Geordi smirked at this.

“Thanks for the compliment.” He answered weakly. Erralek’s smile got a little lopsided and he measured them up with his eyes.

“Oh, it was no compliment, more a...kind of invitation.” Taril and Geordi both sat up.

“Invitation?” They both said at the same time. The Chief Engineers smile grew.

“Oh yes. Now that I’ve seen that you can behave yourselves, I will take you to Main Engineering.” It looked as if their eyes popped out.

“This is not Main Engineering?” Taril asked in a whisper. At this, Erralek had to give a hearty laugh.

“Oh Spirits, no! This one is only for subsystems, especially them in the crew quarters. Because of this core, we only have about half of our crew complement aboard, but in short time, when it has grown three more levels, about 250 officers and their families can join us. The main core is fully grown and powers the engines, the cloaking device, our weapons, artificial gravity and the computers.” Their mouths were agape.

“In a short time?” Asked Geordi. Erralek nodded.

“Yes, about forty or fifty years. This core has a pretty stable growing rate, so it will be easy to predict, when it will reach the needed height and energy output.”

“Forty or fifty years? You call that a short time??”

“Yes, of course.” Erralek didn’t seem the least bit fazed. Geordi and Taril looked unbelieving at each other. Erralek was now getting a little anxious.

“Your...your average lifespan?” He asked meekly.

“When you watch out...about 130-140 years.” Erralek took a sharp inbreath.

“What?” Taril asked, now a little angry. He wasn’t able to read those people. They were too strong telepaths. “What is it?”

“You merely get as old as my son. When he is finished with elementary school.” Silence entered the room.

“How old are you?” Geordi broke at last the silence.

“I’m...I’m 428.” Again silence. “I celebrated my birthday a week ago.” He added.

“Happy Birthday.” Geordi said in a whisper.

Alfalan held her head high and watched the Battle unfold in front of her. Iljana stood at her right side now. Alfalan could feel how distressed her Troopmistress was. Iljana and Kun were good friends, because they were both Anuat and they came from the same province on a planet near the Homesystem. On the other hand, if Kun died in this Battle, she would become Shipmistress of the Ki’Tul. A large step forward. And she hated herself for even thinking about it. Alfalan could understand her.

Her gaze was again drawn to the ring. Before the actual fighting started, both contestants would try to impress the other with his strength and his roar. Sometimes this was enough. She hoped Kun would see the foolishness of his decision and step down.

“Warmistress?” The voice of Picard pulled her out of her brooding.

“Yes, Captain?” She chose to use his rank, because he had too.

“Am I right, when I think that your Shipmaster and Kalvolin are going to fight?” She inclined her head slightly towards him.

“You are indeed. Shipmaster Havi insulted me in front of the Bridge crew and wasn’t following my orders and called me a traitor. I had to call for a Battle of Honour, or I would have lost my right of command.”

“But why did you ask Doctor Crusher and me to attend?”

“Our dispute was mainly because of you. Especially the medical examination and the tour through the Ki’Tul was not to Shipmaster Havi’s liking. Now he has to bear the consequences.” Beverly and Picard looked into each others eyes. Beverly’s mouth was a slim, bloodless line.

“Please stop this, before it is too late. I am sure we can find another solution than this.” Beverly said heatedly. Alfalan’s non-seeing eyes now rested on her. And a bit of menace was in her gaze.

“It is too late for this. Kun Havi Lev has to bear the consequences of his actions.”

A deafening roar led their attention back to the ring. Shipmaster Havi was standing with spread legs, his hands fisted and his head leaned back, while he let out a majestic roar. When he was finished at last, he stood back with a defiant smirk. He seemed quite sure of himself.

“Most stand down, after hearing his roar. It tells us something about their skills in fighting and about their strength and stamina.” Iljana explained in a whisper to the Captain and the Doctor. Now it was Kalvolin’s turn. He spread his legs, took a deep breath and the roar that followed actually rattled the podium upon which Alfalan, Beverly and Picard sat. The force field shimmered, because of the acoustic waves, the roar was creating. Kun no longer looked so sure of himself. Especially because the roar was still going on. Finally, Kalvolin seemed to be finished. Everyone was aware that he had roared much longer and louder than Kun.

<That must be enough to convince him that this is foolish and that he should step down and apologise.> Thought Iljana to herself. But to her horror Kun entered the traditional fighting position. He no longer looked totally convinced that he would win. Kalvolin did not move at all. Iljana let her head hang. Kun would die today and for what? For nothing at all! A low growling came from her throat.


Chapter 48

Kun knew, he didn’t stood a chance against this monster. He didn’t need to hear its roar to know it was stronger and a better warrior than him. It could easily be seen. He made no use of his claws in the first moves of his approach, because if he did so, the Koviat would also be allowed to use his and that would be fatal. Koviat were known for not killing their victims immediately, but letting them suffer a long time.

With an elegant twist of his body, he lunged forward. It looked as if he was aiming with his fist at the chest, but at the right moment, he would turn his body and slam his foot into the Koviat’s neck. If he was lucky, it would disrupt the flow of blood for a small time, the Koviat would get dizzy and he would have the opportunity to do some real damage. And as he lashed out with his foot...the Koviat suddenly wasn’t there!

Picard had had a little Chat with Riker and hadn’t really believed him, when he had told his story about the amazing fighting technique he had observed in their ‘Gym’. But now he saw it first hand and wasn’t really sure, he could believe his eyes. Shipmaster Kun was moving so quickly and his attack was so smoothly, he would never have been able to counter his attack. He would for example have protected his chest and saw then, to his surprise, how the Shipmaster in the middle of his attack swivelled around and lashed out with his foot. It would have broken his neck, if he had been his opponent. But Kalvolin seemed to expect this, ducked under the leg of Kun, which was quite remarkable, because of his height, and came up with his fist, directly aimed at the Shipmasters bared chest. It hit with a loud crack and Picard could see, how Beverly flinched at the sound; and he knew why. It was quite obvious that Kalvolin had broken Kun nearly his entire ribcage. Kalvolin’s blow was so powerful that it sent Kun flying to the top of the dome. With a loud thud and another crack, Kun made contact to the top with his left shoulder. Beverly’s hand covered her mouth and she had to close her eyes, when gravity pulled the Shipmaster mercilessly back to the ring.

Kun didn’t know what hit him and from where the blow was coming, but that it hit its mark, that was something he could feel. All air was punched out of his lungs and he could feel, how at least four of his rips penetrated his lungs. His other organs were also affected. His liver, one kidney and even one of his hearts were punctuated. He opened his eyes and saw that he was hurtling away from the ring. Was he already dead? Was he flying to his ancestors? But why didn’t the pain stop? Excruciating pain flamed up in his left shoulder and the logical part of his brain informed him that he had hit the top of the dome. The rest of his brain tried to keep control of his body. To utter even a moan of pain, was not worth a warrior of Kun’s experience and age. It was tolerated among young Anuat, while they still learned to control their urge to scream and moan. As his rips cracked back into place and healed, as his organs, he got enough control over himself again that he suddenly came to the realisation that, what went up, had to come down again at some point. With wide eyes he stared at the ceiling, which was moving away from him at an accelerating rate. Immediately he tried to turn around, to be able to land on his feet, because he doubted not one second that the Koviat would come at him, the second he touched the ring again with his feet. The ground was coming nearer terribly fast and when he landed, he was immediately thrown to his knees. His landing had so much force that his knees broke with a snap and some of his muscles ripped. His teeth clattered and he was glad his tongue wasn’t between them. They were more than sharp enough to sewer it.

As he had suspected, he heard the loud thump of the Koviat’s footsteps nearing. He tried to stand up, but his knees were still in the middle of popping back into their right places. He looked up and tried to move his left shoulder. The shoulder blade still wasn’t healed. Damn! It didn’t even try to use the Darihanjuan. What a condescending, honourless, filthy...Coherent thoughts fled his mind, when the Koviat’s fist made contact with his chin and it too broke.

Beverly could no longer look at it. She turned to Alfalan, who observed all this with serene detachment.

“Can’t you stop this? He’s hurt! He needs help!”

“He should have thought about this, before he thought of countering my orders.”

“But this is...this is...Surely you have other ways of handling this!”

“Of course we do, but in the future, he will think twice, before doing something that is out of line.” Fuming with anger Beverly crossed her arms in front of her chest and bit back the things she wanted to say. Jean-Luc would flip if she didn’t.

It was then that Kalvolin gave Kun the final blow and the Shipmaster fell unconscious to the ground. Iljana drew a sharp breath and Beverly feared she knew what was coming now. What had been said at the beginning? ‘Two go in, only one goes out.’ The lethal blow had to come now. But Kalvolin turned away from Kun and walked over to Alfalan. He went to his knees and bared his throat. Iljana’s eyes went wide.

“No.” She whispered. “No, Mistress! Please don’t tell me you’re going to...” Alfalan’s white eyes rested upon the Troopmistress.

“Yes. I still need him. The Protectorate still needs him. This isn’t a worthy death for a warrior of his format.”

“But he...his honour...he wouldn’t be able...”

“The only thing that will be diminished, will be his ego and I think it needed to be deflated a bit. He will have to learn to live with the consequences of his actions.”

“But, Mistress...” At that point a loud crack lead their attention back to the ring.

Kun had seen his chance, while Kalvolin kneeled and greeted Alfalan. He had jumped onto Kalvolin’s back and with a twist of his strong arms, broken his neck. With a loud thud Kalvolin fell to the ground. Dead.


Chapter 49

Deanna sat in her quarters and didn’t know what to think. He had tasted so good and yet at the same time...She just didn’t know how to react. She needed to talk to somebody.

“Troi to Crusher!” Not knowing what to do with her hands, she fisted them, folded her arms over her chest just to finger a little statue Will had given her for her birthday.

*Doctor Crusher is for the time being not available. You can leave her a message.*

With a frustrated sigh Deanna looked to the ceiling. Where would Beverly be? It was close to midnight. Of course! She was with Picard!

“Troi to Picard!” Anxiously she waited for a response. But instead of the Captain she again heard the computer’s voice.

*Captain Picard is for the time being not available. You can leave him a message*

“Oh shit!” She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Where were they! She needed to talk her. “Oh Beverly, where are you when I really need you!” She buried her face in her hands and sank down onto her couch.

Will sat on his bed and stared at the wall which separated his and Deanna’s quarters. His arms were still tingling from holding her and his lips were still burning. Burning was not even remotely describing it. He thought as if it was yesterday, when he had talked with Geordi about removing the bulkhead and joining their quarters. He had never told Deanna. It was supposed to be a surprise.

“Now it will never happen. Never would you want to share quarters with me. Never.” He whispered with fatality and his mood was as dark as his bedroom. Reverently he touched the wall.

“How much I would give to be with you again, Imzadi.” His throat felt too small for the words. He tried to breathe deeply, but it was awfully difficult. His gaze was drawn to his bathroom. Quickly he stood and took his bathrobe off its hook. He held it to its nose and breathed in deeply. She had loved to wear it. It was way too large for her, but nevertheless, she had loved to take a long bath after her shift and then lie on his sofa, reading something on a PADD and waiting for him. When he then came home, she was mostly asleep and she would be snuggled up in his robe, with only her feet sticking out under the hem and her head. He had to smile at this memory. She looked so wonderful and peaceful at these moments. He went back to his bed and sat down again, while still savouring the scent of Deanna. He hadn’t worn the robe since they had broken up. He hadn’t wanted to loose this small piece of her. Clothed only with his shorts and with the bathrobe as a cushion he lay down, as he had done every night.

Alfalan couldn’t believe it! Kun had really defeated Kalvolin! It was an outlawed move and so, he had not really won back his honour, but still. It seemed as if Kalvolin was dead. She heard Iljana drew a relieved breath. Picard and Beverly were sad and thought it was over too, but they all hadn’t taken Kalvolin’s Black Soul into account. It wouldn’t allow its host body to die. She had to release it though and that could be deadly to Kun. Without Kalvolin’s help from within, it would be tough to get it under control again. But what choice did she have. Kalvolin couldn’t die. She couldn’t allow that. So, with mixed feelings, she released the hold she had on his Black Soul.

Kun walked with raised arms through the ring. He wanted the elite guard to see the slayer of the freak. He had killed it without sophisticated weapons and all it had taken him was a twist of his arms.

<I don’t know why they are all afraid of these freaks. Killing them is easy enough!> He thought full of triumph. That was when he heard a loud crack behind him. With an uneasy feeling he looked over his shoulders, while he slowly lowered his arms. With a deep growl it rose to its feet and black eyes glowered at him. Black eyes? When he had looked into its eyes before, it had had violet eyes. His eyes grew wide. The Black Soul! It must have healed the freak! And now that he had killed the host...His head whipped to Alfalan. She had closed her eyes and her brow was creased in concentration. She seemed to try to regain control, but until she could do that...what a chance had he against a Koviat with its Black Soul loose?

It sneered at him and its claws snapped out. His chances were getting slimmer with every second. He bit his teeth hard together and his jaw muscles worked. He had to try to stay alive, until Alfalan was able to regain control over the Koviat. His own claws snapped out and he entered the traditional Darihanjuan fighting position.

”Let’s dance.” He mumbled grimly.

Beverly stared with wide eyes at Kalvolin rising.

”How is that possible?!” She whispered full of awe, but also of trepidation. The parasite! The reactions of the Sulin-Avya in Sickbay was still fresh in her mind. Alfalan’s description of their behaviour still rang fresh in her ears. According to what she had heard from Alfalan and the brief chat she had had with her interpreter, this was no longer Kalvolin, but a ruthless and sadistic creature without the normal moral restraints. It would kill and torture as it would see fit.

”You must do something! Release the forcefield and stun him!” She said to Alfalan. Iljana’s hand closed liked a clamp over her shoulder.

”Don’t! She needs to concentrate to get it under control again.”

”But Doctor Crusher is right. We have to do something to help Shipmaster Kun!” Picard leaned forward, seeming eager to do something. Anything. Iljana shook her head and seemed as anxious as Picard to do something to help her superior.

”We can’t. It’s against the rules, remember? Two go in, only one goes out. Kun has to give up and admit that he has been defeated or die. Only then can the forcefield be deactivated and we can try to contain the Koviat. Not any moment before.”

”But surely the guards and everybody here will understand!” Picard exclaimed surprised over this.

”If you would try to deactivate only one of the rods, they would fight ‘til death to keep them functioning until the Battle is over.” Picard could hardly believe his ears. How could she just abandon her superior like this. Her friend! A roar led their attention back to the ring. Kalvolin, or whatever had taken control over his body, was attacking.

The blood pumped through his veins and he could hear it rush in his ears. It felt wonderful without the disturbing presence of this sentimental fool Kalvolin always getting in his way. He felt good and strong and...with a sneer he shook his head. This damn woman tried to drive him back. But not this time! Oh no! At first, he would enjoy his time with the Anuat trapped with him. He knew the rules of a Battle of Honour from Kalvolin’s memory. No one would stop him killing this idiot. He had been a pestilence ever since they had first met. Now he was going to pay. He snapped out his claws and walked slowly towards him. Oh! How quaint! This cretin really thought he could last against him only one minute.

With a roar he initiated his attack. Bravely the Anuat tried to counter his attack. Of course it was useless. His movements were so slow and crude, he could have fought him in his sleep. With delight he felt how his claws cut through Kun’s flesh and drew him up to his level. His claws had penetrated Kun’s shoulders and he now dangled upon his bones. He felt alive and fantastic. With a powerful tug he ripped his claws out to the sides. Kun’s arms were immobilised and would stay so a very long time. He had to regenerate bones, muscles and his nervous system in his shoulders. That would take time and until then he would be able to take out the rest of his limbs. He placed his middle claw under Kun’s chin and the Shipmaster rose to his feet on wobbly knees. The pain must be excruciating! Thought the Black Soul with glee. He drew his fist back and felt with a shudder of delight, how his knuckles made contact with the newly healed jaw of the Shipmaster. Kun flew through the dome and made contact with the forcefield with his shoulder. And to the Black Souls immense delight, Kun howled in pain. With purpose Kalvolin’s possessed body walked slowly over to Kun, savouring its power and snapping the rest of his arm claws out. It was only beginning.

Chapter 50

The critical phase began in engineering. Geordi and Taril were now working in tandem with the Sulin-Avya engineers. The conduit had already emerged from the growing warpcore and Geordi stared at it with his artificial eyes full of wonder. For the normal eye not visible was a thin skinlike hindrance, which barely held the plasma inside. Geordi could see how it fluttered under the pressure.

”Ivjen! Come over here!” Erralek hollered and a large Sulin-Avya walked over to them. Taril couldn’t believe how large this man was. He was barely half the mans size. Erralek and Geordi stood on one side of the new conduit and Taril and Ivjen on the other side.

”Okay guys. On the count of three. One...two...THREE!” With joined efforts they lifted the end of the gigantic tube into position and forward. Taril tried to help as much as he could, but Ivjen was lifting the thing nearly on his own. Ivjen, Geordi and Taril secured the conduit with massive clamps and, to Geordi’s surprise, screws, while Erralek worked on a console nearby.

”Hanymei Jin vali!” Erralek hollered into the large room. ”Avert your eyes.” He translated for the Enterprise officers, who, as quickly as the others, complied with the order. Even though they all had turned their heads away, there still was a blinding flash of light, brightest on the upper floors, quickly followed by a low, rhythmic hum. The four of them turned with wide smiles to the newly attached level.

“Good job everyone. Now, get back to work!” Erralek grinned widely and saw proudly to the warpcore.

“This was not as difficult as I thought.” Geordi said and leaned beside Erralek against the console. The other engineer chuckled.

“When I was an apprentice we had a malfunctioning conduit. The whole place nearly blew up and I was close to fainting when everything was over.”

“What is that?” Taril asked and pointed to a crowd of people standing in front of a screen. Erralek swore and clambered down the steel ladder. Quickly Taril and Geordi followed.

“I told you to get back to work!” He barked and the other engineers turned around to their superior. A young woman took a step forward.

“We know that we were not allowed to watch the Battle, Master, but the Mistress seems to have lost control over the Koviat!” Unbelieving Erralek stared at her and then pushed his way past his crew to the monitor. With wide eyes he had to watch, how Kun was hurled back and forth in the dome. His arms dangled useless from his shoulders and his legs were broken too.

“Oh Spirits!” He turned back to his crew and shut off the screen. “Back to work. Now!” He barked. Quickly they returned to their stations.

“Ivjen, take Geordi and Taril back to the Enterprise. This could get ugly.” He turned to the Starfleet officers. “I’m sorry for being so unpolite, but I must ask you to leave immediately.” Geordi nodded.

“No problem. We understand and you needn’t apologise.” Thankful Erralek nodded.

“I will contact you, when all this is over and we can make our tour through Main Engineering.”

Kun had no idea where he was, what time it was or anything else. The only thing he perceived clearly was the excruciating pain his entire body was in. Sometimes he could hear snarled words, but he couldn’t understand them. Something punched into his chest and he had to snap for air. His lungs seemed to inflate and he couldn’t get enough air. Cracks were audible and he had to moan in pain. He was no longer able to scream. The moan turned into a whimper and he only wanted it to end.

Beverly was no longer able to watch this carnage take place in front of her eyes, without her being able to stop it or just help the Shipmaster. Iljana still watched, but she felt the exact same way as Beverly Crusher did. Alfalan’s brow was covered in sweat and she had stopped breathing, which was another concern to Beverly. If Alfalan died Kun’s chances were even slimmer than before. She only hoped that the Warmistress knew what she was doing.

Alfalan desperately tried to find Kalvolin. He had to be alive! He just had to! Without him it would be nearly impossible to control the Black Soul. And then Kalvolin and the Black Soul would be killed for sure.

<Efeiti! Answer me! Where are you? Efeiti?> She screamed at him. She felt like she had been searching for hours now and come up with nothing. Fear and desperation clutched at her throat. <Efeiti, you can’t leave me! I need you!> Nothing. She panted and opened her eyes. The fight was still on. The Black Soul was just now slowly ripping open Kun’s ribcage to get at his intestines. She pressed her eyes shut and with all her power and desperation she sent to him.


He floated somewhere in a quiet and peaceful place. Everything was white and he felt at peace. The voice in his mind, which had been there his entire life, had gone and for the first time in his life he felt free. He breathed deeply and searched for Alfalan. She had to see this. His Black Soul could not reach him here and maybe they could find a way to make this permanent.

“Mistress! Look at this place. I’m free here! I can do what I want, think what I want!” But no answer came. Puzzled he turned around. Nothing but a white vastness.

“Mistress?” He asked, but still no one answered him. The hairs at the back of his neck stood and he got an uncanny feeling.

“Mistress, where are you?!” He called and looked scared around. This place was no longer wonderful, but scaring. He felt alone and how had he got here in the first place? He had fought the Shipmaster in a Battle of Honour, defeated him and then kneeled in front of Alfalan. And then...then everything had went black, as always when the Black Soul took over.

“Efeiti.” He heard a soft whisper behind him. Quickly he swished around and saw a fleeting image of his Mistress. With all the speed he could muster he ran towards her. She looked like a ghost; transparent, and her voice seemed to come from someplace far away. He only wanted back. Back to her, her comforting presence in his mind and back to where he had been. Her image began to shimmer out of existence.

“NO!” He screamed scared and ran even faster towards her.

A flash of light blinded him for a second and then he could see again. Kun hang in front of him and his hands were buried deeply in the Shipmaster’s intestines. With one hand he squeezed his second left lung and with the other he held two of his hearts. Squeezing them hard. Immediately he wanted to let Kun be, but he had no control over his hands. Kun’s ribcage tried to heal itself and close itself, but the Black Soul had positioned his claws, so that they always would hold free the section it was ‘working’ on. Kalvolin knew that Kun had only one chance. He had to admit defeat.

<Look at me! In the name of the Spirits, please look at me!> He prayed. And as if Kun had heard him, he lifted his head with effort and looked into Kalvolin’s eyes.

Kun knew he was dying. He could feel how his spirit and soul seeped out of him. He wanted to see into the Black Soul’s eyes, when it finished him off. But when he saw up and had blinked the blood and tears from his eyes, he no longer saw the sadistic black orbs of the parasite, but the violet eyes of the host. He creased his brow, not understanding. Had Alfalan regained control? Then why wasn’t it letting him down? He could see the pity and pain in the eyes of the host. And they begged him for something. Something he under other circumstances never would have agreed upon. He tried to draw a deep breath, but suddenly the hand which had held his hearts clamped over his throat.

It was back and it fought for control. Viciously. Kalvolin tried every trick he had learned from Alfalan and hoped she would help him, but he could not feel her presence anywhere. He had to deal with it alone.

<Give me back my body!>

<Your body? It’s as much my body as it is yours. Remember? We were both born into it.> Kalvolin tried to trick it, by making it seem, as if he had barely the power to stay conscious. It pushed him to the parts of his mind, where it always put him, when it took over.

<You infected my mother and joined me two weeks after conception! This is my body and you have no business with it!> With that he took a ‘step’ to the side and it tumbled into the dark place. Quickly Kalvolin shut the door and fortified it with everything he could come up with. The next thing was releasing Kun’s throat from his death grip.

As soon as Kun could breathe enough, he brought out one sentence that would safe his life.

“Djidnaei hamewiy.” He rasped in his weakened state, but it was enough. As soon as the guards had heard his declaration of defeat, they deactivated the rods and brought their weapons up. All of them ready to blast Kalvolin to Kingdom come.

“Stop!” Alfalan’s interpreter called. With shaking legs the Warmistress stood. She waved for one of the guards and he brought forth large shackles for Kalvolin’s arms and legs. A team of healers led by Nolukai and shortly followed by Erralek rushed in. Erralek wasn’t really needed, but he had insisted upon steering the antigrav unit, upon which Kun was to be brought to Sickbay. With a wave of his hand, Nolukai dismissed his people and they went off with Kun to Sickbay. He walked over to Alfalan and touched her arm lightly. She tried to breathe deeply. He closed his eyes slightly and Alfalan relaxed visibly. When both opened their eyes they shared an understanding silence and then Nolukai followed his people.

“Troopmistress.” Even the interpreter’s voice sounded fatigued.

“Yes, Mistress.” Iljana stepped immediately forth.

“I need to rest. See to it that my Efeiti is secured.” Iljana nodded and bowed.

“Of course, Mistress.” She made some signs with her hands and a group of warriors assembled around Kalvolin. All with their weapons aimed at him.

Beverly lightly touched Alfalan.

“Are you okay? Anything we can do for you?” She looked to Jean-Luc, who nodded.

“Just find out how to remove that thing from him permanently.” She panted and walked out, leaning heavily onto her interpreter.


Chapter 51

Iljana stormed into Sickbay when she finally was allowed entrance. Who did these Healers think they were? She was second in command of this ship! No one apart from Nolukai would have enough nerve to give such a command. And a part of her admired him for it. With long strides he came over to her and a door behind him swished shut. Surely the one behind which Kun now lay.

“Can I do something for you, Troopmistress?” He asked and pulled off his gloves.

“I only want to see how Kun was doing, thank you.” She wanted to walk past him, but he held her back with his arm.

“He needs to rest. He has suffered severe injuries and was only one step away from Death. He spent nearly all his resources during the Battle. If you go to him now, I can’t guarantee him outliving this week.” The deep concern in his eyes held her more back than his arm. She breathed deeply, took a step back and tried to relax.

“Will he recover?”

“Yes, he will. As long as his rest is not interrupted and he is not put under stress. The only thing he should concentrate on now, is healing himself. Nothing else.” Annoyed she let the air slip in a hiss, putting her hands akimbo and looking to the ceiling.

“We reach Narwul tomorrow. We need him on the Bridge and to command the troops.”

“Then you must take command. He will not leave that room in at least three days.” He pointed behind him, at the door, to make a point of it.

“You are kidding!” She exclaimed loudly. Totally calmly he answered her.

“No, I am not. Even if the Warmistress ordered me to let him go, I wouldn’t.” Anger welled up in her.

“Open your eyes, quack! You are only here, because we only sometimes, sometimes, need the help of your kind. Who do you think you are?”

“I think that I am the one, who saved Shipmaster Kun’s life. Now, if you have no other business than throwing insults at me, leave! We have better things to do than that.” They stared into each others eyes. Both not wanting to avert them first.

“I see that you like to live dangerous!” She hissed, turned on her boot heel and walked out.

“Maybe I do, but I can look after myself and do not get hurt in meaningless conquests.” He called after her. That she hated about him too. Always wanting to have the last word. She clenched her fists and walked on. He only wanted her to come back and again begin arguing with him, but she wouldn’t. No, she wouldn’t.

When Beverly the next morning walked into her Sickbay, she was still deeply shaken over what she had witnessed. The picture of Kun’s open chest and Kalvolin trying to squeeze his inner organs until they burst...a small wave of nausea welled up in her and she quickly fought it. As a physician she wasn’t very soft when seeing things like that, but what had happened in that ring, was even for her disgusting.

Data was already waiting for her. His normal busy self, he was just now making a new test. He turned his head, when she walked in.

“Ah, Doctor. I found something very intriguing last night, when I was analysing Kalvolin’s data.” He activated a screen behind him and with a flick of his hand, he had called up a DNA chart.

“This is the DNA of the parasite residing inside Kalvolin’s body. Now watch this.” It began to turn and columns of numbers rushed down on one side. A sequence was singled out and shown in more detail. Crusher leaned forward and her eyes were as round as balls.

“Oh my God!” She whispered. Data stood silently behind her and waited for her to say something.

“Data, have you talked to anyone about this yet?” He shook his head, even though she was not looking at him.

“No, Doctor. I wanted to have it confirmed from you first.”

“Call for a meeting Data. Jean-Luc has to know about this. Then we can confront Alfalan with our knowledge about this.” Data nodded again, laid down the PADD he had been holding and was gone to prepare the meeting. Beverly tapped in a command and had a closer look at the different RNA strains.

“These bastards!” She muttered.

Iljana stood in front of the resting Koviat. She had been denied access to Kun again and there was something on her mind, which she wanted to clear here and now.

“Wake up!” She ordered loudly. Slowly its lids rose and violet eyes looked up at her. The effect of these eyes looking at her was stunning. She felt enormously attracted to the freak. How was that possible? Never in her life had she been captivated by a single glance! Well...she had been one time, but that time she wouldn’t admit to anyone; not even herself. He was no warrior and he was a constant annoyance to her. No. She had a purpose being here. She placed a translator in her palm and turned it on.

“Why didn’t you kill Shipmaster Kun? You had the chance and the right to do so.” It was a clear question and she wanted a clear answer.

“My Mistress wanted him to live. Her wish is my command.” His deep voice send a shiver down her spine. Spirits he was an impressing mate! She shook her head clear of thoughts like that.

“You don’t like him and I’m sure Alfalan would have forgiven you. Why didn’t you kill him when you had the chance? I know that you do not like him.” This was an assumption, but his facial expression proved her right. He always had to wear his helmet and thus had never learned to conceal his feelings, when it was visible.

“I could never stand Alfalan being angry at me. She is my Mistress.” The adoration in his eyes...Iljana was shocked. The Koviat was in love with the Warmistress! How could that be? She had been taught that these freaks were not capable of such feelings.

“Thank you.” She shut the translator off and didn’t hear his words, as she left the room again. With long strides she walked down the corridor. She wanted to get as far away as possible. Before this, she had always thought Koviat to be dumb brutes, only wanting to kill you or something else, but Kalvolin was...he was so not what she had anticipated. She had to talk to someone, but who? Kun was out of the question and Alfalan too of course. That left her only with Nolukai and Erralek. Erralek would listen to her, but wouldn’t be able to give her advice. And Nolukai...she didn’t even want to think about what he was going to say.


Chapter 52

With long strides Beverly entered the Lounge and prepared her briefing. The door swished open again and Deanna nearly ran in.

"Finally Beverly!" She sighed. Beverly creased her brow in puzzlement.

"Finally what? Is something wrong?" Deanna leaned against the long table and seemed not to know what to do with her hands. At last she folded her arms and held them hard with her hands.

"You could say that." She murmured and stared into nothingness. Worried Beverly walked over to her.

"What is it Deanna? Please tell me." Deanna drew a shuddering breath and held her hand over her eyes.

"I...oh Beverly, I don’t know what to do! I only wanted to tell him when the next examination will be and there he stands, half naked and I can’t reign myself in! I mean; in one moment I only want to talk to him and in the next I find myself kissing the life out of him! Gods, what did I do?! But he felt so good and all in all it felt perfectly wonderful and then...I...I" She had begun walking nervously up and down. Beverly firmly gripped her shoulders and brought her to a halt.

"You kissed him?!" She asked unbelieving. Deanna only nodded with downcast eyes.

" did he react?" Deanna sighed with desperation and looked to the ceiling.

"He was so soft and gentle and let me take the lead. Not at all like him, actually." A soft smile tugged at her lips. Beverly was totally flustered.

"But...but I thought...Deanna, why?!" The Counsellor looked to the ceiling and let the air slip with a huff.

"I have no idea! He stood right in front of me. He had been working out in his quarters, his chest was bare and Gods did he smell good!"

Any further talking was prevented by Data entering the room with a PADD in hand. Beverly leaned over to Deanna’s ear.

"We talk about this later." Then she went over to Data.

"Have you found anything new, Data?" The android nodded and she quickly walked over to him. He held the PADD so that she could see.

"I have analysed the DNA of the Eviat and the Anuat. They could be two different races. There are some random traces of Anuat DNA in the Eviat DNA, but not much. The Laniat on the other hand have a large amount of DNA with the Anuat in common." She watched as the numbers and symbols scrolled by. To the untrained eye this could be anything, but to Beverly and Data it all made perfect sense.

"And the Koviat DNA?" They looked into each others eyes.

"A Koviat is in essence an Anuat, but with very important differences. His DNA makeup includes a large amount of Laniat DNA."

The doors opened again and Geordi and Taril walked in, closely followed by Lieutenant Daniels. Only seconds after Picard and Riker entered the room.

"Please make this short Doctor, Warmistress Alfalan has asked Commander Riker and me to attend to an important meeting." He sat at the end of the table and Riker took the chair to his right.

"Well Captain, what Data and I have to tell you is of a somewhat delicate nature and it needs more explaining than just a few minutes." He pondered that for a moment.

"All right Doctor. We will postpone this meeting until when Commander Riker and I get back. Dismissed." Beverly wanted to protest, but Picard would have none of it. Both Riker and he went out again. The others just shrugged their shoulders and went back to work.

Annoyed Beverly let the air slip with a hiss and turned around so as to be able to talk to Deanna, just to see her leave through the other door of the lounge.

Picard and Riker were met by a Sulin-Avya warrior in the Shuttlebay of the Ki’Tul.

"Please follow me." It said in its deep voice and indicated with his hand which way to go. It was a relatively short trip and ended in front of a huge ship. A hatch was open and the guard lead them over the ramp into the ship. Picard looked with creased brow over his shoulder back to Riker. He, on the other hand, just shrugged and shook his head. They were both wondering why they had been lead here, instead of the Meeting Hall, where all the other conversations with Alfalan had been. On the Bridge they came to a halt. The high command chair turned around and Alfalan smiled down upon them.

"Welcome Captain. Commander." She indicated for them to be seated in chairs next to her. The humans nearly vanished in them.

"Why are we meeting here, Warmistress?"

"We are making a little tour today, Captain." An officer stepped up to her and looked at her. No words were spoken, but they seemed to have a conversation nonetheless. Perfect for keeping things secret in front of non-telepathic races. At last Alfalan nodded and the officer gave orders to the crew. Picard looked over to the Enterprise and was once again speechless that his ship fit so easily into the Ki’Tul. Then, blue forcefields came up around it. Alarmed he turned around.

"What is happening?" He demanded. Alfalan lifted her hand in order to keep him at ease.

"This ship will leave soon, along with the others. The Bay will be depressurized and therefore we raised the shields around your ship. You don’t have to worry. As soon as we are back in, the forcefields will be released."

"Where are we going?" Riker asked her.

"A good question, Commander. For some time now, a race, who call themselves Narwuli, has been attacking trade routs and planets within our Protectorate. Their home planet lies within our boundaries, but they refused to become a member of the Protectorate. We accepted that and thought that they would manage on their own. Many natural catastrophes though, have thrown their industry off course and hunger and diseases are spreading over their whole planet. We wanted to help them, but they, again, refused. Instead they began raiding our member worlds and our trade ships. We are today here, to end this."

Commander Nikjev looked pleased as his ship was cleared of all crates. The raid had been good and the trade ship they had raided had been full with grain and medicine. Much needed right now. He had taken some crates secretly and already sent them home to his family. He hated being degraded to a mere thief, but better that than seeing his wives and children die of hunger and disease. He made a last check on the systems and then left for the command centre. He hoped he could spend some days at home and care for his family. He had nearly been constantly out in space for a month now, raiding ships and transporting troops to other worlds.

When he entered the command centre it was chaos. Everybody was running back and forth and nobody acknowledged his presence. He walked up to the counter and put his papers on them. He still needed to check in and give the official the slightly altered number of crates he had been able to bring back home. He hit the button to announce that he was here, but nobody came to take his papers and sign his record.

"Hello!" He yelled, but nobody answered. He passed the counter and walked into the office rooms. Men ran past him and were screaming orders and acknowledging them, while still running. He snatched a mans arm and brought him to a halt.

"What the Grul is happening?!" He demanded. The man ripped his arm free with a powerful pull and shot him an icy glare.

"They are here." He only said and ran away again. But for Nikjev it was information enough. He went deadly pale. He should have known! He had known that they would come eventually, but already so soon? The signing of his papers were forgotten and he ran back to his ship. If he could lift off quickly enough, he maybe could make it to his hometown, before the military saw that he was back. He would defend his home, yes, but only his house and not in an already doomed defensive against their landing parties. When he came out onto the landing patch, he saw that it was already too late. Clamps secured his ship to the ground and ground service troops were already outfitting it with new blasters. They would not be able to penetrate their shields and it wouldn’t even kill them, but maybe slow them down, until the military and the secret service had thought of something. Until that happened, Nikjev knew, that he would be dead.

Suddenly the sunlight was blocked by something. Something really huge! Nikjev lifted his hand against the remaining light and looked into the sky. He couldn’t believe the size of this ship! It was enormous and his little freighter was but a dust corn compared to it. How many warriors were waiting aboard that thing? And did they bring one of the Deathdancers? A man in uniform ran up to him.

"Here! Take this! You’re in orange squad. The leader will contact you, as soon as you are ready for take-off." Nikjev only weakly nodded and stared at the gigantic ship, descending upon his home.

The service crew was finished and he clambered back into his freighter. It would be a short fight and it would be for nothing. Nobody could win against them. Nobody could. But here he sat in his little bin and tried. And the surge of bravery in him was born much more out of desperation than out of the belief that they would actually somehow be able to beat them.

"Computer, record message for the family of Alun Nikjev." He ordered, while he made the preparations to take off.

*Recording* Came the reply of the computer.

"When you see this, Mania and Neril, I will most probably be dead. Crates with food and medicine will come in two days. They have finally come to make us pay for what we have done to others and the military is recruiting everyone they can find. I tried to get away, but it was already too late. Take the children and the others down into the cellar and stay there for the next day. Shoot everyone who tries to come in. Even if it is some of our neighbours. We don’t have enough food for that! If any of you can’t do it, then let Honar do it. I know that I can trust you with the safety of the family, my son. You are the Patriarch now. Act accordingly and keep them safe. I love you all and I wish I could be with you right now. They just gave me the signal for take off. I love you. Don’t forget me and include me in your prayers. You will all be in my hearts when I face Grul and pass the Gates of Fire. Live for me." He blinked the tears away and pulled his ship up.

"End of message. Send!" He ordered. The computer beeped once and that was the last contact he had with his family. From now on, every voice he heard was a male and from the military.

Chapter 53

As soon as the Ki’Tul was within the atmosphere of Narwul, the huge bay doors opened and the ships took flight. They were met by every single ship or aircraft that the Narwuli could find, but to no avail. The landing ships of the Sulin-Avya had a too strong shielding and not one shot came through or hit its mark. On the other hand, the Sulin-Avya defenders shot a lot of the Narwuli ships down. Only them from the military. The other ships, obviously not from the military, they only disabled and forced them to land. Alfalan’s cruiser descended within a protective ring of Sulin-Avya defenders.

Alfalan sat on her chair and gave one officer a sign and the screen changed.

“As you can see here, Captain, the Narwuli are setting up a primary defence line right here. Approximately two kilometres away from our landing site.” The picture changed again and now showed flat land.

“Our main base camp will be established here. We have no time for any long time operations, so we will scare them a bit and encourage the people to take things into their own hands. We will offer them help, if they stop raiding our member planets and trade routs. If these agreements are not met, we will have to destroy every ship and every shipyard.” Riker and Picard looked at each other with round eyes.

“But that will throw them back for hundreds of years!” Riker exclaimed.

“We know that. It will give them time to think.”

“Is this normal policy in the Protectorate?” Alfalan looked to Picard.

“Indeed, it is. It has been very successful in the past and it will be successful in the years to come.” With that, she deemed the conversation to be over. The first ships had landed on the surface and their huge doors had opened to let out the Anuat with their equipment.

At first the younger Anuat came out, setting up poles and bringing out heavy cannons. After them the warriors came and then the elite guard. As soon as the poles were erected and the ships had landed, Riker could see, how a forcefield came up. It produced a wall from the poles and it bent over the ships too. He had no doubt that the exact same poles had been erected behind the ships. The Narwuli had no chance whatsoever to penetrate these shields and it could be seen that the military was well aware of that, because wave after wave of soldiers defected.

“What now?” Riker asked. Alfalan stood and invited them to follow her.

“Now, we will wait for a moment. Give them time to assess our forces and to realise that they have no chance against us. Then we will wait for a reaction.” Picard creased his brow.

“You are not going to attack?” He asked puzzled.

“No, of course not. It would not be fair. We will of course defend ourselves, if it should become necessary, but we will not initiate the attack. The decision about war and peace now lies in the hands of the Narwuli.” With that she went out of the control centre.

Iljana stood behind the forcefield and watched how the Narwuli soldiers defected, breaking their defence lines. Her second in command stepped up to her.

“This will not take long. See how they flee!” He mumbled. Iljana nodded.

“You may be right, but remember what they taught us.” He nodded.

“Never underestimate your enemy.” He intoned in a perfect imitation of Strategymaster Novail’s voice. She smiled at that.

“So you had to endure his boring speeches too?” She asked while still watching the Narwuli with a vary eye.

“Yes. After teaching 200 years the same things over and over, it becomes kind of boring. Don’t you think so too?”

“I don’t know. Strategy has always been a challenge for me. To outwit your enemy. I found it to be a rather fascinating subject. Even though his monotonous voice could send me into sleep in no time, I always tried to stay awake. He has one of the most brilliant minds in the whole Protectorate regarding strategy.” He only nodded at that.

“That is true, but I always had to read the chapters again after class, because I couldn’t stay awake.” Both had to laugh at that, turned and walked back to the ships.

Behind Narwuli lines, there was chaos. Generals tried to hold the defence line, but because of the number of soldiers defecting, this was an impossible task. General Viuke watched the Sulin-Avya through a pair of glasses. He had to swallow at the number of warriors lined up in front of them. And he didn’t want to know how many more were waiting in that overly huge ship hovering above them and blocking out the sun.

A young man ran up to him.

“Sir, we can’t keep up the defence line. Too many soldiers have defected already and more are going by the minute.” He breathed heavily from his run. Viuke sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. The government expected him to stall the Sulin-Avya, but how was he supposed to do that. He looked back at their enemy.

“I cannot blame them.” He mumbled.

“Shall we surrender?” Asked a younger man. Viuke sent him a devastating glare.

“No! The government expects us to protect the people of Narwul from this threat and that is exactly what we are going to do!” He hit the small table in front of him with his fist. Shouting outside drew the group of troubled men out.

“What is it?” A Lieutenant asked into the crowd.

“One of our ships is going to collide with their forcefield!” A soldier shouted terrified. Viuke took again his glasses up. He sighed. Poor fellow.

“What is it, sir?” His assistant asked him.

“It’s not even a military machine, just a freighter.” With an angry shout he smashed his goggles on a rock. Surprised by the general’s anger the others took a step back. “By the great Fire! This is going too far! Now civilians die doing our job!” He had to think about his son. He was a textile merchant in the capital. He only hoped that nobody had discovered that he was a skilled pilot. The next one crashing on that damn forcefield could easily be him.

With fierce determination in his eyes he turned around to his men again.

“I will not accept any defections anymore! Anyone who defects, is shot immediately, is that clear! They signed up in the military to protect our people, then they should Amren damn them, begin with it now!” He shouted and went into the small command tent to grab his pulserifle. He knew that before long even the most high ranking among them would be involved in hand to hand fights with the Sulin-Avya.

Nikjev tried to see his instruments through the smoke wafting through the small command centre. Blood from a cut in his forehead dripped into his eyes and he hastily swiped it away with his sleeve. That was when he saw the blue shimmer right in front of him. With huge eyes he recognised it for what it was. The Sulin-Avya forcefield!

“Oh Ratin have mercy on my spirit!” He whispered and his arms went slack. There was no way he would be able to pull out of this situation. He closed his eyes, thought of his family and prepared himself for the crash and imminent, painful death.

But nothing happened! With wondering eyes he looked out of the small windows. An orange glow had encompassed his small ship and was now lowered to the ground. Right into enemy territory! Frantically he tried to free himself of the seat belts, but the clasp was broken and he couldn’t free himself. With all his might he tried to reach the pulserifle, only a few centimetres out of reach. To no avail. His ship stood still and the orange glow vanished. Warily he took in his surroundings. Right and left of him huge metal walls reached into the sky. He had landed right between two of their ships. Had they mistaken him for one of their own? No. That wasn’t possible.

Never would the Sulin-Avya make such a mistake. But why was he here?

A bang on his door reinforced his struggle for freedom from his seat. With a blast the hatch flew inward and sunlight streamed into the freighter. He couldn’t turn around enough, to see if somebody had come in, but he was sure of it. He heard a low growl and turned his head to the right. He could no longer move, but after a split second his lower lip began to tremble and his eyes watered. Never in his life had Nikjev cried out of fear. Now was a worthy moment, he deemed. It began to growl low in its throat and the trembling increased, while first tears travelled down his cheeks.

“Please! I...only!” He was able to bring out between choking sobs, indicating clearly that he was not accustomed to cry.

With a powerful tug of its hand it freed Nikjev from his seat and carried him by his neck out.

Alfalan sat on a chair in front of her carrier and discussed the strategy with Iljana and her aides. Picard and Riker stood of to the right, observing it all with an uneasy feeling. Suddenly Alfalan raised her head and looked over the heads of the Anuat in front of her. The others turned around too. An Anuat came towards them, holding a Narwuli in front of him. The man was sobbing and crying uncontrollably, pleading them to let him go home.

“That would be all, Troopmistress.” She dismissed Iljana with a wave of her hand and the Anuat holding the Narwuli came forth, dropped the man, went to his knees and hailed Alfalan. The man looked at her with wide eyes, sobbing and sniffing.

“Please! Please don’t kill me! I didn’t want to do it. They forced me. Please! My family is suffering. I only tried to help them...” Alfalan lifted her hand and the man went silent. After some minutes he calmed visibly and Picard and Riker doubted not a minute that Alfalan was responsible for this.

“Do you want peace?” She asked him. He nodded quickly.

“Yes! Yes, I want nothing more than peace.”

“We do not wish to attack your people or to destroy any of your cities, but if your people do not stop raiding our trade routs and planets, we will be forced to do so. We will also be forced to put a space ban onto your planet.”

His eyes rounded even more. He had heard about a planet with a space ban upon it. They had tried to circumvent this ban, but every one of their ships had been shot down. The worst thing was, he knew that Sulin-Avya nearly lived forever. This meant that the space ban could very well be in force for many hundreds of years.

“No. can we prevent that? What shall we do?”

“Stand down. Inform the rest of the population of this situation and let them chose.”

“ should I do that? The government never would allow me to give out such a message. They would shoot me right were I stood!” He burst out. Alfalan nodded.

“I am well aware of this. Because of that, we have already brought the Narwul satellite system under our control. We are setting up an interface right now.” He swallowed hard and after a moment he only nodded with a grave expression on his face.


Chapter 54

By now every single Narwuli on the planet was aware of the Sulin-Avya present. They either hid themselves in their cellars or bunkers or tried to flee in spaceships. Those were met by Sulin-Avya patrol cruisers in orbit, forcing them to land again. There was no escape. Families sat in their houses, shivering, holding on to each other and awaited the inevitable.

The cities were full of panicking people. Raids and chaos were happening all over the globe. In short, anarchy. Suddenly, every screen on Narwul went blank. Before, news broadcasts had shown the landing of the Sulin-Avya forces over and over, interrupted by politicians trying to calm the population, telling them that the military would do everything they could to protect them. This though was not very convincing, because every one had seen how the soldiers were defecting by the hundreds.

The silence didn’t last long. The screens went back on and now a middle-aged Narwuli could be seen on the screens. Some people stopped puzzled and looked up. He was no politician and by the look of his face, he had to have been involved in some fighting. He was though no member of the military. He wore no uniform. A cut over his eyebrow still bled and his face was blackened by smoke.

“People of Narwul! Listen to me! I am one of you. My name is Alun Nikjev and some months ago, I was a trading merchant. Now I am only a thief and see what has happened! The Sulin-Avya have come to punish us for what we have done.

The government told us, they wouldn’t come for us, because we wouldn’t pose a large enough threat to them. See how they lied to us! My freighter, which nearly would have crashed on their shield, was saved by them and now I am standing right among them. They offer us peace! Peace! And they offer us help. Help our government has repelled! All this, the hunger, the diseases could never have happened, if the government would have had the guts to receive their help.

Rise! Demand answers and demand the government to order the military to stand down. If we accept their help now and stand down and stand responsible for our crimes, we still have a chance. If not and these terms are not fulfilled within this day, the Sulin-Avya will place a space ban upon our planet, destroying every ship and shipyard on Narwul. You all know what that means.

I am just as scared as you are, but we have to make some tough choices and face our punishment with our heads held high. The fate of our planet lies now in our hands.” The screens went black again. People all over the planet looked at each other. On Guvi square in the capital a young woman looked to the government palace and began walking, thinking about everything she had had to endure in the last months. Among them the death of her first child. Indecisive others looked at each other and after her. An old man joined her. A group of teenagers followed them. Flocks of people joined them and when they finally reached the gates of the palace, nearly the entire city was there. Screaming, demanding answers for why they had to suffer, even though there had been the possibility to avert the situation. The soldiers guarding the gates sent each other uneasy glances, not knowing if they would be able to shoot at their own people, even if ordered to do so.

Nikjev turned around to Alfalan. She nodded to him and smiled, even though he could not see that.

“A very good speech.” He sighed and looked at his boots.

“I hope it is enough.” He saw up and noticed Picard and Riker for the first time. His eyes became small slits.

“Who are you?” He asked full of suspicion. Picard took a step forward.

“I am Jean-Luc Picard. Captain of the USS Enterprise. This is my First Officer, Commander William Riker.”

“You are not Sulin-Avya.”

“No, we are guests of the Warmistress. We come from a planet very far away. It is called Earth.” Nikjev’s brow creased in wonder.

“What are you doing here?”

“We are explorers. We came here in the search for new civilisations.”

“Although our search was cut short, when the Sulin-Avya kind of picked us up.” Added Riker with a smile. Nikjev’s lips turned a bit upwards too.

“What did you do?”

“Oh, nothing serious. We entered without permission.” Nikjev’s eyes got round.

“You passed the borders without permission? You’re lucky to be alive.” Both Picard and Riker creased their brows.

“Why that?”

“Well, there were these other aliens in cubic ships, trying to violate the borders. They attacked some of the Protectorates’ member planets. The only thing left is debris and dust.” Riker and Picard looked at each other with wide eyes. Could it be that the Sulin-Avya had somehow been able to repel an invasion by the Borg. If so, they had definitely talk to Alfalan about that.

After only five more hours the old government had been forced to stand down and a new one was haphazardly set together, which immediately accepted the Protectorates’ help. Alfalan accepted their plea for peace and left a garrison of Sulin-Avya, to assure peace and help them to rebuild what had been destroyed during the outbreak of panic over the entire globe.

Back in the ‘shuttlebay’ of the Ki’Tul, Picard turned to Alfalan.

“I am sorry, Warmistress, but Doctor Crusher wanted to see us immediately after our return.” Her eyes widened a bit.

“You mean she has found a treatment?” Hope glinted in her eyes.

“We don’t know. Before she could tell us anything, I ended the meeting, because you wanted us to accompany you.” She nodded quickly.

“Yes, yes...I understand. Please inform me, if you have something conclusive.” Picard nodded to her and both he and Riker were off to the Enterprise.

Within no time the senior officers of the Enterprise were back in the observation lounge. Beverly and Data again at the other end of the long table. Data looked his normal, calm self, while Beverly seemed to be really agitated.

“Okay, Doctor. What do you have to say about the Sulin-Avya, namely the ‘Black Soul’?”

“I don’t want to bore you with graphs and lists you most likely wouldn’t understand. The only important thing you have to see, is this.” She turned the large vid-screen behind her on. It seemed to be a DNA strain. A sequence was singled out and shown in detail.

“This is a part of the DNA of Kalvolin’s Black Soul. Look closely at this.” The strain rotated and split up. Geordi creased his brow a bit.

“Sorry, I can’t see that there is anything wrong with that.” Beverly nodded.

“Now you can’t.” She nodded to Data. He made some adjustments and some of the forms changed, until there could clearly be read a word.

“What..?” Riker whispered and all the others were just as shocked as he was.

“Data was able to translate it. It reads ‘Perfection’. There can be no doubt. The Sulin-Avya engineered this thing and infected their own people with it. If it was intentional or an accident, I don’t know. I’m though tending to the former.”

Alfalan sat on the bridge, going over some data and ordering the pilot to take up a course headed for the Home system. Suddenly her head snapped up. Uneasy the officers on the bridge looked at her. She didn’t move an inch. She felt Kalvolin’s hand on her shoulder.

<What is it, Mistress?> She heard his voice in her mind.

<They know.> was all she sent back and she could feel how the anxiousness rose in her Efeiti.

Would they help them, or demand to be left alone?


Chapter 55

Iljana was not sure of her decision, but she definitely had to talk to someone. Now that the Narwuli mission lay behind her, her nagging thoughts were back at her, bringing doubts and uneasiness with them.

She entered Sickbay and took a look around. A young healer looked up and she thought she could see annoyance in his features. Anger welled up in her. Who thought this little idiot he was? A door hissed shut to her right and she turned in that direction. Nolukai just exited the room in which Kun lay and recuperated.

“What are you doing here? Don’t you think you have pestered us enough? Or did you just come back because you have thought of something to get back at me?” He seemed to be really annoyed by her presence. She ignored it and took him by his arm and dragged him a little bit off.

“I need to talk to you, Nolukai! It is important.”

“If this is about me releasing Kun, then forget it right away. We had to strap him down already, because he wanted to leave. I won’t let him go until tonight and even after...”

“Forget about Kun for a moment for the Spirit’s sake!” He looked into her eyes and saw the deeply troubled expression in them. His annoyed scowl vanished and his features softened.

“Come with me.” He softly said and led her into his office. The other healers sent each other puzzled glances, wondering what was going on behind these doors.

Iljana wandered up and down, while Nolukai sat calmly behind his desk, his fingers steepled in front of him. He had offered her a chair, but she seemed not to hear him at all.

“Please, sit down. You are making me nervous.” He said. She looked at him and he seemed to be tranquillity in person. She growled low in her throat and he could see how her jaws worked.

“What do you want from me? Why do you want to talk to me in private?” She gave up her wandering and sat down in a chair, only to rub her hands.

“It’s...I...I talked to the Koviat.”, was all she said. His eyes went wide and he leaned back in his chair.

“Ah, I see. It wasn’t what you expected.” He stated. She shook her head viciously.

“NO! Spirits, if I didn’t knew better, hadn’t seen it unleashed, I would never have thought it to be”

“Normal? Sensitive? Childlike even?” She stared at him.


“And that troubles you.”

“Yes! Spirits! We use them as weapons, as though they were no living beings but things! I...I mean...” Nolukai started to chuckle low in his throat. Iljana’s anger rose in her and her claws sprang to their openings.

“What are you laughing at quack?” She demanded in a hiss. His eyes were full of a sad kind of amusement.

“Congratulation.” He only said.

“For what? Don’t talk in riddles to me!”

“Congratulations for seeing, Troopmistress!” And all signs of amusement were gone from his gaze. He was dead serious now.

“You knew. You knew that a long time, didn’t you?” She asked in a whisper. He turned away from her and looked out his window. He sighed and drew his palm over his brow.

“Of course I know. Somebody has to check on even a Koviat now and then.” This admission was followed by a sharp intake of breath from Iljana.

“ mean that you see it regularly?” His head whipped around.

“HE, Iljana! He is a Sulin-Avya, just as you and I. He only had the misfortune to have been born with a Black Soul. And of course I see him regularly. Who do you think adjusts the holding mechanisms to his growing strength?” She stared wide eyed at him, but she didn’t say anything. Nolukai stared at the wall and his gaze grew distant.

“You have no idea how innocent Kalvolin is. He has the mind of a child, enjoys even the most normal things like a child. It is a pity that he has to live this way.” Iljana had caught herself.

“You want to tell me that it is not proud of being what it is?” His dead serious stare was on her again and it made her more uncomfortable than anything before in her life. Why was she afraid of him? He was only a healer after all!

“Would you be proud of being a killing machine? Would you be proud of knowing that everyone is afraid of you or despises you? Even though they do not know you?” He grunted in disgust. “Of course you wouldn’t be. But until today you never thought of it, right? Until today, it was convenient for you to think of Koviat as dumb brutes, killing machines to be deployed at your leisure. Then let me tell you this! Every time he comes back from such a carnage, he is deeply devastated! When the Black Soul has stilled its hunger, it is easier to control, but all the pictures, all the experiences are still there. He can’t sleep for weeks on end, because of what he has seen. And you know what the worst thing is?” He leaned over his table and his face was merely a few centimetres from Iljana’s. She recognised surprised that she couldn’t move.

“The worst thing is that he knows that his body, his hands, did all this. Killing people would be easy to handle, if it only was that, but a Black Soul has every need as you have. Including a sexual need and you don’t want to know what he told me!” His voice dropped to a low whisper on the last statement, as he dropped back into his chair.

She was shocked to say the least. She had never heard about these things. Now that she thought of it, in her whole life no one had ever told her anything about the Koviat, apart from hating them and to never trust one.

“But...but they live in symbiosis. The host and the Black Soul.” Nolukai rose and looked out his window, his face a mask of disgust.

“Pfh! That’s maybe what they told you. I speak out of experience. Kalvolin is not the first Koviat I have worked with. Trust me, I know what I talk about, when I say that the relationship between Black Soul and host is anything but symbiotic.”

“But...” He turned so quickly around that his robe swished around his feet and his eyes were full of hate and helplessness.

“Don’t but me! You have no idea what these poor souls have to endure! Each of them, every single one, despises their Black Soul and their only wish is to get rid of it. To live a normal life. Now you, as a sceptical, conservative Sulin-Avya of course will ask, really every one of them? YES! Every one of them! The other healers attending to Koviat all over the Protectorate have informed me of that. They hate themselves and that they even exist.” He turned around again and she could see how his shoulders shook with repressed rage.

“I wrote many articles about them and published them. Nearly immediately I was punished for it. But I kept on going. I thought it was everybody’s right to know who the Koviat really are. Nobody would listen! I asked the Council for permission to do research on a way to remove the Black Soul without killing them. I was denied.” Bitterness marked his words.

“They are a convenient tool to keep the more aggressive races within the Protectorate at bay. Who would want to loose that? And by ignoring their agony, their pain and their honourless existence, the Council proves itself to be just as honourless.” Iljana opened her mouth to protest against this insult against the most revered institution in the whole quadrant, but Nolukai’s expression stopped her.

“Don’t! Don’t tell me I have no right to talk about them in that way, because I have every right to do so. You have never faced them! I have and I can tell you that it was a disillusioning experience!” He breathed deeply and seemed to cool down a bit. When he again turned around to her, his normal, sarcastic smile was in place again.

“Now that I have poured all my anger and bitterness out to you, you must know that if you tell anyone about this, they will dishonour you.” He straightened himself.

“Now, if you please would excuse me?” He stepped around her and walked out, leaving Iljana behind deeply in thought. Even more troubled than when she had come to him in the first place.

“I should have gone to Erralek with this.” She whispered.


Chapter 56

Deanna was proud of herself and felt guilty in the same moment. She had skilfully avoided Beverly all day and was now in the safety of her office, just finishing up some records. She had wanted to talk to Beverly at first, helping her sort out her feelings, but now she wasn’t so sure, she wanted that. She wanted Will back, but on the other hand, raising her child on her own...No! She had said to Will she would give him the chance to be a father to his child. She knew how important this was to him. She sighed and rubbed her temples, feeling a headache coming on.

She had to think about the offer Alfalan had made to her at the banquet. Of course nobody else knew about it. They had only discussed it telepathically, but becoming a Federation representative in the Sulin-Avya Protectorate sounded very inviting to her. She had assured Deanna that all her needs would be taken care of and that her child would grow up in a safe and loving environment. Taking the fact into account that Sulin-Avya mostly could only reproduce once in their life, their love and affection for children was infinite. But again there was the problem of Will. He would never want to live on this side of the wormhole, giving up his career. That was not an option. And then again, he had broken his word more than once, why couldn’t she. She had every right to be happy and finally pursue her own goals and not wait for him any longer. Yes, she would do as she pleased and get on with her personal career plans.

Even though she tried to convince herself that this was the right course to take, she could feel that she wouldn’t do it. She knew it. She would never leave Will and deprive him of the possibility to be a father for their child. She sighed and drew her hands through her hair.

That was, when the buzzer of her door sounded. She sighed again, this time relieved that somebody was coming through that door and take her thoughts off her problems with their own.

“Come in.” She called and regretted it, the same instant the doors opened. Beverly Crusher stood in the open door, her arms akimbo, scowling at the petite Counsellor. Deanna tried to smile.

“Hi Bev. What brings you by?” Her meek attempt to change the subject right from the beginning failed immediately.

“Well, let me think.” Answered Crusher as she walked in and tapped her chin with her index finger.

“Ah, yes. You wanted to talk to me desperately about what happened between you and Will and then you were gone. What the Hell is going on with you?!” Deanna buried her face in her hands and took a deep breath.

“If I only knew Beverly! I’m arguing with myself the whole time. Should I leave and just get on with my life, not giving Will a chance to be a father for our child, or should I stay here, face him every day with that overly polite behaviour and just hope for the best. I just no longer know where my priorities are!” Beverly sat down in the ‘patient’ chair and took her best friends hands.

“Deanna, if you leave now, you will regret it. Perhaps not instantly, but after a short time, you would. And you would break Will. It would take the little strength he has left within him. Jean-Luc talked to him about what happened yesterday...” At that Deanna’s eyes got round as balls.

“Oh Gods! Know even the Captain is involved in all this!” Beverly smiled and patted her hand.

“Remember who his girlfriend is. He was involved right from the beginning, if he liked it or not. Anyway, he told me that Will was really crushed when you kissed him and then just walked out. He thought you would finally give him another chance.”

“But how can I trust him? How can I trust him not to blow it again, when the next good-looking female walks by?” Deanna yelled and ripped her hands from Beverly’s. “I...I just can’t. Don’t you understand?”

“Come on Deanna! Now you are being ridiculous!” At that Deanna’s head snapped up.

“What do you mean?” She sniffed surprised.

“I mean, that everyone on this goddamn ship knows that Will is madly in love with you and that he has tried anything to apologise! In a fit of helpless anger he even began a fight with Geordi and Ensign Xerx, breaking Xerx’ jaw! Deanna, what do you want him to do? Take a vow of celibacy? Get castrated? Believe me, he would do both if you asked him to do so.” Deanna was now getting angry herself.

“You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know him as I do! I know him! Don’t you think I can see how he suffers? It tears at my heart, but it is necessary. Will The Thrill Riker! If I forgave him now, he would come back to me and stay with me, maybe for a couple of years, but then his libido would come in the way and he would again move on to another woman! I should have known right from the start. I should have never got involved with him again!” The last comment was laden with such bitterness that it nearly got a physical quality.

“So I don’t know a thing about Will Riker? My best customer? Every time he had an injury we talked, while I would treat him. I know him very well, and if I might refresh your memory, while Odan was within him, I also had a relationship with him.”

“That doesn’t count. It was Odan, not Will.”

“Do you really think so?” Beverly looked deeply into Deanna’s eyes. “While the main part was Odan, I could still make out Will in certain things.

Every time he is seriously hurt, the first person he asks to see, when he wakes up, is you. Every time there is a ship wide emergency, who is the first one he checks on? You. After we have been into battle, who is the first one he’s wanting to know to be okay? You! Every of these times, he calls me in Sickbay and I always have to tell him if you are there and injured or not.

Every time you break up with a guy, I have to reign him in, so that he is not beating that someone up! Every time he gets involved with a woman, he asks me if I think it will be okay with you, before he goes to you. And you know that, when he is with a woman, he never cheats on her!

We both know that there is something fishy about this whole Risa thing and don’t try to deny it! If you still want to wait a bit, that is fine with me, but don’t you dare to abandon him!” Now a threat was clearly audible in her voice. “Because if you do, I will drag you personally back, lock the two of you up in one room and go off with your baby so that you two can settle things once and for all!” Her eyes were aflame with determination and Deanna could see that she really meant it.

“ wouldn’t take my baby, would you?” Deanna asked fearful, now tears in her eyes at the prospect of being parted from her yet unborn baby.

“You can bet on it I will!” Beverly’s face was set in stone. Deanna’s lip began to tremble and she turned away from her best friend.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?” She whispered. Beverly huffed, stood and supported herself with her hands on Deanna’s desk.

“You have the support of the entire ship and Will has only a handful people still talking to him. I think he has suffered enough. More than enough in fact. Believe me, as soon as you give him a sign, he will come running back to you, crawling on his knees, begging you to become his wife and never leave him again.” Deanna turned back again, now her eyes big as balls.

“His wife? you think he would propose?” Hope was clearly audible in her voice and she didn’t really like that. Beverly pushed off her desk and moved to the door.

“Only one way to find out.” She threw over her shoulder and left. Deanna sat dazed behind her desk, now even more confused than before.


Chapter 57

Alfalan walked anxious over the ramp into the Enterprise. She didn’t know what would await her. She was too much caught up in her own thoughts, to be able to make heads and tails out of the impressions her mind received every second. Against Iljana’s will, she had gone alone to the meeting Picard had asked for. Of course she was not really alone. As always, Kalvolin was only one step behind her, just as anxious as she.

When she passed the doors into the meeting lounge she was met by all senior officers.

“Welcome, Warmistress. Please, sit down. We have to talk.” Picard approached her and offered her a chair. She sat down warily and pulled down her hood.

“I trust that you have brought Kalvolin with you, because what we have to say is mainly concerning him.” She only nodded and gave Kalvolin a mental command do disengage his cloaking device. As ordered he shimmered into existence behind her.

Picard and the other senior officers now took their seats and all looked to Beverly after a short time. The tension in the room could have been cut.

“We found out that the Black Soul has been engineered.” Beverly just came out with it, instead of beating around the bush. Alfalan closed her eyes and sighed.

“I should have told you right away.” She amended silently. Riker’s face was set in stone.

“So you knew?” He asked her without mercy. Kalvolin began to growl at Riker’s tone of voice. Quickly Alfalan lifted her hand.

“Yes, I knew.” She sighed deeply. “I hoped you wouldn’t find out, but I think to hope that was silly. Anyway. You have found out and now I will tell you the whole story.” Interested the Enterprise staff shuffled nearer Alfalan.

“Many generations ago, the Sulin-Avya were split up in clans. All of these clans were fighting for superiority. But the powers were too equally distributed among them. War devastated our planet and peace was a word not known to them. One of the clanfathers placed his hope in the new technologies, especially genetic engineering. His scientists wanted to create the perfect warrior.

They rounded up the most valiant of the clanfathers warriors, took a sample of their DNA and worked on that. They wanted to know why they were so special and if each of the other warriors could somehow become like them. They succeeded.” Every one was staring at her.

“You mean that these scientists developed the Black Soul?” Asked Beverly astonished.

“Yes, they did. But at that time it wasn’t called that.”

“But what Nolukai has told me about your equipment doesn’t suggest the possibility..”

“Please let me finish, Doctor. Then all your questions will be answered.” Beverly nodded and leaned back to hear the rest of the story.

“The clanfather ordered that all his warriors should be injected with it, to make them invincible. And they were invincible. Nobody could stop them. After a short time he became the first ruler of all clans. The perfected warriors became sought after mates and it spread among the Sulin-Avya.

Until now the Black Soul had not developed a consciousness of its own. Many generations past, before the negative effects began to show. Perfected warriors began to exhibit strange behaviour. They were overly aggressive, engaging in fights over nothing. Many of them killed themselves. No one knew why. I suspect they became aware of what was happening to them. Their numbers diminished rapidly, because only few still wanted to mate with them.

Finally, the Black Souls were able to overcome their hosts control over them. A dark age descended upon my people. At one time, we even had a Black Soul as our Clanfather. He ruled with unequalled cruelty, forcing women to mate with others possessed, to spread the seed of evil again.

Laniat found out about their ability to be able to control them and began to fight them, with the protection of the rest of the uninfected. Many hundreds were killed. At last, only a few Koviat were left and they were brought to trial and killed for their crimes.

You may now wonder why Kalvolin is among us. The Black Soul had found a new way of spreading itself. The possessed were vaporised, but the crude weapons of that time were not able to work fast enough, to prevent the Black Soul from sending out spores.

Unfortunately nobody realised that until a long time later. My people rejoiced in having overcome the threat. They destroyed every genetic laboratory on the planet, making the research there responsible for their suffering. Even today, engaging in such things is strictly forbidden. Anyone who would be caught in the act of genetic manipulation, would be dishonoured immediately.” Alfalan seemed to feel as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Now you may understand, why I was so happy to discover that the same inhibitions did not apply to you. You are no member of the Protectorate and thus you cannot diminish us in the eyes of our allies.” She smiled now.

The lounge was quiet for some time, as everyone thought about the story Alfalan just had told them.

“You hope to take this threat of the Black Souls once and for all from your people.” Geordi spoke his thought out loud. She nodded.

“Yes, but not just that.” She reached behind her in search for Kalvolin. He put his hand on her shoulder and she put hers on his. It seemed to be a very private thing between them. “I want to give Kalvolin and all other Koviat the opportunity to live a normal life. Be accepted by the society.” Picard mulled that over for a moment and then turned to Beverly.

“Doctor?” He nodded to her and she rose while nodding too. Alfalan’s face became one of astonishment.

“ found a cure?” The hope and happiness in her eyes were so intense...Beverly raised her hands in defence.

“Not exactly. We know what it is, how it is build up and we even know how it is able to spread itself by breaking up into spores.

The difficulty with finding a treatment will be, to find a vaccine, working quick enough to affect it in all areas at the same time. If that is not accomplished, it will break up into spores and search for a new host. You must know, that is has attached itself to every single cell in Kalvolin’s body. Every single organ and tissue within him is affected. Only a few areas are free. For example his saliva and his testicles. I suppose it only enters his semen, when it knows that it will reproduce for sure.
With a lot more research and the help of specialists from the Federation, I am sure that we can develop a cure. What I know for sure, and your story has affirmed my believe, is that the Black Soul will leave its host body, when it knows that it is dying. To prevent it from breaking up into spores, we already have a vaccine, but not for the removal.” Alfalan’s eyes gleamed with joy and a single tear ran down her cheek.

“How can we ever thank you?! How can I ever repay you?” Her voice was thick with emotion. Picard smiled and touched her hand.

“Be honest with us the next time.” She nodded and smiled through her tears.

“Of course, Jean-Luc. And I wish to apologise for not being totally honest and did not trust you with this from the beginning.”

“You need not apologise. I see no reason.” As did none of the others. Seeing her reaction to these news showed them all that she had not withheld this emotion out of some evil intent, but much more because this whole affair seemed to be a matter of shame for them. Beverly walked up to Kalvolin.

“I brought the anti-spore vaccine with me, so, if you want, I can give it to him right here and now.” Alfalan nodded eagerly and she told Kalvolin to bare one of his arms and give the Doctor access to his artery.

“He will not feel any different. We do not think that the Black Soul will even take note of the change, until it is too late.” She placed a hypospray over his artery and with a low hiss it emptied. She gave him the hypospray to lick it clean, as he did with his claws. It seemed to be a prevention to keep the Black Soul where it was. Like the ancient disease AIDS, it could be spread through the blood.
Alfalan stood, beaming.

“I will inform Kalvolin of this, as soon we have some time for ourselves and I can look him in the eye. He deserves to know it. Thank you all again so much! I do not know what to say...” She blinked her tears away. All of the others stood and wished her and Kalvolin a good night, where after they left.

“That went very well. All right then. I talked to the Sulin-Avya helmsman and he told me that we will arrive at the Sulin-Avya homeworld in about 36 hours. I want you all prepared and in gala uniform when we depart. That would be all. Dismissed.”

Will turned to Deanna, in the hope he would be able to talk to her, ask her to stay for a moment, so that they could talk among the two of them, but she was already on a hasty retreat. With a feeling of helplessness and emptiness he let the air slip from his lungs and thought that this evening was going to be the same as every other one in the last weeks. Him, alone in his quarters, bored to death and only his bad consciousness to accompany him.

But then she turned in the door and looked to him. Wonderingly he looked back with large, surprised eyes. She smiled brilliantly, turned and walked off. Slowly his lips drew into a face splitting smile and he was sure that he was looking like a total idiot, but he was total oblivious of that. She had smiled at him! And not just a bit, it had been a real, full fledged, mind blowing smile, he hadn’t seen from her for so many days that he thought it was years ago that she had smiled at him like that.

“God, I love you!” He whispered. Behind him Picard and Beverly smiled brightly at each other.


Chapter 58

Kun snagged his shirt irritated from the table next to him and snarled at the healer still present. She, on the other hand, seemed not disturbed by his attempts to frighten her. This made him even more angry. He still couldn’t believe that they actually had dared to strap him down. With long strides he left the intensive care room and nearly bumped into Nolukai.

“Eager to leave, are we?” He asked with his ever-present sarcastic smirk. It took all Kun’s self control not to hit him right there and then.

“Yes!” The S had a distinct hiss to it, showing just how irritated he was. Nolukai only nodded, totally unperturbed by Kun’s anger.

“Well, I only cleared you, because you insisted on feeling well. I most caution you though. If you want to regain your strength quickly and without delay and pain, you can’t exercise in the next two weeks.” He held his hands up, already knowing that a protest was coming. “I know what you want to say. You can exercise of course, but it will only result in serious pain and a delay of at least a month until you will be fully healed. So you better heed my warning.” Kun closed in on Nolukai, but the infuriating Healer didn’t budge one inch. Kun’s ire was rising even more. Every member of the crew did not dare to look him straight in the eye, when he was in such a state, only Alfalan did.

“I will not forget what you did to me. And one sweet day, you will pay!” Kun hissed and bared his canines. He saw anger flash in Nolukai’s eyes, but his voice was cool and controlled, when he answered Kun.

“Fine, if you want me to pay for saving your life, then I am willing to pay the price for that.” He shot back. Kun’s eyes became small slits.

“I am not talking about that. Strapping me down was a fatal mistake, buchita!” Finally Kun had hit. He knew that this word was not used by civilised Sulin-Avya, but he didn’t think he was talking to one. Nolukai’s jaw clenched and his eyes were ablaze with fury.

“You better leave now and hope that you will never have to come here again. I not only know how to heal, but I know also how to kill. And believe me, even though I gave an oath to protect all life, I would do it. And I would probably fulfil my oath doing so!”

Kun roared with rage and lifted his hand, his claws ready to strike. Nolukai stared calmly into his eyes and didn’t even lift his arm to protect himself against a possibly deadly strike.

“Alfalan would not be pleased.” Was the only thing Nolukai said and it brought other things back to Kun’s mind than his anger at this insufferable man. If he killed Nolukai, Alfalan would not only punish him severely, but she would loose all her respect for him and he couldn’t let that happen. Not if he wanted to accomplish his goal. So, with a mighty effort of will, he was able to lower his hand and snap his claws back. As he brushed past Nolukai, he whispered a last threat into the Healers ear.

“This is not over yet, Nolukai! Alfalan will not always be there to protect you!” He had said it so silently that none of the other healers had been able to pick up on it.

“Maybe not, but whoever told you that I need her protection?” Nolukai said and then dismissed Kun from his mind, busying himself with data of a possible pregnancy.

Kun swished around and glared at Nolukai’s back. This bastard didn’t even deem it necessary to keep an eye on him! Well, Kun thought with a dirty smirk, it would be his own fault, if he did not keep an eye on his deadliest foe.

<Do not flatter yourself. I have faced much more dangerous individuals than you. Remember what they taught you. Do never underestimate the unknown. I have skills you have no idea of.> Kun shook his head in anger. With an angry shout he toppled one of the instrument tables over and stormed out the door. Nolukai sighed and looked at the scattered instruments.

“Please, would one of you collect the instruments and clean them.” He just wanted to turn back to his work, when he thought of something. “And when the dear Shipmaster comes to us with his injuries, just show him where the door is.” He couldn’t see his subordinates, but he knew that they were all smiling.

They admired him for how he was able to deal with the Anuat. The Anuat didn’t pay much respect for the work of healers and treated them with so much disrespect that it bordered on dishonouring. When their mates were to give birth though, they suddenly became very nice and forthcoming. Nolukai snorted.

He had heard how healers were treated in the Federation and allowed himself to dream a bit. To be allowed to study freely, to have command authority...He was no man wanting power, but he still found it disturbing that the Protectorate didn’t acknowledge those, who kept them alive. He sighed one more time and then went back to his work.

Hani had asked him to help her give birth to her child. He smiled at this. It would be a nice distraction, to help a new life into the universe. Beverly had told him that some doctors in the Federation only did that. Delivered babies. How much would he like to be one of them, but in his entire service he had only delivered about a hundred babies and he was already 512. Of course, the important work of delivering a baby had only been allowed him, when he had finished his apprentice years and had become a master. That had been 280 years ago. He shook his head. If it was going on like this, the Sulin-Avya would die out. He needed to talk to Beverly again and ask her, if it may had something to do with their DNA. She was the only one with the knowledge and the authority to give him correct and valid information.

Kun had quickly changed back into his uniform, gone to the Bridge, to get an update on the present situation and then went in the search of Alfalan to report back to duty. All this had taken him some time, because he had to look over reports of the Narwul incident and many other officers had needed his approval of one or the other thing.

Now he was looking for Alfalan. His irritation rose again, when he wasn’t able to find her. He had asked her interpreter where she was, but the Laniat girl didn’t know where she was. Alfalan had said to her that she would not need her services tonight anymore and had sent her home. Now Kun had to search in the old fashioned way. Look. He sighed when he thought about going through all the decks of the Ki’Tul. He lifted his head and began his search.

Kalvolin didn’t know where they were headed. Surprised he had to see that he had never been in this part of the ship before. It was a large garden with trees and flower beds scattered over its expanse. He could not see its end and he surmised it went through the whole length of the ship. Paths of white cobblestone snaked through this peaceful landscape. On her way Alfalan met some other Sulin-Avya, who all bowed reverently to her. But after only a few minutes, they seemed to be completely alone. She hadn’t even brought her interpreter with her and he wondered what this was all about.

She led the way to a secluded corner, hidden behind a large bush and a weeping willow. A bench was situated right under it, secluding anyone who wanted to have time for himself from view.

<You can disengage your cloaking device now, Efeiti. There is no one here anymore.> He did as ordered and folded his helm back, to enable her to get a clear view through his eyes.

Kalvolin only nodded. Nolukai was the only other Sulin-Avya on the ship he liked. Nolukai treated him like a friend and not like something to be feared and despised. He saw how his Mistress closed her eyes and relaxed.

Nolukai was sitting in his office and was going over some data, Beverly Crusher had sent him. He had told her about the problems his race was facing and she had sent him a communiqué packed with information. None of them containing the word DNA or DNA charts. He was very grateful for that, because if she had and someone would stumble over it, he would be dishonoured immediately. He wondered if she knew about that, or if she just had taken his lacking knowledge into account.

<She knows.> The soft whisper of Alfalan’s voice enticed Nolukai to raise his head. He closed his eyes and relaxed.

<How? Did you tell them?>

<Yes, I did. Do you remember when I took an Anuat, Eviat, a Laniat and a Koviat to them? She was able to find out that the Black Soul had been engineered on her own, so it wouldn’t have mattered if I had denied it. She told me that Federation scientists probably will be able to develop a cure, Nolukai! She was already able to draft a vaccine, preventing the Black Soul from breaking up into spores!> Nolukai’s eyes went wide.

<This...This is wonderful!> He wasn’t able to describe what he felt at these news, but he could feel that Alfalan understood, because she very much felt the same thing.

<Yes, it is. Contact Beverly, get the formula and forward it to all healers attending to a Koviat. It will happen upon my responsibility.> Nolukai smiled brightly.

<If I was caught doing it, I would gladly claim responsibility and be dishonoured for it, Mistress! Have you told Kalvolin yet?>

<No, but I am about to. We are in the Arboretum right now. Please hurry, my friend.>

<Whatever you say, shall be, Mistress!> And even though she could not see him, he bowed to her. Then her presence was gone from his mind. He jumped from his chair and raised his fist in triumph.
Finally! Finally the Koviat would be free. He knew from the first moment that nothing better could have happened to his people, than the Federation starship entering their space. Quickly he sat down to the task, Alfalan had assigned him. Before they would reach the homeworld, every Koviat in the entire Protectorate would be inoculated with the anti-spore vaccine, he vowed to himself.

Alfalan opened her eyes again and smiled brightly at Kalvolin. He stood in front of her, at attention as ever.

<Come, Efeiti. Sit down.> She clapped the free space on the bench. Gingerly he sat down, not sure if the fragile looking bench would support him.

She took his hands in hers and looked at his face.

<Efeiti, Beverly will find a cure for you and all the other Koviat! She has already found a way to prevent the Black Soul from breaking up into spores.> He gripped her hands tightly and she felt how her bones already began to crack, but she said nothing.

<That was what this injection was about?>

<Yes! Yes, Kalvolin. You will be free.> She smiled brightly. Only now he became aware of the hard grip he was holding her hands in and eased it immediately. He stood, confused by these startling news.

“Free?” He asked in his deep voice. It had been his lifelong dream and still he couldn’t really grasp the concept of it. And now to have it finally within his reach...He couldn’t describe it. He felt how Alfalan firmly held the Black Soul under control for him. Tears streamed down his face.

“Free.” He whispered weakly. She stood and softly brushed the tears from his face.

“Free.” She confirmed and drew his face softly down to her shoulder. He wanted to hold on to her, because he suddenly felt immensely weak, but he didn’t. He would maybe hurt her more and he did not want that under any circumstances. Her delicate fingers lifted his chin, so that he was able to look into her eyes.

“And when you are free...” She inched nearer to him. He was rooted to the spot. He didn’t know what would happen and how he was supposed to respond, but he knew what his Mistress did, was forbidden. Right now he didn’t care one bit. “We will be able to do this every time we want.” Softly her lips closed over his.

He had never thought that such a slight contact could call forth such perfect, sweet rapture. He felt it stir inside him and trying to get control, but Kalvolin would have none of it. He wouldn’t allow it to shatter this perfect moment. He leaned into her slightly and for the first time in his life, Kalvolin Tar was able to hold something, without breaking it.

Unseen by them, hidden behind the branches of the bush, someone was watching them. Hate and envy burning in the eyes of the onlooker.


Chapter 59

Full of anticipation the Enterprise crew members stood in the Ki’Tul’s shuttlebay in their gala uniforms, awaiting their transport to the Sulin-Avya homeworld. Alfalan approached them with a bright smile on her face, a delegation of her guards and, as always, her interpreter behind her. Her key officers were also with her.

“Welcome, my friends. Welcome to Sunin Valara, our homeworld.”
She indicated for them to precede her into the huge juggernaut, just waiting for them.

Sunin Valara seemed to be one, big forest. Wherever they looked, they saw trees. The only clearing in the vicinity seemed to be the spaceport. Fascinated the Enterprise crew couldn’t stop staring. High over their heads, entire blocks of houses were built into the gigantic trees. Walkways connected the trees and overhead was a bustling activity. With a lift they went up to this level and were even more astonished. The houses were not just plain wood houses, but often made out of brick and some of the grander ones, out of marble-like stone. Men, women and children were crowding the high hung ‘streets’.

A hover-car stopped near them and all of them went in. As soon, as everyone was seated, the driver turned the large vehicle around and sped back the way it had come. Many Sulin-Avya stared interested at the strange visitors, travelling with one of the most popular members of the protective forces. Many even waived and cheered. Alfalan had to smile at this welcome and ordered the driver to go slower, opened the top and lowered her window. People were now crowding up towards the hover-car, trying to touch her or at least talk to her. Iljana and Kun seemed a little uneasy at this, because there could always happen something, but Picard saw that Kalvolin was not far away from her. In fact, due to the tight quarters inside the hover-car, he could see, how Kalvolin’s invisible form crumpled the dress on Alfalan’s back. If anyone would try to pull her out of the car, or she should fall, Kalvolin would immediately be there to save her from whatever was coming.

Picard was able to rip his eyes from his surroundings and looked to his companions. While Erralek and Iljana seemed happy to be home again and Nolukai grinned like an idiot, Kun had a deep scowl on his face and hadn’t been too talkative during all their voyage. Well, he hadn’t been too talkative all in all. Even so, Picard tried to talk to him.

“You seem not too happy, Shipmaster. Are you not happy to be home?”

Kun’s intense gaze was now on the Captain.

“This is not my home. My homeplanet lies a few light years away from here.”
With that Kun seemed to deem this conversation to be over and stared past Picard.
Beverly touched Picard’s arm lightly and smiled brightly at him.

“Tough audience, huh?” She asked him in a whisper.

“You could say that.” He whispered back, took her hand in his and both had to chuckle.

Slowly, but steadily the car moved through the city in the treetops, which revealed itself to be immense in its size. Data remarked on their tour that at least six million people had to live here. Loud roars and cheering drew their gazes toward a huge stadium, gleaming in the sunlight.

“What is that?” Riker inquired interested. Iljana leaned smiling towards him a bit, to get a better look at it.

“It’s the Du’Gvaniju stadium. Our favourite sport. Protectorate-Championships are on for the time. I wonder who is playing!” She answered excited. Erralek seemed just as excited as she.

“I bet it is Gid’Nilva against Hoi’Vert. They are both in the quarterfinals.” Both peaked their ears and tried to make out names in the roaring.

“You joking? Hoi’Vert could never have made it to the quarterfinals!” Iljana put in.

“Why, of course! They have Kilore! He can cross the poles faster than anyone else.” Erralek’s eyes were wide in indignation.

“Pfh! Yeah! Maybe 150 years ago.” Iljana shot back. Interested the Enterprise crew was following their discussion.

“Then, who do you think will win the Championship?”

“Fars’Kep of course!” This engendered uproarious laughter from Erralek.

“They haven’t won one match since Hipek dropped out.”

“At least they are in. Not as some team I could mention!” She hissed back. Erralek just wanted to get back at her, for insulting his favourite team, when Nolukai put his hand between them.

“Okay now children, we are not going to fight over such childish things, are we?” He put in chastisingly. Both leaned back in their seats with a huff and made a great show out of not looking at each other. Nolukai smiled a small smile, stared out his own window and couldn’t keep himself from throwing them a last piece of irritation.

“And I am convinced that Ilk’Hemr will win the cup.” Both Erralek and Iljana stared at him with open mouths and began arguing his statement immediately. He saw to Deanna, who smiled at him and shook her head. He winked at her and chuckled.

The car came to a stop in front of the most gigantic building they had ever seen. When they stood on the pavement and tried to see its top, they were unable to do so, because it broke through the roof of intertwined branches.

“How can the trees support the weight of that thing?” Geordi smiled in wonderment and shook his head.

“It is not build upon trees as the other buildings, Mr LaForge. It stands on the ground, just as the spaceport. It is the work of many generations.” Alfalan answered his question. They wandered through a huge portal and entered an entrance hall of truly astonishing proportions. Gawking at its size, the crew of the Enterprise stopped short. A fountain, matching the size of the hall, was at its centre and other people coming and going were all performing a ritual at it. Nolukai waved the group of Federationists over to him.

“It is a custom of ours to offer guests a drink. As this is a public house, everyone is a visitor. Even the council members and the clanfather himself, even though he lives here. Here.” He sat on the floor and took off his high boots. Picard and the others looked to their other companions, who were doing the same. Quickly they followed suit. With Nolukai they waded out into the fountain. He gave them all a small cup.

“Okay. The level you are standing in, is for your feet. Only for your feet! The next for your hands, the one over that for your face and the last is for drinking. I will show you.”

He scooped up water in his cup, poured it over his hands, while muttering something. He did the same to his face. At last, he scooped up another cup, muttered a short sentence, lifted the cup to the sunlight, brought the cup up to his brow, his chest, supposedly where his heart was, and then, Riker and the others could barely believe it, to his groin and emptied it in one gulp. They looked to the others and they did it all the same way as Nolukai had. He smiled brightly at them and gave the used cup to a servant.

“We touch the most important parts with the sacred water. Our minds, our hearts and our children. Born or unborn. It might seem odd to you, but to be allowed to drink from this fountain is rumoured to have certain ‘helping’ side effects.”

“What did you say? We did not catch it and we would like to do everything right.” Deanna said and filled her cup.

“Oh, that! Before every ritual, you can utter one wish. When you drink, one of them will come to your mind again. That is the one most important to you and for your future and if it lies within the Spirit’s powers, they will fulfil that wish.” Nolukai indicated for them to go ahead. One after one they ended the ceremony, pulled their boots back on and followed Alfalan through the huge building.

The Clancouncil chamber was a high, widely circular room, able to hold over 500 people. The huge doors had to be opened by four guards on each side. These palace guards were the largest they had seen until now. They were even close to Kalvolin, but Alfalan had told them that he was still growing, while these were outgrown Sulin-Avya. One of them addressed Alfalan.

“The Council is ready for you, Warmistress.” He leaned his head back and stepped aside.
As one they walked out onto the wide open space, from where the Council could be announced.

Hundreds of Councillors were seated in rows upon rows of finely carved chairs. In the middle, on the highest row, a Sulin-Avya sat in the most elaborate regalia of them all. Alfalan went to her knees and hailed the Council and the Clanfather. So did the rest of them.

“I heard the Council’s request and I bring you the explorers from the Federation.” She indicated for Picard to step forward. He drew himself up, pulled his uniform top down and seemed then to be prepared to make his speech.

“I thank the High Council of the Sulin-Avya for admitting us entrance. We feel very honoured by this.

Our ship is an exploration vessel, sent from the United Federation of Planets. We seek out new civilisations and new cultures, in our quest to broaden our horizons.

We know now that we crossed your borders without permission. For that I wish to apologise and if there is any punishment for this, I implore you only to punish me, because I am the Captain and gave the order. The responsibility lies solely with me.”

“Please, Captain. If we would have wanted to punish you for trespassing, you and your officers would not stand in this chamber.” A Council member had risen from his seat and addressed the Captain. Picard bowed his head to him.

“We saw your formidable defenders in action. I am happy to stand in this chamber, not as a foe, but, hopefully, as a friend to the Sulin-Avya people. On our voyage here, Warmistress Alfalan and I have talked long and found that there are many things we could learn from each other. All my crew is deeply fascinated with your culture and we hope we will be able to establish good relations to another.” He leaned his head back and then retreated back into the group.

The old Clanfather rose from his seat and smiled.

“A good speech, Captain Picard. I see that you are very well versed in the language of diplomacy. As for the charge of have a very influential friend on your side.” Surprised Picard looked up to the Clanfather. “Warmistress Alfalan herself gave her word of honour that you would not endeavour on any hostile action within our space and that you only by mistake trespassed our borders without permission.

The High Council hereby grants the starship USS Enterprise free flight in the entire Protectorate.” At that a guard approached Picard and gave him a scroll and a data chip.

“This chip contains information about our Protectorate. How far you can go, without danger. Beyond our borders you will no longer be under our protection. As long as you stay within our borders, every Sulin-Avya will aid you in whatever distress you might find yourself. Be noticed though, that, the moment you leave our territory, you will need a new admittance, before you again can venture into our space.” Picard gave his officers a sign and they all went to their knees and laid their throats bare.

“The Council is very generous in their offering.” He came back on his feet. “We will of course share every information and data we sample with the Sulin-Avya.”
The Clanfather nodded and seated himself again. He nodded to the Council member still standing.

“The Council has other important, but internal matters to attend to. Please, be our guests.” He stretched his arms invitingly out toward the portal, which again was opened from the outside by the palace guard. Women and men in flowing robes entered and took the Enterprise crew with them. On silent hinges the doors went shut and sent a thundering clap through the Council chamber, giving some of those present a foreboding of what was coming.


Chapter 60

Alfalan took a step forward and stood now right in the centre of the room, the suns rays, falling through the windows high above them, giving her a golden glow.

“I stand proud before this High Council, announcing that a threat and a shame for many generations will end.” Intrigued the Councillors looked at each other and her.

“Of which threat and shame exactly are you speaking, Warmistress?” Clancouncillor Mijhavi asked her. He was the spokesman of the Council.

“I speak of the Koviat.” Many Councillors reeled back in horror, some even in disgust.

“How do you dare to speak this word out loud in these sacred chambers?!” Clancouncillor Vitu had risen from his seat, thrusting out an accusing finger. Alfalan drew herself up and her gaze settled on Vitu. He now seemed no longer so sure of himself.

“I dare, because somebody has to. Too long the sufferings of the Koviat have been ignored. They are shunned, feared and for all the more rural Sulin-Avya know, they do not even exist. But they do! And if the Council has forgotten those, who fight their most vicious wars, hold off their most dangerous enemies, then I will call it back to their memory. Erhine Efeiti!” She called out in her polyvoice and Kalvolin immediately shimmered into existence behind her. Frightened the Clancouncillors on the lower ranks tried to get away from him. Iljana, Erralek and Kun did the same. Nolukai and Alfalan stayed calmly where they were. Even Alfalan’s interpreter did, even though she had pearls of sweat on her brow and the fear was clearly visible in her eyes.

“How dare you! How can you even think of bringing this...this...” Sputtered Vitu.

“This what? Speak your mind, Councillor Vitu. He is the one thing that stands between you and death by the hands of the Haminides.

Not many years ago, my thoughts of the Koviat were the same as the Councils. I thought of them as convenient weapons. Then, Kalvolin Tar was given under my command.
Since then I have learned. Learned that the host lives in constant torment of the actions of his Black Soul. Has to struggle every night with nightmares, sent out from the Black Soul, to weaken the host. Make it easier for it to take over control.

Kalvolin’s life has been one big struggle and what do we give him in return for his valiant struggle? Disgust! Fear! Never has any of you spared a thought to how a Koviat feels after he comes back from a battlefield. After his Black Soul has been let loose upon an army. You could never in a thousand years imagine the guilt, the self-remorse, he feels every time he comes back to me. He is broken. Not by his deeds, not even by the Black Soul, but by his own people, who see him merely as a tool! As a means to an end!” Alfalan’s anger had risen with every sentence and the menace in her words was clear.

“But now, with the Enterprise within our territory, we have the chance to finally give the Koviat what they deserve and desire. Freedom.”

“Impossible! Nobody can free a Koviat from its Black Soul. This could only be possible if...No! You didn’t! You didn’t let them examine him, did you?!” It was Mijhavi who had spoken. Proud, with her head held high Alfalan nodded.

“Yes, I did. Their Master of Healers assured me that with a little further research, they would be able to remove the Black Soul for good and with it, remove the stain of guilt and shame, that has been upon us for generations. At last we can right what is wrong.” At that, she smiled brightly. The chamber went deadly silent. Kun raised his hands in front of his face and took a step forward. Mijhavi nodded to him and gave him the word.

“Be assured that no one wants to get rid of the Koviat as much as I, but we have to consider the security of the Protectorate. If we no longer have the Koviat, races such as the Haminides would gladly crush us.”

“Koviat are for nearly all races more a myth and a legend than reality. You know what happens, if they are let loose upon a world, Shipmaster. You know the outcome!” Alfalan shot back heatedly. Kun nodded and had to swallow, as he recalled the images of those worlds.

“Total annihilation.” He whispered. Alfalan only nodded.

“No one to tell. Only rumours. Normal Anuat could do that too.” She stared at Kun. “But that would not be an option for the high and mighty Anuat. They wouldn’t want to soil themselves with the cruelty that is known from a Koviat attack. The only reason why you don’t want to let Kalvolin and the others go, is because you fear that it will fall to you and other Anuat in the future to reek such havoc. When you have done it for 480 years, tell me how you feel and you will approximately feel, what Kalvolin is feeling!” Her voice was laden with venom and dripping with sarcasm.

This was enough for Kun. His patience was thin, his anger always burning closely below.

“Well, as far as I know, you do take good care of him!” He shot back. This obviously surprised Alfalan.

“What are you talking about?” She had been so into her speech, that she no longer analysed what kind of impressions she was getting. On top of it all, it was harder to concentrate, now that she was in the capital. There were much more voices than aboard the Ki’Tul and she had grown accustomed to this limited amount. Before Kun could speak, she knew. He had seen them.

“Warmistress Alfalan has violated more laws than I can count, by only one action.” Kun said and watched how she ripped her eyes open in realisation. He approached a small desk near to them and slid a small data chip into a slot. With a flick of his hand, he activated the holo emitter and in front of the whole Council, Jatiel Alfalan Relor Nar was kissing Kalvolin Tar.

After the recording was finished, an unbelieving silence had entered the room. The gazes of the Council went from Alfalan, to Kalvolin and then to Kun, who had a smug grin plastered all over his face. Then, Nolukai moved. He moved so fast, that even Iljana and Kun couldn’t see how he did it.

“Nolukai! No!” Alfalan screamed, but he would not be stopped. Before Kun knew what was happening, Nolukai was already there, punching the Shipmaster up for good, with moves learned a long time ago from his grandfather. And Kun was so surprised that his defence was non-existent. Iljana jumped forward to draw them apart. So did the palace guards. From all sides of the round room, they came charging forward.

With difficulty they were able to draw Nolukai away from the battered Kun. With a roar of indignation and fury Kun launched himself at Nolukai, who was eagerly awaiting his opponent. His movements were impaired though, by the guard holding him. The guard lunging for Kun was too slow and he buried his six handclaws deep into Nolukai’s belly.

“NOOO!” The scream came from both Alfalan, Erralek and Iljana. Kun heard none of them. He leaned to Nolukai’s ear.

“I tipped them in poison, just for you!” He whispered viciously, while growling low in his throat and ripping his claws out again, leaving a ghastly wound, because of his barbed claws. Then, something gripped him and the grip was horribly familiar. Kalvolin hurtled him through the whole chamber. With a deafening bang, he slammed into the marble wall and left cracks in it, when he slid to the ground, barely conscious. He managed to open his eyes and by shaking his head, clear his vision. What he saw was not really engendering any hope. Kalvolin was advancing on him, with deadly intent and Alfalan’s eyes just assured him even more of it. Death was in her eyes and he wouldn’t call Kalvolin back. She was probably urging him on.

That was, when Mijhavi made his move. With some quick telepathic commands to the palace guard, he hoped to get the situation under control again. Two guards advanced on Alfalan, who only concentrated on Kun and Kalvolin, urging her Efeiti on. One of them grabbed her arms, the other brought a headband into position on her brow. She struggled to free herself, but to no avail. In comparison to the palace guards, she was merely a mouse, trying to fight off an elephant.
<Efeiti!> She cried out to Kalvolin. Then everything went black and all the voices were gone. She had felt this before, but never had it engendered fear in her. Never, until now. She heard a deafening roar and knew that Kalvolin was coming for her. Shouts and the clatter of armed men. Then, shots. After that...nothing. Full of panic and fear Alfalan tried to get free from the guard.

“Efeiti! Talk to me! Kalvolin!” She screamed in anguish. She felt the soft hand of her interpreter on her arm.

“He is not dead, Mistress. They immobilised him and are now putting restraint cuffs on him.” Alfalan let her head hang and sobbed in despair. They were going to execute him. She didn’t need her telepathic abilities to know that.

Anger rose in her, when she imagined Kun’s smile and his thoughts of having been able to get rid of two people, who had been an annoyance to him, but who Alfalan loved dearly. No! Maybe she couldn’t save Kalvolin, but she knew who could save Nolukai. And she knew who was going to help her.

“Iljana! Iljana, there is still hope for Nolukai! Bring him to Beverly. She will be able to help him!” Iljana had knelt at Nolukai’s side and had not seen anything else than his shivering, bloodied form. Alfalan’s voice was the first that broke through to her.

“What?” She whispered.

“He can live! Bring him to Beverly! Tell the Ki’Tul to lower their shields! She will be able to help him before the time is running out for him. Go! You have to go now!” Alfalan called, trying to make herself heard over Kalvolin’s roars and hisses. Iljana stared down at Nolukai, who opened his eyes and looked deeply into Iljana’s.

“You know.” He choked and blood ran over his lips. “You were the only Anuat in a commanding position I ever had respect for.” He managed to whisper, before his eyes began rolling in their sockets and his body shook with spasms. Abandoning regs and common sense, she picked Nolukai up and sped towards the gates.

“Open!” She screamed and roared. The guards outside did as she ordered them too and without a word of explanation she ran past them, knowing that Nolukai’s time was slipping away.


Chapter 61

The commanding officers of the USS Enterprise were enjoying the hospitality of the Sulin-Avya palace servants, chatting with them and being, according to them, as inquisitive as small children.
Deanna was the main focus of attention and many of the servants asked her reverently if she would allow them to touch her belly. Riker took in this scene lovingly from a distance.

“Is he your mate?” One of the younger servants asked. In Earth years she had to be around twenty. Deanna smiled a sad smile and caressed her stomach.

“He was. He is the father of my child.” The young woman seemed confused.

“What do you mean by was? Don’t you Federationists mate for life?”

“Yes, we do. But Will and I are not married. We didn’t give each other a vow of...bonding. He had a casual affair with other...women, when we were apart.” Now the young woman and her friends, who had drawn closer to hear Deanna’s story, seemed appalled by that.

“To his defence, he didn’t know that I was pregnant. I didn’t even know myself. And even though he betrayed me, this child was conceived in a moment of all consuming love and commitment to the other.” Deanna’s gaze reached into the past, back to the holographic waterfall.

“Will you allow him to see his child?” The Counsellor stared at the servant wide-eyed.

“Of course I will. I am sure that he will be a wonderful father. If I let him back into my life...that is not decided yet. He will be on probation for a long time.” At that the group of women erupted in laughter.
A wrinkly, old Sulin-Avya sat down next to them.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to listen in on your conversation, but I couldn’t help myself. It has become so seldom that someone gets blessed.” She smiled widely, making her face look like an actual topography map of a mountain area.

“Oh, please do not apologise. It is really no problem.” Deanna wanted to let the old woman feel at ease. The old servant sighed, closed her eyes and shook her head.

“You know, I somehow feel that this situation is familiar.” Deanna was clearly surprised by this.
“Oh yes! You are not the first woman in such a situation, even if you may think so. A long, long time ago, when I was a young woman, one of the palace guards was courting me. I didn’t know that he was courting every single female Sulin-Avya inside the palace. I thought that I was the only one and let me tell you, he could definitely make you feel as if you are the only woman for him on the planet. On the planet? In the whole universe!” She laughed at that.

“I invited him to my quarters. When I woke up the next morning, he had left. I was angry and felt used. That feeling didn’t last long though, when I discovered that I had been blessed. I wondered why the Spirits send him to bless me, but I made the best out of it.

He was on starship service for the next few years and when he came back, I had given birth to our son and raised him alone. He of course found out immediately after he came back and demanded to see him. I denied him. Hurt and angry he left as quickly as possible on the next starship mission available. There was an accident and he died.

Now, many years later, I regret what I did. If I had let him see his son, he would have stayed, of that I am sure. Even though he had just used me as some sort of entertainment, I still loved him. I do so even now and I am one of the few who visits his arch.

I told my son everything about his father. Who he was, what he did to me and how we had argued about him. He goes with me every time I visit him. My son enrolled for palace guard service and wants to be just like his father. Apart from the ladies-man-part of course.

My point is, child” She softly caressed Deanna’s cheek. “Even though he may have hurt you and you feel used and angry, you will never know what will happen tomorrow. Enjoy the time you have together. It can be over so quickly.” She drifted off and her eyes reached into the past, recalling the handsome face of the cocky, young palace guard, who had swept her off her feet. A tear ran down her cheek and coughs were rattling her frail, old body.

Quickly the other servants helped her to her feet and brought her to her room. Concerned Deanna followed her with her eyes. It was true. She never knew what would happen tomorrow. Will could go on an away mission and just not return. He would be gone. Just like that. The risk for that to happen was very high.

Her gaze was drawn to him. He didn’t see her thought-full stare. He was talking to an elder servant, who apparently was in charge of the music played at official events. Of course Will tried to interest him in Jazz. She had to smile at this. Some things would never change. Things like his love for Jazz, his caring for everyone around, the certain glint in his wonderful blue eyes...Her smile softened, when she had to think about these blue eyes.

Sometimes they would just sit on the sofa, she reading a PADD, cuddling on his lap and him, caressing her, while working himself. After a time, she would get tired and snake her hands under his shirt or sweater, enjoying the warmth of his presence. He would look down at her, lay down his PADD and they would just sit there, saying nothing, looking into each others eyes, communicating more with them than words could ever tell.

She was drawn back to reality, when she felt that something had changed. He was now looking at her with those same blue eyes, she loved so. Her smile widened and softened, while her hand came to a rest upon her belly. The way his eyes lighted up and his hopeful smile...Gods! She couldn’t be mad at him for eternity. She could feel his regret and his desperate wish to go back to how they had been.
It was a magical moment between them, both fearfully and insecure reaching out for the other over their bond.

Then, with a loud bang, the door was thrown open and a bloodied Iljana stormed in, holding a lifeless Nolukai in her arms.

Mijhavi took the situation in. The Koviat was contained, the cuffs holding him in place. They were specially designed for them. Each one of them was secured by two steel cords into the ground. There were five in all. One around each wrist and ankle and one around his neck. It put up a valiant fight though and as far as Mijhavi could tell, the Black Soul hadn’t taken over yet. Admirable, concerning the amount of stress the Koviat had been exposed to. No doubt Alfalan’s admirable training.

“Silence!” He roared. All immediately fell silent, except Kalvolin, who of course couldn’t understand him. “Alfalan, tell the Koviat to be silent!” He ordered her. She still struggled against the guard holding her.

“Tell him yourself!” She snapped. This time with her own voice. Her interpreter couldn’t be reached and her voice was no longer accompanied by her commanding thoughts. She could speak for herself. The other councillors looked shocked at him. None of them knew that he had been a guardian.

“Very well then. Kul amin tainoe, Efeiti!” His strong voice was clearly audible in the whole room. And Kalvolin...didn’t stop.

“Torr valunet hepjai nutif, bushita!” None of the councillors understood him, but the last word sent a storm of outrage through the room.

“How dare you!” Vitu cried out. Kalvolin lunged in his direction, but was drawn back by his restraints. Vitu nearly toppled over his chair in his attempt to get away. Mijhavi’s eyes were without mercy, when he looked to Alfalan, who had a proud smile on her face. She admired Kalvolin for his bravery. Nobody in the whole history of the Sulin-Avya had ever told the Council to kiss their asses and called the spokesman a bushita.

“You seem to be proud of your servant.” His voice was made out of steel. Her smile vanished. “Very well then. If he does not stop, then we will have to execute him, without him knowing his charges and being able to defend himself.” He indicated for the guards to come forward. Alfalan only heard the movement and the threat. Again she struggled to come free of the guards grasp. She knew it was a futile struggle, but she tried anyway.

“Kul tainoe. Kul tainoe, Kalvolin. Ajheju.” She pleaded. He stopped immediately and turned his head concerned in her direction. He wanted nothing more than to crush the guard who was holding her in such a firm grip that he could see it hurt her.
Mijhavi ignored them both. In fact, it concerned him that the Koviat seemed to be concerned for his guardian. In all his years as guardian, he had never had such a relationship with his charge. She had been volatile and often difficult to control. And she had made it clear to him more than once that she despised him.

“Good. Now that we have silence, we can present him with the charges.” A guard placed a small translating device in front of Kalvolin, carefully taking in every of the Koviat’s moves.

“Kalvolin Tar, Efeiti of Warmistress Alfalan, Master of Blades. You stand here, because there are numerous charges against you. Among them the greatest of physically assaulting your guardian.”

“He didn’t assault me! It was mutual! I began!” Alfalan cried out. She couldn’t believe the unfairness of this whole charade. Kalvolin stood in front of the Council, proud and without fear.

“Mistress. Please, do not diminish yourself in front of these cowards.” The councillors moved on their chairs and mumbling broke out between them.

“This ‘trial’ has already been decided and whatever I will say, will not change the punishment. But I will not beg for mercy! I will not stand here and say that I am innocent of the charges you bring up against me, because most of them are valid. But if you want to put me up for trial, then let me first introduce myself, for who I really am!” A crown of claws sprang out of his head, catching the sunlight.

“I am Kalvolin Tar, Master of Blades, humble servant of Warmistress Alfalan and Clanfather of the Koviat!” He roared. The Council was on its feet now, screaming to each other and fear clearly shining in their eyes. The Koviat had a Clanfather, which meant that they somehow were organised. None of them had known about that and by judging Alfalan’s facial expression, she didn’t know about that either. This concerned the most, because it was nearly impossible to keep something hidden from the most powerful Laniat ever born.


Chapter 62

Disoriented Iljana stumbled, when the transporter beam released her right into Sickbay. Tightly she held onto the limp form of Nolukai.

“Quickly, put him on this slab?” Beverly indicated to a high operating table.

Iljana didn’t care that the human commandeered her. What was most important now was that Alfalan was convinced that this Doctor Beverly Crusher could somehow save Nolukai. Bustling activity broke out all around her, as nurses scurried by and Crusher was uttering commands to her staff.
She heard none of it. Her attention was totally fixed on Nolukai. He didn’t even breathe anymore! The cause was lost. He was dead. Sadness filled her soul. Never had she met a man, who had challenged her as Nolukai had. She had always said to him that he was irritating, but that wasn’t the truth. She actually enjoyed sparring with him verbally. Now, she would never be able to do it again. A tear ran down her cheek. Never would she be able to tell him...

“Iljana! I need your help. Kun must have more of this stuff. I need to know what poison he used. Find it!” Beverly’s voice ripped her away from her contemplation. Not understanding she looked to the Federation healer.

“Of what use would that be? He is dead.” Her voice was filled with sadness. Beverly didn’t even look at her, while she worked on some instruments and answered her.

“Not yet. Believe me, I don’t take kindly to patients dying in my Sickbay. Now Alyssa!” She ordered and a jolt went through Nolukai’s body and...he actually began to breathe!

“How...?!” Iljana ripped her eyes open in wonder. Beverly gripped her at her uniform and drew her down to her own level.

“Get going! This will not hold long and I have to know with what Kun poisoned him!” Immediately Iljana turned around and ran from Sickbay. Her heart now full of rage for Kun, who had dared to attack Nolukai. If Alfalan and the Koviat hadn’t killed him yet, she would most certainly do it!

With difficulty Mijahvi was able to restore order within the Council chamber. He waited a few moments before he spoke, making sure that everyone was silent.

“Of what do you speak? The Koviat have no Clanfather. Your Clanfather sits right here.” And he pointed to the elder man, sitting in the high chair. Kalvolin actually smirked.

“Oh, yes. He is your Clanfather, but not ours.”

“How dare you to even utter such blasphemy!” Mijahvi was outraged.

“If he is the Clanfather of all Sulin-Avya, then he shall order my brethren to come forth. None of the guardians are allowed to assist him. If he truly is the Clanfather of all, then they will come at his command.” Confident Kalvolin crossed his arms in front of his chest.
Again the councillors mumbled among each other. Alfalan smiled and was immensely proud of Kalvolin. She had never thought him capable of such a speech. Not that he thought him to be stupid, but as a Koviat a normal school education had never been an option for him. She had never anticipated him to have such finely developed verbal skills.
The Clanfather rose, full of confidence himself. He silenced the councillors with a gesture.

“If you insist, I will order the Koviat to reveal themselves. All true Sulin-Avya will obey my command.” He tapped the armrest of his chair.

“Erhine Koviat!” He ordered with a voice filled with authority. Nothing happened. The two guardians present stared astounded to the places where they knew their charges stood.

“Erhine Koviat!” The Clanfather now screamed. Again, nothing happened. Kalvolin’s smirk turned into a smile.

“As you can see, Motiel, they do not obey you.”

“How can you dare to address the Clanfather with his name?” Mijhavi demanded. Fear was clearly shining in his eyes. His confident demeanour only a pretence.

“I address him by his name, because we are equals. And I will prove it to you. Come forth, brothers and sisters!” He roared and the two Koviat immediately shimmered into existence. Mijhavi, as all the other Sulin-Avya present, paled visibly. He got word from every guardian on the homeworld that their Koviat had disengaged their cloaking device, without their order. And he paled even more, when he got word from ships throughout the entire Protectorate. How had Kalvolin been able to do that?

“If I interpret your facial expression correctly, Mijhavi, I would think that you just received word from every guardian that my brethren have disengaged their cloaking devices.” Mijhavi only nodded. He didn’t trust his voice. Kalvolin’s smile was full of disdain and disgust.

“Now that you know of us and of our power, you will of course never let such a threat remain. You will find every Koviat and kill them. And for what? For wanting freedom.” He laughed a short barking laugh.

“But do not worry. We will take this work off your hands. We do not want to die at the hands of cowards.” All his underarm claws sprang out, his chest armour folded itself back and he buried them deep in his body.
Alfalan could hear the horrible scratching of claw against bone. The chamber was dead silent, the only noise was Kalvolin’s blood dripping to the floor. All their attention was so riveted on Kalvolin, that they didn’t see, that the other two Koviat present had done the same to themselves as he had. Alfalan’s struggle against her guard was renewed.

“NO! No, Kalvolin! You can’t leave me! I need you!” She wailed. But all her pleadings were unheard. Her blind eyes turned to the high chair.

“Father! I beg you! Stop this insanity!” The stares of the councillors moved from the dying Koviat to the Clanfather, who seemed to be indecisive.

“It is out of my hands, Jatiel.” He sighed and shook his head. Unbelieving a young man sitting just behind the Clanfather’s chair rose.

“Father?” He seemed to be totally thunderstruck.

“Clanfather...Is the Warmistress...?” Vitu asked astounded. The Clanfather let himself fall down upon his chair, pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

“Yes, she is. She is my first child.” Some of the councillors were relieved, others cursed under their breath. They had wasted their time courting Alfalan’s younger brother, thinking that he would be Clanfather when his father would be too old. But now...all their efforts were lost and Alfalan was known for her integrity. There had been some, who had attempted to bribe her or talk her into things. It had never been any good. She knew of the individuals’ plans, even before they asked their first question. Having her as Clanmother would mean a lot of risk for some of them. For others it was the promise of a new golden age.
A pained roar led their attention back to Kalvolin. He seemed to loose the struggle with his Black Soul.

“Freedom or Death!” He roared and his claws actually altered their shape, acquiring hooks, latching onto his ribs. Even if the Black Soul would be able to get control over his body, it would not be able to withdraw the claws without killing the host in the process. But it would not give up like that.
And in front of the unbelieving eyes of the Clancouncil a battle of wills began for an entire race.

Iljana ran through the corridors of the Ki’Tul, not heeding the stares her officers gave her. All of them wondered what had got into their normally fully composed and calm commanding officer. Some tried to stop her and ask her concerned what was wrong, but they were just shoved brutally out of the way. Some began following her, assuming there was an emergency and she could not stop to explain. After a few minutes, a whole garrison was following her to give her back-up. She screeched to a halt in front of Kun’s quarters, the other Anuat nearly toppling over each other because of her sudden stop. She punched in a code into the door plate, but nothing happened. She roared in fury and hit the panel so hard, that it exploded in an arc of sparks. The other Anuat were looking puzzled at each other. At last one of them had gathered enough courage to speak.

“Why do you try to enter Shipmaster Kun’s quarters, Mistress. He is on the surface. We could just raise him and ask him to open the door for us.” Iljana’s gaze was ice and seemed able to drop the temperature in the corridor.

“When Kun gets his sorry ass up here, Nolukai will be dead!” She hissed.

“Nolukai?!” Some of them gasped.

“Yes! Now clear the area!” She ordered, took several steps back and then ran with full force against the door. She felt her shoulder break, but it didn’t register with her at all. She took some steps back again and just wanted to repeat it, when a large hand held her back. She saw up into Zume’s eyes. He was so tall, he could have easily entered palace duty, but his wife was a science officer aboard the Ki’Tul and he had given up the prestigious palace guard position to be with his wife. Nolukai had delivered their child.

“Please, let me, Mistress.” His voice was astoundingly soft for one so huge. That was another oddity about this man. He only spoke rarely. Some even had begun to think he was mute.
Iljana only nodded and let him take her position. He tensed all his muscles and with an ear-splitting roar charged forward. With a screech the metal of the door gave way and he tumbled into Kun’s quarters. Immediately Iljana jumped over his fallen form and began to search the quarters. Zume rose again and the others were staring in through the door, not daring to enter their superiors quarters.

“What are you looking for, Mistress?” This was the most she had ever heard him speak.

“Poison. You take over here, I will take care of his bedroom and private study.” Zume only nodded and got to work.


Chapter 63

Kalvolin gave up his struggle against his Black Soul. It was no longer necessary. Either he would be gaining his freedom or he would die. Both were equally fine with him. If he died, it would die with him. If Doctor Crusher’s vaccine held what it promised and about that, he had no doubt. He had seen their facilities. Had seen how efficiently they worked and how knowledgeable she was. He doubted the vaccine not for a minute. What he doubted was his ability to kill it, as soon as it left his body. It would leave him, of that he was sure. It would do everything to survive.
Not only the Black Soul could tap into memory. He could do also and he had found out that it was millennia old. It had been one of the first to gain consciousness and had grown over the years, taking new abilities with it from every host it had possessed through time.
But all that would do it no good now. It could not escape its demise by breaking up into spores, an ability it had relied upon for centuries.

“Such a foolish attempt! Now you have doomed them all. I can infect all of them!” It roared with his voice and all the councillors quickly covered their mouths, afraid of the spores they knew the Black Soul would break up into. Mijhavi nodded to the palace guards and they came forward with heavy blasters, to vaporise Kalvolin.

“No! Don’t! The Black Soul will not be able to break up into spores! The Federation Master Healer has given Kalvolin a vaccine. Every other Koviat has got the same. It will die with him!” Alfalan screamed. Mijhavi halted the guards.

“Why should we trust you?” He snarled. This entire meeting had got totally out of hand and it was his duty to restore order.

“Have I ever lied to this High Council? Trust my words. I believe in the vaccine of Beverly Crusher! She, and all the other Fedeartionists were absolutely sure it would work.” Mijhavi raised his eyebrow and he made no further move. The guards stood down. Vitu gawked at him unbelieving.

“You believe her! You believe a traitor?!” He demanded. Mijhavi’s burning glare was upon him now.

“Choose your words carefully, when you address the Kivai, Vitu! For these words, you would any other time be branded a traitor and dishonoured!” The young man next to the Clanfather took a step forward. Vitu had done everything in his power, to be favoured by him.

“I am the Kivai, Mijhavi! It is my birthright!”

“Shut up, Potiel! You are not the Kivai. Your sister is. It is her destiny. I kept her hidden from all, so that she would be able to grow up into a Sulin-Avya of honour and integrity. I hoped you would be strong enough to resist the temptations offered to you by some of the councillors, but you have proven yourself unworthy of the position of Kivai. You could have been, if you had proven yourself. You have not and the decision to make Jatiel my successor stands for a hundred years already. So sit down and shut up!” Motiel’s eyes were aflame with anger and disappointment. He had hoped his son would be strong enough to withstand temptation, but he had easily fallen for it. It concerned Motiel that his own flesh and blood would be so easily corrupted.

Shortly after Alfalan’s birth, Motiel and his wife, Jari, had given her to friends, who vowed to raise her, never letting anyone know, whose daughter she really was. To all the world, Ritiel was dead. The whole Protectorate had mourned for her, but Alfalan had been alive. Already before she could speak, she knew the people taking care of her, were not her parents. They never told her who her real parents were, but they didn’t have to and when they joined passed away, they had wanted to tell her, but she rested them assured that she knew and bore no grudge. They had passed away in peace.

“What is this!” A roar shook the chamber and everybody’s attention was redirected to the struggle going on right before them. Kalvolin’s head was twisting back and forth, while his arm muscles bulged and tried to remove the claws impaling his body. They didn’t budge. His whole chest was drawn forward in the movement.

“What have you done to me!” The Black Soul roared full of fury. Kalvolin was able to get control over his tongue.

“I did nothing to you. Your own arrogance will be your downfall. You remember the examination we underwent in the Federation ship? The redhead woman found a way to prevent you from breaking into spores and now there is nothing you can do against it!” He managed to pant out, his voice filled with grim satisfaction.

“So you want to be rid of me? Do you know what that means? You will be frail, mortal! Your strength comes from me. You need me! Only through me will you be able to reach immortality!”

“I will become immortal by killing you! Killing all of you! My brethren are doing all the same as I. None of you will survive! We will be free!”

“You fool! What would you be without us? They have no use for you. Do you honestly think they will let you and the others into their exclusive circle? Don’t tell me you are that stupid!” Kalvolin managed to get his head up and took a look around the Council chamber. Some of them seemed to be scared, others seemed only to wait for him to die. Most of them wore an expression of disgust. His eyes came to a rest upon Alfalan. His Mistress. She believed in him. She saw him for what he was. With her help, he would be able to convince the other Sulin-Avya that the Koviat were nothing to be feared after this day. He smiled and a tear ran down his cheek.

“You can’t discourage me! I will fight you and if it takes my life in the process, it will take yours too.”

“Love, such a pointless emotion. Do you really think she loves you? She pities you!”

“No. She would never diminish me, by giving me love out of pity.” He declared silently full of conviction. His eyes were still locked on her beautiful face and her unseeing eyes. Tears were running freely down her cheeks.

“Emsjeti.” She whispered. This one word gave him new resolve. It was a word only used between true mates. Mates for life, for eternity.

“Do your worst.” He whispered, never taking his eyes off his beloved.

Kun’s quarters were a mess, having fallen victim to Iljana’s anger and thorough search. She had ripped everything apart in her hurried search for the poison. Nothing! She had found nothing. With a frustrated roar she sent a cupboard flying against the next wall.

“Where has this bastard hidden it?!” She screamed, dread squeezing her heart. Healer Beverly had said that the machine would only be able to keep him alive for a small amount of time and she felt as if she had been searching Kun’s quarters for an eternity. Zume had joined her in Kun’s private study and was now tapping the walls with his knuckles.

“What are you doing?” She hissed in annoyance. He kept going.

“Secret compartments.” He simply said.
Of course! Why hadn’t she thought about that? She had one herself! But where would Kun have one?

“Poison....poison....poison...” She mumbled to herself, going back and forth. Where would she keep poison? What would the most logical place be? She clutched her head with her hands.

“Think Iljana! For once in your life think before you act!” She pressed out between gritted teeth. And then...she knew where it was. With long strides she entered his bathroom and punched right through the mirror over the sink. She would always keep poison near to a neutraliser, like water. With fury she pulled down the last remaining shards and poked her head into the hole in the wall. A whole array of vials were standing in front of her, neatly in a row. A row of death. She knew every single one of them and knew them all to be deadly. All of them very potent, all of them assuring the poisoned a very painful death. The last remnants of respect she had for Kun were evaporating.
She grabbed a towel and poured all vials into it. Zume was standing in the doorway, awaiting orders.

“Contact Command. Tell them that we found sixteen outlawed substances in Shipmaster Kun’s quarters and that he has used at least one of them on a Master of Healers. Lock the quarters and position guards in front of it. Nobody is allowed to enter. Nobody! Not even Kun himself.” Zume only nodded and turned around, to take care of locking down the quarters. Iljana ran down the corridor, clutching the towel with the vials tightly to her chest. When she was clear of her officers, she drew out the small device Riker had given her.

“Beam me back to your Sickbay!” She commanded harshly. Immediately the curious tingling sensation enveloped her and the next second she stood within their crowded Sickbay.
A nurse approached her. Anxious Iljana tried to interpret her expression, but it was kept perfectly neutral.

“Do you have it?” The small, Asian woman asked. Iljana opened the towel and showed her the vials.

“It has to be one of these. I don’t know which one. They all work in a similar way.” The nurse nodded and took the towel from her.

“Harper, Andros, V’Tek! Four for each of you. We need to find the right one and fast!” She called to a woman and two men near her. The four of them immediately sat down to work.
Iljana stood there, in the middle of the room, feeling utterly useless. A hand gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. Surprised she jumped and turned around. Riker smiled sympathetically at her. She smiled weakly in return.

“I should have known it was you. Nobody else can sneak up on me.” She tried to see Nolukai through the throng of people gathered around him.

“Don’t worry about him. He is in the best hands this side of the wormhole. Beverly will not let him die and if she was to follow him into hell and drag him back.” Iljana sighed and she felt her eyes burning. Her shoulders began to tremble. All this happened without her knowing or caring. Her body had been going on emotional overload and now she was here. Unable to do anything. She hated helplessness. She was an Anuat. She was supposed to be lying there, fighting for her life, not Nolukai.
Riker saw the signs and turned around, to see Deanna sitting not far away. She looked up and he caught her gaze.

“Deanna. She needs your help.” He softly said, while laying an arm around Iljana. The Troopmistress didn’t even acknowledge that. Quickly Deanna stood and moved over to them. Softly and soothingly she began to speak to Iljana, while Will led her to a chair. For the first time in her life, Iljana’s control vanished and she began crying in heaving, spasmodic sobs.


Chapter 64

Pain throbbed all around him. The world was a red haze and he only wanted to give in to the urge of pulling his claws back and give up. But he denied himself, fought his own urges and those of the Black Soul. It took all the strength he had. He could feel everything in him aching, contracting, trying to exit his his...body!

This was the moment! It was trying to leave. He clamped his mouth tightly shut.
<What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want to be a martyr?>

<Brave words, you idiot! Don’t you believe I have thought of you trying to keep me inside? You may have felt me retracting from some of your systems, but as you can hear, I am still part of your brain!>

With a strangled gasp Kalvolin opened his mouth wide, he screamed out loud, but then, something was choking him and his throat began to bulge outward. It was fleeing...

Kun felt elated. He had proven his loyalty to the Council, showed them how Alfalan had stepped over the line and he knew what he would offer her. If she would marry him, he would speak on her behalf to the Council. She would not be dishonoured and he would, in time, become Clanfather! He had thought her to be a daughter of a rich and influential family of merchants, but this even exceeded his wildest dreams.
The best of it all was though, this freak was just in the process of killing himself and all others of his kind with him. The Council would thank Kun that he had revealed their being secretly organised to them and he would receive many rewards!

Yes, his future looked bright and shining. He already began imagining himself on the Clanfather seat, redecorating the room in his mind. He would not need the Council, only a few selected advisors. His own wisdom would be enough to keep the Protectorate safe and let it prosper.

That was...if Alfalan would let him rule. She was by birthright the leader, all these decisions were hers to make. Even if she should be dishonoured, the right would still be hers and he knew that she would never allow him to aspire to power. She would marry him, if it was necessary to restore her honour, but he would be a Clanfather without any power. Frustrated he hit the table next to him. There had to be a way! It was all within his grasp!

His eyes turned to the struggle taking place right in front of them. It seemed as if the Black Soul still was struggling for control, but not as viciously as before. Kalvolin’s movements seemed to become a bit sluggish too. A leering smile broke out on his face. Soon. Soon it would be over and they would all be dead! Well, maybe not all of them. He doubted that all of them could endure the pain as long as Kalvolin had. They had surely given up at some point.

He would somehow blackmail Alfalan into giving him the power and then he would rebreed some Koviat, so that his warriors hadn’t to take over their job. He had to do it secretly of course, but Anuat would never be able to commit such abhorrities as the Koviat. And he would never put his warriors in a situation where they had to act this way. Never.

Suddenly, the freak lifted it’s head straight up and began to scream in agony. Kun’s face contorted into a mask of disgust. What warrior with self-respect would do that? Then, it’s scream stopped and as it’s throat bulged outward, black tendrils snaking out of it’s mouth! Horrified, but oddly fascinated, everyone in the room looked on, not moving.

Iljana sat stupefied on one of the chairs outside of the operating room, in which Beverly Crusher struggled for Nolukai’s life. Her tears had dried and she felt utterly exhausted, as if she had been on a four-months survival trek. Her anger had evaporated. She felt nothing...empty. With her tears, her strength had ebbed away. She had heard how their Mindhealer tried to make her feel better and Riker’s assurances, but it all did not register with her.

If she only had moved faster, had anticipated Kun’s move! Right now, she felt more and more guilt for not preventing all this. She knew Kun. She should have known he would have struck back, the Spirits damn it!

She had to smile at the memory of Nolukai beating the totally flustered Kun. The Shipmaster had been totally surprised. An unforgivable slip, but then...she had never thought Nolukai able of such agressiveness. She had never known that someone had taught him the Darihanjuan.

‘His grandfather was an Anuat. It should be no wonder.’ She shook her head. Why was it taking so long?! She sighed.

Why was she even bothering? Nolukai had probably died some time ago, but they didn’t want to shake her even more.

Suddenly, a steaming cup was right under her nose. It was pretty small by her standards, but seemed to be the largest what they had, judging from the hand in relation to it. She looked up and straight into deep, dark eyes. This eye colour concerned her a bit, because it reminded her of a loose Koviat. She knew though also, that the Counsellor was as far away from being a Koviat on the loose, as anyone could be.

“I thought you could need something to drink.” Deanna said and sat next to the Troopmistress, in her hand a cup for herself, much smaller than the one in Iljana’s hands. The Sulin-Avya sniffed at it’s contents.

“What is that?” Iljana asked.

“It is called hot chocolate. Cheers me up whenever I feel bad.” With a smile Deanna took a swig. Iljana stared doubtfully into her own cup and tentatively sipped. Interested she rolled it around her mouth.

“Very sweet.” She concluded. “Do you think so much sugar is good for the baby?” Deanna had to laugh at that.

“I don’t know, but up until now, Beverly hasn’t forbidden me to drink it.” At the mention of the Doctor, Iljana’s gaze was again drawn to the closed door. She felt Deanna’s hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Troopmistress. Beverly will do everything she can and probably more than that. If she has not come out that door yet, it means that she is still trying and not giving up.” Iljana nodded. Their Healer did not give up, but she had. She snorted. Now these Federation people even taught her a lesson about endurance.

“Where is this Federation?” Iljana suddenly asked after a longer pause of silence. Deanna swirled her chocolate.

“Well, I can’t tell you in exact light years, for that you will have to ask Data and since we do not really know where we are right now, I would have to guess. But before I do that, I would think it better to give you a sense of direction.

Do you know of a stable wormhole? Right behind it, the Federation begins.”

“You certainly are a long way from home right now.” Iljana chuckled and sipped some more of the curious beverage.

“Really? Since you took us into your shuttlebay, our sensors have been unable to pinpoint our location.”

“According to Erralek, with your spacedrive, it would take you about five months to get back where you came from.” At this, Deanna was stunned.

“Five months? But...the Ki’Tul...”

“Is much faster than your ship, yes. Does that really seem so improbable to you?”

“Well...yes...I mean...I know size doesn’t matter much in space, but...” The Counsellor was absolutely fazed. Five months! When they were back in Federation space, she would be nearly into her eighth month of pregnancy! “Gods!” She whispered and her hand went to her slightly expanded stomach. Iljana watched her reaction.

“Will you not be able to give birth to your child at home?” The question pulled Troi out of her musings. She smiled.

“Oh, don’t worry. This ship is my home, but...five months! It will only be another month before I give birth to my baby!” She shined now with happiness. Iljana seemed not happy at all. Puzzled Deanna observed her reaction. It was very unlike her species. Anything concerning a baby was normally considered a wonder, something to be celebrated and revered and enjoyed.

“I hope you will be happy.” Iljana whispered. Deanna set her cup on the chair next to her.

“What is it Iljana?” Softly she laid her hand on the armoured shoulder of the Troopmistress.

“I...I have never been blessed. And I supposedly never will be.” The Sulin-Avya confessed silently. A wave of compassion overcame Deanna.

“Why not?” Iljana felt her eyes burning again, but she forced the tears back.

“A blessing is only conceived between mates for life. I thought I would never find a man, who would fit me, would be able to put up with my moods. Now I know that he always has been right in front of my teeth.” Deanna creased her brow at this odd way of putting it. She knew of the Human expression of something being right in front of ones nose, but teeth? Never heard of.

“Nolukai was the first man I ever met, who was not trying to either control me or was fearing me and my abilities. He was unique, what I had been looking for and I never saw it or allowed myself even to think about it. Now it is too late.”

Deanna couldn’t believe what the Troopmistress told her. The large woman had just confessed her love to Nolukai, where should there be a problem? Iljana would never lie to Nolukai. Lying was just not part of Iljana’s personality.

“But...why should it be too late? It is never too late, Iljana! Maybe Nolukai feels the same way you do!” The sadness in Iljana’s deep, green eyes was nearly tangible.

“It is too late. He attacked a superior officer, with moves he shouldn’t even know. I got word from Central Command that Kun was allowed to have these poisons. He had a special allowance. He was supposed to use them on the Koviat, should he ever get out of control and Alfalan too weak to reign him in. This means, he was only doing his duty, by tipping his claws in poison. He will be reprimanded on using it on Nolukai, but Nolukai is not especially popular at Command. If he lives, he will only live long enough for his trial and, if he is lucky, execution, or if he is unlucky, dishonouration. Either way, he will be a dead man.” Finally Deanna saw, what Iljana had meant. And that the Troopmistress was between a rock and a hard place. As a loyal Sulin-Avya Anuat, she had probably got the order, to take Nolukai into custody. The man she loved.


Chapter 65

A sweat broke out on Kun’s brow. Rather unusual for him, actually, because it normally needed more than the sight of something, to make him sweat. But this was beyond anything he had ever experienced. The slippery, black...something! slithered towards him, seemingly tasting the air with its long tendrils. And he heard a whisper. Faint, but his ears were very sensitive and he could understand the strange voice clearly.

“i know you seek power. i can give it to you. let me in, make me part of you. with my help you will be able to rule all of them, even her.” He had not to ask to which her it was referring, because it obviously knew of his thoughts about Alfalan. Probably from Kalvolin. This disturbed him a bit. How had the Koviat found out about his ambitions and intentions toward Alfalan?

In any event, it didn’t matter. He knew. But that wouldn’t be a problem for much longer, because Kun saw that Kalvolin was dying. But what if he didn’t? The Koviat was still stronger than him and his loyalty to Alfalan was fuelled by a very powerful emotion. Love. He would defend her with his life. Or, in the worst case, they could chose to commit suicide together. Their love would under all circumstances be denied.

“let me in! i can make you strong. With me you will be able to achieve your goal.” As it drew nearer, its voice was getting louder. It pulsated and there was a fast tapping noise against the floor. With disgust, Kun saw that it was its heart, which was becoming visible every time it stretched its body to crawl a few centimetres in his direction. Oddly though, he was totally hypnotised by this pulse.

A loud roar pulled him out of this stupefied condition and his attention was redirected to Kalvolin. And Kun couldn’t believe what he saw.

Beverly sighed and pulled the soaked headpiece of her surgery gown off. She was pleased with her staff and to be honest, with herself. She had never dealt with Sulin-Avya before and the first case ever in Federation history was a success. The door to the intensive care room swished shut and she was faced with four rather anxious people. She smiled brightly to alleviate their tension.

“Don’t worry. He is fine and will recover. He is asleep right now and I hope he will stay asleep for a while, until his body has had the chance to repair some of the damage.”

“Can I see him?” Iljana immediately asked.

“I am sorry, no. He needs peace and quiet now.” Disappointed the Anuat turned her head upwards and let out a low hiss. Beverly creased her brow at that and Iljana caught it out of the corner of her eye.

“Please, Healer Beverly. Take no offence, but this has all been very stressing for me and I am a bit on edge.” Crusher nodded.

“Understandable. Don’t worry, no offence taken.” Deanna hugged her friend.

“You are the best, Bev.”

“Well, thanks, but Data, Alyssa and the others had a large part in this too.” Riker rubbed her shoulder.

“Yeah, they had, but what would they be without you? The magical dancing doctor?” Her eyes lit with anger.

“Stop it right there, Riker, or I will circumcise your child if it is a boy!” He paled at that notion. Deanna quickly clamped her hand over her mouth, so as not to burst into loud laughter. His eyes were now on her.

“What’s so funny?” He asked and rearranged his trousers, as if to make sure that certain parts of his anatomy were still there and intact.

“Nothing.” She bit on her lip and was unsuccessful in suppressing a giggle. Picard put a hand on Will’s shoulder.

“It isn’t that bad, you know. It is actually very hygienic.” Riker’s shocked stare was now on his Captain.
“You are kidding me, right? You too, Captain? That must be Beverly’s bad influence.”

“Watch it, Mr. Cocky, I am right here.” Beverly warned him.

“But can’t any of you understand?? To have a knife that near to...and what if you slip?! My God, I don’t even want to begin thinking about it!” That did it for Deanna. She burst out laughing and held her stomach, because she was laughing so hard.

“I can’t see that this is funny!” He seemed to be really wounded. All of them were wearing smirks, while measuring Riker. Even Iljana. She laid her hand on his shoulder, as he had done about an hour ago.

“Well, you don’t have to worry about any slips of the knife, your line will continue with your child. But if Healer Beverly thinks it’s necessary to circumcise you or your child, I will be happy to be of assistance.” Her large claws snapped out right in front of his face and, cross-eyed, he stared at them.

“No. No thank you.” He backed away, unconsciously holding a hand protectively in front of his crotch. He bumped into a table, pointed to the door, smiled a forced smile and was away. Beverly and Deanna could no longer hold it back and had to hold onto each other, because they were laughing so hard. Picard smiled lopsidedly at Iljana.

“That was quite cruel, Troopmistress.” She shrugged.

“If he can’t stand to having his leg pulled...well, that is not my problem.”

Kalvolin had been able to withdraw his claws, without ripping any of his bones out in the process. He breathed deeply, closed his eyes and centred his mind; collecting all the remaining strength he had in his weakened body. With a loud roar he rose and began pulling against the restraints. None of them gave way.

Again and again he threw his full weight into the chains holding him.

And, with a Herculean effort, he was able to rip off the anchoring, the weakest link in the restraints. Immediately he turned to the nearest guard and ripped the large blaster out of his hand. The guard tried to get it back, but Kalvolin sent him flying through the Council chamber. With determination and a fierce snarl he turned to his archenemy. It had stopped its movement and seemed to be aware of the danger.

“DIE!” Kalvolin screamed and opened fire...and it actually began to screech in pain, as the first volleys hit. But Kalvolin felt no pity. He thought of all the people it had killed with his hands, with the hands of those infected before him. All the women, children and men, valiantly trying to defend themselves. His finger never left the trigger. Chips of the marble floor went flying, while he incinerated every last bit of it, even his own blood. More blaster fire was audible from the other end of the chamber, as the other two Koviat killed their Black Souls.

No one dared to speak and Kalvolin’s face was a mask of hatred and fury, baring his canines to their full extent and snarling from time to time. Then, the ammunition of the weapon was depleted and only the clicking of the trigger filled the chamber. The floor, where it had been, was glowing red and smoking. But for Kalvolin it wasn’t enough. He fell to his knees, his legs no longer able to support him and was banging the weapon onto the floor, where it had lain, twisting in its death throes.

“Die, die, die, die, die...” He whispered hoarsely over and over.

Alfalan was able to rip herself loose from the stupefied guard holding her and stumbled in the direction of Kalvolin’s voice. This deep, rumbling voice she loved so.

“Kalvolin?” She stretched her hands to feel her way around. She tripped over a large marble rock and feel to her knees. She ignored the pain and crawled on, finally feeling his leg.

She took the destroyed weapon from his weak hands and pressed his head to her shoulder.

“It is over. Shh, Kalvolin. It is over. You have won.” She whispered into his ear, trying to calm him. She could feel how he shook and she felt tears on her hands.

Crying he buried his face at her neck and held onto her, because he slowly, but surely, was loosing consciousness. She was not able to hold him in a sitting position and lowered him softly to the ground. His breathing was ragged and he had to hiccup from time to time.

“I am free, Mistress. I am free.” He whispered and his eyes grew distant. Tears were running down her face and she only nodded, while she caressed his brow.

“Yes. You are free.” Softly she kissed him.


Chapter 66

The crew of the Enterprise didn’t hear about Kalvolin’s success in freeing himself, until the Clanfather had ordered the guards to take off the blocking device off Alfalan. She had immediately contacted Deanna, who nearly stumbled to the floor, because of the intense emotions and the flood of thoughts coming at her.

When Deanna opened her eyes again, she found herself lying on the floor and Picard, Beverly and Iljana staring worried at her.

“What happened?” Beverly had already a tricorder out and was scanning her. Deanna waved it off.

“I am all right, Beverly. Alfalan took up contact with me and she was pretty excited.” Softly they helped her stand up and sit in a chair.

“What had her so upset?” Picard’s brow furrowed. He had talked extensively with Alfalan and come to know that she was very aware of how her telepathic abilities could affect others. Because of that, she was always very careful and never lost her discipline.

“Apparently Kalvolin was to be executed for kissing her.” Shocked Beverly and Picard looked at each other and then to Iljana. She seemed to be very uncomfortable under their gazes.

“Well...It is forbidden to even look at a Koviat without the permission of the Council. To let one of them touch you is commonly thought of as a death sentence for you.” She seemed not to know what to do with her hands and at last hid them behind her back.

“Anyway.” Deanna broke in and was again the focus of the Doctor’s and the Captain’s attention. Iljana was silently grateful for that.

“He revealed himself to be the Clanfather of the Koviat..”

“WHAT??!!” Iljana’s eyes were nearly popping out of their sockets.

“Exactly the reaction of the Council. But he proved it to them and then, he impaled himself.”

“WHAT??!!” This time it was Beverly.

“And while he seemed to die, the Black Soul took its only chance, since it couldn’t break into spores and left his body whole.”

“WHAT?!” Now it was all the three of them.

“I feel like I’m caught in some kind of time loop.” Deanna mumbled, while she tried to restore her hearing by rubbing her ear.

“Then, after it had left his body, it was searching for a new host. It seemed to be especially interested in Kun. But it never got the chance to infect him. Kalvolin was able to break the restraints put on him..”

“WHA...sorry.” Iljana quickly reigned herself in.

“He was able to break the restraints, got hold of the nearest weapon and blasted that thing to kingdom come. After all that, he collapsed.” The others were staring at her and when she didn’t continue after a time, Beverly urged her on with a nod. Deanna just shook her head.

“That’s all? What happened to him afterwards? Is he well?”

“I don’t know. Alfalan seemed to be in a hurry. If we want to know what is going on, we would have to get back to the surface.”

“Good idea. I have to go to Command and talk to them about Nolukai and what is supposed to happen with him now.” Iljana threw in.

“Well, you won’t get him out of my Sickbay before he has fully recuperated.”

“What is it with you Healers? He will be just fine. He doesn’t need to be in good shape, when he is taken into custody. Kun will probably ask for a Battle of Honour. Nolukai was able to surprise him once, but he will not be able to do that again and even though I was astonished at how well Nolukai handled himself, in a real battle, he would have not the shimmer of a chance against a trained Anuat as Kun.” Beverly stood right in front of the Troopmistress, barely reaching her shoulders.

“Nolukai does not leave that room, before he is in perfect health. This is a Federation ship and that means that this is Federation territory. Your authority does not work here!” Picard laid his hand on her shoulder and forced her to take a step back.

“Beverly, I think you are forgetting about the Prime Directive. If their government orders it, we will have to give them Nolukai. Regardless of his medical condition.” This obviously didn’t sit well with her, but she knew that Picard was right and she had no idea how to argue the most strict law of the Federation.

The fact that Kalvolin had not been brought to a high security cell astonished Alfalan a bit. She would have thought that they would want to put him away as safely as possible. He had been brought to lush guest quarters, laid on the large bed and all his belongings were brought here. Not that it was much. His armour, a few data PADDs and a small box. She wondered what was in there, but felt it not to be her right to open it, without Kalvolin’s admittance to do so.

With a soft smile she sat down on the bed next to him. Lightly she followed the lines of worry around his eyes with her fingers.

“I am so proud of you, Kalvolin. You are free now.” She caressed his chin and cheek, softly rubbing one of his claw openings. This drew a smile from him. She knew that such light touch at this sensitive area tickled. She wanted to see him smile. See him smile, without the fear in his eyes that it could be over any moment.

“Now you no longer need to worry.” She whispered so low that it was barely audible. She could feel it thumping right under her hand, closed her eyes and snuggled up to him, her ear right over his heart. She knew he had more than one, but this one seemed to be his main heart. Smiling to herself she let herself relax. To find the main heart just by laying ones hand on the chest of ones was rare. Very rare and it confirmed for Alfalan what she had believed all along.

“Emsjeti.” With him she felt secure. Safe. No one could make her feel as he did.

She knew of the plans concerning her that were made in the Council chamber. They were trying to shield themselves. A foolish attempt and they all should know better. But she did not care. She would not be part of their plan. In all of its cruelty and savageness, the Black Soul had been right on one thing. The Sulin-Avya would never accept the Koviat into the society. That would be no problem though, because others would take them gladly. The Federation would help them find a home and Alfalan would go with them. She would go with her beloved and finally be free herself.

Clanfather Motiel Hekt Barut Avit Nei left the Council chamber deeply troubled. The heated discussion still went on behind him, but he knew that Mijhavi would inform him of everything that was important enough that it required his attention. But he doubted that anything would come up that was more important than Shipmaster Kun’s proposal of restoring Alfalan’s honour by making her his wife.

Motiel swallowed and stopped beneath a huge mosaic. The fewest came here, but he came here often. The only link he had to Alfalan’s mother, whom he had loved dearly. They had been mates since their earliest days of adolescence. She had been perfect and every day he thanked the Spirits for her existence and that she had been a woman of a certain social standing. With longing he stared at her golden eyes, remembering the loving look they had always held for him. Tentatively he reached out with his hand, but when he touched the intricate mosaic, all he felt was the coolness of the wall. His heart sank at this feeling.

After the accident he only had wanted to die, but to all the world there had been no new leader and if Motiel would die without leaving a child behind, a war would break out for the power. And he couldn’t just reel Alfalan into it all. So, with heavy heart, he had remarried. Plunging headfirst into a relationship that gave him no satisfaction. No peace of mind. In fact, it had only brought pain. His son was a weakling and his daughter was in love with a Koviat.

“You should see your daughter. She is just as strong headed as you are.” He stared into her deep eyes and her smile. He could remember the exact day on which the painting had been made, which had been the blueprint for this mosaic. It had been his present to her. She had been away to her parents, giving birth to their daughter. He didn’t know it was a daughter until then. She had then boarded a shuttle, to come home. It had been a wonder that Alfalan had survived the crash. His personal guard had found her and on his wish hid her with a trusted family.

He remembered the night vividly, when the Master of Guards came to him, giving him the bloodied bracelet he had given her for their first anniversary. He sent everybody away from the Palace, sitting alone in front of the mosaic he had worked months on. Day and night together with the most skilled artists the Protectorate had. A lone candle sat next to him and the flickering light created the illusion of that magical sparkle that had been in her eye. No other light was lit in the whole Palace and he sat there, in front of her, clutching the bracelet and cried.

He knew what it meant to loose ones soul mate and he had sworn that night that he would never allow that to happen to any of his children.

And yet...that was exactly what he had to arrange for. He had to break his oath for the good of the people. He had to convince Alfalan to stay.


Chapter 67

Potiel was fuming. He was the Kivai! He had been it since he was born and now his father told him that he never had been! With long strides he traversed his rooms, hissing and throwing things to the floor out of anger.

“Maybe I should come back later.” Vitu’s voice announced from behind him. Potiel swivelled around and glared at the older man.

“Maybe you shouldn’t come back at all. I know you did all these favours to me for only one reason. To be my friend, when I would succeed my father, but that is not going to happen, as you have heard. She is the Kivai, so don’t waste your breath on me!” With a smash a finely carved crystal vase burst against the wall.

“Why do you think she would want to be the Kivai? Maybe she doesn’t even want the position and is leaving the privilege to you. The Koviat will under no circumstances be accepted into society, the risk is just too high, so she will most probably leave with her new friends. Which leaves the position of Kivai...” Slowly a feral and dangerous smile spread upon Potiel’s face.

Vitu smiled to himself. To influence this child in his favour was so easy. Vitu’s father had prepared him to be very subtle about it and cunning and he had been in the beginning, but the dumb boy hadn’t comprehended it. So, Vitu had taken another approach. And it had paid off. Potiel was as corrupt as a Sulin-Avya could be.

Now, that he had convinced Potiel that there still was a chance for this complete failure of a Kivai, he had secured both his fronts.

Shortly before he had made his way to Potiel’s private quarters, he had spoken to Shipmaster Kun, who had ‘selflessly’ offered to restore Alfalan’s honour by marrying her. He knew, as well as Kun, that it would be a problem if she stayed and was in power, so they had discussed how to wrench the power out of her hands.

Whoever came out of this as the winner, Vitu had covered all his bases. He would end out on top, regardless of what happened. Together with Potiel he started to laugh, but for other reasons.

Alfalan lay next to him, having snuggled up to him and feeling relaxed for the first time, not being under a special forcefield, protecting her from the thoughts of others. This was how her father found her and he had to sigh again at the task lying ahead of him.

<Jatiel, my dear, come with me please.> She saw up and softly caressed Kalvolin’s face.

<That is what I need to discuss with you.> She didn’t move. “Please, Jatiel.” He outstretched his hand to her. At that she followed his request. A Clanfather’s wish was as much as an order and that she hadn’t followed it at his first attempt, but made him repeat was unheard of and very rude behaviour.

Silently they left the room and Alfalan closed the double doors behind her as softly as she could. With a loving smile she rested her hand on the closed door, before she turned around to confront her father.

<How can I be of service, father?>

Motiel looked at her, studied her features and saw, not for the first time, how much she looked like her mother, making the task lying ahead of him even more difficult. He was grateful that she could not see the deep worry in his eyes; the sadness.

At that she bowed her head and nodded.

<You will never treat them as they deserve to be treated, but the Federationists will. They will give them the respect they are entitled to and they will give them a home.>

<That may very well be, but you have to think about other things now that you are the Kivai.> She lifted her head and anger radiated off her.

<Do you even know what you are saying? You have met him many times and you know his heart. He is corrupt, weak. He will not be able to control the Council, let alone the Protectorate. The Haminides would be over us in an instant, if he was to succeed me.> With a huff Alfalan turned away from him.

<Do not try to pretend as if you do not care about our people and those under our protection. You may be able to know everyone’s heart, but I know your heart too and this is not how you would want to end all this.>

She turned to him again and looked imploringly at him. She raised her hands to touch him, but restrained herself immediately. Both knew why. Ironically Alfalan’s touch could in times of emotional distress be as lethal as the touch of a Koviat on the loose.

<Shall I forget what I was taught my entire life? I found my soul mate in Kalvolin, father. Tradition and my heart tell me to follow him. How could I possibly let him go?> Motiel sighed deeply, closed his eyes and softly caressed her face. He could feel how she restrained herself, so as not to flood him with her feelings and thoughts. Not only hers, but probably of all those in the capital.

<Don’t you know that I know how you feel? I lost my soul mate too. When your mother died...I was prepared to follow her. Everything in me cried out for it, craved it and they had to strap me down so that I wouldn’t use my own claws on myself. Mijhavi and Hasti were able to talk sense into me and I married Polaran. I still feel the urge to follow your mother.

Sometimes, when I am alone in my rooms, standing on the balcony and looking to the stars...your mother and I did that often...> He drifted off, his eyes watering at the memory of these happy times. He had never been able to imagine a time without Jari.

<When I stand on the balcony, looking to the stars, it is as if she is there, beckoning me. Calling to me that I should join her. But I can’t. Not before I am sure that the Protectorate will be safe. Not before I know that you will succeed me.> A tear rolled down her cheek and he softly brushed it off.

His mental voice full of sympathy. <The burden now placed upon you, was the same that was placed on me after your mothers death. I would let you go, if it was in my power, but it isn’t. I am too old. I cannot reign until you have a child of your own to pass the responsibility on to. It is either you, war, or Potiel, which could be even worse than war.> She turned away from him and placed her hand again on the door, seeking support in the knowledge that Kalvolin was in the next room.

Kalvolin...her beloved...her soul mate. Tears were now streaming freely down her face. Finally, finally she would be able to be together with him. To be with him as soul mates should. As mates for life. She had already begun imagining them together on a world, far, far away from here. Together. Happy. Free. She remembered his last words to her. Freedom...

“It is not fair.” She whispered. Just when he had won his freedom, she had been captured by her position, her heritage and by politics and intrigues. She felt the hands of her father on her shoulders softly turning her around.

“Life seldomly is. We can only hope to make it fairer for others.” She lifted her chin slightly and he knew that she was going to stay. To take her place.

“I am so sorry for you, my little spring spirit.” He muffled into her hair and kissed her brow. Tremors shook her body, while she clutched onto her father for support and cried. Abandoning her dreams of happiness and freedom.

Iljana led the three officers from the Enterprise back to the Palace. At the gates, she excused herself.

“I will go to Command and see what I can do on Nolukai’s behalf, but I don’t think it will do any good.” The happiness she had felt before had all but evaporated. The lines of worry had returned to her face.

“Hopefully you can convince them not to dishonour him.” Deanna stated. Iljana’s face didn’t loose any of it’s worry.

“I wouldn’t count on that. Nolukai has caused too much trouble in the past, crossed too many of the wrong people. One of them being Kun, who is much favoured by the higher circles of Command. I will see what I can do with my limited influence.”

“Maybe Alfalan will be able to do something.” Beverly threw in, hoping to alleviate some of Iljana’s fears. The Troopmistress only shook her head.

“Alfalan’s kiss...By kissing the Koviat she dishonoured herself. Her word would not be worth much. At this point in time, she isn’t even any longer a Warmistress, but nothing.” Iljana sighed deeply, laid her throat bare and was on her way then.

Together they ventured into the Palace, after having performed the ritual once more. They had wanted to move straight into the Palace, but the servants had sent them such looks of incredulity that they thought it better to do it again. They approached one of the Palace guards and Picard laid his throat bare, before addressing her.

“We would like to inquire, if it would be possible to have an audience with Warmistress Alfalan?” The Sulin-Avya bowed her head, to be able to look down at him.

“I do not know of whom you are speaking.” After that, her gaze was set again on the other wall, seemingly ignoring that Picard and the others were still there.

Puzzled they looked at each other.

“Do you think she has left?” Beverly asked. Deanna shook her head, while remembering something Iljana had told her.

“No, Beverly. Alfalan has dishonoured herself by kissing Kalvolin. Nobody will acknowledge her any longer. She is without name and without rights.”

“My God!” Beverly gasped. Picard’s expression turned grave.

“We have to find her.” He surveyed the immediate area and tried to find someone more talkative than the guard they had approached.

In that moment a huge screen on the wall next to them flickered to life. Quickly they moved to the other end of the hall, to be able to see the transmission. It might give them a clue as to where to begin their search.
The Clanfather stood in front of an elaborate blue, green, yellow symbol, smiling benevolently.

“Good people of Sunin Valara and of those under our protection, I hail you.” Picard wondered for a moment why they were able to understand him, but then he saw the reason. Representatives of other races had to be here too. After all, the Sulin-Avya Protectorate stretched over many hundreds of light years.

“It is with happiness that I announce the mating engagement of my daughter, Jatiel Alfalan Relor Nar to the Shipmaster Kun Havi Lev.”

“He doesn’t seem all that happy to me.” Whispered Beverly to Picard and Deanna. Both only nodded.

“Further, I have to announce that my daughter will replace me as Clanmother as of today.” He stepped to the side and Alfalan joined him in similar regalia as him. Her head was held high and she even smiled.

“I pledge to the people under my protection to serve you in any way I can and to help our Protectorate prosper.”


Chapter 68

Kalvolin opened his eyes and was waiting for the voice in him to begin nagging him. Urging him to destroy, kill, torture. But nothing came. Everything was silent and he was alone with his thoughts. For any other being this would be perfectly normal, but for him, it was absolutely new. Even though he was free now and was more than happy, he felt a bit...daunted at the thought of being alone now. Of course there were the others, but still. The utter silence scared him a bit.
First now he became aware of the soft mattress he lay on. He had never been granted the luxury of sleeping in a bed. Not even when he had been a child. He had always slept while standing and cuffed to a wall. Content he breathed deeply and closed his eyes again, beginning to enjoy this feeling of privacy of thought. With his fingers he caressed the sheets, enjoying their softness.
He was free to experience everything now. Food, sports, art, music, literature...anything! His head was swirling with all the possibilities now presented to him.
He stood out of bed and opened the glass double doors to the balcony. The cool night air wafted around him and he breathed deeply, while once again closing his eyes, just relishing the feeling. He walked up to the rail, gripping the cool, smooth stone and staring out over the city. He was in one of the higher rooms and he was able to see the sky through a few branches over him. The stars twinkled, as if they held wonders for him, he hadn’t even been able to think of. He gripped the rail tighter and first chips began to break off, as tears began to form in his eyes.
He was free now. He could do whatever he wanted. He could live a normal life, just like everyone else. A life he would share with Alfalan! Yes. They belonged together. He didn’t know where this strange feeling came from, but he was absolutely sure that he and Alfalan belonged together.
He heard how the handle on the door was turned and faced the intricately carved double doors. With a bright smile he saw that it was Alfalan. She was in full Kivai regalia. She and her father had probably made an announcement to the Sulin-Avya and the rest of the Protectorate. Something was off though. He was not very good in reading expressions, but her smile seemed...sad. Maybe she was sorry for her brother. Yes, that had to be it.
He spread his arms and walked up to her.
“I am free, Mistress! It is don’t even know how to describe this feeling. No voice, only me and...and all these possibilities. I have no idea what to do first! Eat real food, read a book, listen to music, take a real bath...the options are endless!” Her smile grew wider at his enthusiasm, but the sadness was still there. Softly she caressed his chest.
“Yes, your options are endless.” She replied silently. At that he creased his brow.
“Our options. We...we can...we can make trips around the planet. You can show me everything. It will be wonderful and you will never stop smiling. Maybe I will even be able to make you laugh!” Tentatively he touched her hair. He had never learned how to treat people nicely. He had been intended as a killing machine and as such he needed no good manners. She leaned into his hand and a tear ran down her cheek.
“No. I am sorry Kalvolin, but my place is here. My father has given me the family blade.” His eyes got round.
“But...I...don’t understand. What about us?” She was not able to look at him. The hurt in his eyes, the disappointment.
“Potiel is not ready to become Clanfather. Nor will he ever be. I had to succeed my father. Anything else would have led to war.”
“Where is the problem then?” She sighed and she could hear in his tone that he really didn’t understand.
“There has been a vote, Kalvolin. Not only among the Council, but also among the population of the Protectorate.” She turned to him and desperation was radiating off her. “They are terrified! All of them. They do not know you and the others, not as I do.”
“ can surely convince them that we are not dangerous. That we are no threat. The only thing we want is peace.”
“Yes, Kalvolin. I know, you know and the others know, but the people only know that Koviat are mindless killing machines, not able of higher thought. Millennia of propaganda cannot be whisked away. It has been ingrained since their childhood. Even I heard the horrid tales of the Koviat when I was a child and I believed them, until I met you. Regardless of what I might say, they will never listen. Their fear is too great.”
Silence settled between them, during which both stared at the floor. At last Kalvolin lifted his head.
“What does that mean for us?” Alfalan sighed and shook her head, trying to steady her voice.
“There never can be a ‘us’. My kiss dishonoured me. To be able to succeed my father, I had to restore my honour...” She drifted off and could feel that he understood.
“Who?” His voice was flat, devoid of emotion.
“Kun.” Again silence.
“What will happen to us? I mean the Koviat?”
“You cannot stay here. Go to Jean-Luc and tell him that you want political asylum for you and your brethren. They will take you in and give you a home. You will be happy with them.” She didn’t remember when he had moved, but suddenly he was right in front of her.
“I could never be happy in a place where you are not.” He whispered and took her hands in his. She liked the look of it and it tore at her heart.
“I don’t know what they would do to you if you stayed. Please. Go.”
“I can’t.” His confession was so silent, she barely caught it. She tried to breathe deeply and raised her head. “I will never leave you. I gave an oath to protect you.”
“You will not be the first one to break an oath today.” She only answered him, drew him down to her level and kissed him on his brow.
“My spirit is yours, forever. Never forget that.” She whispered, extricated herself from his embrace and left the room in quick, long strides.
“Alfalan?” With a clap the door shut behind her.

Picard, Crusher and Troi had tried to get through to Alfalan by many means and had approached countless people with their request, but no one would listen to them. Everyone in the Palace seemed to be in an awful hurry.
“This is ridiculous!” Picard exclaimed and put his hand on his hips in indignation. He was not accustomed to being ignored.
Deanna joined him and Beverly after having been ignored by another guard. She shook her head.
“I don’t understand this. If she is to succeed her father, she has to have won her honour back somehow! Why are they ignoring us?!” Picard breathed deeply.
“I am sure they have their reasons, Counsellor.”
“Indeed, we have.” A deep, familiar voice announced from behind them. The three Enterprise officers immediately turned around and in front of them stood Mijhavi. Quickly Picard laid his throat bare, intent not on letting this chance of getting through to Alfalan go by him.
“Clancouncillor, we have tried to talk to Warmistress Alfalan for a long time now, but no one will even acknowledge us.” Mijhavi nodded slowly and extended his arm without saying a word. For a short time Picard looked him straight in the eye, seemingly finding what he was seeking and followed Mijhavi’s invitation.
The Clancouncillor was leading them through a maze of corridors, finally opening a relatively small door to a cosy library. The room was decorated in deep reds and greens, every shelf carved out of dark, oak-like wood. Before Mijhavi closed the door, he looked down the corridor on both sides and shut the door, activating a small device at his arm in the same movement.
“We can talk privately now, Captain.” The elder Sulin-Avya sat in one of the comfortable grandfather chairs, the leather creaking under his weight. Picard and the others sat too.
“We could have talked in the hall too. We only wanted to talk to Alfalan.” Mijhavi smiled a small smile.
“Captain, have you ever been around royalty? At this time a lot of people are seeking to catch Alfalan’s attention and those who have it, defend it viciously. Apart from that, it is commonly known in the Palace that you helped the Koviat in gaining their freedom, something which is not appreciated by all.”
“Is it appreciated by you?” Deanna asked him sharply. Mijhavi nodded.
“A good question, Blessed One. Yes. I am very glad that the Koviat at last are able to lead normal lives, but there are not many of my opinion. For the most, the Koviat are a convenient threat to be hurled at Protectorate members or enemies that are getting out of line. Fear is a powerful instrument and suddenly this instrument has been taken from these people.
I think it to be very possible that if they could, they would re-infect all of them. Without remorse. For these people, a Sulin-Avya born with a Black Soul is no person, but a thing that can be used as they see fit. I was like that too, until I was named Guardian. As a Guardian you are very close to your charge and their only spokesperson. I sent my charge into countless battles and she was devastated every time. At first, I couldn’t care less, because she in my eyes was no individual. That changed over time though. I despise myself now for robbing her of her innocence.” Beverly stared at him.
“Innocence?” She asked weakly. Mijhavi nodded gravely.
“When she was given to me, she was approximately eight in your reckoning.” Beverly and Deanna were not able to conceal their shock, but Picard had enough to control over himself.
“It must have been hard. To send a child into battle.” The Sulin-Avya shook his head.
“To me, she was no child, Captain. She was a thing, a killing machine. My Master Healer made me aware of the real relationship this poor thing had to the Black Soul within her.
I lost control over her once and she knocked me out. I was hanging on to consciousness by a thread, but I had not enough control over myself to reign her in. He walked up to her, without fear, because he was sure that she would not allow him to be hurt. The Black Soul tried to kill him, but the strike never hit. She had been able to avert it.
That night, I didn’t sleep. My whole world had been turned upside down. Koviat were people! And I was using them. Of course, when I got the position as Clancouncillor, I could not publicly announce my opinion. I would have been reassigned immediately.
You might think that this is cruel duplicity, but that was the only way I could implement subtle changes, making their lives more comfortable. But you...” He shook his head and smiled. “You were able to give them so much more than I ever would have been able to and because of that I am indebted to you. Because of that, I will tell you, what has been going on. None of this must leave this room. What I am going to tell you is absolutely confidential.” Picard, Deanna and Beverly all nodded, their faces set in stone.
“By kissing Kalvolin, Alfalan dishonoured herself. With this dishonouration, she was not able to succeed her father. A Battle of Honour was out of the question, because she had dishonoured herself. The only way she could restore her honour was by marrying a respected and honoured Sulin-Avya. Shipmaster Kun Havi Lev ‘valiantly’ offered to marry her and restore her honour, as I am sure you have heard.
Her brother, Potiel, will most likely not accept this decision and do everything in his power to come to power, even if this means to kill Alfalan. Vitu, a man favoured by Potiel will most likely assist him, because Potiel has promised him my position.”
“Is Alfalan aware of this?” Picard asked, feeling dread creeping up his spine.
“Alfalan is well aware of this, Captain. In fact, she is aware of everything that is happening and thought in this entire city. Nothing gets past her. Even this discussion.”
“But the device you activated...” Beverly began.
“Is able to block normal telepaths, but you would agree with me, Healer Beverly, that Kivai Alfalan is anything but normal concerning her telepathic abilities. She can only be held out, by placing a blocking device on her head. And even if she wouldn’t be able to hear us, as soon as you left the room, she would know what we have talked about.
Most are not aware that her powers are so extended. A deliberate misinformation, believe me.
She asked me to deliver a message to you. Talking to her personally would be too dangerous for you now. Kalvolin and his brethren will come to you and ask for political asylum. You must promise to take them with you. To give them a home. That is all we ask.” Picard mulled this over.
“It would be risky. The Koviat have a lot of enemies I surmise and many would be delighted at the prospect of getting even with them.”
“Oh yes, no doubt about that, but you still have the Clanfather’s decree. His order of protection for your vessel still stands. If any of those enemies wants to attack your vessel, all Sulin-Avya forces are bound to protect you, even if they do not want to. The best action for you to take is to head straight back to your Federation.”
“And when would be able to come back?”
“I don’t know Captain. The situation is very unstable at the moment and rife with dangerous possibilities. If I were you, I would wait a century or two. I will try to send out messages to the Federation, but I can not promise anything.
One thing I can promise is that I will do everything in my power to protect Alfalan.” Picard looked to Beverly and Deanna and then centred his gaze on Mijhavi.
“We will do the best we can. Tell Alfalan that it was a pleasure meeting her and that we hope everything will turn out well.” Mijhavi leaned his head back.
“Thank you, Captain and may the Spirits be with you. Before this is over we all will need their help.” They all stood nodded to each other and Mijhavi left in long strides.


Chapter 69

Iljana tapped her foot impatiently while waiting for one of the officials to acknowledge her presence. She had been waiting and inordinate amount of time already and it was bordering on the insulting to keep her waiting for this long.
At last one of the officers turned towards her.
sWhat can we do for you, Troopmistress?t He asked politely and calm, as if she just had entered the building. She bit back her anger and came right to the matter at hand.
I am here to ascertain what has been decided concerning Master of Healers Nolukai Neno Loo!t It was no question, but an order and the officer talking to her was visibly put off by her behaviour.
Master of Healers Nolukai Neno Loo has been dishonoured by the Council, because he attacked a superior officer unprovoked.t
Unprovoked?! I canrt believe this!t Iljana sputtered.
Do you want to file a report in the dishonouredrs favour?t A slight smirk was now visible on the officers face. Iljana knew that it would do no good and that she would most probably get herself into trouble if she did what everything inside herself was screaming to her she should do. Tell the truth.
No, thank you. But as far as I know, the dishonoured should be dead by now.t She knew perfectly well that Nolukai was well and recuperating on the Enterprise, but maybe they didnrt.
He is alive. We were informed of that by the Federation vessel inside the KirTul. Now, if you have no other requests, then please leave.t
Iljana stepped away from the counter and walked out onto the street, not able to believe what she had just heard. They had given him away!

Kalvolin had gathered his things and had asked the others to do the same and meet him at the spaceport. Outside the Palace he looked back over his shoulder. Everything in him urged him to go back, but she had wanted him to leave and her wish was his command. Sighing he turned back and began walking down the street, his shoulders slumped forward.
The experience of walking through the bustling streets of Sunin Ejjai should have been exhilarating, but to him, it was almost as grey as everything had been when he had had his helmet on. Even the peoples voices seemed muted to him and as he never had learned their language he did not understand one word of what they were saying. All around were new smells, sounds and things to be experienced, but he heeded them no attention.
He only wanted to get away from here. Maybe...maybe his hurt would just linger behind. Just like that. He was not very apt in dealing with emotions and so he actually thought it possible. Unknowingly he made the same mistake like many others, who had dealt with emotions all their lives and should know better.
His height and good form brought more than just one woman to a halt, to longingly look after him. He didnrt see it. His gaze was fixed on the spaceport, never wavering from it. Afraid that, if he looked back only one time, he would not be able to leave as she had asked.
With a deep sigh he stopped at a light-cross. A small hand tugged at his large one and when he looked down, a young boy smiled up to him, tousled hair hanging into his face, not yet restrained by any transition braids. It was so genuine and without fear. For the first time of his life, someone smiled at him, with no fear and only pure joy in their eyes and hearts.
The boy asked him something, but regretfully Kalvolin did not understand him. He smiled back and nodded only. A slender hand gave the boy a gentle shove and Kalvolin looked up. A Laniat servant, obviously his mother, smiled at Kalvolin and shook her head in an apologising gesture. Kalvolin breathed the air in deeply and part of his sorrow left him, when he walked after the mother and her son. They had not been afraid of him. Granted, they did not know that he was a Koviat, but still. It gave him hope. Hope of a better future. A future in which he could picture himself returning to his homeworld.

Picard had arranged for a group of security officers to be at the spaceport and arrange the transport of the Koviat to the Enterprise. Together with Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi he was standing in the Shuttlebay to await them.
He had not to wait long. After a short time five Starfleet shuttles entered the KirTulrs bay, and after the forcefields had been deactivated and the bay repressurized they flew in a neat row towards the Enterprise, landing perfectly in synch aboard the Enterprise.
Kalvolin was one of the first to exit the shuttles. Picard greeted him with a bright smile.
Let me assure you and your people, that the crew of the Enterprise is very happy for you to finally have overcome the dreadful enemy inside you.t He outstretched his hand in the traditional Human greeting. Tentatively Kalvolin offered Picard his hand, who took it and shook it firmly.
Thank you, Captain. Alfalan told me to come to you and ask for political asylum, whatever that might be.t
Yes, we already know. A friend of the Warmistress informed us of this. Commander Riker and Counsellor Troi will see to your needs. I assume there are more to be transported off your homeworld.t Kalvolin only nodded. sVery well.t He gave a sign to the pilots and they took off again.
As soon as we are near enough to take up contact with the Federation I will see what I can do to find you a home. But now come. Beverly wants to examine some of you, to make sure that you truly have been able to rid yourself of this terrible thing.t A young Koviat clung to Kalvolinrs leg and seemed very scared of his new surroundings. He was just getting into his teens. In Earth years he had to be about eight or nine years old.
I fear that Leven is a bit troubled over all these changes.t Softly Kalvolin caressed his head and smiled reassuring down to the boy. Deanna went to her knees in front of him.
There are a lot of other children aboard the Enterprise. Would you like to meet them.t Leven said nothing and just shook his head. A smile lit up Deannars features.
Have you ever tasted chocolate?t Riker had to chuckle at that and Picard had an amused glint in his eye.


Chapter 70

Iljana had contacted the Ki’Tul and ordered them not to let the Federation ship go anywhere, before she had talked with Picard. Picard the traitor, who had given Nolukai away!
She sat in a military glider and sped with reckless speed towards the spaceport, using the higher level, which was reserved exclusively for military and ambulances. Her canines were bared and she was growling low in her throat. They would pay for their treachery!
When she landed, the people around her had barely enough time to get out of the way. They wanted to protest and make her aware of her rude behaviour, but none dared approach her, when they saw her face. Her nose was wrinkled, not in a cute way and her brow was drawn down. All her claws at their openings. Wherever she went, people scampered out of her way.
Through the groups of people, she could catch glimpses of the Starfleet uniforms and was making a straight line for them. Suddenly someone stepped right in front of her. With a snarl she looked up. It was a palace enforcer. They carried the Council’s orders out directly and answered to nobody else but them.
“Troopmistress Iljana. You will take me to the Federation ship in the hangar of the Ki’Tul!” He ordered. Harshly she pushed past him.
“That’s exactly where I am going, so you better keep up!” She hissed and walked on in long strides.

Alfalan sat in her inner quarters and looked out of her window. Her head was turned in this direction in any event. No one was with her, since she had ordered everyone to leave her, so that she could meditate.
She didn’t want to meditate though. She only wanted some time for herself. Pondering if what she had done had been the right thing. The horrible reality was, she couldn’t think of anything that could have averted all this. She wouldn’t begin to blame her father, because she wasn’t so sure if she would have been able to withstand temptation, had she stayed at the Palace. Again and again it came down to the same solution. Either her as Clanmother or Potiel and maybe, in time, civil war.
She sighed and shook her head. There was no way out for her. In the old stories, the heroes had always been glad to sacrifice their own goals for the greater good, but she didn’t feel that way. Not at all.
There was a slight knock at the door and she turned her head.
“Yes, Mijhavi. Enter.” Muffled footsteps came from behind her and she didn’t need her abilities to know where Mijhavi was going.
“Is it safe to speak, Kivai Alfalan?”
“Yes, Clancouncillor. Speak.”
“Kalvolin has left the Palace and has met with others at the Spaceport. Picard’s men were waiting for them already and my informants have just told me that the last shuttle has left Sunin Valara.”
“What about the others?”
“The freed Koviat from the defensive forces have boarded ships bound for the homeworld and will soon be here.”
“Have any of them run into any trouble?”
“No, Kivai. As ordered I informed the others that it was your wish and as far as I know, every single Koviat was allowed to go in peace.” Alfalan nodded and stared past Mijhavi.
“Thank you. You should leave now, while no one is in the vicinity. I will contact you again as soon as I need your help.”
“Whatever you wish, shall be, Kivai Alfalan.” Mijhavi went to his knees and bared his throat. After he had paid his respects he opened the door, peeked down both corridors and went as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself.
Alfalan stared out her window again and shook her head. Her homeworld had become a much different place since she had been a child. Corruption and unneeded bureaucracy was festering everywhere in the Palace. She had a lot to do.

Kalvolin had stayed with Riker in the Shuttlebay to await the arrival of the others. He would greet every one with a bright smile and clasp hands with the adults, while he assured the children that nothing would threaten them here and that they were allowed to play and do whatever they want.
Data had dispatched medical officers to the bay, to take care of the children and take them to a holodeck, where others already were waiting for them. The adults didn’t want to get their own quarters, but asked if they could stay together as a group somehow. So now they were all brought to different hangars and cargo holds.
“This is the last one, Sir.” The Ensign at the bay controls informed Riker and he nodded, while turning towards Kalvolin.
“As soon as your other associates are aboard and you have made sure that all is well, Captain Picard would like to have a meeting with you and any other representatives you might want to bring.”
“What purpose will that meeting serve?” Kalvolin asked wary.
“Don’t worry. He wants to talk to you about the journey, some medical check-ups, activities on the ship and counselling. He also needs your help in putting a report for Starfleet together. We promised Alfalan to find you a home, so we need a description of the environment where you would feel at home. Then officers in the Federation will take this as a basis and search for a fitting place. As it will take a long time until we are back, they should have a place for you right away.” Will smiled brightly and patted Kalvolin on his arm, since he couldn’t really reach his shoulder without standing on his toes.
“Very well.” Kalvolin nodded and stared into nothingness. For a moment silence settled between them.
“I still can’t believe it. I am free. I no longer have to kill. No torture, blood, no screams for mercy which I cannot answer. It is almost too good to be true.” Suddenly he swished around, seized Riker at his shoulder and lifted him up, so they were eye to eye.
“Tell me that it is no dream, Riker! This has to be real! It just has to be!” Kalvolin’s voice was just a low hiss. The slap Will gave Kalvolin resounded through the entire Shuttlebay. Absolutely fazed the Koviat let go of Riker.
“Why did you do that?” He held his hand to his cheek, which stung. It was not very painful, but still.
“You felt the pain, didn’t you?”
“Of course I did!” Kalvolin bit back angrily. He wanted to slap Riker too. Especially to get that stupid smile off his face.
“While you are dreaming, you can’t feel any physical pain. That’s a fact.” Kalvolin stopped dead in his tracks and all his movement stopped, while only his eyes grew a bit rounder.
A deep rumble was audible and Kalvolin relaxed. He closed his eyes and chuckled deep in his throat, until he no longer could contain himself, leaned his head back and laughed out loud for the first time in his life.


Chapter 71

As soon as the hatch of the shuttle opened wide enough, Iljana jumped out onto the floor of the Enterprise shuttlebay, intent on tearing Picard to shreds. The Palace enforcer barely able to follow her, was a few metres behind her. Puzzled Riker saw her.
“Troopmistress. What can we do for you?”
“Get out of my way! Picard will pay for his treachery!” She hissed and pushed past the Commander. Riker though, would have none of it. It was his job to keep the Captain safe, so he seized her arm and stopped her. Even though he had a hard time doing it. Suddenly she stopped dead in her tracks, throwing him off balance and he saw her claws coming right at him with astonishing speed. There was nothing he could do and the only thing he could think of was Deanna and the baby.

Kalvolin was watching how his brethren disembarked from the shuttle, when he heard Iljana speak up behind him.
“Get out of my way! Picard will pay for his treachery!” Immediately he turned around. No one would harm Picard, or any of the Enterprise, as long as he was alive.

Iljana could no longer think clearly. Blood rushed in her ears, muting all other sound. She knew this state. Bloodlust. Something her instructors had warned her against time and again. Right now she didn’t care one bit. Later on she would be ashamed of having let go of her control, but right now...right now she just wanted to kill.
Her strike was perfectly set. It would let Riker bleed slowly to death. No fun, if he died immediately.
But her blow never hit. Mere millimetres away from her intended target, a barbed set of claws obstructed her path. With a snarl she looked up and saw into Kalvolin’s eyes.
“Kill him and we will fight you.” As he said it, the other Koviat put their small bags down and seemed ready for anything. The Palace enforcer was sizing them up and he seemed pretty nervous about the odds. They would have at least twenty Koviat against the two of them.
“Leave the Commander, Troopmistress!” He ordered. She snarled at him too. At that he got angry. It was considered an act of insubordination, but her current state excused that. Nevertheless she had to let go of Commander Riker or all Hell would break loose.
“Stand down, Troopmistress! That’s an order! Remember your oath and your training!”
With a not so gentle shove she let go of Riker and stood at attention. The Palace enforcer stood right in front of her, looking down at her.
“I will take it from here and you better reign yourself in!” He grumbled low in his throat.
With a last glare he turned away from Iljana and outstretched his hand, to help Riker back up.
“I am very sorry for this, Commander Riker. I am here to take Master of Healers Nolukai Neno Loo back to the Council, so that he can be judged for his actions.”
Understanding lit the fog of puzzlement and fear that had clouded Riker’s mind. Iljana thought that Picard had given Nolukai away! They had had no choice, but to tell them that he was well, when the Council had contacted the Enterprise. They would have been able to detect a lie immediately.
“I will contact the Captain and then take you to Sickbay, where Nolukai is resting for the moment.” The Palace enforcer bowed a bit.
“Thank you for your co-operation.” Riker turned away from him and winced, while tapping his com-badge. He could nearly smell trouble.

Beverly was doing some tests on Nolukai and saw with relief that she indeed had been able to remove the poison from his body.
“I never doubted your abilities, Doctor Crusher.” Puzzled she looked up and saw that her patient had awakened.
“You are already awake. You surely heal fast.” He winced a bit, as he tried to readjust his position.
“I may be conscious, Doctor, but far from healed.” Quickly she stepped up to him and helped him in sitting up.
“You shouldn’t be sitting up.” He was well enough to smile his normal, sarcastic smile.
“I know, but my male pride demands that I at least sit, when they come to get me.” At that Beverly’s smile fell.
“What do you mean with: when they come to get me?”
“I mean that Iljana is back onboard, quite angry too, and with her is a Palace enforcer. He will take me back to the Council to be judged.” Frustrated she turned away from him and buried her fingers in her hair.
All the work! She had pried this man out of Deaths’ hands and now this?! She didn’t doubt one minute that Kun would demand a battle of honour and she had seen how he fought. She had never seen Nolukai fight, but she surmised that, even if he weren’t injured, he wouldn’t stand a chance against a trained soldier.
“Do not worry, Doctor. Your work will not be for nothing.”
“And how do you know that?” Helpless anger was burning in her eyes.
“I cannot tell you. Not yet. What I can tell you, is that I will need your support. Yours and that of the Captain’s.” They stared into each others eyes, until Beverly simply nodded.

Beverly had left Nolukai to his own, while she was updating his file in her office. At last she could no longer hold up the pretence of working and threw the datastick she had been working with through her office...nearly hitting Picard between his eyes.
“If you are mad at me, you could just say so.” He entered her office and smiled softly after the doors had closed. She had to smile at his attempt to cheer her up. She doubted not for one minute that he was well aware of what had her so angry. So her smile was very short-lived.
“I’m not mad at you. It’s just...” He walked around her desk, went to his knees in front of her and took her into his arms. “I’ve just patched him together and now they want to send him off to his certain death! I am a Doctor, Jean! I am supposed to prevent people from dying!” Picard knew though that her conflict with her oath wasn’t all there was to it. She and Nolukai had quickly become very good friends. To know now, that you had cured your friend and saved him from certain death, only to let him wander into another deadly situation and as Picard knew Kun, the Shipmaster would kill Nolukai without the slightest remorse.
“I know how you feel. Sometimes I hate my job too, but the Prime Directive has proven itself in many situations and nobody ever told us that abiding by it would be comfortable or easy.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” He could not stand the deep sadness in her eyes. He wanted the loving glint back in it. The mischievous glint.
“No, but maybe this will.” Softly he kissed her and drew her even closer. “I love you and nothing that happens could ever change that. You are the best Doctor I know and I have faith in you. We will find a way for Nolukai.” She expelled a tremoring sigh and leaned her head against his.
“I love you too, Jean-Luc.” She whispered and caressed his cheek. First now she became aware that it was the first time that he had admitted his love for her out loud. The three magic words. She smiled and rubbed her nose to his. He smiled too.
“How do you feel, now that you’ve said it?” She bit her lower lip, as if shy.
“Kind of liberating.” He whispered and drew her to him for another kiss.

When Riker led the Sulin-Avya into Sickbay, Beverly had been able to catch herself and prepare herself for delivering a good friend to his certain death. When she excited her office with Picard behind her, Iljana began to snarl. The tall man next to her threw her a glare and she stopped with an effort.
“What can the Sickbay of the Enterprise do for you?” Beverly asked, even though she perfectly knew what they were there for.
“I am here to take Master of Healers Nolukai Neno Loo into custody. He will be taken to the Council to be judged. Please release him to me.” The man was polite enough, but there was still a distinct edge to his voice. It had been formulated as a polite request, but none of them mistook it as such. It was definitely and order.
“Very well.” Beverly expelled on a sigh. “Please come with me.” She led them to the room, where Nolukai rested.
He looked up and smiled at them in his sarcastic manner.
“My, my! So many visitors! I never knew I was that popular.” He said with grim humour.
“Do not flatter yourself. I am here to take you to the Council to be judged.” At that Nolukai had to laugh.
“The judging has already taken place. Just finish me off right here and now and we will be done with it. Why the trouble of taking me all the way back?” The Palace enforcer bared his canines.
“Out of respect for the High Council! There are certain procedures to be followed and you will have the chance to defend yourself.” Nolukai snorted.
“Of what use would that be? Even though I am in a Federation ship, I know that Kun is going to be the Clan Hulat. He will not let me live to spread the word of how I caught him unawares.”
“You will come back to the Council with me, regardless of what you think. It is an order issued by the Council.” Silence settled between them and the Federation officers all stood off to one side. Not really sure of how they should react. Iljana seemed to want to say something, but held herself in check with all her might.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but I will not go with you.” At that both the Palace enforcer’s and Iljana’s eyes got round as balls.
“ resist the Council’s command?!” Both Sulin-Avya seemed totally thunderstruck. It was unheard of resisting the Council’s command since the earliest days of the Protectorate.
“Yes, I do.” Nolukai crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back, content with himself and the world.
“I will take you by force if necessary!” The Palace enforcer threatened. Iljana wanted to step between them, protecting Nolukai, but the Master of Healers held her back with a look.
“Captain, I would like to ask you for political asylum.” Nolukai stated calmly, not looking away from the Palace enforcer, who was now trembling with rage.
“Of course, Nolukai. We will be happy to take you with us.” With a snarl the Palace enforcer whipped around and faced Picard.
“Keep out of this, Human! This is an internal matter!”
“It has become out matter, the minute I accepted Nolukai’s plea for political asylum.” The huge Sulin-Avya stood right in front of Picard, who didn’t back down one bit.
“You will regret this!” He hissed, turned on his heel and left Sickbay quickly. All of them held their breath for a moment, until Iljana said, totally flummoxed: “I can’t believe this just happened!”


Chapter 72

Deanna had taken the Koviat children to the holodeck and programmed a park with playgrounds and a little lake. She didn’t know if the children were able to swim, so she had seen to it, that the water was deep enough for them to swim in, but still shallow enough that they easily could stand.

At first, the children had stood huddled together in a group, not knowing what to make of this place. Deanna and the nurses present had tried to make them relax and had assured them time and again that everything was fine. Of course they hadn’t trusted them, so Deanna had called Kalvolin and he had sent some of the elder Koviat down to help them. From that point on, the children had started to relax and now they were running over the playgrounds, climbing in the trees and playing in the water, while Deanna prepared something to eat for them. She sat on one of the benches and watched the Koviat. Even the older ones joined in the children’s’ games and all of them were smiling brightly often times hooting and screaming. This was absolutely new for them and they experienced it to the fullest.

She looked to the small grove of trees and what she saw made her swallow hard. One of the kids fell from his branch and thudded to the ground with a muffled bump.

“Oh Gods!” Immediately she was on her feet and ran over. The other children were laughing and at first Deanna thought them to be cruel. How could they laugh when one of their friends had been injured? The boy rose and took a look at his arm. It had been broken and the bones had penetrated the skin. What stroke Deanna as odd was that he wasn’t crying and he didn’t seem to be shocked in the least. He straightened his arm with a snap, swung it a bit back and forth and climbed the tree again. His arm fully intact.

She sighed and shook her head, while leaning against a tree. She had forgotten about their healing capabilities.

“Are you all right, Blessed One?” A soft female voice inquired next to her. Deanna opened her eyes and smiled at the young Koviat woman in front of her.

“Yes, I am. Don’t worry. I just saw the boy falling from the tree and was worried that he might have hurt himself. I had completely forgotten about your healing abilities.” The woman seemed to be in her teens, according to Sulin-Avya standards. She was still a head higher than Deanna. Powerful muscles rippled under her purple skin as she turned towards the tree in which the children were climbing.

“I told Leven to be more careful.” Deanna brought her hands up.

“Oh don’t. I want him to enjoy himself.” The Sulin-Avya shook her head.

“No, it’s better this way. You are not accustomed to this and we would not want any of you to get worried. Especially you.” Deanna smiled and caressed her slightly expanded tummy.

“That’s very considerate of you. What is your name?” Together they walked back to the benches located near the lake shore.

“They gave me the name Onara Venn.” Deanna creased her brow.

“They?” Onara seemed sad and stared at her feet.

“I killed my parents when I was born.” Deanna reached out to her immediately.

“Oh Gods. This is terrible.” Onara only nodded, seemingly not sure of her voice.

“It has been a long time ago.” Was her only reply. They sat down across from each other.

“Have you ever talked about it with someone?” A sarcastic smile split the youths’ lips.

“Sulin-Avya think us not capable of higher emotions. No one thought it to be necessary.” Deanna’s face was set with determination and compassion.

“I think it is. I will do everything I can to help you.” Onara gazed up at the Counsellor. Deanna knew that this girl must have fought countless battles already, killed hundreds, but still her eyes were that of a teenager. Deeply troubled and unsure. She had been robbed of anything approaching a natural childhood not to talk about teenage years.

“You don’t have to go to troubles because of me.” It was only a sad whisper. Deanna took again hold of Onara’s hand.

“But I want to. That’s what I am here for. To help you. All of you.” Onara only shook her head. “You can trust me Onara. No one on this ship will hurt you. I am a Healer of the Mind and I will do everything within my knowledge to help you and your kin to overcome whatever problems you might have. Not only because it is my job, but because I want you all to be able to enjoy the rest of your lives. To live in the purest sense of the word.” The Koviat raised her eyes and met Deanna’s straight on. Desperate hope shining in them.

“Really?” The Betazoid gave the large hand she held in her petite one a reassuring squeeze and smiled softly.


After another few hours, Sulin-Avya shuttles began to land in the Enterprise Shuttlebay; transferring Koviat, who had travelled from their various assignments throughout the Sulin-Avya Protectorate. Data oversaw their boarding and saw to it that they were accommodated along with the other Koviat.

In the meantime, Picard was having his first meeting with Kalvolin and two other representatives in the observation lounge.

“At first I would like to welcome you onboard and I hope that you feel comfortable so far.” Picard began. All three nodded. To Kalvolin’s right a woman was seated and even though Kalvolin was sitting, she only was as tall as to reach his shoulder. Her skin was a pure alabaster, her eyes a light grey, making it difficult to distinguish between her iris and the whites of her eyeballs. Her hair was in stark contrast to her skin, being a fiery red. The man on Kalvolin’s right was slightly taller than the woman, his skin a deep red. His eyes were a pale yellow and his hair was uncustomarily short, sleek and steel grey. He seemed to be older than the other two, though Picard would probably never be able to guess his age. In Earth years he could be anything between fifty and seventy.

“Thank you, Captain. We are very grateful for your concern and though you may think our accommodations quite humble, we are most satisfied. Thank you.” It had been the eldest who had spoken. Kalvolin and the woman only nodded.

“I am glad to hear that. Actually it is a good happenstance that you wanted to stay together and that we had to resort to our cargoholds and shuttlebays to accommodate you, since more Koviat have just begun to arrive and we would never have had enough quarters for all of you. Although I am sure that many crew members happily would have provided you with their quarters.”

“Please, Captain. We don’t want to intrude upon anyone’s own territory.” This time the woman had spoken.

“Very well. I believe we have not yet introduced us to each other. I am Captain Jean-Luc Picard.” Kalvolin seemed a bit chagrined.

“Excuse me this slip of formality. This is Eliana Hass, representing the women. They will take care of the children during out journey. To my left is Torken Cill, the eldest among us.” Both bowed their heads.

“A pleasure to meet you.” Picard lifted a PADD next to him. “Upon Doctor Crusher’s request I have to inform you that she will examine each one of you, to make sure that you all have successfully freed yourself of the Black Soul. She will also make you aware of certain hygiene issues aboard. She will also most probably give you all an preventive inoculation.”

“Preventive inoculation?” The three Koviat exchanged puzzled glances. Picard seemed a bit uneasy about the topic. He cleared his throat.

“Uh...yes. It that you are able to experience emotions freely and everything that goes along with it, more intimate encounters are bound to happen. The inoculation is preventing the...side effects.”

“Side effects?” Picard was feeling more and more uncomfortable, but he saw that they were not doing this on purpose, but they simply had no clue what he was talking about.

“Yes. The...side effects of sex.” Slowly their faces lit up.

“So it prevents pregnancies.” Eliana spoke it out.

“Yes, it does. I know that most Sulin-Avya want nothing more than children and that it has become very rare, but...let’s wait with starting families, until you all have settled in and become accustomed to your new freedom.” Torken nodded.

“A wise precaution, Captain. We understand.” His voice sounded much like gravel on stone.

“Thank you. As soon as we enter the Federation and you have settled into your new home, you can of course do as you desire. But we can speak of that later on. Now...we would like to ask you to appoint one leader in every room. A person we can contact, who will then take care of things, if anything comes up.” They nodded. “Can I assume that you are speaking for the Koviat as a type of government?” Torken shook his head.

“No, Captain. Eliana and I are merely advisors, while Kalvolin is our leader. He is our Clanfather.” Kalvolin shook his head and smiled good-naturedly.

“Torken is exaggerating, Captain. We are speaking for the Koviat as a whole, yes.” Torken actually slapped Kalvolin on the back of his head, so that Kalvolin’s head snapped forward.

“Don’t diminish your own position, young one! The strongest leads. Has been, always will be.” Kalvolin only smiled and Eliana smirked.

“Yes, wise one.” He demurely concurred. Torken looked to Eliana.

“What are you smirking at?” He inquired gruffly. Quickly she raised her hands. Picard hid his smile behind his hand. He coughed slightly and brought them back to the issue at hand.

“All right Ladies and Gentlemen. With your consent, the Koviat children will join our board school as of tomorrow. All ships facilities are of course free for your use, but I must of course limit your access to certain areas. A detailed schematic of the ship and of the off-limit areas will be sent to each of your rooms.” They nodded and Picard pressed a sensor in front of him. A Vulcan woman entered the room, looking expectantly at her Captain.

“This is Lieutenant T’Ran from Stellar Cartography. If you would please describe to her the type of environment you would feel most comfortable in. She will then put a report together that will be sent to the Federation. According to these guidelines, Starfleet will look for a world, suiting your needs.” Picard rose from his seat. Quickly the three Sulin-Avya did the same.

“How can we ever thank you, Captain?” Kalvolin asked. Picard smiled and extended his hand in the traditional Human greeting. Unsure and very careful Kalvolin took the hand in his. Picard shook it firmly.

“Live.” He answered with an amused glint in his eye. Eliana, Torken and Kalvolin smiled brightly at that.

Will wanted to look into how the children were doing. At least that was his excuse for coming to the holodeck. His real reason was his wish to see Deanna. The way they all had been joking around in Sickbay... Of course, he had been a bit terrified of their notion of circumcision and even now, when he thought about it, a shiver was running through his body. But her had been so free. Just like it had been, before the whole situation between them had got botched up.

With a smile he stopped in front of the large double doors and waited for them to open. With a loud splat a water bomb landed squarely in his face, drenching him. He closed his eyes and shook his head, while taking a step inside. A young Koviat girl had covered her mouth with her hands and was muttering apologies. He raised his hand.

“It’s okay, don’t worry. It’s only water.” He assured her. First now he saw that every one on the holodeck was totally drenched in water. Deanna was beaming and ran up to the girl.

“What is it Onara?”

“I...I just hit the Commander. I was aiming at Hunik, really, I did.” Deanna saw to Will and there was a distinct playful glint in her eyes, while she was weighing a water bomb in her hand.

“Don’t worry. I think he needs a shower.”

“Deanna.” He said warningly. She was taking a few steps back, never taking her eyes off him. He knew what she had in mind. “Onara, please give me one of your bombs.” He said. He saw that she had two more on her arm. With a loud splat Deanna’s bomb burst on his chest and drenched him from throat to hip.

“You!” He called out, snatched one of Onara’s bombs and set out after Deanna, who was running away giggling. Even though Deanna had a head start, it was impossible for her to keep it. Riker’s legs were much longer and he quickly gained on her. With a quick dove she ran into the small grove of trees. She could hide there and wouldn’t be such an easy target. Breathing hard, she pressed herself up against a tree trunk, panting, but smiling brightly.

When she opened her eyes, he was right in front of her. Their eyes met. Slowly, as if in trance, he let the water bomb fall he had had in his outstretched arm, while he advanced on her, step by step. Both had the feeling that in a second, their hearts would break through their chests. He set his hands right and left of her head on the bark and stared down at her. His gaze again and again drawn to her full lips. She seemed to have the same problem and the minuscule distance between them seemed charged with electricity. He could feel her hands on him, even though she hadn’t touched him yet. She closed her eyes, while his ragged breath fanned cruelly over her lips.

“Deanna...” His voice was raw and deep. “I want to kiss you so much. But first I have to apologise for all that...” She buried her hand in his hair and pulled him down.

“Shut up Riker and kiss me!” She ordered breathless and pressed his lips upon hers. He gladly followed her command, enticing her with the tip of his tongue for her to open her mouth. With a sigh she did so. He had to moan, kissing her passionately, pressing her up against the tree, grinding his hips into hers.

Gods how she had missed that! She felt his hands on her hips. Their tongues duelling wildly. The rest of the world had vanished and it was only them. Too long. He had been away too long.

<Imzadi.> He drew her even closer, though she didn’t know how that was possible.

He felt her reaching out for him over their bond and then he heard it. The slight whisper of her voice in his innermost core. <Imzadi.> He drew her even closer, never wanting to let her go, relishing the shiver her contact left him with.

<Imzadi!> He answered and heard her sigh.

Both opened up and lowered their barriers to the other. They craved it, like a drug. Panting they parted and lost themselves in the others eyes.

“I will never leave you, Deanna. Imzadi. I love you so much.” He said, while still trying to catch his breath. Softly she caressed his face.

“Don’t ever dare to leave me again, Will Riker.”

“Never.” He kissed her again. “Never, ever again.” Desperately they kissed.

No one outside the grove would have been able to guess what was going on in there. But if someone would have listened very carefully and strained their ears, they would have been able to hear slight moans coming from somewhere among the trees.


Chapter 73

Picard had left Sickbay a long time ago, to attend to the meeting with Kalvolin and the other representatives. As the first few Koviat had begun to come, Doctor Crusher left Iljana and Nolukai alone. For a time both of them said nothing.
“Do you want to arrest me too, or why are you still here?” He asked at last. She sighed and turned away from him.
“Are you ever not flippant? Insulting? Sarcastic?” He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
“It is my way of dealing with uncomfortable situations. It has become a habit, I fear.” He studied her back, encased in her red armour. He had done it a hundred times already. Of course only when she hadn’t seen it. He loved her contours, her slender hip and the sensuous curves of her hips. One time he had even wished to have been born an Anuat, so that she would not just see another crewmember in him, but much more a possible mate. He was so deep in thought that he hadn’t caught her movement, when she turned back around. Chagrined at being caught, he waited for her reaction. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
Iljana walked over to him, caressed his face with her hand and then bowed down, purring and rubbing her face to his. It was a very intimate caress. He closed his eyes and began to purr himself. He felt as if a large stone had been lifted from his chest.
“Come with me.” He whispered softly. She shook her head and he saw tears running down her face.
“I can’t. Alfalan may need me. She has already made me aware that I will get the command of the Ki’Tul and she knows that I am absolutely loyal to her.” He shook his head and expelled a tremmoring breath.
“It is not fair.” She only nodded her head. Iljana swallowed and drew back from him. They looked deeply into the others eyes.
“Be happy in your new home.” She said and turned around. He had just opened his mouth to say that she should watch out and keep herself safe, when she raised her hand.
“Just this one time let me have the last word?” He closed his mouth again and stared after her.
“Be safe.” He whispered, when she exited Sickbay. He didn’t know when, if ever, he would see her again, but he knew that until then, he would wait.

Taril felt good being back in the thicket of things again. During the journey to Sunin Valara and the actual trip there, he hadn’t been more than a player on the sidelines. He had been in command of the Engineering section for the most time, not really able to follow the events. What he knew for sure though was, that Alfalan’s guard had been able to free himself from that dreadful creature living inside him and that they would take him and his kin with them.
He liked the Koviat very much. They were a very polite people and were always very careful when you had dealings with them. He soon realised why, when he had helped some of them set up camp in one of the cargobays. He had helped in setting up field beds for them. A very light construction, easily assembled in a matter of seconds. Some of them had wanted to help them, but they had bent or broken the pipes that made up the actual bed. These pipes had been made out of duranium. Taril couldn’t even dream of bending them and they had done with minimal effort, looking very chagrined at their hosts every time. At last they had helped in re-stacking the crates, to make more room. Normally the crew had to get anti-grav generators to lift most of the crates, which would take a lot of time, because they wouldn’t be able to transport more than one crate at a time. The Koviat had saved them a lot of time and effort, by just lifting the crates and carrying them to where the Enterprise crew wanted them.
He had heard that the Koviat had come with children and Beverly had told him that Deanna was taking care of them right now. He was happy, when he heard that, because this would make his ‘aunt’ think about something else than the heartache Riker had caused her. Ugh! Riker! Even thinking about him made him angry. Most of the crew were no longer as antagonistic towards the Commander as they had been at the beginning of this journey, but Taril’s feelings were just as strong as they had been, when he had set out from home to the Enterprise.
Someone had called him from the holodeck, telling them that they had a problem with the holo-projectors. This gave him a perfect opportunity to talk to Deanna. Something he had wanted to do for a long time. With a smile he entered the holodeck. With unbelieving eyes he stared around. Koviat in all age groups were running around, laughing and screaming wildly, hunting each other with water bombs in their hands. What made him gape though were the officers from the medical and security staff joining the fight. It also seemed as if the fight had been going on for a while, judging the drenched uniforms and garments of both sides. He winced, when Ensign Aldritch hit a Koviat boy square on the back of his head. Aldritch was one of the few Humans still playing the ancient sport of Baseball and he could throw cruel curveballs. The boy though gave as good back as he got. He spun around in a jump, throwing three water bombs at once, all of them hitting Aldritch, who had not stopped running. He marvelled at the young Sulin-Avya’s marksmanship.
Cautiously and in a crouch he ran to the toppled over tables, behind which a teen Koviat was ducking.
“Excuse me!” Taril called out. The teenage boy turned around, a water bomb already in hand. In the last moment, he was able to catch the bomb from making a straight line towards Taril. He had a bright, huge smile on his face.
“Yes?” He asked, never letting his guard down.
“Have you seen Counsellor Troi?” The boy nodded and pointed with bomb in hand to the small grove.
“She sought shelter among the trees.” With a hooting scream a girl jumped over the table and threw a barrage of bombs at the hiding boy. With a playful growl he jumped up and ran after her, not giving Taril any opportunity to say thank you. The Batezoid only shrugged and made his way to the trees.

Every nerve ending in Deanna’s body was aflame. Will’s desperate and passionate kisses didn’t make it any better. She moaned into his mouth and her hands were busy with the front zipper of his uniform. Both felt the world around them spinning out of control and this engendered a wonderfully dizzy feeling. She felt his hand on her butt, kneading the firm form. His other one was still tangled in her hair.
“We have to talk.” He whispered hoarsely, trying to cling onto the small snippets of sanity left in him. He looked at her, her cheeks flushed and her eyes deep and dark, enticing him to lose himself. God! If she didn’t say something soon, he would not be sure if he could reign himself in. She wasn’t making it easier for him by kissing him again and again.
“We can talk. But first we need to get rid of these wet clothes.” With that she parted his uniform top and her hands began roaming his chest. He shuddered in delight. Oh Hell! He was also only a man and he had missed her so. In every way.
“Good idea, Counsellor. We wouldn’t want to become ill, now would we?” He buried his face at her neck, breathing deeply of her scent.
“No, we wouldn’t.” She whispered, while closing her eyes. She felt how he took her zipper between his teeth, pulling it down slowly. He slid down along her body, kneeling in front of her at last, both his hands on her hips. Breathing heavily, their hearts thumping in their chests they lost themselves in the others eyes.
“Imzadi!” She whispered, pulling at his tunic. He came up immediately and they came together in a fierce, erotic and passionate kiss. Forgetting about the rest of the world.
They created their own personal heaven in this small grove of trees, pleasuring the other with their hands and tongues in places only they knew would drive the other insane. With regret, Will took his hands off her, so that she could pull his uniform top off him. As soon as his arms were clear, his hands snaked under her uniform and caressed her creamy skin. She just let the sogged clothing fall from her fingers, digging again into his hair.
“So smooth.” He breathed, while removing her uniform top. She laid an arm around his neck and he lifted her up with his hands on her behind. Immediately she slung her long legs around his hips. “You are so beautiful.” He kissed the swell of her breasts. She was still wearing her white regulation bra, which puzzled him for maybe a nanosecond, until her tongue made him think of something completely else. Normally she wore her own underwear, since no one in Starfleet actually controlled if they were wearing the issued underwear or not.
“Be gentle. They are a bit sore.” She whispered and when he saw into her eyes, he saw deep affection gleaming in them. Of course! He smiled brightly and gently kissed her.
“Don’t worry.” Reverently he bowed his head and closed his mouth over one of her nipples through the garment. She hissed, threw her head back and her hands were raking his hair. God she was responsive! But he knew also that had something to do with her altered state. He had talked to Beverly about the changes Deanna would undergo during her pregnancy, because at the time, Deanna wouldn’t have talked to him. He knew that her breasts had already begun to swell and produce milk for their coming baby; the reason why they were sore and why they were so sensitive to touch.
She shuddered in his arms, pulling at his hair, to get be able to claim his mouth again with hers. Honeyed fire flowed like liquid through their veins, when she reached out through their bond, bringing them closer than they could physically ever be.
“I need you Will. Now!” She breathed into his ear, sending goosebumps to rise all over his body. He sat her back down on her feet and both grasped for the others pants. Wanting nothing more than to be one again. To be whole.
That was when someone harshly pulled Will around and punched him down.

Panting Taril stood over Riker, his fists balled and shaking with anger. It had been his intention to knock the Commander unconscious and he had thought himself able to do so. A misconception of course. It took more than a Betazoid boy to knock him out. Even Worf had sometimes had problems with flooring him. Rubbing his jaw, Will came back to his feet.
“Bad idea, boy.” He growled in a low voice. Taril ignored him and snatched Deanna’s hand.
<Come, Deanna. Let’s go. I can’t stand his face any longer.> Aloud he said.
“I am going to report you to the Captain.” At this Will had to laugh.
“For what? For trying to spend some quality time with the woman I love?” Deanna’s eyes lit up at this. Taril didn’t see it.
“No, for rape!” At this both Deanna and Will had to gasp. The Counsellor was angry now. She pulled Xerx roughly around.
“Now listen closely, Taril! What happens between me and Will, is our business, not yours. Will would never rape me and besides, he would never have had the chance!”
“How can you be sure? He is much stronger than you.” Deanna set her arms akimbo and actually smirked.
“I have friends watching out for me.” With that she pointed up. The branches were lined with Koviat youths, who had been following the entire encounter. Some of them seemed to be chagrined at being caught, but others were only interested.
“Could you continue? It was just about to get interesting!” A boy called down. An elder girl whacked him over the head and he fell from his branch. This had the others dissolve in laughter. Will and Deanna joined them, while Taril was still fuming.
“Maybe some other day. When you are all older and wiser!” Will called back.

Taril stormed off, fuming. He couldn’t understand how Deanna could take Riker back after what he had done to her! Riker had no idea what trust, love and commitment really meant. He cursed under his breath all the way back to Engineering. With unnecessary force he hit the panel in front of him. Geordi looked puzzled over to him. He gave the Lieutenant next to him some last instructions and made his way to the Betazoid.
“You know, the panel can’t do anything for your bad mood.” He commented.
“Very funny!” Taril sneered. Geordi’s friendly smile vanished.
“All right, Ensign. What’s your problem? Because if you intend to stay sullen, then get out of here. I need cool heads here.” Taril let the air slip with a hiss, looked up and closed his eyes. He breathed deeply and calmed himself with techniques he had learned since he had been a tot.
“I walked in on Deanna and Commander Riker.” He only said. Geordi arched his eyebrows.
“What do you mean, you walked in on them?”
“I mean, I walked in on them! I can’t believe that Deanna is so gullible and really thinks that he will change!” Geordi smiled brightly.
“They are back together? That is wonderful!”
“Maybe you think it is, but I think it is the worst thing that could happen to Deanna. He will hurt her again.” La Forge shook his head and pulled Taril into his office.
“Now listen closely.” He began, his face grave. “Deanna is a grown woman and she knows what she is doing. She knows Will better than he knows himself. If she thinks that it is safe to take him back, it is safe. And regarding Will.” He stepped close to the young man. “You don’t know him at all. I have served with him the last twenty years and I think I know him pretty well and I know that he would rather kill himself before causing any more hurt to Deanna. So get a grip on yourself and start taking a look at reality. Deanna and Will belong together, ever since they first met. Even Lwaxana thinks so.” Taril had crossed his arms and his face was set in a defiant scowl.
“Is that everything, Sir?” He asked coolly. La Forge shook his head. Why had the kid be so stubborn?
“No, actually it isn’t. You are relieved from duty, until you get some sense into you and cool down. Dismissed.” Geordi went past Xerx back to Engineering and left Taril alone to struggle with his demons and his anger.

Data looked up, when an Ensign of the Shuttle staff approached him.
“Sir, the last Sulin-Avya shuttle has cleared the bay.” She reported. Data nodded and hit his com badge.
“Data to Picard.”
*Yes, Mister Data?*
“The last Sulin-Avya shuttle has just cleared the bay, Sir.”
*Thank you. I will contact the XO on the Ki’Tul and tell them that we are ready to leave.” Data nodded, even though he perfectly knew that the Captain couldn’t see him. It was a habit though that nearly every crewman had and he only thought it to be logical to emulate this behaviour.
He checked his list and gave the PADD to a security officer waiting next to the door. On the list was every name and location of every Koviat, who had boarded the Enterprise. Daniels had not asked for such a list, but Data knew that the Security chief would want one. The burly man took it, looked at it and nodded, before he made his way out of the bay. Data turned around, when he heard huge machines at work. The gangway, which had been extended from the floor of the Ki’Tul’s bay to the Enterprise was being retracted.
“Do not flinch or give any other indication that you can hear me.” A soft voice spoke directly into the android’s ear. He followed the instructions and wondered what this meant? Were political enemies of Alfalan trying to infiltrate the Enterprise and destroy it?
“Very good. I brought a chest with me. I deposited it behind the shuttle ‘Kimball’. The content is perfectly harmless. It comes with greetings from Alfalan and Clancouncillor Mijhavi. We wish you a safe journey.” Data wanted to say something, but somehow he knew that the cloaked Sulin-Avya no longer was there. He had gone to great personal risk to deliver the chest and the message, Data had no doubt about that. He was not concerned about the drop from the Shuttlebay to the Ki’Tul. He knew that every Sulin-Avya could manage the jump without problems. It was being loyal to Alfalan and obviously friendly to the outsiders that was dangerous.
As soon as the Shuttlebay doors clanked shut, Data again hit his com badge.
“Captain, we have received a message.”


Chapter 74

Alfalan sat in the Clan chair and overheard another meeting of the Council. As of right now, she had no real power she could exert, because of her dishonouration. She had learned patience early in life though and a date had already been set for the wedding. Her husband to be stood behind her right shoulder and was filled with pride...and greed. She easily circumvented his shields and saw that he intended to rule for her, even though it was her birthright. This was a matter of some concern for Kun, but he consoled himself that he soon enough would find a possibility to wrest the power out of her hands.
How little he knew. She almost had to smile. She had lived a long time in the Palace and was versed in the techniques of subterfuge and deceit. Compared to her, Kun was an infant.
The matter discussed at the moment was of no importance, so she concentrated instead on Mijhavi, who was sitting three rows down.
<Has it been delivered?> She had to admit that Mijhavi was good. He gave no indication that she had contacted him or that he otherwise was distracted from the topic at hand.
<Is it safe to speak, Mother?> She chuckled internally at this. Mijhavi was much older than her, but he still thought it necessary to address her with her formal rank.
<Do not worry, Mijhavi. Our conversation can not be overheard by anybody.>
<Very well. I received word on a secured channel that the package has been delivered and that the Enterprise has left the Ki’Tul’s hangar.> She nodded to herself.
<Very good. Keep an eye on your back, Mijhavi. There are a lot of people wanting your job in here.> She heard his mental voice chuckle.
<Tell me something new.>

Picard made his way to the Shuttlebay and was joined on his way by a slightly flushed Riker, who still wore his sodden uniform.
“What happened to you, Number One?” Riker smiled brightly and looked down at himself.
“There was a water bomb fight on the holodeck and I got into the line of fire somehow.” Picard only grunted at this, but the corners of his mouth twitched a little.
With a hiss, the doors to the Shuttlebay opened and they went straight to Data, who was kneeling in front of something behind the shuttle ‘Kimball’.
“What is this about a message, Mister Data?” Picard asked. The android rose and faced his superiors.
“When the Ki’Tul retracted the gangway I was contacted by a cloaked Sulin-Avya. He told me of the location of this chest and said it came from Clanmother Alfalan and Clancouncillor Mijhavi.” Both Picard and Riker took in the ornately carved chest.
“Very interesting, don’t you think, Sir?” Riker asked.
“Indeed, Commander. Can you open it?” Picard asked.
“Yes, Sir. I have studied the mechanism and it was specially encoded, so that only members of our crew can open it. I think that, if any other Sulin-Avya would have tried, a booby trap would have detonated, destroying the contents.” Commander and Captain looked surprised at each other.
“I wonder what is that important, that Alfalan would smuggle it aboard our ship and secure it in such an extreme manner.”
“My exact thoughts, Number One. Very well, Mister Data, open it.”
Data put his hand on a small, smooth surface and shortly afterwards a clank and a hiss were audible. As Data opened the chest, Riker and Picard were stricken speechless. Data reached into the chest.
“Daggers. Interesting.” He turned the blade and watched how the light of the bay caught the intricate markings.
“Why would they send us a chest full of daggers?” Riker asked puzzled. Picard shook his head.
“I have no idea, but maybe this PADD will lift the mystery.” The Captain reached for the small device laid into the top. He read through the contents and his face became grave.
“Please contact Kalvolin and send him down here, Mister Data.” Data nodded, put the dagger back and rose to his feet. Riker took a step nearer to his Captain.
“What is it, Sir?”
“A last gift from Alfalan. Each Koviat’s family blade and data of families they never met. Even pictures.”

Taril hadn’t been able to stay in his quarters, so now he roamed the ships corridors, trying to take his mind off Deanna and Will Riker. He wasn’t succeeding. He turned a corner and bumped into a Koviat boy.
“Sorry. I didn’t pay attention.” The boy apologised. Taril smiled down at him.
“Don’t worry. You did not hurt me. Where were you headed? Are you lost?” The boy vigorously shook his head, sending his dark hair dancing.
“No. I was in Sickbay. Doctor Crusher examined me and said I was all right. I was just exploring.” Taril squinted at him and thought he could remember him.
“You are the boy, who fell out of the tree, aren’t you?” Had his skin colour been something else than dark obsidian, Taril knew that the boy would have blushed.
“Yes, I was.” He murmured. Xerx smiled and patted him on his shoulder.
“Nothing to be ashamed of. My name is Taril Xerx, what’s yours?”
“Leven Afes.” Taril outstretched his hand.
“Pleased to meet you, Leven.” Cautiously Leven took the offered hand.
“Have you been to Ten Forward yet, Leven?” The boy shook his head again. “Then I think I will take you there and introduce you to some of my favourites. Have you ever had vanilla ice cream?”
“No. What is ice cream?” Taril laughed and laid an arm around the boy’s shoulders, while leading the way.
“It is the most delicious desert ever invented. You will like it.”
“What is a desert?” The Betazoid stared with wide eyes at the boy.
“You don’t know what a desert is?”
“No. They fed me only nutrients I needed. Most of them were tasteless.”
“Well...Then I think we should remedy that immediately.” Leven beamed at this prospect.
A few minutes later they sat across from each other in Ten Forward. Taril sipping a coffee and Leven digging into a huge vanilla ice.
“This is fantastic.” Leven managed to say between two spoons of ice cream. Taril smiled.
“I am glad you approve.”
“I would like to ask a question.” The deep blue eyes of Leven grew serious. “What were Commander Riker and Healer Deanna doing?” Uncomfortable Taril rearranged himself on his chair.
“Well...they...they kissed.”
“Yes, I know. But why were they taking off each others clothes?” Xerx cleared his throat.
“Leven, do you know where babies come from?” Confidently Leven pointed at his stomach. “Yes, right, they grow in the mother’s belly, but how do they get there?”
“I have no idea.” Leven admitted.
“When a man and a woman come together in a very intimate way, a part of the man’s essence, his DNA, enters the woman. Inside the woman, it meets a receptacle, an egg, with a part of the woman’s DNA. These two merge and new life begins.” Leven stared at him wide eyed.
“Wow! Does that happen every time?” Taril smiled at the boy’s astonishment.
“Yes, every time. Each person you will meet, has been created in the same way.” Leven laid down his spoon and stared at his hands deep in thought.
“That is a huge thing to do. I mean, combining your DNA with that of someone else.” Taril nodded.
“Oh yes, it is. That is why most people wait a long time until they get children. They want to be sure that they have the right partner. And even then it sometimes is a mistake.” He murmured the last sentence, but Leven’s ears were very good.
“You think of Healer Deanna and Commander Riker.” It was a statement of fact, no question. Puzzled Taril stared at the boy. “I saw you hit him, remember? Why do you think it is bad that they have a child together? They are very much in love with each other.” Taril wanted to point out that the boy hadn’t lived long enough to really know what love was, but as soon as he saw the youths eyes, he bit back his question. Leven’s eyes. They were much older than his outer appearance let on.
“Yes, I know what love is and what it means. What it entails. It makes people do crazy things. Men and women tried to fight me, even though they knew it was no use. I cut a woman in half and she still tried to protect her child. She was dying, but her only thought was getting her child to safety.” Taril swallowed laboriously. “You don’t have to say that you feel sorry for me. What I did back then wasn’t me.” Taril shook his head.
“Still, Leven. I am sorry that you had to make such experiences.”
“Thank you. Even though you may think that Commander Riker is the wrong one, I think that Healer Deanna has chosen wisely. He would die for them and what more can one ask?” Silence settled between them. Leven looked up and his gaze grew distant.
“I have to go now. Thank you for the ice cream. Bye Taril.” He rose and went, leaving Taril with a feeling of being very small and inexperienced.

Kalvolin entered the Shuttlebay and saw Captain Picard and Commander Riker next to one of the shuttles. He wondered what was wrong. Had one of the children explored too much?
“Captain? What can I do for you?” He asked as he came nearer. Picard took a step to the side and now Kalvolin could see the chest. His eyes became as round as balls and he stood still.
“I gather you know what this is?” Picard asked quietly. Kalvolin could only nod. “A last goodbye from Alfalan and Mijhavi.” Invitingly the Captain outstretched his arm. Slowly Kalvolin took the last two steps towards the chest and knelt down in front of it. Reverently he lifted one of the daggers. Its silvery blade shone brightly in the light. A tear rolled down his cheek.
“Do you know what this is, Captain?”
“I only know that, which was on here.” Picard held up the PADD. “It is each Koviat’s family blade. But what that means exactly, I don’t know.” Softly Kalvolin let his fingers glide over the metal and the handle.
“Every family has a blade. It is their pride, their honour. It is given to the children in a very important ceremony. They get entrusted with the future. I never thought…I never dreamed that I one day would be able to hold my family blade!” Riker and Picard stood next to him in silence. It seemed the only right thing to do. At last, Will broke the silence.
“We have received another gift from Alfalan?” Kalvolin looked up.
“What else can she give us? She gave us back our honour, our life.” Will took the PADD from Picard’s hand, browsed through it and gave it to Kalvolin.
“Say hello to your parents.” He whispered. The huge Koviat stared at the picture in front of him. His parents. A huge lump rose in his throat and tears were running freely down his cheeks. Tentatively he touched the picture and caressed their faces.
“Kuvari H’Ata enumeai jurukai nuri amet. Iama…kara…” With shining eyes he looked to the two Humans next to him. “Your son has his honour back and no longer walks in shadows. My mother…and…and my father…” His emotions were so overpowering that he could no longer speak. He looked back at the picture.
“Finally I can honour them as I should have been able to, right from the beginning.” He sniffed and stood, putting the blade into his belt. Riker creased his brow.
“How do you know it’s yours?” Kalvolin smiled through his tears.
“I know. The inscription is ancient, but because we had to be unable to read anything else than mere fact, they only taught us the ancient symbols, which are no longer used. The Koviat are probably the only people, apart from those who educated us, who can read these symbols.”
“We had no time to look, but maybe your parents gave you a name.” Picard murmured. Quickly Kalvolin checked and a bright smile lit up his face.
“They did.” He shook his head sadly. “How well they knew my fate without ever having met me.”
“Why?” Will asked.
“Tzunari Lyst Drosar. It is a very ancient name. Tzunari is storm and with Drosar it becomes the storm spirit. Lyst means light. I am the storm spirit, bringing light.”
Picard smiled at this.
“Maybe they knew all along, my friend.”
“Yes, maybe they did.” Kalvolin, or more properly Tzunari, straightened himself. “Could I ask a favour of you, Captain?”
“I want to give my brothers and sisters their daggers. As their Clanfather, it is my duty. I will need a proper setting though. Do you have a garden with large trees?” Picard and Riker smiled. Will put his hand on Tzunari’s arm.
“We have something even better than that.”


Chapter 75

The preparations for the ceremony began immediately in holodeck 4, the biggest of them all, since every Koviat had to fit in. The programming of the setting was quite simple. A large clearing surrounded by towering trees. In the middle of the clearing was a huge bonfire and in front of this fire, Tzunari put the chest with daggers. Because of the many people, only a few Enterprise crew members could come and look on. Afterwards, Picard had scheduled a little party in Ten Forward as a little surprise. Every single member of the crew was helping with decorations all over the ship, since everyone knew that the party would move beyond the Ten Forward lounge in no time, even though it was probably against the Captain’s orders. No one seemed to care about that though. The Koviats’ enthusiasm and joy had influenced the whole crew.
Tzunari looked around the clearing and breathed deeply and a smile spread on his face. He turned to Captain Picard.
“It is time, Captain.” Picard nodded and gave a signal to different crewmembers by tapping his communicator twice. On this signal, they should begin leading the other Koviat here. Next to Picard stood Will and Deanna. While the Captain and Commander were in their gala uniforms, Deanna had chosen to wear a deep green dress, which hugged her figure tightly and fell in wide folds from her hips. Her dark hair fell freely and she was smiling brightly, while rubbing Will’s hand with the thumb of hers. He smiled down at her and drew her a little closer.
Slowly the first Koviat began to file into the clearing staring at the trees with wide eyes. Soon though, all their eyes fell on the chest next to Tzurani. He was standing proudly, with his head held high. A long black coat with silver trimming lay on his shoulders and tucked into a deep blue belt flashed his family blade. The first to reach him, bowed deeply and then sat on their shins in front of the fire, leaving an aisle in the middle free, so that anyone Tzunari would call could quickly and without hindrance get to him. It all took place in absolute silence. None of them talked and the only sound was the rustling of the trees and the snapping of burning logs.
When all had found a place to sit, Tzunari lifted his arms and closed his eyes. All others closed their eyes too. A deep rumbling sound became audible and Picard could feel it in his bones. He turned to Riker, who in turn stared at Deanna. She had closed her eyes along with the rest of the Koviat and was humming too. Her face was filled with peace and her smile grew. Picard and Riker looked at each other and had to smile too. Tonight, there was no place for worry.
Without saying something, Koviat stood from their sitting position on the grass and walked up to Tzunari and received their family blades. In some instances they also received a holo with their families on it and a new name. This was rare though. Many of the Koviat cried openly at finally getting their honour back. Being a person without honour was the worst for a Sulin-Avya. It meant that you were no more than dirt. You were not worthy of other peoples’ compassion and love. But now, now everything was different. Now they finally were able to hold their heads up high.
As all had received their blades, the humming stopped and Tzunari threw the chest on the fire.
“Tonight, we leave our old existence behind. Tonight we claim what was forbidden to us. Tonight we leave the Koviat, the honourless behind us and become Alin-Avya. The Free Spirits of Life. Let us hail those who made it possible.” They all turned toward Picard, Riker and Troi. Tzunari raised his fist and every time he raised it over his head, they all roared in unison. Soon all of them were standing, each wearing a bright smile, raising their fists, stamping the ground and roaring. Picard raised his hands and wanted to say that he had only stood by. That the honour of freeing them was not his. They had no interest in it. To them, he was their liberator. Four of them lifted him on their arms and began carrying him out of the holodeck. He looked behind and saw how they lifted a laughing Deanna along with Will. Helpless Picard began laughing too.
Singing loudly and roaring they made their way through the ship. Children joined the throng, stomping and trying to roar too. Grown officers did the same. Soon they reached Ten Forward and Guinan had prepared a huge buffet, which took up half of the room. This elicited another excited round of roars from the large group. Finally they sat Picard back down and he saw that Deanna and Will were back on their feet too. But now it seemed as if it was Beverly’s turn. She was lifted up by some of the teenagers and thrown softly into the air. At first she squealed with fear and surprise, but soon enjoyed it. Helplessly Picard joined, as well as the other officers present. Tonight, there was no place for fear or sadness.

The journey back to the Federation was filled with joy and laughter, since the Alin-Avya wanted to experience everything they had been forced to miss out. The crew helped them where they could and began seeing the world around them with new eyes. Many grown officers joined their children in games they had played when they had been children, ate some of the foods they had relished back then and discovered old passions anew.
Deanna had become a kind of celebrity among the freed aliens, since she was pregnant and was helping them overcome their existence as weapons and slaves. Beverly was no less liked, since she had been the one, who had figured out a way to help them achieve their freedom. She trained with the Alin-Avya every day, to help them to find the limits of their strength. At first they didn’t understand, what purpose this would serve, but when they began to be able to eat with utensils without bending them, they knew why. They were able to control their strength much better and the youngest began testing it on each other in mock fights. The older Alin-Avya began instructing them and Will taught them how to disable an opponent without killing him. All were astonished that something like that was actually possible. They had been taught that as soon as they touched someone, they were dead.
The holodecks were working 24/7, since all the freed aliens wanted to experience a multitude of things. Among them also intimacy. Beverly had given them all a preventive inoculation, so no one feared that there would be a flood of babies coming and the Alin-Avya took this chance with enthusiasm. One afternoon though, the harmony was over. Lieutenant Mathers had the misfortune of walking along the wrong corridor. One of the holodeck doors swished open and a bloodied Alin-Avya man crashed into him, breaking several of his bones and knocking him unconscious. With a loud roar another man came jumping at the other. This one came up with an equally loud roar and assaulted his attacker. A young woman in her undergarments came running to them, trying to separate them, but to no avail. Furiously fighting, snapping and clawing at each other they rolled along the corridor, no grace or tactic to their movements. Crewmembers contacted the Bridge and within minutes, the area was sealed off with force fields. Captain Picard had contacted Tzunari and both were now on their way.
They met at one of the force fields and Picard saw, that Tzunari had not come alone. Four others were with him. He raised an eyebrow.
“I hope force will not be necessary.” Tzunari’s face was drawn into a dark scowl.
“It will be, Captain. Trust me. They both are most certainly in a blood rage and in that state it will be hard to stop them. And it will be impossible to reason with them.” Picard saw how the tall man peaked his ears. “Even though Maliena is trying.” His violet eyes found Picard’s grey ones.
“It is better you stay back, Captain, until we have the two under control.” Grimly the Captain nodded, stood back and deactivated the force field. United the five went in and Picard brought the field up behind them.

Tzunari was furious. How could they misuse the hospitality these people had shown them? Where was their gratitude? He knew them both; knew them to be perfectly controlled individuals, so what had gotten into them? His arm muscles bulged, as he went around the corner and saw them rolling around on the floor. The men and women, who had followed him rushed forward and did their best to pull the two combatants apart. They were bitten and slashed with claws as thanks for their effort. Maliena came up to Tzunari, her head bowed, not daring to look into his eyes.
“Tell me what happened.” He ordered his voice calm and dangerous. A tear ran down her cheek.
“Himar and I were in the holodeck. We wanted to enjoy the bliss of union. We were at a lake, talking and kissing. That was when Mikan came. We had enjoyed union some days earlier together. He tore Himar away from me and told him that I was his mate and that he should not dare to touch me again. Himar was angry and told him to go away. That I had followed willingly. I told Mikan that I had not chosen him as my mate and that I could do as I wished.” She sobbed loudly. “Mikan told me that he loved me and asked why I had joined with him, if I didn’t love him too. I didn’t know what to say. He wanted to touch me and that was when Himar hit him. I tried to step between them. Himar hit me and I fell. Mikan roared in anger and attacked Himar with his claws. From then on it went totally out of control.” Crying she covered her eyes. Softly Tzunari caressed her cheek.
“Do you love Mikan?” With wide, tearful eyes she looked up into his.
“I don’t know. How does love feel?” Sadly he shook his head. Of course. How was she supposed to know, what love felt like. She had just gained the freedom of feelings. He turned away from her and toward Mikan and Himar. They were under control now and one of the four, who had accompanied him, slapped their faces again and again.
“Father!” He turned toward Maliena again. She trembled miserably. “Did I do something wrong? I…I only wanted to share my joy…”Her voice was a low whisper, nearly choked out by her tears. He shook his head.
“There is nothing wrong in sharing your joy, but you must choose wisely with whom you want to share it with. Remember that.” She bowed her head, fell to her knees and bent her head back.
“Punish me, Father. Please free me from this pain.” Tears were streaming down her face. Mikan and Himar had quickly become the best of friends and now their friendship was destroyed because of her. Tzunari leaned down, took her chin in his hands and forced her to stand. He looked deeply into her eyes.
“I will not punish you. The pain you are feeling is punishing you already.” She tore away from his hand and fumbled for something at her belt.
“Then I will do it myself!” She screamed and finally found the hilt of her dagger. Before Tzunari could do anything she had it already out and going for her throat.
“MALIENA!” At the scream, both turned around. Mikan was fighting the two, who held him, trying to get to her.
“Don’t! Spirits please don’t!” Tears were streaming down his face too. Himar seemed to come out of his rage too, at seeing her ready to kill herself. Maliena stared at him and Tzunari saw his chance and grabbed the hand, holding the dagger. She didn’t resist, as he wrested it from her frozen fingers.
“Please don’t, Maliena. I will never interfere between you again, but please don’t kill yourself!” Mikan hung limply in the arms of those holding him. Maliena quickly rushed up to him and rubbed her face against his, purring.
“I will not kill myself. Don’t worry, Mikan. I just felt so guilty of destroying yours and Himar’s friendship.” Tzunari nodded and the four let the two men go. Both of them hugged Maliena tightly and whispered their apologies. With a relieved sigh Tzunari put his hand on a wall panel.
“Captain? The situation is under control. One of your officers needs medical attention.”
“Acknowledged. Picard out.” Tzunari turned again towards the three, who were still hugging each other and muttering apologies. His mood sank. They were still savage and an Enterprise officer had nearly paid with his life for it.
“Get back to your beds. All of us will go back. Now!” Puzzled the four, who had followed him looked at each other, then shrugged their shoulders and began to go back. The three were following them slowly, parting at the turbolift in two groups. Tzunari closed his hand into a fist and it shook with his helpless anger. Nothing had changed! They were still as dangerous as before. They were still monsters.


Chapter 76

The marriage had taken place. There was no way back. She was now Kun’s wife and nothing would be able to change this. With a sigh Alfalan stretched her neck and held her face into the night wind, sweeping up to her balcony. He had suggested that they share their quarters from now on, but she had refused. The marriage was one of neccessity, not one out of love. She had told him so right from the start.
He had accepted, if a bit grudgingly. She knew that he had feelings for her, which he thought were love, but she knew them to be plain possessiveness. Her long hair caressed her face and she had to think about Kalvolin and how soft his touch had felt to her. It had been so different than Kun’s and every time he touched her, she was reminded of that again.
“Mistress?” The timid voice belonged to her interpreter of the week. She was a lovely young woman, who was a bit naive, but very talented. The only ‘bad’ thing in her character was that she was very inexperienced. She had grown up in a protected environment and was easy prey for the Palace guard, who promised her the blue out of the sky; and she believed them every time.
<What is it?> Alfalan had to wince herself at how harsh her voice sounded. She turned towards her interpreter and smiled softly.
“Clanfather Kun is here to see you, Mistress.” Alfalan turned away from her again with a sigh.
<Send him in. Go to your date.> The Clanmother did not need eyes to see how her interpreter blushed.
“Yes, Mistress. Everything you say, shall be.”
Shortly after Kun entered. His characteristic single-mindedness permeated the room like thick fog.
“How is my wife today?” She turned towards him and probed him deeply. He was too smug for her comfort.
He laughed and sat down in a chair opposite her.
“You don’t know?”
<Actually, I do, but I thought it would be polite to ask.> She felt him flinch.
‘I am wearing a blocker! How can she read my thoughts?’, it shot through his head. Now Alfalan was wearing the smug smile, while she rose and poured herself some Nilik juice.
<You don’t know as much about me as you like to think, Kun. Not even half as much.>
“Well, are you going to object?” She had to grant him that he caught himself quickly.
<The deployment of the fleet doesn’t interest me. You forget that Captain Picard has the decree of my father. It still stands.> He nodded and crossed his legs.
“Indeed. As long as he is within our space.” That was a nice twist he had found there. She doubted that it had been his idea. Slowly she turned on him.
<Then count on it that I will object.>
“It’s too late my dear. The Council voted already. It was unanimous.” She snorted derisively.
<Oh yes? I wonder with what you threatened them or what kind of horror stories you told them. Ah!> She looked directly at him now and he began squirming in his seat, even though he tried to suppress it as hard as he could. <You told them that Kalvolin and the others will come back to take revenge.> She smiled and shook her head, as if she was disappointed with a small child.
<You still have much to learn, Kun. Begin preparing the warfs for the returning fleet.>
Angry Kun rose from his reclining position and snarled.
“It is my responsibility to protect the people. That is what I am doing!” Alfalan, now angry herself, swished around, bared her teeth and growled.
<No! That is not what you are doing. You are seeking revenge. While doing that, you leave the entire Protectorate open for attack! Consider that. You sent the whole fleet after Picard. Who will meet the Haminides, if they decide that right now is a good time to invade our space? Who, Kun?!> She set her glass down hard and left the room in long strides. She was going to convince the Council of calling the fleet back immediately.
Kun was left standing in her rooms, eyes wide and pale. He hadn’t thought about the Haminides, only about Kalvolin and the band of freaks.

For four days none of the Alin-Avya had left their quarters and the crew began worrying about them. Picard gathered his Senior officers in the Lounge to discuss this new turn of events.
“Do any of you know why they no longer leave their quarters?” He threw the question into the room. Since he had no idea, he thought that maybe one of the others had an inkling. Deanna leaned slightly forward. She had taken her customary seat next to Riker again. Beverly had smiled brightly and winked at Picard.
“I don’t know, Captain, but they do no longer come to the counselling sessions.” Riker nodded.
“They gave me a call and cancelled all self-defence classes too.” Data cocked his head.
“That is rather peculiar. In my conversations with the Alin-Avya I had the feeling that they appreciated and enjoyed these classes very much.” Beverly smirked.
“You had the feeling, Data?”
“Yes, Doctor.” Geordi smiled too, but Picard brought them back to the serious matter at hand by clearing his throat.
“Doctor, has Nolukai recuperated enough to attend this meeting?” She nodded.
“Oh, yes, Captain. He keeps bugging me when he is allowed to leave Sickbay.”
“Good. Make that now, Doctor.”
Few minutes afterwards, Nolukai joined them in the conference room.
“You wished to talk to me, Captain Picard?”
“Indeed, Nolukai. Please, take a seat.” With his hand, Picard indicated that Nolukai should sit down.
“I don’t know if you have heard that the Alin-Avya refuse to leave their quarters?” Nolukai sighed, looked at his hands and nodded.
“Yes, Captain, I have. The explanation to that is quite simple though.”
“Really? Then please enlighten the rest of us.” Nolukai nodded.
“Some days ago, a crewman was brought to Sickbay. I heard that he had been injured by two Alin-Avya fighting. Obviously they had lost control of themselves, or they would never have injured any of you. Tsunari probably thinks that they are not better than when they were still possessed by a Black Soul. This is of course absurd, but the feeling is still there.
The core of the problem is, Captain, that none of them are experienced in dealing with their emotions, especially aggressiveness. They were weapons and the more aggressive they were, the better.” All of them mulled this new information over a bit.
“All right then. I will arrange for a meeting with Tsunari and the other leading Alin-Avya. We have to convince them that everything has changed for them and that they only need to control themselves a little more.”
“Captain?” Picard turned his head towards Deanna.
“Yes, Counsellor?”
“I would advise to include Lieutenant Commander L’Ret in the meeting.” At this the Captain creased his brow.
“Why that?”
“The Vulcans’ control over their emotions surpasses that of any other race. He will be able to teach them methods to always stay in control, which is what they obviously want.” Slowly Picard nodded.
“Good thinking, Counsellor. Please explain the situation to the Lieutenant Commander. I will arrange the meeting. Dismissed.”


Chapter 77

Iljana sat on the bridge of the Ki’Tul and was staring at the huge view screen in front of her. It was showing the swirling colours of warp flight, but she didn’t really see that. She had been concerned, when the order had come from the Council to follow the Enterprise and to attack it, as soon as it left Protectorate space. She had been torn between her sense of duty and her heart. She had found friends aboard the Enterprise and Nolukai was with them. Should she disobey the order though, she would have been removed from her position. That, she could not risk.
Nervous she had waited for many days and then finally the counter order had come, for her to get back home. She did not doubt that this was Alfalan’s doing and she thanked the Spirits for it.
What puzzled her though was that the Ki’Tul had not been ordered back to their patrol schedule, but had been ordered to return to Sunin-Valara. The only reason for this which Iljana could think of was that Alfalan wanted to talk to her directly. Obviously the Clanmother didn’t think communications to be safe. And Iljana agreed.
With a nearly imperceptible shudder in the floor the Ki’Tul dropped out of warp and the home system was now ‘right in front’ of them.
“Prepare a shuttle.” She ordered and left the bridge. Over intra-ship communications she ordered the command crew to meet her in the bay. The order for the return had not been specific about what she was supposed to do, as soon as she was back. The only thing she could rely on was tradition. It was normal for the command crew to report in at the Military Council when they came back and that was exactly what Iljana was going to do. Maybe there they would have more information for her.
Erralek greeted her in the bay. He was the only old command crew member. Their friendship had grown, since she had become the Warmistress.
“Any new orders?” He asked. She only shook her head. He was just as puzzled as she was. On the other hand, when Alfalan had been their Warmistress, she had had access to nearly everybody’s mind. It was impossible to keep anything hidden from her and so she had always been perfectly informed. Only now had Iljana realised this fact. In an effort to determine if orders like those she had received had come before, she had discovered that most had been as cryptic as those that she had received. Alfalan’s superior abilities had clarified the messages to her, but Iljana did not possess the Clanmother’s potential. Far from it.
“No. No new orders. I don’t know why we are here and not patrolling the borders, as we should be. I don’t doubt the Haminides have somehow found out that the Koviat are gone and will use this opportunity to attack.” Erralek seemed shocked at this piece of news.
“You…you don’t actually think they would dare open war with us?” She snorted.
“Why not? Our main line of defence is flying to different shores with the Enterprise. Their warriors have from time to time proven themselves as a match to our own. Believe me, they smell an opportunity and they are not stupid. They will seize it.”
Their conversation was cut short by the arrival of the new Master of Healers. A woman of regal bearing. Iljana had picked her, because Nolukai had praised her for her work time and time again in his logs. Politely she greeted her superiors, but stayed quiet.
When a shadow fell over them, they looked up. Zume’s great bulk was blocking the bay’s lighting. Iljana had promoted him to the position of Troopmaster. Some had objected, but these few were quickly silenced, after Zume had shown his prowess, by giving each of them the opportunity to challenge him. Last to come was Iljana’s second in command. She didn’t get as much freedom of choice with him as with the others. He had been appointed by the Military Council, no doubt on the urgings of Kun. He was an old friend of the former Shipmaster and fiercely loyal to him. The reason why Iljana didn’t trust him and was very careful of what she said around him.
Kun’s distrust for Laniat served the Warmistress well, since he couldn’t read her thoughts and discover her disgust for her former Shipmaster. She had even stopped keeping a personal log, since she thought him fully capable of obtaining it by illegal means, bringing it to Kun and thereby dooming her.
“Warmistress.” Jalus bowed to her and it seemed more as an afterthought than an actual gesture of respect. She decided not to take the bait. She knew she could handle him in combat, if need be, but she wanted to avoid that as long as possible. She knew also that he thought himself to be a superior warrior. A clear misconception on his part of course. She may be small, but her delicate stature gave her advantages he probably had never thought of and made her a harder target to hit. And she had had the advantage of having seen Kalvolin train. She had that day engraved in memory and in private training sessions she had honed her skills unrelentingly.
“Since everyone’s here, let us get to Sunin-Valara and see what the Council demands.” She made sure not to say the High Council, but just Council. Iljana was pretty sure that Alfalan had the High Council under her control now, while the Military Council probably listened to Kun’s slightest word. As she knew where Jalus’ loyalties lay, she made sure not to let him get the slightest slip of tongue from her, on which he could hang her. She knew that he wanted her job.

After long discussions Tsunari had finally agreed to meeting Picard. Again he was accompanied by Eliana and Torken. With grave faces they sat across from Picard.
“You wished to speak with us, Captain?”
“Indeed. Ever since the incident at the holodeck all of your people have not left their respective rooms. Why?” Tsunari sighed and a deep sadness was in his eyes.
“Because we are still dangerous. We may have rid ourselves of the Black Soul, but it seems as if it wasn’t that which made us killing machines and savages, but our own nature.”
“Absolute nonsense!” A voice snorted from the other end of the room. Surprised everyone looked up. Nolukai entered the room fully now and the door shut behind him with a slight hiss.
“Nolukai.” Picard nodded to him. “As far as I understood it, you didn’t want to attend this meeting.” The Sulin-Avya sat down at the end of the long conference table, rearranging his robes about himself.
“I know what I said, Captain. I know Tsunari though and I had an inkling about what he would say to you. I decided that my presence was needed.”
“You still don’t care about rank and propriety, do you?” A slight smirk was on Tsunari’s face.
“One of my great failings.” Admitted the former Master of Healers. He turned to Picard. “Captain, if I may, I will probably be much more adept in talking sense into them than you.” Picard felt slightly miffed, but nodded. Eliana didn’t take Nolukai’s nonchalance as well as Tsunari or Torken.
“Show some respect! This is Picard, the Captain of this vessel, you are speaking to!” Nolukai’s infuriating smirk didn’t waver.
“I know that, my dear. I may be many things, among them impolite, but not blind.” She snarled at that and Tsunari put a hand on her arm to keep her in place. Obediently she reigned herself in. Nolukai only lifted an eyebrow.
“Now, since we all have decided to deal with this in a civil manner, I feel that I have to tell you, that you are no monsters. None of you!” He looked each Alin-Avya deeply into the eyes.
“How can you be sure? You saw what some of us did.” Tsunari said. Nolukai waived that off.
“Yes, I saw what you did under the influence of the Black Soul, but that has nothing to do with how you act now. With all your experience in combat, you are all still infants when it comes to dealing with emotions.“ Torken growled at that.
“Watch your mouth, young one.” Nolukai bowed mockingly.
“I apologize, wise one, but even you have no idea how to deal with this, or you would have stopped Tsunari from this idiotic course of action. Confining everybody to their beds?! Come on! This ship is filled with people who wish to help you and are very capable of doing so. One set-back and you tuck tail? I would have expected more of you.”
“You call the injuring and nearly killing a crewman of this ship a set-back?” The incredulity was clear in Eliana’s voice. He only nodded.
“Yes. Fact is, he wasn’t killed and bears the two youngsters who were responsible for his injury no grudge. Now to the loss of control of these two. It was perfectly normal. I speak from own experience. They are in the middle of their transition and were attracted to the same woman. Increased aggression is only normal for those in transition. One time around you will have to deal with all this and especially with the blood lust, which is inherent in all members of our race, even me. These people can and will help you, but only if you let them. So, either you sit on your beds and complain how bad the world is and wallow in self-pity, or you take Captain Picard and the crew of this vessel up on their offer of help. What is it going to be?” The three Alin-Avya looked to Picard.
“You can help us control the blood lust?” They were stunned by this. Slowly Picard nodded.
“We think we may be able to help you. You have already met a Vulcan. Lieutenant T’ran. The Vulcans are known throughout the Federation for their superior mental control. Lieutenant Commander L’Ret is prepared to instruct at first a little group of you in their techniques, so that you then can teach the rest yourselves.” They mulled it over for a time. At last Torken spoke.
“The woman seemed as cold as a rock.” It sounded like an objection.
“That may be true, but Vulcans take this mental control to extremes. They believe that emotions are a hindrance and that life should be viewed only through logic. It is up to you, how far you wish to go with this. Another thing is that to be able to reach the extent of control they have over their emotions takes many years, centuries even. Lieutenant Commander L’Ret will only teach you the basics. From there you can take it to whatever level you wish.” The three Alin-Avya exchanged glances and at last Tsunari looked Picard in the eye.
“Very well, Captain. It is worth a try.” And as he said this, Picard was relieved to see a small smile of hope.

Chapter 78

Iljana had come to the Military Council with her officers, only to be rerouted to the Clan Palace. None of them liked to be kept in the dark, but especially Jalus seemed to be very irritated by this.
“Why should we go to the Clan Palace? We are warriors. We should only deal with the Military Council.” Erralek threw him a confused look. Unobtrusively Iljana gave him a sign to keep quiet.
“I do not know why we were ordered to come here. But, as you said, we are warriors and as a good warrior, I will follow the orders given me.” Jalus shot her a dark look and she purposefully looked in a different direction. She caught Zume’s eyes and saw him smirk a little bit. Many thought that he was quite stupid because he never said anything, but he was actually very smart. She allowed herself a small smile and past the high gates into the welcoming hall. All of them went through the welcoming ritual and then made their way to the Clan Council chamber. Halfway they were met by Palace guards.
“Warmistress Iljana?” Iljana nodded confused.
“Please accompany us. Your officers will stay here and may enjoy the hospitality of the Palace.” Puzzled they looked from one to the other. Iljana nodded again and gave Zume a sign to stay quiet.
“Very well. Lead the way.” She would have bet that Jalus had a bright smile on his face right now. It seemed as if she was in deep trouble. For what, she had no idea at all.
With long strides the guards made their way through the maze that was the Palace. When joining Palace guard service a four month tutorial was devoted only to the architecture of the Palace. They had to know it in and out. These obviously did, since they took Iljana down corridors and passages she had never imagined possible. Finally her guides stopped in front of a door that looked like any of the thousands in the Palace. They stood on both sides of it and one of them opened it for her. Tentatively she entered the room. A great surprise was waiting for her.

Tsunari was among the first group of Alin-Avya, who wanted to learn about the Vulcan way of controlling emotions. All of them were very sceptical towards the Vulcan Lieutenant, who had taken it upon himself to educate them. Deanna was present too, which made some of the Alin-Avya nervous.
“Please, you do not have to be nervous when I am around. You all know me.” Deanna tried to ease their feelings.
“Yes, we do. That is the reason why we are nervous. You and your blessing should not be in the same room with us. We are still savage and could hurt you or the child.” L’Ret shook his head.
“That is, in fact, impossible.”
“And how would you know that?” A young man inquired quite heatedly. L’Ret only raised one eyebrow.
“It is only logical. The high regard in your culture for children and unborn life would forbid you, even in the grip of volatile emotions to hurt the counsellor. But if it is of any help to you, I am a skilled close combat fighter and will be able to deal with any of you trying to attack the Counsellor.” This brought on a round of laughter. Again L’Ret raised his eyebrow. “I was not aware I said something funny.”
“No. It is just…Lieutenant Commander, we were bred for the purpose of fighting and killing. No offence meant, but you wouldn’t be able to stop any of us, if we wanted to attack someone.” Tsunari answered him.
“Intriguing. Should we put it to a test?”
“We do not wish to harm anyone. That is why we are here.”
“Rest assured that none of you could injure me.” Slowly Tsunari nodded.
“Very well. Ikkar, knock him unconscious.” Deanna rose from her seat.
“That isn’t really necessary, Tsunari.” L’Ret answered her.
“On the contrary Counsellor. These individuals have to learn that they are not killing machines. That their touch does not mean death. Showing them that someone they deem inferior is able to deal with them, will show them that they are not as deadly as they seem to think.” Ikkar, who had been the first to speak to L’Ret, stood and on Tsunari’s nod assumed the traditional fighting position.
“Defend yourself.” He warned L’Ret.
“I will.” The Vulcan answered calmly and stood totally relaxed opposite a man, who was easily twice his size. A flurry of movement followed and with a crash…Ikkar landed unconscious on the ground. With round eyes and utterly speechless the Alin-Avya looked at their fallen comrade and then at L’Ret.
“As you can see, I am well capable of defending the Counsellor.”
“Is he dead?” A woman in the back asked.
“No. Merely unconscious. He will recover his senses in a few minutes. He may suffer a mild headache, though I do not know for certain, since I am not familiar with the Alin-Avya physiology.”
“How did you do that?” Tsunari measured the Vulcan up again.
“A very old and simple defence mechanism from my home world. Now, should we begin our session now or wait until Ikkar regains consciousness?” Slowly all of the Alin-Avya sat down, deeply impressed. Deanna was barely able to stifle her laughter.
“No, no we’ll wait for him.” L’Ret nodded and sat down himself.

Iljana fell to her knees immediately and bared her throat. It really astonished her, to see her personally.
“Mother. How can the Ki’Tul be of service?” Alfalan indicated for her to sit. Both women seated themselves on the comfortable chairs. With puzzlement Iljana saw, that Alfalan had not brought an interpreter.
<No, I haven’t brought an interpreter, because what I am going to say to you is top secret.> Iljana wanted to answer, but Alfalan put her finger in front of her mouth. The Warmistress understood immediately. Alfalan was not sure that the room was safe. Iljana concentrated and formulated the answer in her mind.

Proud Iljana rearranged herself on her chair.
<Whatever you say, shall be, Mother.> Alfalan smiled.
<Don’t be so quick to answer. You will go on a secret diplomatic mission into Haminide space.> At that, Iljana’s eyes grew as round as balls.
<Haminide space?! Mother, are you serious?>
<Yes, very. The Haminides probably already know that the Koviat are gone. They haven’t attacked yet, because they know an attack would result in open war, which they could lose. They are too proud though to make the first step, so, we will make it.>
<Is the rest of the Council aware of this?> Alfalan’s face darkened.
<Not all of them, but the important ones are. I will not lie to you. This mission is exceedingly dangerous and if it doesn’t work, we will tell the Haminides that you acted on your own.> Iljana stared at her boots for a long time.
<How would I even be able to enter their space? Their borders are heavily patrolled.>
<Don’t worry. That has already been taken care of.> Alfalan rose and Iljana quickly did the same. <The Ki’Tul will receive orders to be refitted. All officers will receive admission for leave, including you. You will go to a freighter spaceport on Murin-Belor. The specific coordinates will be forwarded to you, as soon as you arrive. From Murin-Belor, a trader will take you to your next port of call, where our Haminide connection will wait for you. He will get you safely into their space. It is up to you, to establish a good basis for negotiation.> Iljana nodded.
<One question, Mother. Why all this? I understand that the Haminides are a threat and that now that the Koviat are gone we will have to deal with them, but…>
Iljana fell to her knees and laid her head back.
Alfalan smiled.