**A host's consciousness is trapped by the Se'tza, forced to witness the atrocities committed by their own body, often described as a waking nightmare. **
The seemingly real binary moons were just peeking over the hills in her holographic world. The sun had gone down a while ago with a color display unlike anything she'd seen before. Although this is not the first time she has run this program, the brilliance of the colors never cease to amaze her.
A warm night breeze toyed with her dark hair like a cat with a piece of yarn. She paid it no heed as she stared at the holographic horizon, deep in thought. Counselor, counsel thyself, she thought, as she took in a deep breath of the midnight air. When she closed her eyes, the irrational bloodshed from the previous two days came back, flooding her senses with pain and guilt.
I watched everything, like spectator at a sporting event, and I wasn't able to do a damned thing about it! She angrily wiped at a tear that had escaped from behind her mental barricade. Every night, she has nightmares and more than once she's woken up screaming. She was closing herself off from her friends...from her loved ones...from Will Riker. She sucked in a shaky breath and closed her eyes. I need help, she thought.
By now, the identical moons had risen high in the sky and the breeze was getting cooler. She shifted her position on the rock she was perched upon and continued to stare at the holographic horizon. Before she heard the rustle of grass under his feet, she felt his presence in her mind. His emotions- terror, sorrow, relief- all washed over her in a wave. She didn't turn to face him or speak to comfort him; instead, she waited for him to come to her. His strong arms wrapped around her shoulders and he hugged her tightly. He whispered something that she couldn't quite make out and then rested his cheek on the back of her neck. She could feel the dampness on her skin. Oh my god, she thought, he's crying. Will Riker...has never cried before. Oh Imzadi...
Deanna Troi started to cry too.
Part Two 96 hours earlier
"Their way of life is remarkably like that of the ancient Aztecs from Earth," Deanna Troi said quietly to William Riker as they waited in the transporter room for their guest. "The only noticeable differences are in their form of government. Instead of the traditional male ruler, the Se'tza have a woman in that position. Men play a minimal role in politics, actually," she smiled at him. "Unfortunately, little is known about them. They're as technologically advanced as the ancient Aztecs, although their methods of communication are far superior to ours."
"No warp capabilities?" he asked, surprised.
"None," she answered, tilting her head to look up at him.
"Sir," the transporter chief spoke up, "they're ready to transport." Riker looked from Deanna, to the chief, and back to Deanna.
"Energize," Riker said as he watched the transporter.
"Aye, sir," the chief responded automatically. A column of blue, shimmering light appeared in front of them, but was soon replaced by a man clad only in a loincloth decorated with brightly colored feathers and beads. His skin was a warm, golden brown and his hair a deep black. He hopped off the platform and stood in front of Riker and Troi.
"Ambassador Qua'tep, I'm Com-," Riker started to say, but was abruptly cut off when Qua'tep stuck his hand in front of Riker's face. The Ambassador stepped closer to Troi and studied her carefully. Bringing his hand up to his chin, he scratched at a nonexistent beard before saying in English with a thick accent, "This one is more than suitable. She is chosen." Riker looked at the shorter man, but before he could say anything, Ambassador Qua'tep almost shouted "Take me to Captain Picard! The negotiations must get underway at once!" Riker bristled at the man's harsh nature. He said nothing, looked to Deanna and stormed out the door. Qua'tep's words troubled her, and she knew they troubled Riker too. She followed quietly behind the two men, staring at the back of Qua'tep's head, trying to read him. With two sets of emotions, Qua'tep more than puzzled Deanna. Although one was coming through more loudly than the other, she was still able to read them both clearly. The more dominant emotion is determined and uncaring while the other one is terrified. It's possible for someone to have more than one set of feelings but what confused Deanna was that Qua'tep had two separate and individual sets of feelings. She found herself crossing her arms, feeling uneasy with the feelings she was getting from Qua'tep. It was almost as if he had a reason for being onboard the Enterprise, one which had nothing to do with the negotiations.
"Finally, I meet Captain Picard," Troi heard Qua'tep say, realizing they had reached the conference room. "Let us start negotiating now," he added. Picard, standing on the far side of the table, looked to Riker and said, "Thank you Number One. Unless there's an emergency, no one is to disturb us." Riker nodded and left. Hours later, the negotiations were wrapping up and Deanna was not the least bit disappointed. She didn't want to spend any more time with Qua'tep than she had to. Over the course of the negotiation, he had been looking at her, and not at Captain Picard. Although she had to admit, she had stopped listening to Captain Picard about half an hour ago. She felt as though he was sizing her up; planning his next move. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Captain Picard stand up and automatically stood up herself. She started to follow him out the door, but a hand on her shoulder prevented her. "You're counselor, are you not?" asked Qua'tep. "I am," she answered politely. "Come to my quarters in exactly one hour. I must...discuss some things with you." It wasn't a question. He put his tanned hand to her chest and said something in his native language. Before Troi could react, he had spun around and aristocratically strolled from the room.
"Mexica huitia huiamtiohui oma maca mo altiscemau in tlein tiq ialeehu. She is an excellent choice. I have faith in her ability to lead us to greatness," Qua'tep said to a small hand-held device. On the screen was the face of a woman with raven black hair and lips the color of mahogany. As if on cue, the door chimed. Qua'tep turned off the device and answered the door. Deanna stood there, looking obviously unhappy. You will soon bring joy to a lot of people, Qua'tep thought. "Why are you not happy?" Qua'tep asked her anywise. Deanna decided not to let him know what she was thinking about him, so she lied. "I'm just tired. What was it you wanted to discuss with me?" The Ambassador looked at her a moment longer than she would have liked. She started to say something when he put up a hand. "Please, come in," he said. She was unsure of his motives and hoped this discussion is going to be only that: a discussion. She sighed and stepped into the room. Qua'tep was facing away from her, studying something in his hands. "In the area where I live, we have an empress who takes care of everyone. Being the ambassador, I am very close with her, but I'm personally very...attached to her. Recently, she has taken ill..." he trailed off. After a moment, he turned to face Deanna and took a few steps towards her. He reached out a hand and ran it through her straight brown hair. There was something about him that made her stay and not step back. Something that made her forget all her concerns about him. Something that made her step closer to him. When he kissed her, she didn't resist, but surrendered herself to him. He permeated her thoughts and her very essence with himself. He was intoxicating her with his pith and she was welcoming it all. Qua'tep pulled back, leaving her standing there with her eyes closed, lips parted, breath coming in quick, deep gasps. He went to the desk, set down his hand-held communicator, and picked up a tube-like object made of bronze. He turned to face Deanna again. Qua'tep wrapped his left hand around one end of the tube. "I must apologize for what I'm about to do, but it is necessary," he said, bringing the hand with the tube to his lips. Upon hearing him speak, Deanna opened her eyes, only to see him take a deep breath. He exhaled into the tube and a tiny dart shot from the other end. Deanna found herself unable to move, unable to think clearly. From the corner of her eye, she could see the small dart lodged firmly in her left shoulder. Her legs gave out, her eyes rolled back in her head, and she tumbled to a heap on the floor.
Deanna awoke to the warmth of the sun shining in her dark eyes. Her head felt like a phaser set to overload had just exploded in it. Without trying to cause more pain, she surveyed her surroundings. She was laying on a stone floor, staring across at treetops? Deanna jumped up and wobbled a little as the pain in her head increased even more. She realized she was on top of a large pyramid. Taking a few cautious steps to the edge, she gazed out on the horizon. The clouds were so close, she could almost reach up and bathe her hand in their mist. All the buildings, people, everything on the ground looked as though they were the size of her thumb. She had never seen anything this awe inspiring before. As she stood there, taking in the vastness of the jungle with its brightly colored flowers and trees with incredible foliage, she felt as if she were on top of the world. But the way the sun was heating the bricks and warming her skin, it felt more like the equator. How did I get here? And where IS here? she thought, and then spotted a familiar figure coming up the steps of the pyramid.
"Qua'tep, what's going on?" she demanded.
"Oh, Counselor, you're awake. Good," he said as he stepped closer to her. That damned feeling again. She let him come to her, let him take her in his arms and rain kisses along her neck. "I told you that my Empress has taken ill. Not too long ago, she died and you have been chosen to save her," he added, pulling away from her.
"How can I save her if she's dead? You should have transported her to the Enterprise. Dr Crusher may have been able to do something for her," Deanna suggested.
"That is not possible. The only way to save her is with this," he said as he held out his hand. In the palm was s tiny worm- like creature. It had pincers longer than its body and a few spines along its back. Despite the passionate yet comfortable feelings radiating from Qua'tep, Deanna forced herself to take a step back.
"Now, don't be afraid. You shall soon bring immense joy to my people," he said as he advanced on her. Deanna took another step backwards and tripped over a protruding brick. She stumbled to the ground, unable to recover quickly. Qua'tep knelt down over her, bringing the squirming creature down to her chest. It wiggled around for a moment, then inserted itself in the spot between Deanna's collarbones. She screamed in agony as the pincers gnawed their way through her, the creature coiling around her spinal cord. She rolled over, crying, moans of unbelievable pain escaping her lips. She was grateful when unconsciousness claimed her.
The following morning, Jean-Luc Picard sat in the conference room waiting for his Counselor and the Se'tza Ambassador to join him so they could finalize the negotiations. It was very unlike Deanna to be late for anything, but the fact that both she and the Ambassador were late was a little alarming to Picard. He had been waiting for almost fifteen minutes and decided to find out where they were. If they had simply over slept, he figured he could forego a court martial.
"Computer, locate Counselor Troi," he requested.
"Counselor Troi is no longer onboard the Enterprise," came the easy reply. Now Picard was worried.
"Computer, locate Ambassador Qua'tep."
"Ambassador Qua'tep is no longer onboard the Enterprise." Picard wasted no time. He was on the bridge in a matter of seconds.
"Red Alert! Worf, see if you can contact Empress Tem'paq!" Picard shouted almost before he had exited the turbolift. Riker shot out of the command chair.
"Captain?" he asked in alarm.
"I think Ambassador Qua'tep has taken Counselor Troi down to the surface," Picard explained carefully. Riker's eyes flared, but he didn't say anything.
"Empress Tem'paq has responded, sir," Worf told them.
"On screen," Captain Picard said automatically. The bridge was greeted with Troi's smiling face.
"Deanna!" Riker shouted. She directed her attention towards him.
"My dear Commander Rikerhas no one told you yet? Your beloved Counselor saved my life. Without her, I quite literally, would not be here talking to you. Oh, don't worry, she's not dead. In fact, she's very much alive. She can still hear you although there's nothing she can do. It's quite like a living dream. I suppose in her case, it'd be more like a living nightmare."
Riker turned away, taking a deep breath. He couldn't look at her, couldn't listen to her speak. Everything about her was the same: her musical accent, the tone of her voice, even the spark in her ebony eyes. But yet, it wasn't really her. Riker turned towards the view screen again and instantly felt like his heart had been ripped from his chest. While he hadn't been looking, Qua'tep had stepped into view, and taken up a position behind Deanna...Tem'paq...whoever she was.
Qua'tep knelt down, put his hands on her shoulders and kissed the back of her neck. His hands explored her curves while his lips complimented them.
Captain Picard looked to his first officer. Noting the pain in Riker's eyes, Picard turned to Worf and gave the signal to terminate the conversation. Picard admired Riker for being able to stand firm and not let his emotions betray him. Only someone close to Riker would be able to sense what the man was feeling. Ever since William Riker and Deanna Troi reunited on his bridge all those years ago, Picard knew that the two of them lived for each other, even if they hadn't realized it yet.
"Captain, with your permission, I'd like to beam down to the surface," Riker asked stiffly.
"With an away team, Will. I understand your situation, but that is still no reason to throw caution to the wind," Picard answered him firmly, but with care. Riker nodded and headed to the turbolift.
The gold bracelet shimmered in the hot afternoon sun. Lying on the gently sloping leather couch with her arm hanging down so that her hand rested lightly on the floor, Tem'paq heaved a deep sigh. She was bored.
"Qua'tep!" she yelled, and waited for him to appear in front of her. He scurried out onto the stone floor.
"Do we have anyone locked up in the cells," she asked eagerly.
"Yes we do, my lady," he answered with just as much enthusiasm as she had. Tem'paq brought her hand up, laid it on the sofa and rested her chin on it. She smiled wickedly.
"Good...bring them to the temple. The Gods are demanding a sacrifice, I believe..."
Riker, Worf, Ensign Clemmins, and Ensign Doe materialized facing a wall, beautifully painted with reds and browns, depicting a daunting scene of bloodshed and sacrifice. Riker stepped closer to it, while the other three moved off to the sides, phasers drawn.
"I knew you'd come," came a voice from behind. Riker spun around to face her. His breath caught in his throat as soon as his eyes fell upon her. She was wearing what could be best described as a blood red bikini with a translucent, flowing gold fabric around her waist. It was tucked over itself at her hip. Her straight brown hair was done up in a high ponytail with little ringlets tied with gold interspersed.
"Dea-," he stopped himself and sighed angrily. "Tem'paq," he added by way of greeting. She walked down towards him, Worf and the two ensigns drawing closer to Riker. She stopped only inches from him.
"You're special to her..." Tem'paq started, quietly. "Oh! You're Imzadi, aren't you?" she asked maliciously. She put her hand on his chest and walked around him, running her hand over his shoulders as she moved.
"I can see why...you're quite pleasing to the eye, among other things" she said as she stood in front of him again, her hand still on his chest. Riker stiffened and grabbed her wrist.
"You're not Deanna," he said icily. She looked deep into his eyes, and Riker had to blink to keep from changing his mind.
"Physically, I am. But my consciousness is my own, although I can access hers too," Tem'paq replied, the playful tone gone from her voice. She was done playing games. From the shadows emerged Qua'tep and three other men. They grabbed Worf and the two ensigns tightly, twisting their arms behind them. Worf did his best to resist but the man in the loincloth proved too much for the seasoned Klingon warrior. Qua'tep stood behind Riker and waited. Riker stared at Tem'paq for a moment, his heart aching. She nodded to Qua'tep and he grabbed Riker, pulling his arms behind him. Riker didn't resist; the fight wasn't in him.
Smiling at Riker, she asked, "Our cells are quite empty now, aren't they, Qua'tep?"
"Yes, my lady. They are indeed. Shall I put them there?"
"Would you please...I think they'll be needed later," she said, still smiling.
"Captain," this from Data sitting at Ops, "I'm getting unusual readings from the planet's sun."
"What kind of readings, Mr. Data?" Picard asked as he stood up from his seat and tugged on his uniform.
"The sun's core is becoming increasingly unstable. Sir, it is going to go nova in less than 48 hours," he answered. **
The shiny obsidian spearheads pointed at his neck gleamed brightly in the early evening light. He looked at one and a lump welled up in his throat as he was reminded of Deanna's eyes. Before taking Riker out of his damp confines, Qua'tep's men had taken his communicator per Tem'paq's wishes. He wasn't sure why she'd left Worf, Doe, and Clemmins with theirs. What was the method behind her madness? Whatever Deanna knew, Tem'paq knows now too.
They stopped in front of a doorframe with a blood red and gold cloth serving as the door and elaborate paintings on either side of the door. They were similar in style to the ones he'd first seen but the pictures were much nicer to look at. They detailed a great history of Empresses conquering lands. From what he could figure out, Tem'paq had amassed the largest empire thus far.
"Enter," she said from inside. The guards jabbed Riker in the back, making sure he followed directions. The guards jabbed him again with more force this time.
"I got you the first time," he mumbled as he pushed the curtain aside and stepped into the room. Directly in front of him was a massive four poster bed, the posts and canopy were draped with opaque fabric that created a sort of retreat for the occupant of the bed. The curtains on the posts were tied back and a figure lay on the bed. Her eyes were closed, chin on her hands, and her feet swung absently in the air.
"Leave us," she said to the guards, still keeping her eyes closed. They nodded and left the Starfleeter and Empress alone. She opened her eyes and looked at him standing in the middle of the room.
"What do you want, Tem'paq?" he asked.
"That's quite a question, Commander Riker...Will," she said quietly. "What do I want?" she paused for a moment, before continuing. "Well, for starters, I want you. But I can get that, no problem," she said smugly. "I understand you have an affinity for other women and the more the better, it seems. Although, I'm not really `another woman'. Speaking from...well, Deanna's experience, I know what it feels like. Answer me this, Imzadi, do you know how much that hurt her in the past?" she asked, seemingly from the heart. Riker stood where he was, refusing to answer her.
"Ah well...Let me tell you something. She was wounded deeply, but she'll never tell you that." She rolled onto her back, arms above her head. "Do you find me attractive?" she asked the ceiling. Riker was taken aback by this question. He blinked and then replied, "I think you know the answer to that."
She chucked and said, "I just wanted to see if you knew the answer." She rolled off the bed and drifted over to him. He sucked in a breath as she stopped mere inches from him. He gazed at her, at the curves he had memorized years ago but were still able to captivate him like they had the first time he'd seen her. The curves he wished would be curled up next to him night after night. His attention drifted to her face. The face with eyes he continually lost himself in. The face he'd often dreamed about waking up next to day after day.
He reached up and put his hand on her cheek. He started to say something but she touched her fingers to his lips.
"Sssh, no words," she said as she moved her hand to the back of his neck, tracing circles with her finger. In spite of himself, Riker smiled at this familiar action, and leaned his head in closer. Their lips met, tentatively at first, but then the passion took over. Bodies still pressed together; they backed up towards the bed, shedding clothes as they went. **
"Enterprise to Commander Riker," Picard said, trying to contact the away team. Getting no luck, he tried again, "Enterprise to Away Team."
"Captain," came the bass voice of the Klingon officer.
"Worf! Is Commander Riker with you?"
"No sir, he is not. Captain, Counselor Troi," Worf stopped and thought a moment. "Empress Tem'paq," he said, and then reconsidered his words before starting again, "SHE has us locked up."
"Transporter room 3, lock onto the away team and prepare to beam them up," Picard requested.
"Sir, I can only lock onto three of them," came the response. Picard swore under his breath. "Data, how long until the sun explodes?"
"Thirty two hours, sir," the android responded.
"Beam them up," Picard said with a hint of defeat in his voice. The battle wasn't over yet; they just needed to regroup. **
The fog in his head was just lifting, just like the early morning sun was burning off the fog outside. Slowly, Riker opened his eyes and surveyed his surroundings. He was hoping it had all been a terrible dream and it was his Deanna lying at his side. Not some bloodthirsty woman with only a physical resemblance to the woman he loved. Much to his dismay, everything was real.
Riker untangled himself from her arms and grabbed his hastily discarded uniform from the floor. He was mostly dressed when he heard her say from behind him, "I need you to help me do something. Yesterday, you asked me what I wanted." He finished putting on his uniform and walked over to the side of the bed. She was lying on her side, watching him. "I want to expand my empire. If it hadn't been for your beautiful counselor, I would never have known about the other worlds just out of my reach. With your help, I'll soon have an empire larger thanthe Romans from Earth."
"How can I help you? You took my communicator, remember?" he asked a little harshly, brought back to reality by her question.
"I will supply you with a means of communication. Look, my dear Commander Riker...I know you'd do anything for her, and I know you don't want any harm to become of her. You help me, and I might be able to help you."
Dead serious, he said, "Tell me how to get her back."
She laughed at his request. "Do you really think I'd be that overwhelmed by you to tell you that? Besides, you can't. I have wrapped around her spinal cord, and any attempt to extract me will only result in her death. Of course, you could always kill her, subsequently killing me, but I don't think that'd do you any good, now would it?"
He thought for a moment, then said, "Alright, I'll help you."
"Why wasn't Ensign Doe beamed up with Worf and Clemmins," Riker asked Tem'paq as they climbed the steps of the pyramid.
"I had Qua'tep take his communicator when I told him to check on your friends," she answered. "Besides, I can't sacrifice you now. You're useful to me."
Riker looked behind him at the guards pushing young Stephen Doe up the steps. The boy- Jesus, that's all he is; a boy- was just out of the academy on his first post.
"Tem'paq, I can't let you do this," Riker said, stopping mid-stride.
"What're you going to do to stop me? I know you won't hit me," she said, turning around and smiling at him. She was right, of course. And without a phaser, he couldn't stun her.
He started up the steps again, then said, "When are you going to let me contact the Enterprise?"
"As soon as I give the Gods what they want," she answered, coming to the top of the giant pyramid. She motioned Riker to stand to her right and for the guards to bring Ensign Doe to stand in front of her. Riker watched as two guards dragged Stephen Doe in front of her and as Qua'tep stood to her left. When Qua'tep turned to face her, Riker caught a glimpse of a double-edged knife in his outstretched hands.
"Now, will you stand there and let me do this, or do I have to have you restrained just like your friend here?" she asked snidely.
"Better restrain me," he said icily. She nodded and two more guards came up behind him and yanked his arms behind him. Riker grunted as he felt the ligaments in his elbows protesting the force.
Tem'paq took the knife from Qua'tep and held it above her head. She whispered something in a language Riker didn't understand and plunged the knife into Ensign Stephen Doe's breastbone. The young man screamed in agony, and Riker screwed his eyes shut to keep from having to watch the atrocities before him. His ears still had to listen to the sounds. Tem'paq ripped open the dying ensigns chest and pulled his heart out from within. The cries had stopped before this last deed as the young man graciously slipped into unconsciousness. Riker, hoping that the carnage had ended, slowly opened his eyes. His mouth dropped open as he took in the end of the pointless ceremony. Tem'paq now had Stephen Doe's still warm heart clutched in her hands and was holding it high above her head. Blood ran down her arms in little streams, and collected in pools on the ground, staining the cold stones of the pyramid crest.
"Captain, only Lt. Worf and Ensign Clemmins beamed up!" came the urgent voice over the communicator.
Now Picard was curious, if not furious.
"What the hell is going on down there?" He angrily asked no one in particular. "Mr. Data, can you contact Commander Riker yet?"
"No sir," the android replied calmly.
"How long until the sun explodes?"
"Eighteen hours, fifty two seconds." Picard stood and paced around the front of the bridge. He wasn't going to risk another away team. He'd just have to wait for Riker as long as he could.
"We're going to wait as long as possible, Mr. Data. For all we know, both Commander Riker and Ensign Doe are dead, and if that's the case, we'll have to leave." **
"Do you really have gods or do you just enjoy killing people?" Riker yelled at Tem'paq. She was lying on her back on the sofa in the large room where he'd first met her, looking over her shoulder at the floor where her finger was absently tracing shapes. Sighing, she turned her head to look at him, clearly bored.
"In case you hadn't noticed, there's no holodeck down here," she said easily. She stood up and strolled across the room. "I can think of something that might be a little more..." she started softly, putting her hand on his chest, "fun." Riker stepped back and Tem'paq let her hand fall to her side.
"In case YOU hadn't noticed, NONE of this," he gestured with his arms, encompassing the room, "has beenfunfor me. Now, let me contact the Enterprise." She let out a disgusted breath, angry with herself for not getting what she wanted. Tem'paq stormed into the other room, and quickly returned with a handheld communication device.
"Here," she said, tossing Riker the device and storming back to her sofa in the front of the room. She lay down again, this time watching him like a hawk. **
"Captain, we're receiving a transmission from the planet," Worf said from his station.
"On screen," Picard told him. Will Riker's grim face appeared on the viewscreen. "Number One, what the hell is going on down there?"
"Captain, she's killed Ensign Doe," Riker said solemnly. All color drained from Picard's face. He hadn't anticipated that. "Lock onto my coordinates," Riker told Picard as he walked over to Tem'paq. Quietly, he added, "Give me half an hour, then beam us directly to sickbay."
"Will, the planet's sun is going nova in" Picard looked to his left. Riker assumed he was talking to Data. "In less than three hours." Terrific. Just when I thought this couldn't get any worse, Riker thought.
"Understood. Riker out." Riker stood in front of Tem'paq and handed her the hand held device. Kneeling down so he was eye level with her, he said, "I told them that you're going to surrender yourself. They're going to beam us onboard and then we can gain control of the ship. But, we have a problem. It seems that the sun is going to explode in three hours."
Tem'paq's face lit up, but not in concern as Riker would have thought. "Explode? I knew it! They are real!" she exclaimed as she jumped up and raced into the other room.
"What? Who're real?" Riker yelled as he chased after her.
"The Gods! A century ago, my ancestors told stories of a great explosion that was said to be caused by the Gods," she told him as she knelt down and pulled a dusty book from under the bed. She stood and sat down on the bed, the book in her lap. She thumbed to a page somewhere in the middle. Riker sat next to her on the bed.
"Huitopochi is the God of War and the Sun. It's said that if the number of sacrifices to him does not appease him, he'll be angered and the sun will cease to warm us," Tem'paq said, a look of eagerness crossing her face. She stood up, threw the book on the bed and headed back to where she had come from.
"Qua'tep!" she shouted. The little man tore into the room and kneeled in front of her. "Where have you been?" Qua'tep looked up at her. For someone who was supposedly `close' to the Empress, he sure made himself scarce. He started to answer her when she stopped him with a hand on his lips.
"Stand up," she said seductively. Riker sucked in a breath and squared his shoulders. "Now, where have you been," she asked him again, her lips mere inches from his. Then she gestured behind her towards Riker. Pouting her lips and looking truly innocent and hurt, she added, "He's not very much fun."
"I was arresting...citizens...who were late with theirtaxes," he said, kissing her each time he paused. Suddenly remembering what she was originally going to do, Tem'paq pulled away from Qua'tep.
"Good. Now, I want you to bring as many of them as you can to the pyramid!" She started for the door and in mid-stride, whirled around to yell excitedly, "The Gods are angry!" at Qua'tep. Soon, Riker was standing in the middle of the room alone. He sighed, realizing that his plan wasn't going to work. He needed to come up with something new. But until he did, he'd have to play things as they happened. He spied the hand held communicator that Tem'paq had left by the sofa.
"Captain," Riker said to the image on the screen of the hand held device. If Tem'paq wasn't going to leave now "There's a change of plans. I need you to beam down a communicator to these coordinates."
"What's happened to change things?" Picard asked, his voice sounding small. Riker thought about how far away he really was.
"She doesn't want to leave. She's convinced that the Gods are seeking more sacrifices." Riker paused a moment before saying solemnly, "I'm not leaving without her, sir." He knew there was an all too real possibility that neither one of them would leave. He wasn't willing to believe he might leave alone.
"Nor should you, Number One" Picard said with a sense of hope Riker wasn't sure he shared. Then screen went dark and a small column of blue shimmering light deposited a communicator next to Riker. He attached it to his chest and ran out the door after Tem'paq.
"Tem'paq!" Riker yelled from the base of the pyramid. He could see her, Qua'tep, and the tax-evading citizens at the pyramid's apex. She didn't hear him. This is madness, he thought, then dashed up the steps. At the top, he almost tripped over two citizens who'd already met their gruesome fate. Tem'paq was stand where she had before, her bare feet now in a pool of blood. Riker hurried over to her and grabbed her shoulders, careful of the double-edged knife she was holding.
"Stop! There are no Gods! You're `sacrificing' innocent lives! That sun is going to explode whether you sacrifice me, or anyone else!" he yelled at her, his eyes blazing.
Still holding the knife above her head, she looked up at him, her eyes full of an emotion he'd never seen from Deanna: enmity. And to have it directed at him chilled Riker's heart. Furiously, she threw his hands from her shoulders, letting her arms clash to her sides. She stared up at him a moment, her eyes like ice.
"Oh really? Let's find out, shall we?" she yelled at him. Riker reacted before Tem'paq's blade was able to sear through him like it had to countless people in the past. His movements weren't swift enough to prevent the blade from tearing through the muscle of his shoulder. Riker cried out, and grabbed his shoulder with his left hand. His right arm hung limp at his side, rendered useless. Pain in his arm quickly replaced by the pain in his heart. He stared incredulously at Tem'paq, realizing only now, for the first time, that she truly wasn't Deanna. Realizing that in order to have her back in his arms again, he was going to have to go to use any means necessary. He just hoped Deanna would forgive him for any force he used. Tem'paq was holding the knife above her head again, preparing to sacrifice the next victim. Riker swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Hey, Tem'paq, you know, you're right," he said, hoping to catch her off guard. When she brought her arms down again, he knew he'd succeeded. She turned to look at him, truly confused. Riker curled his left hand into a fist, took a breath, and swung. His left hand impacted with her cheek, sending her cascading to the stones. Qua'tep rushed over and Riker gave him a repeat performance. Kneeling down, Riker checked to make sure Qua'tep was unconscious. Qua'tep was the last thing on his mind though. Tem'paq lay unmoving where she'd fallen. Riker kneeled next to her, turning her to face him. A dark bruise was starting to color her cheek and her eye was swelling. Riker traced a finger over the blemish on her otherwise porcelain face.
Doing the best he could, he cradled her with his left arm, whispering, "It's time to go home, Deanna."
Reaching up, Riker tapped his communicator, hoping to get off the God- forsaken planet as soon as possible.
"Riker to Enterprise. Two to beam directly to sickbay," he said.
"Sorry Commander." Data's voice. What else is there that could possibly go wrong? "The unique properties of the planet's sun are creating interference with our transporters. We are modifying them, but, we will not be able to beam you up for another forty-five minuets."
"Data, we've only got an hour!" Riker yelled, looking down at the unconscious woman in his lap.
"Yes, sir. We are aware of the remaining time."
"Well, damn it, hurry up. Riker out." He sighed angrily and looked up to the sky. The sun was shining a fierce orange, a warning of things to come. He looked over at Qua'tep. He was still out cold, but Riker headed down the steep steps of the pyramid in search of a vine to tie Qua'tep up with. Riker walked over to the edge of the lush jungle and grabbed a vine from the nearest tree. He headed back over to the pyramid, but at the base, he stopped. Carved into the stones and painted with vibrant colors were figures of women, animals, and tribal designs. Dropping the vine, Riker reached out and touched one that had been recently carved and painted. This one was different from the rest. The figure was a dark-haired woman and above her was what looked like the Enterprise in orbit around the planet. He could only assume the woman was Deanna. Picking up the vine again, he started up the steps of the pyramid and knelt next to Qua'tep. He was starting to come around, so Riker made sure he tied the vine as tightly as he could. He wrapped his right arm around his waist to keep the muscles of his shoulder immobilized. Sitting down next to Deanna's unmoving body, he pulled his knees up and put his left arm across his knees with his head on his arm. He wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting like that, and jumped up when a weak voice came from seemingly out of nowhere.
"Will...?" It was Deanna. She lay still, but her eyes were wide open. Riker slowly turned to face her, not sure if it was his imagination or not. When he saw her eyes, he wanted to just take her in his arms and hold her. He didn't care about the sun, didn't care about anything other than Deanna. But he couldn't. He just stared at her, his heart aching. Somehow, he was angry. He was angry for the things she'd said to him, angry for the way she'd treated him, and angry for the way he'd treated her in return. He thought he'd react differently than he was. He closed his eyes and turned away from her.
She sighed and curled up, hugging her knees. Every bone in her body hurt, every muscle ached, and the look in Will's eyes made her heart cry. His anger, sadness, and turmoil flooded her brain and she was too weak to put up a wall. She wasn't sure that her body waking up before the Se'tza inside her was such a good thing after all. She closed her eyes as a tear dripped off the tip of her nose.
Riker looked up at the sky again, hoping to change the path his thoughts were on. The sun had gone from a fierce orange glow to an irate red blaze. It wasn't long now before the sun would explode and the shock wave would turn the planet and everything on it to dust.
"Will..." Deanna said again, her voice pleading for something. Riker turned to look at her. He could see she was in a lot of pain. "Can you please.." she choked back a sob and continued, "hit me. The Se'tza is waking up and the only way to prevent that is if I'm unconscious." It hadn't even occurred to Riker that she was awake and acting somewhat like herself when she really shouldn't be. Riker reached over and using his left hand pinched the nerve in her neck. She slipped gracefully into unconsciousness, not feeling a thing.
"Enterprise to Commander Riker," came Captain Picard's voice from his communicator.
"Riker here," he said, sadly.
"Number One, we're ready to beam you up." The two people disappeared from the pyramid top in a beam of shimmering blue light.
Deanna Troi swiped at the tears cascading down her cheeks and released herself from his warm embrace. There was another emotion from him filtering into her awareness: anger. She spun around and looked up into his baby blue eyes, searching for an explanation.
"Why are you angry?" she asked, voicing her search. Riker tilted his head and his expression softened.
"I'm not," he said warmly. She didn't buy it.
"You know better than to try that with me," she said firmly, irritation creeping into her voice. The rock separating them had become a physical manifestation of the emotional distance between them.
"I don't know what you want me to say. Yes, I'm angry. Why? Because of the way you treated those citizens, because of the way you treated me, but mostly, because of the things you said to me. Deanna, first, you tore my heart out and then you proceeded to trample it," he said, regretting it instantly. The unshed tears making her dark eyes shine in the light from the dual moons made him want to reach out to her and take her in his arms. But her eyes also told him to keep his distance.
"I said some terrible things to you," she said, her voice betraying her emotions. "I was aware of every word I said; every move I made. I was aware of every thing you did and said in response. But damnit, I couldn't do anything about it!" She took a few steps forward and turned away from him, tears blurring her vision. Will Riker stared at her back. She was right. He stepped around the rock that was separating them and stood just behind her.
"You're right, it wasn't your fault. There is absolutely no reason for me to be angry with you. But watching you say things you would never say when everything else about you was still the same really hurt. More than I thought it had." He drew in a shaky breath and continued, "Deanna, I was so terrified I was going to lose you," he said, his voice breaking as he took her hands in his. Looking deep into his baby blue eyes, she could see tears he was trying desperately to keep from spilling down his cheeks.
She couldn't tell who was hurting more. She let him gather her in his arms and she poured her emotions onto the front of his uniform in tiny rivulets. Will kissed the top of her head, tears of his own raining into her brown hair. The twin moons had reached their zenith; the wind swirled around in gentle swirls. The lovers holding each other in the holographic world had found peace, her consciousness free to enrich his life as his does hers.