Title: Times Past

Author: Jana Wenzel, Dejahra@web.de

Rating: NC-17 or PG 13, I don't have a hang for this. Have read the rating system many times, but I can't seem to figure it out.

Disclaimer: I do not do this for profit, only for fun and to entertain all of those people who read this and like it. ;)

Setting: A long time after Nemesis.

Summary: Admiral William Riker, commanding officer of the Enterprise F, sets out to new shores with a new crew. But an accident turns his life, as the lives of some of his closest friends, upside down.

WARNING: This story is kind of a sequel to 'A Question of the Mind'. There are some timeline problems, but please don't pin me down on that. Let's just say that this takes place in an alternate reality. In this story there will also be descriptions of torture and painful death, so those of you, who don't want to read that, no problem. The chapters will be marked and you can jump them over. It will not break the continuity of the story.

Times past

Chapter 1

The sun shone brightly on the McKinley Space Station. For the time being it held the starship Enterprise F. Just newly commissioned. Many starfleet officers were at the windows, to see the new ship. All of them in awe of the mere size of the ship. It was to be the new flagship. Under the command of Admiral William Riker. Among the officers looking at the ship, was Lieutenant Commander Peter Inalo. He had been a science officer on Starbase 972 and had been at the Daystrom Institute. His references were superb and that was, what had earned him this posting. What awed him even more than the ship, was the fact that he was going to serve under Admiral Riker. He pressed his hands against the thick windows and his jaw dropped.

“Amazing!” He whispered and smiled.

“Enjoying the sight?” He swivelled around and looked into the dark eyes of a young woman. She was at least a head smaller than him. She had dark, rich red curls and a bright smile. He smiled back and stepped towards her.

“In fact, yes. I’m about to serve on this ship. I have just been transferred.” His voice had a definitive proud ring to it. She smiled broadly. The only thing he could think was, how incredibly beautiful she was. She just had to giggle and hid her smile behind her hand. There was something about her eyes. He had a distinct feeling he should know something. And slowly it began to dawn on him. His eyes got round.

“You...you’re betazoid, aren’t you?” He asked in a voice, which was near to a whisper. She giggled again and nodded her head.

“Yes, I am betazoid. Tdanie Amion. Counsellor of the Enterprise. Nice to meet you.” He scratched his neck and smiled ruefully.

“Well...that was not so good, I think.” She only nodded her head. “I’m Peter Inalo. Science Officer.” He saluted. She returned the salute. And both went into a fit of giggles.

“Can I buy you a drink?” He asked and waved his arm invitingly towards the promenade.


Together they sat in one of the many bars on the station. Two hours had already passed and they were still there. From the one drink, they had passed on to lunch.

“So, how long have you been in Starfleet?” He asked and put an olive into his mouth.

“I joined the fleet 8 years ago. My father was not alto happy with that, but a friend of mine opened my eyes. She lives near my parent’s home. Her name’s Deanna.” She took a swig from her cup. “And you?”

“I was a science jerk, just since I was in High School. My parents were concerned I would never find friends, because I was always occupied with my experiments and catching up on new concepts. I joined the Daystrom Institute and from there I went to the Academy. I wanted to broaden my horizons, but I quickly returned. Then, I was specifically asked for. I think I managed to build some kind of a reputation.” He drank something and pulled a strand of his stray hair back. It was jet black and on his strong jaw was a sheen of beard to see. She found it rather attractive. The eager gleam in his eye was typical for those, who had not been in deep space very often. But that was normal for fresh Ensigns, but he was already a Lieutenant Commander and not especially inexperienced. He leaned over the table and lowered his voice conspiratorially.

“What’s he like? The Admiral I mean? Have you met him?” She smiled and lowered her head.

“Actually, yes I have. Served under him for about two years now. He’s...a very private person. Not too talkative. He has an enormous aura about him. You just can’t disobey him.”

“Will we meet him, after we’ve boarded?” She shook her head.

“I don’t think so. He’s very busy right now. Some of the others have protested, because they were not allowed to take their normal crew complement. Rather possessive. I don’t have such a problem. I’m glad, if I get some new assistants. First time for you? Well, and the Admiral talks to all the Commanders, who are in line for being his second in command. And then there is Leeway.”

“Leeway?” Peter looked incredulous. “Is that his real name?” She chuckled.

“No, no of course not. His real name is rather long and difficult to pronounce. So, for the sake of practicism, he got himself a nickname. He did not know what it meant, when he made it official. After he did, you have to get permission from him, to be allowed to call him by that name. Call him Commander, if you don’t want to have problems with him.” He nodded.

“Sounds like he’s a rather touchy guy.” She laughed and threw back her hair.

“Don’t let him hear that. I have to go. The transfer of my things is in about half an hour. Got to pack the little rest I have left.” She rose and left the bar.

“See you on the ship then!” He called after her. She turned, smiled and waved with her fingers. Oh man! What a woman!


Chapter 2

Peter was so excited! He was going to serve under Admiral Riker! He had read about this man since he was in High School. At that time he had still been a Captain. The Admiral had been his idol. He was intelligent, successful and if the stories were true, he was an enormous ladies man. Somebody once said to him that William Riker could charm a woman, even if she was pointing a phaser at him and was determined to shoot him.

Peter had taken up residence on the new ship and now wandered its corridors. The engineering crew were just making some finishing touches, but all in all the ship was complete. His quarters were a lot bigger than he had thought. They were not as big as those he’d left behind at the Daystrom Institute, but that was planetside and in the surrounding city had been more than enough room for all who worked there. He had even considered once to buy a house, but hadn’t done it, because he had no one to share it with. Not that he hadn’t had his share of women. He had. But none of them had been the special one, for which you would do everything. He was a kind of romantic guy. He had sworn to himself that he only once in his life would propose and that only to the right woman. Until now he hadn’t met her. That didn’t mean to live in celibacy. God, no!

A couple of Vulcans walked towards him. He smiled and greeted them. They just looked at him and then walked on, without saying hello or otherwise acknowledging that he had greeted them. Peter shook his head and walked on. After a short time he had reached the forward lounge. It currently had no name. Normally it was called Ten Forward, but this time the architects hadn’t positioned it on deck ten. It was now on deck twelve. The bar was already fully functional and many crewmembers were enjoying the sight from its large windows. He sat down at a table and ordered a drink. This was a good place to wait for Tdanie.

He hadn’t been mistaken. After only half an hour she walked into the room, talked animatedly with the barkeeper and ordered a drink. He smiled broadly and leaned back in his chair. It wouldn’t take long before she would see him. He had seen to it, that he was perfectly visible. And as she turned away from the bar he smiled broadly in her direction. She immediately saw him and with an equally broad smile walked over to him.

“Hello Peter! Have you already settled in?” She asked him politely and sat on a chair opposite him.

“Yes, I have. I need to unpack some things, but I couldn’t wait seeing the ship!” She smiled at his enthusiasm. “I mean, compared to where I lived before, it isn’t larger, especially my quarters, but this is the flagship of the Federation! I mean…I don’t know how to describe it! Oh sorry. I believe you have heard enough about things like this. I do not think you came here to talk about the ship, but to relax. I’m sorry.” He lifted his hands in an apologetic gesture. She waved it off.

“No need to be sorry. It’s good to hear that you are feeling comfortable. If you wouldn’t, I would have seen you soon on my couch, right?” He nodded and took a swig of his drink.

“Right. Still, I would like to say that it wasn’t my intention to disrupt your time off.” She laughed and relaxed into her chair.

“You don’t have to be sorry Peter. Everything is all right!” She looked deeply into his eyes and her smile grew softer. “You are not often around women, are you? I mean when you aren’t on duty.” She added, because he had wanted to shake his head in denial. He seemed to get a little uncomfortable.

“Well…I…Sometimes I just don’t know what to say. I’m a little shy.” He admitted and couldn’t believe he just said that! He never told anyone about that! But Tdanie was something else. Her eyes…he just had the feeling he could tell her anything and she would listen to him. Without laughing at him.

“If thaat isn’d my Tadanij!” A booming voice with a thick Russian accent exclaimed. Both Peter and Tdanie turned around and a large, elder man with a grey beard and black hair came their way. Tdanie smiled at him and patted the chair beside her.

“Nicolaj! Please, sit down. How has life been to you?” She asked him. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and fell into the chair she had patted.

“Good, good. At home everyting iss all right. We had a wedding and a lott of fun.” Tdanie smiled broadly.

“And a lot of Vodka I surmise.” Nicolaj shifted a bit uncomfortably in his chair.

“Onli a bit.” At that, she had to laugh out loud. Peter watched her and had to admit that he had never seen a more beautiful woman. The glint of amusement in her eyes was more than enough to let him sigh. With her dark eyes she looked at him and he smiled back at her. Quickly she sobered up and introduced them to each other.

“Nicolaj, this is Peter Inalo, our new science officer. He will take your place at OPS. Peter, Nicolaj Ranow, former OPS, but now the chief engineer.” Nicolaj squeezed Peter’s hand hard and pulled him into a bone cracking hug. The large Russian was a real bunch of muscles.

“Peterr! I hope yu will treet her well.” Peter only nodded and fell back into his seat.

“Yes, sir. Of course.” Nicolaj waved him off.

“Drop thaat sir-ting. Call me Nicolaj!” A waitress came with his drink. “My Babushka! How has life treeted yu?” He pulled her onto his lap. With a smile she endured this procedure.

“Pretty good, until they let you aboard again, Nick.”

“I hope tis is the reel stuff.” He whispered conspiratorially to her. She only smiled, shook her head and was off again. Peter smiled. He liked this man very much. He was not at all like the people he had imagined would work for Admiral Riker.

“You and she…I mean…are you..?” He pointed to the waitress and then to Nicolaj. Nicolaj’s booming laugh filled the room.

“Don’t be shy, friend Peterr. It has its advantages to be the waitress’ boyfriend.” He winked at Peter and held his hand so that Tdanie couldn’t see his mouth and moved slightly over to Peter. “I alwais gett the reel stuff.” Both had to laugh at this.

Their merriment was interrupted by the cool, controlled voice of a man.

“Are these chairs still free?” They looked up and before them stood two Vulcans. A man and a woman. They were the ones Peter had greeted and who in turn just had ignored him. Amazed Peter saw, how Nicolaj’s face dropped and it now only showed a totally neutral expression.

“Greetings V’Nak, S’Mat.” He lifted his fingers in the traditional Vulcan greeting. The two returned it. Tdanie greeted them in the same manner, but her smile did not waver. The Vulcan man, who obviously was V’Nak, pulled a chair out for the woman and helped her sit down. First then he sat down himself.

“How was your trip to Vulcan?” Tdanie asked and took a swig from her drink.

“Our journey has been successful.” S’Mat said cryptically. Nicolaj’s broad grin broke out again and he clapped V’Nak on his back. The slim Vulcan nearly crashed onto the table.

“Congratulations V’Nak! I knew yu haad it in yu!” With that he raised his glass. “To your ‘successful journey’. Nastrovje!” He leaned his head back and swallowed all of his drink. Peter didn’t know what Nicolaj meant, but took a small sip of his drink too. Both Vulcan’s didn’t react with anything other than a raised eyebrow.

“We thank you, Nicolaj.” S’Mat said in perfect, cultured federation standard. Nicolaj thrust out his forefinger towards S’Mat, but looked at Tdanie.

“Ha! Heard thaat? She called me Nicolaj! Aand yu said I couldn’t bring them to say it!” He clapped his hands and leaned back in his chair. “Yu owe me.” He winked and Tdanie sighed.

“All right, all right. But don’t tell Leeway. My bet with him is still running.” Nicolaj spread his arms and breathed deeply, seemingly considering it.

“Oke.” Tdanie smiled and gave him a peck on his cheek.

“Thank you, Nicolaj. That’s nice of you.” Peter watched this unfold in front of him. The familiarity between these people was incredible and he hoped he would be included sometime around.

“He Peterr! I will give yu a tur thru the ship. I can tell yu about her little quirks.” Peter nodded and rose.

“That would be nice. I have seen a bit of the ship, but not all of it.” Nicolaj clapped his hands.

“Good. Then leets head out.” Nicolaj just lifted his leg over the back of his chair and wanted to walk out of the lounge, when S’Mat lifted her hand. Immediately he stopped and looked at her.

“I am curious. Why did you ask V’Nak and me to call you Nicolaj under all circumstances, when the Counsellor would be in attendance, Mr. Ranow?” An amused glint ignited in Tdanie’s eyes and Nicolaj shifted uncomfortably his weight from one foot to the other.

“Aah…I will eksplein laterr. Come Peterr, its getting dangerouss in here.” Peter had to smile and followed the large Russian out.


Chapter 3

“No. No way! We need him here and Starfleet Command has already approved of his transfer. You can’t just walk in here and take him back!” Admiral Hershie looked at the man in front of him. Not one emotion was readable in his face. He only stood there and eyed Hershie with his steely, blue eye. The other one he lost in the Dominion War.

“You can’t have him! That’s it!” Hershie was getting nervous. Couldn’t he at least say something? Or move! He hadn’t moved for the past ten minutes. Not even blinked! Hershie began to sweat. He was no coward and had faced down many men, but this one…never! This man was way out of his league. Nervous Hershie’s gaze flickered around. At last his resolve crumbled.

“Okay, okay, take him! Take him, for God’s sake!” He yelled. Silence entered the room. The large, bearded man opposite him moved and laid a PADD on his desk. Gray sprinkles were seen in his beard and hair, but he was far away from fragile or old.

“A wise decision Admiral. I will inform the Lieutenant myself. The crewmembers listed on this PADD are also to be reassigned to the Enterprise.” His voice left no room for protest. Still Hershie tried.

“You can’t be serious! I can’t just send them all back to you! Ships and starbases throughout the Federation are waiting for these people!”

“Those who no longer want to serve under my command are listed too. Draw on these.” Hershie looked at the PADD and looked angry at the Admiral in front of him.

“Only two people are listed!” He hissed. The other man only raised one eyebrow.

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“If I have a problem with that?! God damn it! About hundred people should have shifted and now you tell me, everything I have are these two? Oh no! No problem at all!” He stood and his head was blood red. “Starfleet will have my head if I authorise this!” He yelled at his lungs full expense. His ‘opponent’ only waited calmly.

“Are you finished?” He asked. Hershie sputtered and didn’t know what to say.

“You are the most arrogant ass I have met in all my years! You God damn idiot!” Again silence entered the room and they looked into each others eyes. Hershie dropped into his seat and breathed deeply.

“Have it your way then. You are going to clear this with Headquarters. I’m going to blame it all on you.”

“Fine. Have a nice day, Admiral Hershie.” With that the other man turned on his boot heel and left the Admiral’s office. Hershie looked at the closed door.

“God damn you, Riker!” He muttered.

With long, purposeful strides Admiral William Riker walked over the Starbase’s promenade. Many people turned around to look after him. He was well known in the Federation. The highest-ranking Admiral in Starfleet, who still was on active duty on a starship. His long coat was making him even more intimidating. An even larger man joined him.

“Did you get what you wanted, sir?” He asked Riker in a deep, rumbling voice.

“Yes, Leeway. It didn’t take me half as long as I would have thought.” Together they walked to the airlocks, which lead to the Enterprise. While they walked, they not once looked at each other.

“Is everyone onboard?” Riker asked. The towering man nodded.

“V’Nak and S’Mat returned today and have settled in already. Inalo has been transferred this morning. Nicolaj and Tdanie are also there. Now we only need a First Officer.” Riker nodded and walked into a turbolift.

“I encountered some problems on that front. You will have to take on these duties for now Leeway. All the others weren’t usable.”

“All of them, sir?” Riker’s one eye stared deeply into Leeway’s. “Sorry, sir.” Leeway said intimidated.

“I fear we will have to wait until Morgon Rosjenko or Narleene La Forge have earned their Commander’s pips. The only ones I would trust my ship apart from you and the others.” With a swish the doors opened and they walked into one of the many airlocks.

Peter and Nicolaj reached the bridge and Peter was awed at its size. He had never been on a ship on active duty. He had only been a passenger and because of that never allowed on the bridge. He had always thought it would be smaller. More cramped. But this! This was spacious to say the least.

“This is huge!” He exclaimed with wide eyes and he was happy he wouldn’t be the one steering this enormous ship. Nicolaj shook wit repressed laughter.

“Yu have seen noting yet, friend Peterr.” He patted Peter on the shoulder and Peter nearly tumbled to the ground. The Russian strode past him, seemingly not noticing Peter faltering.

“This is yur statioon.” He activated the console with a casual flick of his hand. Curiously Peter studied the controls and sat at his new station. “Have seen someting like thiis beforre?” Nicolaj asked him. Peter nodded and smiled up at him.

“I have been through a number of simulations and I think I’m prepared. Although, if you have some tips for a newbie like me…” Nicolaj leaned his head back and his whole body shook with his deep belly laugh.

“Just cheep in mind thaat she’s a lady.” Peter grinned at him and nodded.

“No problem. I think she and I will get along fine.” He patted his station and switched it off.

“That the newbie?” A deep voice asked Nicolaj. Peter looked up at the man behind them. And he looked up...and up...Slowly his jaw dropped at the sight before him. He had heard of them, but never seen any of them in person. In front of them stood a towering Alin-Avya. They had former been a part of the race known as the Sulin-Avya, in the Delta-Quadrant, but had asked the Federation for political asylum after they had fled from their slave like life in the Sulin-Avya society. Peter had read about them a lot, because they fascinated him deeply. Their name meant as much as ‘Free Spirits of Life’. He had even attempted learning their language, but part of it was based on telepathy and he was no telepath. Greeting them was the only thing he could do and say: “I surrender.” After reading their historical database he thought it to be a good idea to learn that sentence.

Nicolaj turned around fully and spread his arms in a huge welcome gesture.

“Leeway! It’s good to see yu!” He hugged the large man opposite him. He didn’t even reach the other mans chin and Nicolaj was not a small man. The Alin-Avya just looked at Nicolaj and patted him shortly on his back.

“Yes. It is nice to see you too Nicolaj. Now, if you would please let go of me? It isn’t good for my image.” Nicolaj took a step back and punched him on his arm.

“Oh come on! Yu want to bee the scarry maan, but we know thaat you are all fluffy and nice!” A deep growl was audible and the others on the bridge turned their attention towards them.

“Watch your tongue, young man! I’m still older than you are and higher in rank.” He leaned down, so Nicolaj could see his collar.

“He made yu Commander? Well then excuuse me Misterr Firrst Officerr, but I have work to doo. See yu laterr Peterr.” With that he retreated to one of the turbolilfts and vanished, probably on his way to engineering. That left Peter alone with his new Commander. And his new Commander eyed him right now. Quite intense. Peter swallowed nervously.

“Anything I can do for you, Sir?” He asked politely. Their faces were mere inches apart.

“I am Admiral Riker’s first officer and very proud of that. I will have to insure his safety and that of the ship. That means also to see, if the other officers are up to their tasks and expectations. Are you up for this assignment?” His question was a low growl and Peter couldn’t help but stare at the four slits surrounding his mouth from which he knew could spring razor sharp claws.

“I was extensively briefed for this assignment. I have done my own research and used much of my spare time to familiarize myself with this ship and what it can do. I am not saying that I am prepared, because I’m not. This is my first deep space assignment and I’m sure I will be confronted with situations, in which I cannot rely on what I have learned at the Academy, but have to come up with something on my own. I only hope that I will be up to it. If you do not deem that enough for this ship, then say it now and I will leave this ship.” They stared into each others eyes for a time and then Leeway smiled.

“Very good, Mr Inalo. Any other answer and I would have kicked you off this ship myself.” Peter smiled relieved to have passed this test. Then he felt Leeway’s fingers gripping his neck and he felt it as if his grip was made out of steel.

“If you fail this ship, its Captain or its crew, then run! Because I am going to hunt you down if you do. And never...EVER...call me Leeway. I will tell you when I allow you to.” Peter closed his eyes and nodded quickly. He did not trust his voice. When he opened his eyes again, the Commander was gone and he was left shaking in his chair. He couldn’t agree on the fluffy and nice part. No, not at all.

Tdanie walked along one of the corridors. She thought it odd. Every starship was built in the same way, but they still all had something unique about them. As was it with the Enterprise. Maybe even more than with the other ships. Ships with the name Enterprise had always had great impact on history and this ship was no difference. Some crewmembers walked past her and greeted her. She smiled and nodded to them. Admiral Riker had been able to keep many of his former officers. A small wonder. All over the Federation these people were asked for very much. To have served on the Enterprise had always been a kind of label for professionalism and efficiency.

Right now she was on her way to the music theatre. Something she had convinced Riker was good for the rest of the crew. She herself was a very enthusiastic musician and had managed to assemble a really good gospel choir and some of the elder children were gifted musicians. When she thought about the children she had to smile. Some of them had lost their parents or one parent in the line of duty, but Riker had reclined to send them to orphanages if they did not have families they could turn to. Some did have families, but they didn’t want another mouth to feed. That was extremely rare though.

She had looked through the charts of those who wanted to shift and had been relieved to see that her band still was complete. They even got a new member. A young Klingon male, in Earth years about 18. His mother was a security officer and his father had died in the Dominion War. This could cause trouble, because they had a Cardassian boy aboard, who was about the same age. They had found him on a desolate moon, which had been bombed by the Breen as an answer to the Cardassian surrender to the Federation. He had problems at first adopting to the different climate aboard the Enterprise, but Leeway had helped him and given him a new hobby, drumming, in which he excelled. The funny thing though was that Larek within short time had found his best friend in the only Bajoran aboard the Enterprise, Renn. His parents had died as members of the Marquis and he was very proud of them. Seeing that Larek was a victim of the war too, they had a common basis to start from.

She entered the music theatre and heard silent piano music. Puzzled she looked to the large concert piano...and couldn’t believe her eyes. The Admiral sat at the instrument, in front of him a holovid and played with so much emotion! She knew him to be a very reserved man and he obviously didn’t know that she had entered the room. Curious she walked nearer. It was a very romantic piece of music and she wondered what the holovid was showing, because he the whole time looked at it and not at his playing fingers.

“I didn’t know you could play, Sir.” He stopped immediately and she could feel all his barriers slam solidly back into their place. She had felt some cracks in them, but now he was as blank as a mirror.

“I don’t do it very often.” He didn’t look at her, but still at the holovid. She etched nearer and tried to get a glimpse at it.

“You should, Sir. You are very talented. Maybe you could join us one time around?” She asked him. He sighed, shook his head and took the holovid from the piano. Softly caressing it before shutting it off, he turned to her.

“I will think about it.” The holovid now resembled a normal pencil and he tucked it into his coat right over his heart.

“We will depart soon, Counsellor. Be sure you have everything you need.” She nodded and with a slight hesitance he stepped past her and walked to the exit. She watched him go and asked herself, what had him so occupied. His steely blue eye was normally totally void of any emotion, but today...today it had seemed sad. A bit melancholic even. Gods, she wished she could read him!


Chapter 4

Peter sat at his station on the bridge and made some of the last check-ups, before they were to head out from McKinley Space Station. At his side sat Lieutenant Emrar, an Andorian. His fingers flew with practiced efficiency over the controls and Peter could only admire him for it. Emrar noticed him watching and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. Peter smiled apologetically.

“Sorry if I bothered you. It’s just that I have never seen anyone as familiar with his controls as you are.” Emrar bowed his head.

“Thank you. You are new to the ship, aren’t you?” Peter nodded and smiled.

“Yes, but aren’t we all? The Enterprise is brand new.”

“Yes, but the crew is nearly the same as it has been before. You only got the job, because the old OPS got the engineering job, because our old chief engineer wanted to go somewhere quiet.” Peter swallowed.

“I hope nobody is angry at me. I mean, I’m new to the team and I’m not like Nicolaj...”

“Oh don’t worry about that. I’m quite happy that he’s now down in engineering. Much quieter now up here. He just couldn’t stop talking and then his accent!” Peter creased his brow in wonderment. He hadn’t expected that.

“What about his accent?” He asked warily.

“It isn’t real. He speaks perfect Federation Standard but likes to pretend Russian accent. Don’t know why.” Emrar pulled his shoulders up and looked to the ceiling. Peter’s smile grew wider.

“I think it works on women.” Emrar’s eyes grew wider and a glint ignited in them.

“Do you think? Maybe I should try an Andorian accent too.” He tapped his index finger against his chin, seemingly considering it.

“What is our status, Mr Emrar?” Asked the deep voice of Leeway behind them.

“Ready for take off, Sir.” He answered and was instantly serious and concentrated again.

“Very well. The Admiral will join us shortly. A briefing is set in ten minutes in the Observation Lounge. Bring the newbie.” Leeway turned on his heel and walked to one of the turbolifts. Peter looked after him and shook his head.

“When do you think will he call me by my name?” He asked Emrar. The Andorian laughed and shut off his station and rose.

“Could take a while. You will have to pass some tests only he knows. When you have earned his respect, he will call you by your name. Now come. The Admiral doesn’t like to wait.” Quickly Peter scrambled to his feet and shut his station off.

“Do you know how long it will take? Approximately?” Emrar laughed and patted him on the shoulder, as they walked towards the Observation Lounge.

“I have no idea.” He confessed and Peter sighed, while Emrar’s smile never wavered.

The conference lounge was a rather sterile room. He couldn’t describe it otherwise. A long table, a couple of chairs, large windows and a few paintings and a screen on the wall was all there was to it. No flowers or something that could give it a more private flair. Nicolaj and the two Vulcans were already present. Nicolaj greeted them with a booming Hello, while the Vulcans only nodded. Tdanie was next. With a bright smile she greeted Emrar and sat next to Peter. Leeway sat in a special chair made especially for his size. The doors whooshed open once more and the Admiral walked in. At once everyone stood at attention. Peter felt as if he had swallowed a stick.

“At ease.” Riker only said and sat down. When everyone was seated he began. “Our first mission is a rather easy one. We are to bring several patients to the rehabilitation facility on the Ba’Ku homeworld. From there we will take a special patient home to Earth again. Retired Admiral Jean-Luc Picard and his wife Beverly Picard. This journey is a test run for the ship. Nicolaj push her all you want. We have to know what she can do. Leeway, I want you to take care of shielding, hull plating and the new targeting systems. Be sure they function perfectly. Avin, she is much more sensitive to the touch, so be careful when you steer us out of dock. V’Nak, the sensors have to be recalibrated. Someone made mistakes with the alignments and of course nobody wants to take the blame. S’Mat, the patients have been transferred and you have received their data. If you need anything, notify me immediately. Tdanie, some of these patients are very depressive, many of them will likely want to talk to you.” Every officer nodded as he gave them their first objectives. Eagerly Peter waited. Everyone had been announced. Now it had to be his turn. Riker’s piercing eye was on him now. He had to swallow.

“Welcome aboard Mr. Inalo. Your record shows that you are an outstanding science officer. V’Nak will ask you to assist sometimes, so I suggest you talk about how to work together when these situations arise. I also know that you are for the first time a real OPS officer. Avin Emrar has done that job a couple of times and he will be happy to help you if you are in need of it.” Peter only nodded and wanted to say something, but Riker’s attention was no longer on him.

“We will depart at 2000. Be sure you have everything you need. Dismissed!” With that he rose and left the room. Peter sat on his chair stupefied. Someone tugged at his shirt.

“Don’t dream Peter. You have some things to do, you know.” Tdanie smiled down at him and he quickly stood. She was already on her way out and he initially had wanted to invite her to dinner, but now he was not so sure about that.

Without any further problems, the Enterprise F left McKinley Space Station on its way to its new mission


Chapter 5

Nicolaj had them flying at maximum the first day and of course some of the systems broke down. Emrar laughed at him, when he visited the bridge and described the new warpdrive in many colourful phrases. Peter also had to smile, while their Captain and First Officer wore totally neutral facial expressions. The bridge was a place of bustling friendship and a feeling of family, but if either the Admiral or the Commander raised their voices to utter a command, everything turned instantly back to neutral professionalism. Peter was always again astounded by this discipline.

For two days they were without warpdrive and Nicolaj had all his officers pull double shifts, while he seemed to giving up sleeping at all. Because of their ‘moderate’ speed, Peter thought this to be a good opportunity to invite Tdanie to dinner. She was though just as worse a workaholic as Nicolaj and spent her entire time in Sickbay.

After she again had refused his offer of dinner, he left Sickbay in a depressive mood and ran into two teenagers.

“Oh sorry! I wasn’t paying attention.” One of them was twice as broad as he was and reached out his hand to help him up. His grey, scaly face lit up with a smile.

“No problem. Renn and I didn’t get hurt.” With a powerful tug, which seemed to cost him no effort, he dragged Peter into a standing position.

“Do you know if the Counsellor has a moment for us?” The Bajoran, who obviously was named Renn, asked him. Peter’s brow creased. He couldn’t really believe his eyes. Before him stood a Cardassian and Bajoran teenager and they were not at each others throats! Quickly he shook his head and scratched his neck.

“Sorry. Seeing a Bajoran and Cardassian being friends is something unusual. No offence meant.” They both smiled huge smiles and the Bajoran even nudged the Cardassian in his ribs with his elbow.

“Our friendship puzzles the most. So...is the Counsellor occupied?” Peter grinned broadly and shook his head.

“I fear yes. I’ve tried to invite her to dinner five times now. Turned me down every time.” He shrugged and the two looked compassionate at him.

“Hey, don’t worry. Tdanie will warm up to you yet. Join us in the music theatre. We practise today. She is our instructor and we wanted to know if we made progress.” Peter smiled and nodded at the Bajoran.

“Sure. I would like that very much. My name is Peter. I’m the new OPS.” The teenagers laughed, took him in their middle and clapped him on his back.

“Tell us something we don’t know!” Renn challenged him jovially.

As they entered the music theatre, other youths were already waiting for them. Peter was greeted friendly and sat in one of the chairs for the audience. Renn seemed to run the session. He played no instrument himself, but was very adept in musical hearing and he had a very nice voice. Peter clapped enthusiastically, when they had finished their first number.

“That was awesome!” He exclaimed surprised. He would never have thought that these teenagers would be so talented. A young girl, who had played the keyboard, walked over to him.

“Do you really think so?” Peter nodded eagerly.

“Yeah. Absolutely! You could believe you are doing this for a living!” The others in the room laughed and drew up chairs to him. Renn brought something to drink for the girl and she gave him a peck on the cheek. He sat down and she sat on his lap.

“I’ve never seen a pair like you two.” She smiled brightly and her antennae moved towards him.

“I bet my father would also like that I would choose another boyfriend.”

“Your father?” Larek laughed out loud and nodded.

“Lieutenant Commander Emrar is concerned about Laliaru’s honour.” Again the group of youngsters erupted in laughter.

“Stop talking about that. I ran for my life that day!” Renn pointed a finger at Larek.

”Yeah. You ran for your life and straight into my quarters and under my shower!” This time a Trill girl had spoken. They all again began to laugh, while Renn went red. Laliaru rose from his lap and looked at him.

“You never told me you joined Navin under the shower.” Her voice was laden with menace. Renn quickly stood.

“Please Lali. It was nothing. I was only trying to hide from your father.” She turned and walked out on him.

“Seems you found a perfect hiding place!” She yelled, while she left the room.

“Shit!” Renn cursed and went jogging after her. Peter winced slightly. The others seemed totally relaxed though.

“I hope this is not going to get nasty.” Larek smiled brightly and Navin sat now in the chair next to him.

“Oh don’t worry. If they don’t fight at least once a week, they are not well.” He had to laugh at that. He would never have thought children or teenagers like these to be members of the crew of a ship, Admiral Riker commandeered.

“Do you know the Admiral?” He asked them interested. They all nodded enthusiastically.

“Yeah, sure we do. He comes always to our concerts. He is very polite and many of us are only still here because of him.” A young Asian boy said. Peter creased his brow.

“Why’s that?” Larek took over.

“Many of us have lost a parent or both in the war or just in the line of duty. I am among them myself. We have found a home onboard the Enterprise. The crew is our family and they all take care of us. Some, who have lost their wives or husbands, wanted to go planet side and that would mean for people like Lali or Kyono to leave us. Leave their extended family behind. The Admiral could convince them to stay. He made them promises and went into a lot of trouble for us.” The others nodded and some had lowered their heads sadly. The war seemed to be very fresh in their memory. He had never been in the middle of it. He had been safely at the Daystrom Institute, but these kids...they had been in the middle of it all. He could understand why they would want to stick together.

He smiled and tried to lighten up the situation.

“You know, I met him two days ago for the first time.” They all looked up to him. “I behaved like a total nutcase! He sat there, stared at me with his eye, told me what I was supposed to do and I sat there, with open mouth and tried to say something, but I just couldn’t!” They sniggered and Larek had a broad smile plastered all over his face.

“Nutcase doesn’t even begin to describe it.” He said and Navin, the Trill girl gave him a poke in the ribs.

“Be nice to our guest.” He stopped immediately. Peter could see the affection they held for each other. It wasn’t as open as with Renn and Laliaru, but their glances and their hands touching from time to time told a million words about how they felt for each other. Another pairing he never could have imagined. Peter hit his calves with a clapping noise and looked expectantly at them.

“So, are you giving an extra number or what?” They laughed and rose.

“Sure thing, but without Renn, we have to play one of the girls’ numbers.” Kyono warned him. Peter smiled jovially.

“I think I can endure that.” He said and was awarded with uproarious laughter from the boys and the most girls, while the Trill girl only huffed and pointed her index finger warning at him.

“You just wait Mister. Never in your life have you seen or heard a better performance.”

“I look very much forward to it.” He bowed slightly from his waist, while still sitting.

They resumed their positions and Navin told them what to do. Shortly they all were prepared and Larek counted them in. When Navin began to sing Peter thought he didn’t really hear quite right. Her voice was much deeper than before and he would have bet his degree in astrophysics that this voice belonged to an afro-American gospel singer. Her smile and the glint in her eyes told him, she had seen his surprise. She sang something about being ‘Out of Love’.

In the middle of the song, the doors opened and Tdanie walked in with a young woman at her arm. They stopped playing immediately and Tdanie waived smiling down to them.

“I hope I am not interrupting your rehearsal.” She called. Larek put his drumsticks on one of the drums.

“Not at all. Renn and Lali just run off to their weekly disagreement. You’ve missed nothing.” Tdanie laughed with her musical voice and first now saw that Peter was there too.

“Peter! Hello! What a pleasant surprise. Do you want to join the musical community on the ship?” Larek nudged Peter in the ribs.

“Say yes if you don’t want to risk to be pestered with it for the rest of your time aboard.” He whispered it loud enough, so that all could hear him. Peter joined gladly in the game.

“I don’t know. I have two left hands, when music is concerned, but if you think a Yes is necessary for my mental welfare...”

“Oh most definitely!” Both smiled widely. Navin and Tdanie looked at each other, both wearing an expression of apology for the other. Peter drew his breath in with a hiss.

“Ooh! I believe we’ve just been sold and are in a lot of trouble.” He whispered to Larek. The young Cardassian smiled.

“I like being in this kind of trouble.” He looked directly into Navin’s eyes. She averted them quickly and her cheeks turned red. A soft smile played over Larek’s lips. “Especially this trouble.” He sighed. Peter smiled and clapped him on the back. His and Tdanie’s eyes met and held for a minute. Both averted them with a smile.

Tdanie cleared her throat to get their attention.

“Hello. Welcome aboard the new Enterprise. I hope you have settled in. I know I haven’t looked into each of you yet, but I was rather busy.” Kyoto scratched his pant leg a bit.

“That’s okay, Tdanie. We know you have a lot to do.” The others nodded and murmured their assent. Tdanie smiled brightly.

“Thank you. Now...This is Maria Allet. She is one of the patients who are to be brought to the Ba’Ku treatment facility. It was the last wish of her parents.” It went instantly silent within the room. “I have talked to her and explained that some of you are in the same position as her. I offered her to come here, so that you would be able to talk to each other. Maria is blind from birth and all attempts at helping her with artificial devices have failed.” Peter’s brow creased.

“I understand there are long waiting lists for the Ba’Ku medical facility.” Tdanie nodded.

“Yes, but it was her parents only wish. The United Federation of Planets made an exception because of that.” Maria felt behind her for a chair and settled into it. Kyoto softly touched her leg. She jolted a bit, but Kyoto held the contact.

“Hi, my name’s Harrinasa Kyoto.” Her hand took hold of his. A small smile tugged at her lips, while her unseeing milky white eyes looked over his head.

“Nice to meet you Kyoto. It’s nice to meet all seven of you.” At their amazed gasps her smile grew.

“Only because I’m blind doesn’t mean my other senses don’t work.” At this they had to laugh. Larek touched her shoulder softly.

“You certainly surprised us there. So...what instrument do you play, or did you just come here to listen?” Her lips twisted into a smug grin.

“Show me to the piano and be prepared for a new dimension of music!” Navin took her hand and led her to the concert piano.

“Enough boasting! Let us hear something!” Maria cracked her knuckles and let her fingers slide over the instrument.

Tdanie watched this unfold from a distance. Peter stood right beside her. He smiled brightly.

“Looks good, or what do you think?” She sighed and shook her head.

“You should have seen her in Sickbay. She just lay there and would only eat as much so we wouldn’t get concerned. She didn’t talk or anything. She would just sit there and do nothing. And then, the other day, Renn came to me and asked if I the next day could come and attend to a practice session. We talked a bit and afterwards I came to her and wanted to attempt once again to get her to talk. Although when I was there, it wasn’t necessary. She asked me about what kind of music we were making and...” Soft piano music floated through the music theatre. Played with so much emotion and talent that it involuntarily drove tears to your eyes. Both officers looked to the blind girl. She had laid her head back and her fingers were flying over the piano. The rapture in her face was total. She seemed to have entered another world all her own.

“I believe you have a new asset for your talented team.” Peter whispered into her ear. She shivered when his breath stroked over the fine hairs under her ear. She wanted to say something, but couldn’t. After a few moments she had collected enough resolve to turn around, but he was no longer there.


Chapter 6

Peter was at his post on the Bridge, when the warpcore again came online. He reported so immediately to the Admiral. Riker didn’t acknowledge, but went on with reading a PADD. Peter shrugged it off. Surely the Admiral had more demanding things craving his attention. He wondered how it must be to be the most revered Admiral in the entire Federation. Riker was respected and known in all of the major regions. The Romulans had only trusted him to talk the truth and thanks to that, the first real treaty had been signed and the Neutral Zone had been no longer necessary. The Klingons taught his tactics at their military schools and right now, a treaty was underway with the new Cardassian government and this would unite the last main power of the quadrant with the Federation.

"Ensign, engage warp and bring us on course to the Ba’Ku Treatment Facility." Riker’s neutral and controlled voice sounded from behind Peter. He wondered what was going through this mans head. He was renowned and respected and Peter had read somewhere that he had been a very jovial type of guy some years ago. He wondered what had happened to Riker in the meantime. The most of Riker’s personal file was confidential.

The Ensign, who sat at Emrar’s post, plotted a course and engaged warp six.

"Aye, Sir. We are underway with warp six."

"Our ETA?"

"At present course and speed about two days and nine hours."

"Good. Mr. Inalo, send a message to the Facility and inform them of our delay and our new ETA." Peter only nodded and began working on his console.

"Aye, Sir." He acknowledged. Peter had quickly found out that talking too much was not seen kindly on the Bridge of the Enterprise. That didn’t mean that chatting was forbidden, Hell no!, but professionalism was craved and the Admiral set a very high standard for his Bridge officers. Peter looked out of the corner of his eye to the Ensign at the CONN. His career had already taken a huge step forward by simply being on this ship. The name Enterprise and the name of Admiral Riker on his chart, would open him doors to nearly every position in the Federation. When he was finished here, he could most probably pick the ship or station he wanted to go to.

Peter smiled. He was right where he wanted to be and if it worked out, like he wanted it to, he would first leave this ship again with Tdanie. And he wouldn’t mind if that would first be after another three or four years. After he had been contacted, if he wanted this assignment, he had not only immediately said he would take it, but that he was willing to stay for a longer period. Not only did he get better paid, when on shore leave, but he would be able to stay longer near these extraordinary people. Even the children on this ship were something out of the ordinary. All this was very exciting. He smiled and entered his access code for his station. His shift was over and he looked forward to a lunch with Tdanie and her music group. Leeway entered the Bridge with the new shift at his heels.

"Beta shift is taking over." He announced and the others followed Peter into the turbolifts.

Ten Forward was filled with people, who also were having their lunch. He could already see the group of youngsters from the door. With long strides he bridged the distance, but had to see with disappointment, that Tdanie still wasn’t there. He pulled out a chair next to Larek.

"Am I late?" He asked with a wide smile. They greeted him with smiles and Renn shook his head.

"No, you’re right on time. In about ten to twenty minutes Tdanie will be here also." Peter creased his brow, when he heard that.

"She’s always late." Explained Laliaru. Peter had to chuckle at this.

"Workaholic, eh?" He asked and the teenagers all had to chuckle. A waiter approached their table and they ordered their drinks. They chatted for some time and, as awaited, Tdanie came ten minutes late. But she had also brought somebody. A klingon teen, who looked not too happy.

"Sorry that I am late. But Karf was not too convinced in coming here."

"Good you could convince him to come. Hi, my name is Larek." Larek stood and outstretched his hand. Karf only stood there and stared into Larek’s eyes.

"I don’t shake traitors’ hands." He growled. Larek’s eyes flashed with anger, but he smiled at Karf.

"As you wish." He only answered and sat back down. Tdanie tried to solve the situation.

"Well...ahm...ah, there! Beside Maria is a chair free. Sit down, Karf. Have you already ordered something?" She asked the others and looked at Peter. He smiled widely at her and took a sip of his drink. Quickly she averted her eyes.

"No, we wanted to wait for you." Answered Maria. She looked clean over Tdanie’s head. Karf didn’t seem too pleased to sit beside the blind girl.

"Oh! How considerate of you, but you could have ordered already. You know..."

"You’re always late!" All of the teenagers said in unison and they had to laugh. All of them, but Karf. Two waiters approached them and they ordered their meals. Within no time, the table was a bustle of activity, laughing and joking. Again Karf didn’t join in. Maria tried to draw him in, what Tdanie saw with delight. She had never thought that Maria so quickly would break out of her shell. Especially after the recent death of her parents.

"So, why are you on the Enterprise?" Maria asked Karf, while she with astonishing accuracy put a spoon with chilli in her mouth.

"My mother was posted here. I wanted to go to Kronos for military training, but she denied my request." He answered shortly and ate another mouthful of his Rokeg.

"Why did she do that? It seems as if you want to be there much more than here?" Surprised he looked at her with wide eyes. He was accustomed to Humans, who did not say what they really meant, but much more were approaching the subject over many corners. He was slightly flustered.

"I...I think...it is because of my fathers death. They were separated during the war and I think she believes that had she been on the same ship as he, she could somehow have prevented his death." He wanted to lead the conversation away from him. He did not feel comfortable talking about himself.

"Why are you here?"

"I’m just a passenger. They bring me to the Ba’Ku Treatment Facility."

"You got friends in high places then." She shook her head.

"No. It was my parents’ last wish." He looked at her with wide eyes. She said it as if she was talking about the weather.

"I’m sorry for your loss." He tried to sound comforting. He had never been good in dealing with other races. Especially humans. She raked a bit with her spoon in her chilli.

"Thanks." Her voice was low. It seemed as if she was not as comfortable with the death of her parents as she tried to pretend.

"You know, it was...like with your father. They were both injured during the war. My father couldn’t stand out of bed and my mother took care of the both of us as good as she could. She was suffering from an illness caused by a Jem’Hadar weapon that was poisoned. They could heal her. Temporarily. The last month I had to take care of them both. They wanted to take them to a hospital and me to a host family. But they didn’t want to die in a hospital. I knew it, even though they were no longer able to talk." Karf was slightly shocked over her openness. He couldn’t really imagine her taking care of two adults. Especially not because she was blind.

"That was very brave of you. It must...have been hard. Being with them when they died."

He could just rein himself in. He had wanted to say ‘Seeing them die’. He wondered where all this tact towards a human came from. And a disabled one at that! She had lowered her head and her spoon lay limp in her hand.

"It was. But my parents were very brave and they would have wanted me to be brave too. I did not cry. Not one time." She looked with her milky eyes in the general direction of his face. "It’s not easy being brave." A sad smile played around her lips. And to his own astonishment, Karf found it to be very endearing.


Chapter 7

Emrar walked with Nicolaj down the halls of the Enterprise. They had agreed on eating lunch together and discussed the new warpdrive.

“I knew that the thing would break down. I just knew it!” Emrar said with a lopsided smile. Nicolaj swore under his breath.

“I cut kick the damn engineers aass, cho chas installed the program and missaligned the whole ting!” Emrar had to laugh at this. He clapped the engineer on his broad back.

“Don’t worry. I believe you get your chance, because I think the Admiral will take the Enterprise back. You know how pissed off he can get when everything is not in working order.” Nicolaj harrumphed.

“Yu tink che will make all the trip baack to the dock? It waas my job to make sure everyting was in working order. Now look what happened.”

“Don’t worry lad. He knows you are not responsible. We all thought we would get a ship fit for duty, but there are innumerable kinks. You should have seen V’Nak. I think he was really angry.” Both chuckled at this. “His face was all screwed up! You should have seen it, it was priceless. The whole time he tried to keep his neutral face up, but you could hear him mutter all the time under his breath. Man! He knows words I wouldn’t even take in my mouth.” This drew a hearty laugh from the large Russian. Emrar was glad he had been able to lift his friends spirits. But then, it wasn’t that hard.

They entered the lounge and heard already from the door the friendly banter and talk of the music group. Both smiled widely at that. They liked the children very much and even though both of them could play no instrument themselves, they often helped out in setting up stages and helping with the electric’s.

“May we join you?” Emrar asked and smiled at them. When he saw his daughter sitting beside Renn, his smile faltered a bit. Renn immediately stood.

“Of course, Mr. Emrar. Sir.” He felt very uncomfortable and Larek sniggered over his meal. Navin gave him a small punch in the ribs. Nicolaj joined him and drew up a chair.

“Leet te boi go, Avin. If che treets cher like a lady, which I chave no doubt of, it is oke.” He winked towards Renn who smiled at Nicolaj thankfully. With a slight scowl, Emrar joined Nicolaj. But shortly after, his spirits were up again.

“So Tdanie. When can we expect the next concert?” He asked and dug into his spaghetti. She had just finished her salad and laid down her fork.

“I don’t know. As you can see, we have a new member. We will have to draft a new plan.” Nicolaj and Emrar looked intrigued towards Maria.

“What instrument do yu plai?” The Russian asked her. She saw up from her talk with Karf.

“I play the piano. But if I want to play with them in a concert, I need new quarters assigned to me.” All officers at the table looked at each other.

“Why that?” Peter finally asked. She sighed and put down her spoon.

“I have to practice. If I every time I want to practice have to go down to the music theatre it will get difficult. I can memorise the way, but I might still take a wrong turn and end up somewhere I’m not supposed to be. And I can’t every time I feel like it ask someone to bring me there.” She explained. They all nodded.

“I tink the girl chas a point tere.” Nicolaj remarked. Emrar nodded. Navin snapped her fingers and leaned forward to be able to look at Tdanie.

“You once told me about this piano thing, which could be rolled up and taken anywhere you want.” Tdanie nodded.

“Yes. A friend of mine has one of those. I don’t really recall what she called it, but I could contact her and ask for its specifics. Maybe our talented engineers currently present could build one for Maria.”

Enthusiastically she looked to Emrar and Nicolaj. Emrar shrugged his shoulders.

“Sure. No problem at all. Shouldn’t be too difficult to build a transportable piano, or what do you think?” Nicolaj looked up from his beefsteak.

“What?” Emrar had to laugh at that.

“Do you ever listen?!”

“Of currse I do. Yu want me to bild a piano forr fair Marria. No problem atall.” He raised his glass to her.

“Nastrovje, Babushka! Yu will chave yur piano in noo time.” With that he emptied his glass. Maria had blushed slightly.

“You don’t need to go to such lengths for me. Really.” Renn put his hand on hers.

“Yes, we have to. You are our friend now and I fear for you that there is no way back.” She had to smile at that and her eyes watered.

“Thank you.” She was able to whisper.

“No problem.” Whispered Navin and drew her head to her, to soothe her.

After their lunch they left one after another to their own tasks. Karf was among the first. When he had watched how they had taken care of Maria he had felt a deep ache inside himself and also a feeling of longing, but he wouldn’t admit it. Tdanie stepped up to him.

“Karf, could I have a word with you?” He nodded and stepped away from the door.

“You and Maria live on the same deck. You are both new to the ship and I would like to ask you, if you could help her tomorrow getting to school. I know Klingons don’t like to deal with disabled, but you would do us all a great favour if you could jump over your shadow.” He grumbled and nodded at last.

“Okay.” Was all he said. The Counsellor smiled brightly at this.

“Oh thank you so much. I’ve already talked with her about it and she will tell you what to do. See you then.”

With that she was out. He scowled. So that was why the blind Human had talked to him. She needed him as a kind of dog, to lead her around the ship. With a disgusted snort he left.


Chapter 8

Admiral Riker left his room in a really bad mood. Even though it could not be seen on his face, it radiated off him in waves. Leeway stood from the command chair.

“Sir?” He asked in his deep voice.

“Full stop, Commander!” He ordered and left for the turbolift.

“Sir?” Leeway asked with creased brow. “We are already late. Do you really think it to be wise...” Riker swivelled around and his blue eye seemed to be made of steel.

“I don’t remember asking you of your opinion, Commander! You have your orders.” With that he stepped onto the turbolift. Leeway wondered about this odd behaviour. Normally the Admiral confided in him, or one of the others. After his shift he had to talk with Tdanie.

Peter had been checking in with one of the science departments, when he passed Renn on the corridor.

“Do you know why we have stopped?” The young Bajoran asked and pointed to one of the large windows. Puzzled Peter saw that they really had dropped out of warp.

“I have no idea. I didn’t even know we did.” Renn had to smile at this.

“Not got space legs yet?” Peter answered him with a smile of his own.

“I guess not. I will see what I can get to know. Have a nice day at school.” With that he was off.

“You kidding? Nice day at school, my ass!” Renn yelled after him and was off. Peter had to chuckle. Apparently this wouldn’t change in millennia

He was intrigued by their stop though and went straight to the Bridge. He sat at his station and looked for any messages from Engineering. Nicolaj had said the warpcore was working just fine. Had another system broken down? There was no indication to that though. Emrar sat at CONN and was obviously bored.

“Why have we stopped? Is anything wrong with the engines?” Peter asked silently and leaned slightly over. Emrar shook his head.

“No. The Admiral came out of his Ready Room. He looked really pissed off and ordered full stop. No explanation or other orders.”

“Is that normal for him? I mean, you know him longer than I do. Does he often do things like that.” Emrar countered the computers move, by letting his bishop go to Queens level Four.

“No, normally he tells us what we need to know. He never lets us hang here, as we do now.

Damn!” He hit his console.

“What is it?” Asked Peter anxious. Had enemies suddenly sprung up on his screen? Was the warpcore going to explode?

“The computer has beaten me at 3D Chess again! I tell you, this damn thing is cheating!”

“Is there a problem?” Leeway’s deep voice asked them. Quickly Peter turned back to his console.

“Nothing, Sir.” Emrar though was not put off by Leeway.

“In fact, there is. Why are we hanging in space and waiting for the Mars to turn green?” Leeway’s brow was drawn into deep creases.

“Old Earth joke. Anyway. Didn’t the Admiral say anything about why we are waiting here?” Leeway drew up his large form and stood at attention.

“No, he didn’t. And you should trust his judgement. When he says we stay here, then we do it.”

Karf stood in front of Maria’s quarters. He tapped his foot with impatience and wondered when that disabled woman would be ready for him to lead her around the ship like a dog. Finally the doors opened. She had her hair in a braid down her back and a pair of sunglasses was on her nose. Puzzled Karf creased his brow.

“It is against the confusion.” She explained without him asking. Was she some kind of telepath?


“Yes. Mostly I don’t look directly at people I’m talking to. When they can’t see my eyes and I just turn my head in their direction they know I’m talking to them.” She smiled and cocked her head a bit. He only mumbled an acknowledgement and took her hand. With a powerful tug he pulled her down the hallway. She nearly stumbled and fell because of his rude behaviour.

“Ow! Karf, stop!” With a deep sigh he stopped.

“What is it? You wanted me to take you to school. That’s what I’m doing.”

“You’re ripping my arm out, all right.” She swung it back and forth to get the circulation going again. “Listen Karf, I know Klingons don’t like to deal with people like me and I am very grateful for this, but you don’t need to take your anger out on me. I was born this way and could not have done anything about it.”

“Your parents could just have killed you. That’s what a Klingon would do!” He sneered. She flinched back at these harsh words. He instantly knew he had made a mistake and wished he could take back his words.

“Fine.” Her voice was thick with tears. She pushed harshly past him and held onto the wall. She was nearly around the bend in the corridor, when he finally found his voice.

“Maria, wait! I’m sorry! I...” How could you excuse such a thing? When he said nothing more she went on. Alone and in total darkness in mind and soul.

When Karf reached the ships school, Maria was nowhere to be seen. He wondered where she was and if she had made it to somewhere, where people would help her. The Bajoran leaned over to him.

“Where’s Maria? I thought you would help her getting here.” There was no accusation in his tone.

“She didn’t want me to help her.” Karf said and ignored him as good as possible. And the statement was partially true. But still, his consciousness was nagging at him for saying these nasty things to Maria, who had done nothing wrong and had tried to be polite to him. He sighed and activated his computer.

He looked around and sneered. A Federation school! He could have been on Qo’Nos this moment, competing in battle with other Klingons. An elderly man walked in and everybody greeted him.

“Good morning everybody. I hope you are all feeling well and that you feel comfortable aboard our new home.” He smiled and took up a PADD.

“All right. Let’s see if everybody’s there.” He called out the names and one after one they lifted their hands or called out.

“Maria Allet? Maria Allet, is she here?” Everybody looked around and Larek lifted his arm.


“We don’t know where she is, Sir.” The teacher sighed and made a cross on the PADD.

“Well, well. Seems like our new fellow student takes school not all too seriously.”

Out of a feeling Karf could not really define, he felt compelled to stand up for Maria.

“Excuse me, Sir. Maria is not here, because she most probably took the wrong way.”

The teachers brow creased and he picked up his PADD.

“Why do you think that? You are new here too, but you found your way here.”

“Maria is blind. Counsellor Amion asked me to take her, but when I wanted to do it this morning, she didn’t want my help.” The teachers eyebrows rose sharply.

“Well! Okay.” He looked to the ceiling. “Emmerson to Counsellor Amion.”

*Amion here Samuel. What is it?*

“A new student was supposed to be here today. Miss Maria Allet, to be exact. She didn’t show up and Mister Karf said that you had asked him to help her, but that she denied his help.” There was a short silence.

*This is most peculiar. I will take care of it Samuel. She will be there tomorrow.*

“Thank you Tdanie. Emmerson out.” With that he ended the communication and went back to calling up names.

After that was done, they went to the actual lesson of the day.

“All right everyone! In this term we will discuss the history of the United Federation of Planets, right from its beginning up until now. This includes First Contact with Zephram Cochrane, the First Romulan War, the Klingon War, the erection of the Neutral Zones and how they were abolished, the Dominion War and the Founders as a race, plus a discussion at the end of term, in which we will discuss, if the Cardassian government will be able to stay stable and in command. Any questions?” Many raised their hands. The teacher sighed.

“Yes, Renn?”

“Will we be talking about Admiral Riker as well? He played an important role during the Dominion War and during the peace negotiation with the Romulan Empire.”

“It will be part of the things we are talking about, but only briefly. You all know that many of his missions were confidential.” This again brought on an uproar of questions why not and only so brief.

“Please, please, stop! Maybe I will ask the Admiral if he will give us an insight to the Dominion War, but I can’t promise anything.” This again brought on cheering and clapping.

“Okay, okay. Settle down now. Open the first file in ‘The History of the Federation: A perspective’. Navin, when was first contact made with the human race and where?”


Chapter 9

Tdanie had asked the computer about Maria’s location and was on her way now. With a slight sound the doors to one of the observation lounges opened. The room was dark except for the small light the stars outside provided.

“Computer, lights!” Tdanie ordered. Maria sat in a chair staring unseeing at the windows in front of her. She didn’t acknowledge Tdanie’s presence, but the Counsellor had no doubt that the girl knew who was there and where. She walked farther into the room and the doors closed behind her.

“Maria? Is everything all right? Karf said, you didn’t want his help.” Nothing. “I thought we had talked about that. You agreed with me, when I suggested...”

“Have you ever been in a situation, where you had to rely on just your normal senses? Not being able to hear peoples thoughts and feel their emotions?” Maria asked silently. Silence entered the room. Tdanie didn’t know what to reply to that.

“I guess I would be afraid.” She stated in a low voice.

“You would be terrified. I was born this way and have accepted it a long time ago, but people around me haven’t. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate it when people want to help me and I am thankful for their concern, but I hate their pity! Poor, blind Maria!” A tear ran down her cheek.

“Maybe Karf was right. Maybe it would have been better, if my parents had just killed me!”

Tdanie took a sharp inbreath. Of course she knew about the Klingon custom of killing disabled children. If they didn’t they didn’t outlive their teenage years, because other Klingons weren’t as gentle and sympathetic. Quickly she walked over to the girl and went to her knees in front of her.

“Never again think of that Maria! Please promise me! You are such a brave, young woman. I wished I had your courage and determination. I don’t think that he meant what he said. He only felt he had to lash out at somebody and you were the only one around.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Maria asked full of sarcasm. Tdanie gripped her shoulders.

“Don’t let it get to you, Maria! You have endured much more than this boy could ever dream of and you have come out of it with your head held high! Doesn’t that say something about you? About your inner strength? I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to endure the things you have gone through.”

“I only wanted to be his friend.” Maria sobbed and Tdanie drew her into her arms.

Tdanie was fuming when she was on her way to her office after having brought Maria back to her quarters. How could Karf be so inconsiderate! Klingons! She hit the panel for the turbolift hard and tapped her foot impatiently, while waiting for the lift. When the doors opened she walked in without acknowledging that anyone was there.

“You seem to be miles away.” A deep, rumbling voice said. She twitched and looked up with a smile. “Sorry I frightened you.” Leeway smiled softly down at her.

“You could never frighten me, Levenoyati Efesaloi Wanonderit Aymeron.” He chuckled.

“Nearly there my dear. You still pronounce it wrong.” She crossed her arms and huffed.

“It would become much easier if you would tell me where!” He smiled an enigmatic smile and leaned down to her.

“That would be too easy and would take all the fun out of it.” He whispered. “And besides.” He straightened up again. “I’ve got a bet running with Nicolaj.” The doors opened and she looked incredulous at his back, while he left.

*State your destination please.* The computer interrupted her thoughts.

“Ah...Counsellor’s office.” The doors closed again and she was off.

Admiral Riker sat alone in his dark quarters, only illuminated by sparse starlight. Why now? Why did she choose this point in time? Couldn’t she have waited some days, months, years? If he was honest, he was afraid of what would happen. Afraid what she possibly without intention would give away about him in a fit of bitter anger. He looked down in his lap, while rubbing something over and over in his hand.

His crew was curious why they had stopped, mostly because they were already late. He sighed and massaged his brow. If they only knew...He could not tell them. Not all of it. His gaze was again drawn to his hand. With his left index finger he stroke over a small sensor on his eye patch. The small strips holding it retracted into the patch and it fell into his left hand. For the first time in many years he again felt like his age. With feet feeling like lead he walked to his mirror.

Automatically lights went on. He looked up and his mirror presented him with a half empty eye socket and a deep scar running from his brow, through the eye and down his cheek. His hair more grey than black, with only a few remaining sprinkles of the original colour. His beard was the same. He fisted his right hand and felt it bite into his palm.

“Why now?” He rasped out. Warm and slippery his blood seeped out between his fingers. Filled with bitterness and an horrible familiar empty feeling he swung his arm, but stopped the motion in the middle of it. He breathed heavily and looked at his bloody hand closely. Tears were welling up in his eyes, as memories came back to haunt him. Memories of a fulfilled life with everything he had ever wished for. With heart racking sobs he collapsed to his knees, while clinging to the sink with his bloody hand.

“I would never betray you! I would die, before I would do that! Never!” He forced himself to stand and went into his bedroom, where he had a skin regenerator, to repair the damage to his hand. On the sink rim, gleaming in the soft light of the bathroom, was a delicate, golden, diamond ring. On the inside, drenched in blood, one word stood out clearly.


Chapter 10

Leeway had returned to the bridge and felt positively bored. Nothing had happened for the last three hours and the Admiral hadn’t shown up or given another order. He wondered what had his superior so occupied.

“Sir, a shuttlecraft is approaching at warp three.” Leeway looked up in wonder. A shuttlecraft? This far out?

“Hail them!” He ordered.

“They are hailing us, sir.” The Ensign exclaimed in wonderment. Leeway’s eyes became small slits. Maybe now he would get some answers.

“Open a channel!” He ordered and stood at attention. A young woman appeared on the screen.

“This is Lieutenant Asher of the Ambassadorial shuttle ‘Isis’. Request permission to land in your shuttlebay.” The woman asked. Leeway bowed his head.

“Greetings Lieutenant Asher. I am Commander Leeway of the U.S.S Enterprise. May I enquire what an Ambassadorial shuttle is doing out here?” She seemed to be very uncomfortable.

“I am sorry, sir, but I can give you no information concerning my mission. My passengers will make it all clear to you.” Leeway nodded dissatisfied.

“Very well then. We will prepare for your arrival. Enterprise out.” He nodded to the officer at OPS to inform the shuttlebay that a shuttle was expected and that they should prepare. He would inform the Admiral himself, although he doubted that the appearance of the shuttle would be a surprise to his superior.

Riker stood in his dark quarters, gazing out the windows, when the chime of his door broke the silence of the room. He closed his eye and lowered his head, until his chin made contact with his chest. He knew what Leeway was going to tell him. They had arrived. He sighed, drew himself up and stood at attention.

“Enter.” He ordered. The doors swished open and as he had thought, it was Leeway’s voice addressing him.

“Sir, an Ambassadorial shuttle has landed in our shuttlebay. The pilot would give me no information concerning their mission.” Riker turned to his First Officer.

“Their mission is private and none of our concern. Nonetheless, they are diplomats and we will greet them accordingly. Inform the others. I will join you in front of the shuttlebay in a few minutes. Dismissed.”

He didn’t see the dissatisfied scowl of his huge XO, but he didn’t need to, to know that it was there. He never kept things from his officers, because he strongly believed in informing them exactly about what kind of situation they were getting into. Being an Admiral had helped; but about this...he had been prohibited by the Federation Council itself to tell anybody about this. Never in his life would he be able to tell anybody about how he had betrayed those he loved most.

Emrar tucked at his collar, uncomfortable in his gala uniform. Nicolaj came down the hallway in large strides, his hands shoved in his pockets, whistling an old tune from his birth country.

“Do you know for whom we are doing this? I only hope whoever it is that they are important as Hell, because I wouldn’t want to squeeze myself into this thing for nothing but a lowly official!” Emrar burst out. Nicolaj laughed and patted him on his back, which had Emrar nearly stumbling to the deck.

“I cheard thaat it chas to be someone rreally imporrtent.”

“Oh really?” Emrar drew his finger again through the tight collar.

“Hi. Do any of you know what this is all about?” Peter joined them and was just closing the upper clasp of his gala. Both Emrar and Nicolaj shook their heads.

“Nope. No idea frriend Peterr.” V’Nak and S’Mat joined them, both saying nothing and nearly looking like twins in their uniforms.

The next to come was Leeway. He looked even more imposing in his gala and Peter wouldn’t have thought that possible. He not only wore the white gala with immense dignity, but also a deep black sash across his huge chest, secured by a silver clasp. Peter looked to Emrar and raised an eyebrow. The navigator quickly shook his head, indicating for Peter to better keep his mouth shut.

“Wait for me!” a female voice came from behind them. All of them turned and saw Tdanie running up to them, her jacket flapping, while she was running.

“Am I late?” She panted and closed her jacket and the upper clasp. All of them, of course except the Vulcans, smiled at her.

“No, Counsellor. You are right on time. For a change.” All of them stood at attention, as the Admiral approached them.

Nearly the entire left side of his gala jacket was filled with medals. Tdanie blushed a bit, but said nothing.

He silently stepped in front of them and entered the shuttlebay. The Ambassadorial shuttle Isis was standing in the middle of the bay, all of the Enterprises’ shuttles off to the right side. The pilot of the shuttle stood at the hatch, obviously talking to someone. The Lieutenant in command of the bay blew a small whistle.

“Admiral on deck!” He announced out loud. The young woman took a step back and when she saw Riker, she had to swallow. She had never imagined him to be so intimidating. And so much larger. With queasy legs she stood in front of him at attention.

“Sir, Lieutenant Angela Asher.” He nodded to her.

“Are our guests prepared to disembark?” He asked. She was totally fascinated that his face really never showed any emotion. A friend of her had told her about it, but she had never believed him. Now she did. And it was scary.

“Yes, Sir. I don’t want to be rude, but I need to get underway again as soon as possible.” He only nodded and gave the officer at the console a sign.

“Everything will be prepared for your start.” He assured her and directed his gaze at the shuttle. She felt utterly uncomfortable at being dismissed like that and gingerly stepped aside.

From the dark in the shuttle two humans stepped into the harsh lighting of the shuttlebay. Or, they looked human. Riker knew exactly who they were. His shoulders tensed painfully, but on the outside he looked calm and composed. Only Tdanie knew what really was going on inside him and she stared at him with a slightly creased brow and puzzlement.

“Welcome aboard the Enterprise, Ambassador Troi.”

Peter’s eyes went wide. Ambassador Troi?! What was the most important Federation Ambassador doing out here, in the middle of nowhere. When he looked to the others, they looked just as surprised as he was. Even the two Vulcan’s seemed surprised, which could only be seen in their raised eyebrows.

Troi stepped down from the shuttle hatch in full Ambassadorial regalia, with unequalled dignity. A step behind her came her husband. What puzzled Peter the most though, was the fact that the Admiral didn’t extend his hand to shake it with the Ambassador, or just to help her off the shuttle. Riker stepped back, so as to enable her to greet the rest of them.

“May I introduce my officers. Commander Le’Venoyati Effes’Aloi Wano’Nderit Aimer’on, Lieutenant Commander Nicolaj Ranow, Lieutenant Commander Avin Emrar, Lieutenant V’Nak, Lieutenant Peter Inalo, CMO S’Mat and Counsellor Tdanie Amion.”

A soft smile played over the Ambassadors lips as her gaze settled on Tdanie.

“It is good to see you again Tdanie.” Her musical voice announced.

Peter was speechless. He knew that the woman in front of him was entering her eighties, but she didn’t look like it at all. She looked much more like fifty or something around that. She shook the hands of each of them, except of course the Vulcans, whom she greeted in the traditional Vulcan way. The Admiral though, did not shake hands with her and she made no attempt to do so. Peter wondered why. The Ambassador took his thoughts quickly off this matter though.

“May I introduce my husband? Ilvan Troi.” This man on the other hand, looked his age. His white hair was thin and his skin a deep brown. Obviously he was often working outside. His shoulders were a bit bent forward and he seemed to be a bit fragile. His deep dark eyes, marking him clearly as a Betazoid, twinkled though with mischief.

“Nice to meet you all.” He bowed to them. Peter may not have seen it, if he hadn’t been puzzled by the Ambassadors behaviour towards the Admiral, but he would bet his month salary that the Ambassadors husband didn’t include the Admiral in his bow, by turning slightly away from him. What the Hell was going on here?!


Chapter 11

After they had left the Shuttlebay and everybody was returning to their duties, Peter stopped Tdanie a few metres down the corridor.

“Excuse me, but do you have a minute?” He asked. She looked concerned at him.

“What is it Peter? Your thoughts are one big jumble.” He sighed and drew his hand over his eyes.

“Please tell me you saw it too.” He pleaded. She contracted her eyes in confusion.

“Saw what?”

“How the Ambassador was treating the Admiral. Her husband was no better, I might add.” Tdanie had no idea what he was getting at. She had been concentrating on the Admiral all the time. For a short time there had been cracks in his shield and she had tried to get a peek at what lay beyond. No luck there, unfortunately.

“Sorry, Peter. I have no idea what you are talking about. I have to go now, or I will be late for an appointment. See you later.” And with that she was off.

Peter didn’t doubt what he had seen though. He was convinced that something was seriously wrong between the Ambassador and the Admiral and he would find out what!

Leeway brought the Ambassador and her husband to their quarters and then excused himself. Troi assured him that she knew about the duties of a First Officer and greeted him in the traditional way of his people, before he went.

While her husband was unpacking their things, she flopped down onto the couch and closed her eyes, while she tried to calm her warring thoughts and emotions. The delicate smell of hot chocolate enticed her to open her eyes again. Ilvan sat on the low coffee table right opposite her, holding a cup and smiling tenderly at his wife.

<Relax, Navi. You will probably not see him until the end of the voyage and then just for a few moments.> She sighed, took the cup and drank deeply from her favourite beverage.

<It is these few moments making me nervous. And normally there is a welcoming dinner for high ranking guests. So, I will see him again, before this journey is over.>

<That may be, but it will be in the attendance of his officers and from what you have told me and what I have read about him, he would rather die, than loose his face in front of his officers.> She smiled lopsidedly.

<You are probably right. It makes me though very uncomfortable to be on the same ship with him.> Ilvan sat beside her on the couch and drew her to his chest.

He kissed her greying hair and heard her sigh in contentment. He would never allow Riker to hurt his wife again. If he wasn’t such a peaceful person, he would have gone to Riker right now and punched him up, maybe even killed him, for what he had done to his beloved. And for what? For nothing at all!

Admiral Riker had taken his seat on the Bridge and ordered to get back on course. To his officers he looked his normal, absolutely controlled self, but his insides were in serious turmoil. She was there...he could feel her. He wanted to lean back, close his eyes and just enjoy feeling her in his mind again, but he couldn’t. He had no right...He heard the sound of footsteps to his left and turned his head, in order to be able to look at the approaching person. It was Tdanie.

“Sir, with your permission, I will begin to arrange a welcoming dinner for the Ambassador.” She stood perfectly at attention. Riker saw back to his PADD.

“That will not be necessary, Counsellor.”

“But, Sir! That’s normal protocol and Ambassador Troi’s rank more than justifies such a dinner.” Tdanie was clearly surprised. Now Riker’s steely gaze was upon her and she had to swallow hard.

“Very well, Counsellor. If you insist, then go ahead. But I can tell you already now, that the Ambassador will not enjoy the dinner at all.” He rose from his chair and looked down upon her.

“Now excuse me, Counsellor. I have work to do!” He walked past her and vanished in his room, before she could utter another word.

“Maybe Peter was right after all.” She murmured to herself. With purposeful strides she climbed the small ramp, leading up to the aft turbolift.

She had to see Leeway. He would know what was wrong with the Admiral. He had known him for a longer time, longer than all of them and would know why the Admiral was so on edge right now.

Deep in thought she walked through the ship, her legs automatically turning at the right corners and leading her to his quarters, while her mind was still occupied with the impressions she had managed to catch up in the Admiral, while he had had small cracks in his normally perfect shield. With a sigh she stopped in front of Leeways quarters and pressed the small LCARS plate.

After a few seconds, he asked her to enter. She walked inside and stopped short, as always. She was every time astonished over how his quarters looked like. They were always immersed in a soft glow and on an altar over twenty candles were burning, immersing the quarters in a smell she had been never able to define. In any event, it made her sad. He sat on a large cushion on the floor. All normal chairs and sofas had been removed from his quarters. They were too small for him and his people preferred to sit on the floor. The ceiling height could be adjusted, but Leeway had never asked for that.

“What can I do for you, Counsellor?” He asked in a soft voice and she could see at his glassy eyes, that he had been meditating. She quickly sat next to him on the floor.

“I need your help, Leeway. Something is wrong between the Admiral and the Ambassador. Something large and horrible. I need your help to find out what.” She explained. He looked silently into her eyes and then he averted his gaze and took in the candles on the altar. She knew that every candle stood for ten-thousand. The number of lives he had taken, while still infected.

“You...you know?” She asked in a whisper. He did not nod, but he didn’t have to.

“But...how?!” Tdanie asked. She had never been able to break the Admiral’s shield.
Leeway took a deep breath.

“My quarters are nearly next to the Admiral’s. I sometimes see what he dreams. He has the same nightmare, night after night after night.” Her hand went slowly to her mouth.

“Gods!” She whispered. To engender such a reaction a major disaster had to occur.

“What? What is it?” She asked silently. He shook his head sadly.

“It is not for me to tell, Tdanie. The only thing I can say is,” He reached behind himself and produced a thick, high candle. “light this for him every night before you go to sleep and think of him and all the good things he has done for you and all of us. I myself do it every night.” With a serious expression she took the candle and tried to decipher the Alin-Avya runes on it.

“Try as much as you want. Not even the computer will help you. Light it, Tdanie. That is the only support we can give him. He will have to struggle alone with his demons.” He closed her hands around the candle with his own and looked deeply into her eyes.

“Don’t ask him and do not research further. It will only hurt him.” She nodded silently and stood.

“Thank you, Leeway. I will light it tonight.” She pressed it to her chest and he nodded to her. Then he fixed his gaze on the candles and his eyes grew distant. Uneasy and confused she exited Leeway’s quarters. She sighed, looked at the candle in her hands and then to the ceiling.

She would ask the Ambassador, if she would like a welcoming dinner. That would be the easiest way to solve all this.


Chapter 12

Tdanie was preparing the lounge for a small welcoming party. The Ambassador had been very happy with this, so now she was doing everything to make it a smashing party.

Larek, Renn, Laliaru, Navin, Kyoto and Maria helped her with the decorations. Tdanie was glad to be together with the youngsters again. They were joking and when Renn and Kyoto donned some lametta as wigs and danced a slow waltz, they all had to laugh hard. Laliaru described it so vividly to Maria that she burst into laughter too, trying to imagine the two boys dancing together. Because they were laughing so hard, no one heard the doors open and admit Nicolaj entrance. Immediately, he joined in.

“Ah fairr ladi. Kom, danse wit me!” He snatched Renn’s hand from Kyoto and sent the Bajoran twirling through the room.

“My goodness, young man, you certainly have strong hands.” Renn purred and the Chief Engineer waltzed with him through the room. Again, they all erupted in laughter. Mainly because Renn wasn’t even reaching Nicolaj’s chin.

“Please, please stop!” Tdanie was able to bring out between laughs. Both men bowed to each other and Nicolaj even kissed Renn’s hand.

“If I didn’t know better, I would be concerned now.” A cheerful voice threw in from behind them. They all turned and saw Antonia leaning on the bar. She was the hostess of the lounge and Nicolaj’s girlfriend. He walked over to her, arms opened wide.

“Yu no dat yu arre ti onli won cho I aam cumming chome too, Toni.” He hugged her. She patted him on his back.

“Don’t worry. I was just kidding.” She smiled. His face broke into a huge grin.

“Good.” He said and she already knew that glint he had in his eyes.

“Don’t you dare, Nicolaj Ranow!” She warned him, but it was already too late. With one, quick grab, he had hauled her over the bar and had her now slung over his shoulder.

“Let me down! Let me down immediately! Nick!” She screamed laughing. The others had to laugh again. Nicolaj tickled her and Antonia giggled helplessly.

“Someone in forr bacon?” He gave her behind a loving pat.

“Yeah! Me!” Larek hooted. Navin’s stare stopped him, before he could even move.

“Chave I everr toold yu thaat yu chave a nice aass?” Nicolaj asked over his shoulder and kissed her bottom.

“No, but thank you. And now let me down.” He tipped his chin, seemingly considering it.

“Please.” She asked. He sighed lifted her over his shoulder and held her small form to him.

“Yu no thaat I caan’t deni yu when yu say please.” She kissed his nose and met his loving gaze head-on.

“Yes, I know.” She smiled seductively. “Be aware though that every good deed does not go unpunished, Tiger.” She purred in his ear. With a lopsided smile and sashaying her hips to their full extent she left the room. She still had to get so more of the real stuff from her private stock. Nicolaj was hypnotised.

“So, what brings you by...Tiger?” Larek asked and they all had to giggle, when he rolled the R in Tiger, growling even a bit, to top it off.

“Leet’s see, if yu still do thaat, afterr yu chave plaid Football against me.” Nicolaj warned the young Cardassian. Larek flexed his arms self assured.

“Anytime!” He uttered full of confidence. He knew that he had no chance against the Chief Engineer. Nicolaj had played professionally before he entered Academy and even then, he had continued playing. He probably had a holodeck Football training program. Larek wondered, if the rumours were true that he had been able to talk Leeway into playing against him. But then again, if Leeway had, Nicolaj wouldn’t stand in front of them. At least not without some new arms and legs.

“Stop it, Larek.” Navin slapped his bulging arm and went decorating again. Not even sparing his arms a glance. He sighed and watched her go. Didn’t it affect her at all that he was in such a good shape? Renn patted his shoulder and indicated with his head that they should take care of the lampoons.

“What brings you by, Nicolaj?” Tdanie asked and helped Maria untangle some of the glitter. He sat down, leaned back, had a smug grin all over his face and put one of his boots on the table.

“You know, that is not very good behaviour for a man like you.” Maria said and her head turned in the general direction of Nicolaj. Immediately his boot snapped back under the table and his smug grin was replaced by a look of astonishment.

“Chow diid yu no?”

“I’m blind, not deaf.” She explained and laid the string of glitter next to the others. Tdanie hid her smiled behind her hand, cleared her throat and then addressed the large Russian.

“Do you want to help us?” He waved that off.

“Good no! Leeve thaat to women, I alvais say. I’m chere to brring fairr Marria cher piano.” He stretched his long arm out and retrieved a black roll from an adjoining table.

“You are already finished?” Tdanie asked surprised. He chuckled.

“Uf currse. It waasn’d dat diffikult.” He turned to Maria and presented her with the roll. Unsure, she reached out for his hands. Safely he put it into hers. A tear ran down her cheek.

“Thank you. You are so generous. How can I ever...”

“Pley forr me. Daat iss allrreddy enoff.” He ushered her on with his hands, even though she couldn’t see them. Quickly Tdanie cleared the table and waved for the others to come nearer.

Reverently Maria unfolded the piano and let her fingers glide over the white tabs. Over that the control PADD was situated. She let her fingers glide there too and stopped surprised.

“Braille? How...where did you find that?” She asked beaming.

“Yu chad to be able to work de contrrolls, so I put marrkerrs in Braille on dem.”

“Thank you, Nicolaj!”

“Oh. It waas notting.” He waved her off. She smiled and switched it on. She let her fingers glide over the tabs and it really sounded like a real piano. All were clapping and Nicolaj sat back with a smug grin.

“I am juust de best.” He sighed at peace with himself and the world.

“Play something, Maria!” Navin urged her on.

“Yes, please!” Renn joined her. Maria pondered that for a moment.

“Okay. I have this song...I wrote it yesterday. It’s a bit sad.” No one was saying anything and she took that as her cue to begin.

(C) Vanessa Carlton
I have wandered
Far and wide for
Something real
Something to die for
But I have found you
And you do not see
All that is me
All that is true and

I am more than you will see
I am more than you will need
I am more than you will see
More than wanted

As you float the
Flimsy surface
You should know
Life lies beneath this
And don’t pretend you feel
What I feel
You live elusions
And I’m real

I am more than you will see
I am more than you will need
I am more than you will see
More than wanted

I know, I know
You like the way
You feel when I play

I know, I know
You don’t really hear
What I say

I know, I know
You are waiting for something
To ring

I have wandered
Far and wide for
Something real
Something to die for
But I have found you
And you do not see
All that is me
All that is true and

I am more than you will see
I am more than you will need
I am more than you will see
More than wanted

I am more than you will see
I am more than you will need
I am more than you will see
More than wanted

More than you’ll love
More than you’ll hate
More than you’ll hold
More than wanted
More than you’ll crave
More than you’ll cherish
More than you’ll have
More than wanted

They were all silent for a time. Then, someone behind them began clapping. All of their eyes, except Maria’s, went wide, when they saw who it was.


Chapter 13

Karf walked slowly in. They were all staring at him, even Maria. He knew that she couldn’t see him and was probably wondering who it was and why everybody was silent.

“That was a very good song. I could say that I am proud of having inspired you, but I am not. I came here to apologise.” He came to a halt in front of the small group. Now every one of them was looking expectantly at Maria. She shifted a bit uncomfortably on her chair. Seemingly feeling the stares of the others.

“That is very kind of you. Apology accepted.” He nodded and an uneasy silence settled.

“I know that I shouldn’t have lashed out at you...but I was frustrated and...I...”

“There is no need to defend yourself. I told you that I accepted your apology.”

“Yes, but I...you only tried to be my friend and I pushed you away. I would like it, if we became friends.” Where the Hell was that coming from?! His intention had been to apologise and then to go again and now he found himself begging for her friendship! Was all this Federation politeness contagious? He had been on this ship for merely a few weeks and found himself prowling in front of a blind human!

“Karf...it is nice of you to apologise and I think it very nice of you to seek my friendship, but after what happened I believe I need some time to think it over.” He nodded silently and found himself unable to look at her. A silly thought, because her eyes couldn’t make him uncomfortable.

“Yes, I understand that. Well...then I will be going.” He turned around and was looking straight into Larek’s eyes. Karf sighed. Now what? He had apologised to Maria. Would this Cardassian bunch of muscles punch him up regardless of that?
But Larek had nothing like that on his mind. He reached Karf a paper lamp.

“You can help us with the decorations. We still have a lot to do.” Unsure of what to make of this, Karf looked from the lamp to Larek and back. Slowly he took the lamp in his hands and shrugged.

“I don’t really have something better to do.” A half-hearted smile turned the corners of his lips upwards a bit. Larek clapped him on the back with a huge smile.

“Good! You can help us setting up everything. Maybe Antonia will let you help her serve the drinks tonight. She is still looking for someone to tend the bar. We can’t, because Tdanie wants us to play tonight.” Karf saw to the others, who were all smiling and going back to what they had done, before Maria had begun playing.

“She would let me tend the bar? Isn’t that forbidden?” Nicolaj shrugged and put his feet onto the table in front of him.

“Yu arre oold enoff, arren’t yu?” He asked. Karf nodded, still a bit perplexed about all of this.

“Yes, but...well I don’t know what the Admiral or my mother would say about it.” Tdanie smiled brightly and went on sorting garlands.

“The Admiral has never interfered with my decisions and I do not think your mother would have anything against it. Antonia keeps a sharp eye on those only helping her temporarily. She won’t let you drink anything other than synthehol and even that only in minuscule quantities. The best thing of it all though is, you will meet Ambassador Troi and all the other command officers of the ship first hand. And because you are here, your mother will be invited too. That should put all her worries at ease. Not only can she socialise with her superiors, but she can also keep an eye on you.” Karf mulled that over. At last he shrugged.

“All right, I’ll do it.” Nicolaj clapped his hands and jumped to his feet, nearly toppling the chair over in which he had been sitting.

“Fantastiik! Jusd rrememberr too give de reel stuff too mi, oke?” A clap on Karf’s shoulder followed, which nearly sent the young Klingon to the floor. He turned to the room with raised hands.

“Nicolaj iss leeving de bilding!” He exclaimed and all the youngsters waved or otherwise acknowledged his leaving the lounge.

Peter was at his post on the bridge. They had taken up their previous course, now with a serious delay. Nicolaj had given Emrar his word that the core was not breaking down, if the navigator was flying the Enterprise at maximum. What they were doing right now. They had to catch up on some of the time and a brief trip at warp nine had been authorised by the Admiral. Because Peter was sure that no problems would arise, he was now doing some research at his console. He had called up the Admiral’s personal file and was reading it. It bore more resemblance to a half solved crossword than to a personal file. Huge chunks were missing, their beginnings always labelled with the same line. ‘Confidential. Please enter authorisation code Alpha Tango’
At first he had been rather astounded by that. Alpha Tango was the highest possible authorisation code, only known to Federation Council members. What was so important about the Admiral, that only the Council had access to it? All the normal information was there, everything a commanding officer needed, to evaluate him, but nothing specific about Riker’s career in the last forty years! He could have understood if it had been during the Dominion War. Most of Riker’s missions had been Top Secret, but after that?
His medical and psychological file was missing entirely. Both labelled: ‘For the use of the attending officer only’. Peter knew he would never be able to get anything out of S’Mat. He placed his hopes on Tdanie. He knew her pretty well, but he wasn’t sure if she would tell him anything. He had quickly found out that everyone aboard the Enterprise was fiercely loyal to the Admiral. He didn’t doubt for a minute that Tdanie was no exception to that.
Frustrated he closed the file and monitored the ships functions again, his mind still occupied with Riker. Even though he had been a legend at the Academy, nobody had had specific information about him. Even Peter’s professors. It only now occurred to him; now that he was confronted with this mystery. His shift ended and he switched the station off, walking up to the turbolift. He needed to talk to Tdanie. He looked to his watch. An antiquated thing he once had got from his grandfather. It was near to midnight, but as he knew Tdanie, she would still be up and about.
He waited until he was alone in the lift and then raised his head to address the computer.

“Computer. Location of Counsellor Amion.”

*Counsellor Amion is currently in the Forward Lounge.*

“Forward Lounge!” He ordered and the lift was off again.
When he entered the Lounge, Tdanie was on a ladder, hanging some lamps to the rather unappealing beams giving the room its stability. No one was there. A small stage had been set up and he instantly recognised the instruments of the teenage music group. The tables had been decorated with flowers and the whole room seemed to be much more inviting. The only decoration it had had before, had been the view out of the large windows.

“Maybe we should make this permanent.” He asked her. She smiled and climbed down.

“Maybe we should.” She agreed and took the room in, apparently satisfied with the outcome of her work.

“What brings you by, Peter? If you wanted to help, you are too late.” She teased him a bit. With a smile he sat down at one of the tables and indicated for her to sit with him.

“I would have helped, if I wasn’t bound by Bridge duty.” She nodded and saw to the ceiling.

“Ah! I hear that one every time.” Both had to laugh at that. Silence settled over them. Peter sighed and drew his hands through his raven black hair.

“Tdanie, I have to talk to you about something.” She sat up straight, concern in her eyes.

“What is it Peter?”

“I reviewed the Admiral’s file.” He raised his hands before she could say anything. “I know its not very polite to do so, without asking for permission, but I just wanted to see if I was nuts or not. I am absolutely sure of what I saw today and...I just wanted to see if I could find a reason.” He looked to her. She seemed to be miles away.

“Tdanie?” Now he was concerned. She shook her head and sighed.

“When you asked me if I had seen this...impolite behaviour, for lack of a better word, I thought it was something you had imagined. I am not sure about that anymore.” Eager to hear more, he changed to the chair just next to her.

“I asked the Admiral, if I he would give me permission to prepare a welcoming dinner for the Ambassador, as is normal, when such an important individual boards a starship. He got all defensive and told me that the Ambassador would not want to have such a dinner. And if that wasn’t enough, when I talked to the Ambassador and her husband, they both seemed...apprehensive somehow. As if she was scared. I quickly adjusted to a informal gathering here and she was all for it.” She was now looking straight into Peter’s eyes.

“I believe you, Peter. And I am scared of what that might imply.” He swallowed at the intense worry in her eyes.

“I...as I reviewed his file, I couldn’t find anything out about him, or his persona. Getting a Vulcan to speak of Pon Farr in public would be easier than to find anything out about this man. The file resembles much more a jigsaw puzzle with 2/3 of the parts lost, than an actual Starfleet record!” Frustration was clearly audible in his voice. Tdanie sighed and shook her head.

“I know what you want to ask, but I can tell you, his psychological file is a Counsellors nightmare. Everything vague, nothing conclusive. The hardest thing and what is frustrating me most though is, that the Admiral has received intensive psychological training. Meaning that he is perfectly blank to me.” Both sighed at their inability to find something out about their superior.
Peter lifted his head with a soft smile, took Tdanie’s hand in his and stood.

“How about a walk? We can talk about anything you like and we both get our minds off this puzzle.” She smiled and stood next to him, holding his hand tighter.

“That would be nice.” They turned to the door and walked out.

“Just being the perfect gentleman. It would be rude, leaving you to walk home alone.”

“Especially when one lives in such a dangerous neighbourhood as I do.” Both laughed silently, while the doors closed behind them.


Chapter 14

‘Night’ had fallen on the Enterprise. The lighting in the corridors were dimmed, few people were around and even those on duty spoke in hushed voices, as if afraid to awake someone with a too loud word.

Avin Emrar switched his console off, yawned and his antennae twitched, while he stretched a bit. Silently he walked to his daughters room and opened the door. With a soft smile he watched her sleep. He had been so afraid of loosing her, like her mother, to the war. He winced a bit, when he saw a holo of Renn on her bedside table. Well, sooner or later he had to let her go. Better later than sooner. Still smiling, he closed the door again and went to bed himself. In the darkness of her room Laliaru smiled and turned on her other side, towards Renn’s holo.

Nicolaj’s loud, rumbling snore reverberated through the dark bedroom. The slim form of Atonia was draped over his broad chest, sleeping miraculously fitful. The rumpled sheets lay somewhere at their feet, but both didn’t care a damn. From time to time, Nicolaj would softly caress her arm, which she had slung around his neck. She would then mumble something and snuggle up closer to him.
Funny enough, when they had met for the first time, they couldn’t stand each other. She had volunteered for medical service during the war, had crossed the wrong XO and as a punishment, had to put up with Nicolaj’s whining. They had argued each day. She calling him a softie and him calling her a sadistic bitch. Then he had left and her work seemed not as rewarding as it had been before.

He had come back to her two months later, at which time she had almost forgotten about him. He wanted to invite her out to dinner in his quarters. They ate and talked for maybe two minutes, the rest of the evening had been a sexual blur. Unconsciously she stroked the scar he had across his large chest. On numerous times S’Mat had offered him to smoothen out his skin and let it vanish, but he had refused every time. Antonia smiled in her sleep. It was his way of telling her that he was hers. She had given him the scar in a rather passionate moment during their first night.

His hand joined hers and their fingers intertwined immediately. With a small grunt, she hoisted herself up onto him and now lay flush to him from head to toe. With a sigh of contentment both slept on.

V’Nak and S’Mat sat in front of their meditation candles, contemplating their day and going over some data in their head. V’Nak lifted his head and saw to her. With something resembling a smile, he tentatively outstretched his hand towards her belly. She ‘smiled’ back at him, took his hand in hers and laid it firmly on her belly. Deep love and affection shining in both their eyes.

Leeway was on the Bridge, going over some data and training the fresh Ensigns in ship’s operations. They were doing well, but most of them were very tense, feeling awkward around the gargantuan First Officer. Some of them even feared him. A low, rumbling laughter escaped him at this. In his eyes, they were all children, infants. He would never hurt any of them. Well...maybe not at first.

“Ensign Hintz, we are approaching an asteroid field. Make a test run on the targeting sensors.” He ordered and observed how the young man was doing.

“Aye, Sir.” Professionally Hintz began to work.

With a satisfied sigh, Leeway leaned back. After this mission was over, he would be able to visit his family and friends, because the Enterprise would stop at Lunaria IV. The colonists there would provide the Enterprise with some extra spare parts. The Lunarians were famous for their excellent technological knowledge and metallurgy. They and the Alin-Avya shared the world of Lunaria IV in peace. Leeway’s people kept mostly to themselves, living a life of peace and introspection. Very few left the community, as he had done. The younger ones did from time to time, but they were mostly accompanied by their parents or one of the elders. Leeway agreed with this policy. It was still too early for the young to leave the nest. They would not be able to suppress the bloodlust, once in a battle situation.

With a smile, which looked pretty scary to the Ensigns, because of his sharp, barbed teeth, he had to think about his mate. He wondered what she was doing right now. They had agreed on waiting a few years, until they would mate for conception. Both wanted to experience a multitude of things and they would not be able to pay a child the attention it deserved.

“In a few years.” He whispered and his eyes grew distant, smiling happily at the vision of him, his mate and their first child.

Renn turned around in his sleep, flung his hand over and slapped Larek into the face. The Cardassian grunted, shoved Renn’s hand off his face and turned his back to the Bajoran. After a time, he began to snore loudly. Nearly immediately, two PADDs came flying from two different directions, hitting him on his hard, scaly head. He twitched and sluggishly opened his eyes.

“What?” He mumbled and his lower lip dangled a bit, while he tried to push himself up with his arms. Navin’s dark eyes were gleaming in the light of an empty, blue screen.

“Stop snoring. Sleep on your back.” She yawned. Kyoto only grunted his assent and turned his back to them all. Larek followed Navin’s request, but inched a bit away from Renn.

They had been learning together for Astrophysics, then watched a holo-movie and gradually fallen asleep in front of it. Kyoto had chosen for this night. ‘Lord of the Ring’, or something like that. Not that exciting and very long. One after another they had nodded off. Kyoto’s mother wouldn’t miss him. She knew that this would happen. As for Renn, Larek and Navin...there was no one who could worry about them. Their parents had died in the war. Renn and Larek lived together, while Navin had her own, small quarters. Because of her, one of the lucky Ensigns had got Lieutenant’s quarters.

Now, in the quarters of Renn and Larek, they all felt at home and safe. Something they hadn’t known for a large part of their lives.
Larek felt something moving next to his hand. A soft, delicate hand, snaked into his and with a smile, he closed his own around it. Navin smiled in the darkness and both went back to sleep.

Maria and Karf were sitting at her table, both a cup of Ragdadjino in their hands, her portable piano in front of them. She had tried to teach him a bit, but they had given up, laughing. Now, they were talking by the soft glow of a lamp. It was lit for Karf’s sake. Normally Maria kept her quarters dark. She didn’t need any light.

They were talking about everything and nothing. Their hopes, their dreams, their family and, briefly, the war, which had had a deep impact on both their lives. Orphaning Maria and nearly doing the same to Karf.

For the first time in his life, Karf found Humans not to be inferior to him. He admired Maria’s strength to go on and she admired him for his ability to grow and accept.

“I’m a bit scared.” She revealed to him and lowered her head a bit.


“The Treatment Facility. Will it really work? Will I be able to see?” He saw how much she worried about this. Softly he took her hand in his.

“I’m sure that it will work and if it helps you, then I will gladly accompany you.” She looked at him with her milky eyes and gratitude seemed to shine in them. She pressed his hand.

“Thank you, it would help me to know you near.” They both smiled and took another swig of the strong, Klingon coffee.

All on the ship seemed to be at peace. Even Admiral Riker’s neutral expression was gone. He sat alone in his dark quarters, only illuminated by his computer screen. He had taken off his eye patch and was sifting through old holo’s. It had all been so easy then. He sighed and smiled softly, when he came to one, he hadn’t looked at in years. They were all there.

Proudly and with wide smiles all of them were looking into the camera, all of them wearing silly party hats. Picard’s smile seemed to be a bit forced. It had been his birthday and Beverly had arranged for a surprise party for him. A cake was in front of the then-Captain of the USS Enterprise E, with a lot of candles on it. All in all there had been sixty-nine.

Will smiled at the memory. He had taken extra leave, to be able to take Beverly up on her invitation. It had been a nice change of pace, being aboard his old home, leaving the front lines of the war behind him. Softly he traced each of their faces.

Geordi was married now, working at Utopia Planetia together with his wife. They were the perfect match, private and professional. Data...Data had died years ago, giving his life to save all of them. Worf was now a member of the Klingon High Council, had married for the third time and had a bunch of kids. Then there was Deanna...Deanna! With a deep longing he stared at her face. She stood right next to him. The man on the picture was like a stranger to him. Smiling happily, having laid an arm around his Imzadi, seemingly having no care in the world. Admiral Riker thought he could even see the bulge in Captain Riker’s pants, where he knew the engagement ring was. He had proposed that same night. Tears flowed down his cheeks.

He pressed his eyes shut and felt how sorrow gripped his heart tight. His left eye hurt and the salty tears burned on the open skin. Regardless how many times S’Mat repaired it, it would always split somewhere. He welcomed the pain. With an angry punch he shut the computer off and was enveloped in darkness. Not a sound. All he could hear, was his own breathing and the rush of blood in his ears.

Darkness...It not only filled his quarters, but also his soul and his heart. The only thing able to bring back light, was Deanna. But she would never...never. Darkness...death...screams in the dark...He shook the memory off and stood, his joints popping. He had sat longer at his computer than he had thought.

Tired, oh so tired, he dragged himself into his bedroom, took off his uniform, folding it perfectly and went to bed. With a tissue he carefully cleaned his left eye, controlling the outcome with his right one. Only a bit blood, no eye liquid. His left eye was destroyed, but he still had half of it. If that would rip open, he would be in trouble., but it hadn’t. With a long sigh, he laid his head onto the cushion, staring at the ceiling.

He knew what would come. Rest- and peaceful sleep had escaped him for years, but he couldn’t prevent his eye from falling shut. The first few weeks, months, he had tried to stay awake indefinitely, just to be able to escape it all. The torture to live through all of it again...


Chapter 15

Peter and Tdanie left the turbolift laughing hard. Their hands were still joined and both were walking as slowly as possible.

“I can’t believe you said that!” She burst out, still laughing. Peter shook his head with wide eyes.

“Believe me, I could barely believe it myself! And you don’t want to know how she looked at me after that.” Tdanie tried to suppress her laughter with her hand.

“Well, I can somehow understand that. But honestly Peter...To stand in front of a Vulcan Academy of Science Award winner and tell her that blondes normally only have large boobs and small brains??” She burst out laughing again.

“It was meant as a joke! I had admired her work for years and then she stood in front of me and I had no idea what to say! The line just popped up and I said it. I thought it to be better than nothing.” She clapped his shoulder and saw into his eyes.

“Believe me, nothing would have been way better!”

“Now I know, but it does me no good. She wouldn’t talk to me for all the time she was at the Institute. No matter how many times I apologised, she just didn’t want to have anything to do with me.” Tdanie smiled roguishly and sidled up closer to him.

“Must have been your special charm. You look kind of rugged and dangerous.” He stared at her with wide eyes.

“Me? Rugged and dangerous? Awh, come on! I’m the most peaceful individual in the whole universe! I failed my security and martial arts test at the Academy five times. Top that.” Tdanie erupted in a fit of giggles.

“Well, it seems as if I could throw you around with my little finger.”

“You can try, but I have to warn you. I am pretty heavy, even if I don’t look like it.”

“Is that a challenge?” She stood in front of him, stopping him, taking both his hands and smiling wide. His smile was just as wide as hers.

“Why not? I think I can surprise you here and there.”

“I have to warn you though.” She lifted her finger in front of his eyes. “I train with Leeway.” At that, he had to gulp. She laughed hard, turned around and walked off. Quickly he gathered himself and ran up to her, taking her hand in his again.

“So...what do I get, if I win?” He smiled down at her. She was considerably smaller than him, at least a head. Even if she was training with the Alin-Avya, Peter calculated his chances to be quite good. He was larger, heavier and had probably more power. To win against the petite Counsellor would not be that hard.

They stopped in front of her quarters. She turned to him, grinning impishly.

“If you win, which I doubt, you will get your dinner with me.”

“That’s not much for all my effort. I will have to begin training again, you know.” She considered that a moment.

“All right. If you win, you will get a dinner and a massage. If you need to train so hard, your muscles will be sore.”

“Oh, I believe they will be very sore.” He stated in a low voice. Her smile turned playful and she inched closer to him.

“They will definitely be, when I am finished with you.” She whispered hotly against his lips. She would kiss him! He just knew it! He closed his eyes and relaxed, awaiting the soft contact of her lips. Nothing and then he heard how a door swished shut.

“Hey! That’s not fair!” He said loudly, hoping she could hear him through the door.

<You will just have to wait.> He heard in his head. Surprised he stumbled back a step. With a wide smile he stepped up to the door again.

“I’ll get you back for that!” He knew he must look pretty loony, talking to a closed door, but he didn’t care. And in any event, at this time of ‘night’ no one was walking by to see him do it. Satisfied with the outcome of this day, he shoved his hands into his pockets, walking off humming. He didn’t even realise he hummed the song, Nicolaj was humming all the time.

Tdanie stood inside her quarters, her back to the door, smiling widely with closed eyes. She hadn’t felt this wonderful for a long time. She felt giddy and excited. Peter wasn’t exactly the man she would have thought to be the one she would fall in love with, but she had. She didn’t know what about him attracted her so, but...Gods...he looked so good! His eyes, the stray lock of hair falling into his face from time to time, his almost childlike excitement. She could go on and on. There was so much about him, which she found absolutely lovely. His sense of humour, his insecurity around Leeway...Well, granted, Leeway could be intimidating, if he felt like it, but Tdanie knew him to be a very gentle man.

With a sigh she took a step away from her door and walked into her bedroom. She had to stop working so late. It was the main reason why she sometimes was late. She was too exhausted the next morning to get up at the proper time, then working overtime again, to catch up. A devil’s circle. She had to chuckle at that and stepped out of her uniform.

‘A nice shower and then into bed.’ A content sigh escaped her lips as she stepped under the warm stream of water, while she thought about the soft cushions awaiting her.

After a time of struggle, useless as he knew, he had fallen asleep nonetheless. At first there was only the deceiving, calm blackness. Most people did not remember this stage, because it was fleeting and over very quickly, but he remembered it. It was a safe haven. An oasis, a resting place, a church for his tormented soul.

And then, as every night, she stepped out of the darkness, bathed in a golden glow. And as every night, he let himself believe what she said.

“You look so tense. Let me help you.” He felt her behind him, how she softly massaged his shoulders and leaned into him. He felt also, how her expanded tummy pressed into his lower back, bringing a bright smile to his face. His wonderful wife was pregnant with his child and it had not impeded with his career. In fact, it had helped to have her around. To calm him, to argue with him. To love him.

“Yes, that is good. Relax, Imzadi.” She whispered into his ear with her wonderful accented voice, driving all the remaining tension from his body. She could feel how he relaxed. She always could. She dug deeper into his shoulder muscles, leaning over and caressing his neck with her tongue. He sighed, lifted his hands and tangled them in her hair, knowing it would mean the end of this, but couldn’t do otherwise. Tears streamed down his face, knowing that in a minute she would vanish, in a minute everything would change from perfect bliss to perfect horror.

A swirl of howling voices ripped at him, enveloped him, tore at his clothes. Her hair turned into damp moss, her warm, comforting body was replaced by a crumbling brick wall, the soft caress of her tongue now was only the trickling of foul water.

“Tell us!”

“We know that you know what we are talking about!”

“You want to sacrifice yourself?!” A flash of silver. Again and again and again and again. Someone screaming for him. His head hung, blood was all over his body. He didn’t care. As long they centred their concentration on him, she would be safe. Another flash and he howled in agony. He could no longer feel his fingers. Another flash and the feeling in his other hand was gone too.

“Never!” He heard himself scream and a small, broken Riker cried in the darkness beyond, begging his proud counterpart to give in. To tell them.

“Maybe your beautiful wife will tell us!” The harsh voice bellowed. He strained against the chains holding him, chafing the skin on his wrists.

“No! She knows nothing! I am who you want. Let her go!” A hand swinging...her painful scream. The proud Captain now hanging in his chains, crying...begging them to stop. Her beautiful, delicate face desecrated by blue and purple marks. Anger rising.

‘NOOO! DO NOT INFURIATE THEM!’ The small Riker wailed, but it was too late.

A roar of fury, accompanied by another flash of silver. Her scream of excruciating pain transforming the lurking darkness into white-hot agony.

The proud man no longer focused on his captor, but solely on his beloved. He cried out her name, again and again. She never answered. She was the sole focus of his entire universe. Broken...cut open...He pulled at the strains with all his might. His panic for her giving him new energy. With a smacking sound, something gave way and he fell to his knees next to her, trying to cradle her in his arms...blood...everywhere blood...he cried out her name, whispering to her, but her eyes were empty.

The voices came at him again. Tearing, ripping his soul, showing him the most grisly details of his deed over and over again.
Harsh light blinded him. High over him, twelve Admirals saw down on him. All of them wearing stern expressions.

“For exceptional valour in the face of danger, for keeping a useless scientific project secret and sacrificing the ultimate, Captain William T. Riker receives the Starfleet Vidium medal with stars. Congratulations.” One of them said, his voice seeming icy and from a tomb. A young officer proudly stepped up to him and pinned the medal onto his chest, right into his flesh, over his heart, seemingly piercing it on the damn thing! He saw down at himself and watched in horror, as blood began dripping from the medal. More and more, until it was gushing.

He ripped his eyes open and lifted his head. They were gone. She was looking at him. Her eyes devoid of the loving look they had carried whenever she had looked at him.

“Congratulations, Admiral.” Her voice dripped literally with venom, hitting his bare chest, burning him wherever it hit. Slowly she faded out of existence.

“NO!” With a scream Admiral Riker sat straight in his bed. His breathing was ragged, his skin cold and clammy. All his muscles were tense and his sheets were soaked in sweat.

“no.” He whispered and covered his eyes with his hands. He did not cry. He had for the first many years, but now, he only felt hollow. Every night, a small piece of him was left behind there...every night he died a bit more.

“Computer time?” He was tired, but sleep was no option.

*It is 0423 hours*

He sighed and got up, showered and clothed himself. Plenty of time to restore himself. And he knew exactly how. With bare feet he padded over to the back closet in his bathing room. There he hid the only thing that kept him going.
With practised ease he prepared the ingredients and filled them into an old-fashioned syringe. He got the belt from under his bed, where he kept it always, sat on the floor at the end of his bed, holding the syringe and his holo-pen in one hand. Holding the belt tight with his teeth and the sweater up with his other hand, he slowly injected it. He knew how much time he had. Knew it to the exact second. The syringe fell out of his hand and with his last conscious thought, he activated the pen. Then, the world around him began to swirl out of focus and his sole centre became the small holo, right in front of him.


Chapter 16

Peter was up at six the next morning. He was determined to win against Tdanie, so he thought, beginning practice now, would be a good idea. As he entered the gym, he thought it to be empty, but someone else was already there.

“Good morning, Ambassador.” He greeted her and inclined his head in greeting. She smiled brightly at him and stood from her kata position.

“Good morning, Lieutenant Inalo.”

“Oh, please, call me Peter.” She nodded and took a towel to dry the sweat on her face.

“Very well. Peter. What brings you here so early?” He scratched his neck, a bit uncomfortable. Hell! He was talking to the most influential Ambassador in the whole Federation.

“Well...I’ve got this bet running with a friend. If I defeat my friend, we will have dinner together.”


“And what about you, Ambassador?”

“Oh, I couldn’t sleep. It happens to me every time I change ship. On Earth it was called Jet Lag, even though, having Jet Lag in space is absolutely impossible.” She shrugged indifferently.

“Well, I’ve seen weirder things happen.” Peter replied and began to stretch. He didn’t see her lopsided smile.

“I am sure you have. And believe me, on ships of the name Enterprise, you will be seeing even weirder things than ever. Things you not even could dream of.” Puzzled he looked up, but couldn’t see her face, because she had begun stretching too.

“How do you know?”

“I served on the Enterprise myself. The D and the E, before I went into diplomatic service.”

“Really? I didn’t know that. What was your position?” She straightened and a melancholic smile played around her lips.

“I was ships Counsellor. Sometimes I just want to turn back time. It seems to me that it was all so much easier then.”

“Well...it was much easier then. Compared to now, I mean. You are the most important Ambassador of the Federation.”

He looked at her and a stray lock fell into his face. “And I can’t believe that I am stretching with you right now!” He smiled widely and she couldn’t help but smile just as widely.

“Shall I help you with your training?” Deanna asked him. He stared at her from his bowing position and then found his voice again.

“Oh...oh, no, thank you. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for any injury upon you.” At that she had to laugh. It was a light and pearling laughter, having a definite enchanting quality to it. And it reminded Peter very much of Tdanie’s laughter.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your concern. Don’t worry. I am much stronger than I look.”

“That seems to be some kind of saying among Betazoids.” Both had to laugh at that.

“Well, to your defence, we look a bit fragile.” He bowed his head to her.

“Thank you for defending me. But, honestly, I do not wish to harm you in any way.” Deanna’s smile turned into a confident smirk.

“Don’t worry. You will not even have the opportunity to harm me.” Peter’s eyes widened at that and in the next moment she was next to him and had struck a lightning fast combination to his stomach and upper torso. Gasping for air he fell to his knees and wheezed.

“And here I thought Betazoids were peaceful individuals.” Deanna laughed at that and leaned down, so that she could whisper into his ear.

“I’m half-Human, Peter.” She picked up her towel and left.

Whistling an aimless tune, Tdanie walked down a corridor toward her office. She had actually been able to get out of bed on time today, so for her, this day was already a good one. Even though she had to yawn from time to time. As she neared a bend in the corridor, she heard laughter and a deep voice. What she saw next, she was barely able to believe. Maria and

Karf came toward her, arm in arm. Him, obviously showing her the way.

“Good morning you two.” Tdanie announced cheerfully. Both looked up and smiled.

“Good morning, Counsellor.” “Good morning, Tdanie” Both answered her. The Betazoid smiled at that.

“You seem to have become good friends.” Karf seemed to be a bit uncomfortable, but Maria was gripping his hand in hers.

“We had a long talk yesterday and...well, he is not as bad as I thought.” He actually laughed at that.

“You are not so bad yourself, you know.” She smiled graciously and made a small curtsy. Tdanie was astonished over this change between the two teenagers.

“That had to be a very long talk!” There was a sparkle in Maria’s eyes and, strangely, in Karf’s too. Tdanie had never believed it to be possible that a Klingon’s eyes could sparkle with amusement.

“Yeah, well...we were having such a great time that we lost track of the time and when I left it was..?” Karf looked to Maria, who seemed to actually see it.

“I think it was around five or four.” Tdanie’s eyes widened at that.

“That was definitely a long talk. How were you able to get up this early and be so full of energy? If I had stayed up this long...well, I wouldn’t be standing here and talk to you if I had.” Maria shrugged and Karf smiled, which was kind of scary, because of his sharpened teeth.

“Well, if you had had about eight Raktadjinos, you would be up a this time too. I haven’t slept at all.”

“Me neither.” Both smiled and Tdanie jaw hung down.

“Eight Raktadjinos? Are you kidding me? I would be bouncing off the walls, if I had that much caffeine in me!” All three of them had to laugh at the picture this engendered in their minds.

“We have to get going, or else we will be late for school.” Tdanie nodded and with a wave and a smile they went. With her arms akimbo and shaking her head the Counsellor watched them go. It definitely had to be spring back on Earth.


Chapter 17

Nicolaj and Emrar were enjoying their breakfast in the forward lounge together and discussed what they wanted to do tonight. The welcome gathering a nice excuse for the two officers, to pull off some initiation rite for Peter.

“What about Klingon food? I can’t stand that stuff! We could tell him that every officer has to be versed in different cultures, which includes food.” Emrar said enthusiastically and took a swig of his juice. Nicolaj waved him off.

“Na. Dat’s too eesi. Watt about insultiing Leewai?” Emrar shook his head.

“Too dangerous.” Immediately Nicolaj nodded. Antonia put a hand on Nicoalj’s shoulder and leaned down to them.

“What are you two plotting? I could smell intrigues right to the bar.” Both men were instantly the picture of innocence.

“We? Plotting something? Antonia, you hurt me deeply! Do I look like someone, who is plotting something?” Emrar was looking at her with big puppy eyes. She had to laugh at that.

“Yes, you do. And you look like someone who needs a refill.” With that she was off to get him a new glass of juice.

“Do you know that your girlfriend is a mind-reader?” Emrar was disappointed that his little show hadn’t worked on her at all. Nicolaj only shrugged.

“Eet doss wonderrs forr ourr sex life.” He commented. Emrar leaned back as far as he could and put his hands up in defence.

“Okay, that is more than I wanted to know.”

“What is?” Antonia had returned with his juice.

“That your mind-reading abilities do wonders for Nicolaj’s and your sex life.” She looked to Nicolaj, who shrugged again and then back to Emrar.

“Well, it does.” The Andorian stared wide eyed at her. “Do you need anything more?”

“Yeah, new friends.” He muttered and stood. Behind him both were watching his retreat giggling.

Leeway yawned, which was pretty rare. He still waited for the Admiral to take over command. He was already a half hour overdue, but no one on the Bridge dared to contact him about it, because he would get angry in his eerie, icy kind of way. Leeway was not an individual lightly intimidated, but even he was not overly thrilled at the prospect of contacting the Admiral and telling him he was late.

“Leeway to Admiral Riker.” He ducked his head a bit, which irritated him immensely. He had his pride too. After a minute, puzzled glances were exchanged on the Bridge. No response was even worse, than a reprimanding reply. Leeway just wanted to ask the computer for the Admiral’s location, when he heard a footfall right next to him.

“Are you looking for me, Commander?” There was a slight edge to Riker’s voice. Leeway immediately rose from the Command chair.

“Yes, sir. I was concerned, because you were late for your shift.” The Admiral said nothing, only stared at him with his steel blue eye. Nervous Leeway shifted from one foot to the other. At last he was no longer able to look the Admiral in the eye and stared at his boots.

“I will be in my quarters if you need me, Sir.” Riker only nodded and sat in the command chair, controlling his station for updates on the ships condition. Leeway couldn’t help it, when a cold shudder ran down his spine.

Peter hobbled into Sickbay. The last program he had run had been definitely too much. He had already informed the Bridge of his delay.

“Four hours of training and now this.” He tried to breathe deeply and winced at the stabbing pain in his chest. Doctor Milton walked out of one of the rooms and stopped short.

“What the...What happened to you, Peter? Had a run in with some Targs?” Milton chuckled.

“Ha ha, very funny.” Peter winced. “ I was training on the holodeck and wanted to jump over some levels.” Milton shook his head in reprimand.

“Happens all the time. Come on, let me have a look.” Peter hobbled after the Doctor into a small private care room.

“If this wasn’t as urgent as it seems to me, I would have to send you home and tell you to come back in half an hour or so.”

“Why that?” Peter creased his brow in wonderment.

“The Admiral is about to have his monthly check-up and he doesn’t like to be stared it by more people than necessary. You my friend though,” Milton clapped Peter on his shoulder. “are going nowhere.” He left the room to get some of the equipment he would be needing, mumbling to himself about the stupidity of certain people.

Peter didn’t care about that though. He tried to rearrange his position so that he would be sitting more comfortably. The only thing he got out of it was more pain. He heard a door open and thought it was Milton returning, but it was the Admiral, scanning Sickbay for unnecessary personnel. When he discovered none he only nodded and moved towards S’Mat, who greeted him and offered him to sit on one of the beds.

He declined and began to take off his uniform top. Peter thought that to be very odd. S’Mat would be able to examine him regardless of his clothing.

When the Admiral turned his back to him though, he knew why he had done so. Long, deep gashes were on his back, some of them seeping blood. He had to restrain himself from gasping. Why hadn’t S’Mat repaired this damage?!

“Never seen him like this before, huh?” Milton inquired silently from behind him.

“No...no I...What...Why does he have open wounds on his back?”

“Well, during the war he was captured more than once. They tortured him of course, to give away important info. He didn’t and they punished him for it. The whip which did this to him was poisoned and was charged with plasma energy. We can close his cuts, but they will eventually break open again after some time.”

“Can’t you do anything for him?”

“We tried. Starfleet Medical studied the wounds and the effects the poison has for about twenty years now. Unfortunately we have until now found no cure. Lift your arms please.” Peter did as he was instructed, even though it hurt him to do so. While Milton worked on his bruised body, he continued studying his commanding officer. Puzzled he saw that some scars on his arms just seemed to stop.

“The scars on his arms...”

“What about them?”

“They just seem to...stop.” Milton turned Peter around and his gaze was even beyond grave.

“Yes and it is none of your business. Try not to get into a fight and go right to your quarters after your shift.” With that Milton vanished from the care room and left Sickbay. Peter jumped off the bed and threw one last look towards the Admiral and found Riker staring right at him.


Chapter 18

Riker nearly felt the need to chuckle when he saw how quickly Inalo scampered off after he had discovered him. A bit shocked he realised that he couldnrt remember when he had chuckled or laughed the last time.

SrMat took him off this pondering though. She was running a scanner up and down his body, while a large mender unit repaired his back.
You have again used the drug, Sir.t She stated matter-of-factly.

Yes, I have. He knew it was no use to try and deny it. It was all on her scanners.

I trust it that you have not used more than usual.

Good.t She continued her work for a while. Normally she liked it, when her patients made no fuss and did not attempt small talk, but with the Admiral it was no nice silence. It was...uncomfortable somehow and she couldnrt exactly pinpoint why, which irritated her a great deal. VrNak had told her time and again not to dwell on this, but dwell on it she did.

She finished her examination and controlled his right eye.

Please take off your eye patch, Sir. With a specialised tool she repaired the ripped tissue and took a closer look at the remains of his eye ball.
Very well. You are fit for duty, Sir.

Thank you, SrMat. I trust you to adjust the readings.

Yes, Sir. And I trust you to keep a strain on yourself concerning this substance. Should you seem unfit for duty because of it, I will no longer be able to conceal the truth. He nodded, while he pulled his uniform back on.

Donrt worry, Doctor. If this ever should happen, there is an isolinear chip in my office, which has information on it that states clearly that I forced you into this. Your career or your reputation will never be affected by this.

It was their ritual. They parted always on the same words. Both knew what the other one was going to say, but both still had the need to say them.

For a moment they looked into each others eyes and SrMatrs actually expressed compassion, while Rikerrs held such deep torment that the Vulcan wondered how the Admiral ever had been able to carry on with this enormous emotional ballast on him.

Deanna was quite nervous about the gathering tonight. Her husband told her not to worry, but she couldnrt shake the feeling that something was going to happen.

She walked the corridors of the new Enterprise, comparing it in her mind to those she had served on. Even though the Enterprise F was top-notch of everything the Federation had to offer concerning technology, she found it to be inferior to the ones that she knew. She wondered why.
Then it hit her. No Worf, no Data, no Geordi, no Beverly. The Captain of this vessel was not Picard, which seemed wrong to her somehow. He had been the rock around which they all had gathered during dangerous and stressing times. But this rock had crumbled and was now a mere shadow of his former self.

She sighed at this. What a pity. She mourned for Beverly, who had finally taken matters into her hands and married Picard. Only two years after their marriage he had shown signs of memory loss and after that, it went rapidly downhill. A horrible disease destroying his brain. He had a good day, when he remembered who he was and where. He had stopped recognising Beverly a long time ago. Deanna remembered the day vividly, when her best friend had called her in tears and told her what had happened. How she had walked into their bedroom with his breakfast and he had stared at her, puzzled. Then the question.

Who are you?r Three words, which had shattered Beverlyrs life. But she had carried on, burying herself in paperwork and studies to cure her husband. Nothing.

Again Deanna had to sigh. She scanned the hall in front of her. Her feet had carried her along, while her mind had been miles away. She was in the section assigned to crewmembers with family. Especially with very young children. The kindergarten had to be close. She smiled at that thought and at the same time she felt enormously sad. She was not able to conceive children. Not anymore. Not after...a shudder ran through her and she quickly pushed the images of her worst nightmare away.

She had had long talks with her mother and Deanna knew what could happen, if she just ignored the memories. Stashed them in some remote corner of her brain. Sometime around they would come to the fore and maybe destroy her in the process, costing her her sanity. So she had made it her therapy to play with children as often as she could. Not to mourn her loss, but be happy for those, who had never had to face it.

With long strides she made her way along the hall, looking out for the large and easily read letters of qKindergartenr. Some children wanted to impress their parents by showing them that they could find their own way and on nearly every starship, the word qkindergartenr was the first they could spell.

When the doors opened, she walked into the small anteroom, where the children could leave stuff they had brought from home and where parents could meet each other and chat, while they waited for their children to get ready. Right now, only the nurse was standing there, studying a PADD. Smiling Deanna walked up to her.

Hello. The young woman looked up and a bright smile lit her features. Deanna could feel that she was a very calm and good-natured person.

Just the right one for the job.

Hello, Ambassador. I didnrt know you would come down here.

I am not here on official business. I just wanted to see how the kindergartens now look on the new Enterprise. And call me Deanna.

Very well, Deanna. I am nurse Harriet Newton, at your service.t They shook hands and Deanna peeked around the room.

I donrt hear any children. Are they all gone? She was a bit disappointed. Newton shook her head though.

No, no. Itrs story time right now. They love it when the Admiral comes and tells them a story. He does it as often as he can.

The Admiral? He is down here? Deanna had gone a bit pale, but Newton didnrt see it, because she was looking around the corner and smiling softly.

Oh yes. He comes at least ones a week. If not, all the children are concerned for him and ask me to contact the Bridge to make sure that he is safe. She sighed. sIsnrt that cute. He is so good with children. At first I thought they would be scared of him, because of his eye patch, but theyrre not. Deanna now looked around the corner too.

Riker was sitting on a tiny chair, his knees nearly reaching his shoulders, holding a book. Three children had climbed onto him and were cuddling with him. The others were lying on the floor, all of them looking a bit sleepy and having a glazed look in their eyes.

He reads to them until they fall asleep. Regardless of how long it takes.t Newton shook her head.

It is such a pity.

What? Deanna couldnrt rip her eyes off him. Her question was just a faint whisper.

That he never married and had children of his own. I bet he would have been a very good father.t With a glint in her eye Newton turned around to Troi. If he were just a few years younger, I would gladly take him, eye patch and all.t With a bright smile she was off and Deanna felt a strange sensation burning inside of her. Jealousy!


Chapter 19

“And they lived happily till their days end.” Softly he closed the book, so as not to waken the children. He knew he would be alone. The nurse would leave them alone, when she saw that he had everything under control and that the kids were dozing off. He allowed himself a soft smile, as he cautiously extricated himself from the boy and the two girls, who had climbed onto him. Silently he stood and laid them among their friends. After he had laid the boy down, he stood over him, staring at the small body in front of him.
Screams in the dark...blood...his hands...blood everywhere...he clenched his eye shut and a tear streaked down his cheek. His fisted hands were trembling in his effort to contain his feelings. He drew himself up, stood at attention and turned on his heel. He knew that the nurse would wait outside and come back in to watch over the children’s sleep, as soon as he had left.
That was, when he saw her. She was staring at him, from around the corner. Shocked he stopped in his tracks, not able to move or to speak. Both of them stared at the other for endless seconds. Sharing a pain none aboard this ship could understand.
At last he found his voice again.
“Deanna.” He said silently and nodded. He didn’t dare approach her or make any move in her direction. He could feel her and the urge to reach out for her through their bond was nearly unbearable. But he had no right and he reigned himself in with all the control he could muster.
“Admiral.” She only answered and stood now next to the corner she had peeked around.
“So we are back to Admiral and Ambassador. Very well. Is there anything I can do for you, Ambassador?” He slightly cocked his head and raised his chin. She knew that posture only too well. He was uncomfortable with this situation and her having seen him in an emotional moment. It was clear that he was on the defensive.
“No, thank you. You already did enough for me in the past.” She bit back coldly, turned on her heel and left.
Riker stood among the children and battled with his helpless rage and guilt. Heavily he breathed through his nose and contained his urge to scream. His reaction puzzled him. Normally he didn’t feel like this. Normally he had his emotions under control and did not feel the need to express them in such an impulsive manner.
‘Maybe I should.’ He thought to himself, drew himself up and left the room silently, signalling for the nurse to come back in.

Larek was in the Forward Lounge, making some finishing touches to the decorations and the equipment of the music group. Antonia walked up to him and patted him on his back. The Cardassian turned around and smiled brightly.
“Hey! How are you?”
“I am fine. Everything prepared for tonight?” She sat down at a near table and he seated himself opposite her.
“Yeah. Nicolaj will go over all the electronics once more, but I think I got it all right.”
“Don’t worry. Nicolaj knows a lot about warpcores and the like, but music?! Please spare me!” Both laughed at that.
“How’s it going with you and Navin? You two were pretty cosy during the dinner some days ago.” Larek scratched his neck and smiled lopsidedly.
“Is it that obvious?” Antonia had to laugh at that.
“Come on! I know when two people are in love with each other. That’s part of my job you know. Always make the customer happy.”
“Well. I think we are moving forward somewhat.” He fidgeted with his hands and seemed to have something on his mind.
“Come on, spill it. It’s just the two of us.” Anotnia leaned over to him and lowered her voice conspiratorially.
“Well, do you...do you think she would want to go out with me? I mean just Navin and me, without the others. I thought about asking her out for dinner, but I don’t know how to ask her. What if she isn’t interested at all?” Tony smiled softly and patted his hand on the table.
“Don’t worry. I am sure she is just waiting for you to overcome your shyness, which is kind of sweet you know, and ask her out. You could dance with her tonight, after you are finished with your music and ask her. I will reserve a table for you two in a nice little corner, where you can talk and you can ask her without one of the others interrupting you.”
“You would do that for me?” His face lit up like a lamp.
“Sure!” She leaned back in her chair. “You are the main reason why Nicolaj stays in such a good shape. And I think I should thank you for that and repay you.” Larek creased his brow in puzzlement.
“Because of me? Why?” Tony had to chuckle at that.
“He fears that you would actually able to beat him in football, if he doesn’t stay in good form.”
“Really?” Both chuckled and Tony only nodded.

Deanna entered her quarters with her thoughts and emotions in serious turmoil. Her husband was sitting on the sofa, reading a book. He could immediately feel that something was wrong with her.
<Navi, what’s wrong? I can feel that...>
“Stop rummaging around in my head!” She screamed at him, went into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. Fazed he stood alone in the living room. Never in all the time he had known his wife had she ever screamed at him. He wondered what could have happened, but then it came to him. Riker! Fury boiled inside him against Riker, for having upset his wife so and for having hurt her in ways he couldn’t even imagine.
“You are going to pay, my dear Admiral. And tonight you will pay!” He promised himself. Tonight, William Riker’s worst nightmare would begin.


Chapter 20

Peter nervously stood in front of his mirror. Tdanie had agreed on going to the reception with him. It was no dinner yet, but maybe he could avert the whole fighting thing and just convince her to go with him. But then...he would miss the massage. He sighed, drew himself up and nodded to his mirror image.
“Okay. Let’s get ready to rumble.” He whispered and walked out of his quarters. He was a bit early, but it would give him time to think of a good line for tonight. But it seemed as if his feet had other ideas and before he knew it, he stood right in front of her door.
With a little trepidation he rang the chime and waited. After mere seconds an answer came.
“Come in, Peter!” The doors swished open and...her quarters were the worst mess he had ever seen! Not even during his Academy days had his quarters looked this bad.
“I was pretty busy during the last days and had no opportunity to clean. I will take some time tomorrow though. Don’t worry, my quarters normally don’t look like this.” He smiled lopsidedly. It was kind of nice to date a Betazoid. You never had to actually say what was on your mind. She knew it even before he said it.
Cautiously he picked his way through her things toward her voice and turned around a corner to greet her with a smile, which froze halfway on his lips. She had her dress only half on! The upper part was still down. She was standing with her back to him and was doing her hair in front of a small mirror.
“It’s good you are here a little early. Can you help me with the zipper please?” His mouth was absolutely dry and he had no idea what to say or what to do. She turned her head and a compassionate smile was on her face.
“Don’t worry, Peter. I am not shy and on Betazed nudity is considered pureness. So, get moving and help me with the zipper.” She drew the dress up and finally his spinal cord was again able to send commands to the rest of his body.
“I...I was just surprised.” He tried to salvage some of his image.
“So you see half naked women all the time?”
“NO! No, that’s not what I meant.” He said almost desperately. She giggled, stepped into her shoes and caressed his cheek.
“You are so sweet, Peter.” With that she strode past him.
He stood paralysed and touched his cheek, where she had touched him. She thought he was sweet! Wait a minute! Sweet as in cute, or sweet as in sexy?! Quickly he turned around and followed her out.
“Is that good?”

Karf was actually enjoying himself, which was kind of weird. He had always been convinced that he never could feel comfortable or have fun with non-Klingons. Well, tonight he had been proven wrong. Working at the bar was fun, even though Antonia checked on him and his glass every five minutes. He looked over to the small stage, where the band was playing, all of them having a great time. He wondered if he should tell them that he could play an instrument too, but he was kind of embarrassed about what kind of instrument it was.
“Hello Karf. Are you having a good time?” He twitched at the unsuspected voice. Maria smiled widely and sat down on one of the chairs at the bar.
“Sorry if I frightened you.”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t.” He cleared his throat. “What can I get you?”
“No Ragtadjinos, that’s for sure!” Both had to laugh at that.
“How about a Melonian Faro?” She raised her eyebrow.
“You know how to do these?” Proudly he puffed up his chest.
“Sure I do.” He began mixing the drink in a shaker. She fidgeted a bit with her hands.
“What is it? You seem nervous.” He closed the shaker and began swirling it in his hand.
“It’s just strange.”
“What is?”
“Well...that you knew my favourite drink without even asking. Seems as if you are quite the bartender.” He stopped dead for a moment.
“Seems so.” It was the only thing he could think of to say.

Leeway made his way through the people gathered in the Lounge, laughing, chatting and drinking. He didn’t join them and wherever he went, they made way for him. At last he stood in front of Nicolaj.
“I heard you had something planned for the newbie?” At his deep rumbling voice, Nicolaj turned around and smiled brightly.
“Eet iss not rrealli set yet. Emrrerr aand I kut not find someting forr chim to do.” Leeway smiled, when he saw Tdanie enter with Peter right at her heels.
“I don’t think we have to worry anymore. Tdanie has taken care of it and we both know that she always has the best ideas.” Both looked to Peter and had pitying smiles on their faces.
Antonia stepped up to them with two glasses in her hands, reaching one to each of them. Leeway was accustomed to her knowing what he wanted. It was pretty obvious, since he always ordered the same, regardless the occasion. But Nicolaj was time and again totally puzzled, because after he had discovered her ability, he never ordered the same again. She still knew.
“How did you figure that out again?” When he became frustrated or agitated, he forgot to speak with an accent. She kissed him on his nose and smiled.
“I’m your girlfriend. Believe me, I know things about you, you don’t even know.”
“Oh yeah?” He straightened up and tried to stare her down. She only crossed her arms over her chest and waited. At last he crumbled under her stare.
“Oh yeah! I don’t believe...you don’t...I mean...Ah, go and fuck yourself!” Steaming he went again. Leeway’s deep rumbling chuckle was audible, when he looked down to Antonia.
“I am very sorry that the conversation took this unfortunate turn.” She set her arms akimbo and followed Nicolaj with her eyes.
“Don’t be. While we were dating the first months, he said worse things to me. After a time he comes back and apologises. And if he doesn’t...well...then little Nicolaj is in for punishment.” There was a definite glint in her eyes. Leeway furrowed his brow.
“Is this some strange Human mating ritual?”
“If you want to ask if this turns me on...” She smiled up at him. “It definitely does.”
The Admiral entered the Lounge and she quickly excused herself, leaving Leeway to shake his head.
“If we ever should run out of anti-matter, we could run this ship at warp nine without problems with hormones.” He muttered and took a swig of his orange juice.

As soon as the Admiral entered the Lounge, most fell silent and stood at attention. This made him a bit sad. He remembered times when he walked into a room and people would greet him enthusiastically, ask him over to their table and have a couple of drinks with them. Now this was a memory, just like the rest of his life.
A realisation he didn’t have for the first time. It came to him more often now and he had long ago stopped feeling like a Human being, but much more like an android. Performing his duties perfectly, while showing no emotion whatsoever.
He sighed and pushed these thoughts away. He knew that his life was miserable. No need to dwell on it. He couldn’t change it anyway. With a nod of his head he greeted Antonia, as she came up to him with a flute of champagne in her hand.
“Good evening, Admiral. Everything to your liking, Sir?” He roamed the room with his steel-blue eye.
“It is very appropriate, Antonia, thank you.”
“No need to thank me. I’m just doing my job.” She smiled brightly and turned, when she heard the doors whoosh open on the other side of the room.
“Oh good! The Ambassador and her husband have arrived.” She didn’t see how the Admiral stiffened behind her and how he stared at the Ambassador.
It had been too long. It had been too long since he had seen her this radiant and beautiful and it had been too long since he had felt something like this. Her hair was up in an intricate bun, with jewels glittering in her black and grey curls, while two strands of her grey hair framed her delicate face. He was not interested in her gown, because her soft smile and the warmness in her eyes captivated him totally. What wouldn’t he give for her to look at him like this again! But she would never...Quickly he shook these memories from him and walked over to the podium of the band, greeting the youngsters. He turned to the audience and clinked a spoon he had picked up from a table against his glass. It wasn’t really necessary, because everyone knew he wanted to say something when he stepped onto the stage and had been quiet at once. All eyes were now on him. Hers too, but they had lost their warm and kind glow. He sighed internally and his normal sense of deep sadness and loss overcame him. Of course blocked from the world by his walls of guilt and self-remorse.
“I am happy to welcome you Madame Ambassador and you husband to the Enterprise. I hope she lives up to your standards and that you will have a pleasurable time, both here and on our journey.” He raised his glass and as if on cue everybody else in the room did the same. “To friendship and life.” Even while he was saying it, the whole room echoed his toast. They all knew it, because he concluded all of his speeches with these words.
Deanna bowed her head a bit and nodded smiling to the gathered people. She was obviously not intending to give a speech, so the officers dispersed and went back to what they had done before. The band resumed playing and Riker went off to a dark corner, as was his habit. No one in the room would approach him anyway, except his senior officers.

Ilvan was gratefully taking his drink from a waiter and turned to his wife.
“Do you mind if I mingle a bit, Navi?” He hadn’t tried to contact her mentally, since she had come back to their quarters and had screamed at him. She smiled warmly and took his hand.
<Go on and mingle. I will be at this table if you want to find me.> She sent to him and he smiled brightly.
She nodded only and he set off. Shortly after he had left her, the table was surrounded by people, who wanted to talk to her. She was quite famous and everyone wanted a piece of her.
Ilvan looked back to her and when he was out of her sight, he allowed himself a small, evil smile. She would probably not be proud of him, when she found out what he would do to Riker, but someone had to punish him for all the hurt and anguish he had caused. And that someone was him!

Chapter 21

Peter was standing proudly next to Tdanie. He felt very good tonight. He looked quite handsome and he had the most wonderful woman of the entire quadrant at his side. Nothing could go wrong tonight. If he played his cards right, he might even get a kiss from her! Time to work on that. He turned to her and was again breathless. She looked absolutely awesome.

“Can I get you something to drink?” She smiled brilliantly at him and nodded.

“That would be so nice of you.”

“Anything special?” She mulled it over for a moment and the look she gave him robbed him of his breath. Sensually she sidled up next to him and traced the outline of his ear with her finger.

“How about an Arcturian Fizz?” She breathed into it and smiled. He shivered with delight.

“Right...an..an Arcturian Fizz.” He smiled like an idiot and went off toward the bar. When he turned back toward her on his way, he nearly fell over one of the tables. Quickly he apologised and made his way straight to the bar, his face a mask of chagrin.

Tdanie had to giggle, when she saw him trip and bump into the table. They were all burly security officers and at first it looked as if there would be problems, but when they saw, to whom Peter had been looking, their faces broke into smiles. She smiled back and winked.

“You know that he would gladly cut his own hand off for you.” A deep voice behind her announced. She twitched, turned around and laid her hand on her heart.

“Gods! Leeway! Can’t you try to make a sound when you approach people? I think I lost two years right now.” The huge officer creased his brow. “Don’t mind. It’s an old Earth saying. My room mate used it a lot.”

“Ah.” Was all he said. She smiled and took a look around.

“So, what do you think about it?” She seemed very pleased with herself.

“Adequate.” He took a swig of his juice, while Tdanie stared at him incredulous.

“Adequate? Adequate?!” She crossed her arms and stared at him. “If this is just adequate, how would you have done it?”

“Well, first of all, I would have prepared a lot of small booths were people could be alone.” He mulled that over for a moment. “Actually the booths wouldn’t be necessary. After a time, when everybody’s drunk enough, our parties always end in orgies.” Tdanie stared at him wide-eyed. His face was absolutely serious.

“You’re...you’re serious about this? Alin-Avya parties always end in orgies?!”

“Not all of them, but the most do, yes. Why? Does that disturb you?”

“And you have sex...with whoever is available at the moment.” Her voice now flat and unbelieving. He nodded.

“Quite invigorating actually and very educational, I can tell you. Of course this is more appropriate. We couldn’t have officers all over the floor and then the fighting...” He sighed. “I wouldn’t want to wipe up all the blood. Ah, I forgot you don’t have any claws.”

“But you are married, aren’t you?” Tdanie was grasping for straws now, trying to uphold her image of who she thought Leeway was.

“Oh sure I am. We met each other at such a party. She was able to keep me all night. Not for lack of trying by others, mind you. But she can be very persuasive if she wants to be and she persuaded all the other women to leave me alone. Have you ever had sex with a partner covered in blood?” Tdanie’s face was turning white. And then he did something he only did seldomly. He smiled wolfishly at her. She opened her mouth wide in shock.

“You lied to me! You tricked me! Oh Gods and I even believed you!” She hit him on his arm. A deep rumbling chuckle came from him and some of the officers who didn’t know him too well shuffled a bit away from him. He took another swig of his juice and looked to the bar. Peter had turned around and smiled brightly at Tdanie. She smiled back and winked.

“You are a truly cruel woman, Tdanie.” Leeway said. She turned to him and set her arms akimbo.

“Why Leeway. I do have feelings for him.”

“Don’t play around too much. He isn’t as experienced as he likes to make it look. Don’t be too hard on him.”

“I won’t be, don’t worry. But I think I will let him dangle a bit for now. No fun if we get down to it right away, now is there?” She smiled impishly. He only shook his head and grinned lopsidedly.

“Be nice, little one.” He patted her on her head. She rolled her eyes.

“Would you please stop that? I should never have allowed you to meet my mother.”

“Only looking out for you. Mother’s orders.” With that he turned away and made his way to a throng of officers. She sighed and shook her head. Peter made his way to her with a bright smile and with two glasses in his hands.

“Did I miss anything?” He asked and gave her her drink. She shook her head and took a sip.

“Not really. This is really good! Antonia doesn’t get it right sometimes, but this is really good!” She took another sip.

“Karf made it.” He said and had some of his ale.

“Really?” She asked astonished. Peter only nodded. Tdanie looked to the bar and saw the young Klingon talking animatedly with Maria. A smile spread on Tdanie’s face.

Ilvan had made his way through the Lounge and was now joining a group of officers standing only a metre or so from the Admiral. He wasn’t going to talk to him directly. That would make him suspicious, when all this was over and people would start asking questions.

“Good evening.” He greeted them. The two women and three men turned to him.

“Good evening, Sir. I hope you are enjoying yourself.” One of them said. Ilvan smiled.

“Oh I am having a great time. I’m not often in space, but I quite like it. And...drop the Sir. I’m a simple man. Just call me Ilvan.” They smiled and nodded.

“All right then, Ilvan.”

“Don’t you accompany your wife often? You said you didn’t travel much in space, but she surely does.” One of the women asked. This was even better than he had imagined. They were bringing it up on their own. He sighed and shook his head.

“She doesn’t like to travel through space. Mostly the delegates come to Betazed. If it is absolutely vital, we will of course travel, but she is very wary of it.”

“Why that? I did a paper on her career while I was at the Academy and she was a Starfleet officer, before she joined the diplomatic corps.” Ilvan had a hard time concealing his smile. he could feel the first cracks in Riker’s shields. What seeped through was exactly what he wanted...and needed.

“It happened during the Dominion War. She was taken hostage and something happened to her. She is not allowed to speak about it and I would never ask her, but it must have been beyond horrible. It happened many, many years ago, but sometimes she still has nightmares and wakes up screaming.” The officers wore compassionate expressions and were looking over at the Ambassador. It gave Ilvan the opportunity to look to Riker, to see if any of his revelations had had any visible impact on him. Riker’s face was set in stone and he resolutely stared to the other wall. His hand was gripping his delicate flute tightly though and they trembled.

“That’s horrible.” One of the officers said and Ilvan quickly averted his gaze.

“Can’t anything be done?” They asked. He sighed.

“We tried. Her mother and I are powerful telepaths and tried to help her cope, but the mind is very delicate. If she would just ignore what has happened to her and pushed it to the back of her mind, it would re-emerge one day, maybe even killing her in the process.” The cracks in Riker’s shield widened and Ilvan was able to push forward. He couldn’t reach into his mind completely yet, but he was sure that the next part of information would provide him with enough opportunity.

When Will saw Ilvan move over, he first thought that Deanna’s husband would be going for him. To grill him for information, accuse him of various atrocities, yell at him. He could have dealt with all of this and more. He had though never anticipated that Ilvan Troi would join a group of officers standing right next to him.

He shrugged it off and continued to stare across the room. At her. She was her usual wonderful self. Everyone she spoke to was delighted at her friendly attitude and they all wore smiles when they left. He sighed. He wanted to go to her. Talk to her as they did. But he doubted that he would walk away with a smile on his face. Provided that he remembered how to smile.

A sentence from the past crawled into his mind. ‘On this ship...everything is possible.’ A fond memory. His first serious courting attempts after a long time of an emotional limbo on both sides. His eye lost it’s icy stare and his gaze grew softer. The hard lines, etched into his face by loss and despair, vanishing and making him at least ten years younger. He picked up his resolve. He would go over and talk to her! They were at a social gathering and he knew her in and out. She wouldn’t yell at him and tell him to go to hell, as she had done the last time they had met, nearly twenty years ago.

That was, when he heard it.

“She doesn’t like to travel through space. Mostly the delegates come to Betazed. If it is absolutely vital, we will of course travel, but she is very wary of it.” It was Ilvan who had spoken. All his muscles went rigid and it grew quite painful, because he had just wanted to walk towards her, but now he found himself rooted to the spot. He did not need to strain his ears to be able to follow the discussion.

“...sometimes she still has nightmares and wakes up screaming.” Will clamped his eye shut. Nobody saw it, because he was standing with his left side to one of the beams. With enormous effort he was able not to break the glass in his hands and his battle with himself was only visible in his shaking hands. She was still suffering. Even though he had done everything in his power to keep anything that could remind her of this horrible episode from her. Horrible? It seemed such an inadequate word to describe it. It had been Hell. His own, personal and still very vivid Hell. To find out that she had similar dreams to his...He had always hoped that Lwaxana would somehow be able to help Deanna overcome this. Ilvan explained this though. He should have thought about the volatility of buried memories. He had experienced it first hand, when Lwaxana had had a similar problem aboard the Enterprise D.

He could feel the guilt uncoiling like a giant snake. Throttling him by showing him all the things he had done to her. Out of pride, fear, prejudice. It was sucking him deeper and deeper into that black void he tried to escape every time he took the drugs in his bedroom. The only thing keeping him alive. The few good times he still could remember clearly. The day their bond had been formed, their wedding, her glowing face, when she told him that she was pregnant...but all these memories didn’t help him now. They were out of his reach; even more so, because he thought himself not worthy of using these memories to save him.

Ilvan had to work hard to repress his smile. He could feel how Riker slipped deeper and deeper into his guilt. It wouldn’t take long and the Admiral would loose himself.

“I wonder where your school and kindergarten is located. Deanna likes to visit them, whenever she comes aboard a starship.” The officers around were puzzled.

“They’re on deck fifteen. Did she want to control them if they are good enough for her own children?” They sounded a bit offended. Quickly Ilvan raised his hands in an apologising gesture.

“Please, it was not my intention to insult you.” His smile died on his lips. The sadness he now portrayed was genuine. “No...she...she only wants to see children once in a while. She can’t have children of her own. She didn’t tell me why, she only told me that she suffered an injury during the war, which had left her barren.” The officers now mirrored his sadness. All of them shared a moment in silence, which was broken by the sound of splintering glass.

Barren! His Imzadi was barren. Only because of him! Oh God! He only wanted to crawl somewhere and hide, or shove a phaser into his mouth and incinerate his brain. She had wanted children, many of them, and he knew she would have been a wonderful mother. He had destroyed that. It was all his fault. Damn his pride! Damn his feeling for duty! He didn’t feel the shards of the broken glass bite into his palm. The rest of the world was dead to him.

When she had divorced him, he had always consoled himself with the knowledge that she would have a bunch of children to help her through the pain...to now find out...oh God! He felt as if something was holding his throat tightly and a huge lump had risen into it. He couldn’t breathe, but he didn’t care. She was alone. He should have been there for her. He should have...he should have told them what they wanted to know. To Hell with Starfleet and the rest of the Galaxy! To Hell with orders!

And then he was back there...chained to the crumbling wall. Foul smelling water trickling over him. Blood...blood, so much blood. Everywhere. She was hanging lifeless, right in front of him. Again and again he saw how they cut her open. Blood, her blood, on his face.

“NO! DON’T! SHE DOESN’T KNOW ANYTHING!” He screamed again and again. He tore and pulled at his restraints. Pain...excruciating pain; but he didn’t care. The only thing that counted was to get to her. To comfort her, keep her alive. Her and him. He tried to cradle her in his arms, tried to hold her, but she would slide to the ground time and again, his arms too slick with blood, his hands...He looked up. Somebody else was there. Someone who had never been here before. It was Ilvan.

“You killed them. You ripped her heart out, betrayed the trust she had in you. And you murdered your own son!”

“NOOOOO!!” Darkness claimed him. Deanna stared at him from a point high above him, bathed in light. Her eyes were empty and full of hatred, her face still blemished with purple marks and blood on her cheeks and blood dribbling from a cut in her lip.

“I hate you Will Riker! I wish you were dead!” She hissed. His mind went numb. His face slackened and he ceased his struggle against the oncoming darkness.

“Your wish is my command...Imzadi.” He closed his eyes and let himself fall.


Chapter 22

The Lounge was a place of bustling activity. People were chatting, laughing and joking, having a good time, while the band of youngsters played one song after another. Oddly enough, the relatively silent sound of a glass splintering cut clearly through the entire din of noise, like a hot knife through butter. Everyone’s attention was immediately drawn to the corner, in which Riker stood. Approximately 80 people were in the lounge and right now, every single one of them was holding their breath, as they saw how their normally totally controlled XO began to shake uncontrollably. Then he stopped and everybody thought that he would be all right. They watched as he dropped to his knees, his one-eyed gaze fixed on the Ambassador. Only those close to him caught his slight whisper.
“Your wish is my command...Imzadi.” Then he dropped face first to the floor, not trying to soften his fall with his hands. It seemed as if time had slowed down and everyone was so surprised and shocked over this extremely concerning behaviour that no one dared to move. As soon as his head hit the floor though, frantic activity broke out. Officers were running back and forth. Many of them rushing to a com panel, completely forgetting about their badges, calling Sickbay. Others just looked at each other and demanded to know from their fellow officers what just had happened. Of course, they knew as little as the inquirers did.
A loud roar made them all stop in their tracks and look wary to the First Officer. Leeway glowered down on them.
“Clear the area. Stay calm. S’Mat, see to the Admiral.” The Vulcan doctor needed no instruction. She had already tried to reach Riker, when mayhem had broken out. Now the other officers quickly got out of her path. A loud whimper brought Leeway’s attention to Ambassador Deanna Troi. Was someone trying to poison the two most influential Federation officers? He sensed no malice though. Tdanie was at the Ambassadors side immediately and Leeway joined her.
“What is it Ambassador? Are you not feeling well.” Tears were rolling down her cheeks, her eyes wide with anguish, as she held herself and rocked for- and backwards in her chair.
“He’s dying...he’s slipping away.” She was able to bring out between sobs. Leeway’s head whipped around to the Admiral. He saw how S’Mat injected hypo after hypo, giving commands to a male nurse, who had answered the call from Sickbay. Right now he was giving the Admiral a heart massage. Leeway couldn’t really become pale, because his skin was a deep obsidian, but pale he was. At least to his standards. His Clanfather had left him with clear instructions not to let any harm come near this man. Rudely shoving people out of his way, he bridged the distance between him and his XO in a few huge strides.
“How is he, Doctor?” S’Mat didn’t look at him, but was typing something into her tricorder and running another scan.
“I’m loosing him.” Her voice was as ever neutral and in that instant, Leeway would have loved to smack her. Just to see if she would react in any way to it. When she raised her gaze to him though, he saw the deep trouble and helplessness in her eyes.
“There is nothing I can do. It is just as if he wanted to die.”
“No. Gods! You have to save him. Please. I...I didn’t want this to happen..” Leeway turned and saw Ilvan Troi with his back to one of the beams, staring at Riker’s unmoving form.
“What do you mean?” The towering Alin-Avya inquired, growling deep in his throat.
“I...I only wanted to scare him. I never wanted him to die...” Leeway’s hands twitched and his mouthclaws slid a few centimetres out.
“This is your doing?” His cobalt blue eyes glinted with malice. Ilvan’s eyes got round and he seemed to try to vanish.
“You can stop now, Lieutenant Knutsen. He is gone.” He heard S’Mat behind him. This remark was all that saved Ilvan Troi from a very painful death.
“Like Hell he is!” Leeway squatted down next to Riker and put his hands on the Admiral’s heart and brow. He closed his eyes and a deep purring erupted from his throat.
No one in the room dared to speak and most of them held their breath. They were hoping for a wonder. The Admiral couldn’t die. It was just not possible. He was a steady constant in all of their lives. Especially in the lives of the teenagers, having lost one or both parents in the war. He had always taken care of them, seen to it that they could stay together. Renn, Larek, Navin and the others threw each other troubled glances. What would happen to them, if the Admiral did die? Nervously Navin began biting her lip and sidled up to Larek. He laid an arm around her, trying to comfort her, even though he was deeply troubled himself.
“I don’t want to go back to the orphanage, Larek.” She whispered and a tear rolled down her cheek. He held her even tighter. He wouldn’t allow them to take her back. Never.

Tdanie tried her best to help Deanna, but the other Betazoid seemed to be miles away. Peter was standing next to them, not sure of himself and feeling utterly helpless.
“There must be something we can do!” He exclaimed frustrated in a low tone. He didn’t dare to speak loudly, lest he break Leeway’s concentration.
“We can. Pray to whatever God you know that Leeway will be able to help the Admiral.” Peter had to swallow hard.
Suddenly Tdanie sat up rigidly in her chair, looking off into nothingness. Concerned he bowed down to her.
“Tdanie? Are you all right?” She didn’t answer.
“She is in telepathic communication with a very powerful telepath.” Startled Peter lifted his head to see who had spoken. Ilvan Troi had made his way to his wife, seemingly wanting to help her...and to get as far away as possible from Leeway.

<Tdanie! I can’t do this alone. I need your help. Bring the Ambassador with you.>
<What is wrong with him?> Tdanie was deeply worried about the Admiral. She admired him and shared the same feeling of loyalty to him as the rest of the crew.
<He wants to die. He has the feeling that he has nothing left to live for.> She gasped, which brought Peter’s concerned gaze to her again, although she couldn’t see it.

<Don’t worry. It will not only be the three of us. Now get going!> She nodded and rose immediately. First now she saw how concerned Peter was.
“Don’t worry, Peter. Leeway has everything under control.” She told him and grasped Deanna’s arm. The other Betazoid seemed to have entered a world of her own, staring into infinity. Tdanie had problems with pulling her to her feet and was practically dragging her along. Puzzled the Counsellor saw that droves of people were leaving the room. S’Mat was moving from group to group, giving out orders. When she reached Leeway, Larek and a scar faced man were already waiting. Leeway was in deep concentration, the purring still going on.
“When I tell you, you all must touch me.” He rumbled out and bowed his head even more. None of them was arguing his order. They knew that he was the only one able to help the Admiral.

Leeway was getting himself into mortal danger. He knew that. The Admiral was dangerously close to the final portal. Very few people in the galaxy knew of this portal. The mind was the most powerful force and energy and this energy was interconnected. When you passed this portal, you lost your sense of individuality and the energy of your mind would join that of countless others, having crossed the portal through times in memorial. Some of the strongest personalities would be able to withstand the pull of this dissolvance and Admiral William T. Riker would have been, but not in his current state. Those who had kept their personality were also able to extend their thoughts to the other side of the portal. He was so close that he could hear them.
<leave them. join us. no pain, no regrets, nothing.> They whispered. He was accustomed to it. When he meditated, he often took up contact with these spirits. Every Alin-Avya was schooled in this form of meditation. It had been a way for them to come to terms with their past. A past filled with death and slaughter.
<This man is on his way too early. Do not let him pass.> He implored them. It was not in his way to order them. For his race, these spirits were holy.
<he comes to us willingly and in that way he will be received.> They answered. With a ‘lunge’ forward, Leeway grabbed onto Riker’s spirit and dragged it back. A howl of outrage nearly made him crumble.
<It is not his time yet, great spirits. Time has no meaning for you. He will join you in time, but for you, no time will have passed.> They seemed mollified by this, but now Riker was fighting him. It went against everything Leeway had been taught to force someone into something. He could easily have pulled Riker back to the surface, but that would have brought an enormous guilt upon him. And it would serve no purpose, since Riker could just slip into the same place during sleep.
“Touch me. Now!” He ordered and reached into the minds of the people holding onto him. One after one they appeared next to him. In essence, a spirit was nothing more than energy and needed no form, but because most beings couldn’t wrap their mind around something as insubstantial as an energy form, their minds projected an actual image of their physical appearance. Leeway had the feeling that they were too close to the portal for his comfort, so he pulled them back into Riker’s subconscious. A safe haven between conscious- and unconsciousness. For the others he seemed to tear the darkness apart with his claws and it would recede like feathers blown away on a strong wind.
“Where are we?” Larek asked scared. This was his first experience with telepathy and it scared the Hell out of him.
“The Admiral’s subconscious.” Leeway answered and wiped sweat of his brow. The hardest part had been accomplished.
“Where is he?” The scar faced man asked with his gravely voice, looking around. They were in a perfectly rectangular room, made out of bricks covered in moss and other plants. There was no door, no window and a small light bulb illuminated their surroundings. The sound of dripping water could have driven them insane, because it was the only sound. No. There was something else. A low whimper, coming from one of the dark corners.
“He is over there. I must warn you. He will not be his usual self. The image you have of him will be severely shaken by what you will see. Bear in mind though always that he needs you and your help.” All of them nodded their heads. “Mr Johansdotter, you first.”
“What do you want me to do?” The scar faced man asked.
“You have known the Admiral longer than most of us. You have been in the trenches with him during the war. You must make him aware of you being here, only because of him. Without him, you would be dead and your daughter would never have existed.” Slowly Johansdotter nodded. He understood now. He had to give his XO something to live for.

“Sir? Admiral Riker, can you hear me?” The whimpering stopped for a minute and he saw a dark form shuffling away from him. Deeper into the shadows.
“I will just take that as a yes.” Johansdotter cleared his throat, feeling very uncomfortable. “It is me, Klaus Johansdotter, Lieutenant Commander of Security. When we fist met I was an Ensign fresh out of the Academy. You were my first Commander. We were assigned to the defence of Triat IV.” One of the walls fell down with a crash and behind it scenes were flurrying by, at last centring on a young man with dark blond hair, muscular build and an eager, yet fearful gleam in his eye. Johansdotter smiled.
“Aye, that’s me.” He said softly. He tore himself away from the image. “Do you remember the reconnaissance mission three months later? We were ambushed.” Screams behind him and the sound of phaser fire told him that Riker remembered. Johansdotter swallowed before he went on.
“I stepped onto a plasma mine. I lost both my legs that day.” He heard the explosion and Larek gagging behind him. He couldn’t bring himself to turn around. “The others told you to leave me. I was telling you so too, but you wouldn’t leave me. You lifted me up and carried me all the way back to the camp, even though our enemies were right behind us.” Hard breathing and the guttural voices of Jem Hadar roaring commands were now audible. “You saved my life that day, Admiral. Without you, I would never have been able to experience the wonderful insanity of love, when I met my wife five years later. You might not know this, Sir, but I wanted to name my child after you, if it would have been a boy.” The whimpering grew softer and Johansdotter looked to Leeway, who nodded and reached out his hand.
“Very good, Lieutenant. I will release you now. You might feel dizzy and I suggest you sit down as soon as you get your bearings.” The Security officer nodded and closed his eyes, as was his custom before every transport. It amused Leeway, since the procedure involved in bringing him here and back was totally different than that of a transporter. Then, Johansdotter vanished and Leeway turned to Larek. The teenage Cardassian still stared at the wall, which had come back up after Johansdotter had stopped talking.
“It is your turn now, Larek.” The boy swallowed.
“Do I have to? I don’t want to see...” Leeway smiled compassionately.
“You do not have to look. But if you don’t want to, I can understand that.” He could see how Larek was torn between his not wanting to see his dead family and his want to help the man, who had taken their place. At last he nodded and took a few steps in the crouching forms direction on shaky legs.

“Admiral? It’s me, Larek.” The wall crashed down again and Larek couldn’t help but turn around. He saw himself, standing in the Admiral’s room, dirty and in torn clothes, having the look of a hunted animal in his eyes. This image was replaced by another of him and his friends standing on the stage in the music theatre, hugging each other and him smiling brightly.
“Yes. Quite a change, don’t you think.” He swallowed hard. “When...my family died...and my friends; my home was destroyed...I was convinced that I would die too. But I lived and I hated myself for it. Then you came along. I was your enemy, at least, I thought I was. You took me in and gave me a new home. I will never forget what happened to me, but you helped me to believe in life again. I will never forget the talks we had together and your concern for my well being. Most people couldn’t have cared less about a homeless Cardassian teenager, but you did. I owe you everything. Even introducing me to the first woman I have ever loved.” At these words he blushed. He hadn’t wanted to mention it, but it just came flying out, as if that sentence had a mind of its own.
“i couldn’t have left you.” A small voice answered. All of them, except Leeway flinched. The light grew brighter and the shadows receded, though still not reaching the dark corner fully. They could see him more clearly now though. He was sitting with his back to them, something dark shimmering on his back, which was bare.
“i left too many people.” His voice was very small and croaked.
Someone laid a hand on Larek’s shoulder and he turned around. Leeway gazed down on him.
“I will send you back now.” At first Larek had been terrified, but now he found that he didn’t wish to leave.
“Can I do more?” He asked. Sadly Leeway shook his head.
“He must find his way by himself and you played an important part in guiding him. Sit down when you get your bearings.” The Cardassian nodded and vanished. Tdanie looked to Leeway. Deanna was still caught in a world of her own.
“Do you want me to go next?” Slowly he shook his head.
“I will go first. Try to wake her. She is absolutely vital to all of this. If she can not encourage him to come back, none of this will have made any difference.” She creased her brow.
“Why the others then?”
“Time. A spark of hope has to be ignited, before you can nurture it.” She nodded and he turned and walked up to the man, sitting in the corner.

“Hello, Will. It is me, Leeway. A long time ago you knew me as Leven. Do you remember that?” He turned around. This time the wall had stayed down. A good sign. He saw himself, clinging to his Clanfather’s leg, insecure of his new surroundings. He had been under the first Alin-Avya, then Koviat, to arrive on the Enterprise E.
“I was terrified. You showed me what love and affection is. Do you remember the grove on the holodeck? Many of us were watching you. We were very puzzled, until I found out what you were doing, some years later. The concept of the love you shared with her shaped us. Total commitment, paired with passion. A bond of truthfulness.” He smiled tenderly.
“When Beverly told me your story, I learned to be patient. It paid off, as you well know, since you were present when I was married. It was a wonderful ceremony and I was so proud that you and her gave me and my wife your blessings.” He smiled and softly touched Riker’s hunched over shoulder. A jolt went through the man, but he didn’t move away.
“Everyone of us owes you and her more than we could ever dream of repaying. When my Clanfather approached me twenty years later and asked me to look out for you, I was the happiest man in our community. Everyday I feel honoured of being in your presence and my wife always asks how you are, so that she can keep everyone up to date. You are one of us and we will do everything to protect you.” He let his hand linger for a moment, before he withdrew it.
Telling Riker that the Clanfather had made him a brother to their people was supposed to be a secret, but Leeway was sure that the clan would forgive him, given the circumstances. Softly he moved away. He saw that the light was brighter now. He smiled. It was working. He turned around and saw Tdanie staring past him. He found out why. The light now illuminated his back. Deep gashes ran across it, blood seeping from them, which glistened grisly in the unforgiving, harsh light of the bulb.
“Have you had any success?” He inquired in a low voice. She shook her head, to be able to tear her eyes from Riker’s back.
“No. No I haven’t.” He nodded and stood next to Troi.
“I will bring her here. It is your turn now, Tdanie.” She looked up to him and smiled a faint smile.
“You were a cute little boy...Leven.” She smiled sadly and walked up to Riker.

“Admiral. I am sure you recognise my voice. Tdanie Amion.” She looked back to the open wall. Her face was in clear focus; the background showed the Academy.
“Yes.” She smiled. “The first day we met. You were looking for a new Counsellor. It was the day I had decided to stop my studies and return home, as my parents wanted. You though saw something in me, I had never seen myself.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “When I told my parents I would not stop, they were outraged and came to Earth. You went head-to-head with them, telling them some truths I had wanted to say for so many years and never dared.” She was overwhelmed by her memories for a moment and became very interested in her feet.
“No one had ever dared to go up against my parents before.” She smiled through tears. “You gave me the confidence in myself I needed to get my own life started. Without you, I would have followed my parents all the way and would be married now. Missing all the wonderful times I had with you and the others. Without you, I would sit on the porch of my parents’ house on Betazed, staring at the stars and dreaming. I am living my dream, only thanks to you...” Her voice failed her. She was sending the deep gratitude she felt instead of talking and she could see how he took a deep breath and his shoulders relaxed a bit.
“Thank you, Sir.” She whispered weakly. As she turned around, Leeway was standing directly in front of her and enclosed her in his arms. Crying she buried her face in his chest. After a while she looked up. Softly he smiled down at her, wiping a tear away with his thumb.
“You all right?” He asked in his deep, rumbling voice.
“Yes.” She sniffled and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry for that.” He shook his head.
“Don’t ever feel sorry for how you feel.” He caressed her cheek and smiled in a fatherly manner.
“Will you send me back now?” She didn’t really want to leave. Surprised she saw how he shook his head.
“No. I think it is important you see what happens next. It will not be nice, but it will help you to understand him better and to help him. You are the Counsellor, this is your job.” They both turned to Deanna. She was looking around the room with big eyes. The wall was still down, but now it was filled with a flurry of images. Fleeting by too fast than any of them could take them in.
“Ambassador, I explained the situation to you. It is now up to you.” Leeway said and made the way free to the huddled form of Riker in the corner. Deanna’s eyes got round when she saw the deep gashes on his back, much like Tdanie’s. She swallowed once, her face deadly pale and nodded. With measured strides she walked up to Riker and stopped at a safe distance. She had drawn a line on the floor in her head and she wouldn’t cross this line under any circumstances.
“Now, Tdanie, watch closely what will happen. Both in this room and beyond this wall.” Leeway whispered into her ear and turned towards Riker and Troi. Tdanie did as she was told, leaning to one of the walls and keeping an eye both on the Ambassador and the Admiral.

Deanna closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to find her centre. With another deep breath she opened her eyes. Again she was assaulted by his bleeding back and she longed to reach out and soothe the pain, which radiated off him.
“Will?” He flinched and drew into a small ball, hugging his legs.
“go away. you are only in my imagination. she doesn’t talk to me. she is gone...my life, my heart, my soul has gone with her.” A tear ran down her cheek and she expelled a trembling breath.
“It is me, Will. Trust me. Have I ever lied to you?” He shuddered and drew himself up tighter.
“go away. please go away.” He whimpered and the light grew dimmer. Concerned Deanna looked to Leeway and he urged her on with a movement of his hands.
“I will not go away, Will. I am a part of you, just as you are a part of me. If you go, I have no choice but to follow you.” He stopped the rocking motion he had been immersed in. She knew she had his attention now.
“Do you really want to end it like this? So many people depend upon you. For strength, for love and for safety. And I must admit that I am among these people.” She swallowed. It was becoming harder and harder to speak.
“The times we had will never come back and after what happened on...on...” She couldn’t even bring herself to say the name of the planet, but she heard her own screams behind her and knew that he remembered everything. She shook violently and nearly collapsed to her knees as her own memories overcame her. Two strong hands helped her to remain on her feet.
“I can’t do this.” She whispered desperately, but she couldn’t free herself from Leeway’s pull. He was a much too strong telepath.
“You will have to face it sooner or later, Deanna. Please believe me that I am not happy of forcing this upon you, but if you do not help him find his way back, none of us will be able to make a difference. He will die.” She nodded and tried to pull herself together. Leeway looked to Tdanie, who was watching with growing horror the scene playing out before her. He knew it all too well; had been living through it with Riker more times than he could count. She saw her gag, when the leader cut into Deanna’s flesh.
Deanna turned back to him. He looked so vulnerable and scared. He was trembling. She wanted to soothe his pain.
“At first I was angry beyond belief. I hated you with all that I was. You had robbed me of everything. My trust in you, my love, even my child...but after some time, I realised that you had only acted in the best interest of the Federation. It was a cruel twist of fate that the information you protected proved itself to be useless.” She was now crying openly, her voice raw with tears. “I know that you regret what happened more than anything and that you feel as if you had nothing left, but you do. All these people trust you and rely on you. Especially the young ones. You can’t just leave them. Not now.” She lowered her head, preparing herself for saying the next.
“Don’t leave me, Imzadi. I need you as much as they do.” She implored softly. All the walls went down with an ear splitting crash and the universe was spiralling around them. In the middle of the swirling stars, nebulas and planets was her face. She was much younger and a dazzling smile was on her face. Gaping they stared at the image around them. The roof was gone too. Only the floor remained.
“Imzadi!” It was his voice, loud and clear. All of them turned around and Tdanie and Deanna flinched at the image presenting themselves. The cut on his face was bleeding and eye liquid was seeping from his destroyed eye. His chest cut in too many places to count. Through a deep cut in his left shoulder the white of bone was visible. He lifted his arms to her, while shuffling on his knees towards Deanna. His right arm stopped at his elbow, the bones sticking out grisly white, splattered with blood. His left arm was whole up until mid forearm. His blood was flowing out of them, covering him in the deep red liquid. Deanna composed herself and held out her hand.
“Come back, Imzadi.” A hopeful and insecure smile lit up his face, making him years younger. He nodded.
“Yes.” He sighed and his eyes were filled with love and affection bordering on worship. “Yes, I will come back. I will do everything you say. Your wish is my command.” He closed his eyes and they all vanished.


Chapter 23

Peter and S’Mat had remained in the Lounge and waited. Peter was feeling utterly uncomfortable, since nothing was happening and he wanted to do something to help.
“How much longer will this take?” He asked walking up and down. S’Mat was perfectly calm and composed.
“As long as necessary.” She only answered. He threw his hands up.
“Of course! As long as necessary.” He mumbled to himself. The Vulcan looked over to him, one eyebrow arched.
“You are overly concerned, Mister Inalo. Leeway will do everything within his power to protect all of them. And his powers are indeed something out of the ordinary.”
The security man moaned low behind them and they both turned around. The man held his head and tried to get his bearings. Quickly S’Mat stepped up to him and helped him to sit in a chair.
“Breathe deeply, Lieutenant. Close your eyes.” He followed her instructions and after a short while, he opened his eyes again. He was very pale. S’Mat had already her tricorder out and was scanning him. Peter knelt in front of him.
“Is it working?” He asked, anxious to find out if any of this was helpful. The large man shook his head and Peter’s hopes dropped.
“I don’t know.” His voice was weak and small. He raised his head and looked into their eyes. What Peter and S’Mat saw in his made them uneasy. He seemed to have been shaken to his innermost core.
“Please excuse me. I want to go home to my wife and my daughter.” S’Mat nodded.
“Very well, Lieutenant. Do not exert yourself over the next three hours and try to sleep.” He nodded and then quickly made his exit.
“I wonder what he has seen? What he has experienced?” Peter looked to the group of five, still unmoving.
“What he has seen and experienced is only Lieutenant Commander Johannsdotter’s affair.” Her voice seemed to have a certain edge to it. This startled Peter, since the Vulcan normally had her feelings totally under control.
“Have you ever been in such mental contact with the Commander?” Even though Leeway most probably couldn’t hear him, Peter didn’t dare to call him by his nickname.
At first it seemed, as if S’Mat wouldn’t answer his question, but then she looked into his eyes.
“My mental control has not been as good as it is now, Mister Inalo. It was excellent in Vulcan terms, but in one of my meditations I took it too far. I comprised my feelings to such a small amount, that something burst. I experienced everything. It overwhelmed me. Since I had been a child of three, my parents had schooled me in the techniques of mental discipline. I was close to loosing my mind. Leeway entered my frayed mind, even though he could easily have lost himself. At least so I thought. But he is much more powerful than any of us could ever imagine. The Betazoids have an inkling of his peoples powers, since some of their children are born telepathic and seem to possess the same abilities as the Alin-Avya do. Within minutes he restored me. I have every confidence in his abilities. He would even be able to bring back the Admiral from the dead.”
Another moan drew their attention back to the kneeling group. This time it was Larek. He was shaking profusely and covered his face with his hands. Immediately Peter was next to him.
“Are you all right. Larek?” He softly asked the boy and laid an arm around the teens shoulders. S’Mat scanned him with her tricorder and gave him the same instructions she had given Johannsdotter. When Larek finally removed his hands, both adults could see that he was crying. Peter’s heart sank even more.
“What is it?” He asked him. Larek shook his head. Peter felt as if something was gripping his throat. “It isn’t working?” Again Larek shook his head and Peter just wanted to vent his frustration with curses, when the Cardassian began to speak.
“No. It is working. I…I just saw some things I rather didn’t. Can I go home?” He asked and sniffed. Peter quickly nodded and S’Mat helped him to his feet.
“Try to sleep.” She advised him and Peter was surprised to hear that her voice was very soft and motherly. Larek sniffed again, cast a last glance to the Admiral and turned to the door. At the door, he turned around once more.
“Could you…I mean, will you tell me when he is fine?” Inalo smiled softly and nodded.
“We will contact you and the others as soon as he regains consciousness. Don’t worry and try to sleep.” Larek nodded and walked out. Dragging his feet after him, as if they had become too heavy to lift them.
For a long time nothing happened and Peter went to the replicator to get himself some coffee and some tea for S’Mat. It seemed as if the hardest part had yet to begin.

Larek walked aimlessly through the Enterprise’s corridors. He didn’t want to go home, even though he had said that he wanted to. But when he had turned around the corner and looked down the familiar corridor, he didn’t feel like going there. Instead he roamed the ship, not really knowing where to go and just letting his feet lead him wherever they wanted. At last he stopped and wasn’t very surprised when he looked up and saw where he had ended up. He pressed the door chime and waited for a response. For a time nothing happened and he just wanted to turn away and resume his walking, when the doors opened. He sighed sadly and outstretched his hand to caress her face, but stopped inches away from it.
“Hi Larek.” Navin murmured and wiped away the tears on her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“May I come in?” She studied the floor and her voice was very low.
“It’s rather late, Larek. Renn’s probably waiting for you already.” He shook his head and his hand finally made contact with her cheek. It had taken a lot of resolve to do this and he found it very curious that such a simple movement could need so much courage.
“Renn doesn’t need my company. He has Lali. As I thought about that, I felt lonely and I thought, that…that you might feel the same way.” Hopeful he tried to look into her eyes. Wordless she turned around and waved him in. Unsure of himself he entered her quarters and stood stock still just behind the door. Navin had sat down on her sofa and was pressing a pillow against her chest. Her fingers played nervously with one corner. Larek swallowed and looked around the room. He knew it well, since they often met to study together, but as he stood there, just inside her quarters, it all seemed alien and new to him.
“Would you like something to drink?” He heard himself ask. A weird reversal of roles between guest and host. Navin didn’t answer. She didn’t even shake her head. Worried he crossed the room and sat next to her. Softly he laid an arm around her and drew her slowly towards his shoulder. At last she yielded and, letting the pillow fall to the floor, clung onto him while crying in heaving sobs.
“I don’t want to go back! Please, I don’t want to go back!” He held her tight. She had told him about her time in the orphanage. Other war orphans had been there and one of them had told the story about the Trill scientist, who had worked for the Dominion and had helped them construct an artificial wormhole. The workers had been prisoners of war and among them had been the boys father. His mother had died in a rescue attempt. After that day she had been the target of cruel practical jokes, back talking and during the night they would gang up against her and hit her, until she would no longer scream. The nurses and officers had tried to stop it, but it always continued. One of them knew the Admiral and asked him if he couldn’t take Navin with him.
Larek held on even tighter to Navin and his knuckles became even whiter. A fire lit in his eyes and his nostrils flared. If he ever met one of those bastards!
“You wont go back. I wont let you go. If we can’t stay here, we will make our way somewhere else. I wont let them take you back to that place.” He whispered into her ear and rocked her gently.

Peter sighed and sat down again, after having paced the room again and again. S’Mat was totally calm and checked the groups bio signs from time to time with her tricorder. It had already been an hour, since Larek had left. How much longer would it take? Peter wasn’t as much concerned about the Admiral as the others were. He had admired him, yes, but he had never been so close to the Admiral that he would be able to call Riker a friend.
“I wonder what they are doing.” Peter whispered. It was ghastly quiet in the lounge. Filled with the bustle of activity of the crew, it was a nice and relaxing place, but empty and still, as it was now, it was the most frightening setting he had ever seen. Nothing was worse than the mere memory, or feel of life.
“They are doing what they have done for the last hour. Saving the Admiral’s life.” Peter had to sigh. To try and start a conversation with a Vulcan was just as difficult as making your dog write a thank you note.
‘Of course. Small talk isn’t logical.’ He thought to himself. A deep sigh was audible and Peter’s head snapped around immediately. Leeway’s eyes were open again and he seemed to be very tired. Now that he thought of it, Peter had never seen the Alin-Avya tired, which was curious. Even the most vigilant officer got caught yawning some time or the other.
Quickly Peter abandoned these thoughts and wanted to look to Tdanie, but his gaze was drawn to the Admiral’s back. His white uniform had turned a crimson red on the back and his sleeves were just as soggy with blood. In the last hour he had tried to ignore the group and since Leeway had been standing over the Admiral, he hadn’t been able to see him clearly.
“Oh my God.” He whispered. S’Mat only arched an eyebrow.
“Do not worry, Mister Inalo. The Admiral is strong and I was aware of his blood loss.“ Peter turned towards the Vulcan Doctor, who was just now helping Ambassador Troi to a chair. Quickly he went to Tdanie and did the same for her. She had been leaning on Leeway’s shoulder and caught her breath. The Commander had closed his eyes again and he seemed to be carved out of stone. Not one muscle moved. He heard the soft voice of S’Mat behind him, ordering a site to site transport for her and the Admiral. Before the transport, she addressed him.
“I trust that you will inform the crew that the Admiral is fine.” He only nodded, not taking his hand off Tdanie’s shoulder. S’Mat and the Admiral vanished in swirling blue lights.
“Peter?” Tdanie’s soft voice brought his attention immediately back to her. She seemed just as tired as Leeway.
“Yes?” Softly he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear and sat on his haunches in front of her.
“Could you help me home?” He smiled and rubbed her upper arm affectionately.
“Of course, Tdanie. I’m only making an announcement that the Admiral’s fine and then we can go. OK?” She nodded, closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
Peter stood, turned a bit away from her and stood at attention. Afterwards, he would wonder why.
“Lieutenant Commander Peter Inalo to the crew. I am happy to tell you, that the Admiral is fine and in Sickbay. Man your stations and do your job, since, when he is back up and running, he will probably complain about all the fuss we made about this incident. Inalo out.” When he looked back to Tdanie, she smiled at him.
“You have a talent for that, you know?” He shrugged his shoulders and helped her up. She swayed a bit.
“You all right?” She shook her head and smiled.
“Yes, just feeling a little dizzy.” He nodded and lifted her up. She wanted to protest, but didn’t and snuggled up to him. When they walked past Leeway, who still wasn’t moving, Peter looked down.
“What about the Commander?” Tdanie shook her head sleepily.
“Don’t worry about him. Antonia will take care of it.” Peter only arched his eyebrows a bit and wondered what Antonia would do and went with Tdanie.

When the announcement came that the Admiral was going to be fine, the entire ship seemed to release held breath. Everyone sighed relieved and went back to what they were doing. In Navin’s quarters, Larek sat still and caressed Navin’s hair from time to time. She had cried herself to sleep and was now lying with her head in his lap. He didn’t dare to move, lest he wake her. But he was content just watching her sleep. They stayed like this the whole night and when Larek finally fell asleep, they snuggled up to each other, feeling at home in the others embrace.


Chapter 24

After Tdanie and Peter had left, Deanna and Leeway were alone. The lights were dimmed and Deanna had buried her face in her hands, struggling with emotions and memories about the worst time of her life. The chair next to her creaked in protest, as the tall form of the Alin-Avya let himself fall into it. She peeked out between two fingers and saw how exhausted the man was.
“Will you be all right?” She asked quietly. He breathed deeply and nodded.
“Don’t worry about me. It takes more than this to kill me.” Deanna only nodded. She knew about them and their history. “What concerns me is if you will be all right after this?” She had been staring at her hands, but looked up at him, when he spoke to her.
“I don’t know.” Was all she could whisper, while shaking her head.
“You didn’t think that he would suffer so much did you?”
“No, no I didn’t. But on the other hand…I think I knew all along, but I chose to ignore it. It was much easier than to acknowledge that he was just as hurt as I was. As I am.” She sniffed. Leeway smiled softly.
“He never stopped caring.” She brought her fist down on the table.
“Stop it, Leven!”
“You know exactly what I mean! Stop it right now! It is no use. We are both different persons now and we both have to live with the decisions we’ve made. As for me…I am well past him!” She said it with such conviction that she nearly convinced him, but he knew what was in her heart. Troubled and concerned he looked deeply into her eyes.
“Are you? I studied the Betazoid culture and according to my studies, Imzadi is forever. It cannot be ignored. The Admiral tries to, but only because you would not want it any other way. What about you? You repress your connection so much that it is like a black knot inside you.” Her eyes were flashing with anger now.
“Stop rummaging around in my head! You have no business there! And what concerns Will and me stays between us! Do not interfere!” She rose and left the room in long strides, her fury so obvious that it seemed almost visible. From his seated position he bowed to the closed doors.
“As you wish, Ambassador.” He murmured sadly. He had hoped that the shared experience of their pain would change their relationship and view of the other, but both were still set too much in their mind. The Admiral in his guilt and self-remorse and the Ambassador in her anger. He shook his head and sighed.
“Wanna stay here?” Antonia’s soft voice asked him. He looked up. He knew that she had been there all the time, but had chosen to stay discreetly in the background. He smiled softly and shook his head.
“No, thank you. I will go to my quarters now. I know I promised to help cleaning up, but…” She shrugged and smirked.
“Don’t worry about that. You know the big bloke, who’s my boyfriend? He’ll do anything if I say he’ll get a massage out of it.” Leeway chuckled at this and rose.
“Good night Antonia.”
“Good night Le’Venoyati.” At this Leeway turned around to her with raised eyebrows. Antonia had a lopsided smile on her face.
“I have good ears and a memory for names, so don’t look at me like that. It’s part of my job.” Leeway had to chuckle again and bowed to her.
“Very well. Don’t teach Tdanie. She is still trying to get the pronouncement correct.”
“I would never dare.” Both parted with a smile.

With a groan the Admiral opened his eye. Squinting he looked around and saw that he was in Sickbay. The light had been turned down and everything seemed to be grey. He closed his eye again and breathed deeply.
“Welcome back, Sir.” He opened his eye again and saw S’Mat standing over him. He didn’t want to speak and only nodded.
“I did not expect you to be conscious so soon. I have mended your cuts, since they broke open again. The other wounds are too deep.” The Admiral sighed. He knew which wounds she meant.
“Do not worry, Doctor. Nobody is able to reach those.” He murmured.
“Oh yes. You or the Ambassador could reach them, but since you both choose not to close the others wounds, and I am unable to help, I will have to leave it to you two.” Surprised Riker sat up and stared at S’Mat’s back, as she was leaving the room. With a sigh he let himself fall back on the bed. She had no idea what she was talking about. How could he ever ask Deanna to help him with this?
“Riker to Bridge!” He called out.
“Yes, Sir?” Emrar’s voice asked.
“Stop idling around and get us underway again. I will authorise any warp factor to get us on schedule again.”
“Sir…how did you know we had stopped?” Emrar asked puzzled.
“Easy, Commander. The floor vibrates differently. Now get going!”
“Yes, Sir. And if I may say, Sir; good to have you back.” Riker only grumbled and pressed a button to close the channel. Shortly afterwards he could feel the ship accelerating again.
He lay back, stared at the ceiling and sighed; a small smile on his lips. Deanna had helped him. She didn’t want him dead, but alive. He did not lie to himself, she still didn’t want anything to do with him, but she did not want him dead either. This was an improvement to before, when he had thought that she would be happy, if he just dropped dead somewhere.
A large shadow moved toward him. Riker smiled and turned his head.
“I hear that I owe you a lot, my friend.” Leeway smiled and sat on the bed next to his XO.
“You owe me nothing. I only helped her in there. The rest she did herself.” They sat in silence for a moment, while Riker stared at the ceiling.
“I know what you are wondering.” Leeway softly broke the silence. The Admiral looked over to him. “She would come to your funeral. And she would cry over the loss.”
“It’s nice of you to try and cheer me up, Leven, but I don’t think so. She might come to my funeral, but I don’t think she would ever cry over me.” No bitterness was in his voice. There was no reason for it, since he only had himself to blame.
“She did so, only a few hours ago.” Leeway stood again and saluted him in the way of his people. “We will arrive at the Ba’Ku Treatment Facility tomorrow morning. Have a good night, sir.” Will stared after him, as he left. Deanna had cried over him. A tear ran over his cheek.
“Imzadi.” He whispered and laid his head back on the cushion. Without fear he closed his eyes. Reaching out over the bond to her was still out of the question, but now that he knew that there was still compassion enough in her heart for him, he was ready to endure the pain and show compassion for her. Miraculously though, he slept peacefully through the entire night, not waking once and not having the dream, which had haunted him, since it had happened so many years ago.

Ilvan sat in his and Deanna’s quarters and watched over her sleep. She had told him what had happened, after the Alin-Avya Commander had joined her with the Admiral. Nothing happened though. He had been prepared for her waking up screaming and shuddering, as she would always, when she would dream about it. But not this night. This night, she slept absolutely peacefully, even with a little smile on her lips, giving soft sighs from time to time. A tear ran down Ilvan’s cheek.
“I don’t know how you did it, Commander, but thank you.” He whispered and softly caressed the face of his wife. She leaned into the warmth of his hand and he lay down next to her, giving her a kiss on her brow, before going to sleep himself.

The ship itself seemed to breathe peace and everyone relaxed tense muscles, they didn’t know had been tense. Peter sat with Tdanie on her sofa and he was massaging her feet. Something he was surprisingly good at, as Tdanie noticed. She hadn’t asked him about it, he had just done it, reacting on her need to relax after what she had seen. As if sensing her distraught thoughts, he leaned over.
“Wanna talk about it?” He softly asked her. She smiled tenderly and caressed his cheek.
“I fear that I can’t.” A tear ran down her cheek. He sighed, sitting next to her and drawing her into an embrace.
“Was it that painful?” Tears began brimming in her eyes. She shook her head.
“You can’t even imagine. I don’t know how any of the two can carry on with these memories just at the back of their heads. I wouldn’t have the strength.” He smiled down at her and made her see up into his eyes.
“Somehow I doubt that. I think that you are one of the strongest women I have ever met. Another reason why I thought it a good idea to invite you to dinner. I am attracted to strong women, you see.” She smiled impishly up at him.
“Another reason? Well, what were the others, or are you too shy to tell me?” His smile turned playful.
“I am not too shy, but they are hardly what you normally tell a woman.”
“Ooh. This gets more and more interesting.” She whispered, turned around in his arms and began caressing his chest. “Tell me.” She breathed in his ear and felt how a shiver ran down his spine. He took one of her hands in his, studied it for a moment and then looked deeply into her eyes. He lost himself in hers and she couldn’t help but do the same in his.
“I felt attracted to you, because you care. I would run a million miles, just for having you look one time at me with your amazing eyes. I love that you are always a bit late, making you just more special to me. I love how you always sing along silently, while Renn and the others play. How you sometimes can’t help your fingers from accompanying them. I love the way your skin wrinkles at your eyes when you laugh. I love your voice and how it can bring a smile to every face.” Softly he caressed her face. “I am sorry, but I think I have fallen in love with you.” He confessed whispering. With closed eyes she leaned into his hand, kissing the palm. A tear freed itself from her lashes and ran down her cheek.
“Nobody has ever said something like this to me. You are so sure in what you say…How can you know?” He waited for her to open her eyes.
“I don’t need to know. I only need to feel.” He put her hand over his heart. “Can’t you feel it?” Hope was in his voice. She felt his heartbeat under her hand and, curiously, she thought she knew what he meant. It was as if the beat was familiar to her hand, familiar to her very being.
“Yes. Yes I think I can.” With a soft smile she snuggled up to him, and he enveloped her in his arms.
They both heard the opening of a channel and raised their heads, to hear if it was the Admiral addressing the crew, but nothing came. Peter creased his brow in wonderment.
“What...?” Tdanie quickly put a finger to his lips and on her face was a bright smile.
“Listen.” She whispered and as he listened, he heard faint notes of an instrument. Slowly it grew louder and soon they could hear it well. The hauntingly beautiful music was going straight to the heart and had a relaxing quality about it like none other Peter had ever heard. It was sad and happy at the same time, reminding him of lost ones, but only of the happy times. Tdanie laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.
“He never plays the same song. It is always different and yet at the same Time the same.” Peter wanted to ask, who she was talking about, but then Leeway began to sing. His voice no longer had this edge to it, like when he was on duty. It was soft and rose and fell in perfect harmony with the music.
“Please stay, Peter.” Tdanie whispered and hugged him. With a tender smile he pulled her closer.
“Everything to please my fair lady.” He answered softly and kissed her on her head. Smiling, they both closed their eyes, listening to Leeway’s music and soon drifting off into a peaceful sleep.


Chapter 25

With only a quarter impulse, the Enterprise entered the Briar Patch. In accordance with the treaty with the Ba’Ku, the special shield specifications had been activated, to keep the fountain of youth effects from affecting the crew. Still most people in the Federation thought that the planet had a very advanced medical facility. A lie, which the Federation Council was doing its utmost to uphold. Most patients thought that their healing was due to their treatment and the special diet they received. Only a very few people knew and they had all been sworn to secrecy.
Emrar still sat in the command chair and ordered to take the Enterprise into an orbit. He sighed and stood. One of his friends had been here once, to transport civilians and had told him, how breathtakingly beautiful it was. Up until now, he hadn’t believed him. Now he did. He shook his head with a smile. Who would ever think that such beauty could exist within a nebula?
“Enjoying the sight, Lieutenant?” A deep voice asked him. A voice that shouldn’t be here. Astounded Emrar turned around.
“Admiral, sir! I thought you still would be in Sickbay, sir.” Riker nodded.
“I should be. I released myself.” The Admiral turned toward the view screen. The sight of the planet brought on a lot of memories. Memories about a happier time in his life. A life with friends, love and trust. Sadness clenched his heart, but nothing let this on. Not his face, not his eye, nor his body language.
“Have you contacted the facility yet?” He asked just to get himself off thoughts of another life. Emrar shook his head and stood at attention, finally overcoming his shock of seeing his XO so quickly released from Sickbay.
“No, sir. I was about to, when you arrived.” The Admiral nodded, stood at attention and turned again towards the screen.
“Open a channel.” An Ensign at Conn nodded and let his fingers glide elegantly over his board.
“This is Admiral William Riker of the USS Enterprise F. We have come to bring new patients. Please acknowledge.” A split second after he had stopped speaking, the screen’s image changed and a beautiful woman with a warm smile took the place of the ringed planet. Her soft smile and her eyes seemed to have a timeless quality to them, which probably was there, because of the inner peace that radiated out of both; at least, that was what the majority of the crew thought.
“Welcome, Admiral. We were worried when you did not arrive on schedule.” Riker lowered his head a bit.
“We had some problems on the way here. The ship has been out of dock for only a few days. I wish to apologise for our being late, Anij.” She smiled even brighter.
“No need to, Admiral. I will transfer the coordinates and then you can begin shuttling the people down.”
“Very well. Thank you, Anij. Riker, out.” The screen went back to its former picture. The Admiral turned around to the Andorian pilot.
“Signal Sickbay and the Shuttlebays that the patients will be transferred and that everyone should get ready.”
“Yessir.” Emrar nodded and turned on his heel. Slowly Riker settled into the command chair. His back was still hurting and he didn’t doubt that the gashes on his back had broken open again. He didn’t care. His fingers began stroking his beard and he had to think about the ghastly duty awaiting him. He would wait until everyone was down on the planet. He didn’t want too many people gawking at his former Captain. A man, who had been like a father to him. Even though he now only was a mere shadow of what he had been before, Riker still held an immense respect for Picard and wanted that he was remembered as he had been. Not as the frail man he was now.
Riker suppressed a sigh and closed his eye. It would not be easy to face Beverly. Her efforts had been Herculean in their extent, but even the Ba’Ku had not been able to cure Jean-Luc Picard. Maybe an extended stay would have helped, but the Council had only granted a month. Not enough to reverse the effects. Beverly had become very bitter over this and Riker understood why. She had dedicated her life to Starfleet, had lost her first husband in the line of duty and now it seemed, as if she was going to loose her second. Will had never offered her his help. Not out of malice or not understanding. He understood only too well, but he had not been able to deal with his own loss, so how should he have been able to help her deal with hers?

Deanna wandered nervously through her quarters, touching everything as she went by. Ilvan sat on the couch and watched her. He knew what had her this upset. Again he tried to sway her.
<Let me go with you, Navin. It would be easier for you.> She shook her head, but didn’t answer. He sighed and closed his eyes.
<Please, Navin. Let me come with you.> She didn’t even shake her head this time.
“Deanna!” He expelled on an exasperated sigh. At last she looked straight at him.
“I am sorry, Ilvan, but I have to do this alone. With him. It will be uncomfortable, to say the least, but it will be the best solution. Especially when one takes the Captain’s condition into account.” Ilvan rose and moved over to her, taking her hands into his.
“Please. I only want to protect you.” A small laugh escaped her.
“Protect me? He will not jump on me, Ilvan. We will shuttle down to the planet and get the Captain and Beverly and then we will get back.” He shook his head and she could feel a multitude of emotions warring inside him.
“Still. I don’t like the thought of you two being alone in a shuttle.” Softly she caressed his cheek.
“Me neither, but I owe it to Beverly to be there and to help protect the dignity of the Captain. Please, Ilvan. This is very important to me. It is a very private matter and I am sure that Beverly wouldn’t want anyone else being there, except me and Will.” Anger finally won out in him.
“If it is so important to protect this man’s dignity, why don’t you just beam him aboard?” He turned away from her and stared out one of the windows. She came up behind him, hugged him from behind and leaned her head on his shoulder. He straightened, closed his eyes and put one of his hands over hers.
“The treaty forbids transport and the transport inhibitor network would make it impossible. Even though I am sure that the Admiral knows the proper code to circumvent the network, he would never do that. The code is only to be used in emergencies. Believe me; I have gone over every possibility to avert this shuttle flight. There is none.” She whispered. He turned around and desperation was burning in his eyes.
“Yes, there is. Don’t go.” She shook her head with a soft smile, caressing his cheek again.
For a time they held each others gazes, until Ilvan looked down, took her hand in his and kissed her knuckles.
her smile widened.
as he looked up, a bright smile was on his face.
<Do you want me to wear a wig?> at that she had to laugh and he savoured the rich sound of it. She kissed him on his brow and then leaned her head to his.
<Maybe we should try some out.>
<Maybe we should.> He agreed.
“Ambassador Troi?” Both looked up and flinched a bit. Startled by the voice. Again they looked into each others eyes, before Deanna answered Riker’s call.
“Yes, Admiral?”
“It is time. Please meet me at Shuttlebay three.” She caressed Ilvan’s cheek a last time and then made her way for the door.
“I am on my way, Admiral.” With a swish the door opened.
“I will wait for you. Riker out.”

As Troi entered the Shuttlebay, she saw to her astonishment, that the room was empty. Normally there were at least three officers in here, tending to the shuttles, checking on the systems or on the supplies. Now only Riker was there, working on the console for the bay.
“Where are the bay officers?” She asked, as she walked over to him, her dress making a slight whispering sound on the floor of the bay. She had never heard it before, but now it was eerily silent in the huge room.
“I sent them away. It is better they are not here when we come back. I will have Beverly and the Captain beamed directly to their quarters. The least I can do for them.” He raised his head and looked directly at her. Nearly immediately Deanna averted her gaze and walked over to the waiting shuttle. She didn’t see how he sighed and his shoulders slumped a bit. He drew himself up again and followed her. Both knew that they were on their way to the hardest encounter of their lives.

Maria sat next to Karf in the lounge of a huge building, which allowed the incoming patients a wonderful view of the surrounding flora through huge windows. Nervously she tapped her foot and turned her head this way and that. Softly, but firmly Karf put his hand on her leg, stopping her tapping.
“No need to be nervous.” He smiled even though he knew that she couldn’t see it.
“I know, but still…I envisioned coming here so many times…” Understanding her, he put his other hand over their joined ones.
A smiling woman in flowing gowns approached them. The young Klingon was struck speechless by her aura of peace and the timelessness in her eyes.
“Hello. I am Bijan. You must be Maria Allet.” Maria nodded and her foot began tapping again. Bijan smiled and sat down across them.
“I have read your file, Maria. Your treatment will take approximately one day.” Both Maria and Karf gasped.
“It will only take one day?” Maria brought out in a tiny whisper. Doctors all over the Federation had tried to help her for years and these people would be able to let her see within a day! Bijan nodded with an even brighter smile.
“Yes, one day. For it to last though, you will have to come back at regular intervals.” Karf creased his brow. Were they not going to heal her? Make her see permanently?
“What do you mean with regular intervals?” He inquired and Maria nodded.
“At the end of every month.” Sadness washed over Maria like a flood. She had so seen forward to finally being able to see.
“I can’t come back every month. This is the only stay I have been granted.” She whispered. Karf pressed her hand reassuringly, to let her know that he was there for her. Bijan leaned forward and put her hand softly on Maria’s leg.
“I am very sorry to hear that, Maria. It is not by my choice. And it hurts me to ask you to do this, but now you must consider, if you want the treatment and be able to see, or if you don’t want to use this opportunity.” Maria sat silent, as if hewn from stone. Karf was angry beyond belief and wanted to lash out at these people, but reigned himself in. He knew it wouldn’t help Maria. At last Maria looked up again.
“I choose to stay. It was my parents’ wish that I would be able to see, be it only for a month.” Bijan nodded and stood. Karf and Maria stood too.
“Very well. I will show you to your room then. Your friend can not accompany you though.” Maria nodded and turned to Karf.
“Thank you for coming with me.” Tentatively she reached out to hug him. He held her close to reassure her.
“No problem. What are friends there for, huh?” She smiled and took a step back. Bijan took her hand and led her through the throng of people still waiting. Maria turned around a last time and waved.
“See you tomorrow!” She called to him and at that he had to laugh.
“See you!” He called back and turned to the shuttle pad. She would only be able to see for a month, but he knew that she would make the most of it.

Deanna walked along a beautiful garden path towards a small cottage. It was set apart from the others, so that Beverly and the Captain would have the highest amount of privacy possible. She knew that Riker followed behind at a goodly distance. The shuttle flight had been oppressing. The vehicle filled with a nearly painful silence. The only times one of them had spoken, had been to answer the Enterprise or the flight control of the Ba’Ku facility. As she stood in front of the wooden door, Deanna shook those thoughts from her. Softly she knocked and shortly afterwards the door opened.
Deanna gasped and she heard how Will missed a step behind her. Beverly had changed so dramatically in the month in which there had been no contact between the two women, that Deanna couldn’t believe it. When Beverly had come here, her face had been full of wrinkles, covering up the beauty of her classical face. Now, most of them were gone, but not the worry and anguish that had caused them.
“Hello Deanna.” Her voice was very small. She looked over Deanna’s shoulder and Troi could feel Will standing behind her. “Will.” She nodded to him in greeting.
“How are you Beverly?” Deanna asked. The older woman sighed, shook her head and walked back into the house. At this, Will and Deanna involuntarily exchanged a look of concern. Warily they followed Beverly.
This was not at all the woman they remembered. She had always been the last to give up, but now it seemed as if every hope had abandoned her. Her shoulders were slumped over and her feet dragged behind on every step. Slowly they followed her, not seeing the calming interior of the house. On a small veranda at the back, Picard sat in a wheelchair in the sun. Beverly donned a smile and squatted down next to him. His head lolled from this side to that, his hands were shaking and his face was a virtual map of wrinkles. His eyes nearly obscured under thick, bushy eyebrows. His tanned skin seemed leathery and was hanging in folds, due to his weight loss.
“Look there, Jean-Luc. We have visitors.” Deanna swallowed as she heard how Beverly spoke to the Captain, as if he was a small child. With difficulty Picard looked up, his head shaking with the strain.
“Visitors?” His feeble voice did no longer carry the commanding quality it had once had. Quickly Deanna and Will kneeled too.
“Yes, Captain. Don’t you recognise us?” Softly Deanna put her hand on his arm, shocked at how thin he was. His eyes lightened up though and he smiled.
“Deanna! Yes, Deanna and Will Riker. Oh, it’s so good to see you. None of the others visit me and they are living right next door, so to speak! That is very rude.” Will managed to smile. Picard even thought that he had never left Earth!
“Yes, Captain. That’s very rude.” Picard’s eyes focused on him intently.
“What happened to you, Number one? Your eye…and your hair…”
“The same as happens to everyone else, Captain. I grew old.” Picard harrumphed.
“The Will Riker I knew said he would live forever!” Will nodded. Excited Picard tried to see over their heads.
“Did you bring your child? It must be born by now, right? What name did you give him?” Beverly stared at Deanna and Will. Both their faces had turned ashen. At last Deanna swallowed.
“He couldn’t come. He is tied up at the Academy. He wants to be a starship Captain, just like his godfather.” Content Picard nodded.
“Good, good. What name do I have to look out for? Can’t hurt to pull a few strings to help him along.” Tears began to form in Deanna’s eyes and one her hands settled on her belly. Right over the scar she still had from the blade that had cut her open.
“His name is Richard.” Her voice was nearly choked out by tears and Beverly saw how one rolled down Will’s cheek. She knew that Deanna had never told him how she had chosen to call the dead boy.
“Would you help me with the luggage, Will?” She asked silently and touched his shoulder. Immediately he stood and vanished with long strides within the house. Quickly Beverly followed him and caught up with him in the hall.
“Will, I am so sorry! I didn’t know he would ask that. Please, I am so sorry!” Tears were streaming down her face. She was one of the few who knew what had happened that day. She had been the one, who had saved Deanna’s life. Will did not hear her. His emotions were like a swirling storm inside him, seeking release. With a strangled cry he punched one of the walls and his fist went clean through the bricks. Panting heavily he clenched his eye shut.
“Show me where the luggage is and then I will wait for you at the shuttle.” His whisper was harsh and Beverly only nodded.
As she went back onto the balcony, she heard the door bang shut behind him. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply and dried the tears from her face. With a soft smile she stepped out into the sun.
“It is time to leave, Jean-Luc.” He looked up to her and reached out for her hand. Immediately she stretched it out toward him.
“As you wish, my Butterfly.” Softly he kissed her hand. Deanna and Beverly walked behind him, Beverly steering his wheelchair. Softly Deanna put her arm around Beverly’s shoulders and tried to comfort her crying friend.
“Just another month.” She whispered bitterly. Deanna nodded and stroked the others back.
Riker heard them coming and lowered the aft hatch. As he stepped out into the sunlight, Picard flinched back.
“Who is that? I thought you told me that friends would pick me up.” Beverly nodded and sighed, while leaning down to him.
“They couldn’t make it. They sent people they trust explicitly, so you don’t have to worry.” He gave Riker a wary once-over and nodded then. Beverly pushed him up the ramp and Will secured Picard’s chair among the other passenger seats. Picard still eyed him.
“You seem to have been involved in a lot of fighting, my boy.” Riker nodded only. “Where did you fight?”
“Nearly everywhere, sir. I am not allowed to talk about it.” Picard nodded.
“Sure, sure. I went on a lot of missions during the war too. Maybe you met my First Officer. He got a promotion and joined the fray. His name is William Riker.” Will stopped dead in his movements.
“I am sorry, I never met him.” With that he stood and went to the pilot’s seat at the other end of the shuttle. Deanna and Beverly sat in the back, across from Picard. Riker sighed deeply, sadness gripping his heart. It was even worse than he had imagined. He lifted off and began ascending into the atmosphere.
He heard movement behind him and then felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up and saw that it was Beverly.
“Could I…could I fly the rest of the way? I just need a break. To concentrate on something else.” Will rose immediately and offered her the seat.
“Of course. I am in the back if you need me.” She nodded, sat down and steered the shuttle with a sure hand into orbit.
Will sat down two seats away from Picard and stared at his folded hands. Deanna tried to make conversation with Picard, but he would jump from one topic to the other, without you being able to follow.
“Will.” Riker lifted his head. Picard had spoken to him. “What are you doing over there? Shouldn’t you be sitting next to her?” The old man grinned. “I know I said I didn’t like it, if my key officers were too open about their relationship, but we are among friends here.” He motioned with his hand that Riker should move. Will looked to Deanna and waited for a nearly imperceptible nod. First when it came, he stood and sat next to her.
“That’s better now. I don’t know how long you two will dance around each other, but someday one of you is going to take the step. Just promise me one thing.” Will forced himself to smile.
“Anything, Captain.”
“I want to be your first child’s godfather.” A tear rolled down Deanna’s cheek.
“Of course, Captain. We would be honoured.” Hesitantly Deanna took Will’s hand, since Picard seemed to want this. Under all the pain she felt, she wondered at how different Will’s hand felt against hers. It was a small difference, but she had held his hand so often and they had touched every time they had been together, so she knew his touch in and out. Now it was different.
These thoughts flew from her mind though, as a jolt went through the shuttle, nearly throwing her and Will to the floor. Riker stood immediately.
“Beverly!” He screamed. An arc of sparks flew through the shuttle, as the Doctor fled back into the passengers’ cabin. With wide eyes Riker saw that the shuttle was spiralling wildly out of control.
“What happened?” He asked her, as he helped her up from the floor.
“I don’t know. I think we hit something.” She whispered and held her head. Quickly Deanna looked at her head and retrieved a tricorder from one of the med kits. Will was up front, trying to stabilise the shuttle.
“The controls are out. I will try to get it done manually.” He opened a lid under the pilot control board and began pulling out cables. Deanna looked with a frown at her friend.
“Beverly…there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t even have a concussion, so why don’t you…” The hiss of the hypo spray was not audible over the blaring of the warning klaxons.
“Hey, lady! That’s attacking a Starfleet officer!” Picard shouted over the overall din. Will turned around his eye round, as he saw the unconscious Deanna.
“Beverly? What…” Desperation bordering on insanity burned in her eyes.
“It is his only chance, Will!” She implored. He swivelled around, and sure enough, they were directly heading for the rings. He lunged for the controls, but it was too late. The shields were out and the first unfiltered waves hit. With a scream he fell to the floor and pressed his arms against his chest. Clenching and unclenching his fingers. Soon though, he lost control over his hands’ movements. Cold sweat ran down his face.
“Cut them off! God! Cut them off, please!” He screamed in agony. Beverly retrieved a phaser, to help him, but before she even took her third step, she doubled over in pain.


Chapter 26

Leeway had slept much longer than was his habit, but after the strain of yesterday’s events, no one would mention it. With long strides he walked down the ramp to the command chairs. Peter was sitting at his station and was monitoring the traffic to and from the Enterprise.
“Report, Lieutenant!” Leeway ordered.
“The patients have been transferred and those, who will come back with us, are being transferred right now. The Admiral took a shuttle with the Ambassador to pick up retired Admiral Picard and his wife. They signalled a few minutes ago that they had taken off.” Leeway nodded satisfied.
“Is shuttlebay three still out of bounds?”
“Yes, sir. Just like the Admiral ordered.” A warning klaxon sounded from tactical and the Commander’s upper body nearly turned 180 degrees.
“What is happening?” He asked in his booming voice. The Lieutenant worked on his controls and then looked ashen faced at his superior.
“The Admiral’s shuttle is out of control and dangerously close to the planet’s rings.” A low rumbling began in Leeway’s throat.
“Why didn’t we see this before?”
“The shuttle was coming from behind the planet, sir. As you know, we are in a geo-stationary orbit. Sir.” The young man stuttered. Leeway turned back toward the screen and drew himself up.
“Red Alert! Bring us in on them, Mr. Galin. Full impulse!”
“Yes, sir.” Immediate activity broke out on the bridge, as the Enterprise broke orbit.
“Prepare to drop shields and to tow the shuttle in. Signal Sickbay and tell Doctor S’Mat to come to shuttlebay three. Only her! No one else!” Leeway knew that he was fighting time itself now. If they would come too late, nothing would be left of the Admiral and the others. He only hoped they would get there in time.

Barely conscious Beverly was able to lift her head. She pulled herself forward with one hand. She had to help Will, her oath resounding in her head. She had sworn never to cause harm. Now she had and she wanted to help him. He was pale and sweating profusely, while shaking uncontrollably, still pressing his arms against his stomach. He was too far away. She flopped onto her back and looked back and smiled. It worked. She saw how the light came back into the eyes of the man she loved more than life itself. He was in pain, as all of them.
“Beverly.” He whispered. A tear ran down her cheek.
“What is happening?” His voice was raw with the strain of speaking. The blue and silver light of the rings filling the shuttle with a surreal glow.
“Something wonderful. Something miraculous.” Her whisper was so low, that he didn’t hear her. Before she passed out, she saw a huge shadow falling on them. Maybe this was the end, but it didn’t matter to her. She had achieved her goal. She had been able to heal him. With a content sigh she closed her eyes and gave herself over to the darkness.
Soon though, the shuttle was filled with blue light. The blue shimmer of a tractor beam. As the Enterprise extended her shields around the small shuttle, the pain subsided and Riker was able to draw a deep breath. Slowly the knotted muscles of his back relaxed and he rolled onto his back. His hands and arms were still shaking with the tingling remembrance of the pain. He tried to think, but his head felt heavy and his mind seemed to be filled with an impenetrable fog.
“Deanna?” He whispered, hoping that she was all right. He lifted his hand and stroked over his face. Shocked he stopped in the middle of the movement. No! This couldn’t be! He closed his eye tight and shook his head. This could not be true. Slowly he opened his eye again and stared out the front view port. The Enterprise’s warp nacelles were coming into view and he knew that the shuttle was being towed into the bay. He only hoped that Leeway knew what was to do. He tried to move, but all his muscles burned with the strain. As they passed the bay doors and force field, he was able to sit up. Ever so slowly, he pushed himself up onto his feet and stumbled to the back. He didn’t look right nor left; his head to heavy to lift it.
With a loud clang, the shuttle made contact with the floor of the bay. The moment Riker had been waiting for. With a hiss the gangway came slowly down. As it had opened wide enough, he just let himself fall, knowing that there would be people waiting for him. He was not mistaken. Strong arms caught him and lifted him easily. He knew it was Leeway.
“I have him, Doctor. Check on the others.” A slim form slipped past them. S’Mat. The Vulcan was very quick, when she chose. Softly his First Officer put him on the floor. With effort, Riker was able to grab Leeway’s arm.
“Please, Commander. Please tell me that I am wrong.” He whispered his voice raw with the strain. Leeway’s face said it all and Riker closed his eye.
“Commander!” S’Mat’s voice seemed unnaturally laden with emotion. Immediately Leeway stood and went after her into the shuttle. With a gasp he froze. He had anticipated this, but seeing it…It was astonishing.
Deanna held her head, moaned and pushed herself up on one hand. Her vision swam before her eyes.
“What happened?” She whispered. S’Mat sat down next to her and ran a scan with her tricorder.
“You were drugged.” The Vulcan stated and raised an eyebrow, seemingly surprised. Deanna nodded and rubbed her head again.
“Yes.” She whispered faintly. “I…I remember that Beverly gave me a hypo, just after there was a malfunction in…” Her voice trailed off. Her head snapped around to Leeway.
“No. She…she wouldn’t.” Leeway stared at his feet. He and S’Mat were blocking her view of Beverly and Picard. Deanna was deadly pale.
“Give me a mirror.” She ordered. Leeway breathed deeply.
“Ambassador, maybe you should first…”
“I said give me a mirror.” Her voice was ice cold and laden with menace. S’Mat was surprised to see, how the tall man flinched and immediately retrieved one. Deanna snapped it from his hand, shot him a dark look, and then looked into it. Her eyes grew rounder and rounder. Softly she began touching her face, her hand shaking.
“No. This can’t be true. Please, dear Gods, this cannot be true.” The face looking back from the mirror was one she knew. But from when she had been twenty.

Furious Ilvan paced in front of the shuttlebay. Why wouldn’t they let him in? Something had gone wrong during the flight and he only wanted to see his wife and see to it, that she was okay. This insufferable Commander had denied him entrance though. How dared he! Ilvan was married to the highest ranking Ambassador of the Federation. Didn’t that account for anything?! He huffed and folded his arms.
He wasn’t even able to read the thoughts of those inside, since the Alin-Avya was shielding everyone inside the bay. Breaking through the gargantuan officer’s shields was like an ant trying to run down a concrete wall.
Again he punched the PADD next to the door, hurting his fingers in the process.
“Can I come in now, Commander? I demand to see my wife!” He seldom commanded, but now he did.
*I am sorry, Mr. Troi, but as of now, the shuttlebay is a restricted area.*
“Very well then. If I cannot see my wife, can I at least talk to her?” There was a slight pause at the other end.
*Ilvan?* He jumped at hearing her soft voice.
“Mihari! Are you all right?”
*Yes, Ilvan. Don’t worry, I am fine. Doctor S’Mat is taking care of me.* His brow furrowed in confusion.
“Why can’t I come in then? Is it because of the retired Admiral?” Deanna sighed loudly.
*No, Ilvan. Please be patient. I will explain it to you, as soon as Admiral Riker deems it appropriate for us to leave.* At this, Ilvan had to scowl. What business had Riker confining his wife to a shuttlebay?
“Since when does he…”
*I am sorry, Ilvan, but this is what I can tell you. Please be patient. Troi out.*

Inside the shuttlebay the oppressive silence after Ilvan’s call could have been cut. Leeway and S’Mat were going about helping the four people, who had come out of the fountain of youth. Riker sat alone, his head in his hands away from them all.
Why would this happen to him? Why now? He had hoped that within five or a few more years he would be dead and everything would have been over. The pain and the memories gone. Now he would have to live another life over again. Between fingers he peered over at Deanna and had to sigh again. She looked exactly like the first time he had seen her. Well…except for the fact that she was wearing a dress. If she would spend this new life with him, it would be worth it, but this would be impossible for her. He would constantly remind her of what had happened…No, she wouldn’t ever want to stay with him.
Apart from that, now that she was so young again, she was no longer barren. She and Ilvan could have the children they wanted. No chance for Riker.
Beverly was totally oblivious to Will’s and Deanna’s suffering. She sat next to Picard, who was aware of where and who he was for the first time in many years. He looked very different to when she had met him again on the Enterprise D. His head was no longer a pate, but filled with full, light brown hair and his wiry form had more substance. All the wrinkles were gone and she admired how handsome he was. She had seen him on pictures from his youth, but seeing it like this, showed her, how sexy he had been. He was still a little confused about what had happened. Understandable. He looked to her, took her hand and a bright smile lit up his features. She had to sigh and pressed a kiss on his knuckles. She had cured him.


Chapter 27

Leeway sat on his haunches in front of Riker and scratched his neck. He didn’t know how to take care of this problem. He had sworn to protect this man and now he had failed him.
“Are you alright, Sir?” The Admiral started chuckling. It was a bitter sound.
“No, Leeway. I am not alright. I am twenty-five again and will have to live another life over again.” His voice was only a whisper.
“I don’t think it will be that bad, Sir.” The Admiral didn’t deem this an answer and just looked through his fingers at his First Officer. Leeway couldn’t hold his superior’s gaze and stared at his boots.
“It will be this bad and probably worse.” With a sigh the Admiral shook his head and stood, assuming his normal commanding posture.
“Contact the Federation Council and tell them what happened. We can’t let this come out. It would endanger the peace of the Ba’Ku.” Leeway nodded and went to the bay’s control console.
Now to the hard part. Riker breathed in deeply and turned around to the three people he had spent most of his life with.
“Commander Leeway will contact the Federation Council. They will decide what happens.” Deanna looked straight at him.
“What do you mean with ‘They will decide what happens.’?”
“I mean exactly that. We cannot endanger the Ba’Ku by just walking out of here, as if nothing happened. Look at us, Ambassador! We look like we are in our twenties again. How can we explain that?”
“But…Ilvan…and…and Mother. This is not acceptable! I demand to be let out of this shuttlebay immediately!” Their faces grew hard as stone.
“I am sorry, Ambassador, but I must deny your request.” Riker had seldom seen Deanna angry, but there had never been a comparison to the rage she obviously was feeling now.
“You haven’t changed one bit! You still think that you can control my life and what happens to me, but that is over! It stopped on Merivas IV and…” She stopped cold.
“If you see it that way, fine.” The Admiral was able to bring out between clenched teeth. He had fisted his hands and she saw how his jaw muscles worked hard. With a burning glare he turned away from her. Deanna didn’t know what to say. She had been so angry, but she didn’t want to injure him in this manner. It just had slipped out.
Leeway was waving Riker over to the console.
“The Council wishes to see for themselves, Sir.” He explained as soon as Riker was close enough to hear his whisper. The Admiral only nodded and stepped behind the console.
“Sirs.” He greeted the wide-eyed assembly with a nod.
“Admiral…Riker??” The Council spokesman seemed to be totally baffled.
“Yes, Sir.” Hushed conversations began immediately to turn the Council chamber into a buzzing hive.
“Is your condition comparable to that of the Ambassador and the Picards?”
“Yes, Sir. Due to a failure and a short-out the shuttle was spinning out of control. We were saved by the Enterprise before we made contact with the rings.”
Riker couldn’t see it, but Beverly had been very tense when Will began explaining of why it all had happened. He peered up at her when he was finished. She saw understanding in his eyes.
He knew what it meant to be so desperate to do everything to help the one you loved. He would turn back Time in another way if he had the opportunity, regardless of what consequences it might have on others. A tear ran down her cheek and she nodded almost imperceptibly in his direction. He didn’t nod back, but he didn’t have to. She could see it in his eyes.
“How many crewmembers are aware of your…altered state?”
“Only my First Officer and the CMO. No one else.” The spokesman shortly conferred with his colleagues and then turned back toward the screen.
“On orders from the Federation Council, you are all from now on under quarantine, until the Council decides otherwise.” At this, the Admiral’s eyes grew slightly larger.
“Sir, I feel that I must object. Both Ambassador Troi and I have meetings to attend to. The Enterprise is scheduled to meet with the Romulan Warbird Kalvesh next week.”
“We are well aware of that fact, but in order to protect the Ba’Ku, we need to keep this a secret. Council out.” As soon as the screen went black, Riker began to swear as he hadn’t in many years. As he looked up, he saw Leeway’s concerned face.
“What happens now, Sir?” Riker sighed and stroke with his fingers through his hair.
“I haven’t got the faintest idea, Commander.” He admitted on a sigh.

When the Council hadn’t called back in after half an hour, Riker decided for them to all be quarantined in their quarters. It posed no problem for him or the Picards, but he knew that Deanna wouldn’t like his next piece of information.
“Ambassador, in view of our current state and because the Council has not answered yet, I must confine you to single quarters.” As he had thought, her eyes flashed with anger. Before she could say anything, he went on. “I know you wish to return to your husband, but to keep the Ba’Ku save we cannot risk that. Please try to understand.” Her face went blank and neutral.
“Of course, Admiral. We live only to serve, don’t we?” He sighed and turned to Leeway. The First Officer had waited at a distance for him to utter orders.
“Beam us to our quarters and when the Council calls back, reroute it to me.”
“Yes, Sir. Sir, if I may, what am I supposed to tell the crew?”
“Quite easy, Commander. Tell them that we were injured and that the CMO placed us under quarantine in separate quarters. They all know that S’Mat will not give them any further information and most of them are scared of you.” Leeway nodded and went to the control panel.

After another two hours the Council called back. It was a text only call and after the Admiral had read it, he slumped in his chair and buried his face in his hands. Deanna would hate him even more for the information he was about to relay to them all.
“Computer, open a channel to the Picards and Deanna Troi.” With a beep the computer replied and Riker straightened in his chair.
“Good evening. I just received the answer from the Council.” He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “As of now, all of us are officially dead. Riker out.”
He shook his head and sat alone in his dark quarters in front of his screen. All these years of service, the pain and losses he had faced and that was how they thanked him for it. With an angry roar he swiped his desk clean.


Chapter 28

With strong, purposeful strides Leeway entered the bridge and assumed his normal position in front of the command chairs. Emrar creased his brow, when he saw that the commander was wearing his black sash. Peter threw an inquiring look in his direction, but the Andorian had no idea what to make of this. He didn’t really know about the meaning this sash had, but he knew that Leeway reacted quite emotionally when asked. The Alin-Avya stood perfectly at attention.
“Computer, open a ship-wide channel.” With a beep the computer complied. “Attention all decks and stations. This is Commander Leeway speaking. I am very sorry to inform you that the Admiral, the Ambassador and the Picard’s died from the wounds they suffered during their shuttle accident.” It was as if everything had stopped aboard the Enterprise. No one moved and no one spoke. Most didn’t even breathe. The news they had just received were to humungous that they would be able to take them just in stride. Most were of the firm conviction that the Admiral couldn’t die. He was a living legend. He had survived some of the fiercest battles of the war and to now die in a simple shuttle accident…it didn’t seem probable.
Peter was gaping openly at Leeway. He too was of the conviction that this couldn’t be true. He looked to Emrar for confirmation and saw to his astonishment that the helmsman was crying. And not only him. Several of the bridge crew had tears running freely down their faces.
“We will miss you, Sir. I will endeavour to lead this crew as you would have wanted it. Ne`Quarien olu Bein`ja.” When Leeway lifted his head, the sadness in his eyes was so deep that Peter first now realized that it really was true. The commander had been inside the Shuttlebay. He had seen the Admiral die. The Alin-Avya’s last words were the best proof for the Admiral’s death. Peter only knew snippets of their language, but he was able to translate this. ‘Farewell my loved brother.’ It was only a loose translation, since the words contained much more than just this. They had a multitude of meanings, among them emotions and thoughts of the loved one. He had soon discovered that to be able to speak the Alin-Avya language and understand it fully, one had to be a skilled telepath. The only one able to understand Leeway’s message fully was probably Tdanie.
She wasn’t on the bridge though. She was with the teenage group. They had been rehearsing for a concert. It was probably the best that she was with them. The Admiral’s loss would hit Renn, Larek and Navin the hardest. He had been a kind of father figure for them. Their whole future was now again a ruin, where there before had been unlimited perspectives. Peter had heard that Leeway would try to command the Enterprise like the Admiral, but the problem was that he had just been promoted to the rank of Commander and Inalo doubted that Starfleet would give him the command permanently. They would send a new Captain and what he would do with the war orphans aboard nobody knew.

After three days, the Enterprise stopped at Lunaria IV, as scheduled. The entire spaceport and dock personnel were wearing black bands around their arms.
When Leeway left the shuttle, to help in lugging some of the larger spare parts, he could already feel someone approach, whom he hoped he would meet some weeks later. Lwaxana Troi.
<Leeway! Tell me that it isn’t true. Deanna can’t be dead!> With a deep sigh the Alin-Avya turned around and was shocked at what he saw. Normally Lwaxana Troi was very specific and precise in the way she dressed, loving flamboyancy, but now, nothing could be seen of this. Her hair was dishevelled and her dress was simple, straight and black.
<Lwaxana, I am sorry for your loss…> He started out, but she fell into his thoughts.
<No! It can’t be true. I would have felt it! She must still be alive.> Mister Homn stood behind the Troi matriarch, silent as ever. Leeway closed his eyes, grabbed Lwaxana at her arm and drew her away from the crowd, which had begun assembling.
He knew he could go to jail for what he wanted to do next, but it didn’t interest him one bit. He had known Lwaxana for a long time. She had helped him to gain access to the Betazoid University and had provided him with a home. For that he felt obliged to tell her the truth.
<Listen Lwaxana, what I am about to tell you, you can’t tell anyone else. Is that clear?> Puzzled Lwaxana stared at him. Nervously he looked around, making sure that no one saw them or possibly tried to listen in on their conversation.
<What do you mean that I can’t tell anyone?>

<What? Tell me, Leeway!> Desperately she clung to his uniform.
<Deanna didn’t die.> Lwaxana was totally thunderstruck.
<But…but the news…and the Federation Council…>
<They all lied to you. They had to cover up what happened to Deanna, the Admiral and the Picards. For the time being they are in our settlement, where they will remain until they have made a decision what they wish to do with their new lives. The Picards have already discussed this with the Council. They will provide them with new identities and see to it that they can go back to France. Concerning Deanna and the Admiral, nothing had been ascertained yet.> It seemed as if a big weight had been lifted from Lwaxana’s shoulders.
<Can I see her? When is the next transport leaving for your home?>
<In about twenty minutes. You know how to call for them to pick you up.> Concerned he put his hand on her shoulder.
<Yes, I know. I still don’t understand why you won’t let anyone just fly into your town.>
<We would have to take down trees for that and that, we would never do. Just call for them and they will take you to them.> With a thankful smile Lwaxana hugged him.
<Thank you for the truth.> He only nodded and looked after her, as she made her way through the throng of people. She still seemed to be only eighty, but he knew her to be much older. With regular intervals she visited the Ba’Ku. She didn’t even have to make special appeals to the Federation Council. They send her there most of the time, because they still needed her.
“Commander!” A voice called from the landing pad and he made his way over to the officer.

Will Riker breathed deeply and folded both his hands about the mug of tea. Reverently he sipped from the hot beverage. It always helped to calm him. Only Kalita knew how to make it properly. She had given him the leaves, so that he could make the tea himself aboard ship. It was never as good or as calming as hers. His legs were hanging down from the platform, upon which Leeway’s and his wife’s house was built. A wooden fence, against which he was leaning, prevented him from falling about twenty metres. The other trees around had similar houses and platforms and all were teeming with life. It was quiet though, only sometimes broken by laughter or the soft singing of different groups.
He had always admired the Alin-Avya settlement for the feeling of tranquillity which permeated it. Nobody was in a hurry, nobody was feeling in the wrong place at the wrong time and nobody felt useless. Unlike him. He had been at the wrong place at the wrong time and now he was useless. All the knowledge he had acquired over the decades were no good to anyone, since he was officially dead. He would never be able to use it, because most would ask where he knew certain things from and he wouldn’t be able to explain.
Sighing he leaned his head on his arm and stared down. He heard the soft rustling of fabric next to him and shortly afterwards, Kalita was sitting beside him.
“What are you thinking about?” She asked in her soft voice. She was at least two heads taller than Riker, her skin a light grey, while her hair was sparklingly white. He sipped from his tea and closed his eyes shortly.
“What I am thinking about…That’s a good question. I am thinking about what to do with my life.”
“Reached any conclusion yet?” She asked. He looked up and stared across to the next house. Kalita followed his gaze. Deanna had left the house, attired in one of the Alin-Avya’s flowing dresses, her hair braided intricately and looking for Riker like an angel. She seemed to feel their stares, turned around and met Riker’s eyes with a deep sadness in her own. She turned away and walked around the house to the other end of it.
Helplessly Riker watched, his jaw muscles working hard. He stared at the mug of tea in his hands and Kalita nodded.
“I understand.” She only said.
“You understand nothing.” Riker snapped back. He immediately regretted what he had said. Kalita lifted her hand and her blue eyes were full of compassion.
“No need to apologise. You have been through a lot, Bein’ja.” With a weak smile he looked up at her.
“Thanks for being so understanding and for putting up with me.” She smiled brightly and shook her head.
“It’s really no problem. I’ve been alone for quite some time and enjoy the company.” He creased his brow.
“Didn’t you and Leeway mate for conception? He had mentioned something along those lines to me.” She seemed shy, but nodded.
“Yes. We had planned it like that, but I think he still wants to experience so much more and I don’t want to stop him or hold him back.” Riker shook his head.
“Don’t worry. He will probably only stay long enough with the Enterprise to see to it that everything stays as it was and then he will come back. That will only take a few weeks.”
“If he had you for support, maybe, but without you, he will have to struggle every step of the way. It will take him much longer to arrange everything according to your wishes.” He sighed and drew his fingers through his hair.
“Then I’ll tell him to let the ship sail itself and come home.” She stared at him.
“But…Your ship and the crew?! Surely you care about what happens to them.”
“Of course I do, but it is out of my hands. I am dead and if I am honest, I am tired too. All these years, everyone depended upon me to come up with something.” He sighed deeply and closed his eyes. “I gave everything I had, Kalita. Now I wish to rest.” She smiled understandingly and drew his head to her shoulder. He let his air slowly slip and relaxed into her. Within moments he was fast asleep.

Deanna watched this unfold from around a corner. She could read him like a book, even from this distance. He was tired. He felt useless. He had no purpose. His entire life had always been driven by different goals he wanted to attain.
The first was to be the youngest Captain in Starfleet. The second to marry her. The third, to have a working family. A goal they had never been able to meet. The fourth had been to become one of the most influential officers in Starfleet. Now he was where he had started off and the energy to do it all again was simply not there. And to be honest…she didn’t know if she had the will or the energy herself to go on. With a deep sigh she closed her eyes and let herself sink down onto the floor. Suddenly she felt utterly fatigued.
She was alone. Contact to her friends or her husband and mother were forbidden to her. For all intents and purposes, she was dead. Tears rolled down her cheeks. On a certain level she could understand Beverly and if it would have been possible, Deanna would gladly have turned back time to rescue her son. On another level Deanna was furious. Beverly and Picard were happy together, free to live another life over, in which they could have everything they wanted, while she…While she had to manage on her own.
<Little One?> Deanna opened her eyes wide. Was it possible?
<Mother?> She sent out and was quickly answered by a rush of relief. Shortly after that, she saw how one of the youngsters clambered over the fence, carrying her mother on his back.
“Thank you, young man.” He only nodded with a smile and with an elegant jump vanished into the leaves of the tree. Lwaxana turned around and stared at Deanna.
<Gods! You look like twenty again, Little One.>
<Yes. That is the reason why I am ‘dead’.> Lwaxana nodded and both women sat down.
Deanna sighed.
<The same. If you want to see for yourself…> She pointed across the gulf between the trees to Kalita, who still was holding a sleeping Riker. Lwaxana was struck speechless again. After a few moments, she found her ‘voice’ again.
<He looks just like when I first saw him.> Deanna only nodded. She didn’t want to think of how they had first met and what that first meeting had brought on.


Chapter 29

Larek and Renn were sitting in Ten Forward and stared into their drinks. They both knew that with the death of the Admiral, their future was a much different one than the one they had started painting for themselves.
“How is Navin?” Renn asked in a low voice. Larek sighed and rubbed his brow.
“Bad. She isn’t talking to anyone and she keeps a lock on her door. Every time I call on her, she asks if I am alone or if someone is with me to take her away. She is deadly afraid of going back to an orphanage.” He sipped from his drink and fisted his other hand. “I will not allow them to take her back to that orphanage! If she has to go, I will go with her and give these bastards a bad surprise!” Quickly Renn put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Larek. I don’t think that Leeway would ever permit that she would have to return there. Before that would happen, he would find a different place for her.”
“Why can’t we just stay with them? I mean, I’ve already been there and…and you and the others too! Why can’t we just live with the Alin-Avya? We are here right now. We could just disembark and…”
“And then what? What Larek?! Would you be happy living in a tree, without the commodities of a starship? I don’t think so.” Renn sighed deeply and both teenagers stared again into their drinks.
“Yes. Yes, you are right. I wouldn’t be happy there.” Larek looked up again and caught Renn’s eyes. “But now that the Admiral’s gone, there is no place for us aboard the ship. You know that as much as I do. The only reason why we were allowed to stay aboard was because of him and the considerable influence he has. That’s over now.” Angry Renn hit the table with his fist.
“Don’t you think I know that?!” His angry scream turned the heads of all the people in the room in their direction. Renn felt his cheeks redden and bowed his head.
“Sorry.” He muttered. After throwing them compassionate glances, the crew turned their attention back to what they were doing before.
The doors hissed open and both boys looked up. Laliaru walked in and close behind her was Navin. Larek immediately stood and walked quickly over to them. He didn’t know how Lali had managed to work the miracle and get Navin to leave her quarters. He just wanted to make her trip outside her quarters as enjoyable as possible.
“Navin! It’s so good to see you. Lali, how did you get her to leave her quarters?” The Andorian smiled and Navin’s cheeks turned a bright red.
“She forgot something in my room the last time she slept over and I threatened to read it aloud over ships com, if she wouldn’t come out.” Larek raised an eyebrow.
“But…what could be so important…”
“It’s of no consequence. I’m here now and I don’t know why.” Navin sighed and rubbed her arms as if she were cold. At once Larek was next to her, having laid an arm around her shoulders and guiding her towards his table.
“You are here, because you wanted company.” Courteously he pulled the chair out for her and helped her sit, before he sat down himself. Lali had found her seat next to Renn herself.
“So, what have the two of you been discussing?” Lali asked. Silence enveloped them.
“We’ve been talking about that we have no idea what is going to happen to us.” Answered Larek calmly.
“What do you mean, you have no idea? You are of course going to stay on the Enterprise, along with the rest of us.” She took a sip from Renn’s glass. Renn rubbed his hands slowly.
“Lali, it is not that we don’t want to stay, but as soon as Starfleet has sent another Captain and Leeway no longer has absolute authority and allows us to remain aboard…We will have to go.” She stared at him unbelieving. He looked her straight in the eyes.
“Larek, Navin and I will have to leave the Enterprise. Sooner or later, there is no way around it.” Laliaru seemed totally thunderstruck. She turned to Larek and Navin. Both seemed very sad and serious. She saw how Navin snuggled up closer to Larek and how he pulled her closer to him.
“That’s…no…I, I mean…they can’t.” She turned back to Renn and took his hand in hers. “They can’t send you away!” Her voice was nearly choked out by her tears. He closed his eyes and kissed her hand.
“I have no choice.” He whispered and pulled her to him. She clung to him and cried.

Maria was sitting in her quarters and for the first time in her life, she actually needed light. Karf was sitting on her sofa and had a mug of coffee in his hand. She sat opposite him and stared into nothingness.
“Maria? Maria, are you still here?” He waved his hand in front of her face. Startled she blinked and sat back.
“What?” Karf smiled lopsidedly.
“You seemed as if you were light-years away. What’s wrong?” She shook her head and concentrated on what they had been doing before; namely playing chess.
“It’s just…I didn’t really know Admiral Riker or the others, who died in that crash, but still…” She moved her Queen. “All of the others are so sad. And most of them have no idea what is going to happen to them!” He huffed and began stroking his chin. She had teased him about him only doing it, because it led ones attention to the small patch of beard, which started to grow there.
“You shouldn’t be so selfless Maria. You have no idea yourself.” She sighed.
“I know that you may think that, but I actually have quite a grip on my life.” He raised one eyebrow and looked into her eyes over the chess board. He was amazed at their deep brown colour.
“Oh don’t look like that at me! You may not believe me, but I have a pretty good idea what I am going to do.” Smug she leaned back and crossed her arms in front of herself.
“Someone is overly confident here and it isn’t me.” Karf smiled and moved his Tower. “Check.” He announced confidently.
“Now, who is overconfident?” She asked and raised an eyebrow herself. He only smiled and motioned for her to make her move.
“Just try to save your King.” She shook her head and sipped from her coffee.
“I will, don’t worry.” She creased her brow in deep thought. “You know, it’s actually more difficult when I can actually see the board.” He laughed at that.
“I thought it would be easier for you, or is this a bad try of yours, excusing your loss?” She smirked and shook her head.
“Aren’t we the cocky one?” He toasted her with his mug of coffee. “No, I think it is because there is so much happening around me that I can’t properly concentrate. When I was blind, I could kind of shut off my hearing. It was only me and the chess board. Well, now it is a little more complicated.” She smiled and looked up. He smiled back at her. At first it had disturbed her that his teeth were sharpened, but now she didn’t care anymore. He had his peculiarities and she had hers. It was as simple as that.
“You just want to distract me from the game.”
“Hardly. If I wanted to do that, I could just parade around naked in here.” At that his eyes got round and he swallowed the wrong way, which resulted in him coughing loudly. She on the other hand laughed loudly.
“Next time you say something like that, warn me or wait until I am finished drinking.” He managed to bring out after a few minutes. She inclined her head.
“As you wish.” After having said that, she seemed to dismiss him and the rest of the world from her perception. He sighed and watched her.
He liked her. Very much actually. And that was his problem. He didn’t want her to leave. She was the first person, who’d ever taken it upon herself to become his friend. He always claimed that he wanted to go to Qo’Nos and attend school there, but it wasn’t really true. He had wanted to go there, because he thought it would be the only place where he would be able to find friends. Maria and the music group had taught him differently and now he found that he didn’t want to loose his new friend.
“Where will you go?” He asked softly. Confused Maria looked up.
“What do you mean?” He sighed and stared into his mug.
“I mean, where will you go after we reach Earth?”
“Ah.”, was all she said, as she sat back in her chair. “I have an audition with the UFP Orchestra. If that doesn’t work out, I will probably try and do some of my own stuff.” She looked back at the chess game. He nodded slowly.
“So that means that you will travel a lot.” He finally said. She shook her head, but didn’t look at him.
“Not really. The Orchestra rarely leaves Earth, since most of the major organisations have their seat on Earth or within the Solar system. As for myself…I don’t really want to travel that much. For most, space is a place of wonder and adventure. For me, it is only a place of death. It was responsible for my mother and father dying, so I am not that enthusiastic about seeing more of it.” She reached out with her hand, but retracted it again.
“You probably won’t believe me, but I think I understand.” He balanced his mug on his knee. She looked up at him.
“Why wouldn’t I believe you? I know that you would never lie to me. To anyone.” He smiled and nodded.
“That’s probably true.” She smiled herself.
“Not only probably.” Triumphant she moved her last Pawn. “Check and Mate!” She proclaimed with a deeply satisfied voice. Unbelieving he stared at the board.
“You cheated!” She laughed at that and at his unbelieving face.
“How would I have been able to cheat? You were here the entire time!”
“I don’t know how you did it, but you cheated. I had you!” He huffed and crossed his arms. She smiled slightly, while bowing her head so that he couldn’t see it.
“Fine, fine, I cheated, you win.” He sniffed and helped her rearrange the pieces on the board.
“At least you are honourable enough to admit it.” He heard her snort, but didn’t connect it with her barely being able to keep her mirth inside.

Nikolaj was sitting in his quarters along with Emrar, Antonia, Tdanie and Peter. They hadn’t planned it, it just kind of happened. At first Emrar had shown up. Then Antonia had come home from work early. She had said that she’d been concerned for Nikolaj all the time and couldn’t concentrate. Tdanie had come later on, claiming that it was her duty as ships Counsellor to look in on them. On the other hand she also knew that Nikolaj was one of the few persons aboard, who could cheer her up, no matter what. Peter had come to Nikolaj, because Tdanie was there. He was concerned for her, because she was pulling many double shifts and helping the entire crew to come to terms with the death of the Admiral.
“Do any of you know what is going to happen?” Emrar threw the question into the room. None of them answered for a time. Nikolaj sighed and leaned back.
“We will return to Earth and then Starfleet will send us a new Captain. I doubt that they will send us on a mission before we have a new commanding officer.” Astounded Peter looked at the tall Russian. Antonia smiled.
“Your accent! It’s gone.” Nikolaj smiled sadly.
“It’s not as much fun anymore.” He admitted. Emrar pushed his glass around the table.
“Well, I won’t miss it. It made understanding you very difficult in some situations. I bet your staff will rejoice too.” Nikolaj crossed his arms in front of his broad chest and turned away, pretending to be insulted. Tdanie smiled and looked to Antonia. The hostess slapped Nikolaj on his shoulder. ‘Hurt’ he turned to her.
“Stop being such a baby, or I start treating you as one.” His face split into a huge smile.
“That has its advantages.” He spoke this thought out loud.
“Really? I thought that running around in diapers would be pretty embarrassing.” She nonchalantly patted his behind and rose from her seat. His eyes got round as balls and Emrar, Tdanie and Peter were barely able to keep from laughing.
“I suppose I didn’t think about that.” Nikolaj admitted.
They sat for a time in silence, until Antonia came back with drinks for all of them. Nikolaj sighed.
“Toni. You’re at home and not in the lounge. You’re off duty so to speak.”
“That may be, but we still have guests.” He pulled her onto his lap.
“I know, but they all know where the replicator is and how to operate it.” Peter leaned over to Tdanie and Emrar.
“So much for the famed Russian hospitality.” He murmured loud enough so that everybody could hear him. Antonia was able to stifle her laughter, while Nikolaj didn’t look amused at all.
“Neverr insuuld my chomecontri.” Emrar closed his eyes and raised his hands in defeat.
“See what you have done Peter? We had just gotten rid of it and now its back!” Tdanie put her hand on Emrar’s shoulder.
“You can try and pretend all you want, Avin, but Nikolaj and I know that you like this accent, just like the rest of the crew. Something would be missing if Nikolaj would no longer do it.” The Andorian sighed, looked into her face and then looked to Nikolaj and Antonia.
“Well…yeah, you might have something there.” All smiled at that admission, since it never really had been a question of if he would make it, only when.
“I new yu wud chome around somedai, Avin.” Nikolaj congratulated him.