Second Sight




*7^%8#@*&@~ (Wow my disclaimer seems to have been assimilated)

Second Sight



Will Riker, first officer of the Enterprise E proceeded to verify the readiness of the ship, making sure all decks were prepared before the Captain gave his order. He half listened to Worf and Geordi confirm to Picard that they'd gone undetected by the Vulcans, a tiny piece of himself wishing he could be on the surface, taking part in this breakthrough in Earth's history.

"All decks report ready." He said upon hearing his Captain give the order to recreate the vortex. He settled into his comfortable chair, feeling only the gentle rumble of the ships engines under his feet, he smiled inwardly......The Enterprise may be a beautiful ship, and the future they were heading back to was filled with promise, but he was sure he would never again feel the intensity of emotions he had in accompanying Cochrane on his maiden flight.

"Data, lay in a course for the twenty fourth century,"

Riker smiled as Picard offered him a sidelong glance before continuing, "I suspect we have a future waiting for us."

"Course laid in Sir." Data said, his face baring the evidence of his ordeal with the Borg queen, a visual reminder of what they'd averted.

"Make it so." Picard ordered, punctuating it with his usual gesture.

Will offered a whisper of a smile to Deanna before turning to the view screen as the swirling blue and white lights of the vortex opened invitingly and beckoned them home.


"Go....Go.....Go!" A haggard Will Riker shouted his command, physically pushing a few of his team through the tiny opening.

"Detonation in three minutes." Kevin Hutchinson, his best friend gave the warning and wiped a hand over his dirt smeared face. Hutch had saved his life three years ago in a raid on Vulcan, a raid similar to this one, and the dozens of others he'd been on in the last ten years. Target and destroy all the Borg homing towers they could get their hands on, destroy the hives and do your damnedest to hold them at bay.

Will nodded an acknowledgment, "Where's Carley?"

"I thought she came out, she said she had one more charge to set....but that was five minutes ago." Hutch narrowed his green eyes, they darkened with concern.

"I'll go get her!" He announced, brushing his sandy hair behind his shoulder.

Will slapped a hand on his friends shoulder, "Like hell you will.....get out."

His words were muffled by the crash of the first charge, and the hollow sound that followed.

"We're gonna have company." Will said, cocking his head towards the jungle of brown wires and circuits behind them.


Both men exchanged an urgent look, both men headed back towards the direction of the voice.

"Shit!" Will hissed, sheathing the polar-disrupter he held in his hand and pulling his laser pistol from its holster. Hutch followed suit, as always aware of what Will was going to do before he did it. They discharged four fiery bursts into the ceiling, another explosion intensifying their efforts and bringing the ceiling down in a tangle of live wires.

"I'm over here you idiots!"

Will and Hutch stumbled backward as the ground quaked, reaching Carley just as she climbed out of the fusion tube.

"You don't get a big enough thrill out of three minute delays, you gotta go for three seconds!" Will jerked her out of the tube and onto her feet with one rough tug, not allowing her to get her footing before pushing her through the opening.

Riker was barely through the vent before Hutch fired on it, crumbling the rock and sealing at least this little colonies fate.

" You couldn't wait until I was out?!" Will barked, brushing the sandy dirt from his hair as they headed to their ship.

The Retribution was the only ship left in the landing sight, the rest of the team had done the smart thing and gotten out before they woke the dead. Hutch had the engines of the small ship fired up before Will and Carley had started up the ramp.

"They didn't touch you in there did they?" He asked, taming his personal concerns and keeping only the tone of her superior.

"Nobody touches me," She said, blowing a few wisps of her black hair from her blue eyes, "Less I want them too." She added with a devious smirk, and a waggle of her brows.

"That's what I like to believe," He mumbled under his breath, "But I think I kn...." The muffled buzzing in the distance stalled his remark.

"BATS!" He shouted, shooting up the ramp past Carley and taking his seat beside Hutch. Bats; bio-animated-target-seekers, the weapon of choice for this plague calling itself Borg.......The deadly machines came in all sizes, able to seek, locate, and destroy without any risk to their creators.

"We really have to start planing better." He said with a grin, jerking the throttle of the retribution. The ship's engines thundered, shivered under the forced strain Riker was putting her under, she finally submitted to his manual manipulation. Carley came to rest between the two men, her hair falling into Riker's face, just as the small swarm of BATS came into view.

"Get your hair out of my face, or go below!" He ordered, spitting the strands away from his lips.

"They scanned us!" Hutch said, punching the weapons system, it sparked to life on the console.

"Guess that means Daddy will be here soon." Riker scowled, narrowing his eyes, watching the small swarm of BATS relay their signals, "We really have to start planing better."

"Lets start now then," Carley answered, knotting her hair at the nape of her neck.

"Fine," Hutch said, a snide smile tugging at his mouth, "you be the brains, we'll be the brawn."

"Sounds like a plan," Riker answered distractedly, toying with the readouts.

"Oh no..... you're the brains of the family brother dear, I was allotted the good looks." She smiled teasingly at Hutch, Will offered both of them only a momentary glance, and shook his head, "Think... don't flirt."

"It's waiting just above the atmosphere," Hutch said, tapping his finger against the tiny light that blipped on the screen.

"Then we better not go up there." He noted, checking for the location of the bats that had scanned them on the ground. "Hope nobody had lunch." He warned, chuckling as Carley second guessed his plan and ran to the back to strap in. He cut the engines, the ship plummeted down, he struggled to hold her straight, keep her on her belly until Hutch engaged the engines, "Let's shoot for five feet, stay low until we reach these coordinates." He cocked his head at the screen.

The BATS were smart, smarter then any machine he'd ever encountered, but they were still machines and thought with the logic of one......He just wondered how many more unorthodox maneuvers he was going to be able to come with before one of them outwitted him. He watched the altitude control, gripping the throttle with both hands when they hit thirteen feet.....The engines ignited, stabilizing the ship so quickly Riker felt his teeth jar in his head as he thrust the throttle forward and sent them cutting across the ruined landscape at sub-impulse.

"Anybody's down there they better duck." He said grinning, watching the view port begin to fog with the gases his objective was emitting. The active volcano ahead of them was emitting so much Methane gas, hydrochloric acid, and fluorine the Bats would never be able to detect them, of course they also wouldn't be able to stay here long.

"Go Carley! Blow off the deflector dish and give em a nice display of photon fire......leave em a nice piece of fuselage. We got about an hour before the hull starts to deteriorate."

He heard her groan as her footfalls slapped against the metal flooring of the ship, "Why does she bitch every time I ask her to do something?"

"Maybe cause you give her all the shit jobs." Hutch's chuckle fell off quickly, "Oh crap!"

Riker had also spotted the massive rock formation that had caused Hutch's reaction. "Stupid place to put a mountain of rocks." Will growled, wiping his sweat from his brow with a gloved hand.

"We can't go up....we gotta go through."

"We'll never get through, no way!" Hutch cautioned, simultaneously gripping the console as Will tilted the ship. "Hang on Carley!" He called as an afterthought.

"We may add to Carley's bluff with the real thing." He said, cringing as the retribution's hull squealed and sparked as it grazed the rocks it past. He heard the tearing of metal just as the ship pulled out of the gorge, he leveled her out and sent a sidelong glance to Hutch, "We gotta set down." He said, releasing the breath he'd been holding, and settling the ship in the first spot they came to.

"You jerk!" Carley's hand smacked him in the back of the head just as the engines wound down.

"I'm sorry." He said, "There's was no time to warn you."

"Are you all right?" Hutch asked her, taking her hand in his. She nodded down to him and half smiled, Riker breathed another sigh of relief.

"I'm going to suit up, see what kind of damage we did before we try to leave this place."

"You're not going out there." Carley intervened, her hostility from earlier overshadowed by concern.

"You wanna do it?" He asked, raising challenging brows.

"Maybe we should all go," Hutch tapped the screen in front of him, "Look at this."

"Lifesigns.......humanoid." Riker observed, narrowing his eyes at the screen, "OK.... lets get em out."


Riker ran a gloved hand over the hull of his ship, his groan echoing inside the heavy helmet and face covering he was wearing.

"She'll get us home, but I'm afraid we'll be grounded for a few days after that."

Through the Plexiglas covering of Hutch's helmet he could see his face screw up in disgust. He nodded an agreement.

"Will." The tone in Carley's voice drew his eyes to her, the look on her face caused his stomach to clench. She didn't have to say anymore, he'd seen the look before, but he glanced at the readouts on her hand-held scanner, confirming it for himself.

"Why can't we leave, maybe they'll just die." She begged, tugging his arm, attempting to drag him back to the ship.

"And maybe they won't." He heard the revulsion in his own voice, and for Carley's sake he tried to reign it in, "You stay inside.....we'll take care of it."

He hated this as much, if not more then Carley did, but the humanoid life signs were in a state of permutation, a state that warned they'd already been corrupted by the Borg mechanics. More then likely they'd escaped from a hatchery while still a breath of their humanity was functioning.. But he'd learned the hard way that once the process had begun, reverting their victims back was impossible ....killing them was the only way.

It's what he'd wish for himself and anyone he cared for, but that belief didn't make pulling the trigger any easier. Killing a full-blown Borg was difficult enough, he always found himself wondering if he'd known the person he'd just targeted with his polar-disruptor.. But killing those in permutation forced you to look into eyes that still retained a trace of their identity. His father had died in permutation, he'd been unable to kill him, and his hesitation had caused the death of someone he'd cared about, he vowed then he'd never allow emotions to stand in the way of the crusade again.

He gestured to Hutch, saw him squeeze Carley's hand, and watched her return to the ship, her shoulders slumped in defeat.

"You ready?" Hutch asked, unsnapping his laser pistol and gripping it tightly in his fist.

"Never ready." Will answered, "But lets get it over with."


Will tossed his heavy jacket on the only chair in his quarters and sprawled out on the bed. He closed his eyes and draped his arm across his face, attempting to free himself from the guilt he knew he shouldn't feel, and the eyes of those whose lives he'd taken. One of the five he'd been forced to kill was nothing more then a child, her large cobalt eyes had etched themselves in his brain, forcing him to relive her scared, but understanding look over and over.

"I'm so sorry." He said to no one in particular, massaging the lapis stone that hung loosely around his neck. It offered him a sense of security, an inner peace that seemed to tame the demons he dealt with each day. Dark eyes replaced the cobalt ones in his mind, they looked on him with a liquid expression that transcended time and space, and created an almost tangible image behind his closed eyes. It had been two years since he'd seen her, since his relocation mission to Betazed, but his feeling for her had never changed, and somewhere deep inside of himself he knew he'd see her again.

He heard the rap on his door and ignored it, he knew who it was, and giving her permission to enter wasn't necessary.. Just as he'd predicted the doors hissed open.

"Mom,.....I'm fine, just tired......Carley's fine too." He said, holding his Mother's muted blue eyes with his own vibrant ones.

"I know, I checked her already......She said you had to...." Her words trailed off, and her voice broke. He closed his eyes and nodded his head, the bed creaked as his mother sat down.

"I know how difficult this is Will, I'm so sorry that your life has been filled with so much pain."

"Hey," He said with a shrug, "It's not that bad, I have you and Carley...."

"And a choice of any woman in the compound, I wish you'd find one to spend more then the night with."

He raised his brows, unable to shroud his smile; his Mother's directness was one of her strengths, unfortunately it had also gotten him fixed up with every female life form from here to Bajor. He didn't have the heart to tell her he was afraid, afraid to permit himself to care too much on the chance the woman he chose would be taken away from him, like his father had been from her. That same fear was the reason he'd left Deanna Troi on Textarus, no matter how much he cared about her, he could never have been her commanding officer....never be able to lead her on one dangerous mission after another, with only a marginal chance she'd be safe.

"I met one once that didn't want me," He said with a glib smile that melted away quickly, "When we defeat the Borg, instead of fighting them, I promise I'll settle down."

She tapped his hand affectionately and lifted from the bed, "I'm not sure that even if the Borg had never been spawned, William Riker wouldn't be off looking for adventure in another way."

"Guess we'll never know that, will we?" He smirked.

She opened the doors, stepped out, paused and turned back to him, "Your friends are in the tavern entertaining Hannah."

" Hannah," He said, pushing himself up on the bed and swinging his feet over the sides to the floor.

"Thought that might wipe the scowl off your face." She smiled knowingly, "She's a sweet girl. The kind you could settle down with."

<Settle down in bed with,> Riker thought.

"Yes she is," He agreed outwardly, only able to mask his lustful feelings by looking away from her.


Will stopped outside the entrance to the tavern, zipped his jacket and shivered was cold as hell outside of his quarters, but then all the renitence bases were on planets that's temperatures well surpassed Borg tolerance. Only quarters were allowed to be kept comfortably warm, anyplace where large groups gathered, especially bars where alcohol was served, were kept miserably cool. He was hoping the chill he was feeling would be soothed soon by a few shots and Hannah's magic hands. He scanned the worn tables in the tavern, most were filled with couples generating heat in one of the two ways he'd planed. Carley and Hutch drew back from each other when they saw him enter.

"As you were," He said with a waggle of his brows, hoping his presence here wouldn't throw cold water on their obvious intentions.

He slid into the only empty table he could find, caught the eye of Shana the barmaid, and within seconds was presented with his drink of choice......Anggolian rapture. He picked up the square glass, swirled the muddy liquid, downed it and felt the instant rush.

"Whoa." He choked as the effects caused his nerve endings to tingle.

He tossed another glance around the bar, not surprised that Hutch and Carley had left......he wondered why they thought they had to keep up this front for him, perhaps because of the hordes of men he'd scared away from his sister.....but he liked Hutch, and from what he could tell he really cared about Carley, but more importantly he made Carley smile, something he'd been failing out miserably lately.

"Hey ace."

He threw a look above him, grinning as Hannah placed another drink on the table and sat down across from him.

"I see you cut some of that fire from your head......don't suppose you cut it out of your temper as well?" He said, referring to the waist length waterfall of golden-copper curls that now only fell to her shoulders.

"Nope....not out of my temper, or anywhere else."

She laughed, tossing her head back, arresting him with her smoky blue eyes.

"I was counting on that." He answered, resting his elbows on the table and propping his bearded chin in his hands, "You still with Anubis?"

Anubis or blackdog; a small fleet of ships that still frequented Earth, his old squadron before his father had died. The Borg had originated on Earth, the planet was only a shell of machinery and technology now......but most knew the answer to destroying them must lie in the spot that had spawned them. So, against rational thought a handful still ransacked the planet, looking for anything that might help them find the source of their development.

"Of course I am," She answered, slipping her arms between his, resting her hands on his upper arms, "Just got back as a matter of fact.... two entire crew was female." She said, arching her brows seductively, massaging her thumbs firmly over the muscles in his arms. "I'm sure you remember how tense those missions were, and none of us had any way to relieve our stress." She added, running her tongue over her full bottom lip.

Riker's chuckle was almost a growl, "I'm not going to touch that." He managed to say on an uneven breath.

"I think you already have." She teased, reaching further up his arms until her hands rested against his chest.

"You're so bad."

He had to fight to keep his hands to himself, even though he knew she was full of shit, that Rice and Myers had both led the mission, and they were both male. He didn't care, she had a way of playing off his fantasies and heating him way beyond the boiling point.

She unzipped his jacket slowly and glided her hands inside, grazing long nails over his shirt.

"I've just quadrupled your greatest fantasy Riker......why are we still sitting here?" She whispered, standing up and leaning into him, offering him only the promise of a kiss as her tongue grazed his lips. He slid his own tongue over his lips, tasting the flavor she'd left behind.

"Not sure I can wait until we get to my quarters, I may just have to take you here." He said roughly, gripping the fabric of her shirt in his hand and pulling her to him, seizing her lips with the same kind of ardent fire that burned inside him. He pulled her to his lap, not releasing her lips, one hand still holding the neck of her shirt, his other roving freely over her body. He waited until he heard her moan in his mouth, her muscles surrendering, relaxing into his before pulling his fierce kiss away. The flush in her cheeks, her glassy eyes and labored breathing fed his intense and furious appetite, "We better go now.....or you'll be fulfilling another fantasy of mine." He said, pulling her with him as he stood up.


Watching her fall over the edge again, feeling her muscles contracting around him, her incredible body enslaved by his manipulations, his own release overcame him. His body trembled, falling into the only place of peace he'd been able to find for himself.....a momentary lapse in his reality he wished he could hold on to forever. But as the white lights dissipated behind his closed eyes, and his body pulsed its last release. .....his reality filtered in.

"Ok," He whispered, rolling off of her, placing a light kiss on the side of her mouth before rolling to his back and flopping his arm over the side of the bed, "I'm not going to get anymore relaxed then this....lets say you hit me with it now."

Hannah had never shown up on Eden unless she needed his help, or was bringing him orders......he often wished all his orders could be delivered this way.

He lowered his eyes to look at her, hers were still closed, her lips parted slightly, her breathing still labored. He didn't push her to answer him, he knew she would in time, for now he allowed her the time to enjoy her own muted reality.


"Riker?" Her voice filtered into his sleep, he grumbled at the sound, turned to his side, and pulled a pillow against his chest.

"I'm not relaxed anymore....go away."

"I'd love to relax you again, but I really don't have time."

"K....bye." He mumbled, without opening his eyes. He hugged the pillow tighter, waiting for the inevitable bomb to drop, when she didn't say anything, he half opened one eye.

He watched her digging through her jacket, when she turned back to him, he promptly closed his eye.

"I really need you to listen to me." She said, the smile that always seemed evident in her voice completely eliminated, "I planed on showing this to you last night, but your mother told me you'd encountered permutation victims."

1The fact that she was concerned about his emotional state at all forced him to open his eyes. He'd never seen her look quite like this, uncomfortable, or maybe uncertain about what she was about to show him.

He eyed the tattered book she held in her lap, its pages yellowed, its cover stained, "What is that?"

She held the book tighter and stroked her thumbs against the cover, "My team was forced to make an emergency landing on a planetoid in the Gamma Canaris region, we found this," She said, tapping the book, "and a few other things."

He pushed himself up, flinching slightly as his muscles reminded him of his mission, and his evening from the day before, "So what is it?"

Again she was uncharacteristically restless, she shifted slightly before meeting his questioning eyes.

"It's a journal............Zefram Cochrane's journal." She replied, laying the book beside him on the bed, "I think you better read it.....then we'll talk."


A boyish glint ignited in his sleepy eyes, he picked up the book as if it were a precious jewel.

"This is incredible." He mumbled, never taking his eyes off the handwritten pages, touching each one with the same loving touch he would offer a woman. Everything from Cochrane's first inspiration, to the actual flight of the Phoenix was written in perfect detail, Riker found himself smiling widely as he continued reading.

"Wait a minute," He said, his wistful thoughts finally overridden by logical ones, "Why are you showing this to me....shouldn't this be in the hands of an historian?"

Hannah shifted on the bed, her antsy movements impelled Riker to hold her with a dark look of unsettling concern.

"Come on, what is it I'm suppose to see?"

"I want you to read the last entry, but I don't want you to say anything until I've showed you everything."

He offered no promises ....She seemed to accept that, and leaned against the wall beside him as he turned to the last page.

{ "For obvious reasons I omitted these accountings from my previous entries, in retrospect I found it to be a grave mistake. At first I had only suspicions that the increased disappearances of life forms on the planet earth were somehow connected to those from the future, but now I am certain their actions to prevent a Borg takeover were in vain. A starship from the twenty fourth century passed into our time , a handful of her crew instrumental in the first flight of the Phoenix. A Commander William Riker, a Commander Geordi LaForge ,and a Commander Deanna Troi all assisted in making first contact a reality. ......the first two , occupants on the Phoenix, replacing Lily......"

Riker forced his eyes away from the book and regarded Hannah.

"Is this for real?"

"Weird, isn't it?"

"Weird isn't the word.... according to this, Cochrane suspects that somehow the crew of this starship unknowingly screwed up......I can't buy this Hannah, it's gotta be a gag....I mean what are the chances of a William Riker and a Deanna Troi being stationed together in another reality?" He slid down the wall, continuing to scan the tattered page, "And you know I don't believe in all this time travel bullshit ......I think someone is pulling your leg."

"Headquarters thought you might be skeptical, so they allowed me to bring these too." She dug in her jacket pocket, "These were in the sealed container as well." She said, handing him her evidence.

"Headquarters......don't tell me they believe this?" He scoffed, taking the two discs from her hand.

Not bothering to throw on clothes he moved to the computer terminal and sat down.

He narrowed his eyes at the screen, "I thought all scans of first contact had been destroyed?" He found himself almost smiling as he viewed the historical moment.

"Magnify the background images." She insisted, leaning over his shoulder, her hair tickling his skin. He followed her instruction, brushing her hair away from him brusquely.

He stared at the screen for a long moment, his heartbeat increased, his breathing quickened.

"Sure as hell looks like me.....looks like Deanna too....who are these other people?" He asked.

"The names of everyone Cochrane and Lily Sloane came in contact with are in the journal...headquarters has been trying to locate them.... but if this is for real, and time has been distorted, it's quite possible some of them may have been absorbed, or maybe not even born."

Hannah's comment stirred a chill to sweep up his spine, he tipped his head up to look at her......her face reflecting the same haunting feeling.

"You said headquarters had seen these, then I assume they've tested them for authenticity?"

"Yep, they haven't been able to find any evidence that it's a hoax, as a matter of fact..." She took a deep breath, "I've been ordered to Textarus to bring Deanna Troi here, and then escort you both to headquarters."

Any other time his stomach would have twisted in anticipation at the possibility of seeing Deanna again, but right now it seemed almost trivial.

"Have you ever heard of Doctor Noonien Soong?" She asked, increasing her grip on his shoulder.

"Of course," He answered, returning his eyes to the screen.

Doctor Soong had invented the polar-disruptor, the only known defense against the Borg.......the only defense these Borg had been unable to adapt to. A crystal beam that targeted the vulnerable skin between the shoulder blade and throat, injecting a liquid freezing agent laced with chemicals into the human machines, crystallizing their biological organs, and corroding their internal implants.

"He's waiting to see you and this Troi." She said, flicking the lapis stone with her fingers.

"Jealously doesn't look good on you honey." He answered inattentively, "What does he want?"

"No idea, but you got forty eight hours to bandage the Retribution."

" careful." He leaned his head back, returned her kiss, and watched her walk out the door before continuing to study the discs she'd brought him.





"Try it now!" He called to Hutch, punctuating the request by pounding his fist against the hull of the Retribution.

He'd been working on the ship for two days, it had given him more then enough time to reflect on Cochrane's journal, the photo images, and the sketches that he'd discovered on the discs. The sketches looked to have been hand drawn, signed by Lily Sloane..... and definitely analogous to the Borg he'd been battling for most of his life. His skepticism was fading fast, the more he pondered it, the more it made sense......Cochrane suggested the Borg had been seeded on the planet, perhaps only a handful, enough to slowly evolve into the menaces he knew.....that possibility would also explain why one of their main objectives was the homing towers......calling in the troops so to speak.

The grumble of the engines, and the flicker of light that pulsed from the deflector dish, dragged him from his thoughts and brought an instant smile to his face.

"All set Hutch!" He called, punching his fist in the air.

"Great," Hutch answered, almost running down the ramp, "Lets get a beer."

"Ok," Riker slid off the hull to the wings, and finally lowered himself to the ground.

He tossed a satisfied look to the onyx hull of the Retribution, and walked beside Hutch down the narrow corridor that led out of the bay.

"You nervous at all about Hannah, and Deanna Troi being together?" Hutch swiped his hand through his hair, and waggled a baiting brow.

"Nah," Will waved his hand in the air, "It's been two years since I've seen Deanna, I probably haven't even crossed her mind."

"Are my ears deceiving me....was that a humble Riker moment?!" Hutch pretended to stagger, his hand clutching at his heart, "Shit, this must be more serious then I thought."

"What?" Will shrugged, concealing his grin, "are you saying I'm not humble?"

"You're the cockiest son of a bitch I ever met," Hutch retorted, slapping Riker on the back, "Up until I met you I thought...."

"Captain Riker!"

The call came from behind them just as the doors to the tavern swung open.

"What is it B'nar?" Riker turned to the young Romulan, the best demolition man on his team.

"We just received an automated mayday, it's set on continuous playback.....I'm sorry sir, it's the Lady Luck.."

<Hannah's ship!> He thought, nodding an unspoken order to Hutch.

"Relay the coordinates to the Retribution!"

He barked the order over his shoulder as he shot back down the corridor, Hutch on his heels.


"She's battle scarred Will." Hutch continued punching the probe screen, "And she's about ten minutes from the Spinning Wheel."

"Great," He answered, rubbing his hands over his beard in frustration, "try to establish communications .......we'll get there before the plasma stream becomes a threat."

Hutch offered him a "yea right" look which magnified his panic,....his mind already bent on playing out the worse case scenario ......Hannah hadn't tried anything since the mayday came in, which suggested she was either unconscious or dead, leaving Deanna in control of a ship that was floating helplessly into the Spinning Wheel....or worse, they were both dead.....He vanquished that thought and spanked the controls to maximum impulse.

1"There she is!" Hutch stabbed his finger towards the view screen, Will followed it with his eyes. The tiny ship looked to be adrift, rocking against the current of the stream like a catamaran on a choppy ocean.

"Try a high frequency code, if she's still got communications we've gotta override the subspace static of the Spinning Wheel."

He kept his eyes on the screen, watching the eerie green mist of the stream being drawn into the spokes of the wheel......eight stars emitted the light that was being pulled into the black hole, the current from the hole causing the struggling light to appear to spin.

"I got a lock, transmissions shaky."

"Lady Luck, this is the Retribution....Hannah it's Will, can you hear me...." He released an uneven breath, and shared a look with Hutch when he was answered with only static.

"Hey.....somebody answer me!" He called again, turning towards Hutch, "Can we lock up with her, bring them on board through the hatch?"

Hutch's hands played over the controls.

<Will> The voice filled the Retributions cockpit.

"Thought maybe you guys were sleeping over there."

"Hannah's dead, all ships systems are off line." Deanna's strained and quivering voice caused Riker's heart to lodge in his throat.

"We're coming in to get you out......just hang on Deanna." His impatient blue eyes rested on Hutch.

"No way.....too much structural damage, we go down on her, we'll crush the hull."

"Ok.......Deanna can you hear me?" He asked soothingly, hoping her own fearful emotions were making it impossible for her to latch onto his.

<Yes> The echoes of the Lady Luck's alarms and the sizzling sounds of wires crackling muffled her answer.

A line of sweat trailed down Riker's neck, he drew in a deep breath, another attempt to keep his voice steady.

"Listen to me Deanna......I want you to suit up...." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hutch snap his head towards him, he silenced his objection with a wave of his hand.

"Are you doing it?" He thought he could hear her moving about in the cockpit, she finally returned an answer.

"OK, now what?" She asked, putting a whole lot more stock in his ideas then he did.

"Now you're going to go up to the gunnery, open the hatch and with all the strength you have you're gonna push that perfect body of yours out into space."

Riker had already stood up and begun dressing himself in the heavy brown suit when her response came back.

<Are you nuts!>

"You know I am.......I'll be out there waiting for you, I promise."

He knew this was trust with a capitol T, he wasn't sure he'd be willing to comply under the same circumstances. Hutch shook his head, but also began the slow maneuver that would bring them as close to the wheel as possible.

"I can't." Her two word response, literally drenched with fear.

"Yes you can Deanna,...... have to trust me."


"This is as close as I can get, you're practically under her."

Riker felt the rumble of the Retribution's stabilizers, already bucking against the drag of the Spinning Wheel. He responded to Hutch with an unnecessary order, "Ok..... you know the deal, she starts to burn out you release the cable."

Hutch's grumbled response sounded over the comm-linc inside his helmet, it may have been an affirmative, but he doubted it.

He swallowed hard before opening the hatch, sliding through the access tube, finally convincing his thickly gloved hands to release the sides of the hatch.

<God, I hate this> He thought, checking that the lifeline was securely fastened to the Retribution before looking up and over at the damaged shell of the Lady Luck.

"Come on Deanna," He mumbled, wishing there was some way he could communicate with her. Hutch was a great pilot, a great gunner, but when it came to gentle persuasion, bedside manner, whatever, he was more then gruff, and had little patience for fear.

<She's giving me shit Will. I ordered her out and she still won't go!>

Will had to smile at the irritated tone in Hutch's voice, he could picture his face, jaw set, face red, his knuckles probably white from clenching his fists.

"Tell her I'm getting tired of waiting......No!" He corrected, "Tell her my cables weak, tell her if I she doesn't get out here soon, I'm going to be kissing the Plasma stream instead of her perfect lips."

<I'm not saying that Riker....I'll try the weak cable thing though.>

Riker grinned and lowered his hand to the maneuvering thruster jets on his right leg. He knew this was a one shot deal, he missed her the first time, the undertow from the wheel would take her instead.

His eyes stung from the sweat that was dripping in them, through blurred vision he finally saw Deanna emerge from the Lady Luck's hatch.

<Good girl,> he thought, blowing out three long breaths of air before hitting the switch for the jets. He shot up quickly, the force of the wheel jerking him towards the Lady Luck just as he'd expected .....He held out a hand....Deanna hesitated, releasing the handles on the hatch with one hand, then changing her mind and gripping them firmly.

"Come on.... kick off," He encouraged, knowing she couldn't hear him, but hoping she could see the frustration in his face as clearly as he could see her fear.

The jets weren't going to allow him to hover here for long, and even through the cable that held him, he could feel the increased vibration of the Retribution.

He wasn't sure what inspired her to move....maybe Hutch threatened to fire on her, but he saw her posture stiffen, her feet move into position, and finally the release of her hands. She shot forward and almost instantly back, he missed her hand, latching onto her leg instead, he used both hands to finally pull her close enough to him that she could wrap her arms and legs around him. When he was sure she was latched on tightly, he let go of her, clutching the lifeline with both his hands, he wrestled against the drag of the wheel.

1He saw the Retribution wobble, tilt to her side, straighten unwillingly, and begin the process again.

"We're not going to make it Hutch." He smiled through clenched teeth at Deanna as he sent the warning to Hutch.

"Bullshit." Hutch's reply came simultaneously with a powerful tug on the tow cable......It was Hutch, half in, half out of the ship, reeling them in like a trophy bass. The second Riker's hand snagged the hatch handles, Hutch disappeared inside.

Will watched carefully as Deanna lowered herself inside before following behind her.....He'd hardly closed the access hatch when he ordered Hutch to punch it. The ship lurched, throwing Deanna to the floor, Riker on top of her.

"I've been here before," He said with a devilish smile. He pulled his helmet from his head, more then satisfied with the smile she offered him, "and I'd love to stay here longer, but my copilot is chewing up my ship again."


"What are you doing to my ship?!" Riker threw himself into his seat, the engines of the Retribution whining to be shut down, "What a mess you've made of my cockpit."

"Oh shut up, if you spent as much time pumping iron as you to do pumping ....." Hutch let his jab trail off as Deanna came to stand between the two of them.

"I have an idea." Riker said, his blue eyes igniting with an almost tactile passion.

Hutch groaned and tilted his head up to Deanna, "You better strap in if you know what's good for you."

Deanna nodded apprehensively, offering Will a momentary look before following Hutch's order.

"Target the Lady Luck, maximize the shields, hopefully the explosion will blow us out of here."

"And into next week," Hutch observed, but as always began to follow Will's orders.

Riker braced himself against the console as the low hum of laser fire echoed through the cockpit......The Lady Luck exploded into a storm of fire, shaking the Retribution, thrusting her back and away with such force Riker felt like a lead weight had been slammed into his chest. The ship tumbled once, teetered again, then slowly evened out as the orange fire of the Lady Luck was devoured by the Wheel.

<Thanks Hannah> Will thought, pressing two fingers to his lips and sending his kiss to whatever kind of eternal peace he hoped she'd found for herself, <You saved my life again.>

Will shot a look to Hutch, both men breathing a heavy sigh of relief before turning to their passenger.

"Ya all right?" Riker asked, finally permitting himself a few seconds to realize how much he'd missed her, and how beautiful she really was.

"Fine," She answered, shaking her head, a hint of smile diluting the fear that had been set on her face, "You two haven't chanced a bit, have you?"

"Lucky thing for you." Will returned, arching his brows playfully.


"I'll be right back." Will said, unsnapping his safety harness and lifting from his chair, "Try not to screw up my ship anymore then you have." He added, patting Hutch on the shoulder.

Hutch snapped his head up, prepared to fire off a retort, Will tapped his finger to his lips, "Lady on nice." He smirked, turning his attentions to Deanna.

The whisper of a smile she'd managed to call up earlier had faded, her skin looked unusually pale, her eyes were closed, her arms wrapped tightly around herself.

"Hey," He said, sitting down beside her, softly resting his hand on her knee, "you gonna be OK?"

She nodded slowly and opened her eyes, her gaze falling downward to the hand he'd placed on her knee. He drew it away, she stopped him, wrapping his hand tightly in both of hers, "I'm sorry about Hannah."

"Me too, but she knew the risks." It was his standard response, it turned his stomach to think how many times he'd had to say it over the years. She didn't say anything, but she didn't really have to, her expression relayed the fact that she wasn't buying into this steel bravado he'd perfected.

"Doesn't make the pain go away." She said it like someone who knew, but then he guessed she would, her mother and father had been absorbed when the Borg had infiltrated Betazed. Probably a worse thing to deal with then their actual deaths, knowing that a piece of those you love were incorporated into the hideous collective, unwillingly serving those they'd despised, conquering those they'd once loved. The thought made his blood run cold. Deanna's hand against his cheek drew him out of his thoughts, and tamed the monsters that were always lying in wait for him.

"You look good.....I like the beard....the salt and pepper is nice."

Will screwed up his face, "I'm sure you didn't mean that to sound as cruel as it did."

His face relaxed into a smile as she stroked her thumb over the unseen dimple in his chin. He thought about kissing her, hell, he wanted to kiss her, but two years was a long time for him to assume she still had feelings for him.

"Are you going to kiss me?"

His eyes widened, his smile broadened, her lips capturing his before he'd taken a breath to respond. It was soft and sweet, it's flavor familiar, the sensations it stirred inside him arousing the almost forgotten memory of what it was like to be near her.

"We have a problem!" Hutch's voice cut like a jagged knife through the moment.

He pulled away from her lips only slightly, his mouth still brushing hers as he spoke, "Fix it!"

The sidelong glance he'd offered Hutch became full when he saw the expression on his copilots face. He smiled apologetically at Deanna, taking time for one more quick kiss before standing up and grumbling his way to his chair beside Hutch.

"OK buddy," he said, slurring the word, "I better be up here because the goddamn engine just fell out."

Hutch didn't bother looking away from the Retribution's console, "Your engines just fine, which is good cause the navigational controls just cut out, the access scrambler lights are off-line, and it appears your weapons systems have dozed off."

Riker's eyes strayed to the dormant panel displays, he flopped into his chair with a hard thud, "Where are we?"

Hutch looked at Riker disgustedly, rolled his eyes and pointed out the view port, "Just this side of that pretty yellow star," He answered sarcastically.

"You know what I mean...where were we before it cut out?"

Will slid out of his chair to the floor, wrenching the front panel away with a frustrated tug. He'd taken great care to color code all the Retribution's main components for quick fix purposes, but right now the reds, oranges and blues were melted into one ugly tangle of brown. "This is your fault!" He snapped, looking over his shoulder at Hutch, "I told you to release the cable."

"It's not my fault.... it'd be my fault if we were dead, or floating in the plasma stream....this is your fault for detonating the Lady Luck." Hutch dropped to his knees beside Will, "That doesn't look good."

"No it doesn't," Will answered, shaking his head and pulling himself back up to his chair, "Even if we were smart enough to navigate by the stars....which we're not, we can't get back on Eden, or any other base without the access lights."

The scrambled access lights were linked to bases by a subspace carrier wave, the ever changing patterns of light the only way for the bases to differentiate between renitence fighters or Borg invaders. The Borg had no ships of their own, they confiscated ships from the worlds they absorbed, making it impossible to tell who you were encountering. That had been a problem for years, until the invention of the access light generator. A simple scan of a pilots hand activated the lights, the emissions from the Borg implants, and their elevated body temperature denied them access, a failed activation attempt stimulated an automatic self-destruct in all renitence ships.

He heard Deanna's soft footfalls against the metal flooring of the ship, he tipped his head up to look at her and offered her a crooked smile, "Could be much worse."

Deanna's expression didn't change, he'd seen the distant look in her eyes before.

"I'm sensing several life forms, very close.." She whispered.

"Humanoid ....or Borg?" Will shared a cautious look with Hutch and watched him slid back into his chair.

"The Borg are only a presence, a single sensation.... No," She went on, shaking her head, "These are definitely humanoid, diverse emotions."

Will nodded to Deanna before dropping his gaze to Hutch, he swiped a hand over his mouth to mask the grin that was threatening him. Hutch had an unusual aversion, almost a phobia about any life form that had the ability to probe his thoughts. He'd never ask him why, and Hutch had never offered to tell him, "Ya Ok Hutch?" He asked, throwing a sly smile to Deanna.

"Fine," He replied through clenched teeth, refusing to even look up at Deanna.

"Good.... because she's our navigational controls for the moment."

Hutch opened his mouth to object, Will interrupted before his inevitable 'but' left his mouth.

"If she senses humanoids it means there's a ship, or a planet, or something around here, we'll cut the engines, tap into the power, least maybe we can get a short range scan.....where did you say we were?"

Hutch's green eyes darkened, he freed an angry breath and smacked the throttle like a spoiled child, never releasing Will from his hard gaze, "Gamma Canaris.." He practically snarled.

"Gamma Canaris....... Hannah said she made an emergency landing on a planetoid in this region."


"See!" Will gloated, "I told you we'd be fine."

He thrust his hand towards the view port as the Retribution settled on the ground, its hull shivering as her engines powered down.

"I see we haven't left the ship yet... I see we have no idea of the temperature, or atmospheric conditions outside....or does she do external scans as well?" Hutch gestured to Deanna with his square chin.

"Hey," Will's one word warning won him a shrug of apology, he accepted it with a nod, "I'll go outside and check it out....I'd say we don't have to worry, but I didn't like that mist we had to slice through to get down here."

He'd already snapped his oxygen supply around his waist, and pulled the hand held scanner form under his seat before Hutch gave him the thumbs up.

"Be right back." He said, rolling his eyes at the scowl that had become Hutch's personal identification recently, "I'll never bring you on a mission again without Carley, you're a nasty old son of a bitch."

He stopped in front of Deanna before accessing the airlock, "You still sensing life forms?"

Deanna nodded, "Very close....I think they know we're here."

He had to admit he wasn't completely comfortable with this ability she had, but it had proven useful when they'd escaped from Betazed.

"I'm not sensing any malice." She added.

Will nodded, accessed the hatch and stepped inside. When the doors had closed behind him, he chose to ignore Deanna's observation, he unsnapped his weapon, and pulled it from its holster.


Wherever the hell they were, it was nighttime, it was hot as hell, and the gravity was a lot less then he was used to. He shed the jacket he was wearing, dropped it at his side, and under the lights of the Retribution he examined the scanner readouts.

"No problem!" He spoke over the comm-link, "but be careful, gravity's low."

He straddled his legs, dug in the sides of his feet and moved forward across the sandy soil. This wasn't the first low-grav site he'd encountered, he'd found the simplest way to maneuver was a bit like cross country skiing.

He heard the hatch doors slid open behind him, the soft hiss almost disguising the sound of falling rocks in the distance.

"Shut off the lights on the Retro!" He snapped, keeping his eyes forward, but skiing quickly backwards to the ship. The lights of the Retribution dimmed slowly, leaving him in total darkness until his eyes could adjust to the almost nonexistent starlight. He reached his hand behind him, using the sound of Deanna's breathing as a target to get him back. Her hand clapped around his just as a translucent blue pulsar beam slashed through the night..He ducked down, pulling her with him, wincing as his knees came down on the grating of the ramp harder then he'd anticipated. He squinted his eyes against the night, another blue burst sparked through the air, falling well shy of the ship, but ricocheting off something, allowing him to see Deanna draw her laser pistol from her boot.

"Don't!" He cautioned, seeking out the hand that held the laser, "They'll use the light to locate us......looks to me like they're literally shooting in the dark right now."

"Oh yea... no problem....We're fine."

Hutch's sarcasm preceded the footfalls that sounded behind him.

"It's not that bad, they obviously can't pinpoint us."

"That's because I tapped into your external scan, read the topography readings and sent a sonar signal that's bouncing off the rock far as they're concerned we're everywhere."

Will could hear the arrogant satisfaction in Hutch's voice, and his imagination provided a picture of the self-satisfied grin he was probably wearing.

"Someday Hutch... you'll be as clever as me."

"I can only dream Riker."

Riker chuckled quietly, squeezed Deanna's hand and began to suggest they move inside when a voice echoed around them.

<Whoever you are, you've infiltrated a top secret compound, you have two minutes to get back on your ship, or we'll destroy you.>

"I know that voice." Will whispered, tossing a look over his shoulder towards the sound of Hutch's steady breathing, "Who is that?"

Hutch was still for a moment, then he heard him shift behind him, "Angie?" Hutch answered uncertainly.

"Yea....yea," Will answered, a smile breaching his concerned features as he stood up and moved cautiously forward.

"Our ship won't fly," He lied, not willing to lay all his cards on the table, "We just need to do some repairs, then I swear we're outta here." He hesitated, "quicker then you can say jamaharon."

He closed his eyes as he relayed the password for Anubis fleet.

<Will Riker!> The delayed reply caused him to release the breath he was holding.

He turned back towards Hutch and Deanna, "Turn on the lights Hutch!"

The Retribution's lights sparked on in sequence, illuminating the craggy rocks in front of him, and the willowy blond that peered from behind one of them.

"Angie Mccoy," He said, his face relaxing into a nostalgic grin, "You trying to kill me again."

Angie moved as quickly as she could towards him, waving off the others that still lingered behind her.

Will skated a few steps forward. "It's good to see you.....why is Anubis here?"

Angie didn't answer his question, instead she took full advantage of the lack of gravity. Latching her hands on his shoulders, she pushed herself up, and wrapped her legs snugly around his waist.

"Always looking for jamaharon," She said teasingly, as she snared his lips with hers.


It was Deanna's voice, and it propelled Will to put a bit more effort into freeing himself from Angie's familiar kisses. He cleared his throat, lowered Angie to the ground, and met Deanna's intense stare.

"It's just a password......I was the leader was composed of all doesn't mean what it implies ......just means nothing...means can't understand" He said, swallowing hard, and resenting the smirk on Deanna's face.

"I see," Deanna replied, sharing a look with Angie, "But I think you'd be surprised how much I know about the rite of jamaharon.." She spoke seductively, arching her brows in a similar fashion, both of which made Riker feel pleasantly warm.

"Remind me to tap into that well of knowledge later." He said, playing her game he punctuated his comment with a dangerous growl. He saw Deanna's cheeks flush, satisfied he'd beat her at her suggestive game, he turned to Angie. "So, what's up?"

Angie ignored him, instead she threw her arms around Deanna and pulled her into a friendly embrace.

He cast a confused look over his shoulder, Hutch cocked his head and shrugged.

"How is it you two know each other?" Riker asked, placing a hand on each of their shoulders.

"Deanna replaced Sam on one of our mission's about six months ago, it was the last leg in her demolition training."

"No really." Will laughed, his eyes resting on Angie. But as they wondered to Deanna, and the serious expression on her face, his chuckle immediately fell off, "You were joking right?"

"Why is that so hard to believe?" Deanna's dark eyes held his, she wrinkled her brows, folded her arms and waited.

"Oh Gee, I don't know Deanna, maybe because when we pulled you off Betazed you wouldn't even hold a weapon." He responded without missing a beat, only slightly affected by the sparks that had ignited in her eyes.

"That was then, and this is now," She answered with an almost nefarious smile, "I didn't like being called a passivist bitch." She added, sliding a glance to Hutch.

Hutch snapped to attention, his expression remaining the same; if she was looking for guilt, or repentance she wasn't going to get it.

"She was a bitch." He commented, shrugging matter-of-factly.

"Well, I'm impressed anyway", He winked, finding her more desirable now then he had before.

She seemed to appreciate his proud smile, hers widened with its own sense of pride.

"Why are you here?" Riker glanced at Angie, but was finding this different Deanna almost contagious.

Angie's sparkling blue eyes lost their sheen, she focused her attention on Riker, "Hannah didn't tell you?"

Will shook his head, there'd be time to share the news about Hannah later.

"They think there's something in the mist on this planet, an element of some sort that's capable of destroying the Borg....come back to camp," She tilted her head to the rocks beside her, "Doctor Bennet is there, she'll explain everything."



Will made his way back to the Retribution alone, he'd heard all he needed to hear from Doctor Bennet to know this was just another roulette mission. Releasing this lethal toxin into the core of the hive would require him to target the main colony on Earth....the sixty/forty odds she'd shared did nothing to alleviate his skepticism. Maybe he'd had his balls nailed to the wall one too many times, maybe he'd lost too many friends to Kamikaze missions, with similar odds, or maybe he'd just become too callused to the whole thing to care anymore.

The rookies of Anubis, and a few fresh faced scientist had gathered around Doctor Bennet like disciples, hanging on her every word, their eyes wide with hopes......But the others, himself included, had fallen back, taking her promises and calculations with a heaping tablespoon of salt.

He made his way over the last ridge just has the first ivory strands of dawn shimmered through the dusty mist of the planet. A wispy spiral of marbled colors hung like a halo over the crusty hull of the Retribution, he moved towards her as if she was the only friend he had left in the universe.

<Hannah was sure I should see Noonien Soong.> He though as he access the hatch and stepped inside, <And yet Doctor Bennet wouldn't even address whatever Dr. Soong's plan was.> That in itself left a nasty taste in his mouth.

He eyed the mishmash of melted circuitry, dropped the tools he'd brought back with him, and slid down the cool metal wall of the Retribution to the floor.

"I don't know anymore." He whispered, relaxing against the wall and folding his hands across his stomach, "Maybe we're both due for a major overhaul."

"Does she answer you too?"

He hadn't heard Deanna come inside, he looked up slowly, and held a hand out to her, "Sometimes.... but not today."

She took his outstretched hand and smiled down on him sympathetically, not saying a word.

"I'm sorry," He said, severing the silence, "I'm just having a shitty day, or worse yet I'm becoming Hutch." He amazed himself when a smile broke across his face.

"I know what's good for that," She said, her normally musical tone degenerating into something he found much more stimulating.

"It's not warm milk is it?" He teased, his grin broadening, and his eyes widening as she straddled her legs across him and came down softly on his lap.

"It's warm,"

"Only warm?" He questioned, his breathing becoming ragged as her hips moved slowly against him, her hands sneaked around his waist, her lips, warm and wet prowled tantalizingly against his throat.

"I have a cot in the back," He managed to choke, his own hands traveling over the light barrier of clothing that was keeping her flesh from him, "The decks pretty hard."

"I like hard." She mumbled, finding his lips, and the neck clasp for his flight suit.


"Hand me the coupling inverter," Riker asked, pulling his head half way out from under the Retribution's console, and smiling at Deanna. Actually from what he could tell from his reflection in the silver console of the ship, he'd been donning this goofy grin since his earlier interlude with Deanna. Sex with her had always been different, better, more satisfying, more stimulating, more something.....whatever it had been more of, it was now more of it tenfold.

Her smile as she handed him the tool he'd requested was reminiscent of his own, he kissed her hand before pulling himself under the console.

He heard the rap on the hatch, and chuckled to himself, amazed that Hutch had thought to knock before charging in. The doors opened without invitation, when he saw female feet beside Hutch's he better understood where his copilot's unexpected discretion came from.

"This isn't what I expected to walk in on."

"Priorities Hutch," Will answered, wiping the smirk off his face before dragging himself out again.

"I can see that," Hutch chuckled roughly, "Ya get those bruised lips by hitting em on the console."

Will stroked two fingers over his lips, more to mask his smile then because he was surprised by Hutch's observation. Deanna and Angie settled into one of the side seats in the cockpit, that little picture making him far more uneasy then any snide remark Hutch could possibly make.

"How's it coming......or should I rephrase that?" Hutch flopped in his chair, waggled his sandy brows, and almost smiled before his face grew solemn again, "Seriously.... can we leave this shit hole soon."

"Think so, navigation's back online, access-lights might be working, I just can't get the weapons back up.......I don't know what's wrong with her." Will offered, dragging a greasy hand over his beard.

"Maybe she's jealous.."

"Nah, I've already spoken to her about Deanna.....I've assured her she'll never be replaced."

Hutch rolled his eyes, his expression shifting as his eyes fell on the view port, "The bitch is coming....roll up your sleeves Riker, you're gonna be pissed."

Angie and Deanna stopped sharing whatever secrets they were sharing, and moved to the port.

Will pulled himself up to his knees, "What does she want........I'm not leading a halfcocked mission."

"Better tell her that then Riker, cause she thinks you are."

"I'll tell her." Will answered sharply, wiping his greasy hands on his pants and throwing his shirt on over his tank.

He accessed the hatch just as Doctor Bennet started up the ramp, he motioned her inside, nodded a cold greeting and waited for her to begin the conversation. She dusted off her pants, reorganized the strands of her mousy brown hair that had escaped from the tight bun at the base of her neck, finally resting her heavily wrinkled eyes on Will.

"Any time now lady." Will said, holding out his hands in a questioning gesture, "We're almost ready to leave this charming planetoid."

She nodded understandingly, and smiled......none of which seemed to concur with Hutch's warning.

"I'd like to meet with you in twenty four hours on Palekana, I think it's important that we go over the infection process step by step....once you locate the core of the collective, timing will be crucial to success." The polished accent she possessed made her assumption scratch more severely across Riker's nerves.

"Once we locate the core?" Will snickered, "Are you haven't located the core, and your worried about the timing involved in carrying out your plan. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is just to target a tower on the planet, and that's with coordinates and specifications."

"With the contents of Cochrane's journal I've surmised it to be in what was once Montana."

"And you arrived at this guess by conducting low sensor sweeps of the planet?" He doused his question in as much sarcasm as he could and shook his head at Hutch.

"Of course not....but my computer calculations strongly suggest......"

He wasn't sure when she'd moved from being ignorantly amusing to being out-and-out irritating, but something in her cold-hearted voice triggered his response.

"Shut up!.......I'm not risking Alpha squad on ideas and speculations .....get it!"

"I'm sure I could contact your headquarters and make this an order, I was hoping I wouldn't have to."

He could tell by the intermittent breaks in her voice she was struggling to cloak her own anger.

"Consider your hopes dashed then Doc, because we're going to Desna, we're going to see Doctor Soong, and then I'll decide if I'm willing to fulfill this death wish you seem to have for me and my team."

"Fine," She said dryly, "but I'd like to do a Tempo scan on you and your team."

Riker chuckled, a deep, and nasty chuckle, "Be my guest, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a single officer in the fleet that didn't test positive for Tempo."

"I'm well aware of that Captain, I'm more interested in the ratio of the drug in your are aware there's a legal limit."

Hutch side sided closer to Will, "Let her run the goddamn test Riker."

Riker held his arms out to his sides, "Go head lady.... carry out your asinine threat.."

Her lips thinned into a spiteful smile, she folded her thick arms across her chest, and released a controlled breath, "Actually..... captain, I'd like to start my scan with your gunner......Carley Riker."

Riker felt his throat go dry, his jaw tightened, but he'd be damned if he'd grant her the reaction she was bucking for. Tempo had been a constant battle for Carley since her second year with Omega squadron, her dependency on the drug had hampered every aspect of her career, severed a lot of friendships for her, and inadvertently caused the death of the man she'd planed on marrying.....Carley never forgave herself, and neither did a lot of the commanders in the fleet....he was the only one who'd offered her a second chance.......So far he hadn't regretted it.

He opened his mouth to respond..... Doctor Bennet cut him off.

"I'd so hate to see Miss. Riker end up like Samantha Niles.....a brilliant officer having to waste her life in the confines of a little room."

"You tweaked the med scans!" Angie's accusation screeched from her mouth, she pointed a denouncing finger in Doctor Bennet's face, "She wouldn't fly one of your missions either!"

"Oh Please," Bennet almost yawned, "You military types just can't accept responsibility for your own actions."

Riker's tightly contained anger exploded in one irrational burst," Get off my ship......get off my goddamn ship or I'll wring your scrawny little neck." Riker clenched his fists at his sides, and took a half step forward.

"Not even you would strike a woman." She laid her hand collectedly on his chest, stopping his movements and calling his bluff.

Riker's mouth twitched, as did the tight fists at his side.

"No.. you're right, he wouldn't." Deanna stepped in front of him, knocking the doctor's hand away, "But I would."

Deanna squared her shoulders and drew herself to her full height, which unfortunately still left her at least a head shorter then the smirking doctor.

"Actually I've always found chivalry to be a crock of shit myself." Hutch slid in beside Deanna, this time the doctor wavered.

"Fine," She said, stepping back towards the exit, "But your bullying tactics won't change anything.....I will go over your head."

"Yea, yea," Riker said flatly, sealing the doors behind her.

"I don't think I like her," Riker observed, moving towards the view port, watching Bennet stomp over the ridge, "Maybe if we're lucky, a house will fall on her."


Riker sat slouched in his seat, his eyes forward, a ball of anger and disappointment winding tighter in his gut. When had people like Doctor Bennet taken control of strategic operations, when had people in crisp lab jackets, who had never fired a disruptor, never looked a Borg in its emotionless eyes started dictating devises using only computer generated simulations. The thought, the idea caused him to shift in his seat, his movements drawing Deanna's eyes from the Retribution's readouts to him.

"You OK?" She asked.

"Fine.....this encounter with Dr.. Bennet just makes it all the more important that we see Dr. Soong." he offered her only a sidelong glance, focusing on the hypnotic streaks, and blurred hues of the stars as they violated the blackness of space.

"She is afraid of Dr. Soong's theory, but not of it's failure...she fears its success......she's a very driven woman."

Deanna's voice was calm, so soft-spoken it caused a smile to pull at Riker's lips, "Driven?" He said, almost chuckling, "Three hours ago you wanted to deck her, now she's only driven."

Deanna chewed her bottom lip, her smile overruling her effort to hide it, "Fine.....she's a bitch......a frustrated middle-aged woman who probably hasn't gotten la...."

"Deanna!" He intervened, using his most chastising voice, "I get the point, but your language is vile."

His smile breached his poker face when her face fell with genuine concern.

"You're a jerk......I thought you were serious."

"You're a crappy empath then." He said, still grinning, momentarily forgetting the knot in his stomach.

"I don't violate people's feelings unless it's necessary ....I'll make a mental note to....."

"We got a problem." Hutch's all too familiar warning sounded through the cockpit well before he bolted into the room.

"What.....did you get a transmission through to Carley."

"Yea......she knows, no med-scans, even if it means stepping down to avoid them." He jerked his head to the side, signaling Deanna to vacate his seat.

Deanna complied without hesitation and stood between the two men......Will tossed her an uneasy look.

"What!" he asked again, watching Hutch's hands fly over the navigational controls, reprogramming the coordinates.

"Damn it Hutch....what's going on!".

"Sector 3-1 is under mandatory evacuation ....emergency protocols implemented, all nonmilitary personal are being routed to Eden."

Gauging Hutch's emotions by the tone of his voice, or the expression on his face had always been impossible, until now.... panic was imprinted in all of his features.

"We've been ordered to Eden, code factor one."

Riker watched Hutch run an almost desperate hand through his blond hair, his uncharacteristic behavior causing sweat to break over Riker's furrowed brows.

"Why Hutch......tell us why?"

"Headquarters picked up a deep space transmission seven days ago."

"Why didn't they tell anyone!"

"They thought it might be a bounce back, due to the pulsars that border the Delta quadrant."

"I take it is wasn't? Riker said as unshakably as he could, feeling Deanna's hands tighten on the back of his chair..

Hutch took a deep breath and massaged his hands over the days worth of stubble that covered his chin, "No.....It's coming directly from a ship, three days out of sector's being sent on Nova frequency Will.... Seems our mechanical men have found their friends."

Will tilted his head warily, leaned back in his seat and tapped his hand thoughtfully against his thigh. His stomach wasn't doing the flip flops it should have been, the sweat was drying above his brow, he felt more confused then frightened. Something About this didn't make sense, at least now that he'd read Cochrane's journal. The scraps of information Cochrane had relayed in his last entries had suggested that the leader, or queen of the Borg had been destroyed, the crew of the star ship believed her death to have caused a chain reaction, dismantling the collective. If that was true, and cochrane had been right that a handful of Borg had been seeded on Earth as a backup plan, Alpha quadrant should be home to the only Borg left.

"What are you thinking?"

He'd been well aware of the looks being shared between Hutch and Deanna, he wondered who would be the first to invade his thinking.

"I don't know....maybe nothing..maybe wishful thinking?" He answered Deanna with a forced smile, then lowered his eyes to Hutch, "How much information was headquarters able to get on this incoming vessel?"

"Not much," Hutch shrugged, "It was only a long range scan through the radioactive transmissions of the Pulsars. I take it Riker scans are reading something different."

"I just keep thinking about Cochrane's journal, makes me wonder that's all....was seeding Earth part of some divine plan to continue the which case, maybe these are Borg....or was it a last ditch effort at the last minute to prevent the destruction of their lock in a silent victory." He tipped his head up to Deanna, "Did you read the journal?"

She shook her head.

"You did Hutch...Is this a dipshit theory."

"Not sure it matters, even it's not Borg, it's someone, and they're transmitting an identical code."

Riker massaged his hand over the back of his neck, digging his fingers into the knots that had taken up residence there.

"The Borg technology far surpasses ours....they must have picked up the signal by now. What's the closest Borg infiltrated planet to us?"

His question generated a groan from Hutch.

"I just wanna see, that's all....we'll still get to Eden...I just wanna see." Riker's thoughtful blue-gray eyes ignited, sparked with an almost infectious sense of adventure.

Hutch appeared to feed off the adrenaline that was pumping through his veins, "Strap in sweetheart," Hutch growled at Deanna, "We're going to Omicron four."


Omicron Four was a Borg only colony, just as Earth.....the ozone layer above the planet had been rarefied, forcing in an intense heat, perfect for Borg, but deadly for unprotected humans.

"Bats!" Hutch poked his finger at the scanner.

"How many?" Riker optimized the Retributions weapons as he spoke, wracking his brain for one more insane maneuver.

"Holy shit," Hutch spoke under his breath, "Try a hundred and fifty, powered up for attack."

"We're good Hutch, but we're not that good." He glanced at Hutch and rolled in his eyes.....never had more then three BATS been launched in defense, and never had they been powered up until they'd evaluated their threat.

"Drop down......I have a hunch we're not their target." The Retribution sank towards the atmosphere, Riker shot a look above him as if he could see the structured formation of the BATS above them.

When the Retribution came within a whisker of the outer layer of the atmosphere, he ran a close proximity sweep of the planet, "They're sealed up tighter then a virgin's....." He cut his analogy off, remembering it wasn't Carley in the gunner seat behind him. "BATS aren't biting are they?

Hutch grinned, then bite his bottom lip, "Nope....we've been probed and we didn't do a thing for em."

Will nodded, met Hutch's satisfied smile and banked the ship to port, "Be a shame to leave without taking this opportunity to blow the main reactor ......maybe find out what has em running so scared."

"You're under orders to report to Eden."

Riker cast a glance over his shoulder, "They didn't say when Deanna......Did they say when?" He added, moving his eyes to Hutch.

"Nope, didn't say when."

"I'll bet they meant now." Deanna insisted.

"Then they should have said now." Riker grinned, hoping to soften the expression of concern on her face.

"You're both nuts.....but I guess you do have a valid point." Her mouth relaxed into a smile, but her eyes betrayed it.

"It'll be fine Deanna.......We'll still get to Eden in plenty of time." He winked before turning back to the console.

" In time for what is the big question." He mumbled, so only Hutch could hear.


"The Borg have powered up every ship in their flight bay." Hutch spiraled his finger over the blips of topaz lights on the panel in front of him, "Whatever the hell is out there has got the majority of this hive in motion."

Riker eyed the screen, then shifted his gaze to the haze of intense sunlight that rippled off the surface of the cracked soil and the ashy black structures of the city.

"Makes you wonder if the wrong faction answered their SOS.......I never thought I'd say this, but it'd sure be nice to know what's going on in that collective mind." He stroked his thumbs against the arms of his chair, increasing the pressure with each stroke......there was something unsettling about this, more so then if he knew the Borg had just called for an all out strike on every renitence base in the quadrant. If the Borg had an enemy, something they feared enough to deploy an army of BATS, leave their cities virtually unprotected.......What did that mean to the renitence ......would this new faction pose more of a threat then the Borg themselves, or would they ride in on white horses and free the quadrant from hundreds of years of war.

"Maybe we should scrub this idea Hutch......go home."

It was the responsible thing to do, he looked at Hutch for a long second before shaking his head, "Nah." He decided, a driven grin amplifying the need for constant revenge that burned in his blue eyes.

"Deanna go to the gunnery," He stood up, pulled his flight suit off the hook to his right, and stepped into it, "Ever make a Y incision?" He asked as he finished dressing himself.

"Of course," She responded, her eyes dark, answering his challenging question with an unwavering determination of her own..

"Good....then I don't have to worry about dying while I set the charges." He concealed any reservations he had about her ability to pull it off, and did his best to ignore Hutch's shocked stare.


Riker checked his plasma detonators, and secured his solar lens over his eyes before giving Hutch the Ok to lower him onto the apex of the grooved dome. The Y maneuver had been practically forgotten due to BATS, but now in their absence, this surgical strike should be almost a walk in the park.

He stepped back, waved up at the hovering Retribution and stiffen slightly as he waited for Deanna to release the first beam. The fiery red beam spiraled, drilling the first hole before flattening and slicing downward to the next drilling point. He worked the first charge from his belt, set the timer, dropped it in the first hole, and watched it until he was sure had liquefied.

<That was the easy one.> He thought, sidestepping along the first incision to the next drop point. The reactor domes were steep, the small space at the top was flat, permitting access to the Y Shaped circuitry, but once the incisions had begun, and the liquid charges began to react with the Borg power center, the floor weakened, leaving no room for an uncertain step. He dropped the second charge, then the third, choosing to focus on the pungent smell of chemicals instead of the sputtering of the metal under his heavy boots.

"She's hesitating." He muttered under his breath, casting a look upward at the Retro's onyx hull.

"Come on." He spoke loud enough for the transmission to reach her this time.


"What the hell are you doing?!" Hutch sprinted into the gunnery, wrapped a powerful hand around Deanna's arm and jerked her from the gunner pit, replacing her hand on the control with his own.

"The laser's locked....I can't get it back on line!" Deanna struggled only to her knees, crawled beside Hutch, and watched him battle the controls.

"Come on you piece of shit." Hutch growled at the controller, wrapping his damp palms tighter around the bumpy handle, keeping his thumb securely on the activation button.

"I let go of this goddamn button and this lasers going to make a Y incision in whatever is in its path." Hutch refused to look below him at Riker, he chose to believe the metal was still supporting him, and they still had a chance to get him off.

"Go below....use the wench, bring him back up and use that spooky mind of yours to tell him what's happening." He heard her footsteps disappear down the ladder, and finally found the guts to look down.

He blinked the sweat away from eyes, "Oh shit!"


Riker continued to move, displacing his weight as best he could, the explosive liquid of his own charges eating away at the brown shell of the dome. Something was wrong, even if Deanna had frozen, Hutch would have handled it by now. He shot one more desperate look to the ship, felt an odd sensation in the deep recesses of his mind, the sensation caused him to hesitate.

"Hutch........shit!" He tore his safety harness away as the metal under his feet buckled, cracked, and finally gave way.


Riker lunged for the railing of the catwalk, his chest struck it instead, knocking the air from his lungs with a jarring force. Through the tinted lens of his solar glasses the black walks appeared distorted, he reached out blindly, wrapping a gloved hand around the pole base of the railing. He struggled to pull himself up, the steamy heat of the hive causing the sleek metal railing to perspire, his hand to slip. He repositioned his hold, tugged his glove off his other hand with his teeth, and wrapped his bare hand above the other. Still kicking his feet, he looked below him, the seven Borg that were essential to the survival of the hive stood like statues in their arched chambers, four others moved mechanically about, vying to contain the liquid charges he'd set. He latched his boot over the grated catwalk, it slipped away, he swung it back up, ignoring the searing pain in his shoulder. He knelt on the catwalk, catching his breath, a crimson flash drew his eyes up.

"Oh well shit!" He clung to the grating, lacing his fingers through the meshing as the Retro's laser sliced through the catwalk as easily as a hot knife through butter.

"Jettison the damn thing......You're going to blow up my ship!" He watched the Retribution through the opening in the dome, the Borg below him still uninterested in him, and the staggering ship above them.

He cursed under his breath, another crimson pulse striking the wall, a gritty haze of metallic dust filtering through the humid chamber. The swinging catwalk reacted to the hit, he slid down several feet before his stiffened fingers were able to latch on. The rumble below him pulled his eyes to the Borg, his stomach clenched as he watched them ready their weapon, and zero in on the Retro.

<No way asshole>

He loosened his hold on the grating, his controlled slide bringing himself almost to the floor before he stopped his decent and pulled his remaining charge from his belt. He programmed it with his thumb, fired it into the center of the main chamber and flung himself down and back, away from the liquid explosive.

He scrambled to his feet, his boots slipping over the floor, not turning to back to see if the chemical reaction had taken place. He staggered through the first exit, the smell and the murky gray smoke stalking him as he sealed the hatch behind him.

He pulled his disruptor from its holster, gripped it in his sweaty palm, and stumbled into the only visible opening in the room, a hole in the floor, accessed by a thick gray ladder. He wrapped his free hand around the ladder, quickly, but reluctantly moving downward. He knew too well where he was going to end up, the planet's hatchery, the thought increased the icy sweat that had broken over his back.

He heard a high pitched whine above him, a familiar sound, Hutch had jettison the laser terminal, and more then likely over the flight bay. There was a thunderous blast, the ground quaked, tearing his grip from the ladder and plummeting him to the ground. Dust rose around him, he covered his head with his arm as debris, and shrapnel rained from above. He kept his head covered as he staggered to his feet, choking on the metallic dust, and spitting blood from his mouth. Metal tiles continued to fall from the ceiling, rumbling the floor and puncturing through the helpless bodies of the humans chained to the Borg machines. Their human cries of anguish, their verbal pleas to him creating a physical pain in his chest, he divorced himself from it as he passed over them.

He choked again, wiped his blood from his mouth with his sleeve, and continued to climb through the battered chamber of bodies to the exit behind them.

"Riker," The voice was weak, almost hollow, and came simultaneously with a tug on his pant leg. He backed away with a start, squaring his disruptor on the bloodied body on the floor, squinting his eyes against the mist of silver dust that hung in the thick air.

"Don't." His finger froze over the trigger as he searched her face, reached into her eyes, looking beyond the blackish tint, to the vibrant green that had once shown there.

"Sam," He dodged a metal strip that fell with a crash beside him, never taking his eyes, or his weapon off her.

"Bennet is not what she seems......don't trust Ultomia.." A tear slipped from her non human eyes, he watched her for an instant, nodded without understanding her words, waited for her eyes to close and fired. Her weakened body shivered only slightly as the polar beam pierced her throat, he turned away before its destruction consumed her, and dove for the door as the ceiling collapsed.

"Son of a bitch." He swore, landing on the petrified sand of the outside planet with a thud. Sweat poured off him in buckets, his mouth was immediately drained of saliva, each breath drying his throat, burning his nose, making it almost impossible to inhale. He managed four steps, his vision blurred, his eyes stung as even through his solar glasses the sun's rays seemed to dissect them with a fiery scalpel. He dug his fingers into the ground, pulled with his hands, pushed with his feet, his efforts pulling him only another few yards before his mind dizzied.

<Don't touch him!>

He thought he heard a rough voice above him, he lifted his heavy head from the sand, it refused his efforts, slapping his cheek down with a smack against the hard, gritty surface.

<We can't just leave him here.>

This time he knew it was a voice, he wasn't in hell as he'd considered, she wouldn't be here. He forced his eyes open, through dark and blurred vision he could see the two forms standing over him.

<We don't touch him till the scans complete.>

"You idiot!" Riker managed to choke the reprimand just as Hutch closed his scanner and nodded to Deanna.

"What the hell were you doing in there?" Hutch's strong hands gripped Riker's arms, tugging him to his feet with one severe jerk, "Shit, we've been waiting out here forever."

"This was so stupid!" Will coughed.

"Are you all right?"

He turned to Deanna, and the gentle hold she had on him, "Think I'm teetering on medium well.." He answered, his lips cracking as he tried to pull up a smile.





For the first time in the seven years Will had called Eden home, his stomach didn't relax, his muscles didn't loosen as the Retribution settled in the familiar hanger bay. He did feel better, his exposure, thanks to Hutch's asinine decision had been minimal, and his injuries superficial enough that Deanna was able to mend them with laser sutures.

"I'll secure the ship Riker......go find out why we're here instead of in the thick of things on Desna."

Will agreed quickly, shaking the stiffness from his legs as he moved to the hatch and waited for Deanna.

"I hate space travel." Deanna admitted, stretching her arms above her head, and forcing her sleepy eyes to remain open.

Will groaned an understanding, waited for Deanna to step out on the ramp then followed behind her.

"Will!" Carley's enthusiastic greeting almost knocked him off his feet, he regained his footing and returned her eager embrace.

"I missed you....sorry we left without saying good bye." He kissed her forehead, then pulled back to look at her, seeing her again, deadening a great deal of his pain.

"Don't let it happen again." She said, only able to hold on to her expression of anger for an instant before it gave way to her mischievous smile.

"You look like shit." She observed, lightly touching the cut above his eye.

He winced, clasp her wrist with his hand, and gestured to Deanna with the other, " You might want to say hi to Deanna." Carley snapped her head around, her grin widening as she moved closer to Deanna.

"Bout time you came back to kick his insolent ass." Carley laughed and hugged her.......Will could hear their mumbled exchange, and moved closer to hear what his sister was sharing.

"It's none of your business Riker." Carley said, drawing away from Deanna, and arching her dark brows wickedly at her brother.

"Hutch is inside." Will said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder towards the Retribution.

"Right....we'll talk later." She said to Deanna, stopping beside Will, "You smell like shit too." She whispered.

"Bet Hutch smells worse." Will responded with a knowing smile.

"Doesn't matter, I'm just gonna say hi," She turned back to him, hiding her anxious smile.

"Oh good, we'll go with you then." Will chuckled, then groaned as his chest muscles reminded him he'd been taken out by a catwalk.

" should shower," Carley answered, placing a gentle hand against his chest, "General Anson is in route with Doctor Soong, they'll be here in a few hours to meet with you"

"Bullshit," Riker mumbled as he began to limp away, "I'm going to bed.....just wake me when we're all dead."


Every woman had a unique scent, a distinct taste and touch that was all their own......... Through closed eyes, and even through an alcoholic haze, Riker's senses had kept him from making any grave errors that could have buried him in shit. Carley said this talent had brought him down a few steps on the evolutionary ladder, a rung below a chimpanzee she'd say. He usually grunted a response, scratched his armpit, or flailed his arms wildly in the air, but to him it wasn't a joke, not really.....he was certain, not only could he tell women apart this way, but he could gauge others intentions by listening to his bodies almost silent messages.

The warm hand that traced softly over his shoulder now was Deanna's, through the veil of sleep he refused to relinquish, he knew.

Wherever he was in the realm of consciousness, he liked it; his pain was minimal, his pleasure was optimal, and the warmth of her body against his cool skin seemed to seal him in this peaceful place. Her fingers slid under his damp hair, traced firm circles over the base of his neck, then smooth nails tickled over his shoulder, down his arm, fingertips replacing the nails as they made their trek back upward.

He heard himself sigh, a contented sigh, the sound bringing him momentarily to the surface. He easily reached his hand to his shoulder, captured her hand, and brought it to his lips, kissing her palm before severing the silence.

"I really can't Deanna." In this distorted place he was in, he wondered if he'd ever uttered those words before.

"Can't what Imzadi?" He could hear her smile in her voice, he continued to brush her fingers against his lips, but didn't answer.

"There are different degrees of intimacy Riker, they're not all contingent on the quantity of sweat you produce, or the number of moans you generate." She pulled her hand from his, slid it over his side, down his stomach, finally under his arm, where she rested it on his chest.

"That's the degree a like though." He muttered, feeling his mind calling him back to sleep.

"Go back to sleep Will."

"I am asleep."

He moistened his lips, focused on her fingers as they tangled themselves in the hair on his chest, her breath as it contrasted the cool feeling of his damp hair against his neck, his foggy gray consciousness deepening to serene black.

Her breathing evened, her hand fell away, the change pulled his mind to the surface, "Deanna?" He said it so softly, he was surprised when she answered with a sleepy mmm.

"I..." he paused, not certain if he was ready to share what had happened with Samantha Niles in the Borg hatchery.

"Go on Will." She drew closer to him, her hand moved to his side, her fingers tightened against his skin.

"I had to get out of the hive through the hatchery, I .... I encountered someone ...." He let his words trail off, rethinking his decision to tell her.....she wouldn't believe him, being able to overcome the Borg influence, share secrets that would betray their new race was unheard of, and certainly not to be trusted. But every instinct in his body told him Sam was telling him the truth, reaching out beyond the grave so to speak, trying with her last shred of humanity to warn him of something.

"Never mind." He finally said.

Her hand fell away, he felt her roll to her back, he wondered if she was mad, or if he'd hurt her by not being able to confide in her.

"You have the most incredible instincts of anyone I've ever known..." Her words stilled his concerns about her, but brewed other concerns about how deeply she was able to see into his mind.

"Deanna...." He rolled to his back, shifted to accommodate his muscles, and looked over at her, "I'm not sure what you know, how you know, or even why you know, but I don't like it." There was a sharp edge to his voice, his attempt to hone it was futile, "I chose not to share this with you, so you took it yourself."

She seemed unaffected by his accusation, a gentle understanding was all he could see in her dark eyes.

"Sometimes Will, you're wrapped up tighter then a drum, even your simple emotions are sealed behind the steel wall you've built......but other times," She said thoughtfully, appearing to look for an understanding of her own, "your thoughts filter into my mind as if you've sent them there yourself. When you returned to the Retribution, everything that happened with Samantha Niles, her words, her fear, your fear....your doubts, flooded into my mind." She stiffened as she finished her thought, as if she'd just confessed a horrible crime and was waiting for the judge to order her punishment. He stared at her without speaking, his anger, his feelings of violation dimmed, eclipsed by a vague understanding that there were some things in his life he'd never be able to explain.

"OK." He finally said, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with it, but as long as you any thoughts?" His pensive expression gave in to smile, a weak one, but the best he could call up.

"Actually I do," She began, relaxing her posture and settling in beside him again, "I think it's odd that Doctor Bennet said Samantha was locked away in a small room, if she's not flying missions how did the Borg get her.......I was also thinking about the word Ultomia, maybe it's the name of her plan to contaminate the central core...."

Will's chuckle cut off Deanna's thoughts.


"This is the real reason you came here, isn't show me how insightful you are.....and I thought it was my incredibly sexy body." He waggled a teasing brow as she rose up to look at him.

"That was my initial motivation," She said, trailing a finger lightly over the bruise on his chest, "but when I crawled in beside you, surveyed the wealth of welts and bruises I found, I was hard pressed to find an unblemished spot to begin." Her hand slid to his lower stomach, over his hip, grazed his thigh, then retraced the path.

"I'll talk you through it," He suggested, cradling her neck in his hand and pulling her lips to his.


Nothing good had ever happened in this room; he'd been here for the inquisition into his father's permutation, he'd received orders here for the mission to Vulcan that took the life of his first copilot, and he'd spent days here when Carley had been found negligent in her duties, and they'd stripped her of her rank, punishing her for a drug addiction headquarters was the first to prescribe.. He tapped his fingers nervously on the arm of the overstuffed chair, eyeing the shelves of old leather-bound books, the artwork depicting Earth before the fall; snowcapped mountains, fields of flowers, icy blue waterfalls all did their best to cut through the doom and gloom that hung like a storm cloud over the room. Riker rose from his chair again, feeling a bit like goldilocks as he moved to chair number three, looking for one that didn't make him feel like he was being swallowed alive in its fluffy depths.

<Where the hell are they?> He thought, sitting down again, sinking immediately, getting up, deciding sitting wasn't necessary. He ran his fingers over the velvet petals of the snow blooms some nitwit had brought into the room. <Probably use these to mask the smell of bullshit that seems to thrive in this place.>

He spun around as the double doors opened.

"Captain." General Grace Anson extended her hand, and smiled warmly. Will accepted it without hesitation, and tried not to show his surprise at how much she'd aged since the last time he saw her. He respected this woman more then anyone on the counsel, he'd served under her when he'd first been called to the renitence, she'd taught him how to outwit the machines, draw on his inner voice, and defend himself against anyone, and anything that threatened him.

"You look beautiful." He finally said, looking beyond the lines of age into the still striking blue eyes that met with his.

"I'll overlook the fact that you just deliberately lied to your superior officer due the fact that you sounded sexy as hell when you said it." She laughed silently, drew her hand from his and gave him a measuring look, "You've surpassed even my hopes for you."

She sounded proud, but sad as she spoke.

"Whatever you have to do, just do it, if the shit hits the fan, duck. Wise word from my favorite captain." Riker said, hoping the smile on her lips would touch her eyes. When it didn't, he cast a look over her shoulder, "Where's doctor Soong......and am I going to hate this?"

"He'll be in a moment, and yes, you're not going to like it, or at best you're not going to agree." She sat down on the couch, and motioned for him to join her. He sat only on the edge of the couch beside her, rested his hands on his knees and tried to gauge her, "If you already know that.....why are you asking me to listen, there are other officers."

"Not for this assignment ......I want you to promise you'll hear him out, think about the benefits of the success of what he suggest before you refuse.....Doctor Soong is a good man."

Riker nodded, not just out of respect for Grace, but for Doctor Soong as well.....When the man had invented the polor-disruptor he'd insisted on accompanying those who tested it. He was not a scientist who hung in the confines of a laboratory, it had taken him years, and a nearly fatal encounter with the Borg before he'd perfected the weapon.

Riker stood as Doctor Soong walked slowly into the room, and studied him closely.....He wasn't what he'd expected, his face was heavy with deep lines, his long gray hair hung in tangles over his hunched shoulders .......But his eyes, deep and thoughtful gave Riker all the motivation he needed to accept the man's outstretched hand.

"It's an honor to meet you Sir." He said, using a term he'd never awarded anyone but his father.

"For me as well my boy," Soong answered, shaking Riker's hand weakly, "To meet the man who has the power and the opportunity to squash the Borg under the heel of his boot, kick their cybernetic asses into nonexistence."


Riker sank into his seat in the Retribution cockpit, clutched his glass of angollian rapture in his hand, and watched the sparse crew of service technicians outside work on the other ships in the hanger. This was the only place he could think of to go where no one would find him, where he could think, where he could chastise himself for doing exactly what he'd promised Grace he wouldn't do; lose his temper, storm out of the meeting room without allowing Doctor Soong to finish explaining his idea. He looked down into the muddy liquid in his glass, saw a distorted, unfamiliar image of himself ripple across the surface......almost as unfamiliar as the strictly emotional reaction he'd had to Dr. Soong's plan.

Even if he believed that Dr. Soong was able to recreate a vortex similar to the one the Borg had used, who the hell was he to take responsibility for realigning time.....who the hell was he to say who lives and who doesn't, that this time is wrong, a mistake, an error made by the crew of this starship named Enterprise.

"I won't do it," He mumbled under his breath, "this is my life, shitty as it is....It's mine, and Deanna's and Carleys and everyone who's been battling the Borg for years." He looked around guiltily as if someone had heard him, as if someone had heard him admit how selfish he knew he was being.

He downed his drink, the sound of the hanger alarm echoed hauntingly through the bay.....he hated that signal, it sounded more like the lonely cry of one of the birds that lived on the ice flows outside, or an old earth loon he'd been told....whatever it sounded like, it never failed to send a shiver up his spine. He put his glass on the floor beside him, leaned forward and watched the massive doors to the bay grind open. Within moments he saw the sleek outline of the ship that was making its approach, he recognized it immediately as the high tech command ship for Anubis; the Renegade. A ghost of a smile pulled at his mouth, but faded quickly as he saw General Anson stride into the bay, shoulders squared, fist clenched at her sides. At first he thought she was looking for him, but as she stood back and waited for the Renegade to touch down, he realized she wasn't.

He watched the incredible ship power down, her wings retract, her weapons follow suit, leaving only an oblong shape shell, void of lines, access hatches, portals...only an ebony hull that masked the destruction she was capable of.

"I'd give up sex for a year to fly that ship." He patted the console of the Retribution so as not to offend her, the effects of his drink sending another shiver down his back.

"Bitch woman." He announced to himself, as the hull on the port side of the ship shimmered away, extended a ramp, and exposed its occupants. He leaned closer to the port, wishing he could hear what was being said. Doctor Bennet's hands were flailing wildly, her mouth was moving at full impulse, for a moment he thought the deranged doctor was going to strike General Anson. Bennet made a sweeping gesture to the Retribution, Grace slapped her fist in her palm, then pointed to the exit of the bay. Bennet stood stiffly for a moment, finally stepped off the ramp, and stormed out of the bay.

Will leaned back in his chair again, "Wonder what the hell that was all about." He asked himself, watching the General say something to Angie, before both women disappeared from view.

"Knock, knock." He pressed his head against the back of his seat, not bothering to turn around to face her.

"I'm sorry I lost it....I know I promised."

She didn't say anything, he could hardly hear her moving around the ship behind him, another of her talents, silent steps, agile movements like a panther. He finally spun his seat around, eyed her as she examined the walls of the ship, "What are you doing?"

"Looking for the spit and twine that holds this thing together."

"Ha, ha." He answered snidely, matching her notorious grin with his own. He looked at her for a minute, her being here on the ship with him generated a kind of nostalgia, a nostalgia that only reinforced the decision he'd made about Soong's plan.

She wedged her fingers between a small indent in the wall of the ship, tugged gently, then smiled outwardly at the contents of his "secret" compartment. She held up the shiny amber bottle and waggled it invitingly.. He reached beside him, picked up his empty glass and mimicked her gestured.

She settled into Hutch's seat, poured herself a glass of Rapture, refilled his, and raised her glass, "To the Retribution." She said.

"To the Retribution." He repeated, downing the drink, smiling at her choice of toast, then leaning closer to her, "I can't do it Grace."

"Mmm," She smiled, "and aside from the fact that you don't like the idea of playing God, can you give me any other reasons?"

"Selfish ones."

"That'll do."

"I keep thinking about Carley, Hutch, my do I know they even exist in this other reality."

"You don't," She said calmly, "just like the friends you had before this mix-up aren't part of your life now."

"That's not me," His voice went up a notch, just as it had with Dr. Soong, he too insisted on referring to this other Riker as him, "that's some pretty boy in nice clothes, with a smile that looks like a child who just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar."

She laughed, he didn't understand why, but for some reason he joined her.

"My cowardice is funny?" He said, his words stilling her laughter instantly.

"You're not a coward, you're a man, the bravest man I know by the way."

He had to smile at her effort to stop him from feeling like a jackass.

"What if this guys a total pussy?"

He was joking, but she didn't take it that way, she pinned him with blue eyes, drew a deep breath, and released it slowly.

"This is your decision .....Yours and sergeant Trois.....I won't order you, I won't even strongly suggest.... I just want you to look at the big picture, not just the one on this base."

Will closed his eyes and nodded, "I'll talk to Troi as soon as she meets with Soong.."

She seemed satisfied, she stood up, brushed a strand of hair from his forehead and smiled, "In a thousand different timelines, with a thousand different Riker's, I'll stake my life on the fact that not one of them is a pussy."



Riker released a frustrated sigh as another intruder invaded his sanctuary.

"Go away Angie, I'm deep in thought."

Her footsteps grew closer, he shook his head as she ignored his warning and sunk into the chair beside him.

"Your eyes are all funny." She observed, moving closer to him, and wrinkling her nose, "You're drunk, and worse then that, you're drunk on that sludge you drink."

"I'm not drunk." He responded, waving his hand in front of his face, shooing her away like a bug, "I pumped myself so full of Tempo I could down nine bottles of Rapture and still fly circles around you."

She pressed back in Hutch's chair, undid the clasp that was holding back her hair, and shook her head. A mane of wheat colored curls fell well below her shoulders, she stroked it a few times, then smiled.

"You got more hair then face." Riker commented dryly, "I'd think carrying all that extra weight on your head would slow you down."

"You really shouldn't take stimulants and drink, it's not good for you."

"Why are you here?" He asked, leaning his elbow on the arm of his chair, and propping his chin in his hand.

"I don't know." She said, her azure eyes looking everywhere but at him. Angie was the worse liar he'd ever met, and it didn't take a crystal clear mind to know why she was here.....She wanted information about his meeting with Soong, and more then likely his nasty state of mind. He almost wished he could talk to her, to anyone, but his orders not to discuss Soong's idea had been nonnegotiable, and he understood the reasoning too well.

"Tell me what was going on earlier with Bennet and Gen....?" His question was cut short by the hollow signal that echoed through the bay, a shrill, unsettling siren signaling all senior officers should report.

"Let's go!" He said, shaking his head, clearing his mind, and following Angie out of the ship.

Deanna was half way up the ramp when he stepped out, he tried to read her feelings by the look in her eyes, but his mind was too foggy to think.

"What's going on?" He asked, ignoring the reprimanding look she held him with.

"We've made contact with the unknown vessel.....or they've made contact with us, it's being relayed through Desna now."

His head cleared quickly, he took her hand and steered her towards the exit, astutely aware of the looks he was receiving from Angie.

"We have to talk soon Deanna," He said, leaning into her, speaking against her hair. She nodded, and looked up at him, "You shouldn't drink and take stimulants, it's not good for your body, your body's a shrine, you should take care of it."

He just accepted the fact that once again Deanna was seeing more then he was willing to show.

"No, your body's a shrine, mines about ready to call it a life."


Riker stepped back from the transmission screen, sent a sidelong glance to Hutch, then returned his eyes to the screen. The two life forms on the screen were like nothing he'd seen before, their appearance was pleasant enough, fair skin, feathery, almost translucent hair, and deep set eyes in a color Riker was unfamiliar with. But what he found unsettling was the way their images rippled, faded, at times giving them an almost ghostly appearance, at other times a solid image, distorted as if a pebble had been dropped on their reflection in a clear pool. They spoke of their struggles against the Borg, about a miraculous occurrence years ago that freed them, an unknown that seemed to dismantle their enemy. They'd thought themselves safe until they'd picked up the homing signal. According to the smaller of the two life forms, it was only their children that were targeted by the Borg, once their kind passed adolescents, and reached the adult plane of existence, their minds and souls were out of the reach of the Borg.

Riker leaned back against the wall and folded his arms across his chest, an uneasy feeling stirring inside him. A life form that had traveled all this way to defend its children, to make sure none of them would ever fall victim to the machines again. He wondered how far they would go, and who they would step on to protect their offspring. He eyed Deanna skeptically as they promised to eradicate the quadrant of the Borg, explained their plan, and then asked only for the location of the central core.

<That sounds vaguely familiar..> He thought, pushing off the wall, glancing at Dr. Bennet, and moving closer to the screen. The life forms stopped speaking as he moved in front of them, looked at each other, then back to him.

Riker couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so many reprimanding glares drilling into him, he ignored them all, took a deep breath and asked what to him seemed to be the obvious question.

"Why should we trust you, we don't even know who you are."

"Your question is valid of course, and one we expected to answer. We will not act until we've been able to meet with your people. We only wanted to warn you of our approach, in hopes we wouldn't frighten you."

<Nothing frightening about a lioness protecting her cubs.> He thought.

"You're aware that the Borg know you're coming, they've dispensed ships and destructive devices to meet you."

"Yes, but the Borg have been dealing with the Ultomia for years, they should know they can't stop us."

"Ultomia?" Riker asked, feeling an intense burn across his shoulders, "That's your home planet?"

"No, that is who we are, we do not have a planet, not as you know it......Please allow us to save you and your children, as well as our own."

Dr. Bennet stepped in front of Will, severing the almost hypnotic hold he'd been unaware this life form had had on him. He half listened to Bennet as she shared far too much information in his opinion, and moved back to Deanna.

"Don't suppose you can scout out her mind as easily as you do mine," He whispered, noting the same mistrust in Deanna's eyes as he was feeling throughout his entire body.


Will watched the others file from the room, he began to follow, but Deanna's nails in his upper arm discouraged him painfully.

"That hurts!" He said, a little harsher then he'd meant to.

She didn't seem to notice, she continued staring at him blankly, digging her nails more severely into his skin.

"Hey....Hey.....Hey!" His voice elevated with each warning, finally he jerked his arm free of her dangerous hold, "What is going on with you?"

She continued to stare, at him, through him, he couldn't tell, but his reservations about their new "friends" was deepening.

Grabbing her shoulders, he shook her gently, then a bit more forcefully, he considered slapping her, but went for the next best thing. He leaned down, clamped his lips over hers, and kissed her as hard, and as passionately as he knew how. At first it was like kissing a corpse, her lips were cold, her mouth impassive, but as he prowled his hands under her jacket, under her shirt, her lips began to respond, her tongue answered his, he wished now this wasn't purely a way to pull her out of her trance. Finally, reluctantly, he pulled away from her.

"What are you doing?" She said, her eyes wide, but regaining their focus.

"Oh I don't know, I just got horny while I was standing here, wondered what would it be like to kiss an unresponsive woman. Where the hell were you?!" He held his hands out in frustration, and took deep soothing breaths, not only to dim his physical arousal, but his emotional concern.

Her eyes were dark, her breathing heavy, tiny wrinkles formed between her brows, amplifying the confusion she displayed.

"Deanna, come to me."

"You ask ask me if I could scout out her mind like I scout out yours....I did," The look in her eyes, the fear on her face was almost tangible.

"And are they lying?"

"Yes, in a way." She said, nodding her head, and wringing her hands, "I looked into her mind.... his mind," she tilted her head towards the now blank screen, "and a thousand others....Will....... they're far superior to the ones we know, but they are a single mind."

He could tell by the look in her eyes his solemn reaction was not what she'd expected, and inwardly in was shocked at her sense that these life forms were of a collective consciousness. But what was eating away at him, causing a fire to rage across his shoulder blades, was his sense that these beings weren't light-years away as they claimed, but here, amongst them even now. He'd received hundreds of transmissions in his lifetime, never one that played on each of his senses as this one had. If Dr. Bennet hadn't broken in, if he hadn't smelled her perfume, he may never have noticed that this female on the screen was also emitting a scent, a scent that was holding him almost physically until it was overridden by Bennet's flowery perfume.

"Let's go." He said, jerking her hand, pulling her along with him so quickly she had to run to keep up with his long strides.

"Where are we going?"

"To find out what the hells going on."


"Open the goddamn door!" Riker pounded harder on the thick wooden door, it rattled under his assault, "I know you're in there Grace, open the the door, or I'll open it myself!" He kicked the base firmly with the sole of his boot, not hard enough to break it down, but hard enough that she'd know he wasn't kidding. He looked down at Deanna as the oblong shaped door handle jarred slightly, then finally turned, the door opening simultaneously.

"Will, what is wrong with you?" Grace looked genuinely tired, but not genuinely surprised, he pushed past her, and moved inside.

"You asked me to look at the big picture......Why don't you paint it for me."

He'd expected a look of defeat, guilt, certainly not relief, but that was the one that flooded her features.

"Sit down, both of you." She said, gesturing to the small couch in the center of the room. Deanna did as she asked, Will walked behind the couch, leaned his hands against the back and stared at her, shaking his head, "What kind of deal did you make Grace.......How many souls has the counsel sold to the Ultoma......How long have you been working with them!"

"All of what they said today is true, the Borg have been feeding on their children, they did pick up the homing signal, and they did come here to stop the Borg from returning eventually to their quadrant. And they do have a method of eradicating the Borg." She looked down at her lap and smoothed her hands over the silky blue fabric of her robe.

"Tell me General....How did they acquire this method?" Riker felt his jaw tighten in anger, anger that a handful of humans felt they had the right to make decisions, form an alliance with this race without ever informing the people.

"They asked us to find a life force, a life force that lived on a planetoid in the Gamma Canaris region, it called itself the Companion....with its silent help we were able to acquire Cochrane's journal....we believe now that it was trying to warn us." She wrapped her arms around herself, her hands on her shoulders, massaging them as if she was cold.

"Sounds like a lot of past tense references......what happened to the life force?"

"They diffused it...."

"They killed it you mean." Riker snapped, his lips thinning into a disgusted sneer.

"We didn't know.... it was a single life form, the only one of its kind." The regret, the pain that flowed over her half-closed eyes did nothing to soften Riker's anger with her. He cast a look to Deanna, her arms were wrapped around herself in a similar manner as the General, he assumed she was feeling Grace's grief, regret and fear....he was pleased he couldn't.

"The diffusion of the life force created the mist that now hangs over the planet, its essence can be used to destroy the Borg.."

"And Doctor Bennet?" Will asked, "She's one of them isn't she.....or have they just become a part of her.....they are one supreme consciousness aren't they?"

"I think so."

"You think so?!" He said on a ragged breath, shaking his head in frustration.

"It doesn't matter, there's nothing we can do now to stop them, the chemical compound they've created will eradicate the Borg, and any other life that gets in its way.....In our desperation to free ourselves of the Borg, we've signed our own death warrent.....Your decision not to go through the vortex...."

"Don't even.." He warned, driving his fist into the back of the couch, "Don't even try to blame this on, and others like you crawled into bed with the devil, you got screwed, and now you're looking to the same people you didn't trust enough to share this with to save your asses." He walked slowly around the couch, wrapped his hand around her arm, and jerked her to her feet, "I want to know everything, every detail, every concession you made for this species, and then if I'm satisfied that the woman I trusted more then anyone has told me the truth, I'll go through your goddamn vortex, attempt to restore time........ if for no other reason then the hope that you won't exist there." He released her arm disgustedly, and wished the disappointment he felt could inflict physical pain. She massaged her arm where his hand had been and nodded up to him, "I'll tell you in route, the vortex can only be established in sector 003."


"You know what ticks me off more then anything?" Riker asked, without looking away from the port of the Retribution, "I mean besides the fact that they've got us hovering over a Borg infiltrated planet."

"What?" Deanna's one word responses, her calm demeanor was doing nothing to pacify his fury and disappointment..

"The elaborate ruse they devised to mask the fact that our own leaders were responsible for the annihilation of the human race. And Grace acts like the aliens are doing them a favor by covering for them.....Christ, I'd say its the least they could do considering they'll be destroying us soon!"

"Some will survive," Deanna said distractedly, much more interested in the fabric of her jacket then the irate tantrum he'd been throwing for the last six hours.

"We could survive......if we choose to, we know what's going to happen....Because this," He scowled, jabbing his finger towards the view port, "is a chicken shit idea, a last ditch effort for the Generals to look like they were fighting until the end to help. So what do you think, do you want to?"

"Want to what?" She said, finally awarding him a look.

"Get the hell out of here, go back to Eden, get Hutch, my mother, away, let those assholes suffer their fate." He gestured to the nose of the battle ship that flanked the Retribution.

She smiled sadly, "And Kestra?" She asked so softly he had to lean into her to hear.

"Deanna, I'm sorry.....I forgot all about her, I'm sure she'll be there, in the other timeline." He kissed her forehead, inwardly chiding himself for being so thoughtless.

"But you just said this was a chicken shit idea......that we should runaway ourselves?"

He shrugged, "What do I know, I'm a cynic."

<Stand by Riker, we're launching the beam now.>

Riker answered the transmission, then drew his eyes back to Deanna's frown.

"Hey, from what I understand, if this works, and we breach time, there's going to be another Deanna back there........I can't begin to tell you how tantalizing I find that little picture." He waggled his brows and grinned for the first time in hours.

"You're such a jerk Riker......Has there ever been a situation that you can't draw a sexual fantasy from."

"I don't think so, and think about it Deanna, you'll have two Rikers too."

She wrinkled her nose and shuddered, "That's enough to make me change my mind about this assignment."

"Then you must stand alone in the female compliment of the universe." He answered smugly, her chuckle finally blending with his.

His chuckle fell off quickly, he tipped his head to the port as the space outside began to churn.

"Through the looking glass time." He said, doing his best to shield her from the profound uncertainty he was feeling.


"Now what?" Will said, tossing a look over his shoulder as the tortoise shell spiral of lights waxed, and waned, and finally sealed itself behind them, "Hover up here and act like God?....Check the Chronometer Soong said he revised, least we'll know if we're where we're suppose to be."

Deanna flicked the switch in front of her, the panel buzzed to life, sizzled and went blank.

"Great, hope this isn't any indication of how this little adventure is going to go." He raked a hand through his hair, and shook his head at Deanna. She didn't return the smile he offered her, she'd lapsed back into the same wistful, distracted mode she'd been in before they passed through the vortex.

"Are you scared?" He asked.

She answered his question with a shake of her head, examining the dead panel in front of her as if it held some mysterious power.

"Will?" She said, not affording him a look, "If I hadn't told you about the collective consciousness, if you weren't told that the Ultomia were a greater threat then the Borg, would you have chosen to pass through the vortex?"

It was a simple question for him to answer, why she'd asked it on the other hand he found very perplexing.

"No, I wouldn't have......why?" He asked, tilting his head, eyeing her with a lack of trust he couldn't quite hide.

"I was just wondering, that's all....I...."

"Look at that!" He cut her off, rose to his feet, and leaned as close to the port as he could without pressing his face against it.

"It's like a floating hive.......It's huge."

Will mumbled an agreement and shook his head, an awe inspired fear knotting his stomach, "Ok, this is it....lock on and tag anything that leaves that ship."

He backed the Retribution off slowly, keeping this spherical nightmare in range, but pulling his ship back far enough that he hoped they'd go unnoticed. The bronze hull of the Borg Sphere flickered, blue and white bursts of pulsar blast spiraled from two points on the ship, and rained on the planet below.

"Are you getting them all?"

"I think so......they're firing so fast, I can't tag them all." Her hands moved over the retribution's panel with an impressive speed.

"Here comes the Cavalry," Will said, doing a double take as this starship he'd heard so much about passed through the swirling vortex, and shimmered into the void of space like a magnificent jewel, "Awesome."

He accessed his own panel, locking on, and tagging the quantum bursts that came form the Enterprise.

"Hang on!" He cautioned as this Borg sphere sputtered, ignited, and shattered with a powerful detonation that rocked through the Retribution.

"I can't get it all, there's too much fuselage, it's entering the Earth's atmosphere at too many locations ....some of its igniting in the ionosphere ....the rest is making it to the ground in what was once, Montana, Wyoming, and Nevada......Christ........i knew this was a dumbass idea."

"Will" Deanna said, "The Enterprise isn't powering down....she's making an approach.."

"I thought they were the good guys." He scowled, glancing up from his readings.

"Maybe they think we're borg?"

"A ship like that.....come on, they're probably capable of scanning the entire sector with one sweep."

Deanna shook her head, "There shields are minimal, there long range sensors are off line, and their communications are fluctuating.."

"Try hailing them, all frequencies! No.......send a distress signal!" Will dropped to his knees, and yanked a panel away from the console.

"There powering wait.... there initiating a tractor beam."

"Don't they have better things to defend themselves against the Borg they got crawling round in their belly.......There," He smirked, pulling himself to his knees, and smacking the control for the access light generator.

"What did you do?"

"I adjusted the frequency of the access lights, they should bounce off that pulsar, which in turn should create a confined soliton wave, we'll surf away from here before they can blink."

"That's illegal Will."

"It can't be illegal Deanna, it hasn't been invented yet." He grinned, clutched the Retribution throttle with both hands, and caught the rippling pulse at full impulse, "Now if they aren't stupid enough to get caught in the wake, we can all go back to our business.."

Will's neck snapped back as the Retro caught the crest, the confined wave shooting them across the system at forced speeds that caused the interior of the Retribution to tremble, whine, and buck wildly against the current.....and as quickly as the wave peaked, it flattened, bringing them to a grinding halt, hopefully out of the Enterprise range.

"See, confined." Will said, wondering when his stomach would dislodge from his throat, and his heart would resume a rhythm, "I understand why it's illegal now though." He added on a rough breath.

Deanna hurriedly released her safety harness, and ran to the back of the ship.

"I told you not to have that second sundae." He called over his shoulder before using an unsteady hand to bring the Retribution about.


"Tell me again why we're killing ourselves to avoid the Enterprise crew?" Will massaged every leaf he came to, examined every petal, of every flower. He knew this was a time of devastation for the planet, but to him it looked incredible, never in his wildest dreams did he think he'd ever walk on this Earth, feel dirt instead of metal under his feet, breath clean air instead of chemicals, touch life instead of death.

"Because the crew of the Enterprise succeeded in one of their tasks, if we contact them now, we may jeopardize that." Deanna reminded him, dropping to her knees, manually scanning one of the blasts from the Borg ship.

"But they could scan this entire planet in the time it takes us to scope out five hits....we could also give them a jump on what's happening onboard their luxury liner."

"And force them to second guess themselves....No," She said, shaking her head adamantly, "we should wait until they've accomplished their mission, not interfere, do what we can, until they're finished."

"Deanna," He said, leaning against the huge tree beside him, and calling up his most pathetic expression, "We don't even know, when or how they seeded the planet, it may have already begun, or it might be something that happens tomorrow......we're just biding time, waiting to call in the big guns for help....why can't we go watch history unfold, from a safe distance of course."

"We wouldn't be biding time if you hadn't chosen to surf us across the galaxy and screw up our readings."

"There's Borg on that ship Deanna.....I could have stayed home and been absorbed by the collective." He arched his brows pleadingly, his smile widening as her face relaxed into an agreeable smile.

"Ok, there were several touch downs in the vicinity of the missile base, I guess we could check those out..... discreetly." She tilted her head towards the lights in the distance, "Just promise me you won't get all giddy if you see Cochrane."

"Giddy Deanna?......I don't get giddy." He wiped the dirt on his hands on his pants, took her hand in his, and pulled her energetically towards the base.


"Awesome." He mumbled, his eyes moving almost affectionately over the shabby installation, "Life on Earth."

She returned his smile as if she could feel the barrage of varied emotions that coursed through him, then pointed ahead of them towards one of the larger blast sights. He followed behind her slowly, taking in every nuance of his surroundings, his wide eyes moving beside him to the large canvas tent that seemed to be home to loud music, and drunken sounds.

"Will." Deanna's whisper barely sounded above the music, he ignored it, and moved closer to the tent.

"Cochrane," He whispered, a boyish grin pulling at the corners of his mouth.

"Come on Will." Deanna ordered, pulling at his sleeve, trying fruitlessly to get him to move.

"In a minute." He answered, raising his hand to silence her, "look that's you....three sheets to the wind from what I can see."

Deanna stopped tugging at him and moved in front of him, "Why is my hair like that....I hate my hair like that."

Will chuckled softly, "OK? Now what did you want to show me?"

"Don't tell me you like it....tell me I don't look like that?"

Her face was so shocked, her tone so serious, he had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud.

"No, she looks nothing like you...I don't even see a resemblance," He wrinkled his brows and shook his head, "Now put your ego to bed and show me the readouts."

"That's a bit like the pot calling the kettle black isn't it?" She answered, tossing another glance over her shoulder before guiding him beside the tent to the massive blast sight.

"Crawl under here." She said, disappearing under the torn canvas that partially covered the blast.

He began to follow, the feel of cold metal against his neck stilled his progress.

"What the hell are you doing here?" He recognized the voice, cast a look to Deanna, and stood up slowly, raising his hands in the air.

"Hi." He said, eyeing this Will Riker from the top of his head to the tip of his boots, "Nice jacket." he added with a shrug.

Answer my question, what are you doing here?"

"I don't understand, were you expecting me?" He shifted his weight as this Riker gave him a similar head to toe look, his laced with an intense suspicion.

"No, but you have a knack for showing up when your least welcome."

He had no idea what this jerk was talking about, but since he seemed bent on thinking he wasn't who he was, he played along.

"I..... I followed you through the vortex?" He said.


"Why.....why," He thought out loud, "Because it was there?" He looked down as the canvas that concealed Deanna rippled slightly.

He took a step in front of it as this Riker's eyes moved downward, his weapon lifted upwards, "Who's under there?"

"I don't know....a dog....maybe." He had to ask himself why he was lying, it was obvious this Riker was having no problem wading through the bullshit he was handing him.

"A dog?" He snapped doubtfully, jerking back the canvas with a swift tug.

Will watched as this Riker's composure faltered slightly, his dark blue eyes darting between this Deanna, the one hunched on the ground, smiling slightly, and the one sitting in the makeshift tavern, her head slumped in her hands.

"What the hells going on!" He insisted, his voice losing its authority.

"Kinda a long story....and we really can't share it right now."

"Like hell you can't." Riker said, training his weapon more securely on Will, and reassuming this commanding presence he seemed to think he possessed.


Captain Riker took a half a step forward, but kept his hands in the air, "Listen, you have your agenda, and we have ours......I have no time for this bullshit right now, and neither do you." He tipped his head towards the tavern, and Zefram Cochrane's swaying body. He watched this Commander Riker follow his gesture, stare into the tavern for a moment, then return his suspecting blue gaze to him.

"I'll make time." He said curtly, reinforcing his impatience by waving his weapon leisurely in front of Will.

"You're a stubborn bastard, aren't you?"

"Not stubborn.... curious ......who the hell are you....and why should I listen to you?"

Captain Riker thought for a moment, released a few short breaths of air, and finally allowed his face to slip into a crooked grin, "Does this lack of intelligence come naturally to you..or is it something you work at....who do you think I am.....I'm you..just a shade better looking."

The sound of Deanna's irritated breath as she struggled out of the hole and to her feet pulled both Riker's eyes to her.

"That's enough Will," She said softly, offering her Riker a glare before focusing much more docile eyes on the Commander.

"Commander Riker?" She began, her voice lowering to a tone Will had only heard in the confines of the bedroom, "That is your title, isn't it?"

Commander Riker nodded and almost looked uncomfortable, the icy gaze he'd been holding Will with melted away, but his eyes darted nervously back and forth between the Deanna in front of him, and the one in the tavern.

"I'm sure, in all your exploration of space you've come across many things you can't come to grips with right away.....I also understand that for reason I can't quite fathom you don't trust Captain Riker, and yet I get the sense that it's not Captain Riker you don't trust. But it's more then important that you our future, and to yours." She smiled, and Will watched his firm hold on his weapon relax slightly.

<What a sap.> He thought, regaining his somber expression as Commander Riker's eyes returned to his. He chose to listen quietly as Deanna, in this hypnotically provocative voice, skirted over the truth, but spoon-fed the Commander enough facts that he finally lowered his weapon.

"We do need your help, but you have to finish what you've started, or none of it will really matter."

"Why....what happens in your future?" He asked, "Is it something we did here that impacts you?" It was obvious he didn't care which of them answered him, his narrowed eyes moved inquisitively between the two of them.

"I can't answer that, not now....Please," She said, resting a reassuring hand on Commander Riker's arm, "Go back to doing what you were doing, help Cochrane make his flight, then we'll talk again....we can't do our job until you do yours."

Riker drew a breath, opened his mouth to say something, then promptly closed it again.

"Thank you," Deanna said, tilting her head towards the Deanna in the tavern, "It might be best if you don't mention this to anyone....yet."

"I won't promise....but for the moment I'll go a long with you." He almost smiled at Deanna, it faded quickly as he nodded to Will, "I'm going to suggest if that was you up there," He lifted his head to the starry sky, "you might want to think about toning down your stunts.....people around here get a little spooked about unidentified aircraft."

<I'd like to see you perform a stunt like that,>

"Of course, you're right," He replied out loud, vying to hold on to his impassive expression.

"What an overstuffed jerk." Riker said, when he was sure Commander Riker was well out of earshot.

"I thought he was very charming....not quite as rough around the edges as some Riker's I've met." She folded her arms across her chest and smiled, a far too satisfied smile.

The blaring music from the tavern came to an abrupt halt, stilling Will's retort, and drawing both their eyes from each other to the tavern.

"Well, maybe he's a little overstuffed." Deanna relented, chuckling slightly at the sight of Commander Riker, electrical cord in hand, throwing cold water on everyone's party.

Will's chuckled lapsed into a heavy sigh, "I don't trust him Deanna." He confessed.

"You're both on equal ground then, because he doesn't trust you either." She answered, leaned back against him, and looked up at him over her shoulder, "I feel guilty for not telling him the whole truth, maybe he should know that it's his own future he needs to worry about."

He didn't answer her, he had a feeling he wasn't suppose to, he watched her hands stroke rhythmically over her scanner, kissed her hair, then pulled it from her grasp.

"There's no readings here?"

"I know," She said, turning to face him, digging in her jacket pocket, "It's this."

Will took the tiny rectangular device she'd found in her pocket, turned it over in his hands a few times, and examined it closely, "Looks like a receiver ....this was in with the explosive residue?"

She nodded.

"Do you think it's a coincidence, or do you think it was implanted in the explosive?"

"One way to find out I guess," He answered, giving the device one more look before dropping it one of the deep pockets of his jacket.


"Your charming Commander may be right about one thing," Will said dryly, "I don't think we should do a low surface scan in the Retribution." He darted his eyes over the dimly lit base, they finally found something that brought a smile to his face, "Land runner." He said, tilting his head towards the outskirts of the base, and picking up his pace to move towards it.

He stopped a few yards short of the craft and eyed the young man that was stroking the gold chrome of the runner with much the same affection he used on the Retribution.

"Hey Kid!" He called, not moving any closer.

The young man, a boy in Riker's eyes, snapped his head around and glared from beneath a tangle of stringy brown hair.

"Can we talk to you for a minute?" Riker asked, casting a doubtful look to Deanna.

"Bite me!" The boy scowled, narrowing eyes that seemed to darken from blue, to gray, to brown before Will could take a step closer.

"Bite me?" Will mouthed the boy's term to Deanna, "I don't think that's good."

Deanna nodded in agreement.

"She's a beauty, finest I think I've ever seen," Will took another step forward, stopped, rested his hand on his hip, pulled back his jacket and displayed the weapons that hung on his belt. The boys eyes ignited, just as he thought they would.

"You like em?" Will asked, ignoring the pinch Deanna placed on his wrist.

"kickin.." The boy answered, his gaze moving thirstily over Riker's right hip. The weapons on his belt were more for show then anything, he'd taken special care to tuck any of the weapons he'd brought back with him, out of sight, but in easy reach. He smiled inwardly as the boy's eyes continued to fall to the ivory handle of the knife that peered out from the top of his boot.

"I tell ya let us borrow your can keep this." Riker bent down, pulled the knife from his boot and waved it tantalizingly in front of the kid. The knife wasn't much, it looked better then it functioned, but Will had been about this kid's age when his Dad had given it to him, and he'd thought it was the most incredible thing he'd ever seen.

The boy held out his hand, waited for Will to place the etched handle of the knife in it, and grinned proudly as his hand wrapped around it.

"You got a deal mister....this knife must be worth a fortune, it's gotta be hundreds of years old."

Riker's face fell, monetary value was something he'd never had to think about, but apparently this kid did.

"Thanks kid." Will said, snagging the ignition card out of the air as the boy tossed it, "We'll bring her back, good as new."

The kid had turned and was already heading back toward the base before Will offered his promise.

"Lets go." He said to Deanna.

"Do you know what you're doing....I mean what is this thing?"

"It's a Land Runner," Will said, a glib smile masking his lack of knowledge, "See, it says it right here."


"That's receiver number eight.....I think I'm seeing a pattern." Riker said, igniting the controls for the land runner, "Be nice if we knew who was going to do the transmitting."

"I wish they weren't embedded so securely in the ground....I think I'd feel better if we could have dislodged all of them, instead of just the one." Deanna pushed her hair behind her ear, her forehead wrinkled in frustration.

"I just don't want to go too far Deanna, I'm not sure I trust Commander Riker not write us off as an hallucination, and we don't have a lot of time until they launch the Phoenix." He squinted his eyes through the glass of the Land Runner, acknowledging the dawn that was breaching the night.

His eyes lowered to the topaz lights on the runner dash, he had a hunch they were warning lights caused by the speed he was demanding of her, he tried not to let that concern show on his face.

"Where are we now?" She asked.

"No idea," Will answered, nonchalantly easing back on the runner's controls, slowing their speed to what he deemed a slow crawl, "How many more impacts sites are you reading with a plasma signature?"

"Two," She pointed her finger ahead of them, "side by side... about forty kilometers ahead."

He nodded thoughtfully, continued to stare ahead of them, focusing more on the familiar burning in his shoulders then the bleak terrain he was maneuvering over.

"What are you thinking Will?"

"What?" He said, responding not to her question, but the firm grip she had on his arm.

"I said what are you thinking."

He disengaged the engine just shy of the location Deanna had given him.

"I'm thinking..." He began, leaning back in his seat, running a thoughtful hand over the back of his neck, "I'm thinking I've been playing hide and seek with the Borg most of my life, trying to outthink them, never standing still long enough for them to lock on."


"And these Borg had a target.... a sitting duck, and more then enough to time to lock on, fire, and destroy the Phoenix with one clean shot, but they didn't.....instead they shot wildly, allowed the Enterprise to destroy them and never looked back."

"So you think the entire encounter was merely a device, subterfuge used to what?" She leaned forward and rested her arms on her knees.

He shifted under her dark searching eyes, tried to reflect on the doubt that shimmered in their depths ....but no amount of reflection he decided was going to change his thinking.

"Ever play tic-tac-toe Deanna?"

She shook her head, obviously a bit confused by his sudden change in topic, "It's a game, a small child's game, a game as a child I was never able to beat my father didn't matter where I put my X's or my O's, in the end he'd always walk away with the victory, seemed I could only block him one way." He slumped further down in his seat, continuing in a low thoughtful voice that was a million miles away, "I think that's what the Borg have done, put their X's in all the right squares, so even when the command crew of the Enterprise blocks their win, they still have another move......the winning one." He shrugged, tried to gage her sentiments on his thoughts....she was either considering it, or thought he'd lost his mind and was trying to find a kind way to tell him.

"Get out of the vehicle with your hands in the air!" The gruff and demanding voice came simultaneously with a sharp rap on the window beside him.

He shared a look with Deanna before glancing towards the window and smiling at the bearded man behind the glass, his primitive weapon pressed tightly against it.

"I know I don't have time for this crap." Will whispered out of the corner of his mouth, raising his hands in the air as the man opened the Runner's door.

"Put your hands on your head." It wasn't so much the threatening weapon the man had aimed at him that motivated Riker to obey, it was more the slur in the man's words, the unsteady hand that hovered over the trigger, and pupils so dark, so dilated, only a whisper of blue was visible around the edges of his bloodshot eyes.

"OK," Riker said, checking his voice, keeping it as low-key as possible.

He followed the man's order in the same fashion, interlaced his fingers and laid them on his head, "We're not a threat to you.....we're just passing through." He glanced at Deanna, the sound of the man's hand moving anxiously against his weapon quickly pulled his eyes forward.

"Too much Gawd Dang commotion around here." He grumbled.

Will moved his eyes over the landscape, thinly grassed, a few jagged rock formations, but from what he could see there wasn't anything for miles.

"We'll be more then happy to get out of your way." Will offered.

"Walk," The man ignored him, tilted his head and his weapon in the direction he was referring to.

Will nodded to Deanna, turned and waited for her to fall in beside him before he began moving in the direction the man indicated. He rolled his shoulders, walking with his back to this drunken nutcase more disconcerting then looking down the barrel of his gun.

"Stop here."

Will stopped, raised an uncertain brow at Deanna before turning slowly and cautiously around.

"Open it!" The man stabbed the barrel of his gun at the ground at Deanna's feet.

Will followed the gestured with his eyes, examining the browning grass under his feet. He almost questioned what exactly it was the man was referring to, but before his question had formed on his lips he spotted the tarnished circular handle poking up from the ground.

He smiled inwardly, another missile base, or maybe a bunker, and more then likely accessed by a ladder.

1<Almost impossible to keep two people under the gun on a ladder.>

The hinges of the heavy metal hatch creaked loudly, the dirt embedded around its edges fell away and landed on the steep ramp inside.

<Oh well shit,> Riker thought as his eyes fell to rest on the narrow ramp that led into the ground.

"Go in!" The man barked, squaring his stance and gripping his weapon with both hands.

"Dark in there," Riker said.

The man didn't move, but activated something on his weapon that caused it to buzz, the sound slowly increased.

"I'm going." Will said, holding Deanna's arm and pulling her beside him.

"Two steps," Riker whispered, testing his footing, hearing the grainy crackle of dirt against the metal ramp.

Riker's two step plan didn't quite work out the way he'd planned, a half a step forward caused the worn soles of his boots to slide over the gravel, his feet getting ahead of him, throwing him into a rough slide down the ramp. He came to an abrupt halt at the bottom, felt Deanna's boot smack into his head, and waited for the shot he was certain would follow. He flinched as a loud crash sounded above them, extinguishing the fine traces of light that filtered down on them.

"Great," He whispered, a few more creaks reaching his ears, a locking mechanism he figured.

"You all right?" He asked, turning towards the sound of Deanna's breathing, reaching out blindly in the inky darkness.

An unconvincing fine was returned to him, he patted the thigh he'd found, mumbled a good and began to explore their surroundings in the only way he could. The ground under him was smooth, cool, as were the walls.....he crawled back in the direction he thought he'd fallen, feeling the incline, he tried to move up....his boots slipped, sending him to his belly. He cursed under his breath, found the wall to the right of the ramp, and ran his hand over the bumpy surface, "This is rock," He smiled. "Move back Deanna, stay on the metal floor."

He waited until her boots stopped squeaking before drawing his laser from the back of his belt. "Hope it's sturdy rock." he added, more to himself then Deanna.

He redirected his settings, fired a steady stream against the surface and continued until the rock glowed white, then blue, and finally a fiery red. He knew it wouldn't glow long, he wished he could see in all directions at once, if he had to do it again he'd have to kiss his favorite weapon good bye.

"Here." It was Deanna's voice, further away then he'd thought. He squinted his eyes in the direction of the sound, thought he saw a shadow, maybe her hand reach high on the wall.

"Don't pull any switches!" His warning came too late, there was a crackle, a buzz, a few short pops, and the smooth surface beside him lit up with a ghostly glow.....He released a breath of air, shook his head as if annoyed, and finally permitted a smile to breach his scolding features, "How did you know you were pulling the right one?"

His eyes moved over the line of switches rooted in the wall, finally falling to the incised lettering beneath them, "You could give Hutch a run for his money." He said, getting to his feet, and brushing the gravel from his pants, and jacket. He shot a look up the ramp, shook his head, and moved down the corridor to where she stood.

"Nice place.... if you're a mole." He smirked, taking her hand, pulling her further down the tangle of corridors. The walls were a frosted heavy Plexiglas, some sort of chemical churned inside the panel, obviously it's reaction was generating the eerie light. Arched doorways marked sealed rooms, each labeled with their function were scattered along the corridor....But it was a map that caught Riker's eye, etched into the wall what appeared to be a layout for this massive complex shimmered with colored lights that interrupted this almost sterile environment..

"This place must cover hundreds of miles.... an entire city safely concealed beneath the devastation above. Bet it was a kick in the ass for them when they realized their was no escape from the nuclear war they probably generated."

"But this must have taken years to build." Deanna looked up at him with probing eyes.

"I know, what does that tell...." His bitter comment trailed off, a familiar sound, and an unforgettable smell caused the hair on his arms to stand on end. "Borg." He said, swallowing logic and focusing on the instinct that had saved his life more then once.

"I'm not sensing anything!" Deanna had to jog to keep up with the pace he'd set for himself, he broke into a run as the sound amplified, then stopped short and drew his weapon.

He reached his arm behind him, making sure Deanna was in reach before he poked his head cautiously into the dimly lit chamber. Perhaps fifty Borg, all encased in domed containers stood like wooden soldiers against the four walls.

Deanna unsnapped her disrupter, he drew back quickly, spun to face her and rested a firm hand on her wrist, "Don't use it....we can't....if we fail, they'll have foreknowledge of the only defense we have against them in the future."

She nodded, sheathed the disrupter, and pulled a palm laser from her boot.

"Why aren't they moving?"

"I don't know...stay here, if any of them reacts fire at the globe on the ceiling."

He stepped softly, cautiously inside, the grit in the thin treads of his boots seemed to carry above the metallic hum of the hive. He approached the first Borg to his right, noting a much less human element in this Borg then the ones he was familiar with. Still gripping his laser in his hand, he used his other to run a scan, never taking his eyes off the rigid stance, and distant stare of the Borg in front of him. He glanced at the readings, stepped back, aimed his laser and fired. The Borg's body trembled, jerked spasmodically, then fell face first from its cubicle. He circled the room with his weapon, none of them moved.

"There in some kind of stasis!" He called over his shoulder, waving Deanna into the room. She hesitated in the doorway, not appearing to trust his observation, finally her weapon trained on the globe in the center of the ceiling she stepped slowly inside. The globe appeared to be the heart of the hive, capillaries reached like tentacles, inserting themselves into the heads and throats of the Borg, a green fluid waxed and waned inside. Will nodded, also aiming his laser at the globe. A duel burst of crimson fire hit the globe, it sputtered, sparked and finally vaporized .....Will smiled, a satisfied smile that fell off almost instantly as the globe regenerated, with a shallow hum, new capillaries reached out, reconnected themselves and began to pulse.

"Well that sure as hell didn't work." He shrugged, waiting for Deanna to aim again before they reenacted their previous attempt. The duel burst proved even less productive this time, an unseen force field extinguished the blasts before they reached their target.

"Maybe we need the charming Commander after all. What time is it?"

Deanna sighed, opened her mouth to respond, then walked away, seemingly fascinated by something. Will followed behind her, seeing almost instantly what had caught her attention. He couldn't believe he hadn't seen it, a receiver, exactly like the ones that had found was implanted in the flesh of the Borg's arm.

"They all have it." Deanna observed, sidestepping from one chamber to the next.

Will squatted down in front of one of them, swallowed past an uncanny fear and took the Borg's arm in his hand. He studied it closely, traced an apprehensive finger over the circuitry, a loud chirp from the device and a twitch from the Borg propelled him to drop the arm, fall back ,and scramble away with a bit more panic then he'd have liked to display.

"God, that scared the shit out of me." He said, looking up at Deanna, her face reflecting his own feelings.

"They all went off Will....all at once, then died.....why?"

"Gawd danged if I know." He answered, composing himself and offering her a shaky smile.


"Will, there must be another way out." Deanna jumped back as another Borg body fell to floor, she knelt beside it and ran a scan, "It's not dead either."

"We'll find a way to kill him, just as soon as we get out of here." Will grunted and continued struggling to move the cubicle away from the door it was blocking.

"There." He said, breathing heavily, stepping back as the dark metal casing crashed onto the floor.

"Look at this." He said, peering through the tiny glass opening in the top of the steel door, "must be a communications center." He added, noting the large screens aligning the walls.

"Why is that light flashing?" Deanna pointed above him. He followed her finger to the protruding red light over the door.

"Radiation warning, be my guess." He tugged his scanner from his pocket, increased the frequency, and stared at it for moment, "That guess was wrong...must have been some sort of reactor leak, large concentration of particulate matter, good way to screw up your lungs."

"And you still think this is the best way to go." She propped her hands on her hips and stared at him questioningly.

" I'm not going your way, that's for sure.....You wanna go ride that tram we found be my guest.......but give me a good-bye kiss, I'm sure I won't see you again." He smiled snidely, and returned his gaze to the room behind the door.

"You don't know didn't even give it a chance....actually you hardly looked at it!"

"I didn't have to look at it, the rails were worn, the runners were loose......Geeze Deanna the door fell off when we opened have some kind of secret death wish I should know about?"

Her voice elevated, "It would take us out of here without crawling through air vents ....and I've seen you fix things....I can't imagine loose runners would be a big thing for you."

"Drop it Deanna!" He snapped, "We're not riding the tram, or any other damn thing that runs on a rail or a cable."

She was completely unaffected by the icy look he held her with, she matched it and fell silent......for a minute.

"You're afraid of Trams." She wasn't asking, she was snooping again, and worse yet she was smiling widely.

"So what if I am," He shrugged, "You have no control over things like little glitch in the track and you and the car go flying, crashing over a cliff face, your body knocked around around like a pool ball....and then if you're lucky, you'll stop and the whole thing will go boom." His face twisted with revulsion.

"OK," She said, holding up her hands in submission, "No trams."

He nodded, satisfied she would shut up, he returned his attention to the door.

"I know what we can do........see that generator in the middle of the room......I'll go in, reverse the air flow, pump out the bad air, and blow in uncontaminated air." He grinned proudly, "I got this all figured out."
"Oh yea, sounds so much simpler then fixing the runners on the tram." She shook her head, and rolled her eyes.

"Bite me, Deanna." He answered, his grin never abating, "I'll be right back." He disappeared out the door....Reappeared minutes later, his jacket over his shoulder, his shirt in his hand, dripping wet, and a bucket in the other.

"Charcoal," He announced, setting the bucket down, wringing excess water from his shirt, "I saw it earlier when we were exploring your tram."

Deanna's eyes slid over his bare chest, "Can I bite you now?" She asked, lowering her voice and waggling her brows.

"Don't turn me on Deanna." He said flatly, dropping to his knees and dunking his shirt in the powdery stone, "If this works, and I can get a message out of that communication center we'll have nothing to do but wait for pretty boy to show up.......and then I may hold you to that offer." He stood up, examined his shirt, satisfied, he nodded to himself.

"You stay out here....once I go in, close the door, this charcoal should act like enough of a filter that if I work fast enough I won't kill myself."

He noticed the concerned look in her eyes, "It'll be fine, just think about sex, that's what I do when I think I'm going to die....much more pleasant.." He winked, wrapped his hand around the door handle and turned back, "One more thing, once I reverse the filter....I gotta get out of there before all the air is drained from the room.....The room will be a vacuum before the new air streams in."

"I don't like this......this tram phobia of yours really needs to be addressed."

"We can address, or undress anything you like when we're done." He answered, shaking some of the coal off his shirt then tying it around his face.

"Don't die." She sighed, unlatching the door, and closing it behind him.


He couldn't help sending intermittent glances towards the door, he could almost feel the wide dark eyes that peered inside. Everything had gone just as he'd planed, reconfiguring the airflow shafts, amplifying the filtration had been simpler then he could have ever anticipated. But now as his sweaty hands fought, slipped, and strained against the activation valve, he would have gladly exchanged simplicity for Hutch's over pumped arms.

"Son of a b...." He choked, slamming his palm against the yellow handle. He'd been choking on the dusty charcoal mask since he entered, but this wasn't the same, he recognized not only the dry burn in his throat, but the tingle that felt as if someone had brushed the hair on his arms the wrong way.

"Ok valve .....turn for me, come on...." He grunted, wrapping one hand over the other and pulling as if his life depended on it. He heard the crackle as rust broke away and turned harder, firmer, until his muscles burned in his sweat soaked shoulders....."Come on, keep going you mother.......YES!" The valve twisted, the hiss he'd been striving for sounded like music to his ears.....He scrambled to his feet, shot to the door and tried to open it.

"Where the hell is she?"

" the door!" He shouted, pounding his fist against the steel, blinking the sweat from his eyes, trying to see through the glass opening.

The handle turned, the door flung open....he slammed it behind him, and pinned her with a hostile gaze, "Where the hell were you?" His gaze moved quickly from her to the chirping sound of the Borg receivers, all sparking with life in front of him. "It's happening again." He said under his breath.

"It's higher pitched....stronger this time." Deanna took a half step towards him, the sound faded, the receiver lights fell away.....she stopped, "Something's triggering it Will." She glanced at the chronometer on her belt, "It's been a little over two hours."

Will pulled the dirty shirt that hung around his neck off, tossed it to the floor and brushed a dirty hand over his beard, "Let's send a discreet mayday to Commander charming.....I think a bit of his high-tech equipment might be able to help us."


Will tipped back in his chair and shifted against the leather that was sticking to his damp skin, "All these visual scanners have been reset, redirected...." He punched a few commands into the primitive computer, trying to clear the fuzzy black screen, magnify it to see beyond the rippling darkness, "How do you magnify?" He said on a breath of frustration.

How's it coming?"

He glanced over his shoulder at Deanna, then returned his glare to the computer panel in front of him, "They have feeble computers in this century....... and I know you're going to find this impossible to believe, but I think I was wrong about coming in here."

"I don't think you were." She said, resting a hand on his shoulder, "I've been scanning the Borg cubicles......Will, according to my readings these cubes haven't been here for hours as we thought, but months."

"Let me see." He snatched the scanner from her hand, and eyed it, "Very clever Deanna." He said, chuckling at the grin on her face.

"I have to admit it was an accident Will, I wasn't initially scanning for the effects of radiation on the Borg metals."

"Don't ever admit that Deanna, no accidents, only brilliant ideas you didn't know you had." He winked, and returned his eyes to the scan, "The trace degradation suggest these cubicles have been here for sixty three days....." he lifted his eyes to the blurred ebony screens above him, "long enough for the Borg to have redirected these computers."

"But how....when?"

He swiveled his chair to face her, "Time travel, pain in my ass," He scowled, raking a hand through his damp hair, " but there was a delay between the emergence of the Borg sphere and the nice to know how long Commander Charming and his gang thought about following the Borg before acting on it. Also be nice to know what exactly they've chosen to monitor, there's something on that screen besides black."

His blue gray eyes met with hers, dark and thoughtful, they immediately widened with revelation, "Maybe there's not." She observed, raising her eyes to the monitors, "maybe we see only black, because there is only black....maybe the monitors are all locked on space."

He arched a thoughtful brow and nodded slowly, "Could be we're looking in the wrong realm for whatever is triggering the Borg activation.....we gotta figure out what these computers are setup to react to."

"Whatever it is, it has to be something the Borg brought back with them.....I can't imagine they made something up at the last minute." She smiled, an uneasy smile that moved Riker to gently pull her to his lap. He didn't say anything, he just held her and thought, watching the screens, and stroking her hair.

"I don't think it was something they brought back with them at all," He finally said in a voice much lower then a whisper, "I think it's something that followed them back......maybe this is off the wall, but I think the trigger is the Enterprise."


<Coming events cast their shadow before.> Commander Riker had no idea where the line had come from, but it seemed to be set on continuous playback in his mind. He stepped back, away from the Enterprise crew, away from the others that stood in anticipation of the incoming Vulcan vessel. This was history in the making, a fragment in time he never thought he'd be privileged to be a part of, but his mind and eyes were elsewhere, on constant alert, looking for the two from another time he'd encountered earlier. Heated words, muffled, but audible redirected his attentions even further from the moment at hand. He cast a look to his shipmates, satisfied no one was watching him, he moved quickly towards the sound.

<This is my Land Runner old man!> The voice was stern, angry, but retained the recognizable crack of youth.

A deeper voice responded, slurred words mingled with curses. Riker squinted his eyes into the darkness, the fine line of light that dribbled from the overhead lanterns finally illuminated the source of the angry squabble.

"Is there a problem?" Will ask, instinctively stepping beside the young man, presenting a relaxed, but defensive posture to the swaying man.

The old man seemed surprised, he squeezed his eyes tightly shut, reopened them, then repeated the process. Riker watched him and waited, unprepared for the accusatory finger that stabbed in his shoulder, and the words of malice that flew from the young man's mouth.

"You're a dead man mister....You promised you'd bring her back, and instead you gave her to this drunken fool!" The boy's mouth moved quickly, but his attempt to draw his weapon from his belt was clumsy, allowing Will plenty of time to snap a sharp hand around his wrist, preventing the boy's attack.

"I borrowed this?" Will asked, tipping his head towards the Runner and swiftly removing the knife from the boy's belt.

"You said I could keep that!" The boy wrestled against Riker's hold, ignoring his question.

"And you can, once I'm sure you're not going to stick me with it." On the side of caution he slipped the knife into his inside jacket pocket, "Now, you said I borrowed this craft.....did I say where I was going?" Will cringed inwardly at the stupidity of his question.

"What are you some kinda nut!" The boy's expression of anger shifted to an uneasy fear. The old man's movements beside him stirred Will to send a precautionary look to the ground......The old man, now on the ground, knees pulled to his chest continued muttering curses....His glassy eyes locked on Riker. Will could see no threat there, he returned his attention to the kid.

"I'm not a nut....the man that borrowed your Runner was my twin, that's all, I've been trying to find him."

The boy's eye narrowed warily. Will felt the kids muscles relax, his struggle against his hold subsided.

"I don't know where he went......Ask him, he's the one that came flying in here in my Runner." Will kept a loose hold on the boy, and lowered his eyes to the old man.

"Where'd you get the Runner!?" He asked.

The old man looked back at Riker, Will noted the weapon that flashed from under the man's jacket, leaned down and jerked it out before the man was capable of moving.

"How did you get out.....I locked you in with the monsters." The man thrust a chubby finger towards Will.

Deanna's voice behind him caused the boy to begin to wrestle again, preventing Will's response to the old man.

"Your twin huh.......that's the same woman that was with you earlier."

The breath he'd drawn to respond was discharged in frustration.

"What are you doing Will?"

He watched her troubled eyes move between the hold he had on the kid, and the weapon he'd trained on the old man.

"Beating up a kid and an old man....what does it look like I'm doing?" He rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Go back with the others......tell the captain I have to see him."

She paused for a second, her dark eyes probing him, probably trying to measure his mental stability. The impatient brows he raised seemed to be all the inspiration she needed, with a quick nod she spun around and walked quickly back towards the base.

"Now," Will said, dropping his eyes to the old man, "You were about to tell me where the monsters live."


"You were right Will," Deanna stepped into the communication room just in time to see Will's laser fire, and watch a monitor shatter to the floor, "What did you do?"

"It was an accident." He snarled, failing to arrest the irritation in his voice.

"You shot the computer?"

"Only one of them," he shrugged, tried to smile, "It deserved it, it wouldn't cooperate and it kept accusing me of illegal actions."

"And how would you say that helped us Will?" Her question was spoken with an infuriating amount of calm, a calm that only escalated his frustration.

"I'm sorry Deanna, but I'm tired, I'm hungry, and I'm busting my ass to what...... basically terminate myself, and my life......You'll have to excuse me if I can't be as selfless and rational as you are!" He released the rest of his anger on few uneven breaths, rolled his shoulders and finally smiled, "Thanks for not interrupting Deanna, I feel much better now."

"Anytime.... I'm always here for frustration release.....besides, I've always thought you were kinda sexy when you go nova like that." She arched her brows, held him with suggestive eyes, then extended her hand, offering him the scanner readouts.

"You're very distracting, you know that?" He said, a crack of arousal sounding in his voice.

"I'm just trying to keep your spirits up.....are they up?"

He chuckled softly, accepted the scanner and shook his head slowly, "I'm not touching that one Deanna, and don't you either...we have work to do."

It took a concerted effort to pull his attentions away from her, to stare at the technical jargon on the tiny screen, but as he did, he felt his heart speed up again, this time for different reasons. Now they knew for sure that the Borg had configured the computers in the communication room, their biological components were scarred from the particulate matter......But more importantly it appeared the implants in the Borg's arms were interconnected on the dormant Borg's body.

"Connected where?" He said, looking up at her, shaking the tiny scanner in his hand as the readouts faded.

"I can't tell, the scanners too weak....we need a medical scanner."

"Or a knife." He said, darting from the room before she'd had a chance to react.

"Will, you can't!" She said, her face twisted with disgust as she knelt beside him.

"Why can't I's a Borg, I don't care if I hurt fact I'd take pleasure in hurting it.....that's assuming they feel pain, and I doubt that very much." He snapped off his reply as quickly as he pulled his knife from its sheath.

Her gasp as he lowered the knife to the Borg's arm, stalled his movements.....He looked over to her. "Deanna, don't watch......I have no doubt that there's something on the Enterprise that's going to trigger this son of a bitch to life......This plan was implemented in case the Borg failed......if the Borg failed, that would mean the Enterprise won, it only makes sense that these Borg are programmed to react to something onboard that ship."

"But it's already gone off twice that we know of....was that the Enterprise too." She rested a hand on his wrist as if she could stop him from penetrating the knife into the Borg's flesh.

"I don't know......all I know is I don't understand those computers in there......but I do understand this one, I'll recognize an anomaly in it."

Her expression didn't ease, in fact it grew more intense.

"Deanna, we can't wait for Commander Charming and his luxury liner....for all we know he's returned to his ship and is beginning whatever process it is that fathers these things."

He was going to do it, cut up the Borg, but for some reason, one he was unfamiliar with, and not extremely happy about he wanted her to agree. He held her with a steady gaze, his heartless feelings about the Borg put on hold until she slowly nodded.

"Ok." She agreed.

"That won't be necessary," The baritone voice drew Riker's eyes away from Deanna to the all too familiar face in the doorway, "Commander Charming is here." He added snidely.

"Why are you'd you find us?" Will tried to hide his shock and the touch of relief he was feeling.

"I ran into some friends of yours, appropriately an obnoxious teenager and a drunken fool." Commander Riker's mouth thinned into smug grin, "And I think you promised you tell me what's going on....where these Borg came from, and how it is your time has overlapped mine."

"You've finished already?" Deanna asked, stepping closer to him, peering out the door behind him, "Who is that?"

The Commander turned, called to his companion, Captain Riker snapped forward as he watched Deanna draw her disrupter from her belt and aim it squarely at the unseen person.

"That's not necessary, Data is a member of our crew."

"Wh....what is it?"

Riker followed her gaze, stiffening himself as he eyed this thing, mostly man, but exposed circuitry on his face betrayed the practically human expression in this beings eyes.

"I am Commander Data, I am an android."

"A pleasure I'm sure." Riker said dryly, nodding an assurance to Deanna, and physically forcing her to lower her weapon.

"My captain would like to meet with both of you on the Enterprise."

Will began to agree, it fell off quickly, "What's the first thing he'll do when he returns to the ship?" Will asked, restless eyes darting between Riker and the Borg soldiers behind him.

"I'm sure he'd like to sleep...."
"But he won't, will he.......he'll order a check of all ship's systems, that's what I'd do." Will was speaking his thoughts as they came to him, his voice faint, he saw Riker take a step closer to him to hear, "Contact the ship if you can, tell him it's imperative that he doesn't."

Will's distant stare transformed, he locked the most sincere, emphatic gaze he could on the Commander. He seemed it would take him forever to decide, finally Riker stepped back, tapped his chest and spoke into the air.

<Riker to Enterprise.>

<Yes Commander.>

The response came almost instantly, Riker raised an impressed brow at Deanna and listened as Will explained his request to his captain. His Captain's agreement came with little explanation, again Will found himself impressed.

<Stand by for transport.> Riker added, then turned a questioning expression towards Will and Deanna, "Are you both willing to come onboard......I'll leave Commander Data here to continue what you were about to do.....I'm sure he can accomplish it with less mess."

Will hesitated, a tender squeeze on his hand moved him to answer.

"Sure, what the hell." He replied, "Got any food onboard that thing?"


"Counselor." Will said, gesturing to the transporter platform, "How was your meeting with Captain Riker?"

"Uneventful, he seems very skeptical about sharing any information with us."

"Did you sense any deception from him?" Will asked, following her as she stepped onto the transport pad.

"He's very disciplined, and very adept at blocking any unwanted invasions of his mind and thoughts......I did get a sense that he's shading the entire truth, but his concern about the Borg's impact in his time is genuine."

Will nodded thoughtfully, using his own mental shields to block Deanna's obvious scrutiny of him.

"How are you handling this Will, this isn't the first time you've been forced to face your own reflection."

Will caught the ghost of a smile she tried to hide, he revealed his without hesitation, "I could ask you the same question." He challenged.

"I haven't met her yet.......I'm not sure I want to, I've found my encounters with Tom, and now this Captain Riker a bit disconcerting ......I'm not sure I'm ready to face myself." Her contemplative expression was laced with a trace of uneasiness......a feeling he could understand all too well.

"She's very smart, and very beautiful, identical to you in every way.." He rested a hand on her shoulder. He knew the smile she returned him was forced, and maybe his words were inappropriate, considering the transporters Chiefs eyes and ears were locked on their conversation. He found this Captain Riker to be arrogant, undisciplined, rough in every sense of the word, but he had something he admired, an ability to accept his feelings for his Deanna, and display them without worrying about the repercussions of his actions. In their meeting with the Captain he'd noticed their discreet touching, the way one took over for the other when Picard seemed to be overwhelming them with questions, and the way he'd kissed her good-bye without reservations when they'd been seperated......This Riker didn't care how it looked, he was savoring the moment for what it was......His thoughts trailed off as he heard Deanna shift her weight beside him.

"Energize," He said, without looking at her.....The beam took hold instantly, vaporizing his final thought, his wondering if that's what it would take for him to stop fighting his feelings.....a life where you were never sure if tomorrow would come.

"Report Mister Data." Riker ordered, all business as the transport beam released them in the covert Borg chamber below the Earth's surface.

"Yes Sir," The android rose to his feet, softly uttered an order to the ensign beside him, and moved hurriedly towards Will and Deanna.

"We've scanned the entire complex....there appears to be twenty-five hives, identical to this one. I have dispatched Enterprise crew to all of them."

Will exchanged a look with Deanna.

"Twenty large is this place."

"It is quite impressive Counselor, our scans have revealed that this underground base spans over 1100 kilometers."

Will released an impressed whistle...."Amazing......and how many Borg are we dealing with Commander?"

"We have counted three hundred and seventy four, all implanted with the same device Captain Riker told us about."

"And the device, have you been able to ascertain its purpose?"

"It is directly linked to several key biological and cybernetic organs, and is designed to withstand an unusually large electrical charge......It appears it would work much like our own cortical stimulators."

Will ran his hand over the back of his neck, more then a little uncomfortable with the wide array of options they'd have to try to find exactly what would cause this jump-start to occur.

Data cocked his head several times, waiting for a response, when one wasn't offered, he continued, "I would like to take one of the Borg back to the a contained environment it is viable that I could offer the various components on the enterprise without them effecting the others."

Will was astutely aware of the cautionary look he was receiving from Deanna, and right now he had to agree with it, "We'll hold off on that idea Mr. Data, I'd like to exhaust all our other options first......we do have other options don't we?"

"There are always options Commander." Data replied flatly.

"Very good.....Lets start exhausting them then my friend." Will smiled, took a step towards Ensign Barrows expecting Data to follow, when he didn't, he stopped, "Is there something else?"

"Yes Sir, I believe Captain Riker is telling an untruth.....I do not believe something we did here impacted his alternate timeline as he claims."

"I don't think he's lying Data," Deanna intervened, "I'm certain he's sincere in his concern for his future."

"Yes Counselor, but I have deduced that his future is ours....what we would encounter if we returned through the vortex......Captain Riker and Sergeant Troi are what you both will become if we return."

Will wasn't surprised, that particular thought had occurred to him from the beginning, and from the look on Deanna's face she'd suspected the same thing.

"Well then." Will said, clearing his throat, "I suggest even more strongly that we figure this out, becoming a cocky, self serving, smart mouth, hardly appeals to me."

He raised a finger of warning to Deanna in response to the breath she'd taken to speak, "Say it and you'll be on night watch for a month."


"So what are we under house arrest?" Riker grunted and shoved another forkful of food into his stuffed mouth.

"How would you know, you haven't done anything but eat since we got here." Deanna pulled up a chair across from him and puffed her cheeks, mimicking his own.

"I haven't had food like this since I was ten......I've been living on rations most of my adult life."

"I can assure you," She responded, her eyes moving over the empty plates in front of him, "You've consumed well over thirty years of food.......Look at you, you didn't even bother dressing after your shower....what if someone comes in."

"I'm wearing a towel" He shrugged, "besides I thought it would give you a thrill."

Rolling her eyes she pushed away from the table, "I prefer my men without food scraps in their chest hair."

"Your men?!" He stopped chewing long enough to blurt out the response, "How many men do you have Deanna?"

She smiled mysteriously, turned and walked slowly to the port, "What do you think they're doing down there?"

"Keeping us in the dark, that's what they're doing." He stood up, brushed a hand over his chest just in case she wasn't joking, and walked to her.

He prowled one arm around her waist, and used his other hand to brush her hair away from her neck. He kissed her neck softly, her shoulders tensed and relaxed, her sigh urging him to use the hand around her waist to unzip her shirt. She turned slowly to face him, his eyes dipped down, his hands moved inside her shirt to her shoulders, pushing it back, it fell rippling to the floor.

"Perfect," He whispered, examining her bare skin before raising his eyes to look at her. The tiny tantalizing kisses he'd planed on teasing her with were cut short, her lips, warm and thirsty reached for his. He relaxed into the feeling, her hand tangling in his hair, her other sliding down his back, ridding him of his towel and sliding firmly over his ass.

He groaned and lowered her to the floor without relinquishing custody of her mouth.

"Will......the floor?" She spoke into his mouth, he drew away and smiled down on her.

"Sorry, I'm not use to all these luxuries." He sat up, ran admiring hands over her breast, and belly, reaching the waistband of her pants, he used one hand to unclasp them, "Let's move now then." He offered, tugging her pants off, then running his hands up the smooth skin of her legs, "Come on." He said a little more adamantly, "I'm not going to be moving in about ten seconds."

"Never mind," She said, arching her hips as his hands moved over them, "I think I like the vibration of the ship."

"Yea, she practically purrs doesn't she.....a little more conducive to sex then the thunderous roar of the Retribution." He lowered himself back on top of her, "I'd like to generate some purrs now." He added in a rough voice as he snared her lips again. She moved against him, her moans of pleasure, her hungry lips and unbridled hands should have been heating him way past the boiling point, but they weren't......and as if he'd been hit with an electrical charge, he jumped off her, oblivious to the dazed look in her eyes.

"I know what it is.....I know what will ignite the receivers!"

"What....Will?" Her voice was thick, disbelief and anger shifted over her glazed eyes.

"It's the warp engines Deanna.......I was thinking about the Retribution...."
"You were thinking about the Retribution while you were making love to me?!"

Another realization struck him, what he'd just done to Deanna, he offered an apology, an apology he could see was falling on deaf ears, and flushed cheeks, "I'll put you in orgasm heaven next time I swear."

She released a shaky breath, shook her head and practically smiled, "OK, tell me about this revelation."

"You said you liked the Enterprise vibration, I compared it to the Retribution....then I started thinking.....all ships are different, just like women......."

"Will?" She interrupted and used a still trembling hand to brush her hair away from her face, "I don't understand, how can a different ship vibration generate a signal?"

"It can't......least the Retribution can't, it's incapable of warp....but the Enterprise, and several ships in our own fleet that use warp can.....all warp engines emit a signature, a varying degree of matter-antimatter that tags them........I've used it a million times with the BATS, it was a way for me to gauge if it was one I'd already duped."

Deanna wrapped her arms around herself, he could see goose bumps rise on her arms.

"So maybe the two reactions we saw while we were in the inner city were caused by the wrong warp signature that right?"

"Yea," His grin spread, his head nodded repeatedly in confirmation, "The receivers are scanning for the right one....the only one besides their own the Borg would have been able to program.......We gotta tell them!" He scrambled to his feet, snatched his clothes off the chair and began trying to access the door while he tugged on his pants.

"How do we get out of here?" He snarled, pounding his fist against the door.

"Try this." She said coolly, tilting her head towards the communication panel on the wall, "I wasn't going to tell you about it.....I was afraid you'd insist on playing with it....or you'd shoot it."

He considered jabbing her back, but figured he owed her one, "How do I access it?" He asked.

"Will said to hit this button, it's a direct link to him, the captain wants us to keep a low profile."

"Will?" He chuckled, punching the switch she'd indicated.

A blue light flashed, followed by a chirp.....<Riker> The response came without hesitation, <What is it Deanna?>

"Deanna?" Will mouthed her name before leaning down and speaking into the comm..

"Sorry pal, but this is Riker, and you'll be pleased to know I think I've solved all our problems."

<Stand by.>

"Stand by.....stand by....what a jerk!" Will growled, swiping an impatient hand through his hair.

<We're beaming up now, we'll meet you in the conference room......Riker out.>

"What a jerk." He reiterated, leaning back with a thud against the door, "No wonder he's not the captain."


Commander Riker massaged the armrest of his chair and listened to Commander Data, keeping a watchful eye on the couple at the end of the conference table.

"Captain Riker's theory that our own warp signature is responsible for the activation of the Borg implant has proven correct Sir, the implant we removed from the one of the Borg on the surface has responded just as he said."

Captain Riker shifted, his face set in stone, whatever he was feeling right now was wrapped up tightly inside him.

"Suggestions?" Picard asked, his narrowed eyes moving over all the members of his crew.

"We could surgically remove the implants, destroy them."

"From over three hundred Borg, I don't think so doctor," Picard answered, shaking his head.

Reconfigure the warp engines, alter the matter-antimatter containment?" Geordi spoke up.

"How long would that take Mr. Laforge, our presence here in this time is also a risk to the future."

Geordi drummed frustrated fingers on the glass table, and shook his head slowly, "The best I could hope for would be two weeks."

"Do we know how quickly they can adapt," Commander Riker interjected, straightening in his seat, "Perhaps in their dormant state they won't adapt as quickly to the a constant variance in out phaser settings?"

1"It's worth a try...."

"It won't work!" Captain Riker's deep voice interrupted Picard, "We didn't get two shots off before the damn thing adapted.."

"Maybe our weapons are more advanced then yours!" Riker cut in, curbing the annoyance he felt at the lack of respect this Riker had shown for his captain.

"I don't think you know what you're talking about," Captain Riker said, drawing to his feet and leaning forward on the conference table, "None of you really knows what you're dealing with, not even you Picard." He locked Picard in his frigid gaze, "Counselor Troi told me about your little adventure into the Borg collective......I'd like to say I feel for you, but I don't......You escaped a menace, a menace that's going to rape your entire existence .....Your feeble little spats with the Borg, your insignificant victories ....they mean shit if you screw up again!"

"That's enough Captain....."

Picard raised his hand in a silencing gesture, stifling his first officer's defense of him, and Captain Riker's outburst.

"Sit down Will." Sergeant Troi's hand rested on Will's wrist, he resisted her suggestion for a moment, a gentle squeeze drew him back to his seat.

"I'm sorry," He said, insincerity sounding loud and clear in his tone....

"Captain Riker," Picard said composedly, "If you have a suggestion, a way to stop the Borg, please share it with us."

"I do," Riker answered, "Give em what they want, engage the warp engines and shove it down their goddamn throats."

Captain Riker's eyes grew angry, and filled with a vengeance and a hatred so deep it hung like thick blanket of fog over the room.

"And take this," he continued, reaching behind him and drawing an unknown weapon from his belt.

"Will no!"

Sergeant Troi's urgent objection was silenced by a single look from Riker.

The eyes of the Enterprise crew fell on the weapon, and then to each other....Commander Riker asked the question that was looming in everyone's minds, "How did you get that onboard without the transport screen's picking it up."

Captain Riker's hand tightened on the curved handle of the weapon, a thin smile broke through the anger on his face, "If I didn't think it would be some form of suicide I'd demonstrate the disrupter on the Commander."

"May I see that Sir?" Data asked, oblivious to the identical looks of contempt the Riker's had on each other.

Captain Riker nodded without looking away from Will......He handed Data the weapon, drew a breath, then continued. "The contents of the disrupter will crystallize and corrode the internal workings of the Borg........I suggest an intravenous feed, if you can replicate the crystal fluid Dr. Soong uses in the disrupter, feed it through the collective link......You can jump-start them and choke em in the time it would take to Jama....." Captain Riker's words fell off, his expression faltered, his eyes wide in shock stared directly behind Picard.

All at the table followed Riker's stare, then returned to him.

"Captain Riker, are you all right?" Picard continued to glance over his shoulder to the empty space that seemed to have pulled the Captain into a hypnotic trance.

"Will?" Deanna whispered, a concerned hand wiping away the sweat that glistened above his brows. Riker shifted, then startled, brushing Deanna's hand away from his face with an irritated swipe, "It's not going to work?" He said, so softly Commander Riker thought perhaps he'd misunderstood.

"What makes you say that Captain.....What just happened here?"

"Nothing, nothing.....fatique I guess." He said, "It was nothing." he repeated, straightening in his chair, shedding all traces of confusion and vulnerability that had invaded his confident persona.

"You said it wouldn't work, were you referring to your idea?"

"No, no...please take the disrupter, study it, let me know what you find out." His voice was pleasant, cooperative, his change in demeanor making Riker even more uncomfortable.

"Perhaps you should get some rest Captain......Mister Data will alert you when he's found out anything."

"I think that's a good idea." He responded eagerly, rising to his feet, and taking Deanna by the arm.

"Thank you Captain," He held Picard's eyes with a sincerity that had won Commander Riker more then a few hands at poker before stepping out of the room.

"He's full of shit," Commander Riker mumbled under his breath as Riker disappeared behind the closing doors.

"What was that Commander?" Picard asked, a knowing smile almost unmasking itself.

"Nothing Sir, just thinking out loud."


"You lied to them in there.....why.... what happened?" Deanna had to double step to keep up with him.

He picked up his pace and ignored her, finally stopping outside their quarters. He accessed the door without affording her a look, stepped inside and waited for them to slide shut behind them.

"I didn't lie, I just left a few things unsaid." He flopped on the couch, kicked his long legs out in front of him, and folded his hands across his stomach, "Sometimes that's the only way, don't you think Deanna?"

He watched her shoulders stiffen, her chin raise defensively. He silenced the words she'd drawn a breath to speak.

"I understand Deanna," he said, unfolding his hands and outstretching one towards her.

She seemed hesitant to accept it, he encouraged her with an almost invisible nod.

"They only allotted us a certain amount of time," She took his hand, the gentle tug he gave her pulled her to his lap, "We couldn't wait for you to decide......I'm sorry."

"Hey, I said I understand.....It's not like I've never mangled the truth a little, shit, I practice lying in front of the mirror."

"But you've never lied to me."

"That you know of." He offered, with an uneven smile, "would it make you feel better if I told you I had?"

She pressed her forehead against his and nodded.

"Then I have."

She drew away, narrowing her glistening eyes, she searched his face.

"You're lying." She said after a few seconds.

"See, I told I had." He answered, pulling her to him, burying his face in her hair, and assuring her in hushed whispers that she'd done the right thing.

"If they can come here, why can't they fix this themselves?" He wasn't willing to give up his contact with her, he whispered his question into her hair.

"They're here?" She asked.

"They're watching, or I'm hallucinating .......Deanna what are they?"

"They're exactly what they said they are, a race trying to protect its existence and its children in the only way they now how." She pushed away from him, her eyes still misted locked on his, "Their children are humanoid, vulnerable, but have an extreme intelligence that personifies the collective.....Once the entire race was like the children, but they found a way to escape, a way to exist beyond time....."

"Dimensional shifters?"

"No, more then that, their essence, their souls slip the restraints of time and space......But to love, bear children they must momentarily forfeit their Negentropic state....."

<Anti-time,> He thought, arching his brows then wrinkling them, "And do they live on a big mountain called Olympus?"


"Nothing," He said, almost to himself, recalling not only the flickering image he'd seen in the conference room, but the two Ultomia on the view screen on Eden.......If what Deanna had just told him were true, and the brass at headquarters hadn't spun any yarns to get her to deceive him, then this life form was living in a realm where time was insignificant, "How would you accomplish a state like that," He mused, flopping his head on the back of the couch and staring at the ceiling, "Because I'd like to go there, all this time shit is giving me a headache."

"They didn't share their secrets, only their fears for the continuance of their race."

"Didn't care too much about ours though, did they?" He mumbled as he closed his eyes.

The ceiling light he'd been staring at continued to flicker behind his closed eyes, illuminating the security of darkness he'd been looking for, displacing the black with tiny bans of milky white.

"Displacement," He said, lifting his head, opening his eyes and staring at Deanna with a whisper of a smile, "Doctor Soong said he used aether displacement to create the vortex we went through, two identical frequencies projected together, amplified by the access lights. Wonder if that's how the Ultomia do it, with aether inflow?".

"I don't know Will, but don't you think we should find a way to fix this time before we go off longing for a higher realm?"

"Actually, I wouldn't mind reaching for a higher realm right now." His voice lowered, his eyes darkened, he drew her mouth to within a breath of his, "I'd like to forget the state of the universe for a while."

"I don't know," She whispered against his lips, "There's an awful lot of wheels spinning inside that head of yours, I've already been outdone by the Retribution, I'm not sure I could handle being overshadowed by a gray-haired little man."

"Not a chance, I promise you my undivided attention for as long as it takes to bring you to that little place I promised you." He smiled enticingly before touching his lips to hers and turning himself over to the sensation, a sensation once this was over, he knew he'd never share with her again.


Riker wasn't asleep when the door chimes sounded through the quarters they'd been assigned, in fact he hadn't slept at all. Deanna had been right when she'd said his mind was spinning, but it wasn't spinning with ideas as she thought, more with the concept he'd been trying to come to grips with since this whole thing began, what it would be like to literally cease to exist. He tugged on his pants, cast a look over his shoulder at Deanna's sleeping form and stepped softly out of the bedroom.

The chime sounded again, he accessed the door with an exasperated swipe.

"Oh God....what?" He said, moving his eyes back and forth between Commander Riker and Deanna Troi.

"We would have waited for you to dress." Riker said, stepping past him into the cabin.

"Why?" Will said, pinning Troi with a steady gaze, "I'm sure it's nothing she hasn't seen before....Right Counselor?"

"Where's Sergeant Troi?" Deanna asked, changing the subject, looking away from the captain to disguise the flush in her cheeks.

"She's still in bed."

He noted the shared, and somewhat uncomfortable look the two exchanged, he found himself outwardly smiling at them.

<jerks> he thought, before dropping his grin and speaking, "Is this about the Polar-disruptor?"

"Data's breakdown and analysis of the disruptor suggests that it won't work in stopping these Borg......He thinks perhaps the Borg in your time, our time, have evolved into a different strain. He's working with Dr. Soong's original premise and trying to adapt it for use on these Borg.."

"I did notice a difference in these Borg when Deanna and I first found them." he said softly, sitting on the edge of the couch and resting his arms on his knees, "Does he think he'll be able to acclimatize it?"

Will shrugged, "He doesn't know, but we do know with first contact behind us we're running out of time.... eventually someone will detect us, and that could create a whole new element."

"Your time, our time, out of time, beyond time....Shit, I hate time." Riker growled, punching his fist into the arm of the couch, "Think I'd like to obliterate the whole damn concept," He began to shake his head, but stopped abruptly and looked to Commander Riker, "Why don't we... obliterate time."

"I don't understand," Riker said, stepping in front of Will.

"I don't either, but I have an idea!" He slapped his hands on his knees and stood up, "Well come on," He insisted, a self-satisfied grin returning to his face, "Trust me,.......I've never done anything without thinking it through in my life."


"A little lower Deanna," He called, looking down at her through the grated sides of the anti-grav bed he was lying on. He still couldn't believe she'd talked him into allowing her to come with him, actually he didn't remember her doing it.....One minute he was punching his fist in his palm and shaking his head, the next he was being beamed into the Borg chamber, Deanna by his side......He must have lost the argument somewhere, but he'd be damned if he knew when.

"That's good!" He called, reaching his hand up towards the enhanced light generator he'd installed into the globe that hung from the ceiling. This globe, the one he and Deanna had found in the first Borg hive seemed to be the core of the interconnected circuitry, Commander Data had suggested it would be the best place to wed the beams. Commander Riker had already contacted them to say the pulse from the Enterprise was set and ready to launch, and if he'd followed instructions correctly the connection of this final wire should create the same pulse from the surface.

"Ah.....shit!" He drew is hand back, but not before the electro-pulse had stung his finger tips.

"You all right?"

"Sure, fine." He answered, watching the flesh on his finger tips bristle, and redden.

He shook his hand to alleviate the pain of the burn, and used his left hand to establish the connection of the wire.

"Think I'm all set, bring me down!"

The anit-grav bed, jarred, then evened out, easing him back to the floor of the chamber.

"Think I did what the mechanical man instructed, but I guess there's only one way to find out."

Deanna's gaze moved from him to the configurations he'd made to the Borg dome, he followed her gaze, and completely understood her perplexed expression. Whatever he'd put together up there looked more like a giant search light then a weapon that would destroy this little colony of Borg..

"Doesn't look like much," She finally said with a shrug.

"Hey, don't talk to me about it, my idea was simple, I'm not sure how or when it got so complicated........But if it works, who cares." He answered, "Guess you should contact Will now."

She nodded, and watched him blow on his blistered fingers, "You sure you're all right?"

"It's just a burn, I'm sure in about twelve hours the searing pain will fade.......Now let's get this over with." He stepped back to the controls and waited while she tapped the communication device they'd been given, and informed the enterprise they were ready to begin. He only half listened as Commander Riker reiterated the instructions he'd been given at least twenty times.

<Initiation in ten, nine, eight......>

He perked up as Riker began the countdown, and rested his palm on the smooth surface of the control that would hopefully launch, and merge with the identical beam from the Enterprise.

He slid the control up, meeting Riker's mark, the device above him shuddering, then igniting. He hoped the unseen beam had launched...... A hollow sound like diving into deep water filled the chamber and came only microseconds before Commander Riker's voice.

<The bubble's established.......You two OK down there?>

"Fine, just a minute shift in pressure," Deanna responded.

<We're holding at 180 degrees.>

Riker dropped his gaze to his readouts, then nodded to Deanna, confirming he was holding the same...... she returned a conformation to the commander.

<We'll begin decreasing our frequency when you're ready......You'll have four minutes to confirm that it's working and make it to the exit before the affects will begin to work on your biological tissue.... the transporters won't be able to lock on while your in the pocket.>

"Yea, yea," Riker mumbled under his breath, "Let's just get it over with."

He winked at Deanna, hoping to reassure her that they'd have plenty of time to get out, but his assurance didn't seem to help....her skin was pale, her body rigid, her expression similar to the one she'd had when he'd asked her to jump from the Lady Luck.

"Stand by." He said, tapping his own communication device, and moving closer to her.

"Hey," He said, resting his hands on her shoulders, "It will take forty five seconds for the scanners to tell us if the regression is working, we know if we run like hell it takes sixty seconds to get to the exit, that leaves us over two minutes.....hell, we'd still have time for a quickie."

She answered the smile he'd offered her and nodded, a hint of pink returning to her cheeks.

"We're ready Commander." She said as he moved away from her and knelt in front of one of Borg cubicles.

Will adjusted the scanner, tricorder, whatever it was called, to the setting the android had given him......According to Commander Data's theory, diminishing the frequency of one of the beams at ten degree intervals should cause the bubble, or this contained zone of anti-time to move backwards, interrupting the flow of aether, and reverting everything in the pocket back to a state of nonexistence.

The tricorder readings blipped over the screen, Commander Riker's voice announcing the ten degree drops was lost on the soft buzz that echoed through the inner city.

"It's working," He said, tightening his sweaty palm around the tricorder and lifting to his feet, "Let's go!"

He cocked his head at the exit, and held out a hand to Deanna.

She took it without hesitation, and wrapped her other hand around his wrist as he jerked her forward.

The room wasn't that big, a few long strides put him almost on top of it, he cast a look over his shoulder, a snap, and flash ignited overhead causing a volley of lasers to fall like windswept rain.

"Shit, defensive mechanism!" He shouted, throwing Deanna towards the door as the floor around them ignited. The walls sparked, sizzling shavings of metal from the ceiling beams mingled with the torrential fire storm. He dove for the door behind her, slamming his stomach against the smooth metal floor, he slid through the exit, and scrambled quickly to his feet. Deanna latched her hands around his arm, urging him forward, he freed himself from her hold with a swift jerk and pulled his laser from his holster.

"What are you doing?"

"I spent two hours putting that contraption together, I'm not going to let some fail-safe blow it apart."

Using Commander Riker's suggestion from the conference room, he moved his thumb over the settings, perverting the signal from the one he and Deanna had used earlier.

Easing as little of his body as he could back into the room, he targeted the annoying device, firing three subsequent bursts. The barrage fell away, the already launched ion bursts rained onto the floor, crackled on contact, then died.

He stepped back into the room, running a quick check of the device before moving back to the exit. He took a half step through the door, smiled at Deanna, a loud splintering sound drew his eyes upward.

It was too late to think, too late to run, the beam from the ceiling came down with a jarring force on his right ankle.

Deanna's hands were already wrapped around the beam, wrestling it, trying to free him before he could acclimate himself to the agonizing pain.

"I can't lift it!" Her voice was strained, constricted, she struggled with the beam as her eyes darted over the area, searching for anything that might help her.

"The fusion tubing!" Riker choked, astutely aware that the pain of his burn had diminished, and the blisters had begun to heal.

Deanna jerked the coiled hose from the wall, "Now what?"

"Hook it to the exhaust, slide it under the beam and knot it." He winced, certain above the hum of the beams he could hear his bones crushing under the weight.

"Hurry up Deanna, I'd like to get out of here before adolescents strikes." He grunted, tossing her a smile and nodding as she knotted the hose.

She didn't wait for any further instructions, she ran straight to the exhaust value and began to turn it. The old valve sputtered, groaned as it was forced to perform, finally the flat hose began to inflate, the exhaust moving down the black tubing.. He watched it expand until it reached the obstacle Deanna had set for it, and it began to feed back on itself. The beam rose with the force, not much, but enough that he could pull his now numb ankle from under it. With Deanna's help he struggled to his feet and limped down the corridor, doing his best to keep up with the pace she'd set for them.

"There's the exit!" Deanna said, thrusting him forward with far more power then he thought she possessed. He stared ahead of them, squinting past the gray mist that was emanating from the walls, focusing only on the exit, and not what was happening to them, or around them.

Deanna latched her hands around the rope that hung down the ramp, moved up ahead of him, then waited for him to follow. Using only his arms and his uninjured leg he followed behind her, coughing on the dirt that fell towards him as she opened the hatch.

The light from above filtered in, motivating him almost as much as Deanna's urgent cries.

Her hands clutched at his arms, a final kick of his boot, and he pulled himself out of the underground complex.

He fell flat on his back and stared up at her...... she fell to her knees beside him and met his relieved and satisfied gaze. Her hair was tangled, stuck to her dirty face by the glaze of sweat that glistened on her forehead and cheeks.

"You look beautiful Imzadi," He said, stroking a tongue over his dry lips before hers came to rest against his. The kiss was short and barely there, but it awoke a piece of himself he didn't know existed......A piece that did want someone to need him, a piece that accepted he needed someone as well.

"You look beautiful too," She smiled, "And I'd say about ten years younger." She added, "Right at the peak of a man's sexual prime."

He grinned back, "I think mines perpetual," He chuckled, "I was kinda hoping for more pepper then salt in my beard."

"That too," She answered, trailing an affectionate finger over his beard.

He tapped the communicator on his chest, never taking his eyes off the tousled woman above him, "Riker to Enterprise, two to beam up."


"How much longer do I have to stay here?" Captain Riker propped himself up on the bio-bed, and sent a pleading look to the redheaded doctor hovering over him.

"This aversion to sickbay must be embedded in the Riker DNA." Using a firm, but gentle hand she forced him back down on the bed, "Just relax, I'm sure once Commander Riker gets back from the surface you'll be the first person he contacts."

The smile on her face, caring, but almost smug did nothing to make him feel better about being forced to remain in a bed, uninformed, and basically useless.

"You said it was perfect, my ankle.....with the assumption that you can't beat perfect, I'm still uncertain as to why your being such a bitc......"

"Will!" Deanna's intervention came from behind him. He wondered where she'd gone and why she'd left him alone with this wolf in doctors clothing.

"Where'd ya go?"

"Nowhere, I was just trying to stay out of the way, but this looked, and sounded like a good time to intervene."

She brushed a kiss over his forehead, shared a smile with the witch in a lab coat, then focused on him.

"Commander Riker is on his way."

"And?" He said, shunning Beverly's attempt to keep him down and sitting up quickly. He's head spun a little, his vision was out of focus, but he'd be damned if he'd let either of them know.

"And he didn't tell me anything, I'm sure he'll......."

Commander Riker, flanked by the android strode through the doors of sickbay almost on cue.

He raised an eyebrow, searching the face he knew too well for a clue as to whether or not their degenerative weapon had succeeded.

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Riker said, a crooked smile breaking through his unreadable expression.


"Good job!" He added, punctuating his admiration with a slap on the Captain's back.

"Piece a cake." Will said, rolling his eyes and matching the Commander's smile.

"Now what?" Deanna asked, her gaze shifting between the two of them.

"On the side of caution the Enterprise is running a scan of the planet, just to be sure the Borg didn't leave any other surprises behind, we'll have the results in an hour or so."

Captain Riker nodded, accepted the hand Deanna offered him, and kissed it softly, "Couldn't have done it without you Imzadi."

"Damn right," Deanna said, returning a smile that did nothing to masquerade the underlying sadness she was feeling.

He heard Commander Riker shift, mumble something to the others, only glancing away from Deanna long enough to see the three Enterprise crew members back away.

"We don't know what's going to happen Deanna. Maybe we could find a galaxy far, far away that's hurting for a cocky captain and a demolition expert." He knew his smile held the residue of sadness and uncertainty as hers, and he also knew they couldn't stay here, that they'd accomplished what they'd set out to do, and their time together was limited to the speed in which the Enterprise could run its scans.

"Captain Riker." Captain Picard's voice drew their attention away from each other. Riker stiffened, something unsettling about the look on Picard's face.

"First of all I'd like to commend both of you."

That wasn't why he was here, to commend them, there was something he wanted to say, and from what Riker could tell he was having a difficult time finding a way to say it.

"Just spit it out Captain." He encouraged, "There's nothing you can tell us that we haven't already figured out, if you're concerned about us staying in this time, tampering with the future, don't be. We're both aware of our limited future."

Picard looked to the floor, uncomfortable perhaps with the direct and emotionless way he'd shared the facts. But hell, he and Deanna had been battling this unlikely end to their lives since they'd entered the vortex Soong created. And honestly, he had considered running, staying in this time, saying to hell with the repercussions, finding a deserted planet where he and Deanna could live out their lives. But he'd seen first hand what one screw-up could do, he wasn't about to be responsible for any other timelines that should never be formed.

"It's about your ship." Picard finally said, "It's necessary, it's imperative it be destroyed before the Enterprise leaves."

"I don't think so Captain, I'm flying that ship, my ship into the vortex behind the Enterprise, whether you trust me to do it or not." He stood up, staggering slightly as his ankle protested his weight.

"I understand," Picard said, "but I also understand it's human nature to want to survive, I'm not certain....."

"I don't give a shit if you're certain......I'm certain I gave up everything to come back here, my sister, my mother, my friends......I have two things left from my time, my life....Deanna and my ship......"

"I agree with Captain Riker Sir," Commander Riker's intervention stalled his words, and shifted his anger to shock.

"He's given up everything to undo what we did......If it were me, I'd demand the same thing."

Picard's gaze moved steadily between the Rikers and Sergeant Troi. Riker understood his apprehension, if their positions were reversed, he wasn't certain he would trust him to make a decision that would end his existence.

Picard finally nodded, a smile alleviating the deep lines of concern on his face, "I guess it's the very least we can do."


<We'll be recreating the vortex momentarily Captain.>

Riker pressed back in his uncomfortable, but familiar seat in the Retribution's cockpit. He returned an acknowledgment to the Enterprise, then turned his attentions to Deanna.

"There's still time to make a break for it Deanna."

She didn't return his playful grin, she only stared back at him reflectively.

"I've been thinking, we're not really going to end, we're only going to all counts that Riker and Troi are us.'

Will screwed up his face, even now, not comfortable that he could ever end up like Commander Riker.

"I know you hate that Will, but it's true."

"If you say so." He answered, punching the auto-controls for the Retribution, and turning his chair to face her, "Maybe Picard was right, maybe I'm not capable of ending my own existence......I don't think I can do this Deanna."

Her eyes fell away from his, maybe in sadness, maybe because she was disappointed in his selfish thought, or maybe because she felt the same thing.

"Do you think it'd be worth it, risking another time shift so we could be together."

Her words were rational, thoughtful, but held little resolve ......Of course it didn't matter, she was right, they couldn't stay.

"What do you want to do?" She raised her eyes to his, they glistened with unshed tears, but more importantly the unspoken promise that she would run if he chose to do so.

"Make love?" He answered, swallowing past the lump in his throat.

The surge of color that lit up the cockpit drew his eyes momentarily to the recently created vortex. He watched it for a moment, the hypnotic spiral of lights blemishing the ebony space, but sparkling with a mysterious aura of what resided behind it. The jewel of a ship named Enterprise approached it, the light of the vortex slowly consuming it.

"I like that idea."

She lifted from her chair and slid into his lap, her lips meeting his with a desperate passion that equaled his own. Her hands, her mouth, her very essence mingled with his, ensnaring him in a place with no beginning and no end.

The Retribution rumbled, shook with a jarring force that threw both of them to the deck.

"Son of a bitch," He yelled, scrambling to the view port, "Shit!"

Three months later:

"Looks a little different then the last time we were here, a few hundred years ago," Commander Riker squeezed the hand he held securely in his and looked down at the woman beside him.

She smiled up at him, appreciating the gentle wash of familiar emotions that emanated from him. They'd spent a lot of time together since their return from the past, exploring their feelings about their alter egos, their concerns about what had happened to them, and their guilt that it had happened at all.

She gestured to a bench that encircled the trunk of a majestic Beech tree in the center of the park. Its shade was a welcome relief from the heat of the summer sun that stood high in the blue sky.

He wrapped an arm around her shoulder as he settled in beside her, she rested her head against him and listened to the giggles of the children playing, inhaled the clean crisp scent of a planet that had healed itself in spite of its past, and sighed contentedly.

"I wonder how it felt, for them."

"Will," She said, lifting her head, looking up into his pensive blue eyes, "Maybe we shouldn't speculate on it anymore......We'll never know."

He nodded, then shook his head, "I just am not sure I'd have done the same thing."

"I don't believe that, if you'd been fac....."


The angry word reiterated itself, drew them both to their feet, and towards the source of the sound.

"Are you all right?" Will asked, dropping to his knees beside the young girl, and visually scanning the dirt embedded wound on her knee.

"Fine." She answered, blowing her ebony bangs form her vivid blue eyes with a burst of frustration, "I just tripped, it's nothing." She smiled, the smile of a twelve year old fighting her tears, and began to pick up the books that had fallen from her bag.

"What's your name?" Deanna asked, joining the girl and Will as they gathered up the assortment of books from the ground.

"Carley," She answered, dusting the dirt from the covers of her books before tucking them back in her overstuffed bag.

"Cinderella, The inner workings of a warp core, Ode to Keats, The secret Self.....This is quite an assortment." Will noted, reading the titles as he handed them to Carely.

"I know," She wrinkled her nose, "I just like to know stuff."

Will nodded approvingly.

"I think I'd have somebody look at that knee."

Carely shivered, "No way, I hate doctors, I'm go...."


The voice snapped Carley's head around for a moment. She turned back from the woman approaching and rolled her eyes, "My mother, she can be as bad as a doctor."

Will chuckled silently, and shared a look with Deanna.

"Oh Carley," The woman said, picking up her pace, ignoring Will and Deanna and falling to her knees in front of her daughter. She wiped away the dribbles of blood that had seeped from the cut with a caring hand, and shook her head.

"And how'd you get this one, free climbing, Parrises squares...."

"I tripped Mother, that's all, I wasn't watching where I was going and I tripped."

"Well, lets get it cleaned up."

"Mother, these are my friends," Carley said disgustedly, gesturing to Will and Deanna, "This is my mother, Samantha Riker."

"I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to be rude, it's just that Carley has a knack for acting before she thinks....It's a pleasure to meet you...."

"My name's Will Riker coincidentally, and this is Deanna Troi."

"Thank you for taking care of Carley, perhaps we'll meet again." She said with a warm smile, before taking Carley reluctantly by the hand and pulling her with her.

"She's a little girl that could keep you on your toes." Will said, waving to the her until they'd turned the corner.

"Pretty too." Deanna added.

"Yep," Will agreed, guiding her back to the bench and resuming the close contact with her he'd been getting used to lately..

"Now what were you saying?" He asked, sneaking his other hand over stomach, drawing her closer to him, closer then he thought he should, but not as close as he would have ideally liked.

"I was saying we should stop guessing, that we'll never know what happened to Captain Riker and Sergeant Troi."

"Maybe you're right." He sighed, resting his bearded chin on her head, "Maybe I should start wondering about my own priorities, instead of his, my own mortality."

"Mm," She mumbled, her warm breath tickling through his shirt, stirring him to press a kiss against her hair, "They didn't have time Will, we do."

Her words were meant to be consoling, to ease the pressure he was putting on himself, but he'd known her long enough and well enough to sense the lack of conviction in her voice. They'd both become too placid, too comfortable with the eventuality that someday, something would force them to recognize what they were both hiding from each other.

Without giving himself time to think, time to weigh the ramifications of his actions he used his hand to turn her to face him. Her eyes glistened, flickered with a trace of surprise, but more a profound understanding. The lips he pressed against hers were soft, without expectation, the same kisses they'd shared since finding themselves serving on the same ship. But this time, he didn't draw away after an instant as he always did, in fear of where it would lead, he permitted it to continue, to pass the friendship they'd accepted, and stumble into the unspoken, forbidden territory of their relationship. He relaxed into it, the feeling, the flavor, easing his hold on the reigns he'd held so tightly, for so long. He wasn't sure where this would go, if it would end here, with a single kiss, or if it would evolve into the renewed relationship he'd always expected. For now it didn't matter, he was content, secure, loved in a way that transcended time, and always would.