Star Trek is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures Corporation. The characters and various elements of the "Star Trek Universe," in which this story takes place, are the property of Paramount Pictures. No infringement of their rights is intended.

The story itself is the original work of MizMAC, and is offered solely for the shared amusement of fans. Any commercial use of this work is prohibited.

My thanks to Mararabi, who edited the story, and to Schmianna whose request prompted this work.

"Chiaroscuro" © 2000


The brass-clad doors swung shut behind the last delegation and the governor rose from his desk. Bloodwine, he thought to himself. Bloodwine and dinner and then a long session with the bat’leth.

He stepped from the dais and its carved stone table where he had dispensed judgment all day long. He stretched muscles that had grown weary with inaction. The bat’leth workout would be welcome tonight. Now that his days were full of the bloodless battles of words and numbers, he was more than ready for an opponent of some substance--if one could say that a holographic foe had any substance.

His secretary stepped in from the anteroom, stopping abruptly as he took in the governor’s imminent departure. He wavered a moment between advance and retreat, and then said apologetically, "I am sorry, Your Excellency. There is one more petitioner waiting who craves an audience."

The governor glowered. "Not on the appointment list?"

"No, Your Excellency. He has just arrived and -- I thought it best to put him out of sight. He’s Federation. "

The governor scowled. Just what he needed now.

"Never mind sir, he’s nothing --an off worlder. I can tell him you are gone for the day, sir. He can wait. He can come back tomorrow -- or never."

The governor raised a hand, stopping the secretary’s last errand of the day. He debated his inclinations. "Bring him."

"Yes, sir, I will bring him immediately, Governor Worf." The clerk bowed himself out.

His Excellency sat once again in the chair whose ornately wrought high back proclaimed in leather and stone the majesty of the Klingon Empire. "Territorial Governor"--the title had a good ring to it. Not that there weren’t grander, more powerful titles in the Empire. Not that he hadn’t ever held one--Federation Ambassador, Member of the High Council. But "Governor Worf" seemed to have been ordained, for it pleased him far better than those others had.

He liked Nakartha, this planetary system at the edge of the Empire away from all the high flown politics, the pomp and circumstance. That was fine for a young man like Alexander, his son, a player in the new liberal wing. But Worf had always sought challenge, and what challenge was left after the Dominion War? Only at these outposts on the frontier did warriors still train for the defense of the Empire. Only here at Nakartha had there been any chance for action, even if it were against ill-equipped brigands and pirates. Only here at Nakartha was K’Jame.

Bloodwine and dinner and the bat’leth with K’Jame--if she could be coaxed. She was a fine opponent and a finer lover when her blood was up. I will go to see her, he thought, as soon as I can get rid of this last infernal--

The door opened. The man was an Earther. He stood across the long expanse of the hall, pale in the growing twilight. He might have been an apparition. For a second Worf was looking back across time--nearly fifteen years--at the man who’d stood with him in the Great Hall on Quonos on the day that Worf had reclaimed the honor of his family name.

"Captain Picard, " he breathed.

The apparition looked back at him.

"Admiral!" Worf called aloud, correcting himself as he came down the dais to greet his visitor. "Welcome to Nakartha."

They clasped hands in the human custom. "They did not tell me it was you."

"Well, Worf," said the specter, "Some days I can hardly tell it is me."

* * *

Night had arrived. The bat’leth remained upon the wall. Disused and hanging idle, it seemed an unhappy symbol of all that Worf saw before him. As good as it was to have Picard at his table and to recall and relish their voyages aboard the Enterprise, the memories were an unsettling contrast to the present. It had not been that long ago, surely. Yet his former captain seemed to have faded in some subtle way, as though he stood in a constant shadow or carried that shadow inside him. The sense of absent spirit was not just Worf’s mood. He could see a kind of confirmation even in K’Jame’s behavior. Throughout the dinner, she charmed and sparkled determined to engage her guest, but all to no avail. She was fighting a foe who was invisible, intangible, silent.

Worf drained his bloodwine and over the rim of his cup considered the weary visage of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. To see him so disilluminated--? made Worf wonder if he, too, had grown old, unable to see his aging because it had invaded his mirror so slowly with such insinuating familiarity.

"And so, was anything settled by the time you left the conference?" Worf picked up their conversation.

Picard shook his head. "The Federation and the Empire won’t be able to settle anything until they come to understand each other’s perspective on the Dominion War. I’m afraid that tensions will continue, but whatever happens, my charge to mediate is definitely over."

K’Jame brought another bottle of bloodwine to the table and then discreetly bid them goodnight.

Picard caught the way Worf’s attention followed her to the door. "She reminds me of someone," he remarked.

"She is the niece of Kahlest, my family’s old nurse who aided our challenge for the House of Mogh. You recall the old woman?"

"Very well. She was a fine, brave person to stand up for the truth."

Worf smiled. "It was the truth--K’mpec was too fat."

For a second, it seemed that Picard had missed the joke, but then he smiled, though ruefully. "Perhaps I don’t recall as well as I think, Worf," he apologized. "As a matter of fact, lately I feel a whole new meaning in the phrase living in the moment. But there is a memory that disturbs me, Worf. And that’s why I’ve come. I need a favor."

"You have only to ask it."

"Only? The asking is serious enough. Worf, I need to revisit sector four four five."

Worf frowned deeply. "Sector four four five? That area is still under quarantine."

"I know. Special Ordinance 7-B, adopted six years ago by unanimous vote of the Federation Council--the only ordinance of its kind since the prohibition against Talos IV in 2266." Picard seemed to drift away on that thought. "You know, it was a capital crime to visit Talos IV back then."

"It is just as deadly to visit four four five now. The entire zone is designated a level ten biohazard. The whole five parsecs are posted with warning buoys and patrolled by a coastguard squadron."

"That’s why I need you. Any Federation ship approaching the boundary will be stopped, boarded, and escorted back, but a Klingon ship--? It might be challenged, but the Federation patrols have no authority to bar Klingon ships from the area. And the Klingons have no laws prohibiting traffic through that sector."

"We don’t need any. You would have to be maw’ -- crazy-- to risk that kind of contamination. Even the strongest shields would fail to protect a ship that encounters a thermolytic radiation pocket. "

"Worse would be for me to fail, Worf. I have to get there and finish a piece of business that should have been taken care of long ago. That’s the favor I’ve come to ask of you. Worf--" Picard grasped the Klingon’s arm "--for the sake of your chaDich. I’m not asking you to cross the boundary. Just get me up to it, give me a shuttle, and I’ll go in by myself."

For a moment, the Klingon and the human locked in a long steady gaze and just before Worf’s lowered eyes acceded, he saw a strange light glowing in Picard’s face as the admiral realized his victory. Yes, Worf would do this for him: the claims of honor clasped him even more closely than Picard’s insistent hand. Yet, it was an uneasy bequest for the Klingon to make.

"But why do you wish to go there? There is nothing in sector four four five but dust and death."

The admiral’s hand loosened and returned to the bronze goblet to drain the last of the bloodwine. "That’s exactly why I have to go."

* * * * * * * * *

The house lay just before the dunes, surrounded by a thicket of vegetation so lush and varied, one would think that someone had tried deliberately to recreate a small jungle there. The foliage secluded the bungalow from its neighbors and gave the place such privacy and solitude that it seemed a separate, secret world. Even the air, honey-sweet with the fragrance of orchids, closed over the grounds, still and lazy and warm on this summer afternoon. So peaceful.

Nothing could have made Highsmith more ill at ease. The sunlight through the leafy canopy dappled his Starfleet uniform as he walked up the stone path toward the cottage entrance. He tried not to look too hard into the shadows. There was nothing there, of course. Its innocence was exactly what it was. No wonder the place made his skin crawl.

On the portico he found no doorbell, but overhead, a set of wind chimes toned a random arpeggio unaided by the static air. The final note faded away unanswered. Highsmith peered into the foyer.

"Hello . . . ?"

No answer.

He could turn around now and walk away; no one would know he’d even considered this move. He was here on his own initiative. His superiors had left the means to him.

He stepped over the threshold. No guts, no glory.

The foyer was cool and welcoming, as though he’d walked into a natural grotto. The floor and walls were of well-worn stone. The entire left wall comprised a fountain. Murmuring seductively, like a miniature waterfall, the cascade trickled down the rock niches into a small pool at the floor. Highsmith resisted the urge to peer through the curtained doorway and instead turned his gaze upward. Above him, an arch of cantilevered stones suspended a mobile of ceramic rings--more wind chimes?

"Actually, they’re the Holy Rings of Betazed."

Highsmith startled and cursed his inattention and turned around to face the words. A delicate, dark-haired woman stood in the doorway, holding the curtain aside.

"My mother is the heir," she said with a slow, ironic grin. "But she’s never been very religious."

"Oh--excuse me--I was just--Mrs. Riker?"

The woman nodded. "But I still use Troi-- Commander Troi. You must be Commander Highsmith. They told us to expect you. Please come in."

If the foyer seemed cloistered, the house proper was spacious and open. Highsmith’s view swept immediately past the tasteful furnishings and expensive art to the far wall-- glass from floor to ceiling, framing a spectacular expanse of the ocean beyond the grassy dunes and the neat white wooden fence. Highsmith’s quarry was just coming through the French doors.

"Captain Riker?"

"Commander Highsmith! Welcome to Betazed."

Commander Troi motioned to the sofas beside a massive white marble fireplace and they sat.

"I apologize for the intrusion," Highsmith began. "You have a beautiful place here."

Troi smiled graciously. "Thank you, Commander." It was Riker’s wife’s house, he remembered, a wedding present from her noble-born mother. Verifiable facts were more Highsmith’s stock in trade than esthetics.

"Anyway, I’m sorry to disturb your vacation, Captain."

"That’s all right. The furlough’s almost over anyway,” Riker said. "The Enterprise F will be commissioned next week."

"Congratulations. I hear she’s a beautiful ship."

"Thank you. She is indeed. We’re looking forward to the christening and the shakedown runs and then--" he looked around the beautiful surroundings as though he would be loath to give them up for the confines of a starship. Sure.

"But this is not your first command, of course. You’ve had the Venture for the past five or six years."

"That’s right." Riker’s attention sharpened as the conversation turned toward Highsmith’s business.

"And before that you were first officer under Jean-Luc Picard on the Enterprise D and the E. You were. . .some years in that position, I understand."

"Ten." Riker specified the number, deliberately challenging Highsmith’s delicacy.

"You had a good relationship with your commander to have served so long."

"He was--and is--a mentor and a friend."

"And when did you last see Admiral Picard?"

"Just exactly what is this interview about, Commander?"

"You haven’t seen him recently?"

"Has something happened to Admiral Picard?" Troi asked anxiously.

"Then you haven’t seen him recently?"

"We saw him at the Venture’s decommissioning," Riker said impatiently, "but--"

"And have you spoken to him since?"

Riker didn’t bother to consult his memory. "Look, Commander, that’s about all the blind interrogation I’m going to take. What’s going on?"

"The admiralty has concerns regarding Admiral Picard’s most recent mission. Admiral Picard was given a diplomatic assignment to Quonos to help mediate the current difficulties stemming from the Dominion surrender and the DS9 Treaty."

"Nearly seven years and still not settled," Riker commented pointedly.

Highsmith ignored the criticism. "Admiral Picard attended the conference there last week. Instead of returning to be debriefed, he sent his report back --and disappeared."


"He was last known to have contracted for transport to the Nakartha system, a Klingon world."

Highsmith watched the Rikers exchange a quick, knowing glance.

"Worf," Riker said as though that explained everything.

"Our former chief of security, Worf, is a Klingon," Troi explained. "He’s now the governor of Nakartha. If Jean-Luc took passage there, he’s undoubtedly just gone to see him--visiting."

Highsmith’s expression screwed up sarcastically. "In the midst of the worst tensions between us and the Klingon Empire since the end of the war, Admiral Picard has decided to pay a social call? On a governor whose son is a prime candidate for the Klingon High Council? In a sector where the Klingons are known to train their troops? A sector that neighbors one of the territories under dispute? "

"Worf is a friend--to all of us," Troi’s tone was glacial. "If the Admiral has gone there for political reasons, they would only be to enlist that friendship on behalf of the Federation."

"I wish I could share your opinion, Commander , but our superiors are not that sanguine about it. No, I’m afraid that captains of the Enterprise have been known for a certain brand of diplomacy. It’s nearly a tradition --a tradition that the admiralty wants to put an end to."

"Perhaps you forget, Commander Highsmith, that you are speaking to the next captain of the Enterprise."

"No that’s just my point." He turned to Riker. "You’re the end the admiralty has in mind."

Riker rose from the white sofa. "Commander," he said curtly, "perhaps now would be a good time to come to the point."

Highsmith realized that Riker was extremely tall.

"Picard respects you," he answered quietly.


"He would listen to you. We want you to go after him. Find out what he thinks he’s doing. Bring him back."

Riker exhaled slowly. The soft answer seemed to have defused him. He paced a step or two. "Have you spoken to his wife?"

"Just yesterday, from DS7. She told me she doesn’t know anything about his whereabouts. Her attitude was decidedly unfriendly." He smirked sarcastically. "She didn’t even bother to mention that she’s filed for divorce."

Riker looked at Troi and the astonishment was mutual, but the look lingered and something else transpired between them. Highsmith knew that she was an empath, but he could have sworn that her husband was the one doing the reading.

When Riker turned back to Highsmith, he said evenly, "I’ll be speaking to Beverly myself."

Highsmith shrugged, produced a padd, clicked on a screen and handed it to Riker. "The admiralty’s orders are that you make all due speed to Nakartha."

In one smooth movement Riker accepted the padd and used it to indicate the door to Highsmith.

* * * * * * * * *

It was late by the time Riker had arranged all the details. Of course, the Enterprise F would not be ready in time, and besides she was hardly the ship for such a small job. However, her captain’s yacht had already been checked out in several test runs and proved herself a nimble, versatile little vessel. "Nausicaa” would be perfect. Riker had spent most of the evening pulling together the necessary authorizations and vehicle preparations. He and Deanna could manage as a skeleton crew including Highsmith. Well, at least the irritating little SOB would have to work.

Deanna was already in bed upstairs in the loft. It was their last night home and yet Will was lingering. He was tempted to close his screen and turn in, but finally, with an uncharacteristic hope for his own defeat, he pulled up the interstellar chronometer. It was still "mid afternoon" on DS7. He could place the call, if he really wanted to.

In the dark, illuminated only by the blue glow from his workstation, he mulled over what he had felt in Deanna after her initial surprise at Highsmith’s revelation--that flash of pain and guilt. Had she known of trouble between Jean-Luc and Beverly? Perhaps there been some suggestion that suddenly now made sense. It would be like her to blame herself for not interceding. After all, she knew Jean-Luc better than anyone. She’d been his ship’s counselor for many years, his therapist after the Borg assimilation. And she and Beverly had been best friends aboard the Enterprise, personal confidants more than professional colleagues. If anyone could have helped, it would have been Deanna.

Or was that sudden splinter of emotion that Riker had felt in his wife the realization that they had been completely in the dark about the Picards? Time and distance were the natural enemies of friendship, but look at all the years they had spent together, all the journeys they had taken! Why hadn’t they stayed in touch?

Riker knew that answer. It washed over him like a gray wave. Sitting before the empty screen Riker recalled the sight of Beverly’s familiar face, its classic loveliness, the sympathetic eyes:


"Will--I’m so sorry."

He waited, though he knew the rest.

“I know how much Deanna was hoping that the tests would show something--give us some clue about the miscarriages . . . ."

There was her long review of the procedures, a litany of chromosomes and genes that he had heard before with less hurt from physicians who were strangers. Then he needed to ask. "The other doctors said there’s no reason why we’d be genetically incompatible, but even the in vitros--fail. We thought that possibly some environmental insult might be at the base--?"

"There’s no evidence of that, Will.”

Jean-Luc now joined Beverly, the two of them on the screen like a family portrait.

“There were literally hundreds of situations where the Enterprise was exposed to biohazards and anomalies. We all did our best to protect the crew from those we knew. But space travel itself is a risk, and there are more things out there than we can imagine.” Jean Luc reminded him. “Does it matter,Will? Wouldn’t you and Deanna want to look ahead, not grope for a culprit out of the dim past?"

"The truth is that we just don’t know the answer to why the two of you can’t yet have children-yet,” Beverly concluded. “And even if we never find out, there are other choices . . . ."

But how to convince Deanna of that? How to insist that she must make another choice even if it did not give them a child that was truly their own, carried within her the way that every biological and cultural imperative in her told her was the right and only way? Deanna clung to the fact that there was no answer. For five years she had refused to give in. As long as she did not know a name, a condition, some medical term, she hoped, fixed upon a heartbreaking desire.

"You may not want to hear this now," Jean-Luc had added, "but consider too, that you’re luckier than a lot of people. You already have each other. Someone to share life with. You’re not alone. That’s what matters."

Riker shut down his screen. You have each other. That’s what matters. How very well he knew that. How he wished that were all there was to know. Time was when he believed in knowing. Back then, it was always better to know than not. Knowledge was power, and knowing meant that one could take action, solve the problem, do it right. He sighed. Had he ever been so young?

He climbed into bed as gently as he could, not to wake her. Drowsily, she inched toward him. Her warm, bare skin brushed against his cool limbs as she curled against his body. He held her, meaning only comfort, but her nearness aroused him and she turned in his arms, inviting him, offering herself. Their lips met, and he longed for the whisper of her mind calling him Imzadi . But beyond the kiss, their souls were no longer open to each other. The barrier remained that had been there so many months now. Perhaps it had begun as a sacrifice to protect him from her disappointment, but now he feared what lay beyond her presentation of simple, shallow desire. And as he warmed to her, alit to her touch, the depths of his soul shrank back into the darkness, bitter and ashamed to take what she offered on any terms at all,

He held her close and chose not to know.


* * * * * * * * * *

Klingon taverns, Picard reflected, were like a production of Beowulf: a pageant of chest beating accompanied by tirades of guttural bluster. In the hour that they had sat there at a bench in a shadowy corner, three fights had broken out, one of which had threatened to engulf the entire roster of patrons. He was getting a headache just watching the alcohol consumption, let alone the arm wrestling, leather slapping, and inimitably Klingon butting of brows. Worf sat across from him, nearly obscured by the smoke and the shadows, but so attentive in attitude that Picard could tell he was quite in his element.

The air grew denser with smoke from the kitchen braziers. The cowl Picard wore to disguise his humanity was stifling. He was about to rise and go outside for a breath of fresh air when Worf’s hand on his arm stayed him.

He followed the turn of Worf’s head to a pair who had just walked through the door: a stalwart, hirsute fellow with a cocky stride and a taller, leaner youth. Their leathers made them out to be something rougher than the usual soldiers of fortune. Swarthy, even for Klingons, was Picard’s impression.

"D’Korath," Worf said ,quietly nodding toward the one whose dreadlocks spread halfway down his back. "He is the one we are looking for." He leaned close to Picard. "Wait until I have gone through the door. Then follow me outside."

The bartender had just handed over a set of brimming tankards to D’Korath’s group when Worf made his move. Cutting carefully through the rest of the throng, Worf reached his target and barged right by him. The drink splashed over his breastplate as Worf haughtily strode on with nary a look back. For one startled second, the Klingon stared at Worf’s unruffled, receding back, and then with an incensed howl, rushed out the door after him with the youth in his wake.

As fast as Picard weaved through the crowd, by the time he emerged in the alley beyond the exit, the introductory snarling had become the circling and posturing that precedes the first blow. Picard stepped into the center of the combatants’ space, reached into the pocket of his cloak, and tossed three strips of latinum at the feet of Worf’s opponent.

The effect was immediate.

"PetaQ!" D’Korath swore. Momentarily forgetting Worf, he grabbed Picard by the lapels, knocking back the cowl. "You dare to offer D’Korath, son of Molak, this insult!"

He threw Picard backward at Worf. "Tell your crawling gagh of a human servant that my honor is not to be bought for a strip of latinum!"

Worf stepped into the light of the street lamp and enjoyed the look of fearful recognition that spread across the face of his subject. "If it were honor we wanted to buy, we would not be looking for D’Korath, son of Molak."

"Governor Worf," D’Korath muttered.

Worf held up a hand and looking beyond the semicircle of illumination, he addressed the dark passageways as though they contained a legion of Klingon military troops. "Hold! I command you!"

The youth peered into the dark looking for the nonexistent trap. The elder hesitated, unsettled and unsure whether to stand or flee. Picard coolly straightened his clothes.

Worf signaled to the phantom legion that they were to back off. What he had to say was apparently a private matter. That seemed to quiet D’Korath.

"It is not your honor that my friend wishes to buy, but your ship."

Picard scooped up the latinum strips and dropped them into a leather pouch, which sagged with the weight of many more. He shook the bag and the precious metal chinked.

"Not even your ship, actually," Picard said, "but passage for the governor, myself and our cargo."

D’Korath’s lustful eyes took on the same dull sheen as latinum. "The governor has a cargo he wishes to transport? I might ask what the governor wishes to transport that could not go on a government vessel."

"You could ask that," Worf agreed, "or you could ask to donate your vessel free of charge. It could be confiscated now for the contraband in its hold."

"On the other hand, our cargo is perfectly legal under Klingon law," Picard said. "A short journey and this--" he jiggled the bag "--will be yours upon your return with the governor."

The smuggler frowned; the conflict of greed and suspicion traced across his face. "Where to?" he asked.

"Sector four four five."

D’Korath’s frown deepened into disbelief. He looked to Worf in astonishment. " The plague zone?" he snorted. "Keep your money. Whatever you are carrying there, I want no part of it. Better prison than that death."

"Prison can be arranged also," Worf said.

"You won’t be asked to fly into the radiation field," Picard promised. "Only to the boundary, and you get to turn around and come back."

"Come back with the governor," D’Korath repeated looking long at Picard. "Just the governor?"

“Yes,” Picard replied. "Yes, just so."

* * * * * * * * * *

“The customs and immigration office has no record of a human named Picard making entry at this port,” the gruff voice announced.

“Are you sure?” Riker asked. “Perhaps the entry was made surreptitiously or under guise--”

“Federation citizens are strictly registered. If your Picard had entered under false documentation such an illegal alien would be arrested and expelled.”

“Look, perhaps I could speak to Governor Worf? He’s a friend from--”

“You will hold the comm line.” The Klingon’s face disappeared from the screen to be replaced by the three-pointed logo of the Empire, a stylized thorn. Riker envisioned it firmly planted in his side.

They had been docked at Nakartha for four hours now and still tied up in red tape. He would have paced away some of his exasperation but there was no room. The flight deck of the yacht was decidedly smaller than the bridge of a Sovereign class starship, and he was already sharing the space with Highsmith, who sat at the other comm terminal tapping the touch pad like a bongo drum.

“There have been forty-seven interplanetary arrivals in the last two days,” Highsmith reported, “with about a third logged as governmental or military craft with originations at Quonos.”

“Where did you get that?”

Highsmith shrugged. He leaned backward with fingers interlaced behind his head. “This is a colony planet. The whole telecomm system here is a hand-me-down. You could hack it with a can opener.”

“These people are our allies,” Riker reminded him.

Were our allies,” Highsmith snorted derisively. “I’ll have the departures shortly--just in case Picard’s not having tea with His Highness.”

“You mean Excellency, ” Riker corrected. “Highness is what will happen permanently to your voice if you forget to show respect for the governor.”

Riker had to admit he enjoyed that last thought. Even though he knew that he shouldn’t take his frustration out on Highsmith, he really didn’t need any more nettling. He had already been shunted around to four officials who had no information about the presence on planet of a Starfleet officer named Picard. Instead of following the standard diplomatic protocols, he should have thrown his weight around as a personal friend of the governor right from the beginning.

The doors onto the flight deck opened and Riker smiled to see Deanna there. Amazing how an extra person could actually make the atmosphere feel less confined and stressful.

“What progress?” she asked.

“We’re getting the runaround,” Highsmith answered.

“I can’t believe that Worf would tolerate, let alone institute, such levels of bureaucracy,” Riker complained.

The Counselor gave it a thought. “Do you think you’re getting obstruction or avoidance?”

Before either of the men could ask, the monitor flashed back to the visage of another Klingon bureaucrat.

“The governor’s office says that you have no appointment.”

“No,” Riker began, “but we are personal friends of the governor and --”

“I will consult with his secretary.”

The logo returned. Riker steamed. Highsmith grumbled. Troi considered thoughtfully.

“Avoidance,” she announced.

“What?” Riker asked.

“Contrary as it may be to the national character, they’re not needling you for the pure joy of the exercise,” she said. “I’m sensing an attitude more like escape than attack. It’s as though we’re not the real problem, but we’re making them face a problem they’d rather ignore. Something’s wrong.”

“No kidding,” Highsmith muttered.

She turned her frown on the commander and waved a peremptory hand. “I need your comm station.”

“I’m running a search,” he objected. “Why don’t you use the other one. That conversation is going nowhere.”

Riker leaned over and keyed Highsmith out as if he’d suddenly vanished from existence.

“I’ll need to place my call on the main screen,” Troi said to Riker, “so you should transfer your comm channel to the console here.”

The flabbergasted Highsmith watched her adjust the imaging sensors so that whoever would next speak to Riker would see over the captain’s shoulder the huge ship’s monitor where her conversation would be taking place. She was setting the Klingons up to eavesdrop on her. Then she motioned Highsmith out of his chair, sat down, composed her face into an expression of pure charm, and placed her call.

The small monitor now flashed, and Riker turned to confront yet another Klingon face that wasn’t Worf’s.

“I am Aktar, the governor’s secretary. What is your business with this office?”

“We are friends of Governor Worf from the Federation Starship Enterprise--”

“Then why have you not docked under the designation for the Federation Starship Enterprise?”

“No, I mean Governor Worf was a crewmate who served with us on the Federation Starship Enterprise. We’re old friends.”

"A personal affiliation from the past is easily alleged and falsely claimed by many who want audience with the governor.”

“But also truly claimed in this case, which is why, if you’ll just give my name to the governor-- ” Behind him, Riker could now hear Deanna addressing someone cheerily.

“The governor has a busy schedule,” Aktar growled, reaching toward what was probably the disconnect key.

“But I’m sure he would be happy--” Riker argued as another voice, deep and slightly accented, greeted Deanna with unmistakable affection “--to see old friends.”

“In a few days from now, we could perhaps fit in an interview--”

“Look at you! All grown up!” Deanna was laughing.

The secretary’s eyes flicked beyond Riker.

“You probably mean ‘grown up at last !’ ” The burly Klingon on Deanna’s screen replied. “And how is your dear mother? Still enjoying those Sautrian mud baths? And Captain Riker? He is well?”

“He is with me.”

“Hello, Alexander,” Riker turned and leaned over Troi.

“Captain Riker? It is good to see you!”

“You too, Alexander. Even if it is politically incorrect these days.”

“But that is nothing between Duj’jup, shipmates! It is a shame when nations lose sight of the people who make them up,” he passed it off lightly. “You are exploring the galaxy on your own these days?”

“While waiting for the next Enterprise. We were hoping to see your father.”

“You had best. He would be very angry if you took off on your journey without stopping in. Tell him I will be out in a couple of weeks after the next policy meetings.”

As Troi picked up the conversation with Alexander, Riker turned back to the secretary who had definitely gotten the message.

Aktar shifted uncomfortably. “Captain Riker,” he said quietly. “I am --that is I must tell you-- the governor has taken a short vacation. He has left quite suddenly--to go hunting, he said.”

“With a friend?”

“He left only a message that he would be absent for a few days.”

“We are concerned about a human friend who may have come to visit the governor, a Starfleet officer named Picard. Now, look Aktar, I understand your trying to defend the governor politically, but believe me, we want to prevent a possible diplomatic incident just as much as you do.”

He did not need Deanna to know that the secretary had seen Jean-Luc.

“I do not know where the hunting party has gone. There are some instructions in the event that the governor’s return is delayed. I will retrieve them, if you will wait.”

Deanna was signing off with Alexander. With a last mimed kiss she waved goodbye and turned back to Riker.

“Well, looks likes he’s here,” Will told her. “He and Worf seem to have arranged a little hunting trip in the country somewhere. The secretary has gone to get the details.”

“There’s an incoming message for you, Captain, on another channel,” Highsmith informed him.

“Who is it?”

“I’m not sure,” Highsmith said. “The one from customs and immigration, I think.”

Riker smiled. “Put him on hold.”

Aktar came on screen once again, but the news did not look good.

“Captain, the governor’s message was only one word: D’Korath.”

“D’Korath? What does that mean? Is that a place?”

“It is nowhere I know of.”

“Captain,” Highsmith interrupted, “Customs says it’s important.”

“I will let you know,” Aktar promised.


Riker switched the screen, and the glowering customs agent fairly sneered at him. “Captain Riker? You are still seeking the Earther you inquired about earlier?”


“We have picked up your Picard for you. Will you take custody?”

“Yes,” Riker said, recovering quickly from utter surprise. “Can you beam him aboard our vessel?”

The Klingon gave him a strange look, but with a short nod he keyed in a sequence and logged off, leaving the thorn logo as his farewell.

A red glow appeared before them like a glass cylinder hot from the furnace. The air hummed with energy and a flat, two-dimensional figure began to take shape in the beam. It grew in definition till finally the light faded, and the human shape resolved.

“Beverly!” Deanna cried.

Doctor Picard,” Highsmith observed dryly.

Beverly Picard stepped off the transporter pad. “Thank god, it’s you!”

“It’s good to see you, too,” Riker gave her a quick hug, “even if unexpected.”

“Unexpected!” she exclaimed. “Unexpected is having your shuttle seized and your person hijacked by Klingon immigration security about two minutes after you dock.”

“I’m, sorry,” Deanna apologized. “I’m afraid that may have been our fault.”

“I guessed that.” A kind of calm descended. “Don’t misunderstand, Deanna, Will. I’m glad to have found you so quickly.”

She glanced uncertainly at Highsmith, who said nothing to welcome her or to acknowledge their previous interview. He sat down once again at the computer terminal and resumed his scanning.

“Will,” she turned to Riker, still very conscious of Highsmith’s presence behind her, “I can’t believe that you’re doing this!”

“Doing what?”

“I can’t believe that they’ve enlisted you in their little conspiracy theory.”

“Beverly, “ Deanna soothed, a jump ahead of the conversation, “No one is trying to harm Jean-Luc.”

Riker concurred. “No one’s said anything to me about a conspiracy. The admiralty is concerned about the diplomatic situation with the Empire, and they want to talk to Jean-Luc. He’s their expert, and he’s taken off a little prematurely. Don’t you think it’s odd for him to go missing like this?”

“You’re his friend, Will. You know what kind of man he is. He’d never hurt the Federation. He’s given his whole life to it. And yet you’re willing to hunt him down on their baseless suspicions. Frankly, I’d have expected a little more loyalty.”

Deanna gasped. Riker bristled. “Loyalty? How is it a breach of loyalty to try to look out for a friend?”

“Will, please, I’m asking you for the sake of friendship. You have the rank to pass on this mission. Tell him--” she shot an angry glance at Highsmith, “that he can get someone else.”

Highsmith turned a remote, impassive face to the discussion.

“Captain, I believe I’ve found D’Korath,” he announced superciliously. “Not a place--he’s a person --a salvage and cargo transporter --and a sometime smuggler. Last arrested with a minor, his nephew--dismissed on a technicality. His ship left dock eight hours ago with four people aboard. The flight plan was registered to Yarkot, but they’ve since changed course. Long range sensors show them now on a heading straight for sector four four five.”

Like an airlock opening to the dead cold of space, a sudden chill came over the room.

Beverly addressed Highsmith, “I’d like a moment alone with Captain Riker and Counselor Troi.”

“Captain, four four five is a highly restricted area. In fact, it’s prohibited by special ordinance. They already have an eight hour head start,” Highsmith protested. “If we delay much longer--”

“If their ship is eight hours better than the latest Starfleet technology, a few more minutes won’t matter. You can prepare to get underway, Commander. Clear our departure with Nakartha Flight Control and make all necessary preparations--aft.”

Once the doors slid shut behind Highsmith, Riker leveled his eyes against hers.

“Did you know he was going to four four five?”

Beverly looked away, but there was Deanna. No sense in denying it. She sat down at the vacated comm terminal. She spoke to her hands folded in her lap.

“Do you remember, a few months before we lost the Enterprise D, that Jean-Luc had a last encounter with Q?”

“Yes. Q showed him the future--a possible future,” Troi amended.

“It wasn’t a very bright future,” Riker added. “I remember especially that he shared some details with us, so that we could make sure that some things would never happen.”

“In that future, Jean-Luc was an old man suffering from Irumodic syndrome.” Beverly tried her best to don her physician persona, but it slipped away in the glistening of her eyes. “I guess that part was something we couldn’t make sure of.”

“Oh, no!” Deanna slid down next to Beverly and embraced her consolingly.

Beverly looked up and pleaded, “Let him go, Will, please. You can see what this is, can’t you? It’s no conspiracy. It has nothing to do with politics. He’s not acting for the Federation or the Klingons or anyone. It’s only about himself --Jean-Luc Picard.”

“Beverly, you can’t be suggesting that this is a suicide? That’s not the Jean-Luc Picard I know.”

“That’s rather the horror, isn’t it?”

“Even so, you can’t ask me to let him disintegrate himself.”

“ I’m asking you respect his wishes. Do you think he wants us to watch him deteriorate into a madman? Will, please, don’t drag him back to die in some hospice without a shred of sanity or self-respect.”

“Beverly,” Will knelt before her and took her hands. “We have to bring him back. For all we know, he’s already acting under some delusion. Why would he go all the way out to four four five in defiance of regulations just to make a quick end? He may be a danger to others besides himself. He’s taken Worf and two Klingon contractors along with him. I can’t believe that he would ever do such a thing. There are other choices.”

“Beverly,” Deanna said, “Help us bring him back. I promise you, we could never see him as anything but our friend. He was our captain, and we’ll always see him with the eyes of love and respect.”

The door slid open with a hiss.

Highsmith stood in the threshold. “We’re ready to break orbit, sir,” he reported.

Riker rose. “Fine. We’ll get underway immediately. Dr. Picard will be making the trip with us. Please give her the cabin adjacent to ours. You can bunk in the lower deck.

“Aye, sir,” Highsmith responded unenthusiastically.

“Let’s get going,” Riker said. He gave Beverly’s hand a brief squeeze and moved to the foredeck to assume the helm himself.

Beverly stood and Deanna hugged her once more. “I have some research to do if we’re going to four four five. Will you be all right?

Beverly nodded.

“We’ll see you later for dinner?” Deanna asked.

Beverly nodded once again and the Counselor too departed. Only Highsmith remained to show her to her quarters. He stood back from the opened door to let her pass.

Once in the corridor, he raised a cool eyebrow at her. “I’m sure we’re grateful to have your cooperation, finally, Doctor Picard, if it is your cooperation that we have.”

Doctor Picard’s eyes could have sliced him in half. “You’ve made a mistake, Highsmith,” she said darkly. “Call him off.”

“A mistake? I don’t think so. I think we can count on Riker to do his job. His only mistake was to let you come along. Lucky for him I’m here to watch you.”

She shook her head. “You’re willing to take the gamble that he’ll catch Jean-Luc before the border?”

“What gamble? Riker’s got the better ship, and he knows his quarry like the inside of his pajamas. And the mawkish sentiments you threw at him didn’t sway him much, did they?”

She regarded him with cold curiosity. “I don’t know what to make of you, Highsmith. But I’m sure now that you’re not from admiralty.”

He looked at her as if she might have a touch of Irumodic syndrome herself. “I’m not?” he questioned.

“Despite what you say, the admiralty isn’t paranoid enough to have seen any threat in Jean-Luc’s visiting Nakartha. We both know the group whose signature is paranoia, right? But what confuses me is that anybody from Section 31 would surely know how dangerous it is to send Will Riker at four four five.”

“Section 31? What section is that?” Highsmith asked.

She watched him for a moment, and a slow, incredulous smile spread across her face. She almost laughed.

He did not share her merriment.

“I’m sorry, commander,” she said as she made to leave. “But I think I’ve got it now. You’re the left hand.”

His brow wrinkled quizzically.

“The left hand that doesn’t know what the right hand is doing?”


* * * * * * * * * *

The boy was called Kahniel and he was only a little younger, Worf judged, than Alexander had been when he had suddenly reappeared in Worf’s life, a young man enlisting for service aboard Mortak’s warship during the height of the Dominion War. Back then they had been bitterly estranged. The sight of this boy was a poignant reminder for Worf that his reconciliation with Alexander was much cherished for having been so hard fought on both sides.

The youth was apparently aware of Worf’s eyes upon him, for he affected a brash posture and walk, but he kept his eyes down--a deference to the governor and his mysterious, serene human companion.

D’Korath, Picard and Worf were gathered around the navigation screen, the boy a respectful step behind them.

"How do you operate these scanners?" Picard asked, gesturing at the control pads.

"You don’t," D’Korath said, deliberately passing between Picard and the console.

"My friend wants to check behind us," Worf said. "We do not wish to be followed."

"I already have checked. There’s nothing but the usual traffic out of Nakartha. The closest ship is a pleasure craft about six hours behind us, and they’ll be making an inclination for Pacifica about the time we hit the buffer zone."

Worf was not quite satisfied, but the issue was closed as far as D’Korath was concerned.

"Here," the smuggler pointed to a star map, "is where the Federation patrol ships lie in wait to observe ships making transit around the plague zone. This is the entire expanse of the Hurghwoven."

"Chiaroscuro," Picard said, half to himself.

"That is what the Federation calls it?" the boy inquired.

D’Korath scowled at the impertinence.

"No." Picard commented. He turned to Kahniel, breaking the circle of their backs. "I was just trying to translate the Klingon. The closest word in any terran language is an Italian art term. It refers to the representation of light and shadow in a painting," he explained.

"In school they taught us that the Klingon classical painters were virtuosos of light," the boy offered, eager to impress.

Picard nodded with good-humored indulgence. "I was always rather intrigued by the way the masters painted the darkness."

"Black," D’Korath interjected. He didn’t deign even to turn his head from the screen. "Darkness is that simple, boy."

"No, it was much more than simple black," Picard replied mildly, "Somehow they achieved a darkness that had depth. You knew when you looked at their shadows that there were objects in that darkness, even though you couldn’t see them."

D’Korath snorted derisively, and Kahniel, wishing to spare Picard further ridicule, fell silent.

"We will take a bearing through this small extension of the nebula which has spread beyond the technical borders of your sector four four five," D’Korath pointed. "They will think we are making an innocuous short cut, and while masked within the gas cloud, you can drop your cargo before we emerge on the other side."

"You’re sure they won’t challenge us before we enter the plume?" Picard asked.

D’Korath’s lip curled. "I have made this run before. They know our ship."

"That is why I chose you," Worf’s comment had teeth even though he did not smile. He turned to Picard, reporting as though he were still the chief of security on Picard’s ship. "He knows his way well around the edges of four four five."

"Why would a ship go anywhere near it?" Picard asked.

D’Korath answered for himself. "Sometimes debris drifts out far enough to be salvaged. Sometimes I have been lucky. It is the nature of the business that my luck is in other people’s misfortune."

Picard gave him a hard, knowing appraisal. "And is that what you did during the war? Scavenging?"

"The lions of war--" D’Korath gave the hard looks right back "-roar some high-sounding sentence always about principles and causes, justice and honor. But the lions take their share. Now I am no lion like the Governor here, but even the jackal has to eat. Remember Kahniel, there are always two sides to a war. Yours and theirs. Only fools wind up fighting on theirs."

Worf’s eyes burned at him, and had D’Korath been standing, surely Picard would have had to break up a second fight. But he remained seated and glared right back at Worf till finally he broke the tension with a laugh. "What do you think you will you say to me, Governor, that I have not heard all my life? Vulture? Scum? Ferengi? Ah, but you chose me! I must have my uses."

D’Korath turned back to the screen and uploaded the data to a hand-held device. "The Starfleet patrols will accost us only if we are too long in the nebula, but I have my ways of stretching the allowed time." He handed the device pointedly to Worf. "You must plan to off-load your cargo in the time allowed by these variables."

Worf would not extend a hand to take the padd, so D’Korath laid it on the console. He rose to his feet heavily. "Kahniel, get the meal ready. I have engines to adjust to fool the Starfleet."

"You’re going to fake a plasma flux?" Picard asked.

D’Korath’s look betrayed an instant of surprised respect.

"It’s an easy engine trouble to simulate that will make the ship seem slower than it is. I can assist, if you would like," Picard offered.

The look vanished and the usual sneer returned. "Please be seated," D’Korath indicated the tiny aft area furnished shabbily as a lounge. "You are my guests."


Worf took a seat at the table and Picard sat on the dilapidated sofa while the boy busied himself in the galley, a preparation counter scarcely two meters away. Apparently D’Korath’s ship did not boast a replicator. Worf studied the navigation data, and Picard looked aimlessly out the dirty viewport as Kahniel pulled from cold storage the ingredients for the supper.

Restless, Picard twisted around toward the galley and watched as the boy reached into one of the bowls and picked up a slaughnaw, a small Quonos squid with an ink sack so noxious, even Klingons didn’t eat the thing whole.

The boy turned the slippery body over, inserted the knife and jabbed--clumsily and too hard.

The guts flew over the sofa in a graceful arc and landed with a splatter on Worf’s sleeve.

The boy turned and gulped at the sight. He grabbed a towel, but froze in mid-step. More than the hesitancy to make physical contact with the august person of the governor, he was stopped cold by the look of offended astonishment on Worf’s face.

Then oddly, as Worf’s scowl met the boy’s dismayed eyes, it slowly transformed and became bemused--almost nostalgic--and Worf flicked the guts carelessly onto the floor and turned his face away to hide the growing grin.

The boy knelt immediately in his reprieve and cleaned up the mess, but when he stood, another shock confronted him. The Earther was standing there at the counter in his place, waiting for him.

Gently, the man took the knife that was still gripped tight in his hand and tilted the tip at him in a gesture that said, "Now pay attention!" The human turned to the sink and picked up one of the slaughnaw. Deftly, with a single curved motion, he slit the creature and scooped the gut sack unbroken into the slops pan.

He did it twice more, slowly, in illustration, before he gave the knife back to the boy and exchanged places with him.

"All right then," Picard said. "You finish the slaughnaw and I’ll prepare the cartash."

"But this is kitchen work," the boy said. "It is demeaning."

Picard shrugged. "No honest work demeans a man."

The boy considered this idea a moment, watching as Picard took one of the fibrous tubers from the pile by the sink and began to cut it into thin slices.

They labored a while in silence, with the boy casting an occasional, reticent glance at his helper. His mind was clearly working on something more than the food preparation, and finally he paused. "What then would you consider demeaning--dishonest--work?"

Picard did not consider for very long. "To do what you don’t believe in. To do what you know is wrong. To do less than your best." He looked the pile of sliced cartash, and then smiled at the boy, "Or perhaps I should say to choose deliberately what is beneath you. Sometimes we are not free to choose. Since our captain will not let us assist in engineering, we must contribute where we can. Besides, the time goes faster when you’re occupied."

They ate the dinner Kahniel and Picard had prepared. D’Korath sat at the head of the table, drinking steadily throughout. Kahniel waited on them and then sat to eat his own plate at the seat below Picard’s.

Worf finished last. "An excellent dinner," he commented.

D’Korath grunted. "It is acceptable."

"Sons need praise as well as discipline," Worf observed.

"He is not my son. He is my nephew."

There was an awkward moment and then Kahniel explained, "My father was first officer of the Golmata, which was destroyed with all hands in the battle at Artax VII during the Dominion War."

"Then he is among the honored dead," Worf said solemnly.

"Here’s to the honored dead," sneered D’Korath, picking up his cup to drink.

Suddenly, Picard reached across the table and grasped D’Korath’s hand, staying the goblet in mid air. He looked across the rim straight into the Klingon’s eyes.

"To the Honored Dead," he intoned, and tilting the rim, he bowed his head and drank from D’Korath’s cup.

For a second afterward they held each other’s eyes, and then D’Korath relinquished the goblet. Picard set it down on the table.

"Kahniel," D’Korath growled, "Get another bottle from storage. And while you’re at it, get me a clean cup."

The boy was no sooner out the door than Worf calmly rose up, took two strides to the end of the table and cuffed the drunken Klingon to the floor.

Worf towered over him where he sat on the metal deck. "You will keep a civil tongue or find yourself without one." He took D’Korath by the scruff of his neck and sat him back in his chair.

The smuggler sputtered and glowered up at him. "Take your hands off me! You have no right to interfere! You took his father in the war and now he’s mine to raise. Not the son of Martok, not the son of Mogh-my son," he struggled to his feet, "and you can not tell me how to raise him!"

Kahniel reappeared in the doorway and looked around at the three tense men, aware that something serious had transpired in his absence. He set the bottle and cup down before his uncle and resumed his seat next to Picard.

D’Korath poured another drink, but it sat on the table untouched while he stared at it sullenly. The silence stretched on and when it finally became unbearable, Kahniel cleared his throat and said to Picard, "You never did say what name the Federation gives to the Hurghwoven."

"It’s unusual, but they never named this sector or the nebula. They just call it four four five."

"Victories get names," D’Korath hissed. "Not blunders."

Kahniel looked curiously from his uncle to Picard. "What happened there? Really?"

Worf waited for Picard, but he did not speak.

"I always thought it was the scene of a great battle," the boy murmured.

D’Korath picked up his head. His eyes glowed malevolently. "Yes, boy, you are right. A great battle was fought there, the greatest battle of the Dominion War. The Starfleet of the Federation against itself."

Worf glowered, but Picard still made no answer.

"You thought it was a secret?” D’Korath taunted. “Secrets are hard to keep in this part of the galaxy, Captain Picard. --

"Yes, Kahniel," D’Korath rose swaying on unsteady legs. "We are carrying the great explorer Jean-Luc Picard back to the scene of his glory. For it is not such a secret that the great explorer Jean-Luc Picard’s greatest discovery was the secret weapons laboratory of the Starfleet--

"On the edge of the Federation in that nebula was a weapons research facility that transgressed every tenet of the New Geneva accords and the Sentient Rights treaty. They say-" he leaned over the table toward Picard, "-that they created there the disease that infected the Founders."

The boy looked at Picard.

"But more than that, they created a weapon so terrible it could not be used. And in the struggle to control it, they set it loose. The radiation was spread over the entire nebula, like the plowing of salt into the earth. And that is why the Hurghwoven is a graveyard and a pestilence to this day."

Worf sat D’Korath down with a heavy hand. "We took a weapon from our own side and destroyed it so that the worlds of this quadrant might be protected from indescribable threat and harm."

D’Korath laughed darkly. "Except for the planet that you killed in the fighting. And how many of your own men, Picard, lived to enjoy your glory? Half your crew? But what does that matter? You saved the galaxy, Picard. And what did they give you for it? What was the lion’s portion? Or did your dead die for nothing?"

"Honor!" the answer rang in the boy’s high-pitched voice. "He is a hero! Even among the Klingons the name of Picard is renowned!”

D’Korath did not argue with the boy, but regarded him with tolerant pity as might be given to innocent rantings of a child. And Picard, too, remained silent, his gaze turned inward. He seemed not to have heard.

Kahniel turned to him with sudden misgiving. “You are a great man and a noble warrior! Surely your own people honored you!"

Picard stared out at the starfield. "Yes, they honored me. They made me an admiral. They gave me command of five thousand cadets and the responsibility for their education. They gave a mansion on Earth, and I gave myself a wife. And my ship and my mission, were given to my second-in-command."

He got up from the table and left them sitting there.

At the end of the third watch, Picard heard the sound of someone coming across the cargo bay to their sleeping area. He and Worf had agreed at the start of the voyage to sleep in shifts in order to safeguard their cargo and to keep an eye on D’Korath, but it was not yet Picard’s turn to keep watch.

The steps came closer through the dark, and then the clatter of something jostled accidentally and a Klingon curse in undertone. Picard reached for his weapon.

The safety lanterns threw splashes of yellow light into the cubicle where he lay, but Picard crouched back into the shadows and held still as the dark figure appeared through a hatchway. The yellow glare painted his face --lined with postponed sleep, bleary with bloodwine, and gnawed by doubt --Worf.

The two men regarded each other from the harsh divisions of light and dark.

“Tell me," the Klingon rasped. "Why are you going there?"

“Worf," Picard sighed, “what if they all died for nothing?”

Worf frowned with indignation that barely masked his concern for his old friend. "You would listen to a petaQ like D’Korath?"

"No, but--"

"You know that we did the right thing. You know that they gave their lives for countless others. They died for a good cause."

"Only if we did destroy it, Worf," Picard whispered. "What if that laboratory is still there?"


* * * * * * * * *


Not busy are you?” Deanna asked from the opened doorway. “I thought you might be able to help me a little, unless you’d like to rest?”

The cabin was cheerfully decorated and furnished with the soft fabrics and traditional pieces that Deanna did not find very stylish but that Will always thought made a place seem homey and comfortable. To the empathic counselor, Beverly felt like a melancholy, guarded shadow on the edge of the warm lamplight. Dr. Picard turned from the long window where the warp stars streaked and faded in their chase alongside the swift Nausicaa.

“Rest?” Beverly replied. “I wish. No, I don’t think I’d be able to sit still anyway. What are you working on?”

Deanna came in and spread her materials on the coffee table in the sitting area. The two women sat together on the sofa. “I went over the monitoring data on the current environment in four four five, and I decided that I might as well review the mission reports from our incident there also. I was hoping we could look it over together,” Deanna said, handing Beverly a padd.

“Is there that much to review?”

“No. That’s why I need a hand-filling in the gaps.” The counselor sighed and made her first calculated foray into the dark. “Don’t you ever feel strange to have so little recollection of one of the most significant missions that we ever undertook on the Enterprise?”

Beverly paged smoothly to her mission logs. “Well, you may feel strange, but you can always be secure in the hard, clear light of medical data.” Like a well-rehearsed performance from one of her plays, she cited the information. “The records show that all the ship’s personnel suffered ill effects from the radiation exposure, particularly neurological dysfunctions including unsystematic, irrecoverable memory losses of the period during which the Enterprise was subjected to the ionization effects."

“I know we all experienced some random amnesias after the partial detonation of the weapon, but I still find the lapses disconcerting. So I’ve been piecing together our logs like a kind of jigsaw puzzle. Thank goodness Data wasn’t affected, and we have his logs to give a total picture, but even his account is uncharacteristically general-and some of it sounds like, well-” she selected a passage and quoted. “Little did we suspect the clandestine nature of their operation. ” She shook her head. “He must have been doing an in-depth analysis of pulp spy novels and mixed the styles somehow.”

Beverly smiled only because it was expected, and when she offered nothing more, Deanna went on with the summary. “Anyway, Will’s log explains our diverting to four four five to deliver schematics for some technical equipment that the research group had requested. My log contains my presentiments about the project personnel, and it seems obvious that at some point a decision was made to investigate further. Jean-Luc describes the search that he and Data made that turned up the hidden laboratory. And the ship’s autologs recorded enough of the battle to explain what both sides were doing. But, you know, one of the odd omissions in the record is any account of the confrontation between Jean-Luc and the admiral leading the project. Presumably Jean-Luc couldn’t remember very much about it. He writes only that it happened.” Her tone left the comment dangling.

“Maybe he was only being modest,” Beverly answered. “I can tell you about it. That’s the part I remember best. I was proud of what he had to say to them--how he faced them down for the immoral monsters that they were. He defended the innocent and vulnerable people who are always at the mercy of those who do what they want because they can. He told those bastards that evil is an absolute that can’t be rationalized even by the best intentions.” She stopped, embarrassed. “It sounds like I’m re-giving his speech. Well, that’s what I remember best.”

“Beverly, did Jean-Luc have any unresolved feelings about four four five? Any second thoughts?”

“I don’t know what you mean. Why should he? He was right to do what he did. I was proud of him. I was proud of us for standing up with him. It’s more than we’re doing now.”

“We are trying to stand with him. We want to help him. Don’t you believe that we want to save him?”

Beverly ran a hand through her red-blonde hair. Anxiety, grief and conviction warred within her. “Deanna, if we don’t intercept Jean-Luc’s ship before the boundary-Will isn’t intending to carry his pursuit into the sector, is he?”

“I’m sure we’ll catch up,” Deanna replied blankly, thrown-off by the question.

“I mean, besides the health hazard, it’s strictly illegal, and we can’t even plead a psychological disorder.”

“Don’t worry, Beverly,” Deanna assured her, knowing full well that the legalities were the least of Beverly’s concerns. “We’ve made up a lot of time, and they’ve slowed down. We should be poised to intercept in just a few hours.”

“They’ll probably be looking behind them.”

Deanna made no reply.

Beverly watched her. “Oh, I see.” She rose and returned to the window, looking into the distance. “Highsmith has been whispering in your ear. He says I’m not to be trusted. What do you think I can do? I can’t contact them.”

“Will’s changed the transponder code,” Deanna conceded. “They won’t recognize us. Once they hit the gas clouds, we’ll be on top of them in twenty minutes. It seems they’ve encountered some engine trouble.” The segue was there. She decided to broach it. “I guess this is the place where he and Worf would have been yelling for Geordi.”

“Geordi,” Beverly repeated wistfully.

“That’s what I mean about unresolved feelings. The four four five mission was a triumph of Jean-Luc’s career. It earned him a commendation and a grade promotion. But it wasn’t without cost.”

“Well, of course! We all were devastated. We all grieved. But god, if there’s one thing Jean-Luc should forgive himself for, it’s Geordi’s death. Jean-Luc ordered him out of the core chamber, but he stayed and he saved the ship.”

Deanna felt the growing agitation in her friend. “The ship’s autologs are incomplete because the core ejection caused a cascade of system failures, but we know he sacrificed himself for us all. I suppose I feel grateful but guilty that I can’t remember his death.”

“I’m glad I don’t remember the battle. But I know Geordi was a hero. There are a lot of Starfleet officers who would be glad to go that way when their time comes.”

“And is that what Jean-Luc is looking for?”

“I don’t know. I can’t help you, Deanna.”

Dead end. Where to go from here?

“Do you know what I remember best about the four four five incident, Beverly?” She would just have to keep the conversation going and hope for an entree. “What I remember best is waking up in the hospital after the battle. I remember sort of floating up to consciousness with my eyes still closed, and I felt physically whole, but I couldn’t lift my left arm or my right leg. And I was thinking even then that it didn’t make sense to have paralysis on alternate sides of my body. Then I opened my eyes -and Will was there. He was holding my left hand in his and his head was lying on a pillow on top of my right thigh. He’d fallen asleep waiting for me to wake up.”

That story produced a real smile. “If you only knew how many times--” Beverly shook her head.

“I think I do,” Deanna continued. “As I was lying there watching him, it seemed to me that I was seeing a metaphor for the whole ten years we had spent on the Enterprise-waiting for each other to wake up. It was as though we were always asleep to what we meant to each other, living in some shadow where we were only shipmates and friends, always missing our waking moments. There were times when I wanted him so badly, but he’d be romancing some other woman-- sometimes even asking me what I thought of her or how I felt about their possibilities! And there were times when I knew how much he wanted me and -oh, I don’t know-I put him off, I wouldn’t trust his feelings, I wanted to keep all the old hurt and anger just so as not to be vulnerable again.”

“And then?”

“And then he woke up, too. I moved my hand, and he stirred just a little. His hand fumbled for mine. When I touched his hair, he turned his head and looked at me-and into me. It was as though we had both left all the fears and doubts and struggles somewhere in that dark sleep. Everything had been decided in some mutual dream, and when we emerged into the light, he was in love with me and I was in love with him. Just like that.”

Deanna’s dark eyes looked into her friend. “Just like that,” she repeated. “Don’t you think that’s strange?”

Beverly shifted subtly away. “Strange? Why should that be strange? You’ve always felt that way about each other. At least that’s what I thought.”

“And I thought that of you and Jean-Luc. And now it’s over just like that?”

Beverly’s face lit with outrage. “You think I abandoned him! You think I deserted him when the diagnosis came in!”

“No!” Deanna shot back. “I think you’re still in love with him! I think you believe you’re helping him! And I don’t understand why!”

“No you wouldn’t,” Beverly cried angrily. “You and Will and your Betazoid mysticism! Imzadi, is it? Soulmates forever? Love withholds nothing in your case? Well I’m happy for you that it’s so straight and true. Maybe empathy could give you a clue what love becomes when it’s flawed and incomplete. You have no idea how it hurts to lack the one thing you most want to give!”

Deanna lowered her eyes. “Maybe I have a little idea, Beverly.”

Beverly froze with the realization. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she sat down weakly. “Oh, no, Deanna! God! I didn’t mean--” she reached toward Deanna who accepted her embrace, feeling not only Beverly’s sincere regret, but her own guilt for probing beneath her friend’s unleashed emotions.

“Don’t apologize, Beverly. Tell me what’s going on. There isn’t anything we can’t say to each other, is there?”

“Deanna, please, forgive me. You know I wasn’t talking about--”

“Beverly,” she said earnestly, “You don’t have to feel sorry for me. Will and I are going to have a family. You see, I’m pregnant again.”



* * * * * * * * *


Worf drew back as though the words had some physical force to move him. Again, his figure became a hulking blackness, and his answer sounded from the dark spaces beyond Picard’s sight.

“It can’t be,” he insisted. “We destroyed the laboratory and their weapon.”

“How much do you remember about the four four five mission, Worf? Really?”

Worf considered as he entered the small bunk area and sat facing his former captain. “I do not remember everything exactly, but that it is because of the radiation. The residual effect of the weapon caused temporary neurological dysfunction.”

“Yes, and a cascade of system failures. Listen to yourself, Worf. Temporary neurological dysfunction? Did you ever think you’d say those three words together?

“Perhaps the term is something I remember from the mission reports.”

“All the mission reports. They all have the same phrasings. Worf, they sound as bad as an amateur playscript. Worse! They sound like the collusion of criminals trying to get their stories to agree. The truth is that no one is really sure what exactly happened.”

“But together the records show that we fought the battle and destroyed the weapon, even if the details--”

“-are about as detailed as a Ferengi warranty?”

Worf exhaled sharply in exasperation. “All the doctors said--your own wife has said--”

“My wife. . . ” Picard began. The grim lines of his expression halted Worf’s protest. “My wife is a part of this mystery.

“Worf, I was ill recently-never mind the ailment. Suffice it to say, Beverly was concerned. She started making calls to places and sources that, well, seemed a little farfetched for medical information. And when I asked her about these inquiries, she was reticent, guarded. I knew she had some other motive for this secrecy than just to spare me worry. All she would say is that she wanted some private research information. One night when she was out at a medical conference, it came--by special messenger, a polite, young ensign looking for Captain Picard. ”

The admiral smiled with irony. “Do you know I’m in the history texts Worf? Apparently a very recognizable likeness under the caption: Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the UFP Enterprise.

“So he mistook you for the doctor.”

And gave me the private research. It was indeed private information, classified at the highest level. No one in his right mind would send an ensign with such material-unless a leak was intended.”

“You are saying that your wife arranged this? Why would she go through such an elaborate ruse? “

“Why indeed?”

Worf could find no satisfactory explanation to suggest. “And did the information help with your illness?”

“The information had nothing to do with my condition. Oh, there were some health statistics on a research population, but the rest of the database was about sector four four five. And not just the old mission reports--new data as well.”

Worf dismissed the drama of his statement. “This is not unusual. The sector is constantly monitored from the perimeter of the hazard zone.”

“I wasn’t surprised by that data, Worf. What surprised me was the meteorologic data-from the planet.”

“The planet? That cannot be.”

“Yes, the planet, Worf. The planet, whose atmosphere was supposedly dissolved by the blast, was experiencing summer monsoons, which, the recorders hoped, would soon abate because some important atmospheric tests were to be made as soon as the rains stopped.”

Worf shook his head like a fighter who has taken one too many blows.

“This is impossible. We were there. We all know what happened. What you are suggesting is a huge conspiracy of lies.”

“I know it seems fantastic, but a lot of things are making sense now. Worf,” he leaned close to his old friend, his chief of security. “I’ve been under surveillance-for years,” he whispered. “They removed me from the field, and they settled me on Earth to keep an eye on me. I’ve been watched--year in, year out--by a student, a secretary, who knows. For all I know, I’ve been monitored internally.”

Worf composed his face into careful neutrality. “Perhaps,” he said circumspectly. “But perhaps there is a simpler explanation. Perhaps Doctor Picard suspected that our mission to four four five was the origin of your illness and wanted to review it. Perhaps you misread the data or the location of the research population. What sort of illness was it that --?”

Someone cleared his throat ostentatiously. Kahniel had appeared behind Worf.

“My uncle wishes to speak to you. On the maindeck.”

Worf scowled at him.

The boy looked meekly apologetic. “We have arrived at the nebula.”

Arriving on the maindeck, Picard, Worf and Kahniel entered an empty wheelroom. Picard and Worf glanced around, but D’Korath was nowhere in sight. Kahniel, who had followed them, clanging up the circular staircase, moved immediately to the shutters on the bow viewport and opened them. The metal scales, imitating the reticulated skin of a molting reptile, slid away by overlapping each other, and the image they revealed startled both of D’Korath’s passengers. Like thunderheads topping a mountain peak at sunset, the orange gasses of the nebula swirled around the jagged black outline of a massive metallic shard-part of the hull of what must have been an imposing space vessel.

“Well, then,” D’Korath’s disembodied voice floated over the comm. “It seems that fortune has smiled upon the jackal once again.”

“Where are you?” Worf asked.

“I’m aboard this shipwreck,” the answer came, “if aboard is the correct word when you’re in EVA suit and the breach is larger than the hull.”

Picard frowned impatiently. “Much luck to you, D’Korath. Now that we’re under cover of the nebula, we’ll be happy to leave you to your fortune.”

“But, my friends, this is a rather large find. There is an interesting piece of equipment here intact. I could use a little help retrieving it.”

“No thanks. We need to get our cargo out now. Every minute in the nebula is a hazard and a temptation to the patrols to intercept us.”

“We have an hour at least until they will expect our exit.”

“Forget it,” Worf told D’Korath. “We will begin our offload now.”

“I’m afraid you will be unable to open the cargo bay airlock without my access code,” D’Korath informed them with mock regret.

Furious, Worf looked at Kahniel, whose downcast face declared no ability to help him.

“With the governor to assist me, I can bring back this one item in twenty minutes, and then you can be on your way in plenty of time.”

Work steamed a moment, but then he nodded at Kahniel, who pulled open a locker that held a bulky helmet and pressure suit.

“He’ll have to open the cargo bay to get his item in,” Worf softly grunted to Picard.

“You’d be exposing yourself to the radiation risk with only an EVA suit for protection,” Picard protested.

“Don’t worry, Governor,” D’Korath countered. “This far out, the radiation is only metaphasic. The heavy duty thermolytic radiation is where your friend is headed.”


* * * * * * * * *


“Any luck?” Highsmith asked Riker.

“No,” Riker answered without elaboration.

Highsmith knew that Riker had been placing comm calls, but the Captain hadn’t seen fit to let him in on the subject or even the identities of the people he was trying to contact.

“I’ve alerted the patrol ships to approach the Klingon vessel from the opposite line of their trajectory as you ordered,” Highsmith reported.

That intelligence got a mere nod.

“I guess Secretary Aktar finally figured out where D’Korath was because we now have Nakarthan ships about an hour behind us and gaining rapidly.”

The sarcasm was ignored.

“I’ll be in my cabin,” Riker said. “Let me know the moment the freighter enters cloud cover.”

“Yes, sir.”

As Riker stepped by him, Highsmith asked, “Shall I put through your calls, sir? Are you expecting any return communications?”

Riker didn’t even turn around. “No.” The lift carried him up to the captain’s suite.

Okay. Just as well to have the captain gone. Highsmith had already gotten his own return call, and he wasn’t intending to share that information with Riker. His call came through as some innocent general traffic from the admiralty with a covert communication embedded. An encrypted message just for him would have had to be explained, and he didn’t care to reiterate to Riker what Doctor Picard had suggested in that jibe about his being the left hand or how it had bothered him enough to call his superiors.

He re-ran the message from the admiralty inquiring about the progress of their mission, and then he separated the static that he’d said was just their proximity to the radiation field. The message came though in text:


Imperative that pursuit not extend into four four five.

Imperative that target not penetrate four four five.

Utmost priority. If necessary, apprehend by force.


“You couldn’t reach Data anywhere?” Troi asked.

She looked as weary and worried as Riker felt. “It’s the same as before we left. He’s on assignment, unavailable. He’ll get in touch at the earliest possible convenience. I don’t even know if he’s gotten our first message.” Riker slumped dejectedly in the swivel chair at the desk he’d insisted on having in the bedroom itself. “I’m sorry we won’t be able to draw on his background from the first four four five mission.”

“I’m sorry we won’t have his friendship to draw on. Jean-Luc has always felt close to him.”

Will nodded. He had always counted Data a dear friend as well. Funny how an artificial life form, an android, could inspire something so warmly human. “So what did you find out from Beverly?”

Deanna sat on the edge of their bed and shook her head sadly. “As much as we may hate to think it a suicide, it was very clear to me that she doesn’t expect ever to see Jean-Luc again. And she loves him desperately. Even the divorce she’s conceived as some kind of gift to him, to set him free! But she refuses to explain anything to me. And, I’m sorry to say it, but Highsmith is right about her willingness to obstruct this mission. God, Will, I don’t know what’s going on, but I know this is a horrible tragedy.”

“I just hope we’re going to be able to reason with him when we do catch up to them. Irumodic syndrome,” he mused. “Just like what he told us about Q’s future. That was something that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

“Well, for the most part it hasn’t,” Deanna countered.

“Yeah. Other bad things happen.”

Deanna sighed. “I always thought they would have children to-well, remember-his nephew Rene. Maybe Beverly was always afraid that Irumodic would show up eventually.”

“Makes you wonder if some things are just in the cards,” he said.

She brushed it off with half a laugh. “You’re the last person I’d pick to believe in fate, Will.”

“Well, maybe I’ve finally lived long enough to realize that some things just are and it’s no use fighting them.” He paused like a man feeling for the edge, but then some emotion tightened his resolve and he stepped over the boundary. “Some things aren’t going to change, so you might just as well accept them.”

She looked up at him and in the instant their eyes met, he saw that she understood exactly what he had been talking about.

“I see,” she said. “And I guess that means you’ve accepted for me, too, Will?”

“It doesn’t seem to matter what I accept, does it?” If they were finally going to have it out, then-- “If there were anything else we could do, I would do it, but we’ve tried it all. Nothing has worked, there’s no other procedure, and there’s nothing they can point to that’s wrong.”

“So it must be our fate? I wonder why it is that fate always gets the credit for failure. Yet when things work out for us, we always have a reason-we outsmarted our opponents, we overcame obstacles, we worked for our success.”

“Deanna, how long are you going to do this to yourself? Only the ocean beats itself forever against the rocks.”

“The tides might seem a little more gentle to me if I didn’t feel that you were one of the rocks.”

“All right. They’ve tested us every whichway in the world and neither of us is infertile but if you want it to be my fault, fine! It’s my fault. I’m the one who can’t have children.”

“You’re thinking physically Will. I meant spiritually.”

“Well, I’m sorry, then. You’ve lost me there.”

“Will, I absolutely believe that having children is an act of faith, not fate-faith in God, faith in the ultimate good of the universe, faith at least in ourselves. Without that faith, is there any point in having children?”

He shook his head. “So that’s reason? I wish I’d know before all the testing that begetting a child was just a matter of positive thinking. Well. I guess all you need to do is convince yourself.”

“No, I need to convince you. Maybe it will happen this time.”

“This time?”

“Yes. I’m pregnant.”

For a long moment the stunned expression faded while other emotions swept in. Finally anger marched over them all. “Congratulations,” he said tightly. “This is a fine time to tell me--when I’ve brought you out on a mission -- when we’re light years from a medical facility -- when we’re headed for the worst biohazard zone in this quadrant-“

Suddenly he felt her presence empathetically within him. Her calm washed over his mind and she no longer spoke aloud. Yes, you’re angry. Anger is the easy emotion, Will. Far easier than fear.

He breathed deep, the force of his emotion undercut by the truth of what she had said. He struggled to compose himself. “Of course I’m afraid. Deanna, I’ve watched you suffer through three miscarriages. I’ve seen you in terrible pain. God, you almost died the first time when we couldn’t get you back to the ship! I don’t want to lose you.”

You won’t lose me, Imzadi.

“I don’t want to lose you,” he pleaded again. “How could I go on without you? How could I risk that all for the sake of a child who could never mean as much to me as you do?”

Which is exactly the way your father felt about you. Imzadi, your love is not so limited.

“I don’t need a child,” he said. “I just want you. I want there to be us again.”

I want us to be more.

“Captain Riker!” Highsmith’s voice came over the comm. The Klingon ship has entered the nebula. I’ve increased speed to Warp nine. Intercept in twenty minutes!”


* * * * * * * * *


Working his way along the cable that D’Korath had strung between his vessel and the debris, Worf remembered that EVA’s usually made him nauseous. Fortunately, he had other things to consider that kept his mind occupied. Unfortunately, they were not pleasant considerations.

He wondered whether he was really going to let Picard carry through this personal mission of his. Why had he even gone this far? Clipped to the lifeline, Worf worked his way out to the wreckage. Hand over hand he drew himself closer to his goal, all the while the arguments in his head pulled him in opposite directions.

Without doubt, he owed Picard a debt of honor. No one had stood by him, literally, as Picard had done when he’d fought to reclaim his place in the Empire. And Worf had followed his captain into many dangers.

But there had been times, as with the Borg, that Picard had issued questionable orders and Worf had been one to question them. Certainly, Picard’s notion that he must go back and assure himself that the thermolytic weapon had truly been destroyed was questionable.

Yet, Worf admitted to himself, he too had always felt disquiet about the Enterprise mission to four four five. There were lingering questions there also, questions that were unanswerable, blanked out by the failure of his memory. He had been willing to accept the incomplete picture on faith. He had trusted in the reality that had been created by the consensus of his friends’ memories. But now, here was his captain with doubts.

To go into the heart of four four five was a wild risk for the sake of a doubt. But Picard had gone beyond doubting. Yet, one had only to look dispassionately at Picard’s evidence to wonder how he had become so convinced and how this illness that he did not wish to speak of had influenced his thinking. Worf had doubts about Picard too.

Which set of doubts was worth acting upon?

The magnetized boots of Worf’s EVA suit grabbed the metallic outer shell of the wreckage, and Worf unclipped from the line. He swung a leg over the melted edge of the hull and saw the glow of D’Korath’s helmet lamp reflecting from the polished surface of what had once been a room interior to the dead vessel. He made his way toward the light that now flickered in his direction.

D’Korath appeared around a section of wall that might have been a doorway. He beckoned to Worf. “Welcome Governor. I see that the radiation hasn’t found your number yet.”

Worf grunted. Running around in an EVA suit in any radiation field was like playing Russian roulette.

“The odds that we’ll find a thermolytic pocket out here--”

“I know,” Worf interrupted. “Let us do this quickly before fortune ceases to smile.”

D’Korath grinned through his helmet. “I always find this part exhilarating.” He motioned Worf to follow him.

Worf fell in behind the smuggler and checked the flow of oxygen in his suit. Truth was, rather than nauseous, he did feel rather exhilarated.

They rounded the corner and for a second, Worf felt like he had turned his oxygen off. There before him was something he had never seen, but instantly recognized.

“Ugly, isn’t he?” D’Korath remarked gleefully. “I guess this is what the radiation does when you get far enough in.”

The body was half reclined in an elaborate chair. The limbs and torso were intact, clothed with rich fabric, decorated with jewelry, but the face was a frightening smear of decayed flesh, the skin stretched back into a ghoulish grimace of death.

D’Korath unfastened the body, and it drifted to the side, the obscene jetsam of a disaster that Worf suddenly knew. He stared at the distortion that had once been a countenance.

“This chair,” D’Korath said, the avarice gleaming in his eyes. “I’ve never seen technology like this, but it’s a surgical chair, right? It would be worth plenty of latinum to someone who could figure it out.”

Worf spoke as if in a trance. “It is a cosmetic device.”

“What?” D’Korath cried. “Cosmetic? You mean this is some kind of barber’s chair?”

But Worf had already turned and was stumbling back out of the room.

“Wait!” D’Korath shouted. “Come back here! We have to detach this thing and--”

Kahniel’s voice interrupted his ranting. “Uncle, our sensors are reading another vessel.”

And then it was Picard’s voice. “Worf! Get back here! We’ve got trouble.”


* * * * * * * * *


“What have we got?” Riker stared intently at the sensor screen over Highsmith shoulder.

Highsmith spread his hands in exasperation.

The radiation field spread great blooms of iridescence across the display.

“Ghosts,” Riker concluded. “Nothing but ghosts and echoes.”

Nausicaa’s comm links were already inoperative in the longest ranges and the short- distance hailing frequencies crackled with static as the yacht passed deeper into the nebula and reduced speed to impulse.

Riker moved into the pilot’s chair beside Highsmith and shut down the automatic imaging. “Navigation, display only numerical outputs and grid coordinates,” he ordered the computer. Mostly to himself he added, “Let’s look at the real world.”

With a tap on the console, he rolled back the front screen to reveal the transparent cockpit canopy. Billowing clouds of bright gases shimmered around them. The metaphasic particles shone like glitter in a child’s drawing of some fantasy fairyland. And though Riker had sailed through a hundred nebulas including this one, yet it seemed unique, extraordinary, and eerily familiar all at the same time.

Riker focused himself on the task once again. ““Forget emissions tracking. Reset the sensors for metallic concentrations.”

Highsmith complied, and almost immediately got a strong blip. “Got ‘em!” he exulted. Turning in his chair to call out the coordinates, he saw Commander Troi and Dr. Picard just coming through the doorway. If it occurred to him that he might curb his triumph, he discarded any pretense of discretion. “All right! Let’s haul them in.”

Riker looked at Beverly. “Open hailing frequencies,” he told Highsmith.


* * * * * * * * *


The minute the airlock released him, Worf ran for the cargo bay shedding his EVA suit in pieces along the way.

Picard was there already at the controls of the small Klingon fighter that comprised the largest part of their cargo. The other four pieces of their freight, identical containers about the size of luggage trunks, floated a half-meter above the deck just inside the locked bay door.

“Looks like we’ll have to use these,” Picard remarked, as he remotely keyed data from the fighter’s console into the four suspended boxes.

Worf leaned through the open portal to the cockpit of the fighter and looked at the sensor output on the small console at the seat beside Picard’s. Jumpy and full of transmission snow, the screen nonetheless revealed the approach of another space vessel.

“What ship is it?” Worf asked.

“I’ve never seen it before,” Picard answered, which was not, technically, a lie.

“They are hailing us.”

Picard made no move to respond to either the hail or to Worf. “Where the hell is D’Korath? I have to get out of here.”

“Go! Get out of here!” D’Korath’s voice rang across the expanse of the cargo bay from the intercom speakers. “And take your Federation ship with you!” His helmet on his arm but still in his EVA suit, he swore vigorously to himself and everyone else on the ship in florid Klingon as he ran to the door lock to input the codes for depressurizing the cargo bay.

“MoD, QumwI! Hurry Governor!” he shouted finally to Worf. ‘The pressure doors are coming up! We have thirty seconds to clear the area!”

Picard cued the last of his four containers and throttled up the impulse engines on the fighter. The gull wing doors that would seal him in began to descend.

Thirty seconds.

Worf looked at the D’Korath who swept his arm in a beckoning arc as he made long leaping strides toward the portal back to the ship proper. And then he looked at Picard whose eyes now set on the bulk of the cargo door and seemed to pierce the titanium like a beam of light stabbing into the dark of the nebula.

Twenty-five seconds.

And suddenly Worf ducked through the narrowing slit of the fighter portal and thrust himself into the co-pilot seat.

“Worf! What are you doing?” Picard protested.

“Governor Worf!” D’Korath yelled back, halted by this unexpected turn.

“I’m coming with you,” Worf announced.

Twenty seconds.

“You can’t! You know where I’m going is--”

“I’m coming with you,” he said. “I must know. I have to know what happened out there.”

Fifteen seconds.

“Governor!” D’Korath shrieked as the cockpit door sealed. “Wait! You must return! What will I tell them?” He hovered on the point of running back to get Worf.

Ten seconds.

“You believe me,” Picard said.

“I believe in you,” Worf replied.

Five seconds.

“My latinum!” D’Korath howled, struggling into his helmet. “Kahniel! Seal the door! Don’t let them go!”

On the dingy bridge, Kahniel reached out to the control panel.


The lights dimmed; there was a tremendous swoosh of air. The cargo bay door cranked upward.

“Qapla,” Kahniel whispered.

* * * * * * * * *

Nausicaa slid through a drift of sparkling dust and there in a clear space between the gilded cloud banks was the Klingon freighter floating serenely beside a great black fin of titanium, a relic of a forgotten battle.

“What is that thing?” Troi asked.

“Ship debris,” Riker answered, and she felt a strange frisson move through him.

“They’re not answering our hails, Captain,” Highsmith called.

“Keep sending.”

“The freighter may not have a modern enough comm system to read through the radiation static,” Beverly suggested.

Highsmith’s lip curled. He addressed Riker . “I suggest, sir, that we tractor the ship and board them. Perhaps,” he looked right at Beverly, “due to their inefficient comm system, we need to deliver our message in person.”

“Our tractor would never hold that a vessel of that mass,” Riker said.

“That’s a commercial ship, duly registered, flying under the imperial Klingon flag,” Beverly warned. “You’re not apprehending some pirate vessel.”

“They’re off-course near a prohibited zone, and they’re carrying a renegade Starfleet officer!” Highsmith countered.

Troi stood between them. “How did you come to that judgment, Commander, when we haven’t yet been able to speak to him?”

“Get up!” Riker jerked his head, motioning Highsmith out of his way. He sat down at the helm. “I’m moving us right into their windows. There’s no way they can pretend not to see us, and they’re going to have to talk to us before we get out of their face.”

But as he engaged the thrusters, from the rear of the freighter appeared a small vessel.

“A shuttlecraft!” Troi exclaimed.

“Klingon arrowhead fighter,” Riker corrected, the surprise evident in his voice. “Developed for fighting the Borg-swarm tactics.” He nodded at Highsmith. “Prepare the tractor beam. It may be undiplomatic, but at least we can hold on to that little guy long enough to have a conversation.”

But before Highsmith could activate the tractor, a second fighter glided out of the cargo bay.

And then a third.

“What the hell?” Highsmith breathed.

The freighter birthed a fourth and a fifth vessel. Like a martial ballet, the five ships moved into a conical formation, one at the point and four behind it at twelve, three, six, and nine o’clock.

Suddenly the Nausicaa’s comm crackled with a familiar voice. “This is a military training exercise under authorization from the Imperial Guard stationed at Nakartha. All vessels stand clear.” Unmistakably Worf.

Riker opened the comm channel. “Worf, it’s Will Riker. We’re here on a mission from the Starfleet admiralty. It’s urgent that we speak to Admiral Picard.”

There was a pause full of soft, empty airspace. And then: “This is a military training exercise under authorization from the Imperial Guard stationed at Nakartha. All vessels stand clear.” But even an untrained ear could detect that the words were repeated by a live voice-not an automatic recorded message.

Troi leaned over her husband. “Worf, it’s Deanna. Please, we have to speak to you!” She looked at her friend. “Beverly is here, too. Tell Jean-Luc he musn’t do this!”

The five small ships hung in space silently.

“I’m scanning them!” Highsmith said in undertone. “The dispersal is too wide for the tractor. We have to find the one he’s in and grab him!”

But Riker was already ahead of him pulling the sensor data into his screen. “What in blazes is this?” he said, staring at the five scans.

Troi read them over his shoulder. “It must be radiation interference,” she said. “They all read the same-one human, one Klingon!”

A red glow appeared at the tails of the fighters and they began to move slowly away from the freighter.

Riker sat up straight. “Holograms!” he said.

“What are you talking about?” Highsmith demanded.

“He’s using holographic emitters,” Riker said, “to create four ships identical to his own. He’s feeding them his sensor data so they’re like mirror reflections-to fool us. They’re holographic ships--”

Holographic ships. Troi felt the chill again, but this time, it was inside of her as well as Riker. She looked up at the doctor wondering if Beverly too felt this uncanny deja-vu, but she saw something else in her friend’s eyes: not the eerie remembrance of things forgotten, but something known consciously, and secreted consciously, tainted with sorrow and guilt.

Highsmith sprang up and opened a panel in the console behind Riker’s pilot station-the unused weapons console.

“What are you doing?” Beverly demanded, stepping into his path.

He brushed by her. “We can’t let them get away. I’m going to fire a vanadium charge.”

“You put that kind of a weapon aboard this ship?!” Beverly shouted.

“You can’t fire on them!” Troi exclaimed in shock.

“I’m not going to fire at them. I’m going to lob one across their bows and prevent their forming a warp field.” He tapped in the arming sequence.

“Belay that,” Riker said, his voice like someone in a trance. He gazed intently at the constellation of the five ships against the stormy plumes of the nebula. “There’s metreonic gas out there. A vanadium charge would ignite it, and they’d go up in a fireball.”

“Metreonic gas!?” Highsmith gave him a look that all but said Riker must have gone crazy. “How can you say there’s metreonic gas out there? These sensors don’t even scan for metreonic gas! ”

Riker turned toward him, but he was staring at something seen only in mind and memory. “That’s how I killed that ship out there.” He looked wonderingly at Troi. “I killed that ship,” he said. “I was commanding the Enterprise, not Jean Luc.”

Out in the dark of space, the five red points of light intensified. The ships began to turn in formation.

“Look!” Highsmith yelled. “They’re turning into four four five!” He reached for the launch key.

“Wait!” Troi shouted.

“No!” Beverly screamed, lunging at him.

Highsmith grabbed the doctor by her shoulders and swung her aside. But Beverly hung on and the momentum carried them crashing into Troi. Highsmith broke free and righted himself. In one quick step he was back at the console. His finger hit the lighted launch key.

“You bastard!” Beverly cried, her hand outstretched toward the dark window as though she would pull back the fatal blast of light.

But no flash exploded on the dark canopy. Nothing happened at all.

Highsmith stared out at the view screen as the five red lights of the Klingon fighters diverged and the sparkling dust enveloped them, obscuring them from sight. The only flash was from a little yellow bulb on Riker’s control panel where the torpedo launch had been locked out.

Riker was kneeling beside Troi, who had been knocked to the deck.

“Are you all right?” he asked. There was a strange look on her face that frightened him. “Deanna, talk to me. Deanna!”

She looked up at him. “I’m all right,” she said. Her hand went involuntarily to her abdomen.

Riker helped her off the floor and turned to find Highsmith in high agitation attempting to scan for the vanished ships. Only Troi still holding onto Riker’s arm stayed the onslaught.

“You let him get away!” Highsmith grated. “Now what do we do? We can’t follow five divergent targets!”

“Federation vessel Nausicaa!” The comm came alive with a gruff Klingon voice. “This is the Klingon freighter Malpeor.”

Highsmith frantically brought up the fuzzy image of an older Klingon male and a youth standing on a shabby operations deck.

“Freighter Malpeor, you are on the border of a restricted biohazard area! Identify yourselves!”

“D’Korath and Kahniel of the House of Molak, salvage operators. Our sensors indicate that you have weapons trained on our position!” the Klingon captain blustered.

“Yes they are,” Riker replied coolly. “Identify the personnel you have just discharged.”

“The Honorable Worf, Governor of Nakartha and the Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard,” the youth answered.

The older one scowled at being preempted but quickly added, “The governor ordered us to bring them out here. But we are not intending to trespass upon the plague zone. We are bound back for Nakartha-immediately!”

“What information can you give us about their mission in sector four four five? What are their intentions?” Highsmith demanded.

“We can give you no information. We were told nothing of their plans.”

“But you can give us broadcast transmission data for the fighter?” Riker asked.

“Certainly!” The Klingon motioned to the boy who began to upload the information to the yacht’s computers. The elder spread his hands helplessly. “You cannot blame us. Governor Worf was not supposed to accompany Picard. We were to have returned home with him for our payment. You will explain to the colonial government that we are not responsible for his death. We only did as he commanded.”

Highsmith watched as Riker manipulated the data stream to limn out which of the five images had been the real fighter. “You can take that up with the Nakarthan authorities,” Riker told D’Korath offhandedly. “A vessel commanded by Deputy Governor Largh will be here in ten minutes. Remain in your present position. Do not attempt to move your vessel.”

Riker shut down the comm channel. On his sensor screen was the flight path of the vessel in twelve o’clock position of the arrowhead making a circuit of the cloud bank and then breaking for the heart of the nebula. “Commander,” he addressed Highsmith with syllables as clipped as the report of a photon rifle, “if I had any other personnel I could use, I’d discharge you immediately. As it is, I’m stuck with you. But I warn you, if you attempt to subvert my command again, you’ll spend the rest of this trip in the hold.” He then turned to Beverly and Deanna. “Highsmith and I are going in after them. I want you two to return to Nakartha with the Klingons.”

“I’ll signal Largh and give him our position,” Highsmith said, with uncharacteristic submission. “We should be able to effect a transport easily over a short range.”

“No,” Beverly said. “I’m not leaving.”

“You’ll be safe there,” Riker told her.

“It’s your safety you ought to worry about. I’m not letting you go alone. Not with him.”

“Let’s not throw accusations around, shall we, Dr. Picard?” Highsmith said ominously.

Beverly tossed her head and her eyes glinted fire. “All bets are off, Highsmith,” she retorted. “All right, I broke the rules. But you--you could have killed them. That’s not in the rules. Nothing from here on is.”

“I don’t have the vaguest idea what--” Highsmith broke off with a sudden look at Troi. “What’s the matter? Is she sick?”

Bent over slightly, Deanna groped for a chair. Her face was tight in a grimace of pain.

Will rushed to her as she slipped awkwardly to the floor. Beverly snatched the first aid kit and kneeling down beside her, began to pass a tricorder over the stricken counselor.

“How are you feeling?” Beverly asked. Her eyes flicked between her patient and the tricorder readouts.

“A little nauseous.”

Will gently felt her brow with his hand.

“It’s nothing,” Deanna said. A spasm crossed her face immediately contradicting her.

“If she’s taken ill, she ought to go back on the Deputy Governor’s ship with the doctor,” Highsmith said.

Beverly looked up in disgust. “Get out of here.”

A look from all three of them convinced him. “I’ll be in back,” he said.

And when he had gone, Beverly took Deanna’s hand. “You know what this is,” she said.

Deanna blinked hard and squeezed her hand.

“I can abort you now, before it gets bad--”


Will’s arms enfolded her. “Deanna.”

“No! Say what you were going to say!”

“What?” Beverly asked.

“You could do it now-or what? You were going to say or something. I want to know-what my choice is.”

“We need to get you to a medical facility,” Riker said, rising. “I’m turning back for Nakartha.”

“It’s too far,” Beverly said. “Waiting will only complicate things.”

Will stood at the comm. “Largh’s got a warbird. He can make warp nine, and he’s got a full sick bay-maybe not Federation--” he turned to Beverly “--but we have you.”

Beverly was already preparing a hypospray. “This will ease the spasms,” she said reaching over.

Deanna cringed and warded off the instrument with her hand.

“Deanna, you know that each time has been worse! And the more complications we have in dealing with this miscarriage, the harder it will be to conceive again.”

“That’s why I don’t want to give this one up!”

Will took her defensive hand in his own and cradled her gently. “They’ll be here in just a minute. You have to let Beverly help you.”

Deanna’s eyes pleaded. “Then help me, Beverly. “Tell me what the or is. What are my choices?”

Will’s eyes held a different plea. “I choose you, Imzadi. There are no other choices for me. It’s you and me. Please, Deanna, let me save us.”


First Deputy Governor Largh recalled the prime duty of the second-in-command: to kill the captain if he weakened. He must admit that Governor Worf had been good for Nakartha, bringing order and importance to the distant colony planet, but now that Largh thought about it, he’d always been suspicious of Worf’s background. After all, how could a Klingon live so long among humans and not be diluted by them? Yes, he could recall times when Worf had sidestepped his political opponents instead of slaying them outright. Why, there had even been instances in which he’d compromised with those who disagreed with him.

Secretary Aktar, of course, was sorry to see his patron go. He pounded up to the deputy governor. “Are we not going to even attempt pursuit?”

Largh gave him an incredulous scowl. “There are undetectable pockets of thermolytic radiation all over the Hurghwoven. It would be like sailing into a minefield.”

“The Governor may be a hostage!”

Largh snorted derisively. “You heard the smuggler’s story.” There was no doubt that Worf had gone willingly into the Hurghwoven with this Starfleeter, Picard-a man whom his own people had made a schoolmaster. They had gotten that information easily and most reliably from the smuggler D’Korath. Not much of a Klingon was that one either, spilling his guts at the mere threat of their spilling his guts. Why, the boy had shown far more pluck than his carrion-picking uncle. A pity that with such a dishonored family, the youth would surely come to nothing. And this was the company that Governor Worf had chosen!

“Prepare to reverse course!” he ordered. It was only too bad that Worf had killed himself by sailing into that pestilence and deprived Largh of carrying out his duty directly.

“You will make no effort to recover him?” the secretary protested.

“Aktar,” the deputy governor said wearily, “Not only is this a plague zone, it is a plague zone that belongs to the Federation. Relations with the humans are at a critical point now, and they have asked us for assistance with a medical emergency. Remember Khitomer. I do not wish to be responsible for the charge that we denied a humane request. We will return to Nakartha as soon as the transport from the Federation ship is complete.”

“Here is the ship’s physician now,” Aktar said, spying the approach of the Klingon officer who served as the warship’s CMO.

“How is your patient?” Largh inquired. “Is the human to give birth?”

“I doubt it,” the physician replied. “It is a male.”


“It is a male officer of the rank of commander, much agitated and making numerous charges against his companions.”

“That was not the message we received. What does Captain Riker say?”

“That the officer is deluded. It was this officer who contacted us about the medical emergency.” The Klingon CMO shrugged. “I read the Federation papers on the radiation effects in this sector. They report a high incidence of temporary neurological dysfunctions. I have sedated this Commander Highsmith according to human care standards for nervous ailments.”

Largh nodded. He turned on his heel. “Make for Nakartha!” he ordered.

The warbird came around and just as they moved to warp, the helmsman called out, “Captain Largh!”

“What is it?”

“Our aft scanners have lost the Federation yacht! They must have entered the Hurghwoven!”

“Neurological dysfunctions,” the deputy governor muttered. “Get us out of here before we all go crazy!”


* * * * * * * * *


The mists of the nebula streamed past the cockpit canopy of the Klingon fighter. Picard tapped Worf’s shoulder, signaling his readiness to take over the con.

“Only a little further and we should be there,” he said.

Worf transferred control of the helm to Picard. He watched as his former captain adjusted course and velocity. Picard seemed determined and purposeful but almost casual in his flying, completely without the heightened tension the Hurghwoven should have exacted from a pilot.

Worf frowned at the navigation panel. “Shields are holding at 98%,” he reported.

Picard made no reply.

“This is despite the fact that we have been unable to avoid the metaphasic particles which seem to be everywhere dispersed throughout the nebula,” Worf persisted.

“Metaphasic radiation is supposed to weaken shields,” Picard conceded, but he offered no theory for the contrary effects they were experiencing.

“In all of the area we have flown through, we have encountered no pockets of thermolytic radiation either,” Worf observed.

“Indeed.” Picard watched as Worf frowned, struggling with himself, unwilling to have the topic dismissed but unsure how to pursue it tactfully. The admiral at last relented.

“Have you ever heard of the Corbomite Maneuver, Worf? A tactic invented by the captain of the Constitution class Enterprise?”

Worf’s brow wrinkled vaguely. Apparently, he would learn of it. Picard was about to launch one of his famous exempla.

But he didn’t get the chance. An audio alarm blared instead, and the navigation panel in front of Worf lit up like a marquee.

The nebular gasses began to whip past the viewscreen and a sudden fluctuation in the stabilizers told them that the fighter was picking up speed.

“Dark matter!” Worf shouted as his sensors displayed the telltale gravitational cone of a tiny singularity that had suddenly appeared in their path.

Picard turned against the forward momentum, and the ship skidded laterally, fighting the pull.

“We’re in its horizon!” Picard exclaimed. “Auxiliary power!”

Worf threw the throttles frantically. A collision with a piece of dark matter no bigger than a crumb could turn their vessel inside out.

“Full reverse! Hard over!” Picard called. The fighter bucked and wobbled, straining against the invisible force.

The engines began to whine, and the pitch rose to a shriek. Picard wrestled with the yoke, but they were barely holding position while the mists stretched to brilliant needles and darted past them toward the mote of absolute black dead ahead.

Picard turned to Worf and shouted over the scream of the nacelles. “We’re going to have to execute a skip!”

Worf gave a short nod. Their only chance now was let the dark matter pull them forward, gain maximum momentum, and then at the last moment angle away with a final burst of power.

Picard turned into the zero heading. He released the engines. Like its namesake arrow, the fighter shot from its place. Faster and faster it sped toward the bullseye.

“Get ready to engage thrusters! Brace yourself!”

Worf steadied himself, placing his arms on either side of the navigation panel. And then he saw it. Looming up behind the dark pinpoint - a mass of thermolytic vapor! They were about to execute a dive into a pool of acid! Worf’s eyes opened wide.


The engines fired, the fighter skipped like a stone on water and plunged into the thermolytic cloud.

Worf’s eyes reopened slowly. He sat stunned and limp for a moment before he looked once again at the navigation screen. They were clear of the dark matter, sailing along serenely once again through the midst of a patch thermolytic radiation that according to the mission reports should have disintegrated them. He looked over to Picard.

A wry smile played on Picard’s lips. “What was I saying?” he asked. “Oh, yes, corbomite. A very interesting piece of tactical history, Worf. Captain James T. Kirk, threatened by an enemy of vastly superior resources, told that enemy that the Enterprise hull was made of corbomite, an element so volatile and deadly that any ship attacking his would be annihilated. Of course, corbomite was an utter fiction.”

“A stratagem,” Worf said, “akin to the bluff in poker.”

“That’s right Worf. And the thermolytic radiation that supposedly ravages this nebula--? It’s nothing but corbomite.”

“You knew this?”

“I suspected it,” Picard replied. “I suspected it so strongly, perhaps, in some sense, I did know it.”

An hour later, the fighter console flashed a different warning, and the cloud cover thinned abruptly ahead of them. Picard immediately throttled down the engines and banked the fighter into a tuft of metaphasic particles that would mask its sensor signature. Then he cut the engines altogether and the fighter glided to a full stop, rocked only by the eddies of the nebular current. They waited as the mist swirled by, craning their heads to see out the cockpit canopy what the clearing would reveal. And then as the clouds parted, it appeared before them-- a yellow star that shone through the nebular gases like the Earth’s own sun gleaming through the tail of a tropical storm and a lone planet in orbit whose dual rings glittered like raindrops in the aftermath of the downpour.

“There it is, Worf,” Picard whispered. “And there! Do you see? Just coming around the horizon?”

“An artificial satellite,” Worf replied. “A monitoring station?”

“It’s the reactor. They’ve rebuilt it much smaller. The first one had huge solar wings . . . ” Picard recalled, his tone haunted by the memory. “Just as I thought. They rebuilt it. . . . ” Then his voice grew cold and sharp. “This time, Worf, we have to destroy it for all time.”

Worf reached toward the throttle controls. “The mist will uncover us shortly. We should move.”

Picard stayed his hand. “They won’t see us. If they’re looking at all, they’re looking with their sensors.” Picard glanced down at his sensor screen where the metaphasic particles had created a complete whiteout of the display. “Ironic, isn’t it? They’d see us clearly against the glow if they were looking with the naked eye.”

“There is a high concentration of metaphasic particles here and in the planet’s rings, but nothing in the intervening space. How then do you intend to get us to that satellite?”

“Same way we escaped the yacht.”

* * * * * * * * *


Riker flew as he had been instructed. The Nausicaa flitted and dove like a swallow-a zigzag course, always through the metaphasic concentrations, but always closer and closer to the center of the nebula.

“How are you doing?” Beverly was looking over his shoulder.

"More like what am I doing?” Will responded. “Tell me that I’m not crazy.”

“I’d have to say that you are crazy,” she smiled. “But this is the kind of craziness that we have all come to know and love and even expect from you.”

“How much further is your classified Federation research station?”

“Just a little further.”

“And Deanna? How is Deanna holding up?”

“She’s resting easily for now. I think she’d rest even easier if you were with her. Why don’t you let me take the helm for a while?”

Will looked up skeptically. “Beverly, I don’t mean to sound-well, you’re a qualified pilot--but you know how dangerous this area is.”

“I don’t think so, Will. Actually it’s you who knows how dangerous it is out here.”

“Huh? What are you trying to tell me?”

“Well, let’s just say that the biohazard has been a little overstated,” she replied.

Some of the tension left his body, but he kept up the speed and bearing. “I ought to be surprised, but somehow, I’m not.”


“Yeah. Back there when we caught up to the Klingons-I had this incredible deja-vu, except it wasn’t deja-vu exactly. It was more like that tip-of-your-tongue feeling. You know--when you’re struggling for a word and just can’t quite remember it?” His face screwed up. “I don’t know. I don’t know! And that’s what’s so frustrating!”

“Will,” she put a hand on his shoulder, “I wouldn’t put such great store in knowing. Sometimes what we think we know only prevents us from trying. Sometimes we find we don’t know anything at all.” She pointed to an iridescent bloom on the navigation scanner. “I still want you to keep course in this direction and try to hit the heaviest concentrations of metaphasic radiation.”

“On the theory that the thermolytics don’t coincide with the metaphasics? Apparently there aren’t any radiation hazards, so why should I hit the metaphasics?”

“Just do it. It’s important.”

“You’re asking me to take a lot on faith here, Beverly.”

“And I have faith in you, Will. Deanna said you could fly between the raindrops if she asked you to.”

He breathed tightly. “At least flying is something I know how to do,”

“Oh, I don’t think she’s asking you to do anything beyond your capabilities. She’s asking you to love and trust her in the risk she’s taking for the two of you.”

“You think I don’t want to?”

“She put her life in your hands, to fly us through a minefield, so why are you so afraid to put your life in her hands?”

“But it’s really not a minefield.”

“But her trust in you was real, as real as if she could hold it in her hands.”

The light from the bright gasses suddenly flickered as the yacht ran into clearer space, black emptiness. The warp stars briefly appeared and played tiny streaks of light down his face. And then the next cloud lit the deck so brilliantly he blinked.

“I can’t see up ahead now.” His voice sounded a little husky, a little deeper than usual. “We’re going to have to slow down and feel our way along here.” He stood and motioned her toward the pilot’s seat. “Think you can take it for a while?”


He walked aft and then just before the door, he turned.

“Beverly, I trust you, but you are going to explain all this when we get there?”

“Don’t worry Will, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do when we get there.”


* * * * * * * * *


They were moving very slowly now, almost drifting because the simulation Picard had programmed for the last of his holographic emitters was both difficult and naturally slow.

Worf was restive, shifting about with some discomfort he had not revealed. “Dissimulation is not the Klingon way,” he grumbled finally at Picard’s inquiring glance. “Particularly not to creep up on a target disguised as a cloud.”

“Well we should be close enough now for you to transport me to the satellite station,” Picard assured him. “And as soon as I have planted the explosive device, you can stop being a metaphasic cloud and start being a Klingon fighter getting us the hell away from here.”

“I do not like your going alone,” the Klingon added. “Warning the station personnel to evacuate will surely make the situation more dangerous and the lessen the chances of success.”

“Enough people have died in the production of this weapon, Worf. I’m not going to put any more on my conscience.” Picard rose from the pilot’s seat and slung an equipment pack over his shoulder.

He stood a moment looking at Worf and then extended his hand, “Thank you, Worf. For everything.”

Worf did not take his hand but instead formed a fist and thumped his right arm across his chest in martial salute.

He turned back to the control panel. “Activating the transporter.”


* * * * * * * * *


Picard materialized in what they had calculated was a maintenance area below the main operation floor of the station. Indeed, the room was dark and empty. The open network of pipes and conduits, the bare grates that were its floors and the blank titanium wall, attested to its utilitarian purpose. But it was Federation in concept and design. Picard looked around for the soft green light that he knew would gleam through the darkness somewhere. There! He found the display monitor outputting from the main computer that showed the directory and the layout of the station. He studied it quietly, the peaceful light painting his face the color of some holodeck ghoul. Here in this room was the main power generator. Above him was the operations deck. And here was the research laboratory. He looked at the architectural overlay. Yes, if he planted his device there, in the storage area one deck below the laboratory, it would be sure to put this satellite out of commission.

Footsteps! He ducked back into the darkness and listened from his niche among the ducts. Two sets of footsteps, coming closer with easy, casual strides, not suspicious, not seeking an intruder. And now voices, indistinct, but somehow familiar, perhaps because they sounded like Terran standard speech.

They paused a moment in conversation. Then one set of footsteps proceeded on down the corridor. One person remained.

Picard crept up to the edge of the airduct, careful to make no betraying sound. Slowly with utmost caution, he looked around the corner where he had pressed himself against the cold metal wall.

His heart sickened.


Data was standing before the panel Picard had just had accessed, checking it for malfunction.

He couldn’t believe his eyes. Not Data! He couldn’t be helping them! Unless-

They had corrupted him! They had somehow overridden his program to take advantage of his superhuman abilities. The technology was so complex they would need someone who could sort it all out. Data was the only individual in StarFleet who might be able to contain and coordinate that much information. But to such a heinous purpose! Why, they had made him nothing better than his brother, Lore , the android who had conspired with the Borg.

Suddenly he was furious-outraged at the innocence and goodness he saw perverted before him. Who were these people who claimed to uphold the ideals of the Federation, who had taken the oaths of StarFleet, who had done these monstrous things?!

He reached into his tunic and pulled out his phaser. He stepped out of the darkness, and his movement caught the android’ s eye.

Data spun around, surprised. “Admiral Picard!”

“Don’t move Data.”

Data looked at him wonderingly. “What are you doing here?”

“I might ask you the same question.”

Data’s glance flicked downward from the face of his friend to phaser that was pointing at his chest and finally to the mechanism Picard held at his side.

“That is an explosive device,” the android said.

Picard nodded. “To put an end to this place once and for all. I thought we had done that already, but things tend to grow back here, don’t they?”

Data stared at him as though Picard were speaking another language.

“Captain Picard!”

He sprang to the side and swung the phaser around to bear upon-

“Geordi LaForge!”

The shock backed Picard to the wall. It was, indeed, his dead comrade. But he was very much alive and concerned to stay that way. The engineer spread his hands defensively and blinked in surprise. His eyes opened wide. They were brown eyes, organic eyes.

Suddenly the air began to hum. Shafts of blue light fell down around them and when the shimmering faded, there were Will Riker and Deanna Troi and Beverly.

The six of them stood and looked at in each other in varying states of confusion and astonishment. No one said a word.

It was Beverly who broke the silence. She moved to Jean-Luc and laid a gentle hand on his, lowering the phaser.

“Better get Worf down here,” she said. “He’s not going to want to miss this story.”


* * * * * * * * *


“Are you sure you’re up to this?” Will asked again.

In answer, Deanna slipped down from the examination bench in the infirmary and gave him a reassuring hug. “Really, Will. I feel much better. “ She looked up at him, her chin grazing his chest.

He thought her eyes were luminous; dark as night, they seemed to shine with spiritual light.

“I feel. . .all right. Everything feels right.”

Still, he looked to Beverly for the last word.

“She’ll be fine, I think,” Beverly made it official. “But I’ll save any further examination till later. I think they’re waiting for us upstairs.” She glanced at Jean-Luc who waited by the door. “In fact I’d be surprised if everyone’s condition is not significantly improving.”


On the upper deck the group received many curious stares: Will and Deanna walking hand in hand; Worf, stoic but oddly benevolent behind them; and Data, looking rather warmly emotional, beside Jean-Luc; and finally Beverly trying hard to maintain her best professional face. Geordi waved them into a conference room and closed the door. Seated around a long table beside spacious windows that overlooked the planet, Beverly could not help but feel the nostalgia. How many times had they done this on the Enterprise? How good it was to have them all together again, even if there was a price yet to pay.

“I know that your memories are already beginning to be restored just by being here,” Beverly began, “but I’ll go back to the beginning, so that you’ll all understand what we have done here. First, I want you to know that when I say ‘we’ I mean all of us because--whatever you may think of it now--seven years ago, we all agreed together to construct this elaborate lie about sector four four five.”

“A lie?” Worf asked, “There was no secret weapons laboratory? There was no ultimate weapon? No great battle was fought here?”

“Not exactly, Worf,” Geordi replied. “It was not a battle for control of a supreme weapon, but a fight for something equally powerful and dangerous-even ultimately destructive for the Baku people who live on this planet.”

At the name, Baku, a reaction passed among the group, perceptible even by those without Deanna’s special sense.

“The Baku planet-its rings--” Picard said, “-something about the metaphasic radiation-“

“It has regenerative powers,” Data finished for him. “That is correct, Admiral. It was not an ultimate death machine but the prospect of immortality that we were trying to protect.”

He addressed the group, now riveted by his story and the details that resonated in their minds.

“Admiral Dougherty headed the first group studying this phenomenon in alliance with a race called the Sona. The Enterprise was drawn into the region when I discovered a holographic ship being prepared on the planet. I was damaged by their attack, but Admiral Picard rescued me and realized their plan was to transport the indigenous population off of the planet and collect the metaphasic radiation.”

“And when Jean-Luc confronted Doughtery,” Beverly continued, “the admiral refused to acknowledge the violation of the Prime Directive and well, we all became part of a little insurrection.”

“Captain Riker and I engaged the Sona in a running battle through the nebula to bring word to the Federation Council while the rest of you tried to keep the Baku on the planet,” Geordi added.

“It was you,” Data said ,looking admiringly at Picard, “who destroyed the Sona collector and saved the Baku.”

“This is incredible!” Picard breathed. “I thought we had destroyed the planet. I thought I had lost half of my crew. And you say that we saved a people?”

“Yes, they were saved,” Beverly said, “but the celebration was short-lived. You see, we were not even out of the nebula, not even in communications range of any of the relays, when we were intercepted by a Federation ship carrying representatives from the Council , the Admiralty and the Intelligence division. A meeting was held aboard the Enterprise . . . .”

* * * * * * * * *


“Council Elect Rushinski, Admiral Vulce, Commodore Smith-- my CMO, Dr. Beverly Crusher,” Picard made the formal introductions as Beverly shook their hands and took a seat between Data and Geordi. “The rest of my staff should be here momentarily. My former security officer, now the defense officer for DS9, will also be attending as he was involved with our recent mission.”

The delegation nodded and a bit of an awkward silence ensued. Beverly assayed the heavy-set woman diplomat and the two male Starfleet officers-a tall, handsome Vulcan admiral and his ascetic sidekick, as non-descript as his name. The former two had immediately resumed reading from their padds--presumably the mission report concerning the Enterprise’s insurrection-and the latter monotonously tapped his fingers on the glass table. Data figeted, about to launch some small talk, but Geordi’s hand thankfully stayed him, and in the next moment, the arrival of the missing senior staff interrupted the quiet once again.

Worf strode in, cool and formidable, but only because his presence was naturally so. And as Riker and Troi appeared, they seemed deliberately to deflate their high spirits, dropping at the door whatever playfulness had just transpired between them.

The introductions went round again and finally the diplomat began.

“Well, Captain Picard,” Rushinski said, “we have read your mission report, and I must say you have left us with a very ticklish situation.”

“I am well aware of the gravity of my actions and I take full responsibility for the orders given to secure the Baku population on the planet and send the Enterprise with my protest to a transmission zone.”

With classical Vulcan calm, the admiral consulted his padd. “Captain Riker’s report indicates that there were no ‘orders’ as such, but rather a consensus of the individuals in your command to take these actions together of their own free will.”

“That is correct,” Riker stated, looking around to nods of affirmation from everyone.

“I think we all should bear in mind that this is not a court martial,” the Council Elect stated.

“--Which is not to say that this ship will not be called to answer certain charges,” the dour commodore cut in.

“I welcome the opportunity to defend my ship’s company,” Picard answered. “Each one of them acted with great loyalty and courage against an illegal operation in violation of the Prime Directive, a project about which the Federation Council had been grossly and deliberately misinformed.”

“This hardly assists us with the surviving Sona who have a treaty of alliance-“ the commodore persisted.

“Later,” the Vulcan said drily.

Rushinski continued. “Whatever the inadvisability of Admiral Dougherty’s strategy, or the question of Prime Directive violations, our most pressing problem -one that must be decided here and now-is what we shall do in the present situation.”

“Do?” Picard asked. “Excuse me, Council Elect, but I should think that our prime directive is not to do. We have no right to interfere in the culture of the Baku. How can we presume to appropriate from them a resource which is theirs by right? Whether they sprang from the planet or simply happened upon this site in their quest for a new home, it is their world now, their heritage, their lives. No matter what fine and noble purpose we might have for their resources, theft is neither fine nor noble. Theft by deceit or even by murder is what Adhar Ruafo intended all along, and we cannot be complicit in what is essentially evil.”

Beverly felt her heart glow with pride. No one could be unmoved by such a speech.

Unless he were a Vulcan. The dispassionate admiral folded his hands and spoke deliberately, “Unfortunately Captain, it is no longer possible for us to leave the Baku at peace. I know that your reaction to this situation is well grounded in Federation law. But because you are a human you have also been influenced emotionally by the history of your planet and your own family. You know the evils of the forced relocations of the native peoples of the Earth’s Western Continent, particularly the ancient Americas, in which an ancestor of yours was involved. There are sweeping principles in such a history, but perhaps you have not considered the lessons of smaller portions of that same history-like that of Sutter’s Mill.”

“No, Admiral, I understand what you are saying-” Picard began, but he broke off as a confused murmur enveloped the table.

Data, cleared his throat, signaling that he might as well explain for all as for each who turned to him, “In 1849, Sutter’s Mill in a wilderness area called California was the site of a discovery of gold. The influx of prospectors expecting to ‘strike it rich’ overwhelmed the few inhabitants already there and devastated the area. The discoverer, one John Marshall, died impoverished and utterly dispossessed.”

“I appreciate what you are saying, Admiral,” Picard began again, “and that is why we will need a protective force manned by StarFleet-“

The Admiral raised his hand-a gesture of judgment. “Once it becomes known that the Baku planet is a fount of healing and a source of virtual immortality, what protective force do you think can hold back the hordes of desperate people who will go there? No, as in all tales of Eden, knowledge is corruption and awareness the end of paradise.”

Silence fell upon the table. Beverly looked at the dejection: Deanna’s sad countence, Will’s frustration, Worf’s sullen frown, Geordi’s soulful, sorrowful eyes, and Jean-Luc’s valiant resignation.

And then Data said, “But what if no one knew?”

“Only the people here, the senior staff, were involved,” Troi said hopefully.

Smith sniffed, “Whether you told or Dougherty’s staff told or the one hundred science officers on this vessel figured it out for themselves, the news is already all over your lower decks. What are you going to do, swear everyone to silence?”

“Yes we could,” Picard answered.

Admiral Vulce spoke almost kindly, “ A Vulcan might be so sworn, but what human being who saw a loved one dying or suffering would not break such a vow, even a vow of honor?”

Data looked around hesitantly and then, “But they couldn’t tell if they didn’t remember.”


Beverly stopped here and breathed in slowly. “And that’s when Data told them that he knew a procedure for identifying and obliterating recent memory-- even when it has been encoded neurologically as long-term. He’s never told me where he learned this procedure-”

“That does not matter,” Data said simply. “It is effective, and Doctor Crusher was able to learn it.”

“So we returned to the Baku and talked over with them what we wanted to do: give the crew a choice. Anyone who wanted to stay with the Baku could remain on the planet under their governance, but they would have to stay permanently. Anyone who wanted to continue as they were would submit to the procedure. About half the crew chose to remain on the planet. And for the rest,” Beverly continued, “a story was devised and planted in place of the excised ingrams, a fiction calculated to explain the missing crew and keep the rest of the universe away from sector four four five.”

“Of course, I was one of the crew who stayed,” Geordi said. “I want to thank you, Counselor-and Admiral Picard, too. You may not remember now, but you argued for me. Commodore Smith didn’t want anyone from the senior staff to stay, and he lobbied pretty strongly with Council Elect Rushinski behind the scenes. He said we were so highly trained for command, we would unduly influence the Baku culture.”

“We believe, however,” Data interjected, “that his real concern was to be able to garner further military and strategic information from the Sona. I believe that the Intelligence Division has kept surveillance at least of Doctor Picard these many years since. Perhaps there was even an element of revenge in his thinking-for our having interfered. I am sorry to say that part of our cover story was the truth. A section from the Starfleet Intelligence Division had worked with Sona scientists under Adhar Ruafo to develop the mutagenic virus that was used to infect the Founders.”

“But we’ve been watching all of the research projects here very carefully. The Baku agreed to this orbital station and we’ve been investigating the metaphasic effect in depth. Data has been able to come back and forth because he can program himself to restrict all information on four four five.” Geordi paused, suddenly embarrassed. “It’s been good. I haven’t ever regretted the choice except for leaving all of you. I’m sorry for any-well, I’m sorry if anyone was upset about my ‘death’-- but there was no way we could explain my regenerated eyes and-“ his face begged understanding, “I wanted to keep them. What with my father gone that year and my sisters having their own lives, well, I thought-“

“You don’t have to explain making a choice for your own happiness, Geordi,” Deanna told him. “I’m sure that we all chose the same way.”

“And now it would seem that I have helped to reverse your choices,” Beverly said, “and maybe proved that Admiral Vulce was right in what he said about humans breaking vows. I’m hoping that you’ll understand, and I’m especially hoping that this time a vow of silence will satisfy the powers that be. Data tells me that the memory erasure can be duplicated, but I’d prefer not to.”

Data and Geordi exchanged a glance. “I’m not sure that either will be necessary,” Geordi said.

“You see, the nebula has been expanding and drawing radiation from the rings. Our latest readings indicate that within this month, the concentrations of metaphasic radiation will fall below the therapeutic threshold. In only four weeks, there will no secret to keep. I’m afraid that the Baku and everyone here will begin to age normally from now on. This time knowledge isn’t going to be the end of paradise-simple physics is about to do it.”


* * * * * * * * *


“Ready?” Riker asked poking his head through the doorway.

“Almost,” Deanna answered from behind the small screen in the infirmary examination room where she was re-dressing.

Will entered and sat down. “It’s incredible,” he remarked, “how much I can remember now that was wiped back then.”

“I’d like to go down to the planet if we have some time. I remember now a beautiful lake set between snow capped mountains, fields full of alpine lilies, and a waterfall that reminded me a lot of--”


She emerged in her uniform and came to where he sat. She folded him in her arms, and his head brushed her middle softly.

“It’s about nine weeks now,” she reported. “A new record for me, but I’m going for the whole nine months.”

“Beverly told me that the pregnancy is stable now, and that everything should be okay from here on.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that. But I’m wondering… do you think when we get away from the metaphasic radiation that your feelings will change?”

He looked up to her with a knowing smile. “I think I can say from personal experience that I’ll feel exactly the same.”

He rose and moved one hand from her back to her belly.

She laughed ticklishly. “You can’t feel anything yet.”

His hand remained there nonetheless, steady and quiet.

“I think I feel something,” he said.

“What?” she asked.


She reached up to him and he cradled her face as he was wont to do in a long tender kiss.

They parted, and he raised a playful eyebrow. “Unless it was just a craving for chocolate.”

“Same thing,” she said.


Beverly passed the tricorder over Jean-Luc’s face one last time, but he could read already in her eyes what she would tell him.’

“No trace of Irumodic proteins. The telomers have repaired themselves already.”

“Apparently, the metaphasic particles still have their magic.”

“You’re cured,” she said and snapped the tricorder shut. She would not bring her eyes to his.

“But that’s exactly what you thought would happen. What’s the matter?”

“No,” she said. Her hands fluttered reaching for words to express what she meant. “No, this isn’t exactly what I thought would happen. For one thing I wasn’t supposed to be here. I thought-I-don’t know what I thought.”

“I know what you thought. You thought that if I could have remembered, I would have come here myself. You thought that they would let me disappear because I’d never come back again anyway. You thought that I once I was here, I’d be cured and happy forever. I understand almost all of that, but now tell me, because I don’t understand--especially that last happily-ever-after part--how you thought that you weren’t supposed to be here.”

She looked down at his hands folded neatly in his lap, patiently waiting for her answer. “I thought -- I thought that you’d go back-- to Anij -- I thought once you remembered, you’d go back to her.”

There was a long silence.

She looked up at him, “Now that you're here, aren’t you going to see her at least?”

“I said goodbye once. I meant it.”

He turned her with his arms and kissed her. All the tension released in her body and when they parted, he rested her head on his shoulder.

“That’s better,” he said.

The sound of laughter came from the examination room behind them. She straightened up. He looked around.

“Will and Deanna,” she said as the sound of mirth crept out from behind closed doors again. “They’re going to have a little--”she stopped. “Well, they didn’t want to know themselves, so I guess it isn’t fair to let anyone else know.”

“A little surprise every now and then is good for everyone.”

She smoothed her lab coat and then the collar of his jacket that had gotten turned up. “You know,” she confessed, “as happy as I am, I can’t help feeling a little guilty. I took that vow of secrecy about this place seriously, and now it feels like cheating to have used what I know to benefit the people I cared about after having kept it from so many others who needed the help just as much. And yet I know that Admiral Vulce was right: general knowledge of this place would have doomed the Baku to the very life they tried so hard to escape. It would probably have destroyed the planet as thoroughly as the doomsday weapon we made up. Still, I’m not sure how the Baku justify themselves-morally, I mean.”

“Perhaps we ought then to think of this blessing in the same way we think of the talents and opportunities that we are all born with. We have a duty to use them for the good of the universe at large, but that universe does start with the people right next to us. Now, having been given the gift of health for a few more years, I’m thinking that unless I want to be judged selfish and ungrateful, I ought to be using that time to help where there is need.”

“And where would that be?”

“Lots of places in the universe. But you need a starship to get there. Now, I understand there’s a new starship named Enterprise about to be launched. And I know the captain. I’ll bet I could get us a berth.”

“As what?”

“I’ve always wanted to be an explorer. When you don’t have to command, you can do a lot more exploring--as a government liaison, an anthropologist-- even as a husband.”

Laughter crept from the back room once again. She pulled away a bit but he held her yet. She twisted her head around. “They’ll be coming out of there in just a minute.”

“So? Where is it written that there can be only one romance among the crew of the Enterprise? And anyway Riker is my subordinate. Where I come from, the captain gets the girl.”

“You’re an admiral now, did you forget?”

He growled playfully. “All the more reason.”