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 my original work and is offered solely for the shared

amusement of fans.  Any  commercial use of this work or other distribution is






Part 1


The brittle snap gave him only an instant's warning before the excruciating

wrench. His arms again bore the full weight of his body over the open maw of

the chasm. With the artificial gravity clawing at him, stretching his

overtaxed muscles to the limit of endurance, Riker grit his teeth and steeled

his grip, clinging to the sheer wall with nothing but the ferocity of his will.

His boots scrabbled defiantly against the smooth sides of the precipice and

found in the last moment before forfeit a seam between the plates. He braced

himself at the fullest extension of his arched foot and eased his arms

slightly. In the elongated seconds that followed, the chitter of the broken

ridge that had been his last foothold echoed ever more faintly down and down

and down the unending, inward-sloping wall.

"Number One? Are you there? Are you all right?"

The captain's voice sounded from the comm badge riding the crease in Riker's

tunic that had worked its way nearly under his chin.

"All right might be putting it a little strong--Captain, but--I'm still

here," he panted out to the crew monitoring his away mission from the bridge

of the Starship Enterprise.

Riker's brow, wet with sweat, brushed against the sleeves of his uniform as

he attempted to glance around him: nothing appeared in his limited field of

vision but the erratic flashes of the strange energy discharge that had lured

him out of the shuttlecraft, a move that he would regret until--his dying day?

"Data?" he called wearily into the open comm, "Anytime now."

A calm, precise voice answered, "I am attempting to open a large enough

passageway for the shuttlecraft, Commander. Hang on."




Sitting in the shuttlecraft on the other side of what they had hypothesized

was a partially opened bay door, Lt. Commander Data directed a laser beam at

the edge of the gap. Even if he had seen the ironic grimace that the words

"hang-on" had elicited, Data, the android pilot of the shuttlecraft, would not

have understood his unintended gallows humor. He had not understood, either,

what had prompted Riker to disembark the shuttlecraft and squeeze through the

narrow opening in the hatch plate that had impeded the shuttle's progress into

the huge central atrium that sensors had detected just beyond the impasse. Data

had argued--strictly in the intellectual sense of the word (for he had no

emotions to cloud his judgment)--that if anyone were going to investigate the

red flashes of light that beamed through the crack like the projector's lamp at

an ancient picture show, it should be he, an artificial life form better

equipped for the collection of data about this strange, hollow-cored,

artificial asteroid they had discovered. But Riker had smiled as he turned

back to the flickering light, his eyes alit too, but with curiosity. "You

realize, in just the time since we entered, the interior has developed M-class

atmosphere, temperature, and gravity, as though it were prepared to greet human

life forms. I'm going, Data. We'd only have to translate your numbers into

human terms anyway."

Well, perhaps. But there was no arguing that an android was better equipped

for unexpected hazards, like the collapse of the ledge from which Riker had

reported his view of a huge interior chamber whose walls were out-sized

hexagonal plates etched with veins like the circuits of a microchip and a

mysterious light energy creeping along the lines like luminous blood.

As he carefully melted away another half-meter of the partition to widen the

opening into that chamber, Data impassively considered Riker's colorful

description: a very human account that might have a very human accounting.




On the Enterprise bridge, Captain Jean-Luc Picard paced behind newly appointed

Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge. "How much longer until we can get a transporter


"I'm trying, Captain." LaForge worked with precise intensity at the aft

science console. "Any better now, O'Brien?" he queried the chief petty

officer in the main transporter room several decks below him.

"I'm sorry, sir," O'Brien's Irish accents carried the same anxiety. "There's

still too much electromagnetic interference. I can't get him locked."

Without even glancing up to meet the Captain's glared command, LaForge began

another alteration of the transport imaging scanners as the disembodied

dialogue from within the asteroid core twisted the atmosphere on the bridge


Riker's strained and weary attempt at humor: "Uh, Data? I'm getting a little

tired. I think I've hit the wall on this exercise."

Data's dead-pan reply: "I am working as quickly as possible, Commander, within

the safety parameters. A faster disintegration of the plate would destabilize

its composition and result in the negative consequence of your having no wall

to hit."

Picard leaned down to LaForge. "Hurry."




Riker shifted once again, the ache in his body continuing to mount even in his

new position, probably because it had been the old position only three minutes

ago. He reflected that there were only so many arrangements of bone and muscle

and sinew that could be stretched over this particular configuration of

handholds and brace points. The irony was that the panels were studded with

spiky projections that would have made the whole structure a terrific

rock-climbing area--if only he'd been three meters tall. The rivets or brads

or whatever they were were spaced too far apart.

He stretched his legs to ease his arms, relief that lasted for few seconds

before other muscles cried out in pain. He was definitely going to see CMO

Beverly Crusher after this episode, one way or another, and he was beginning to

be afraid of that other. He was losing the battle to fatigue. Even his eyes

were becoming tired from the light flashes that played in the open chasm like

crimson lightning connecting panels across the void. The activity appeared to

be random, but wherever the energy touched, it fed the forked trails within the

plate walls. As a light trail arced into the panel below him, revealing its

branching threads and illuminating the emptiness beneath, he wondered what

would happen if the panel he clung to were suddenly to receive a charge.

"Data, how far down is it?"

"Scanning. . . . From your approximated position, Commander, twenty point

thirty seven meters to the edge of the convergence plane where the artificial

gravity reverses to the other pole."

Riker craned his head downward so suddenly it almost pulled his hand away.

"Data--where the poles reverse--is there an inversion field?"

"Scanning . . . . Yes, sir."




On the bridge, LaForge frowned at something in the tone of the overheard

exchange, and for a fraction of a second he was distracted by the thought of

the inversion field--a layer of weightlessness in which the opposite pulls of

the gravity fields canceled each other out.

"How deep?" Riker's voice was asking with peculiar urgency.

"Because of the hourglass shape of the atrium, the inversion field varies from

one half meter on the perimeter of the cinture to ten meters in the exact


"Okay." There was an audible breath and then, "I've got an idea. Just run

the equations for me, Data, okay? I'm going to push off this wall and dive for

the center. Check it now: ten meters should be a big enough cushion to

decelerate the fall. "

Picard whirled in his pacing and exchanged with LaForge a look of pure alarm.

"Your estimate is correct, sir," they heard the android reply. "A ten-meter

field will provide a minimally sufficient margin."

"Don't move, Will!" the captain barked. "We'll have you in transporter lock

in just a moment."

There was a heartbeat of silence.

"I think I'm about out of moments, Captain. The wall slopes in and it's

studded with spikes. If I fall from here, I'll bounce all the way down."

"Commander," La Forge countered, "if you don't hit that field dead center,

it's one bad bounce at the bottom."

Picard toggled the comm to speak to the shuttle alone. "Data? How long

until you can open that passageway?"

"I estimate another two minutes and five seconds, Captain."

LaForge squinted at the image still resolving on his monitor. "Come on,

dammit!" he breathed in undertone.

Picard opened the line again. "Commander Riker," he spoke almost

conversationally, "you will do me the favor of remaining where you are. I

would prefer not to have to explain to your next of kin how you managed to die

in a diving accident in deep space."

Something between a sigh and snort answered. "Diving. . . my next of kin would

understand. . . . It's falling that would be inexcusable."

Picard's jaw set. They weren't going to coax him out of it.

"Commander, please, just a little longer. The lock pattern is almost clear!"

LaForge pleaded.


Riker closed his eyes and concentrated. A memory of the quarry pool near his

grandparents' home filled his mind. . . a pit of limestone white as this cavern

was black . . . water below him, blue-green and sun-sparkled like opals, six

meters down to the surface, twenty-two meters deep . . . the rocky ledge the

older boys had dared him to jump from where the shadow of a barely submerged

pinnacle swayed in the ripples . . . bet you can't jump past it . . .

He flexed his foot in the metal seam of the wall panel. He straightened his


His head leaned back. His hands loosened.

. . . bet I can . . .

He pushed off.


LaForge looked up into a sharp pattern on his monitor. "O'Brien! It's clear!



The rushing air crescendoed in his ears. His arms extended, and he remembered

sailing right over the submerged rocks, the cool water waiting below, and the

incredible sensation: I'm flying.


"Target acquired!" O'Brien shouted. "Energizing!"


Falling faster and faster now toward the narrow junction of the hourglass, his

arms came round above his head reaching for the splashdown into a turquoise


His eyes opened in dark space and a fierce red bolt of light rushed at his



"Got him!" O'Brien's voice rang out. The entire bridge crew seemed to settle

slightly in a collective release of tension.

"Materialization cycle initiating," they heard the chief's confident report.

The captain gave his jacket an emphatic tug as he headed back to the command


LaForge exhaled his pent-up breath but still stared intently at the screen

monitoring the transport. "Verify the adjustment for the acceleration and--"


O'Brien had already checked the automatic sequence that compensated for the

transport of moving targets. Everything was correct. The familiar chiming

echoed in the buffers. The beam shimmered from the emitters and now he could

just make out the beginning of the human shape. But--

"--don't forget to reverse the vertical attitude," LaForge warned.

O'Brien stared into the blue haze of the beam. The human shape was that of a

diver, stretching for the water--upside down!

Materialization complete: O'Brien cringed as Riker fell headfirst onto the




Captain's Log : Stardate: 42005.2


En route to our mission in the Edvalin system, the Enterprise has paused in

the Oblese Expanse in order to investigate a solitary asteroid adrift in this

area of exceptionally low cosmic density. Initial remote scanning revealed

that the asteroid was not a naturally occurring satellite, but an artificial

construction of unknown origin and purpose. An Away Team deployed from the

Enterprise to gather information on this phenomenon has returned prematurely

due to an accident which interrupted the examination of the asteroid core. A

detailed report is awaiting Dr. Crusher's release of Commander Riker.

From the Engineering report, systems software reintegration of the main

computer is proceeding . . .


* * * *


Dr. Beverly Crusher checked the encephalographic monitor once again and nodded

in satisfaction. Electrocortical activity was completely normal now and

progressing toward a natural return to consciousness. The favorable prognosis

gave the red-haired doctor a moment to reflect that in spite of all the

technology, a twenty-fourth century physician was often just as proficient

using simple observation. Even without the elaborate readouts of the medical

computers, she could see that Riker's eyelashes had begun to flutter and his

hands flexed slightly. She smiled in anticipation of watching once again the

characteristic sequence of Will's elbows bracing, chin slanting upward to lead

the head and shoulders off the biobed, and finally the little "ow!" as his

brow, wrinkled with a frown, would bounce off the confinement field that she

had learned through experience was the only way to keep the restive First

Officer of the Enterprise from bounding out of sickbay without a doctor's


But this time was different. A shudder passed through his body and his head

tossed from side to side. The heart monitor toned at a sudden jump in pulse.

His eyes flew open and his hands, not his head, hit the confinement field in an

innate defensive gesture.

Dr. Crusher clicked off the field immediately and eased her patient back down

with the equally instinctive assurance of a human touch.

"Hey, easy there, Commander." She leaned over him with her medical tricorder.

He squinted back at her. "Doctor--" he said.

"Crusher," she smiled. "Want to try for something with a bigger IQ score?"

He responded with a vague smile that didn't really focus on her. His

attention was turned inward, as though his intelligence were groping along his

arteries all the way down to his fingers and toes assessing each connection to

the rest of his body.

She knew, of course, about the whole cliff-hanging drama and their catching

him in mid-fall. But now, she wondered if, in the moment before his impact on

the platform, he had been aware that he had been transported to safety--or had

he blacked out with the crash and the pain in the belief that his dive for life

had gone disastrously wrong?

Will Riker let out a long breath and his pulse steadied. Beverly flashed a

little light in one hand and pointed at the bridge of her nose with the other.

"Look right here now."

The red gleam of his retina reflected back at her.

He waited without asking, blank as the darkness he had fallen through.

She switched off the light and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze. "A slight

concussion is all. I just wanted to make sure. When they brought you in, there

was so much synaptic activity, I thought for a second that perhaps the old saw

about your whole life passing before your eyes might be true."

"I think I was . . . remembering things," Riker murmured.

"You want to remember to hit the ground with your feet next--"

Someone cleared his throat behind Beverly.

O'Brien was standing in the threshold of the diagnostic bay. "Commander, I'm,

uh, really sorry, sir. . . about the way you, uh--came in. We-- I mean, I

--was so anxious to pull you in--that is, we all were, but--"

Riker hauled himself into a sitting position letting his legs drop over the

side of the biobed, making a ragged facsimile of proper address from a superior

officer to the technician who had brought him home head-first.


"Yes, sir?" The transporter chief stood there like a holographic character

who was expecting to be offered a blindfold and a last cigarette.

"Thank-you," Riker said simply.

O'Brien wasn't sure what to do with that.

"You . . . did a fine job," Riker said, "and I'm very . . . grateful.


The message took a moment to register, but finally the transporter chief drew

himself up with a renewed sense of confidence and vindication.

"Thank you, sir. Glad to have you aboard again. I just wanted to see that

everything was all right. Well, I'll be getting back to my station, then."

Backing out of the diagnostic bay, he started for the door, but he turned back

to add, "We're all grateful too, sir. You know, the coordinates we pulled you

from? They were pretty well off center in the inversion field. There was only

a meter and a half depth under you."

Riker was still staring after O'Brien's back when the sick bay door closed.

The pallor looked a shade worse. Crusher put a gentle hand against Riker's

chest. "Why don't you lie down and take a minute, Will?"

He shook his head, visibly gathering himself. "No, it's okay. I have to go."

"I'm sure the Captain can wait for the report. We can all stand to practice a

little patience. " She said it to remind herself not to slug O'Brien when next

she saw him. He certainly didn't need to lay out that last little bit of

information about how badly Riker would have crashed.

"No, thanks. I feel okay now. I'll just--" Riker boosted himself off the

table, and as his feet hit the carpet, something quite unforeseen happened.

His knees buckled, his legs folded, and he crumpled onto the floor.

Beverly was beside him in an instant squatting down where, sprawling on his

hands and knees, he had backed himself into a sitting position against the

biobed support.

Surprised herself, Beverly swept the tricorder over him. But the read-outs

all came back negative, at least for the things she feared. And then she

chided herself for by-passing the simple explanation.

"Okay, Will, it's all right," she said soothingly. "Apparently it's just

delayed stress reaction. No injury, no impairment, nothing hurt--"

except--looking at the color creeping into his face--his pride.

"Sorry," he said disgustedly. "I seem to have forgotten how to walk as well

as how to dive--not to mention how to wait--"

"Uh-oh!" she frowned at her tricorder.

"What? What is it?"

"Now I see what's the matter. Yes, definitely." She gazed at him gravely.

"It's Picard syndrome."


She smiled slyly. "A persistent condition characterized by excessive demands

on oneself. It's often accompanied by a denial of fatigue and characterized by

over- emphasis on emotional control. Commander Riker, I'm surprised you

didn't recognize it. You're usually the first to get on the Captain's case

when he starts exhibiting these symptoms."

That helped a little. A wry smile curved his mouth. At least she had eased

him through his self-consciousness. Lord! Men and their delicate egos!

He began to pick himself up, sitting back on his heels. "All right. Maybe if

I try a little harder--"

But he tumbled backward again--unbalanced by a tiny accidental brush of her


More than embarrassment, she could see fear and frustration and the desperate

way he tried to repress them. And now she was upset both at herself and at him

for expecting that his previous StarFleet career had inured him to such close

passes with death. And even so, who could say whether some element in this case

had made it the last straw? Just because he was Will Riker, did that mean he

was immune to the normal sensibilities of mortal human beings?

"You'll try harder--? Try harder? Are you listening to yourself, Commander?

For goodness sake, Will! You just told your body to jump off a cliff and

you're surprised it doesn't want to work for you any more? You'd never treat

the crew that way. Why do you do this to yourself?"

Though she wanted to shake him, she leaned even closer, gentle but earnest.

"Listen to me, Will. Your little escapade is trying very hard to speak to you.

Your body hears it, but that brain of yours is determined to refuse delivery.

You took a big risk. It almost killed you. It was a brave thing to do, but

you can let up now."

She stood up and extended a hand to help him off the floor. "Give Will Riker

a break, Commander. Data can prepare the report. You are to get some rest.

You're not indispensable--to anyone but yourself. "

Standing, he towered over her, but still managed to look a little smaller than

usual--and a lot less certain.

"You can keep a limited duty schedule," she said, "but I want you to take

time to relax during the next week and lay some of the burden of the world off

your shoulders. You don't have to be responsible for everything, everywhere

and every hour. Be frivolous; get in some recreation. And if it helps your

duty-oriented Star-Fleet-Code-of-Conduct sensibilities, consider it an order

from the CMO. Your only necessary duties are to see Deanna, and check-in here

daily. Your first priority till we arrive at Edvalin is to recuperate from

this little flyer of yours."



Under the circumstances that Doctor Crusher had described, Counselor Deanna

Troi was compelled to agree that the Enterprise's First Officer should be seen

for counseling whether he initiated the contact or not. It was just that under

other circumstances, which the Counselor herself had trouble describing, the

interview could potentially have an atmosphere as thick as water.

As she made her way down from her office to the senior officers' wing on deck

nine, she recalled how, a year ago, after gaining a coveted post on the

flagship of the Fleet, she had stood before her new captain and reluctantly

offered the information that she was already "acquainted" with his selected

candidate for First Officer. Picard raised an eyebrow; he was not slow at the

subtext, but he asked only if she felt that this would be an impediment to

carrying out her duties. She replied, no, that it was "all over years ago."

Since that first day on the Enterprise, she had come to realize that if she'd

had to respond to the question again, the answer would still be "no," but the

"all" would have to be heavily modified.

Will Riker had been her first, and, in truth, her only complete, all

consuming, unrestrained and irrevocable love. Betazoids had a name for that:

Imzadi. But she had taken another name that day in her duty oath-- Counselor

-- and it was the Counselor whom the First Officer needed to see.

Beside his door she paused and rethought a decision that she had only

struggled with in theory till now: as the Counselor, how deeply should she

read him? Explaining her empathic powers to her coworkers, she had likened her

special ability to perception of scent. She was aware always of the general

emotional states of people around her as though they each wore a fragrance, but

if she focused and concentrated, it became pungent, almost a taste, complex

like an oenophile's appreciation of wine. And yet, Will, because of their past

association, she could read in a way that could not be analogized except in

synesthesia, as though scent had infused and become touch inside her very skin.

And that intimacy was the price of using her empathy with Will--that and the

fact that he would be aware of it, too.

She rang the bell. No, she would not open herself to that kind of communion.

Their working relationship was . . . working. Everything was under control.

But she could not predict how he would react to empathic interchange, if he

were, indeed, as shaken as Beverly had portrayed to her. No, she would not

open herself, because she couldn't predict how she would react, either.

Realizing that she had been standing there a rather long time without a

response, Deanna rang again. This time, the door opened immediately, but

without any greeting, and she stepped inside the cabin, which was dimly lit, as

befit the evening watch.

Across the room, Will sat on a sofa in the pool of soft amber light cast by a

single lamp. He leaned over the glass coffee table peering into a little

wooden chest whose open lid obscured the contents from her view.

"Hi," she called, the door shutting softly on all of her carefully planned

segues. "Can I come in?"

The smile she received was enough acknowledgement and invitation between the

two of them. She walked over to the sofa passing his desk where she noted his

computer interface was displaying his personal logs. On an inset frame was

some text from his service record: his three Star Fleet Decorations for

Exceptional Valor. She thought that sight was, of itself, very telling.

She sat beside him on the sofa where he was rummaging through an odd

collection of objects in the chest: some children's toys, some mementos, some

she could not begin to classify. "What are you doing? What's all this?"

"Just some things from home."

Now, she recognized the style of the carving on the box-- the heavy geometric

outlines, the filled curves, the stark contrasts in the paint-- as Inuit design

from Will's native Alaska.

"Are you looking for something?"

"No," he shrugged, "not really." And then, "Why? Do you think I've lost

something? Notice anything missing?" Even without empathy, she perceived an

undercurrent in the joke.

She craned her head to look into the box, to place her own eyes under his

downward glance. "It looks more like you have a hard time letting things go.

" --Ow!" Her nestling closer to him turned into a squirm. From the cushions

underneath her, she pulled a small, brown oblong object, a husk with rough,

regular crenelations in its skin. "What is this?"

He took it from her and turned it over in his hands. "The cone of a giant

sequoia . . . trees that grow back on Earth. They're old and huge--majestic,

I guess would be a better word. . . ancient and majestic. There aren't many

left, but some grow in a special grove not too far from Star Fleet Academy."

"An Academy botany project?"

She got a brief smile. "No! Haven't you ever heard the Will Riker story about

the sequoias? "

She shook her head, inviting the tale, as a friend--or a clever counselor--


"Once upon a time a grandfather took his little grandson to see the sequoias.

The two of them walked the grove, and the grandfather talked about how some of

the trees had been around for hundreds of years, how people had struggled to

save them. When they left, he tucked this into the boy's pocket. He said,

You're my next hundred years, Will . " Riker placed the little cone on the

table and stared at it with concentrated melancholy. "The boy didn't

understand what he meant. He hadn't really been listening. He certainly

didn't want this. Know what he wanted? To climb one of those trees! This

cone was almost thrown away. . . ." He sighed. "Maybe I'm missing

everything." He blinked and turned away from her, looking out the window where

the asteroid still floated against the starfield. "In answer to your

question, Counselor," another unsuccessful try at distancing himself, "I'm not

sure what I'm doing."

Her hand smoothed over his where it rested on his knee. "Oh, I think I know

what you're doing." Her other hand traced the curve on the lid of the box.

"You're taking inventory. It's not a bad thing to do every now and then.

Sometimes you find buried treasure."

He looked back at her suddenly. "Tell me then, Counselor, why is it buried

instead of treasured? Is it just human nature to get so impatient for the next

thing that you never see what you already have? Why do humans need to push?

Why does--why do I feel such a need for. . . more?"

It was her turn to look down. "If humans didn't have these impatient desires,

if they were easily contented with themselves and their lives, I doubt we'd be

out here in space. But I guess," she dared look up, "that we ought always to

remember that we haven't come all this way to escape what we are, but to share

what we are. And to make what's out there"--she nodded at the window-- "a part

of what's in there "--her fingers grazed his forehead, brushing that one stray

lock out of the way.

For a long moment they held still, like the moment before letting go, like the

moment before a kiss.

Then he placed the cone back inside the box and closed the lid. It would not

shut. His face wrinkled in a funny grimace. "I guess what I need is more


She wrinkled back. "Sometimes I'm convinced there's nearly as much space in

there," she tapped his forehead, "as out there!"

A laugh erupted that was a release for both of them, and then she stood

abruptly, the feeling having grown a little too intense. "But you know, Will, I

think I do detect something you are missing. . . "

Wide-eyed, he looked up at her.

"Dinner. We were supposed to meet Worf and Data for dinner in Ten Forward


"Oh, okay," his tension melted, and he got up to offer her his arm. "I've

always said what we humans really need is more food. "


The little Bolian waiter was having a tough first night with Guinan, Ten

Forward's new manager, barkeep, and hostess tagging along to supervise his

training. And Table Five, he suspected, was a specially rigged test.

First, Counselor Troi couldn't make up her mind. "No, it sounds like the sauce

on that is just too heavy. Maybe I'll change my order to a gavot salad. Do you

have any fresh gavots. . . ? No, never mind. I really don't feel like gavots.

Oh, someone else go ahead."

"I will have the Q'onos horned snails,"Lt. Commander Worf said, "and be sure

not to overcook them."

"You'd like them rare?" the waiter asked with a carefully neutral tone.

"I think he means alive ," Guinan corrected.

"I'll see what they picked off the arboretum this morning," the Bolian


Lt. Commander Data ordered jello.

"Cherry, strawberry, grape, raspberry--?"

"Green," the android said. "It has the best lubricating agents."

"Yes, sir, I've noticed that myself," the Bolian passed Lime and keyed in

Kelp while he moved to the last diner on his padd. "Commander Riker?"

The commander had been scrolling the menu for the past five minutes.

"I think I'd like one of everything."

The Bolian smiled patiently.

"That's a lot to eat in one sitting, Commander," Guinan advised.

"There are more than two hundred ten thousand recipes on file in the

replicator banks," Data informed them. He turned to Riker, who was still paging

as though he wanted to check the number. "Even if you consumed ten items for

dinner each night, it would take you 57.3 years to sample everything."

"Well then," Riker replied jovially, "I'll have to start with A and get as

far as I can."

The Bolian consulted his padd. "The first dish alphabetically is an aardvark

pate from Gaumos III."

"Delicious!" Worf enthused, but then held up a provisional finger, "when

prepared in its own stomach."

"Might be a little strong," Guinan cautioned Riker. "But then again, I hear

you're quite the gourmet, Commander. Think you can stomach Gaumosian stomach


Riker looked to Troi, but she was too disgusted to discuss it. "Nah," he

said, "I want to eat human tonight."

"Well, if you want one from column A, we could get you some apple pie," the

waiter was beginning to succumb to the seductive sarcasm of table service.

"Bring it on," Riker replied cheerily.

At that, the Bolian snapped out a "Thank-you," punched his pad, and

disappeared before anyone asked what the night's unreplicated fresh specials


Guinan chuckled. "You know, Commander, I understand there's an old Earth

saying: 'Life's uncertain, so eat dessert first' ?"

All around the table there was a odd lapse of animation as the deadly saying

struck while Guinan strolled off with a sly smile, Worf growled, Troi held her

breath, Riker grinned, and Data brightened as though the proverbial light bulb

had gone on above his head.

"Ah!" the android cried. "A maxim! You are all aware that I am collecting

maxims and idiomatic expressions?"

They were all aware of Data's collection.

" Yes! This one is akin to 'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may...' !"

Riker flashed a grin at the android, taking up the competition. "'Make hay

while the sun shines'?" he offered.

Data nearly sparked. "Very good, sir. How about: 'Eat, drink and be


Troi froze as she recognized the coda.

"--for tomorrow --"

Riker's brow arched, but the smile did not fade.


It was after midnight and the Bolian was seriously considering quitting his

job aboard the Enterprise and running away to live on the asteroid.

They wouldn't leave. Well, the android and the Klingon had left, but five

other officers had joined the table and group was becoming more raucous with

each story that they swapped.

". . . so Chief Johnson is really on the edge by now," Riker was saying amid

chuckles and kibitzing from the audience, "so I nudge Farley and he looks up

from the transporter console -- dead serious--and he says, 'Uh-oh, Chief!

there's something wrong!' and Johnson says, 'What! What?' but I'm frantically

working the slides, and Farley is starting to yell, 'Malfunction,

malfunction!' And I look at Johnson and I shout, 'Help! I'm losing him!' and

Johnson completely falls for it , 'Get out of the way, Ensign!' but Farley's

blocking his way and the cycle is kicking in and you can hear the beam coming

and there it is: Farley materializes his forty liters of swamp water on the

transporter pad. 'It's the Away Team!' moans Farley, and Johnson faints dead


There was a peal of laughter from everyone except from Counselor Troi, who

smiled tolerantly and rose as another order of drinks was passed around.

"I think that's all for me," she said quietly to Riker.

"Oh, come on, Deanna, stay a little longer," he cajoled.

"No, I have a full schedule tomorrow and it's getting late--for you, too," she


"Counselor," he said. "It's never going to get any later for me than it was

this morning."

Amid the hilarity that greeted his remark, Troi said pointedly that she'd see

him tomorrow and headed for the door, passing the frazzled Bolian who was being

summoned again to Table Five.

The waiter's exasperation she barely sensed: a tiny whiff of smoke floating

over the ashes of the evening--a burnt aftertaste and the peculiar crawling of

her skin.



"Why, do you suppose," Dr. Crusher asked in the tone of a logical

proposition, "that with so little gender-specific behavior left, it's

particularly men who cling to the myth of their invulnerability?"

Picard looked up over the rim of his tea cup, past the breakfast dishes to the

innocent-seeming face of his regular guest, and swallowed dry his bite of


"What have I done?" he asked.


"To deserve this question." Jean-Luc eyed her skeptically. "You see, with

so little gender-specific behavior left, I have observed that it is

particularly women

who, out of the blue, ask theoretical questions that are fraught with hidden

sinkholes waiting to trap the unwary male."

Beverly looked over the selection in the bread basket. "My goodness, you're

defensive! I wasn't even thinking about you. I was merely wondering if this

morning would find any reformation in Mr. Riker, your second-in-command.

Jean-Luc made no answer, but a response was running through his head: I sense

a large hole opening under my feet . . .

"You know," said Beverly, buttering a piece of toast, and shaking her head,

"you're the same way. You drive yourself unmercifully; your own needs go


. . . and I'm definitely sinking.

"--for those of the ship and crew; you take every risk he can't talk you out

of. It's probably a good thing he nearly died."

Picard nearly aspirated the tea. "A good thing?"

Beverly set down her coffee to better argue her point. "Well, didn't you

yourself say that the Norsican who nearly killed you, in a way, focused your

life, made you appreciate how precious each moment is?"

"A lesson I'd have been grateful to have learned any other way!" Jean-Luc

objected. "And though it taught me some self-discipline, I hope it did not make

me overly cautious for my --"

"Well, I hope this whole episode has taught Will a lesson at least."

Fortunately the door chimed and with a firm, "Come!" the captain was spared

the need to find a come-back.

Data entered with padd in one hand, and the captain looked regretfully at his

half-finished breakfast realizing that he was going to have to hurry to be on

time for the regular staff briefing.

"Good morning, sir," Data nodded at the captain, and pulling the other hand

from behind his back, presented Dr. Crusher with an exotic deep red flower.

"Commander Riker asked me to give this to you and to thank you for yesterday."

"What a beautiful orchid! I've always loved orchids, " Beverly brushed the

flower against her cheek and smiled triumphantly at Picard.

"The Commander also asked me to beg your pardon, Captain. He will be delayed

approximately fifteen minutes due to his overstaying a holodeck program."

Picard glanced at his chronometer, which read 07:57. "What's he doing on the

holodeck at this hour?"

"He has been on the holodeck since zero five hundred, sir," Data replied with

equanimity. "Diving."

Crusher straightened in her chair.

"With the Cliffs of Heaven program," Data continued.

Picard cleared his throat suddenly, but when Crusher swung around, his napkin

was adroitly concealing the lower half of his face.

"Perhaps," he proposed to Beverly as he drew the napkin away from a newly

composed expression, "the lessons that most interest Mr. Riker are in the

aquatic sports."

Crusher exhaled sharply, and Picard felt a bit repentant.

"Oh, it's very natural, Beverly. After all, when you fall off the horse, you

get right back on again."

"That is not the program I was speaking of, sir," Data interjected. "There is

a program with a diving horse, but that is called Steel Pier, Atlantic City ."

"No, Data," Crusher explained, " ‗getting on the horse again' is just--"

Picard tried to nudge her foot under the table.

"Ah! Another maxim!" Data cried. " So what you meant by the horsemanship

analogy was that Commander Riker's diving is probably intended to rid himself

of any residual fear of heights? ‗If at first you do not succeed --?' "

Picard nodded wearily.

"Then," Data concluded,"the commander he must have developed either a great

tolerance or a grand passion for free-fall to have practiced it for two and

one half hours."

As Dr. Crusher turned to him in a mood that needed venting, the captain

decided he'd make a strategic withdrawal. "Well, um, fifteen minutes? Thank

you, for bringing the message, Data, but, uh, perhaps I'll come to the bridge

now. You'll excuse me, Doctor? Just leave all this," he gestured at the

table, "and I'll get it later." He rose and led Data out the door.

Jean-Luc's suggestion notwithstanding, Beverly began to clear the table with

some vigor, undoubtedly under the steam left over from her unexpressed

opinions. Recreation, frivolity, relaxation, she had said. Not dare-devilry!

Not this compulsive competitiveness! And whom did he think he had to beat?

There was only himself. Men!

She reached for Picard's cup and her hasty hand sent a glass crashing to the

floor. As she knelt to pick up the pieces, a different view came to her of

Will Riker crashing into the transporter platform and then diving time after

time off the Cliffs of Heaven on the holodeck. Tolerance? Passion? Or a

third possibility: two and half hours of looking for the courage to get on the

horse again?


"Once we discovered the airlock and entered the interior of the asteroid,"

Data was giving the Away Team report to the senior staff gathered around the

conference room table, "artificial gravity and atmosphere suitable for

humanoids were generated, though we could not subsequently discover the power


"The energy might be coming from a reaction in the elements that make up the

panels you observed," Geordi LaForge speculated. "The E/M activity read as

highly organized, but the patterns were so unusual and so dense, our sensors

couldn't find either of you till the last second. We only cleared the

interference by skin of our teeth."

Troi, who was sitting next to Data, forestalled the question that even a

non-empath could tell was coming. "Yes, Data, it's a --"

"It's merely," Picard said, "a way of expressing a narrow margin of error,

since teeth do not literally have skin."

Crusher smiled mischievously and took a breath while Picard shot her a look

that said he didn't want to hear any legends of Ferengi dental hygiene.

"I understand. Thank you, sir. I am now cross referencing synonymous

idioms," Data informed them. "This one is like 'the nick of time'."

"Or, 'a hair's breadth'?" Crusher suggested.

" 'A hare's breath'?" Data asked. "That would be very marginal."

"Were you able to get any sense of the purpose or function of the asteroid?"

Picard preempted further digressions.

"The exterior appearance must have been intended as a disguise," the android

responded, wondering inwardly what "turning on a dime" had to do with changing

conversational subjects, "but whether the structure was a space vehicle or

station or warehouse is unknown. We found no life-forms or artifacts to

explain it. We do have tricorder readings from the interior."

"That's good," La Forge remarked, "because now that we can scan it, the

electromagnetic activity has decreased sharply."

"The activities which we observed were indicative of automated station keeping

functions, but for whom or to what purpose remain unknown. The asteroid-vessel

seems to have been abandoned. As it does not appear to harbor any threat, I

propose that we return and complete our study of the panel matrix."

"No. I don't think so."

Every head swung around to regard Riker, who spoke now for the first time in

the whole briefing.

"Number One?" Picard asked.

"I don't see any need to go back. Now that the sensors are operating properly

we might as well take any additional readings from here." Riker sat back as if

that concluded the discussion.

"Well, yes, we could let the sensors do it," La Forge said, "but sometimes

--well, just being there gives you a sense, a feel for what might be going on,

that you can't get from a remote scan."

"I think it's a waste of time," Riker replied.

"Commander, I'll be glad to accompany Data, if you'd prefer," LaForge offered.

Riker stared hard at the engineer. "Oh. You'll go if I prefer. For what

reason might I prefer that, Mr. LaForge?"

Troi felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise.

"I mean--" La Forge sputtered, "I meant-- if your schedule is already full,

or if you think that the VISOR might help-- ?"

Picard exchanged a look with Riker and the First Officer sat back again. "No,

Mr. La Forge, I just think that nobody needs to revisit the place."

The uneasy atmosphere at the table made little impact on Worf's Klingon

sensibilities. "I recommend we eliminate the asteroid. This structure is most

probably an abandoned warehouse or hide-out, camouflaged for use by raiders.

Zandred pirates have been known to operate in this area."

"The Zandred haven't plied this sector in ages, Worf," Riker said sullenly.

"And from a tactical standpoint, the asteroid is inadequate and


"An outmoded or poorly designed snare can still prove dangerous. It did so

for --" Worf paused as Troi, sitting directly opposite him, gave him a

piercing stare "--us."

Data, oblivious to the emotional tone that had developed, was following the

conversation on a purely philosophical level. "The purpose of a machine can

sometimes be determined from its design, and we are perhaps justified in

destroying something whose design clearly indicates an unacceptable purpose--"

"Metagenic biotoxins, for example," Crusher tried to help things back to a

more objective state.

Data continued, "--but should we destroy something because it has a capacity

for harm? Often a technology has both good and evil uses."

Picard nodded. "Which is why it has never been Federation policy to condemn

anything for its potential."

"You don't want to start thinking about everything that has the potential to

kill you," LaForge muttered in an undertone only Troi could hear.

"We have always cherished, first, uncensored knowledge and had faith in

ourselves to determine--through however much debate and soul-searching--the

moral applications of our discoveries." (Picard was a masterful philosopher

himself.) "Therefore, although Mr. Worf's point is well-taken, and as we are

expected shortly in the Edvalin system, I believe we will simply note the

asteroid for other, forthcoming vessels to study and get back on our way."

(Picard was also a practical leader.) "That will be all."

The meeting broke up, Data and Worf exiting quickly for their duty stations.

Riker remained seated and thoughtful. As Crusher got up, she reminded him,

"Don't forget to check in at sickbay today." He nodded perfunctorily.

LaForge caught Troi just outside the door. "Did I say something wrong? What

was that all about?"

"No Geordi," Deanna replied. "It's just-- Commander Riker . . . no, you

didn't do anything wrong, and I'm sure everything will be okay soon."

Picard was consulting the desk computer in the conference room when Riker

finally stood up.

"Excuse me, sir. When did you want to get underway?" he asked.

The question took Picard by surprise. "Now, Number One. Mr. La Forge did

report that the scheduled maintenance of the systems software has been


"Yes, sir. That's right, sir."

Riker exited immediately to the bridge proper, but Picard had finished

re-reading the material on Edvalin that had occupied him by the time he heard

Riker instructing the helmsman to plot the course.

The captain entered the bridge and took the command chair. Riker, who was

standing at the OPS console, motioned the OPS ensign back to her place, and

took his seat beside the captain.

"Course plotted and laid for Edvalin, sir."

"Half-impulse. Let's put a little distance between us and the asteroid before

we go to warp."

"Aye, sir. Half-impulse."


On the main viewer, the starfield swung right, the asteroid dropped off the

left hand margin, and Riker settled himself in his chair.

The engines were engaged, but Picard cocked his head at something amiss. He

looked at his arm console even though he knew by the feel of the ship what was

wrong. "Number One, we're not getting half-impulse."

Riker sat up. "Mr. LaForge," he called into the comm. "We're supposed to be

at half-impulse. Is there some problem?"

La Forge's voice came over the comm from Engineering. "You might want to

activate the aft scanner, Commander."

"Aft sensor array on the main viewer," Riker ordered, and there on the screen

was a view of the Enterprise's nacelles glowing against a very slow moving

pattern of stars with the asteroid trailing behind them like a tin can on a

string tied to the back of a tricycle.

"It's following us," the helmsman muttered.

"We seem to be dragging the asteroid, Captain," LaForge said.

"Yes, I can see that, Mr. LaForge," the captain growled. " Please disengage


"Right away, sir."

Riker got up and headed for the turbolift. "With your permission, sir, I'll

go see what the problem is." He added, "'Sometimes just being there

yourself...' "

Picard noted the unusual sarcasm, but chose not to make an issue of it. "Let

me know."


Down in Engineering, LaForge scurried between the overhead wall monitors that

showed the asteroid kiting behind them and the main systems control panel

reading various outputs from the ship's engines.

"LaForge to Captain Picard," he called.

"Go ahead," the voice on the bridge returned.

"Captain, it looks like just simple electromagnetic attraction. No matter how

I modulate the impulse engines, the asteroid responds with a reciprocal

harmonic to our field. We may have inadvertently discovered the asteroid's

propulsion system."

"I am less than ecstatic," the Captain dry tones observed, " to discover that

this asteroid has hitched its wagon to our starship. Can you estimate how much

damage we would do to the asteroid structure by engaging to warp at this


LaForge checked another readout and reported confidently, "We shouldn't need

to, sir. If we just throw on the defensive shields, that should block the

graviton field which is pulling the asteroid along with us."

"Do you concur, Number One?"

LaForge looked around and there he was, walking up from the warp reaction


"Yes, Captain," Riker answered his badge. "That's certainly worth a try."

"Make it so."

"Shields up, Geordi," Riker said brightly, as if to make up for his earlier

brusqueness. "Let's get out of here."

He leaned over to watch LaForge as he keyed in the defensive shields.

Suddenly, there was a loud whine, the lighting flickered, and the ship

shuddered to a halt.


Not ten minutes later, Captain Picard sat at his desk while Worf, Riker,

LaForge, and Data stood in a line in front of it.

Riker delivered the report. "We now have a computer malfunction in the

subroutines initiating warp propulsion, shields, and weapons."

"Run a level one diagnostic immediately," Picard snapped.

"Already in progress, sir," LaForge answered.

"I want the cause determined and the situation corrected as soon as possible."

"It may be a problem with the software update," Riker suggested.

Worf shifted restively. "It's that thing out there."

"Worf," LaForge sighed in exasperation. "I'd be delighted to blame it

on the

asteroid, but I just don't see a causal connection. For that thing to

interfere with the computer, it would need to do a lot more than develop a

magnetic attraction for us. It would need a high frequency communications link,

and our sensors would have detected it immediately."

"We have been scanning the asteroid continuously since the Away Team's return.

There has been no return to heightened electromagnetic activity," Data added.

Picard paused, considering the information. "It may be worth nothing, but

continue to scan the asteroid as your second priority, Mr. LaForge. Mr. Worf,

you're to work on manual control of the weapons systems. I do not enjoy our

being a sitting duck."

Data's eyebrows lifted, but one look at Picard's scowl made him rethink

verifying another addition to his idiom collection.

"Mr. Data, you will assist Mr. LaForge. Dismissed."

Data, Worf, and LaForge exited, but Picard signed to Riker to remain, and when

they were alone, Picard stood and came around his desk to speak his inner mind

with his second-in-command. "What do you think, Will, about this asteroid?

You were inside. What's your sense of it?"

Riker frowned, puzzling a moment. "You mean, did I sense some menace? Like

maybe it wanted to kill me?" He shook his head. "I think this is getting a

little overwrought, don't you, sir? We're far out of the way of any of our

hostile neighbors. There's nobody on long range sensors. The asteroid has no

weaponry. Why don't we all just relax a little till Geordi gets it

straightened out. Worst that could happen is we'll be a couple hours late for


Picard pondered a moment and then simply nodded. Riker made sense, though in

some strange way, this easy-going attitude was not the reaction he'd have

expected from his Number One.



Captain's log supplemental:

Efforts are continuing to track down a computer malfunction which occurred

after the Engineering department completed a routine systems reorganization

during the hiatus for our investigation of the artificial asteroid. Crucial

systems aboard ship--weapons, propulsion and shields--have been rendered

inoperative although life support, sensors, and communications remain

unaffected. Engineering teams have made frustratingly little progress as we

conclude the first watch under repair. . . .


* * * *


Worf inserted the delicate calibrator through the open panel of the photon

torpedo that lay on the loading runners in front of the launch tubes. His

hands may have been hard, large Klingon hands, but they moved with precise

skill. He grunted with satisfaction at the row of small green lights that

ignited along the guidance system. Closing the panel, he signaled his

assistant, a burly ensign in the yellow service tunic of the security detail,

who manually opened the inner airlock before the two of them slowly guided the

rounded oblong casket of the torpedo into the launcher. Sealing the door,

Worf turned to discover Commander Riker watching their efforts.

"Well," Riker said strolling into the launch bay, "We have been over

everything on the ship three times and we still can't figure out how we're

twisted up. What's your progress here?"

Worf backed the ensign out of the conversation with nothing but a peremptory

glance. "We have six torpedoes that can be manually launched. I have prepared

each one up to the final step in arming the warheads. We are ready to strike

upon the captain's command."

Riker's nod might just as well have been a shrug. "That great, Worf--but at

the moment, we have nothing to shoot at."

Worf's face wore his disagreement openly, but the First Officer did not appear

offended. He leaned casually against the launch runner.

"Worf, if anyone has a reason to hate that hollow chunk of basalt out there, I

do, but it's unreasonable to blow it up just for being there."

"I do not believe it is simply there," Worf scowled. "An enemy does not always

reveal himself immediately." He called behind him, "Ensign, prepare the next


"Six torpedoes should be plenty," Riker waved the ensign off as he consulted

his padd. "And Worf -- You were on duty for the whole Gamma shift and it's

nearly 1400 hours now. Time to knock off."

Worf's protest was preempted before it got past his lips.

"It's an order."

Very much the loyal and respectful subordinate officer, he put down his tools.

"Very well, Commander. If you should have further orders, I shall be hunting

the Juk rainforest on the holodeck--where there is always something to shoot

at." He inclined his head as he passed Riker and made for the door.

"Uh, Worf?"

The Klingon turned around.

"You're going to the holodeck? Do you mind if I join you?"

"You are always welcome to join my exercises, Commander."

Riker smiled and caught up to him. "You know, I grew up in the North Pacific

on Earth, which is a rainforest area . . . ."


They had been playing for about twenty minutes on the holodeck in a recreation

of the Juk wilderness on Qo'noS when Riker suddenly stopped the action.

"This is too easy," the commander complained.

Surprised, Worf straightened from his hunter's crouch and loosed the grip on

his taj.

"I mean, it's so obvious, I can anticipate it all. In just a minute, the Juk

deer runs past, and by the time you count three, the Raugkana appears behind

him. He takes two big swipes and then rushes in so all you have to do is dodge

and slash. It's too easy."

Worf considered that they were running the program at a pace slower than he

himself could play this scenario, but he had wanted the game to be within the

bounds of the skills Riker had developed during the few other times they had

hunted the Juk together--and this claim of the Commander's about being able to

anticipate the attacks was just impossible. "Sir, the attacks are varied

randomly by the holodeck program in order to--"

The Juk deer bounded out of the brush.

As Riker stepped back, a large speckled bear-like creature leaped out of the

undergrowth, missing Riker by a hair and brushing Worf backward. The Raugkana

twisted toward Worf, batting at him with elongated claws. Worf retreated and as

the creature landed off balance from underreaching its strike, the taj came

down and the beast fell dead beneath the blade.

Panting from his exertions, Worf regarded the cool, collected Riker standing

off to one side. "How did you --"

"I don't know. Maybe it's part of the computer malfunction. Maybe we're

getting the same program that I remember from before." He came to where Worf

sat on a fallen tree trunk and made a proposition. "Why don't we make the game

a little more interesting? Let's play against each other."

Worf looked down uncomfortably; if he'd been playing with a fellow Klingon,

perhaps, but this way, the odds were too skewed in his favor. "Commander, you

are a worthy opponent, but it would not be appropriate to contest against my

commanding officer in a trial of--"

He looked back and Riker had disappeared into the foliage. Only his voice

came back faintly through the holodeck speakers.

"Ranks aside, Worf. Just consider me an opponent who does not immediately

reveal himself."


At about 1700 hours, Geordi LaForge was telling himself that he was through

playing games with the computer. The systems error had not only remained

unsolved, it had become so downright elusive, he was about to take drastic

measures. Yet, as much as the chief engineer wanted to show that he deserved

his promotion, he'd have felt much better if his pride were all that he had at

stake. The trouble was that his best friend would have to share the risk of

his efforts.

Data sat placidly in a chair pulled up the to the central Engineering

console--a broad table, like a billiards game, set in the center of the suite.

A flap in the android's scalp had been peeled back to reveal the interior

positronic matrix of his brain, and a strand of optic cable ran between a port

inside his cranium and a socket in the console.

Biting his lip, La Forge made the last calculations. He was focused so

intently on the procedure that he startled when the red uniform appeared,

seemingly from nowhere, behind him.

"Had dinner?" Riker asked, relentlessly chipper. "I'm only halfway through

the C's, if you'd care to join me."

"Dinner?" LaForge responded incredulously. "I don't think so, Commander.

I've been going crazy down here! Even the manual initiators are off line. I

might as well go down to the deuterium tanks with a bucket!"

Riker smiled and sat on the edge of the main console. His glance fell on the

monitors scanning the asteroid, and a little of the smile faded.

"Each time we correct a faulty subroutine, we seem to discover a new problem

in another location," La Forge ranted, "and now the corrected ones have

started to revert to the same errors we fixed three hours ago."

"Therefore, we are attempting a different approach," Data concluded.

"I can see that," Riker looked quizzically at the wiring protruding from

Data's head. "But what exactly is your new approach?"

LaForge went back to frowning at his calculations. "Well, experimentally,

we've installed the shield initialization program in Data's memory. We're

going to route the subroutine through him."

Riker sighed and shook his head. "No way. This dog won't hunt."

Data frowned in disappointment. "I have that expression already, Commander."

Riker ignored the remark and zeroed in on LaForge's theory. "You can't bypass

the buffer without risk of inputting the error to Data, and the buffers are

going to add something like, uh, six nanoseconds to the transmission across

the multiparallel device. Even at full baud, the failsafes are going to


LaForge tried not show his irritation. First, he hadn't thought that Riker

knew so much about the technical end of his business--and second, the scenario

that the First Officer had described was exactly what he was afraid would


Data cocked his head thoughtfully, making the wire jangle. "The Commander may

be right, Geordi."

"Six nanoseconds is right for the warp drive initialization, maybe," LaForge

argued, "but with all due respect, Commander, the tolerances shouldn't be that

slim for shield generation."

"Go ahead and try it," Riker replied blandly. "As long as Data has the


"Would I let him do it otherwise? You ready, Data?"

"Yes, Geordi," the android responded. The childlike trust implicit in Data's

assent only made Geordi feel worse. If the failsafes didn't X-OFF, one of two

results would happen: either he would have succeeded in isolating the problem

or he would have input the unknown error into Data's program, a piece of code

that could translate into an incurable infection for his android friend.

"Okay. Beginning the feed. . . ."

They waited in silence as the monitor displayed the shield initialization

protocol and then--

"Damn! I don't believe it!" LaForge's fist landed squarely on the console.

"It's impossible. This should work. This board has got to be lying to me!"

"I am sorry, Geordi, but computers can not lie," Data replied.

"Well, that may be true, Data," Riker offered, "but computers can be pretty

deceptive sometimes. " He turned to the engineer who silently, with eyes

closed, removed his VISOR and began to massage his temples, " I think, Geordi,

you're taking this a little personally. The computer's not out to get you, you

know. Take a break, put a little distance between you and it."

"I don't understand what we're doing wrong," LaForge groaned. "Any one--

every one of the things we've tried should have fixed this!"

"Look, Geordi, you're beating your head against a wall."

"I have that one too," Data interjected.

Riker continued, "What you need is a new perspective, a fresh source of

inspiration and creativity."

"Great! Where do I get that?" LaForge fairly snapped at his commanding


"I happen to have an idea," his commanding officer smiled.


"I have no idea," Geordi LaForge answered Counselor Troi, who took the seat

next to his at the Ten Forward bar and asked what the strange concoction in

front of him might be.

"It's a Rafat Rainbow," Guinan informed them as she swept past toward that

little Bolian's latest bussing accident.

Deanna had to admire the sheer artistry of the drink. The extra tall glass

allowed one to appreciate how the colors of the liquid shifted through the

entire visible light spectrum from deep ultraviolet at the base to the vibrant

infrared at the rim. As LaForge fiddled with the luminous straw, bringing it

to his lips, a glittering gold sediment at the bottom swirled around the base

of the glass and bubbles of effervescence glided off the bottom and streamed

upward till they broke through the surface with a spark and a pop, like

miniature fireworks.

LaForge pushed the glass away with aggravation. "I don't even know whether

you're supposed to drink this thing or salute it! All I know," LaForge

continued in a tone of unmistakable frustration, "is that Commander Riker

ordered me to quit work on the computer malfunction. He ordered me to wait

here for him. He ordered me the drink, and he ordered me to -- ‗get a new

outlook, clear away the debris, make some room inside .'"

Where have I heard that before? Troi asked herself sarcastically.

"Geordi," she said soothingly, "it's just a question of balance. It's


I was talking to Commander Riker about after his accident. Maybe he thinks

you're just bearing down a little too hard. What do you think?"

"Bearing down--! But right now we have a problem that needs to be solved!

It's my responsibility!"

"Wait a minute. Is this problem your fault? Do we expect you to snap your

fingers and make it all go away like that?"

"No," LaForge admitted after a long minute, " but the point is what I expect

of me."

"I appreciate that you have high standards for yourself, Geordi, but do you

think it's realistic for any of us to expect that we will never feel frightened

or become frustrated or worry that even our best efforts might not be enough?"

It was an even longer minute, as the tightness inside him began slowly to

subside. He sipped from the now quiescent drink. "Well, maybe I went a little

overboard about it."

"It's a good inclination to expect the very best from yourself, but you should

also remember that you have a value to others far beyond the skills you offer."

He saw the sincerity in her face and smiled shyly. "Thanks, Deanna. I guess

sometimes even your good inclinations can lead you in the wrong direction."

Deanna noticed over Geordi's shoulder that Beverly was making her way briskly

toward them, intent upon gaining Deanna's attention. With a tilt of her head,

she indicated to Deanna a table on the side of the room. Another case of


LaForge followed her glance and read Beverly's summons. He turned back to

Troi. "It's okay. I feel pretty straight now, so you can punch the next

ticket if you need to, Counselor. Thanks again."

"That's all right," she patted his arm. "It's my job--and I expect a lot from

myself." She got a grin from him to carry away with her.


"I think I may have overstepped my professional boundaries," Beverly Crusher

told her as she sat down. "I just finished treating Worf in the sickbay. He

sustained an injury to his deltoid--that is, he wrenched his neck and--"

She looked so worried and spoke so fast that Deanna thought she'd better slow

things down. "Beverly, I know Star Fleet hasn't had a lot of Klingons to

practice on, but you're the best doctor that--"

"No, no, that's not what I mean. I asked him how he injured his neck, and he

didn't want to tell me. I mean, he didn't even want treatment, but he said

he'd been ordered to sickbay, so--" Troi's mouth opened again with an

interjection, but Beverly again cut her off. "Yes, yes, I know Klingons

despise complaining; I had to pull rank on him to get him to talk. The point

is that he finally told me," here she slowed down and took a breath, "that the

injury had occurred on the holodeck when Commander Riker jumped out of a tree

and landed on him."

Troi's mouth was open, but no interruption came out.

"They were playing some kind of hunting game, and Will proposed that they

become opponents, and he hid and climbed a tree, and then he leaped down on

Worf in some kind of an ambush."

"And Will? Is he all right?"

"Well, that's what I'm wondering. Physically, yes, I think so. Worf said

that he was uninjured, and when I called him over the comm, he said he was fine

but too busy with a 'special assignment' to check in right now."

"Was Worf upset with him?"

"No," the doctor waved a hand dismissively. "Let me tell you, in Klingon

'games' a minor injury is proof you had fun."

Deanna grimaced, but Beverly, unheeding, went on. "Worf was complimentary,

in a diplomatic sort of way. Said Will 'fell upon him like a Juk

panther'--whatever that is--but you could tell that he found the whole business


The Counselor considered. "Well, Data said he saw Will doing half gainers

this morning in the holodeck and at dinner last night he was . . . overly

animated I guess would be the best way to put it. I told myself at the time

it was just the inevitable stress reaction to the accident, but I guess I

should have told myself one of the inevitable stress reactions."

"That's where I may have trespassed on your grounds. I'm afraid that I may

have set this whole thing off. In sickbay after the accident, I told Will that

he was bearing down too hard all the time. I encouraged him to be a bit more .

. . frivolous. I thought that a little recreation would help him get over the

glimpse of his own mortality, but he seems determined to use these pastimes to

go eyeball to eyeball with it."

Is everyone practicing my profession? Deanna asked herself, but she replied

simply, "Of course, Beverly!" She did her best to project an air of calm

clinical analysis so as to allay Beverly's concerns. "Think of play as you see

it in lower animals: it's all practice in survival skills. Now consider how

Will is using play to practice his survival skills. He needs it to vanquish

his doubts and restore his self confidence."

"He doesn't have to play games--pretending that nothing's wrong! If he'd just

said at the briefing that he didn't feel comfortable revisiting the

asteroid--that he needed more time to settle back into work--who would have

objected or thought less of him?

He would have , Deanna answered within herself.

"I can't help feeling there's something dishonest about his behavior," the

doctor went on. "This isn't like him. Maybe I should have removed him from

active duty completely. Maybe I still should. If he needs to play games to

get his nerve back, maybe I should just give him the time to get it out of his


"Beverly don't do that. Not now. You need to remember how Will operates. He

has always tried harder, persevered longer, sacrificed more to get what he

wanted. Yesterday he faced a situation in which he'd tried as hard and

endured as long as he possibly could. This time, his life would have been the

sacrifice, and, but for providence, he'd have lost it. Now he doubts not only

his power to control events but whether his previous successes have been worth

what he paid for them. Removing him from duty now would be another

psychological blow."

"But, Deanna, if commanders are going to have control over the well being of

an entire crew, they've got to have control of themselves, particularly their


People don't control their feelings, Deanna thought; they can only control

what they do with do with them.

"I just don't want this risk-taking to leach out of leisure activities into

the line of duty. Promise me you'll see him?" Beverly entreated.

Deanna's eyes gave her best assurance. "I will. Right away."

Beverly sighed and Deanna thoughtfully watched her leave. She shared the

doctor's misgivings more than she had let on and--her face was suddenly

eclipsed by the shadow of a hat big enough to be a minor planet--Guinan.

"Hi, Counselor," she said. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Um, sure. I think--" the barkeep presented her with a menu padd. "Uh-- I

guess, maybe--"

"Take your time," Guinan advised placidly. She waved at the Bolian waiter

across the room. "We split up the tables. I took you. He took everyone


Deanna acknowledged the joke with good humor.

"I would have been over earlier," Guinan said, "but I could see that you were

working. I guess a counselor is always on duty."

Deanna smiled pleasantly. "Oh, I try to keep regular hours, but I hope the

crew sees me as someone who wants to help, whatever the time or place."

Guinan's nod of agreement had her hat wobbling like a bad orbit, but the

ElAurian was somehow an august figure despite her odd costumes. "You know,

that's one of the qualities I most admire in humans -- that they really want to

do the right thing, particularly for the people they care about. I'm sure

that's why I get so much business."

Troi stared blankly, not making any connection.

"You can tell the bartender all your shortcomings. What does it matter if she

knows you're just a mortal like the next guy? But people want to be heroes for

their friends. . . ."

Deanna stopped hearing Guinan's voice. Across the room, Riker was entering

Ten Forward with two women, ensigns whom Deanna remembered from the new

personnel orientation,Tina Foster and Beth Kinto. Foster--young, brash, and

svelte--sashayed along on Riker's arm. They joined LaForge at the bar and from

their gestures, she could see that introductions were being made. Kinto, who

was just as young, but in manner far more mature, shook hands with Geordi and

sat down next to him. Riker swooped Foster onto a bar stool and, with her

hands still on Riker's shoulders and his on her waist, they kissed with


Despite herself, Deanna felt the blood come to her face. Oh, Will, what a

small and pathetic way to go looking for your manhood!

". . . no one wants their friends to think they can't cut it-- which is kind

of paradoxical, don't you think?" Guinan was saying. "Because who'd understand

you and forgive you better than your friends?"

Deanna stood up and handed back the menu padd. "I've changed my mind-- about

the drink," she said. "Good-night."




Newly-minted Ensign Beth Kinto had a month left on her two-month internship

aboard the Enterprise in the graduation hiatus before her first official

assignment in Star Fleet. While most of the others in her Academy class had

taken off for well-deserved vacations, Kinto was working all day and studying

into the night, hoping fervently that someone among the varied science

departments that she was rotating through would notice her work and pick up her

option. The disappointing part was that her best love, engineering, had been

her first two weeks' assignment, and she had moved on to astrometrics and

thence to the bio lab without having established any recognition.

By contrast, Ensign Tina Foster was having a great time. Tina had come

aboard with the diplomatic corps at the Enterprise's last stop before the

Oblese Expanse in transit to Edvalin. The workload for ambassadorial aides was

not exactly arduous, and Tina had a hard time understanding why Beth wasn't

more of a sidekick for her partying.

And so it was a familiar scene when Tina had burst into their room that

evening, scattering Beth's concentration on an after-hours project, and

announced that she was supposed to meet him in Ten Forward in fifteen


" Him who?" Beth inquired.

"Commander Riker!" Tina breathed in that swoony tone of voice Beth found so

appallingly juvenile. "I was coming up in the turbolift and I met him and we

started talking and he asked me--!"

In Beth's estimation, Tina's designs on the First Officer (formed during her

welcome aboard orientation session) were firmly grounded on Planet Unreal, but

the idea of reciprocation from the commander was beyond the present space-time

continuum. Kinto had heard about Riker's reputation, but he supposedly

confined his fantasies to Risa. From what she could tell, the First Officer

was a real stickler on all duty protocols.

Tina was frenzied with delight. "We have to get changed right away! I

know! I'll wear that little red dress I bought on Partha and--"

"Wait a minute-- what's this we business?"

Tina rushed to the sofa where Beth was sitting amid her plasma ignition

equations and knelt beside her. "Oh, Beth, please, you have to do this for me.

He asked me to bring along a friend-- for a friend of his. Beth, you can't

say no, please. It'll just be ruined if you don't go--him and me and the

friend--a threesome?" She bit her lip. "That won't work at all. Please Beth,

it's just one evening-- one date--one little favor. Pretty please?"



"Well, this is . . . nice," LaForge lied gamely.

In an arboretum under the pink blossoms of a Japanese plum tree in the middle

of the Oblese Expanse, Ensign Kinto decided that she felt strange enough to be

in a different reality.

Tina and Commander Riker had quickly departed for parts unknown, leaving Beth

and LaForge awkwardly marooned in Ten Forward. LaForge had proposed the

arboretum, and lacking a better idea, she'd agreed. Now as they strolled the

garden path, she considered whether enough time had elapsed for her to suggest

they call it a night--unless her return to the room should inconvenience Tina?

God, what an awful thought! LaForge ambled along beside her, as distracted as

his companion.

She could have hanged Tina for "forgetting" to mention that the friend was

LaForge. Did she think this was going to help Beth get that permanent posting

to Engineering that she wanted so badly? Tina didn't have the slightest idea

how this date was going to complicate everything. Geordi LaForge would never

be able to see her on her merits now; he'd probably want to avoid any reminder

of this awkward evening. Even supposing he liked her and she liked him--he'd

hesitate about requesting her for the engineering staff for fear of showing

favoritism. Anyway, people who were involved had the worst times working


Beth cast LaForge a sideways glance. In other circumstances, she'd probably

have been happy to accept the date. If he were just a co-worker, well, he was

cute and he seemed a nice guy, particularly given the situation, and they

probably had a lot in common. Maybe, if he'd come out of his shell a little

bit. . .

"So, you did your rotation in Engineering already?" he finally asked.

"Two weeks ago. I wish I could have stayed. I really liked the work, and I

thought our team did a pretty good job. We worked up a tricorder alteration

for the bio scans on Aldus 7 where we had that shifting magnetic field. It was

only a small project, just three days. "

"And I didn't notice you? I must have been blind."

The word made her look up--right at him--perhaps for the first time that


His voice made the twinkle that should have been in his eyes. Even through the

visor, she felt the connection in the look he returned.

"You know," she smiled, "you have some attitude!"

He chuckled and they rounded a bend where a bower offered a bench. They sat

with their backs to the starfield where the asteroid shone through the broad

visiglass panels like a romantic, craggy moon. He reached up into the

overhanging blossoms of the Risian Lyora tree to shake the fragrance down. She

took a deep breath of the sweet floral air.

He sighed. "I've always like this tree. The sepals on the blossoms have an

aerodynamic design that takes advantage of the wind when the vector--"

Listening carefully, she cocked her head, and he misinterpreted her.

"--sorry. Didn't mean to get technical."

"Please, go ahead."

"No, really. I just meant that this is--you know, walking out--away

from--well, I mean that this is --"

"Nice?" she kidded.

"Yeah," he laughed. "Nice."

"It's hard," she admitted, "just to talk about--well, nothing."

He shrugged. "My parents sometimes didn't say a word to one another for hours

at a stretch. But they were communicating, you know, just by being there. Of

course, that was because they'd been working together-- being together--for

years and years, I guess . . . . "

"That's a wonderful kind of quiet, when you get to the point where you can

just be comfortable with someone. . .when you don't feel like you have to

explain anything . . . ."

He turned to her with a soft smile.

It‘s here, she thought, the fork in the path. She held still, undecided. What

did she want--engineering or the engineer?

But he didn't move. The smile faded. He was staring past her shoulder out

the windows.

"What's wrong?" she half-turned to see what was behind her.

"I'm not blind," he said, awestruck. "The ship is."

"What are you talking about?"

He stood and rounded the bench, rapt upon the view out the windows. "There's

a beam running between the asteroid and the ship!"

"Where? I don't see anything."

"It's not in the visible spectrum, but my VISOR can pick it up. The question

is --why haven't the ship's sensors?" He took a hurried step back along the

path and turned, remembering himself. "Beth, I have to go. I'm sorry --"

"It's okay, I understand. We better get down to Engineering." She brushed by

him, as he stood there confused.

"What do you mean--we ?"

"Come on, "she urged him. "I want to help. I want to work on it with you."

"Okay," he replied. "Let's go, then."




No rosy sunrise streamed through the windows of the Engineering suite to greet

the chronometer marking 6:00 hours, but LaForge couldn't have felt more

cheerful and energetic if it had been dawn on Earth and he'd had a full night's

sleep in his old bed at home. A long night of careful calculation, obsessive

cross checking and a lot of good old fashioned leg work was about to pay off.

So intently focused was he on the task before him, he didn't notice that Riker

had entered Engineering until the commander was standing right next to him.

" So," Riker spoke with soft insinuation,"did you have an inspiring evening?"

The sly grin invited LaForge's confidence.

"I'll say!" Geordi enthused, more loudly than Riker expected. "We solved


The First Officer looked doubly surprised as Ensign Kinto appeared, crawling

from under a panel in one of the wall consoles.

"Okay," she reported to LaForge, straightening up to brush off the fancy dress

she had worn to Ten Forward. "You can give it try."

"Data?" LaForge called.

"Ready," the android answered from the lift descending from high up in the

warp core chamber. In fact, the whole Gamma shift from Engineering seemed to

be emerging from the woodwork and converging on the main suite.

Beth came over to the systems control board where LaForge was running a last

check. He fairly beamed at her, and she suddenly seemed self-conscious.

"I'm back on duty at the bio labs in just a little while," she said. "I think

I'd better go change."

"Pull a gold shirt out of the replicator, then," LaForge said. Then, turning

to Riker, "I'm requesting a personnel transfer for Ensign Kinto, Commander-- to


Riker looked at the young woman in the dusty, smudged cocktail dress poised in

mid-step, holding her breath. He shrugged and nodded. Turning back to look at

LaForge's work, he completely missing the little skip with which Ensign Kinto

bounded through the door--nearly bumping into Captain Picard, who side stepped

her with scant attention as he made straight for the main console.

"Well, gentlemen, you have the answer?" Picard addressed the assembled group.

LaForge stood up and moved to the main display. "Captain, we've discovered

that our computer hasn't exactly malfunctioned; it's just been serving another

user." He gestured out the windows toward the rocky mass of the asteroid

floating off the stern. "We've discovered what our 'asteroid' really is. It's

on a much larger scale than we've ever seen before, but it is, simply, another

computer-- which has linked itself to ours."

Date keyed in a sequence, and a schematic of the Enterprise and the astral

body appeared on the display. "The asteroid has interfaced with the ship's

computer across an optical beam between us. It has been feeding us altered

data through a subspace signal operating in the invisible light spectrum so

that the sensors seemed to be operating properly."

"I picked up the linkage looking out the window last night," LaForge tapped

his visor gratefully. "We came down here and spent most of the night assessing

how far the asteroid program has infiltrated our system."

"Has there been any damage?" Riker asked.

"There has been no damage per se," Data responded. "The asteroid has

maintained a continuous transmission to the Enterprise to prevent warp

initiation, phaser firing, and shield generation in addition to the sensor


"So, it prevents us from fleeing, attacking, or defending ourselves," Picard

observed. "But to what end?"

"These are not the only systems affected," Data continued. "While

essential systems like life support and communications have remained untouched,

all data banks and a number of peripheral applications have been

systematically accessed."

"Then it just wants information," Riker said.

"Just?" Picard asked. "Why the subterfuge then? Who is operating this

computer? Are they just examining us, or are we being held to wait for

something or someone else? What is their intent, and if their intent is

peaceful research, why not declare themselves to us in some way?"

"We're trying to gain more information, sir. We've managed to set up a

partition within our own computer to reestablish sensors." LaForge keyed

another sequence and a new display flashed on the screen. "This is the true

sensor picture of the asteroid-computer, captain."

They were looking at a design like a sphere cut in half and reassembled with

the poles touching and the open equatorial rims facing outward. The surface of

the sphere was a matrix of hexagonal segments through which branching red veins

ran in a labyrinthian maze. Data keyed in a command and the display rotated

the structure as the android summarized and interpreted the data stream coming

in from the liberated sensors.

"The largest area here appears to be devoted to memory storage. This

section contains multiple input ports making up a monitoring center.

Centralized processing is here. And here--transmissions and communications."

LaForge nodded and pointed at the last area Data had identified. "The beam

that's tying up our computer originates here--"

"Was there any evidence of resident life forms when you made your initial


Riker shook his head.

"A humanoid environment was synthesized for us," Data reminded him, "but we

saw nothing to indicate habitation there."

"Captain Picard--" one of the engineering lieutenants broke in. "The long

range scan indicates we are being approached by two--no, three --unidentified


"Identify them," Picard ordered.

"I'm sorry sir, we do not have enough sensor capacity at this time to define

them properly, but they are most probably space vessels. Their approach is

very slow, however. We estimate that they will not reach our position for

another three hours."

Picard's question was already evident to LaForge. "The fastest way to break

out of our computer lock is to send a team back to the asteroid and disable

this area, if we can," Geordi said.

"A continuous electromagnetic pulse," Data called up the coordinates for the

area, "generated from this point, should, in theory, disrupt the signal between

the asteroid and our computer."

Picard turned to Riker. "Place the ship on Yellow Alert and assemble an Away

Team, Number One."

Riker straightened from where he had leaned down to observe the hourglass

shape of the asteroid schematic. "Geordi, we'll need you to monitor from here.

Data--looks like you and me one more time. Let's prepare a shuttle."

"We have clear readings, Commander," LaForge said. "You can use the

transporter--if you want."

Riker looked coolly at the engineer. "I think the shuttle will provide an

extra measure of security." He flicked a glance at Picard, who made no

comment. "Data, get it ready."

But then Picard raised a hand. "Perhaps you didn't mean it in that sense,

Number One, but if security is a concern, then we might consider that Mr. Worf

and an armed detail should accompany --"

"I don't recall your ever questioning my assignment of the Away Team,

Captain." The remark was made mildly, but that it was made at all was


The Captain's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "Nor do I now, Number One,"

Picard said deliberately.

A tense second ticked by. "Well, then. Time's getting short," Riker

observed. He pushed away from the console, his motion becoming a slight,

perhaps deferential, bow to Picard as he exited Engineering.



Data loaded the EA78 generator onto the ElBaz. Approximately the size and

weight of a two-liter water tank, the device was normally deployed as a

beacon, but with slight modification for higher energy output, it would be

perfect for the task at hand. Data now primed the generator to respond to

remote arming so that the electromagnetic pulses it emitted would not disrupt

the shuttlecraft navigation as it jammed the beam communicating between the

Enterprise and the asteroid. Once the ship's computer was free, they could use

their shields to prevent the asteroid's reacquisition of them and then decide

what to do about the asteroid, the approaching starcraft, and the whole


Commander Riker was delayed somewhat in his arrival, and Data found himself

waiting and wondering again about the mysterious realm of emotion. Everything

that he had studied about emotion indicated that Riker ought to be feeling some

very forceful passions about this return trip. The closest thing Data had to a

passion was the imperative to acquire information, which had been built into

his program by his scientist-creator. So, Data was curious to observe the

Commander closely in order to learn as much as he could about his companion's

affective domain. But could he ask Riker about his emotional condition, or did

these particular circumstances make such a question impolite?

Riker arrived in what Data assessed as a subdued state. He looked briefly at

the canister that housed the generator while Data ran down the itinerary of

procedures for placing the device. Riker made no comment thereafter. He

merely nodded when Data had finished and, with a gesture, indicated that they

were to enter the shuttlecraft and get underway. Data would have described him

as preoccupied. Perhaps the Commander, too, was examining closely his inner


Buckling himself into the pilot's seat with the detachment of routine, Riker

ran the ignition sequence, depressurized the shuttle bay, and opened the outer

doors. He guided the small craft over the silvery hull of the Enterprise and

across the short distance of empty space to the underside of the asteroid where

they had discovered the false crater that camouflaged the airlock to the


As Data sprung the portal for the second time, with the sparse starfield of

the Oblese spread under them, he turned to the First Officer.

"Commander, I have been attempting to interpret a maxim I encountered in a

historical document."

Riker scrutinized the readouts. The disguised door yawned ponderously.

"Another one for the collection, Data?"

The inner shadows of the asteroid spilled outward toward the ElBaz.

"In a noted speech, during the second global war of the twentieth century on

Earth, a President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States of America told

his embattled citizens, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.'"

Riker's hands paused on the controls as he stared into the dark.

"Is that so?"

"May I ask you, sir--"

The flap of the facade lay open like an outstretched hand beckoning them into

the black interior of the asteroid.

"--does going back make you feel anxious?"

"Anxious?" Riker turned to the innocent face of his comrade, a certain

knowledge in his own. "You mean afraid. "

"I do not mean to offend you, Commander. I am just curious to know what fear

is like."

Riker returned his attention to the controls and the ElBaz glided slowly

forward, illuminating the tunnel, worming its way in. They rounded the first

curve and their exit disappeared from the aft scanner.

"It's not like anything Data. It just is. I couldn't explain it to you if I


"Because you cannot find the right words or because I have no emotion myself?"

"Even if I could and you did, Data, I doubt you would really understand fear."

"Why would I not?"

"Because you can't die."

Once again, the interior accommodated them with air and warmth--like the

inside of a huge maw. Data placed environmental control on backup, and the air

and moisture, the mild heat and the absolute quiet of the asteroid seeped into

the cabin of the shuttlecraft.

"Commander, is the knowledge of death that which creates fear?"

The passageway opened ahead of them and the shuttle sailed, unobstructed this

time, into the hourglass atrium where the thin red light crawled over the


"From my limited experience, Data, I'd say that death creates many things: the

human sense of life and all its worth, the poignancy of every mundane thing,

the exhilaration of every grand moment, all that a mortal being--a human

being--will lose one day." The man looked straight at the android's unearthly

eyes and for a second Data thought he could see the blood red of Riker's human


"I wonder," mused Riker, "if the trade-off is worth it."

"To live without limit, but without that sense of life that you describe? I

cannot judge, sir, without emotion," Data answered and immediately then, as if

in proof of his absent senses, "We are at the co-ordinates for deployment of

the generators," he announced simply.




In the engineering suite Dr. Crusher found the captain and the chief engineer,

but neither was the individual she had come up from sickbay to corral in


"I guess you know the locator is off-line," she told LaForge.

"Sorry, doctor," the engineer replied. "We've had to take some systems down,

but the comm is still on. You could have just called."

"I was hoping to catch up with Commander Riker at his last known position,"

she announced astringently, "He was supposed to check in with me this


Picard looked up from the displays that he and LaForge were running at the

main systems console. "The commander is on the asteroid. Mr. LaForge has

discovered that the structure is actually a megaform computer which has linked

itself to ours. We're trying to break the interface."

The voice of the communications officer on the bridge hailed the captain.

"Sir, those long-range signatures are ships, and not of Federation design."

Picard touched his comm badge. "Mr. Worf, ready torpedoes for launching--just

in case."




The hatch opened at the back of the ElBaz. Riker leaned out to survey the

target area in person.

They hardly needed the coordinates to mark the spot. The stubby protrusions

that had made Riker think of rock climbing dotted the walls with increasing

frequency as they approached a cluster of longer spindles that had the familiar

shape of a communications array.

"The shuttlecraft is now in the closest proximity to the target area," Data

called toward the back.

"Looks like a--" Riker muttered.

"Porcupine? Anemone?" Data was coming aft, for he had encountered a problem.

"Commander, I am not sure we will be able to tractor the generator into the

correct position due to static charges in the atmosphere. I recommend that we

use the robotics."

"I don't know, Data. The robotic arm can be pretty clumsy. Those spindles are

closely packed and the central ones look delicate. We might wind up breaking

something," Riker's expression was a wince, as though the thought of breakage

pained him. An odd reaction, Data thought

"Well, we want to keep it intact for study, right?" Riker reasoned.

Data looked out at the studded wall. The spikes in the outer circle were

thick, short, and fairly close-nested--less than a meter apart. The

arrangement suggested a simple method of dealing with the placement problem.

Perhaps the android was able to picture clearly what to do because he had no

trepidations to intrude. The task would be like climbing a ladder.

"Very well then, Commander, I have a solution." Data made to step by him. "I

believe that I can climb out across these thicker projections, scale the wall

and place the generator by hand."

Riker stopped him with a hand on his arm. "No, Data, don't."

"You have a better solution, sir?"

"Yes. I'll go."




Crusher stood on the other side of LaForge to see the screen that he and

Picard were puzzling over.

"This tiny area of the asteroid's matrix is showing some activity, but it

seems to be running an anomalous program that doesn't interact with any of the

ongoing functions," LaForge pointed out.

Picard offered a theory. "Perhaps it's a malfunction. That might account for

its lack of manners--a reason why we didn't get a standard hail from it."

"But this area is in the middle of the memory core," LaForge said. "That's not

the most logical place for a greeting protocol. I don't know. . . somehow

these readings look familiar."

Crusher reached in front of him and hit two keys on the panel. The numerical

columns scrolling on the bottom of the screen abruptly turned into a tight

electrical wave pattern.

"There you go," she smiled.

Picard's expression opened in surprise. LaForge stared in amazement. "What

did you do? What is that?"

"An electroencephalograph," the doctor answered. "No wonder your mind finds it


"Brain waves!" LaForge declared.

"Delta waves," Crusher amplified. "Stage two sleep pattern. Oops, shifting

to alpha. Whoever--whatever--it is, it's waking up."

"A life form?" Picard asked.

"An intelligence," Crusher upped him again. "Maybe even sentience."




Data had no intuition but he had studied human behavior long enough to know

that he could not argue against Riker's proposal successfully. He retrieved

the canister for the commander and waited for Riker to step off onto the rungs

of the wall so he could hand it off. But Riker stood poised on the threshold

of the hatch as if mesmerized or suspended in indecision. He reached around

behind him for the generator in Data's hands.

"It's set for remote arming, right? It's not armed now?"

Was that why he hesitated? " The electromagnetic pulse would have no impact

on you, sir. There is no reason for the generator to activate prematurely, but

if it did, the impulse would disrupt only mechanical energy functions." Then

the android thought he understood. " Of course, it would not be injurious to

me, due to my internal shielding."

Riker nodded, but he neither returned the generator nor set it down. He still

made no move to step beyond the stable platform of the shuttle ramp.

Data watched, all of his senses turned up. He saw the sheen of perspiration

on Riker's temples; he heard the acceleration of his heartbeat; he could feel

the heat from Riker's body. Just the warmth of the atrium? Or emotion,

passion, fear?

Their comm badges chirped.

"Riker here!"

"Number One, we have new developments. Place, but do not arm the generator.

I repeat, do not arm the generator. Return to the Enterprise--posthaste.

Picard out."

"Yes, sir," Riker breathed. He turned to Data with obvious relief. "Well,

Data that's it."

Riker passed the canister back to Data; yet he lingered by the open hatch

watching the play of static charges in the huge dark amphitheater.

"Commander," Data protested, "We have not placed the generator."

"It's not to be armed, Data, so what's the use of placing it? We'd only have

to come back and remove it later." He seemed still transfixed by whatever

internal drama was playing within him. "Check the return course. The Captain

wants us--posthaste," he said. Mesmerized by the dark atmosphere and the red

light trickling down the walls in venous lines, he still made no move to close

the hatch.

Data frowned, unsure whether to continue his challenge of the orders. Riker

seemed to have heard the captain, but perhaps he didn't understand that--

Riker was leaning out of the hatch, stretching a hand outward to grasp one of

the spikes in the wall. In the gap between the atrium wall and the

shuttlecraft, his body made a precarious bridge.

"Commander!" Data cried out.

Riker looked around just as the red pulse reached the pole he was grasping.

"You wonder what fear is, my friend?"

Riker's eyes met Data's, and a fierce red bolt of light rushed at the circuits

of the android's synthetic retina.


When Captain Picard came up from Engineering to the bridge, Counselor Troi was

waiting for him as per his summons. He called the Away Team home and then

handed her a padd. She read the communique with the good news: the ships

approaching them had turned out to be an Edvalese honorary escort (who had come

rather farther than they expected, especially with their comparatively

underpowered ships) to greet the distinguished delegation of the United

Federation of Planets.

The junior officers on the bridge might have expected Picard to show some

outward relief, but not Counselor Troi, who had seen the captain retain his

composure through both trial and triumph. She sensed a relief that was shallow

and transient, for a seasoned commander like Picard (a supreme example) didn't

spend time congratulating himself on his good fortune. Instead, he dealt with

the decisions that had to be made as a result. Even good news had


The Edvalese honor guard would be here in another two hours with the

expectation that their diplomatic agenda would commence forthwith. But the

primary mission of the Enterprise was exploration, and in this strange

artificial asteroid, they seemed to have discovered an intelligence of a type

that they had not seen before. Even without severing the uplink, Geordi

LaForge had managed to steal back enough of the ship's computer capacity to

turn the research around, and an interesting picture was developing. Troi knew

her captain was a very skillful, but at heart, reluctant diplomat. The

captain's real love was discovery. Picard was an explorer in his very soul. To

have to leave their investigation of the asteroid just as they were getting to

the heart of the matter would be very difficult for him. She realized that he

had called her to the bridge to consult on some way to hold off the Edvalese

diplomatic interview without offending them.

He had moved to the door of his ready room at the port side of the bridge ramp

and waited for her there. But as she descended to accompany him inside, her

attention was distracted by a sudden tension in the young ensign at the OPS


Picard saw her turn in that direction, frowning.

"What's the matter, Ensign Avery?" the Captain asked the OPS.

"I was--the screen--I mean, I'm tracking the shuttle--the ElBaz--back through

the tunnels and it's picking up speed. They're taking those turns at

60kph--and they're not on autopilot!"

Picard did not seem impressed. "Commander Riker is expert flyer," he said with

assurance. "He knows what he's doing."

"Aye, sir. . . . They've accelerated to 90 now," Avery reported, trying to

make it sound like just another fact.

"Verify that there's no problem," Picard decided. "Hail them."

The ensign spoke to the comm, "Enterprise to the ElBaz."

Riker's voice came back merrily, "ElBaz here." From the commander's tone at

least, there was nothing wrong.

"Commander, are you aware that you are exceeding recommended operating speed

for your environment?"

" Captain wants us back,"the voice replied, "posthaste." Incredibly, there

followed a snort that sounded like suppressed laughter!

Deanna darted a glance at the visage of Captain Picard. She sensed his

disequilibrium and then the rebalancing as he decided that he must have

misheard some onboard noise. Troi was not so sure.

"Commander Riker, " Picard walked over to glance at Avery's readouts, "we are

reading your approach to the asteroid portal at--120kph?" Apparently even

Picard was surprised at that number. "Can you verify?"

"Sorry, Captain, I can't read the gauge. It's dark in here."

Deanna felt the shock on the bridge like an Arctic blast; facetiousness from a

crew member had never yet escaped into the air from which Captain Jean-Luc

Picard drew breath.

Riker continued jovially,"We're flying on--"

"--infrared," they heard Commander Data in the background. The word provoked

a noise like further smothered sniggering.

If Counselor Deanna Troi had been mortified for Commander William T. Riker by

his conduct in Ten Forward the night before, she was doubly so now. That had

been his private life, and if he wanted to make himself ridiculous there,

perhaps that was ultimately his own business. But to act the fool in his

professional capacity was beyond belief and tolerance. And how keenly she

felt the disgrace, for he was--her closest friend.

"Commander Riker," LaForge had now joined the comm traffic, "sensors show the

shuttle still accelerating. Please cut your engines!"

"Your sensors must be misreading again, Mr. LaForge. Better check them."

"LaForge to Captain Picard. Something's wrong on the shuttle. The sensor

readings we have now are completely accurate."

"Viewscreen astern!" Shock was galvanized into a flurry of nervous activity as

Picard barked the order and the front wall of the bridge lit up with a view of

the asteroid. The bridge crew poised as if for battle, and suddenly the

shuttlecraft erupted from rocky surface of the asteroid and came barreling

across the brief space--

"-- straight at the port nacelle--" Ensign Avery squeaked "-- accelerating--"

The shuttle hurtled dead at the Enterprise's engines.

"250 kph!"

The sick feeling inside Troi turned to heart-pounding dread.

"They're going to crash right into us!"

Just fifty meters away from collision, the bow thrusters on the ElBaz fired.

The craft flipped upside down as it sailed over the port nacelle, and righted

itself, skimming the saucer hull like a stone skipping across water--an

incredible and beautiful acrobatic maneuver.

Deanna felt the entire crew exhale in her own release of pent-up breath--and

gasp yet again.

The ElBaz was turning for another run.

"Picard to Commander Riker. Commander Riker!"

"You're breaking up, sir," Riker called across a perfectly clear channel. "Say


"Get a tractor beam on them!" Picard snapped.

But before the tractor could be engaged, the ElBaz was too close in on a

perpendicular with the starboard nacelle. It veered abruptly toward the bow,

allowing its momentum to carry it into a skid. As the astonished bridge crew

watched on the screen, the shuttle's starboard thrusters fired, and the craft

did an amazing stunt-- a 360 degree rolling circuit of the nacelle--before

finally dropping into the intraship structural field. The errant shuttle

slowed down then and glided gracefully into position for docking in the main

shuttle bay.

After a long minute Ensign Avery reported, "ElBaz docked. Shuttle Bay #1


Picard's jaw set like granite as he turned to the pale-faced, weak-kneed,

dismayed, frightened and furious woman who nonetheless held her face as quiet

as his own. "I'll speak to you later, Counselor." He walked back to the door

at the end of the bridge ramp. "Commander Riker, report to my ready room," he

said to the comm. The door closed leaving the bridge in dead silence, and

Deanna knew that there would be no diplomacy in the coming interview.



"Obeying my orders to return immediately?" Picard rasped. "That is the most

facile explanation I have ever heard for a wanton act of incredible


"There was no real danger, sir. I had complete control of the shuttle and --"

"Yellow Alert is not recess on the playground."

"But the convoy was Edvalese, so the Yellow Alert wasn't--"

"You are trying to tell me that you knew the ships were friendly before you

left the asteroid?"

"No, sir." Riker at least seemed embarrassed by the falsity of the argument,

but he he added quickly, "I just don't see the harm, sir, in--"

"Commander, these are the actions of a first year cadet: you went joy riding

in a shuttlecraft, you deliberately altered my orders and, most unforgivable,

you endangered the life of another member of the crew."

For the first time, he could see that his words had impact, but what he saw in

the set of Riker's jaw was resentment, not repentance.

"He was not in any way damaged."

Damaged? Picard bridled at the implication that Data was nothing more than a

machine. Had Riker not come to see Data as Picard did--a crewmate, a comrade,

a friend. "Data is in engineering now, performing a self-diagnostic with Mr.

LaForge's help. I will wait for their results before assuming that there was

no injury. "

Truculence threw Riker's shoulders back to an extreme attitude of attention.

He held his gaze straight ahead. "I take full responsibility for what happened,


The martyrdom of Riker's mea culpa only incensed Picard more. "That is

precisely what you have not done. Even if no one has suffered any harm, a

fortuitous outcome does not excuse a thoughtless decision."

Those word turned Will Riker's head around. He dared to bring his eyes up to

his captain's. "You're still angry that I jumped," he accused.

Picard held Riker's eyes with his own till the younger man was forced to look

away, but the captain admitted to himself that the observation was true enough.

Riker's incomprehensible attitude had stoked the fire, but it had been kindled

from a residual vexation about the first disastrous visit to the asteroid.

Picard was angry--angry that Riker had made a reckless life or death choice

instead of waiting. His Number One had taken matters into his own hands

instead of depending on his team, instead of trusting them.

But then what if they hadn't cleared the transport signal at the final moment?

What if Riker had held on till exhaustion robbed him of the last chance to

save himself? Was not the captain of the Enterprise also using a fortuitous

conclusion to make judgments about the thought behind a decision?

"You are the only person who knows whether that was an act of desperation or

hubris. But this---this was an act of folly."

Riker made no answer now, his eyes straight ahead, far out into space where

the asteroid still hung in the blackness beyond Picard's windows.

"Don't you ever think," the younger man said softly, "of what you might be

missing? I'm sure you must promise it all to yourself --later, someday. Well,

what if later, you find yourself hanging off a cliff and there are no more


Picard looked at the man whom he had chosen as his Number One, a man selected

for his refusal to let his former captain lead a dangerous Away Team--an act of

defiance. But Picard had seen in that decision a willingness to look beyond

pleasing superiors or promoting a career. Riker was a man who was willing to

sail by his own lights. But what lights had led him this far astray?

"If our missions have shown us anything," Picard felt himself cooling, "they

have shown us the fate of societies whose culture craves immediate

gratification. Such cultures don't last, because they leave nothing for the

future. The surest way to have no more somedays is to think only of today."

The fire was over, but the inscrutable ashes left him no sign or portent of

what was wrong with his second-in-command. "It's a poor officer," he said

finally, "who gives free rein to every whim he feels--a point I thought never

to have to discuss with you. You are relieved of duty. You are to submit

yourself to Dr. Crusher for physical examination and then to Counselor Troi for

psychological evaluation. Dismissed."




"Are you having trouble sleeping? Dizziness? Anxiety? Headaches?" Dr.

Crusher asked her patient.

"No." He was oddly still and taciturn, not at all his usual self, but then,

wasn't that the problem?

"Are you experiencing any pain elsewhere?"

"Here." His hand made a vague gesture at his chest, but they both knew it

would do no good to listen to the heaviness of his heart.

Beverly put down her instruments and used her unaided senses to observe him.

"Pain, you know, is often a sign that we're doing something wrong. Will . . .

don't you think you're carrying carpe diem a little far?"

"I thought I was following your advice." The tone was flat, non-accusatory.

She shook her head, disbelieving. "And I thought I was encouraging you to

acknowledge your feelings, not to act on every one of them."

"How badly do you think I've screwed up?"

She didn't answer. She smoothed a hand over the tense shoulders and with a

nod of her head motioned him off the examination table.

"I don't see anything medically wrong, Will, but I'll want to make a careful

check of the data, so. . . you can go, and I'll let you know the results


He left sickbay without a farewell, and Dr. Crusher thought about the answer

to his question. A minor indiscretion, perhaps, this business about the ElBaz,

but Riker was showing a very disturbing pattern of behavior. Jean-Luc would be

reluctant to slap an insubordination charge on an officer whose record, even

for this single year, was so sterling, but the Captain of the Enterprise would

never tolerate capriciousness in command. A medical furlough for a month or

two might be the best disposition for all concerned. Any further

irresponsibility, and Riker might be looking at a permanent separation from the


Beverly sat down to review the data and began with a look at the single

abnormal reading she had found--an overabundance of one set of

neurotransmitters. However much she wanted to find a medical explanation

motivating Riker's erratic behavior, lack of sleep or reaction to all the

stimuli he had been experiencing could easily account for this imbalance, an

effect rather than a cause. Still, she could check against his last EEG and

see if there were any real variations from his own distinct, individual


She called up the record which she had taken just after the accident, and

stared at the jumbled wave signature at the start. Oh, yes, now she recalled

the heavy synaptic activity, which she'd disregarded as a momentary tricorder

error. Funny, the tricorder had done that same thing just now when she'd run

his exam. But his normal pattern reasserted itself immediately thereafter.

Yes, there it was--his normal pattern--and the brain waves looked so familiar!


"A-OK," LaForge chirped disconnecting the fiber optic lead from Data's temple

and closing the flap on the positronic matrix within the android's head.

Picard put a reassuring hand on Data's shoulder. "I'm gratified to hear that

you're 'operating within normal parameters.' "

But Data made no acknowledgement of his good news, sitting in an attitude of

deep contemplation.

"What's the matter, Data?" Picard asked. "Is there something that Geordi

hasn't tested?"

"No sir," Data responded. "I was just rather hoping that Geordi would find

something wrong."

Picard and LaForge exchanged a look of concerned confusion.

"Otherwise, I cannot account for what happened in the shuttle. I am sorry

Captain; you must hold me equally responsible for this unfortunate incident."

"Data, the fact that you didn't countermand Commander Riker doesn't mean--"

"You don't understand, sir. I was flying the shuttle."

Concern became astonishment.

"You piloted the ElBaz through those stunts?" Picard asked. "Why? What

possible reason could you have for such--hijinks?"

The android searched his files. "It was fun."


Then the words rushed from Data's mouth, a discovery unlike any of the

information he had ever before collected. "Geordi, I felt it. At least I

think that was what happened. Now it is just a set of data--neurofunctions and

reaction algorithms--but while it was happening, it was a sensation ."

LaForge's face showed great sympathy for his friend. "But Data, how could you

possibly have experienced an emotional reaction?"

"Just before we began our return from the asteroid, Commander Riker turned to

ask me a question and I experienced--" he paused to seek the correct

description "--a shift of perspective. He made contact with the energy stream

of the asteroid and I believe he conducted it to me. It was as though I were

seeing through his eyes --feeling what he felt. He told me to 'hang on' and

when he laughed, I understood the joke and I was --amused! Then when we had

cleared the asteroid, he gave me control of the shuttle. At first the ride

was--scary --but then it was--I think one would say--thrilling ."

"Data,"Picard asked, "was the Commander also under the effect of this energy

stream?" The comm chirped with Beverly's voice, but he held her call while

another discovery emerged.

"I had the impression," Data spoke carefully, "that he was, conversely, the



He paced the floor of his quarters and told himself that he had come to the

end. He could no longer be a Star Fleet officer.

Picard was displeased with him--and it hurt. He did not realize how badly one

could be impaired in such a non-physical way. He himself had sworn that he

would harm no one in this little adventure away from his everyday existence.

But could he be sure that he kept his word?

Had he harmed Worf? He had not thought so. He was reasonably sure that Worf

had been diverted by their game, and the Klingon had been repaired easily. But

Worf had averted his eyes when they passed just before in the corridor.

Had he harmed Foster? If she had felt the same delight he had known, how

could what they had done be harmful? Yet when he made to leave, thereafter,

she had been angry, calling him a callous bastard.

The engineer, LaForge, had rejected the date that had been engineered just for

him, turning the encounter toward an entirely different outcome.

He did not understand how he had managed to offend Crusher, either. Whatever

the doctor maintained now, he had only tried to please her by following her


And Data! Data was not damaged! Why, he had given Data the very thing he had

wanted to experience!

Whom had he hurt?

Only Will Riker.

How ironic to be tripped up here! By the stars, he was a flyer! To come to

this pass because of the heady thrill of something he had done in bland

monotony since the beginning--to sail through glittering space, boundless and


The chime rang at the portal of his quarters.

"Come," he said the strange locution.

The door opened and she was standing there.

The Counselor.

She stepped inside his rooms and the door shut behind her. She had come, no

doubt, to conduct the psychological evaluation that Picard had ordered, but the

sight of her evoked something completely unlike his expectations of


The sensations that ran through him as she approached through the lamplight!

The luminescence trickled down her dark hair like blue fire. The light

burnished her cheeks with gold, made little stars within the onyx of her eyes.

Her body moved like the water of a slow flowing river. His senses reached

their limits and still sought space beyond them.

"What's going on, Will? What do you imagine you're doing?"

Before, when she had come to him, the experience had been so new, he had been

so overwhelmed by the complexities already within him, that he had deliberately

not input anything from her, but now, he trembled with what he felt.

"I've been trying to do what you're always telling people they should do," he

replied, struggling with surging emotion within him "-- get in touch with their

feelings, acknowledge what their senses tell them."

But it was far more than sense--far more than what had attracted him to

Foster. That had been nothing but a basic survival utility--similar but less

vital than eating had been. His higher processing could have overridden this

urge easily, but he had chosen not to. Exploration of all the subroutines had

been the very purpose of his unusual investigation.

She turned away. "You must think my senses are pretty dull if you expect me

to believe that."

No! This was wrong! She must not be angry with him. He must make her

emotions correspond to his. Because every part of him yearned to be one with

her--not just in that physical way--but in a dimension that he was only now

realizing existed beyond the code and algorithms.

"You want to know what I'm really feeling?"

He felt a strange wonder as though he were not a complete being, but only

half an existence. He could not imagine how to explain it to her, but then he

perceived that she already knew. His entire consciousness reached out, probing

the darkness for an entrance into the light that flickered from some hallowed

memory buried in the dark, a treasure.

"Commander, you and I have a professional relationship here. You need to

remember that this is why we decided not to be more than friends."

And that was it. He met with a wall, a sheer cliff, a bottomless drop. He

might cling to that obdurate surface for a while, but in the end, he would

surely fall. He turned away in despair.

"Why don't you help me? Help me. I need you."

She regarded him like a remote intelligence, weighing his plight, and she

seemed to soften a little. "You think I don't understand," she said gently.

He sank into the chair. Defeated. Helpless. "No. You understand

relentlessly. But there is no feeling for me, is there?"

She looked at him. Could she not see the exhaustion and desperation without

her--the readiness to risk all for the chance of her--the willingness to jump,

to fall again, to fly?

Suddenly, he felt the wall melting, and she streamed in like that blue fire,

that gold burnish, that flowing water. She dissolved the brittle blackness,

and he was standing in the brilliant light of a yellow sun as she took him in

an embrace as warm as summer.

"How can you say that? Don't you know that I will always feel for you?"

He clasped her tightly to his chest and felt her body and spirit infused with

his own. The sound of open air crescendoed in his ears and his spirit felt as

free as flying. She cared for him. She was his only true, complete, and

irrevocable love.

"Imzadi," she whispered against the beckoning curve of his ear.

He kissed her softly. His face caressed hers. The ecstasy of touch!

"You're what?" he murmured. "You're sorry? "

Sorry? He felt the word jar her.

I'm sorry? She drew back. Her fingers traced his face as she sought

distance to see him aright, and other senses probed the dazzling realm of light

where they had been one.

She broke his embrace! She flung his hands aside! She bolted away! He

reached to catch her, but she was already backing, panicked, staggering toward

the door and escape.

The word! The word that he was supposed to have known! The word, treasured

and buried, that Riker had never written down nor even once spoken to his logs!

The door opened, and she stumbled against Captain Jean-Luc Picard and

Lieutenant Commander Data standing in the threshold with phasers drawn.


He stopped in the shadows in mid-stride.

"It's not Will," she gasped to them.

Picard seemed to have surmised that already, for he trained the phaser on

"Riker" without hesitation.

"Where is my First Officer?" he demanded.

"Riker" held his hands up in a gesture that he, or rather it, comprehended

would signify surrender. And then it sat down casually on the sofa and

answered in an amiable tone, "Most of the file you refer to as 'Riker' is

housed on the Bnowe --the 'asteroid' as you call it, Captain Picard."

Data eyed him curiously. "In a small area in the middle of the memory core?"

"Yes, he's there."

"And you are?" Picard asked.

"You might say--a relative of Mr. Data's. I am sorry; my creators didn't

grace me with a name any more than they gave me a form that could really

interact with humanoids."

"You are an artificial life form?" Data asked. "The computer system of the


It nodded. "My creators, unlike you, did not find it an efficient use of life

to sally forth into the galaxy; instead, they sent me and others like me to

bring back the galaxy for them. So you see, I am an explorer like yourselves.

I did not mean to explore your species so thoroughly, but we did rather 'fall

in' with each other. You know," it smiled quite like Riker, as it tapped his

head, "it's lucky you humans have a great deal more neural capacity than you

are currently using. This is a tight fit."

Its essay at humor was not as well received as Riker's usually was. "Well, "

it continued, " I had been reading from your computer even before you sent your

Away Team to my examination laboratory as so many other species have done.

Though your numerical technology was quite sane and understandable, the data

files contained a language so bizarre, disorderly, and ambiguous, I felt I had

to investigate in depth. Then your First Officer became--available.

Fortunately, I discovered later in reading his logs and his files, that he

would not be adverse to an exchange program."

"You have more than Will's logs," Troi accused.

"You mean I have his emotional programming, yes. That's why I decided to

prevent his untimely deletion and wound up being salvaged by you in this

corporeal state. I decided to proceed with the investigation as Riker. Such

a fascinating application as I had discovered was well worth the odd method of

research. You see, neither I nor my parent species possesses this program you

call emotional response. A wonderful program, amazingly complex, and difficult

to master. I knew when I first logged onto Riker that I wanted to experience

it." It turned to Data. "Surely you understand."

"I understand," Data replied, " but I do not approve."

"I thought you were as curious as I to experience emotion."

"But this is a morally unacceptable way to go about it. Humans aspire never

to satisfy their needs at the expense of others."

"If you do possess the emotions of Commander Riker," Picard argued, "you

must surely feel the injustice of what you have done. Commander Riker would

never attempt to possess something that rightfully belonged to someone else."

"I agree with you," the Bnowe computer replied. "I believe I can make a copy

of the basic programming for further study. The original can be returned to


Picard stole a sidelong glance at Data. "If you have translated emotion into

a language of artificial intelligence, would you consider sharing that


It winced apologetically. "I am forbidden from sharing our technology with. .

. less advanced species. I am sorry, Data," the computer replied. "But I am

not sure myself that I will access this application again. A great deal of

experience is needed to operate the program well, and I am not sure what

purpose it would serve without other beings to share it with."

"At least I know that such technology exists," Data said. "I shall be patient

and wait."

"Riker" stood and gazed longingly at Deanna. "I regret that I was unable to

solve the encryption of that last subroutine. But, you understand that I would

never have done anything to harm you?"

"You don't understand at all," she said. "Some things can not be known in that


The computer mulled over the information. "At least I know that such things

exist. If I were Riker, I should find it hard, however, to be patient and


It turned to Picard. "I'm sorry I had to delay you. If you will return me to

Bnowe, I will release your ship."

"And return Commander Riker unharmed," Picard added.

"I can't promise that," the computer said and then in response to the steely

expression on the captain's face, the eyes took on a familiar twinkle. "As I

said, your First Officer is stored in my banks, and he's a flyer, too. If he

learns how to fly Bnowe, we're all in trouble."




Data looked down past Will Riker's boots into a huge drop, the chasm of the

Bnowe atrium, or perhaps cranium was a better word now. The transference of

the artificial intelligence back to the asteroid and the restoration of Riker's

"files" had been completed at a pole near the communications node, but the

commander had wanted to complete the original assignment with a look at rest of

the asteroid. Now, his reclining body floated on the gravity convergence

plane at the cinture of the hourglass with his fingers laced behind his head.

"Commander," Data prompted, "The Edvalese escort will be convoying with the

Enterprise shortly. Should we not be returning to the ship?"

"Considering what my alter ego has been up to," Riker replied grimly, "I'm

not that anxious to get back."

"But we are all aware of the personality transference, Commander. No one

blames you for the activities of the Bnowe intelligence."

"Yeah, sure," Riker sat up and rubbed his head.

"If you feel you will have difficulty in reestablishing relationships, perhaps

you should see Counselor Troi."

"Data," he began, "Counselor Troi and I. . . . Never mind."

He scrambled to his feet, and the two of them stood together in what seemed to

be mid-air.

"How could I have missed the deep part of this field?" Riker grumbled. "I've

got to get in some diving practice."

But Data was still thinking about the other problem. "On the other hand, you

may be right to feel hesitant about returning to the Enterprise," he

theorized. "People may consider, since the computer entity was acting from your

emotional make-up, that its actions were at least representative of your true


"Look, Data, from what you've told me, I wouldn't say that that was my true

personality," Riker protested.

"Actually," Data mused on, "the Bnowe intelligence seemed to be following an

old maxim which I have added to my cross references: 'Live every day as if it

were your last.' "

Riker stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and turned the android around.

"Data, that's terrible advice."

"I don't understand, sir. Would living for today not tend to maximize a zest

for life which humans value?"

"Humans have gotten this far, my friend, because we've always been able,

ultimately, to put aside selfishness and to sacrifice a little today so there

will be something to build on tomorrow. If I had cared only about what I could

get right away, I'd never have gotten to be First Officer of the flagship. I

worked hard, and I sacrificed a lot--," Riker paused, seeming momentarily to

dwell on that thought and then, "But you know, things gotten easily--they

don't seem to mean as much as the things you have to work and wait for." He

looked back at the android with conviction, "Sometimes, you have to hold out

for tomorrow."

Data considered a moment. "I see. The entity knew it would not have a human

existence "tomorrow" so its desire for sensation and self-gratification kept

increasing, leading to behavior that was less and less responsible."

"Without thinking," Riker said with a return of chagrin, "that someone else

would inherit the consequences."

"Then, tomorrow will not 'take care of itself.'? "

"Never has." In good humored resignation, Riker clapped Data on the back as

they walked across the inversion field to the shuttle.

"So , Commander," the android said, "I suppose that now you will have to

'foot the bill' . . . 'pick up the check' . . . 'pay the piper' . . . "

"Data," Riker said, "did you ever consider collecting something a little more

tangible than idioms--stamps, maybe?"




The end "Flyer"