"Dreamers and Music Makers"

By: Pam H.   nightowl230@yahoo.com 


The woman watched as her tormentor approached. She knew his mind set, and tried to prepare herself physically for the onslaught. He stood so close he should have repelled her, had her mind not been otherwise occupied. He brought her attention back to her situation by slapping her forcefully across the face. Her legs buckled. On her slide down the wall, for one brief moment, she came to have eye contact with her keeper before landing hard on the concrete floor. She was no longer afraid. Fear had long ago been replaced by despair.

He called for the guards to move the prisoner back to her "bed," a stone shelf along the wall. She lay there as they again locked her hands into the restraints, with her eyes closed she wondered if there was anyone left to help her. Her mind screamed "Enough!". Yet she would fight him, never would she allow him that victory over her.

"Give in now. You could go about a normal life. Live just as your people do. We would provide you with a cozy little cottage in the mountains. You would have no cares. The more you fight me, the more I can assure you that your life will be very long and quite miserable. He stroked her cheek. His voice softened to almost a whisper. "You look so tired. Sign the paper and I promise you all the sleep and rest you want."

She watched his lying face as he talked the beady eyes under their one massive eyebrow. What an ugly little toad, and yet here he appeared to literally hold her life in the balance, she closed her eyes, trying to concentrate not to give into the hysterical laughter that was already bubbling in her throat at the picture of him as a one-eyebrowed beady eyed toad.

"No my princess, there will be no sleeping until we agree. Let's begin again. You had your sister poisoned out of jealousy. Admit it. You killed your sister. You, alone are responsible for her death."

She calmly answered him, "No, you are lying." The woman closed her mouth and her eyes. It looked as though she was shutting down, turning off all the once vibrant senses of life.

The toad-like man signaled to the guards, "Let her have a short rest. Let her begin to relax, then we will finish. We'll make an end of it this day. I'll inform the regent of our progress." He turned to waddle off and out the door.

She heard the footsteps following and the door finally close, leaving her in the quiet of the darkened room. Enough of her senses were retained to have heard and understood what was to happen. She concentrated, hoping to reach one of her few trusted friends. She remembered he had told her they had all been killed, there was no one left. Her mind screamed for release from this hideous cruelty.

Just as her conscious mind began to relinquish its hold on sanity, she felt another's calmer, more peaceful presence. Somehow she felt no longer alone, she felt a compassionate, kind mind, and a listener was near. She continually sought it out, leaned on it, as one would lean on a strong foundation.

The compassionate one listened. The tormented woman could sense the concern and outrage at her predicament. This one did not speak, gave no clue as to its identity, but she knew this one would not forsake her. Here would be her rescuer. The imprisoned woman finally fell into a deep slumber.

Chapter 2

The senior officer's weekly poker game was in progress, with most of the winnings sitting in front of Commander Riker's place. A new hand had been dealt and the bidding had gone around the table. "Deanna are you in?" There was no answer. The counselor looked distracted. Riker looked closer, "Deanna, what is it?"

The empath didn't answer, but continued staring into space with a pained expression on her face. Dr. Crusher pulled her tricorder from her jacket pocket to run the instrument over the ship's counselor. She looked at Will Riker across the table. "Her synaptic activity is increasing, heartbeat and blood pressure are rising. My guess is there is telepathic activity occurring." Beverly looked around the table at the other players, "But with whom?"

Will reached to touch the hand holding the cards. The cards fell to the floor, her freed hand clutched Riker's. It was the only sign that a part of her remained at the card table with them. Riker looked at the other players around the table, "Is there anyone aboard ship that could affect her like this?"

"No one that I'm aware of Will." Beverly looked at Data who nodded his agreement. "Will, I think we should notify the Captain, there may be some ramifications here we have yet to understand. I'll stay with her."

Commander Riker looked reluctant to leave, when he tried to ease his hand from the counselor's grip it tightened, her nails digging into his flesh. "Deanna, it's all right, I'm here." He caught Beverly's eye trying to convey his concern without voicing it.

"Commander, I will report the situation to Captain Picard." Data, tilted his head, "I will verify whether there are any known empathic or telepathic races in this sector."

"Good, thank you Data." Will continued to watched Deanna as a tear slid down her cheek. He knew whatever she was in contact with was going to be bad news.

The other card players now stood to leave. "While Data is with the Captain, I'll check out the sector Commander," Geordi paused looking at the counselor, "If there is anything else I can do Commander, you know where to reach me." He paused just long enough to pat Riker's shoulder.

When the last two had left, Beverly tried again to get an answer from the empath, "Deanna, what's happening? Can you feel who it is? Are they on this ship?"

At first, there was no answer, Deanna Troi continued to hold on to Will Riker's hand as though it was the tether that kept her with them. He put his other hand on her shoulder, turning her toward him. "Take a deep breath and try to tell us what is happening so we can help too." He waited; knowing it would take time for her to gain control over whatever it was that held her senses captive.

As the empathic images became clearer, the counselor began to try to vocalize the mental picture. "It's a young woman, not on this ship. On a planet, somewhere....in a prison. She's been mistreated and awaiting death.....almost preferring it," the last part was whispered. " She is alone, there is no one to help her, all her friends are dead, murdered by those holding her." Troi closed her eyes. "We have to help her. They can't be allowed to do these things to her." She opened her eyes to look at Commander Riker, "Will, we have to help her, we can't let her there to die."

He gulped in air at beautiful eyes filled with tears and someone else's pain. "Let her where to die, Deanna? We need to know more to be able to help. Who is this woman and who is mistreating her? Do you know why any of this is happening?" Will watched the dark eyes close again, as the empath focused on the woman. Will looked from Deanna to Beverly. Beverly looked as uncomfortable as he felt with these developments. They both watched as Deanna was struggled to maintain her identity-to hold on to her reality while absorbing the emotional trauma of this other being.

Captain Picard entered the quarters and placed himself at Commander Riker's side. "How long has she been like this?" He asked softly.

"A little over two hours. She has been able to tell us something. The communication seems to be originating from a woman on a planet." Beverly reported as she again scanned the empath, "I don't like the way her brain activity has increased again. She is not accustomed to this type of communication. Captain, how close are we to an inhabited planet?"

"We are several light years away from the only class M planet, in this system with humanoid inhabitants. By a strange coincidence they have applied for membership in the Federation only a month ago. We will be making a stop there to investigate the planet for future membership. Data has sent a probe to orbit the planet. We should have some idea of what lies ahead by the information we can decipher from the probe." Picard continued speaking as though afraid to wake the counselor from her sleep, he spoke to Crusher and Riker but his eyes rested Troi, "But in the mean time I want someone with her."

"Captain, my concern right now is the affect this long term communication may have on Deanna. She isn't by nature a telepath. One problem with these lengthy strong empathic impressions is they may submerge the empath's own personality. This is a combination of both telepathic and empathic communication, from the descriptions she has been able to share with us. I've been working on a synthetic neuro-block that would surpress the chemicals in the brain that aid in translating the telepathic impressions into communications within the brain. With Deanna's help I think we should be prepared to use it, I'd like to find a way of dimming the impressions. I'm hoping it would allow Deanna to control the experience more so she would not be swallowed up by this other party."

Will Riker looked surprised. "Exactly how harmful can this be to her, Beverly?"

"Perhaps more than any of us know. That's the reason I want to be prepared. Think of it Will. Someone from quite a distance away reached out and virtually painted a picture complete with narrative in Deanna's mind. What will happen to her as we move closer to this planet. Look at her now! Can we take that chance?" Beverly watched Will blink and turn again toward the empath. Beverly saw his hand tighten on Deanna's shoulder, as he realized he would be as helpless as the rest of them if someone else controlled her mind.

Picard broke the silence that followed. "Doctor I applaud your farsightedness. Perhaps it would be wise to take the counselor to sickbay with you and begin as soon as possible."

Deanna appeared to come out of her trance, looking startled to find the other's attention on her. Will dropped the hand from her shoulder covering her hand that still held his. "Deanna?" She smiled weakly at him.

"Counselor, I want you to spend some time with Doctor Crusher. She is going to need your assistance in her lab at sickbay. We will then meet in the observation lounge for a senior staff meeting. Are you up to it?" She nodded. "Good. At that time I want to begin reviewing all that you have learned. Data may have some information from the probe. Number One I'd like you to co-ordinate the efforts from both the medical aspects as well as the gathering of data from the planet. Use all resources necessary to solve this mystery. I expect to be kept informed." He looked at the doctor and held her eyes, making known his meaning.The captain gently touched the counselor's shoulder as he passed her.

When Will began to withdraw his hand to follow the captain, Deanna squeezed it and looked thankfully into his eyes. He smiled back, understanding the thought she conveyed in those dark eyes. "I'll see you shortly." When all eh wanted was stay with her, protect her from the things that may haunt her.

She nodded and answered, "I know". She watched as he followed the captain into the corridor, a curious look etched on her face.

"What is it, Deanna?" The doctor's scientific mind was intrigued the scene she had witnessed between the two officers. It was common knowledge the two had once shared a relationship and continue to share a strong bond now on the Enterprise.

"I just had the strangest... I think I just read Will's thoughts."

"Well that's not so strange, you know each other very well. Even I know he's concerned about you."

"No it's more than that, Beverly. I know I scare people with my abilities and even now it frightens you, yes, part of that is your concern and feeling of helplessness, but this is more. I know it. I knew exactly what he was thinking when he was thinking it. Don't ask me how. This is different from anything I've experienced before."

Beverly stood with her lips parted as though about to say something when the words were stolen from her mouth. She again ran the tricorder over the empath's form. "Deanna, there is something happening. Let's go to sickbay. I'd like to run a diagnostic brain scan before we begin on the neuro-block."

Jean Luc Picard sat in his ready room reviewing information on Prakal. He gave permission to enter when the chime sounded; he expected his first in command, but was taken back to see the face in front of him. He smiled, "Guinan, what brings you here? It must be important to drag you away from the new lounge; I've seen the requisitions you have requested. I fear the new lounge will resemble a palace by the time you've finished." Then upon seeing the serious demeanor, "What can I do for you?"

"Jean Luc, I understand that the counselor is in contact with someone from Prakal. That is quite unusual for Troi, quite a distance for empaths-unless the other person is also a skilled empath or telepath." Guinan looked as though she had the answers and knew the implications.

"Guinan, if you know something, I'd like you to explain. Please sit down, would you like tea?"

Once in sickbay the doctor had no explanation for her findings, only that Deanna's brain was producing elevated amounts of the chemicals found in telepathic species, and the activity of the brain had jumped yet another notch since her last tricorder readings. Now it became imperative that they find a way of controlling any outside influence that may threaten the counselor.

The two women had been at work for two hours when Beverly noticed Deanna with the same expression she had had back at the card game. Her eyes pinched shut. "No! They can't do that. They can't touch her like that. They're trying to frighten her into some kind of confession. She's not well.. It's too much. She may go over the edge! I'm afraid she'll lose her sanity. Beverly we have to do something." Her worried eyes sought the doctor, "We have to help her. She has no one else." She pleaded, "She ha no one else."

Beverly was moved to embrace her friend, then she pulled back to look into the tear soaked face. "Deanna, how are you be getting these impressions?" Beverly watched her closely, ready to use the hyprospray if it could buy time to keep the empath sane. "Deanna can you shut this off yourself, you have to try to gain control over these communications."

Deanna whispered, "I know, but I can't pull away from her. She needs me." Beverly pulled her back into her arms as though trying to keep her consciousness with her on the Enterprise and off the planet. Deanna was as close as a sister to her, and Beverly was going to move heaven or hell if need be to keep her friend safe.

Beverly felt Deanna's posture change, she pulled back to look at the again blank trance like eyes. This time Deanna began talking in a monotone as though reciting. The doctor could see the strain it took for the empath to try to communicate what was being communicated to her."She must have elevated abilities of her own for me to get such a clear sense of her. She has a strong sense of identity, from that I would believe her to be of a ruling class. It may explain why she's in this prison by an act of betrayal. The ones that holding her have such a grip on her, she feels no one can help and everyone will suffer."

Deanna was so focused she never felt the captain's presence. He watched the woman in front of him struggle with the emotional battle worlds away. "Counselor can you block this from your mind? If you are unable I want the doctor to begin using the hyprospray until you can control the flood of information. Deanna?" The captain waited when nothing changed; he nodded for the doctor to use the block. He watched as Beverly placed the hypo spray up to her neck, listened to the almost silent swish as the medication entered the empath's body. He saw the counselor blink and take a deep breath, "Counselor, can you still sense the other woman?"

"Yes Captain, but it's much fainter-more distant." She looked at the doctor, "The neuroblock?" Beverly nodded, relieved that they had some defense to fall back on.

The captain's comm badge sounded, it was Commander Riker asking if there was a problem. The rest of the senior officers were assembled in the assigned meeting place awaiting them. Picard assured him they were on the way and would cover any developments upon their arrival.

When the captain and the two women entered the lounge all eyes turned to them. Picard quickly got the meeting started by asking Data to share the probe's finding with them. They learned that the planet had undergone many recent changes in the political realm. Prakal had abundant natural resources among them the natural beauty of the planet. The pollution and blatant disregard for life though, had taken its toll on the planet resulting in dead rivers, slum areas with disease and death surrounding the cities.

One of the surprises of the meeting was Guinan; the hostess from ten-forward had actually been on the planet "many years ago". She had related to the crew her impressions of Prakal and it's life. The changes she could see from the probe's surveillance and her visit Guinan had no natural explanation. The woman looked very serious when she told them she was quite sure that there was an outside force involved because the planet she had been to was quite benign, which certainly did not agree with the probe's findings.

"Prakal was a beautiful planet, populated by a humanoid race, much like yourselves. The planet has four large continents, each has their own government; Two ruled by dictators and two by monarchs, of course there is no trust between them. If a monarch dies, the replacement or succession is kept within bloodlines. However, rebellions were common. The economy was somewhat based on a feudal system. I did not meet many of the inhabitants of the planet. There is one fraction of the population with limited empathic skills. How this happened is a mystery, whether it is a genetic inconsistency, or the rest of the people have skills that lie dormant, or another possibility is that it is a skill too little used and dying, no one seems to know."

Guinan paused to look at Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi before adding, "There is one more thing you need to be aware of before you go down there. They are a male oriented people, at least the part I visited was. Females are either owned or bought. Marriage is an outward form of ownership. Do not be caught there alone ladies. You may find yourselves as slaves or wives... in this case, they may be the same."

The crew was told that there would be an away team sent to the planet on a diplomatic mission and the captain intended to lead this mission. He asked the counselor to explain all that she had experienced with the woman from Prakal. When she had relayed the information he asked, "Counselor, are you still sensing anything from her? Do you think it may be possible for you to communicate something to her?"

Troi answered slowly, "Captain, I do still have a sense of her, she's in great jeopardy. She needs our help. What would you have me communicate? I have been careful not to give her our identification. Before I try to do this I have to know how you want our presence described to her."

"That does appear to be the problem with this situation- how do we approach this? What reason do we have for interfering with the course of events unfolding before us? Counselor, do nothing in the way of communicating any information to the planet. Not until we can better grasp this situation for what it is."

Doctor Crusher intervened, "Captain, we don't know the effect this communication may have on Deanna. This person's emotional health is hanging in the balance. Look at the affect it has had on her already! The power of her emotions is almost overwhelming to Deanna now, as we get closer to the planet I expect to increase the strength of the block. I'm not sure I want this to continue much longer. Deanna, if this woman loses her sanity how will that affect you?"

"There's no way to know." Troi looked uncomfortable; "Hopefully we'll never have to know."

"Doctor, do you feel the situation to be well enough in hand for you and the counselor to attend another meeting in three hours?"

"I hope so." Beverly Crusher did not sound as confidant as the captain would have preferred but he allowed that to pass for the moment.

"Good. I 'll. see you both then. If anything else materializes I want to be informed immediately." He waited for their acknowledgment before dismissing them. He watched them leave and thought of his crew, actually they had become his family, each with a special talent or skill. Anyone of them would, without a thought for their own life, do what ever was asked of them. His thoughts lingered on the counselor, Deanna Troi, as an empath was constantly swimming in a sea of emotions. He saw first hand how profoundly those emotions could weigh on her. He remembered a time in the past when a crewmember died. Not only had she seen it, as the rest of them had, she also experienced the agony of their death. He wondered how that must have felt - to feel another's death. As much as he appreciated and depended upon her skills, he wouldn't want them. Now she was feeling the torment of a total stranger, but it wouldn't be a total stranger if you could feel their torment would it? The captain shook his head as though trying to clear the dismal taste those thoughts had left in his mind.

Chapter 3

On Prakal II life continued with little surface change. Gringbald was deviously carrying out many subtle changes. Gringbald, a notorious despot, had seized rulership by seizing the heir apparent. The reputation of regicide he wore as flamboyantly as he wore his weapon. This was not his only tryst with politics. Prakal had become his playground, once home to four governments, it was through Gringbald's political manipulations - his usurping and subsequent sequestering of the ruling factions that had landed him the lofty position as the planet's ruler (he preferred the title of regent). The common ingredient was the greed of the planet inhabitants. The catalyst was the unsuspicious Federation. Gringbald had waved the riches and power of the Federation as a summons to greatness to an impoverished society.

When, in time, it became common knowledge only a few would prosper according to Gringbald's plan, the deed was done. Gringbald never had any intention of joining the Federation, or any other alliance. It was purely by accident that the Federation was ever notified. An over-eager, young deluded devotee, trying to climb quickly up the ladder of Gringbald's favorites, contacted the Federation. He acted in good faith, assuming the despot's promises to be authentic. He died knowing Gringbald's treachery.

This government of Prakal's largest body of people would have been Abeathdor's to govern, had nature taken its course. Abeathdor would have been coronated as queen at her older sister, Yarmie's death. Gringbald's secretary, Zylon had so convinced Yarmie of Abeathdor's corrupt and abased life style, during her remaining years Yarmie feared her life to be threatened by her sister.

The atmosphere the two sisters lived and grew up in contributed to the state of mind that would allow Yarmie to be easy prey to this propaganda. Each sister was born of a different mother. Each mother had died early through political machinations by the king, their father. Each sister was made aware of the other's birthright by the continual vacillations of the king. Each being declared bastard or princess in turn.

Yarmie was raised with a narrow education, abundant suspicion and superstitions. In contrast, the younger Abeathdor had the skills of an education mind. Those entrusted in her care had sought out and attained the educational services of some of the best academics in, not only their land, but also those of surrounding areas and the many refugees fleeing the lands Gringbald was appropriating.

At the time of Yarmie's illness, Zylon had pointed to Abeathdor's surrogate mother as the would be assassin, the weapon...poison. Yarmie was torn between rage and the joy of martyrdom. She could see escape from her miserable life as a captive ruler over an unhappy, equally miserable people. When Abeathdor was taken to prison in the tower, she begged for an audience with her sister to plead her innocence and that of the woman who raised her. In answer Yarmie had the suspected assassin beheaded. Abeathdor never had the opportunity to present her case. Yarmie died while the princess sat imprisoned in a cold damp room a top the tower, known as "traitor's keep". Abeathdor was the last heir in the direct line of the king. Yarmie was only the latest in the family to die. There had been two young kings before the queen. Both kings had come to a mysterious end. Now, with no claim to the throne except that of the traitorous princess, it would seem Gringbald had Prakal in the palm of his hand.

That was until the ENTERPRISE showed up. Gringbald was trying his best to but on the airs of a man about to be crowned by popular demand over the line of succession, the end of which was the demented criminal, Princess Abeathdor.

Before the arrival of the Enterprise, everything was going according to Gringbald's plan. Abeathdor was close to breaking. Her untimely death would leave Gringbald a clear and uncontested path to the throne. Then, suddenly, Zylon reported Abeathdor had calmed and appeared once more the queen. She had regained enough of her confidence and poise that her future no longer appeared so clearly to be in Gringbald's control. That can change. Gringbald was going to have it changed. When the delegation from the starship arrived, Gringbald had every intention of being in total control of everything, his future included. He would show this Federation contingent a royal case of murder brought about by a rare case of paranoid schizophrenia. He needed to continue pushing the line in Abeathdor's mind. Last night Zylon had reported the princess to be on the verge of collapse. They would push again, Zylon had orders to begin again tonight, and the work would go on all night if needed. Gringbald preferred the cover of darkness for this type of work. It always seemed the victims were more cooperative after a night's work. It was almost twilight now, in a short time Gringbald felt his future would once again be in his own hands. The Federation representative would arrive sometime the next day, just days away from the announcement of his coronation.


Chapter 4

They had been working with the neuroblockers for some time when Beverly noticed Deanna looking grim. "Do you still sense her, is she communicating with you now?"

"I'm getting a sense of her panic, her struggle to remain herself. Sometimes it's very faint, then suddenly it hits like a missile, except that it doesn't last, it goes and comes in great waves. Beverly, I need to center myself, would you mind coming with me to the hollow deck? I have a program designed to help. "

"No, in fact it would do us both good to walk away from this for awhile."

The holodeck program was a sunset on a beach, with waves crashing against a sea wall. The sunset was a faded crimson with colors you would only find on a planet that had twin suns at a parallel distance setting in unison. On a holodeck a sunset could last forever. Beverly heard Deanna whisper a few lines of poetry.

"We are the music makers And we are the dreamers of dreams Wandering by lone sea-breakers And sitting by desolate streams World losers and World forsakes On whom the pale moon gleams Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world, forever it seems."

Deanna looked up at her friend, "I don't know why, but the poem has stayed with me since the first time I read it. The title is "Ode"; it was written by Arthur O'Shaughnessy wrote it in the late 1800's. This holodeck scene always reinforces it. Today, in particular, it seems to be in the back of my mind." She was sitting on the beach with her knees drawn up, her chin resting on arms crossed over the tops of the knees.

Beverly couldn't help thinking of a small-lost child at the sight of Deanna on the beach. She sat next to her, resting a hand on Deanna's arm. "That is quite poignant, but it sounds lonely. We humans sometimes stand off a bit from others who have different talents or skills. We're not always sure how to approach them on their level. Even though every cell in our body may want to say or do something, or even just to be physically close to them, we allow the stupid part of our brain to dominate and we do nothing. Deanna, we may not be able to feel what you do or to totally understand these empathic encounters, but we are very concerned for you. As long as you are on this ship with this crew, your friends, you are never alone. Really when you think of it we are as close as a family."

"I know Beverly, I guess I'm a little off balance right now. You have been as close as a sister to me. I want you to know how much that means to me. I don't know what I'd do without you and Will."

"Maybe you should let Will know how much you need him." Deanna shot her a quick look. "It wouldn't hurt to get your feelings out in the open, it may surprise you to learn that his feelings are just as strong."

The last scheduled briefing before the first away team was to beam down was taking place. This first trip to the planet was to pretty straightforward information gathering. The away team was much more aware of the existing conditions there than the host on the planet could possibly know.

Commander Riker repeated his objections to the captain's presence on the away team, but was held off by Picard. "I know Commander, this visit is entirely diplomatic in nature, and it is crucial that it is accepted as such. For the initial visit I will take Counselor Troi, Data and yes, Mister Worf, you will come." Worf had made a visit back to the Enterprise, on the way to the Klingon home world to meet with Alexander, his son. Picard turned his attention back to Riker, "You see Commander, I will take security."

"Captain, I think I should come." The doctor was incredulous that he hadn't intended to take her, that he would allow Deanna to go with no one to aid her in countering the affects of close contact with a race of such potent telepaths.

"Doctor, you will brief Data and myself on the symptoms and procedures of administering the needed medications to the counselor, should they become necessary. I cannot compromise this mission if we are to succeed. We'll have Mr. LaForge standing by for emergency beam-up. Did I cover everything? There will be no need for costumes. We are going down as representative of the Federation in uniform. The dress may change for the next visit. Primarily, this will be "first contact" procedure. I suggest you review and freshen up on protocol. We'll meet in transporter room three after orbit has been achieved. Dismissed."

The captain stood at the head of the table and watched as the participants began leaving. When Troi and Crusher were about to pass he touched Troi on the elbow, "Counselor, you may communicate to our friend your presence and our desire to help her. That may help her emotional state. Keep me appraised of the results. Oh...and Deanna we will not leave you stranded without Doctor Crusher." He looked at Crusher knowing she had stayed and heard the request. She merely raised an eyebrow. Troi looked at the two of them, smiled slightly and thanked the captain. When everyone had departed the room, Picard sat and looked down the length of the now empty table and sighed, "It will be good to get this one over."

Data caught up to Troi and Crusher as they were making their way to sickbay. "Counselor, may I ask you a question?" She nodded. "How is it possible on a planet where women are treated as possessions, that women may rule as queens?"

"Well, Data, in the past on ancient Earth ruling families were thought to be in an exalted position. It was thought to be through divine providence, that they were a chosen few born to rule. Sometimes families had prearranged marriages thinking the chosen husband to be equal to the role as consort. That would make them king through that marriage. You see that would also make any heir valuable, regardless of sex, in a society where all other females may have one purpose - producing children. It was also a way of building an alliance with another government or foreign land, contracting a marriage between the children of those lands. That may also be true in this case, although we have yet to understand exactly what is happening here."

The three entered Beverly's office. The doctor collected a PADD and tricorder, "I'll be close if you need me. Data if anything unusual happens or if the counselor seems in distress, please notify me immediately."

The android looked at Troi and asked, "Counselor, will I know if you are in distress?"

"Yes, Data, I believe you will. There's nothing to be concerned about; I don't expect any problem from this communication. If anything it should render a little relief for the woman with whom I've been in contact."

"I am not concerned, merely curious." Data stated a fact not an attitude, something most of the other officers adjusted to long ago.

The empath closed her eyes and concentrated on what it was she would attempt to communicate. After coming to a decision she opened her barriers, removing all obstacles that the neuroblock would allow, then reached out with her mind into the emptiness of space, trying to touch the mind that had left such an imprint on hers.

Over two hours had passed when Beverly Crusher reentered her office to find Data intently observing the counselor, while Troi seemed in a trance. "Data, how long has this been going on?"

"Exactly two hours seventeen minutes and thirty-eight seconds, Doctor."

Beverly sat facing Deanna; slowly she began moving a tricorder across the entranced empath.

The captain's voice came across the office comm, "Doctor Crusher, do you have any results from the counselor's attempt at communication yet?"

"Captain, she apparently isn't finished communicating. This has been going on now for more than two hours."

"Have there been any ill effects to the counselor?"

Beverly shook her head, "None that I can find."

"I expect a report as soon as you have anything. I know you'll keep an eye on things for me doctor."

The doctor and android kept watch over the empath until the communication tie seemed to end. "Deanna?" Beverly waited for her friend to look at her. "How did it go?"

"I was able to let her know we where near and going to try to help her. She seemed surprised that I was someone not on the planet. I felt a release of great anguish from her. I think it helped."

"Good. Since I am to remain with you let's go to your quarters where you can get some rest."

In the lighting of the turbolift, Deanna noticed Beverly also looked a little worn down from the day's events. It was well past the night phase of Enterprise time. "It appears we could both use some rest." She smiled when Beverly looked at her with one eyebrow cocked.

"Very tactful Counselor. I'm planning on using that comfortable sofa in your quarters. I have orders to stay with you. Don't argue."

"Aye aye, sir." The counselor turned to hide her smile.

Sometime later Commander Riker lightly tapped the chime at Counselor Troi's door. There was no answer. He repeated the gesture, this time he heard a soft "Come". As he entered the quarters, he glanced around checking for a reason that would have delayed the greeting response. He saw Beverly Crusher sitting on the sofa with her head in her hands.

She looked up at him, "Has anything new come up, or are you checking in for the same possibility?" Her voice was low, as though she had not yet fully awakened from her nap.

"The captain mentioned Deanna had been successful in her attempt to communicate to the planet, and you've had to increase the dosage of the nueroblocking agent. I wanted to see how things were going." He looked around the quarters, noticed the darkened sleeping chamber, "You've got her to sleep?" His voice was incredulous, he knew when Deanna was on call as ship's counselor, she was somewhat like a dog with a bone, and she rarely gave up for rest or anything else.

"Sit down Will, we can talk for a while. I gave her another hypospray after she fell asleep. It seems that the other party on the planet must have lost consciousness. We are using this time to catch up a little before the beam down. I used the hypospray just to ensure some uninterrupted rest. You look like you could use some rest yourself, Will." She looked back at the sleeping chamber before continuing, "Will, I know you have to be objective when working with the crew under your command, but there are times when you.."

He didn't allow her to finish, "Doctor, we'll all rest better once we know what we're dealing with here. There are many questions that must be answered and unfortunately, our empath is the key to the answers. She may also be the one most harmed finding those answers. The frustrating part is no one knows how to help her, let alone protect her. Did you ever consider that right now the difficulty might lie in how can I stand by while she is put into a position of such intangibles that could endanger her? How long has she been asleep?"

"Not long, Will, how long have you been here?" He turned to see the counselor standing in the doorway to the sleeping chamber. She stood leaning against the wall, looking as though she may have been there for a while.

He looked carefully at her, noticing the disheveled hair, the tired and still sleep clouded eyes, and she wore the robe he had gotten for her years ago while he was on leave. She touched his heart as none other could. He tried to disown the concern that continually threatens to choke him over this situation.

"Deanna, I just stopped in to see how things were going. The captain said you were able to contact the woman on the planet. I wanted to see how you were."

"I'm fine now. It felt good to let her know we were attempting to help her." Deanna raised her eyebrows sensing more. "If you give me ten minutes I'll freshen up a bit, then I can go over it with you." She didn't wait for a reply she disappeared back through the doorway and out of Will's sight.

When the Counselor had returned her hair brushed and looking as though her short rest had erased the earlier events, Beverly decided to give the two some time. She hoped that they would finally realize what everyone else knew, that their feelings for each other were more than that of just close friends. She knew Will had to see for himself that Deanna was going to go through with her assignment. "Will, if you are going to be here for a while I'm going to check on sickbay. I need to pack the medkit and go over some items with the captain." He assured the doctor he would be there until she returned.

Deanna filled Will in on the communication with Abeathdor. She turned to look at him, sitting beside her on the sofa. She softly asked, "What is it, Imzadi, what is bothering you?"

He put his arm around her; "Can't you tell?"

"I can sense that you are troubled, concerned about this mission." She looked into his eyes awaiting an explanation.

He sighed before answering, "I feel powerless stuck here on the ship with you down on the planet under these conditions."

She smiled up at him, "Now you know how I feel watching you on the transporter pads, going into the great unknown. You have no idea how many times..." She stopped herself, having said more than she had intended.

He looked surprised, "I didn't know. Is it always like this?" She shrugged her shoulders not wanting to commit to more than she had already. Will concentrated on her body language, the way she wouldn't meet his eyes, the way she crossed her arms and stared at her foot. "Deanna that's different I'm trained for those visits. It's part of my job."

She turned to him now, a spark of determination replacing the subdued posture, as she shrugged away from his arm. "And I am now doing my job, my assigned place on this ship is as counselor, I am a trained empath. I am capable of doing my job." She stood and walked to the furthest wall putting the greatest amount of distance away from him and continue to be in the same cabin.

He moved quickly covering the distance. "Deanna, that is not what I mean. I know you to be well qualified to do your job." He put his hands on her shoulders, "This assignment has so many unknowns, all of which may be threatening to you in particular. Dangers that are unknown to us, and may be unsuspected even by you."

She looked up at him, sensing his remorse at the turn the conversation had taken. "Since when have you been afraid of the unknown, Will Riker?"

"Since it involves you." He pulled her into his embrace. "Just do me a favor, be careful. Let the captain know immediately of any changes you sense? Please."

She moved out of his arms to stand back and look into his face. "Do you think I am not capable of fulfilling my place on this mission? Exactly where do you think I fit in on this ship, Commander?"

"Wait a minute Deanna. Why are you jumping to these conclusions? That is not at all what I mean. You said you worry about my away missions, does that mean that you do not trust me to be competent to handle myself or the responsibility of leading an away team?" He put his hands on her shoulders to hold her in place knowing she would move from him when she felt confronted. "Listen to me", he softened his voice to a whisper, "I am concerned, and maybe a little fearful of losing you to something we-I should have been able to prevent. I would feel better if I were going with you down there. It's hard to know I'm here, so far out of reach. Does that sound so terrible."

'Will, I am sorry. I guess I am a little unsettled by the atrocities this woman is undergoing. And the neuroblock that Beverly is using will mute my empathic abilities a bit, until I can get used to it. Imzadi, nothing is going to happen. We'll be back before you know it. This is only an information-gathering visit. Purely diplomatic." She allowed him to gather her into his arms for a long moment.

He hadn't thought about her abilities being muted, it made sense, but it also increased the risk to her, he thought of it blindsiding her. He knew how much she depended upon those insights. Commander Riker also knew better than bringing any of that up right now, at least not to her.


All preparation aside, this would be a night of little rest for the crew. After Will left, Deanna Troi found she was unable to rid herself of the restlessness that quickly escalated until she was soon fighting hysteria. It was Abeathdor on the planet, fighting for sanity, searching her soul for control. Deanna, after getting a feel for the situation, tried to calm the princess with reassuring words letting her know that she and her crew members would be on the planet shortly. The counselor was urging Abeathdor to hang on, all along constantly reminding her she was no longer alone.

It was surprising how easy this communication had been. Deanna Troi only one-half Betazoid and one-half human had not inherited the formidable skills of her blue blooded Betazoid mother. Only with a few had the empath been able to communicate telepathically and they had either been close family, friends or Will. Now that the communication had become two ways, the frustration and tension Deanna had been dealing with melted away and the flow of words and thoughts ran smoothly. Many times throughout her youth and perhaps less frequently as an adult Deanna found herself wishing she could live up to the inheritance of her mother's people. Nevertheless, here, with this woman, she felt none of those inadequacies. The only hurdle she needed to face was the pain of the other woman. Pain she hoped they as a team would be able to eliminate once they found Abeathdor.

Beverly returned to a very mellow Counselor Troi, she could only conclude that the commander's presence had strengthened Deanna's peace of mind. The doctor watched as the empath communicated again and again with the inhabitant of the planet. The doctor requested Deanna to voice her end of the communication, to enable her to better monitor the empath's well being by understanding the context to which she was reacting. When after sometime had passed Deanna noticed Beverly has fallen asleep curled up in the chair she had been sitting in, she stopped vocalizing her conversation. By this time the ship's counselor's mind had become so imbued with the tribulations and dreams of the woman from the planet, she couldn't pull away from her, remaining in communication with her the rest of the night.

The doctor suddenly became aware of the movement around her. She opened her eyes to see Deanna covering her with a blanket. She was dressed to leave. "Deanna, it can't be time to go already! Did I sleep that long?"

"No, it wasn't all that long Beverly, as you would say- 'it was sleep you needed'. Stay and rest a little longer. This may well be over in a few hours. You need your rest, you have been babysitting me and neglecting your own needs. Please go back to sleep. I may well need you later, we know it was a terrifying night in the tower. Beverly..." As her friend pushed back the blanket and got to her feet.

"I'll just walk you to the transporter room. I need to go over the use of they hyposprays and a few other items with the captain and Data." The doctor took a moment to scrutinize her friend, noticing the lack of sleep taking it's toll she commented, "What a bunch we are, making an official visit looking like the walking dead. No insult intended."

Deanna put a hand to her face, then brushed back her hair. "None taken, but if you don't mind, I think I'll take another second to try to remedy that." She made a dash back into her bathroom. Beverly grinned at her friend's slight touch of vanity.

When the doors before them opened into the transporter room, the two women saw Data and Worf talking with Geordi, near the console. They had no sooner entered than the doors opened again behind them. This time Captain Picard and Commander Riker entered to join the crew. Commander Riker nodded his acknowledgment to Worf and Data, but it was the women he walked up to. He stood before Deanna, at first saying nothing, the two just stood looking into each other's eyes as though reading all of the other's secrets in just those few seconds.

"Well, I guess I'll see you shortly." He paused but it was evident he had more on his mind. Beverly started to back away giving them a moment when he continued. "Deanna, would you please do something for me? Stay with the Captain, go no where alone. Remember what Guinan said?" She nodded. He held her eyes a minute longer before turning back to the Captain and the others to make sure of the co-ordinates were received for the beam down.

Beverly looked from Riker to Troi, under her breath she said, "He could have been a hair more romantic, don't you think?"

Deanna scolded mildly, "Bev-er-ly!"

"I know. I know, he's in command mode." They exchanged smiles. She turned back to Deanna, "Seriously, be careful. If the empathic waves become too difficult to manage beam up immediately, don't wait too long. I may not be able to reverse any severe damage."

"I understand. Thank you Beverly." She smiled trying to let the doctor believe that she would follow her advice regardless of the situation. Deanna was hit by a wave of concern and uncertainty as the doctor looked her in the eye once more. She knew she had not fooled Beverly into any false sense of security. The doctor firmly believed that the empath would stubbornly go about her role as she felt she needed to, even if that meant pushing beyond reasonable limits. Deanna smiled at her friends concern. "I promise not to push beyond what I can endure. How's that?"

Beverly forced a smile, "I promise to believe that when I see it Counselor!" She squeezed her friends arm, "Come with me. I want you to make sure the Captain or Data know when you are feeling overwhelmed." The doctor quickly reinforced all the procedures to the rest of the away team. Will Riker stood watching, trying not to let his own thoughts bleed out to Deanna. He couldn't take his eyes off her as the doctor outlined what she expected might occur once they arrived on the surface. Right then, he wanted to be the one leading the away team. Better yet, he wanted Deanna here sitting on the bridge with him as the away team beamed to the surface. He memorized everything about her, as she stood uncomfortably aware of his attention, and his thoughts.

Worf cleared his throat, "Commander, I know how much she means to you, I will not allow anything to happen to her sir. You need not be concerned."

Will masked his expression. "I appreciate that Worf, but your first duty is to the Captain. I only wish I was coming along on this one."

"Still, I will keep my eye on her." Worf grunted something Will Riker could not clearly make out, but it sounded a lot like- time to get his ass out of the neutral zone. He frowned at the thought that Worf knew of his feelings and lack of action in regards to Deanna Troi.

All too soon, Commander Riker watched as everyone took his or her places on the transporter to be beamed down to Prakal II. Doctor Crusher joined him at Geordi's side as the four figures shimmered and disappeared. He looked over at Beverly, "I'll be damned glad when this is over and everyone is back." She nodded her agreement.


The away team found themselves in a great hall of polished marble. The walls were lined with portraits of the former royal inhabitants all wearing ceremonial garb. Between the portraits were suits of armor, each marking the age in which the owner of the portrait's face lived and ruled. The hall was very long, and the rulers many.

Worf quickly took command of security, moving with determination he circled the team sensing danger, but finding no obvious source, he had to be satisfied guarding the captain. Data's scanning revealed no hidden dangers.

Worf's uneasiness intensified, he looked at his captain, "We were expected. These are the correct co-ordinates."

"I'm sure they are Mr. Worf. It would appear this is a little psychological maneuvering. Wouldn't you agree counselor?" He noticed the counselor had a disturbed look on her face.

"Captain, I am sensing great hostility from.." her sentence was never finished. The great hall was suddenly filled with sound. The sound of many boots in a running cadence announced the presence of their host. It took only moments for the hall to fill with men, all armed. Troi took a closer look at the newly arrived group. As an army they were not equally uniformed, each carried his own unique version of a weapon. The weaponry ranged from swords to the more technically and mechanically advanced and lethal arrays.

The away team stood still only moving enough to keep the captain between them. Each turning to cover the other's back. They had two phasers between them, Worf's and Data's. "Do not provoke anything. Remain watchful but calm." Picard was not totally surprised by this turn of events.

"Captain, do not be alarmed. We've been experiencing a little problem with some of the locals." A voice from above called down to them. There on a long narrow balcony, high above them stood two well-dressed men and what appeared to be a personal guard. The man that assumed leadership was waving his arm over the large mass of men surrounding the away team. "All this is for your protection. We were afraid some of the local rebels would try to intercept you." Then, with several sentences spoken harshly in another tongue he gave commands. The men gave way to from two columns to the front and back of the Enterprise crew.

"Please, Captain." The leader motioned in the direction he expected them to take.

Captain Picard walked up to take his place beside Troi. Data walked in front and Worf took the rear. Once they began moving Picard whispered to the empath, "What are you sensing from him?"

"He is telling the truth. He fears we still could be intercepted, it concerns him. However, that is only a small part of his worry. There is a lot happening here I can not make sense of yet."

"Yes, I feel it too, Counselor." He stole quick glance at her.

"I'm fine, Captain."

Picard nodded, and reminded himself of her increased abilities. He would have to be careful to shield his concerns for her and allow her to do what she did best.

The group turned to go up a narrow stairway. The next floor appeared to be quite extensive with many closed doors. At the end of the hall were two massive doors that stood partially opened. The two men at the front of each column approached the entranceway, pulling the heavy wooden doors completely open for the rest to enter. The group moved into a huge banqueting room with a great old wooden table in its center. There were many seats from the middle of the table to the far end, leaving the near portion entirely empty. The Enterprise crew was ushered to these seats, leaving many vacant.

"I am very sorry Captain, we were unsure as to the size of your delegation. Please forgive me, I have not introduced myself." The deep voice came from a seated figure at the opposite end of the table. " I am Regent Gringbald. This is my secretary, Zylon." The away team focused on the other end of the table where an overly jeweled and well-dressed man addressed them, nodding in turn to the leader of the troops that brought them into the room, Zylon sat at his right.

Captain Picard and the rest of the away team had remained standing for the introductions, although the entire host delegation had nosily taken their seats. The captain began, "Regent Gringbald, I did not want to take advantage of your hospitality with a large group. Please allow me to introduce my team." The captain quickly introduced the others stressing the rank of each officer, then added, "These officers have extensive experience in representing the Federation and are fully qualified to serve on the flagship of the Federation."

Gringbald scrutinized each crewmember as they were introduced. Troi sensed surprise, and a malicious interest oozing from the regent's secretary at the attention Gringbald had focused on her. The captain used her rank as commander in introducing her, rather than ship's counselor. She felt Gringbald's attention on her through out the introductions but could sense nothing more than his interest. His secretary on the other hand, seemed unable to keep his lewd thoughts to himself. Those thoughts were heavily tainted with evil. Deanna Troi had to try to remove herself forcefully from the dark presence he left in her own mind. She knew she would need to remain alert through out the mission. It would be easy to block his emotions and perhaps miss any warning or danger signal. If she was certain of any thing, it was that they were dealing with a treacherous man.

After everyone was seated, Troi noticed movement directly opposite from where she was seated. There were two large screens placed in front of another door. It appeared to be the staging area where from where the food would be dispersed. She saw Worf lower his hand to his phaser as his attention focused on the movements. She could sense the anticipation radiating from his posture. Deanna turned to Picard; he too had seen the Klingon's attention and precautionary move. She could sense the alertness and the control her captain used in managing himself and those he held under his authority. She could also read other moods in the room, feelings that she couldn't quite name or fully understand.

The screened area was producing much activity now; the sound of wooden carts being pushed from behind the screen slowly became louder as they were brought to the banquet table. The air was polluted with the heavy perfume of hot spiced foods. The first cart went to Gringbald's section, where huge steaming plates were placed directly in from of the ruler. Then a sizable goblet was filled with an amber liquid at his side. He nodded to the serving woman, she in turn signaled for the second cart to be wheeled to Picard's end of the table. Here the same ritual was repeated, first for the captain and then for the rest of his officers.

Troi paid little attention to the food, she maintained her focus soled on the food bearers. They were all women. At first appearance -older women, then upon closer examination -worn women. Their eyes had the look of ancient ones whose lives held more than an adaptable amount of pain and suffering. The clothing they wore were made in such a way as to show a woman's attributes and still convey their lowly station in the social world. When Troi's plate was placed in front of her, she shuddered at the sight of the server's hands. The hands were scared and discolored with a form of markings on the wrist - a type of brand formed by the scar tissue itself. Her observation and subsequent reactions did not go unnoticed. The captain reached under the table to touch her arm, she knew he was conveying the need to be watchful but appear to be unconcerned. Deanna recovered quickly, nodding slightly to the captain and keeping her eyes on the plate before her. Slowly keeping all sense open, she began to allow her mind to touch the woman, seeking answers to unvoiced questions. The woman at her side continued setting the hot plates down in front of the guests. It seemed strange to the empath, very little could be sensed from her - except the need for urgency to finish and be away from here. The server kept her mind directed in on the task set before her. Deanna studied her closely, sensing that the woman was trying to convey something to her. As the server was turning to go she looked directly into the counselor's eyes. It was almost as though the woman was thanking her, the sense of gratitude was abundantly clear. Deanna fought the urge to call to her, to find out what she meant. Instead she quickly changed pace by allowing the feelings of the other at the table to take form in her mind.

Those other's thoughts warned her that this was not a purely sociable event. The hostility and fear were so tangible to the empath that they became visible in every move the host and his supporting cast made. The most striking thing was that the fear was of Gringbald. His secretary, Zylon was reeking of belligerence and arrogance, all the while constantly observing the away team. Gringbald too, kept his eye on the foreigners; Troi could feel his attention on her, his intent was unclear but unending.

The meal seemed to take forever. There was little conversation between the two ends of the table, none of which was meaningful. The Enterprise crew ate little and drank less of the unusual and heavy foods and drink. While the host delegation seemed to devour everything that wasn't on their guests plate. Their talk and attitudes growing more outlandish with every bite and swallow they gulped. Finally their host, Gringbald, hoisted himself out of his chair signaling the beginning of the next phase his hospitality. Picard almost howled with relief. That feeling proved to be fleeting and premature.


"Captain Picard, if you and your people have finished with the meal, please allow me to entertain you with a bit of our local talent." Gringbald turned toward the screen and in a demanding authoritative tone shouted, "Lagi, clear our guests places and bring new tankards of drink."

The woman with the badly marked hands came scuttling across the room to do as ordered. Behind her moving with the same speed were two other women. This time all the women wore gloves to deliver and refill all the tankards. Troi guessed the glove were once white, but due to the many uses and wearings they were now the color of the golden marble they had walked upon in the great hall. The women quickly moved from one person to another, clearing plates and dishes, then refilling the tankards with drink. When the last drink was topped off, the servers hastily disappeared behind the screen.

At the farthest end of the room where the Enterprise crew sat, loud voices were heard. Four men were dragged in to the center of that floor space. All were shackled and dressed in an uniformed jumpsuit.

Deanna was bombarded by emotions, many different emotions. "Captain." One word she struggled and finally managed to utter. Picard was already on his feet as were the rest of the away team. Worf's right hand resting on his phaser as kept a constant vigil over the proceedings.

"Captain Picard, you are in no danger." The voice was too syrupy, too sweet, and oh so condescending; leaving no doubt as to Gringbald's purpose, whatever was to come next -it would be sadistic. He was going to gauge their moral outrage, just what would it take to go over the brim and send the Federation packing? "These men are criminals, we give them a chance to decide their own future. We will allow two of them to serve our people- the price of their restitution. Two of them will die. It will be in their own hands as to which two die and which two live to serve on behalf of others. Watch now, they will pick the weapons of their own choosing. Straws are then drawn to decide which two will pair as contestants. It is very interesting the choices one makes under certain circumstances, wouldn't you agree Captain?" Picard remained standing but never shifted his gaze from the four men on the floor. Gringbald continued, "You see they have been incarcerated together for one fortnight, they have come to perceive each other's weakness."

Zylon move to stand closer to the away team, his eyes gleaming as he watched with a bloodlust rushing through in his veins. Gringbald, however, had lost interest in the staged event, and now found new game in watching the reactions of the visitors. His attention kept returning to the woman. There was something unique about her. Something in the eyes the way they registered what her mind was thinking in her reactions to what she saw. He thought he was merely taken with the fact that she was a woman important enough to be brought here. This one called Troi should be taken as seriously as Picard - he who seemed in such control, so aloof. Well let's see how aloof. Gringbald decided not to limit the events after all. He quickly began to plot his next steps. The regent called Zylon over to his side.

Troi edged closer to the captain, "Sir, he's testing us. He's quite capable of extreme sadism."

Picard nodded, but kept his eye on the combatants. The weapons had now been chosen: broad swords, large club like weapons with metal chains hanging from the end, shields and daggers. Weapons of combat for the up close and personal way to kill. Picard had to wonder at the mindset of such primitive brutality.

Worf nodded in satisfaction. Men of honor, willing to die as warriors, warriors of Klingon fable. Yes, this would be interesting. As interesting as Worf found it to be, he felt something to be wrong. There was something about Gringbald he found distasteful, a sinister cloud seemed to loom above him, just waiting to rain down evil upon them at anytime. Worf tried to keep the man in view. He felt as though he was wasting time watching these men die while waiting for that cloudburst.

The combat began; the first of the five senses to be assaulted was the hearing. The terrible clang of metal on metal, the brut force of the blows echoed throughout the large room. For Troi who purposely stood behind Worf so as not to witness the sport, it was the buffeting of emotions that nearly overran her senses; fear, anger, and pain from the two contestants. The emotion of the crowd around them was a murderous excitement, a lust for someone's death.

One man went down, Gringbald's men jeered when the victor didn't strike to finish the job. "Kill him or die!" was chanted from the mob now circling the combatants.

Picard noticed the room had gotten warmer, he looked around noticing it had now filled with more onlookers. The circus like atmosphere was prevalent and ugly. The small group huddled closer to each other, expecting things to escalate into a problem. Their view of the gladiators now completely obscured by the crowd, but death must have come to one. The cheering was deafening. The captain looked for Troi, she had found a chair close to them, her face was pale and she appeared shaken. He knew she had felt the death and was attempting to stay focused. At that moment a hush fell over the crowd, then a dragging sound, then again cheering rung throughout the room.

Zylon was making his way over to them, elbowing his way through that gathered around the away team. "Is there a problem Captain, the female is unwell perhaps?"

"No, all is well. The room has become a bit overcrowded. Commander Troi merely needs a little air. If you will permit us, a bit of fresh air would help." Troi upon hearing the exchange quickly got to her feet to stand beside the captain and nodded in agreement with his prescribed cure.

Zylon led the group outside the room, not down the stairs as Picard expected, but up another flight, then through a door. They found themselves on a long broad terrace, with chairs and potted trees in wild abandoned disarray.

They all took a deep breath. Troi walked over to the rail trying to get once more under control. Zylon started after her, Picard intercepted the secretary, "Sir, what now becomes of the victors of the demonstrations we witnessed?"

Zylon stopped and turned back to Picard. "They will now have the opportunity to serve their countrymen, a patriotic service. I'm sure you would understand that. We need our heroes and those who would pave the way for others."

"Yes of course. We all have need of those setting fine examples." Picard now walked over to Troi, Data and Worf joined him. Zylon and two of the house guards followed. Looking at the area surrounding the palace, Picard could see the truth of Guinan's picture of the planet. The odor that arose from the water beneath them was foul, and yet looking at the distant landscape, the mountains appeared quite beautiful. There were many smaller buildings surrounding the palace, all in different degrees of disrepair. A little further to the west of them stood other buildings of greater worth.

"Are you feeling better now, Commander?" Zylon approached Troi, looking at her with great interest.

"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you, Secretary." Troi tried to sense what this man was about, because he seemed to strike a fear in her. She tried to concentrate on getting something deeper than the many layers of arrogance and deceit, but quickly gave up; his foulness leaving a bitter taste in her thoughts. She tried instead the more human approach. "Sir, there are many things we need to know of your culture to report to the Federation, for instance your form of education for the young, medical facilities, communications and information on how your government system operates. Can we start with something simple, Sir, what is the name of your city?" She forced a smile of such sweetness that left the secretary staring at her for several seconds before answering the question.

"This is the capital city of Gendla. You see the large telecommunications building over there, the one with the large communifan on the roof. We are very proud of that technology, for the first time ever we are able to see the person we are speaking with. We now may speak to others, such as yourselves, through out space. It is a great achievement."

Data stepped up to ask more detailed questions regarding the scientific advancement of the Prakalian society. The captain used this moment to check with Troi. "Counselor, how are you holding up? Have you had any further link with the woman."

"No sir, it has me a bit troubled. There should be no difficulty, in fact if anything it should be more intense. I'm not sure what could have happened. She may be unconscious."

"Keep trying, but be discreet, very discreet. I'll try to finagle a tour of the city, maybe we can learn something that way." Picard walked over to where Data was continuing to grill the secretary. Zylon looked almost grateful for Picard's presence. That is until Picard asked, "Secretary Zylon, would it be possible to have a first hand tour of some of these facilities? I'm sure Commander Data's curiosity will be satisfied and we will be fulfilling the requirements for the Federation's application."

Zylon declared that such a tour would not be a problem within certain limitations of course, for the safety of the visitors. "We have had some problems with a small number of rebels. Allow me to consult with Regent Gringbald. My own men will stay with you. Would you like to wait in the rooms that have been prepared for your visit? This will allow you time to rest, before the tour begins. Let's say in two hours?" Zylon raised his thick eyebrow, awaiting an affirmative reply.

As they followed him to the rooms, Troi watched him closely for anything that may disclose any information about him. She noticed, not for the first time, what an odd little man he was: his height was that of a Ferengi, with long dark oily hair and one massive eyebrow across the forehead. Under the brow lurked two beady eyes that never appeared to be completely open. Zylon had a way of not looking directly into her eyes, but she had caught him watching her slyly from the corner of his eyes. He reminded her of a reptile exhibit she had once seen. Compiling all that with her own feelings of repulsion kept her from delving too deeply into the man's emotions.


Picard had asked that the Enterprise be allowed to download in specific information from the government archives. This information would be needed to complete the application for membership to the Federation. Zylon replied he would have to convey that request to Regent Gringbald. The crew was left with two of Zylon's men standing guard outside their assigned rooms.

Picard signaled for Data and Worf to check the room for any abnormalities. The two walked the room with tricorders scanning for anything that would fall into that category. They found and disabled two mechanical devices used for monitoring movement and sound.

The captain then contacted the Enterprise. Will Riker's voice replied, "Go ahead Captain."

"Have you been able to establish a computer link with the archives, Number One?"

"No Captain, they are hesitating on the last step to achieve link up. Has the counselor been able to reestablish her contact?"

"No, not yet. Listen Number One; we have a little double dealing going on here. I'll keep you appraised of the situation as it becomes clearer. We are due for the grand tour in a little while. Keep a fix on our co-ordinates in case we need to make a hasty exit. It seems our hosts want to examine our rectitude. I expect we should be back on board within the next four to five hours. Picard out."

Worf stood at the captains side, "I believe Gringbald is setting a trap for us. I am certain of it."

Picard answered easily, "Well, then Mr. Worf, I am delighted that you have honored us with your presence. We will keep our heads together and our eyes open." He turned his attention to Troi, watching her pace restlessly around the room. "Counselor, what did you make of the serving woman?" when she didn't answer he went to stand before her, "Deanna, what is it?"

"I'm sorry, Captain, I'm concerned about my contact- I have no sense of her. The serving woman...she seemed to be trying to communicate something to us...I'm unclear as to what. There was a surprise there though... I sensed no fear of Gringbald or Zylon from her, although I did sense a very deep feeling of loathing. Those marks on her hands - I believe that somehow Gringbald is responsible for them, I'm not sure how or why. I agree with Worf - Gringbald is setting us up for something, he's gauging us. Throughout the entire demonstration he watched us. I tried to read him - he blocked me so thoroughly it was though he was completely blank to me. Her agitation was growing; she shook her head and began to pace again. "Zylon is suspicious of us, it's more than that he wants us gone."

Picard listened, nodding his head in understanding. " Counselor, maybe the timing of our arrival has caused him to alter his plans. Perhaps, that is what this is all about. He may want this application to the Federation denied."

Worf produced a low growl from the back of his throat. "If this woman has been murdered, then we have two choices; destroy this Gringbald and his influence on these peoples---or leave, it is not our affair."

"I don't believe she is dead. I think I would have known. I fear she has been drugged and possibly kept unconscious somewhere that we would not easily detect." Deanna looked at the captain hoping that after coming this far they would not leave without helping her.

Later it was Gringbald himself that came for them. "I apologize for not accompanying you earlier. I had some pressing matters of state to take care of. I trust Secretary Zylon was attentive to your needs?" Gringbald had stepped into their rooms, looked for and found the destroyed surveillance equipment.

Picard quickly addressed the situation. "Oh, I am sorry about any damage. Mr. Worf was doing some Klingon exercises. The Federation will, of course, compensate for any loss."

Gringbald looked at Worf, who stood looking as intimidating as a Klingon could look on a bad battle day. "I'm sure it is nothing. Captain, are you and your people ready for a tour of our city? We will begin with the capital city's office and data bank. They are housed in the building next to this one. We will go through the connecting tunnel, it is much quicker with less exposure to any outside influences." Gringbald raised his eyebrows with the condescending smile they were beginning to know so well, he added, "This is for your protection of course. Follow me, the house guard will accompany us. Have you any objections, Captain?"

"No objections, Regent."

They toured the office buildings, the information base, as school and hospital. The medical research building was to be next -when Troi was hit with a sudden revulsion, it was as physical a blow as being hit in the stomach. She found herself unable to catch her breath. However, it went mostly unobserved, Data and Captain Picard were in front of her talking with Gringbald. Worf caught her elbow as she staggered.

"Deanna, are you unwell?" He whispered pretending to have a casual conversation with her.

"Worf, something is happening in here, something horrible." She looked up at him as he squeezed her arm as reassuringly as possible. Deanna hid the wince, thankful for the distraction of the more physical pain. She tried to find the source of the emotional pain that was bombarding her. She accepted Worf's arm to make the support seem a casual gesture of comradeship.

They entered into a large concrete building. The air was thick with a chemical aroma. What a contrast this building was to their previous stops. This was a new building with bright lights and new equipment, far more modernized than the school or hospital. Worf wrinkled his nose; his advanced sense of smell had made the place almost unbearable for him. Deanna could feel him become physically tense as they continued further into the facility. At the end of the corridor was a security desk. Gringbald left the Captain to speak to the men behind the desk. The away team used that opportunity to exchange information.

They discussed the lack neither of any sound, neither from the rooms they had passed, nor from any where in the building. The only noise came from their presence. Obviously the rooms were sound proof, but the need for such was another horrifying thought.

"Captain, I feel there is probably a need for such precautions. What I am sensing from inside this building are immense waves of pain and fear. This is a research building, isn't it? Could it be an experimental facility where people are treated as guinea pigs?"

The question went unanswered, Gringbald had returned to them. "The commissioner of research is very protective of his domain. Come, there is one area in particular I want you to see." Gringbald was practically rubbing his hands together in sinister delight. They looked at each other in anticipation; this may be the moment they had been watching for. As they neared their destination, Deanna was being flooded with the pain of the buildings occupants. More and more the weight of doom seemed to rest in her chest dragging her down so that each step became heavier and harder to make.


When they finally came to a stop and turned to enter a door, Gringbald smiled, "Remember when I said earlier that two of the prisoners would serve the people? What better way to serve the population then to die so that other would live!" Gringbald opened the door, reached past Picard to grab Troi by the arm. He pulled her roughly through the door, and with an alarming strength had thrown her across the room and on to the bed that was occupied by one of the men from the earlier events of the day. Looking down at his near dying face, Deanna was seized by his terror and her then own. Worf quickly and gently eased her away from the bed.

When Gringbald and his men entered, Troi was in Worf's arms fighting to control the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her. Data had quickly and unnoticed prepared a hypospray for her. She shook her head refusing the medicine instead, chose to center herself, she closed her eyes and deliberately slowed her breathing. The captain and Worf blocked her from the view of Gringbald.

"I hope the commander is well, I thought since she had obtained the rank of commander she would know and understand that such sacrifices are necessary."

While the away team struggled with their anger, the only sound to be heard was that from the man strapped to his bed gasping for air. The sound brought Picard's righteous indignation to the surface. "We do not judge rank by suffering. We do not inflict torture for the sake of making a point. You deliberately threw Troi into this room hoping to get a reaction. As you see, she is under control. Yes, she was shaken to see what this man had been reduced to in a matter of hours, as were we all. Exactly what is your point, Regent?"

"Oh Captain Picard, I certainly didn't intend to demean or offend you or your people. I do apologize to Commander Troi. You see why we do not promote our women to such roles. I see that Troi is not like our women, perhaps this too is something the Federation will allow us - our irregularities."

"What you see here is a criminal, who has been given a chance to redeem his crime. We are working here on cures to diseases that plague our planet. To find a cure, we must infect one with the strain we are hoping to cure. Then we test for those cures." He paused, "This my dear Captain is not torture." Gringbald laughed, "This is not torture>"

Troi had now regained her composure completely; she walked over to the bed to look closer at the man struggling for each breath of air. He had red blotches over his face and was bathed in sweat. "What are you doing to help him, Regent? He is clearly in distress, have you come closer to a remedy or have you learned enough about this illness to prevent it?"

"My dear Commander, we are working now to come to a greater accuracy in answering all those questions. You can't tell me that your own cultures have not progressed through this level of understanding and education to get the next higher level achievement."

"Regent Gringbald, I question more your treatment of my people, then I do of your prisoners. Perhaps, given the circumstances it would be prudent to visit your detention centers?"

"We have no one in this city's prisons that you would benefit from seeing, Captain. Those we are holding are only murderers and prisoners of state who will die shortly."

Data jumped into the fray -by asking about the justice system and the premise of innocence and guilt. Gringbald informed them that he personally handled those whose crimes were against the state, and others he appointed would deal with the rest. Picard only half listened to the conversation, he looked to the counselor and raised his eyebrows in question, and she sadly shook her head. If there would be no more to gain from this visit he would get his people out and prepare for the next phase.

"Regent, is there anything else you would like us to see before we return to the Enterprise?" Picard quickly took advantage of one of the few silences between the android and regent to prepare for their departure.

"Captain, I believe we have covered everything on my agenda, is there anything else you need to see." Again, Gringbald was sweeter than anyone had a reason to be.

"No sir, I think we have what we came for, if you would be so kind as to show us the way back to the palace, we will contact our ship and return. We shall be orbiting for a few days while we process the computer banks and transmit the information back to Star Fleet." Picard looked at the away team before adding, "Thank you for your hospitality Regent. We will be communicating further."

"My men will see you back. I am needed here for a moment. Thank You Captain." Gringbald spun on his heel and goose-stepped to the security desk.

Commander Riker was waiting for them as they were arrived back at the Enterprise. "You finished ahead of schedule, any problems Captain?"

"Number One, call a senior staff meeting in one hour. Let's just say we were surprised that we weren't surprised." Picard quickly left the transporter room. Will turned to look questioningly at Deanna.

Worf growled, "No honor, no scruples - maggot bait." Then he too exited.

"This must have been quite a tour. I can't wait to hear more." As Will Riker took Deanna's arm to walk with her, she reacted unexpectedly as though in pain pulling her arm away.

"Counselor, were you injured earlier?" Data took the arm and examined it. "I believe your arm may have suffered several deep contusions, perhaps a stop at sickbay may be helpful."

"How did this happen?" Riker's earlier relief at seeing them back was beginning to fade.

"It's nothing Will. We'll have Beverly look at it. Gringbald was a little too persistent in helping me into a room."

"Technically Counselor, he roughly propelled you into the room with enough force to launch you on the bed a distance of not less than fifteen feet." Data's assistance was starting to unnerve Will.

"Come on, we're all going to sickbay. There we will get to the bottom of this." Riker now escorted Troi and Data to sickbay. Doctor Crusher diagnosed the injury as a Data had; the arm had several deep bruises. In moments the doctor had the situation quickly remedied, as Data narrated the incident.

Will walked Deanna back to her quarters to get freshened up a bit before the staff meeting. He paced the living her cabin while she showered and changed into a clean uniform. He was hoping to talk with her about the many things that were swirling through his mind as she was on the planet. The one item that kept chasing all other thoughts was the one topic he didn't know how to approach, how could he tell her exactly how he felt about her.

She stood watching him pace, looking as though he had something on his mind. Deanna Troi knew what was on his mind, but didn't understand the emotions he was having regarding those thoughts. She moved to stand directly in his path. He stopped and looked at her with such intensity for a few moments she forgot to breathe. "Will? What is it? You are wearing out the carpet."

"Deanna, there is something I'd like to talk to you about." He stopped and stared into her face, getting lost in those eyes all over again. He moved closer to touch the arm that had been injured but never taking his eyes from hers. Looking into their darkness and seeing himself reflected in that darkness only made him surer of what he had to do. He couldn't bear the thought that at some point there could be a different face reflected there. Yet he felt nearly crippled. He really didn't want to talk right now.

"Yes, Will, what is it." She was feeling as overwhelmed at that moment as he was. She could feel his emotions and knew the direction they were taking. She automatically moved closer to him, until they were a breath away from each other. They both leaned into each other at the same time. He brushed her lips gently then more intently. He could feel her sigh into his lips; he smiled as he continued to hold her close.

" I've wanted to do that for so long." He pulled back to look into her face. "That is what we need to talk about, what we are both feeling." His comm signaled, it was Data reminding them that the staff meeting was to begin in five minutes.

"Well, I guess that's a conversation we'll have later." He smiled down into her eyes before kissing her one more time.

<I'll look forward to it> Her voice sounded in his thoughts bringing an even larger smile to his face. He pulled her hand through his arm as they left for the meeting.

Captain Picard outlined the visit, the accomplishments and the newly learned aspects of the planet. The staff learned of the brutality that the sadistic ruler was capable of toward his own people and the away team. Then the captain continued, "In light of this information, I would like to hear what you think the next step should be - Should another team go down there, perhaps putting their lives in danger to rescue a leader of an unconscionable people. I'd like to hear from each of you." He smiled at the expressions on the faces, knowing before the discussion began what the result would be.

Each gave their choice with clear reasoning. When the meeting adjourned Picard again felt confidence and pride in those serving with him.


The second away team was scheduled to meet in transporter room three six hours after the meeting, and subsequent decision to continue with the mission. Commander Riker was the first to arrive carrying a large lightweight backpack. His uniform had been exchanged for an electric blue open tunic with an open neck and ballooned sleeves, complimented by a black vest and black trousers with a wide belt and black boots.

Beverly Crusher was second to enter the transporter room. She arrived with a huge over the shoulder cloth travel bag, and dressed in a jade green blouse that had a neckline that began at the shoulders with long full sleeves. Her flowered full skirt flowed from the gathers held at the waist by a wide belt to the ankles.

Deanna Troi arrived next, carrying the bag, and dressed in much the same fashion as Beverly. Her blouse an electric blue and skirt black. Both women had their hair pulled back in a braid for convenience more than for style. Will, quickly walked to stand near to Deanna giving her a long appraising look "I really like that look on you." He smiled waiting for the response he knew he would get. Beverly stood beside him facing Deanna, wondering about the easy playfulness the two seemed to be indulging in since the counselor's return from the planet.

Data and Captain Picard entered the transporter room, cutting off any reply the counselor would have made. Data's appearance had been altered the most. The android now had a full beard and mustache. His skin was now cosmetically darkened as the color of his eyes was tinted now to a striking blue-green.

"Data, are we to be brothers?" Will teased, but there did appear to be a resemblance.

"The beard and cosmetic changes were my idea, Number One. It would in fact, appear that you are related. Two brothers traveling with their wives would be a safe scenario. Actually, the idea was Guinan's. She thought it may be an easy explanation as to why the four of you would keep company without drawing undue attention." Picard looked at their outfits and nodded approvingly, before continuing. "That's why you dress in corresponding colors; Data pointed out, from the information retrieved from the planet each family seemed to have one piece of clothing on that was part of the family crest. To reinforce the idea of family Data was purposely made to resemble Will, his brother on this mission..Oh and boys," Picard could barely contain the smile, "for this mission Data will be considered the eldest. Many times the elder son is the only one with any education. Data will do the reading and writing when and if it becomes necessary, since Data is the only one able to decipher the writing."

"Well Data, I think you look quite handsome. Is it too late to change partners?" Deanna smiled warmly at him and caught the shocked look on Riker's face.

"May I say Counselor, that you too look...visually stimulating." Data looked genuinely pleased with her compliment, but continued, "However, Counselor, I do not think that it would be wise to make any last minute adjustments, we do not have the time to readjust later." He cast a look at the Commander, knowing Riker would not be pleased by the suggestion. "Besides Counselor, I do not think you are serious."

"I think you are quite right Data, the Counselor will just have to stay married to the tyrant now!" Will reached over to pull her gently to his side, knowing it was her comeback to him from his earlier comment. Will added, "Besides, I think we make the perfect family, just as we are."

Picard stopped the banter when he saw the light in the doctor's eyes, knowing she would have a stinging comment, "All right people, you have everything you need?" He began to check off items, "Currency? Medkits? Phasers? Warm Cloaks?" When they had answered positive to all he continued, "Be careful, keep your wits about you. Communicate within the next four hours, then every six hours. Return as quickly and as safely as possible."

The Captain stood back at the console. When everyone was on the transporter pads he watched as within moments they shimmered and disappeared in a silvery light. "I've locked on to the communicators, we'll try to keep track of them in case of emergency beam up, sir." Picard turned to acknowledge the engineer with a "very good", before leaving for the bridge.

The four found themselves in a wooded area outside of Glendla. The sun was slowly losing its battle with the moon, as the shadows now presented a chilling air to the newcomers.

Data and Riker walked around the area with their tricorders checking reading for a safe place to spend the night. "Let's make camp over there, where the ground flattens out a bit. It will be dark soon and we'll need a fire to keep warm. We can start by collecting dry wood, and several nice sized rocks." Then after seeing the women's face, Riker smiled, "Come on, it will be fun. I loved it as a kid."

Everyone laid their travel bags and backpacks down in one pile to search for the needed items. The two women walked together and commiserated with each other's reasons for not enjoying the night's accommodations. Beverly groaned, "I suppose this means we might as well look for someplace to visit for bathroom necessities. What about behind that big rock, it looks pretty secluded, and yet not too far away?"

Deanna frowned, "Well, it's not something I always dreamed of doing. Guys love this stuff -it's so primal." They both laughed. "You know what I really hate about this, other than the 'earth closet'? It's the bugs, don't tell Will, but I really hate bugs. I guess it's the idea of things crawling on me..." She paused and looked at Beverly with a spark in her eye as she added, "that come uninvited!"

When they returned to the camp area with their armful of wood, Data had already set rocks in a large circle with a few piled in a small mound in the center. He continued stacking the wood in a pyre fashion. They watched as he set his phaser, pointed it at the bottom of the stack and fired. It started with a small blaze but quickly climbed up the stack. Within minutes the entire area was lit as though it was high noon instead of declining twilight.

Will Riker came running out of the woods, then slowed when he saw everything was fine. "Data, we aren't signaling the Enterprise! It's a beautiful fire but a little much."

"Commander, you wanted warmth, this will provide maximum warmth using a relatively small amount of the given combustible."

"Yes, your right. It will burn down, then we'll keep it burning low." He stood with his hands outstretched toward the fire. Feeling it's warmth, Will smiled at his childhood memories of times when he and friends camped. Its always seemed to cement a friendship, perhaps just the getting down to basics putting everyone was on the same level and learning to relax at that level. It was though standing there, feeling the physical warmth on his hands; he felt that childhood warmth in his chest.

He looked over the fire to see Deanna with a gentle smile on her face, watching him, sensing his feelings and thoughts. She thought/sent <Good memories should be shared, Imzadi.>

He smiled over the fire at her, thinking he would have to learn to get used to her newly enhanced skills. "All we need now are some marshmallows then the experience would be complete."

"What are they? I really don't cherish the thought of swamp creatures around to make your camping trip a dream come true, Will Riker!" Beverly was still thinking of the inconvenience of the earth closet now added to that the thought of some slithering thing fighting for her sleeping bag, this was getting worse and worse.

"Beverly it's a confection. We used to put them on the end of a stick, let them catch fire, then while they're still hot, black and sticky you eat them."

Beverly wrinkled her nose, "Yea, I can see why it's too bad we don't have any." They listened as Will continued to reminisce as he walked around the campfire looking for something. He began dragging out a large portion of a fallen tree. Data assisted in placing it in front of the fire, just far enough away that it could be used as a backrest to lean against. Will then motioned for the others to join him in sitting in front of the fire.

There was something comforting about sitting around the fire. After a while everyone started to get comfortable, pulling the sleeping bags out and preparing for a night's rest. Will dozed off first, snoring softly, a contented smile on his face.

Deanna sat up to watch him sleep in the light of the fire. She could sense his peace in his sleep, and when his dreams began she could get a sense of their content also. She was unable to sleep; she had felt the faintest brush of Abeathdor in her mind. It was the first such contact in the last twenty-four hours. She concentrated hoping for more, but there was nothing else. How ironic, they had prepared for this away team with Doctor Crusher, the entire team practiced the drill with the hyposprays- each time she had been on the planet there was no contact. She knew they had much to accomplish on this trip, but how could she help if she had no sense of the woman they came to rescue. She started as she saw movement from behind the trees to her right, then let a sigh of relief escape as she saw that it was Data with more wood for the fire. After several minutes passed she snuggled back down into her sleeping bag and watched Will sleep until her own eyes finally grew too heavy to keep open.

Morning came slowly; they awoke to the smell of hot food. Will had made a quick breakfast from the rations they brought with them. Beverly had a hard time getting to her feet. Her back ached and her muscles didn't want to respond. As nice as the lightweight sleeping bags were to carry they offered very little against the hard ground.

"Once you begin moving around, you'll be good as new." Will was very perky, a trait that Beverly found to very irritating.

"Not everyone slept so soundly, Commander. In fact, some of us hardly slept at all. Deanna, are you ready to get moving? Let's stop at the rock first. Will is there fresh water around to clean up with?"

"Yes, there 's a river down over the hill. What rock are you visiting, or shouldn't I ask?" He looked innocently from one to the other.

Beverly glared at him, then turned and walked toward the appointed rock. Deanna raised her eyebrows at Will. He smiled, "It's hard to believe she's not a morning person. The things you learn about a person camping."

Deanna grinned, "You left a few secrets out yourself during the night." She had time to enjoy a surprised look on his face before she heard Beverly call for her.

On the way down to the river they heard voices. Immediately, they stooped low, looking in the direction of the water. They couldn't clearly see the identity of the two men sitting on the opposite bank. They continued to move lower down the riverbank, dodging low hanging tree limbs and other obstacles until the voices were audible.

"Where is her ladyship?"

"We stopped at a cottage downstream. I think we are safe there. It's a deserted piece of ground. The woods are thick no one is going to find it."

"Yes, but will his "lordship" be satisfied that it is far enough away from Gendla? There can be no problems in the next several days. What's he going to do with her anyway?"

"I figure, he'll try to force her into marriage or just have her found to be insane...or who knows it would be more his style to just kill her. Either way she's dead!" The last was followed by vulgar laughter.

Deanna shuddered. If she hadn't heard a word of their conversation she knew by their disposition toward cruelty these were Gringbald's men. "They have Abeathdor- we're close Beverly." She whispered to her companion.

Beverly nodded, "We need to get back to Will." She turned to go back Deanna held her in place.

"Wait, we may be able to tell him more. Let's see if they say more about the location of the cottage or who is with her there."

The two women sat among the wild flora, hidden behind trees and brush, listening and trying to remember everything. Finally the two men moved off, away from the river. Deanna and Beverly stood slowly, looking around them, making sure that there was no one else near by, before moving quickly back to the camp site.

Will met them before they had gotten far. "There you re! I was becoming concerned that something had happened." After looking at the flushed women trying to catch their breath, he asked, "What happened?"

They quickly filled him in on the men and the conversation they had overheard. They packed up and left in the direction of the cottage. The four made their way down to the river, following it for a short distance before hearing someone approaching from behind them. Simultaneously everyone crouched low, waiting for whatever or whoever was following.

Dreamers and Music Makers

Chapter 9

Data read the tricorder reading, "It appears to be one humanoid riding an equine animal similar to that of the earth horse." Riker nodded his head in acknowledgment as he continued to watch the approaching stranger. He quickly checked to make sure everyone was adequately hidden, a motion close to his side had him quickly turn to see Deanna shifting away from them. Still in her low position she was moving closer to the nearing rider and away from the small group. Troi slowly stood, looking toward the advancing man. Her crewmates stayed low as they watched in astonishment Troi's unexpected behavior.

"Deanna get down! What are you doing?" Will Riker had moved closer to her, he would physically pull her down if necessary. "Deanna!" She continued unaware of him.

The empath faced the rider as he approached; he slowed his animal to a walk. Will watched Deanna, his entire body filling with adrenaline as anticipation swamped his nervous system. He motioned for Data and Beverly to stay where they were for now, and reached into his vest's hidden pocket for his phaser. After making sure it was set on stun, he watched and waited.

"Woman, what are you doing here? These are private land." The rider stopped nearly ten yards from Troi. He looked the dark haired beauty over, wondering how she came to be there alone. He looked around cautiously knowing she would not be alone in this place under normal circumstances. He dismounted, moving slowing toward her, never taking his eyes off her. As he closed the distance he felt a familiar touch enter his thoughts...a feeling he knew her. She showed no fear of him, in fact continued to react as though she knew him. "Lady, I am known as Lepton, perhaps we serve the same queen." His voice was soft, the words spoken were not meant to be overheard.

Will Riker held his breath not daring for a moment to take his eyes from the scene before him even to check his friends reactions. He heard Deanna respond. "Lepton, I am Deanna, I am here with others to help find your queen." She turned toward the rest of the away team, who upon hearing her announce their presence now stood.

"You are all from the starship?" Will tensed as he heard Lepton's question, how did this man come to that conclusion, and if he had that knowledge where there others too they would encounter with perhaps a more dangerous agenda. He heard Deanna introducing each of them to the man named Lepton. He looked the man over, noting the long dark hair, thick dark beard and green eyes. He watched as Deanna continued to talk to the stranger as though she knew him. It was when he heard his own name he came out of his thoughts quickly.

"Will, Beverly, Data this is Lepton, he is close to Abeathdor. I suppose I knew him through Abeathdor's telepathic communication. She had described this man's kindness and appearance." Deanna stopped and put her hand on Lepton's arm, "Abeathdor thought you to have been killed."

He looked at her in surprise, "How could you have that knowledge? Have you been to see her...no surely Gringbald would never have allowed that. How could you know .... Oh, you were the one at the banquet, were you not? You said you had some communication with her..how? They have allowed no one near her."

Deanna didn't answer right away, trying to find the approach to the question that would not give too much information to him. She chose to work around the communication issue for now. "It is of no importance at this moment how I know, but how is it that you escaped death when Abeathdor was so sure you had died?"

He sadly shook his head, "As you see I am very much alive. She is made to think her friends have died because of her. It works for the criminals to strip the wounded of their desire to live." Deanna moved to stand in front of him, she looked into his eyes, the greenest eyes she had ever seen, also the saddest eyes she had seen.

"This communication, this is something you do in your head? You too, ah... I know it is done. I know Abeathdor is able to do much when she is strong." He spoke sadly again. His eyes downcast, not willing to meet any ones.

Will stepped up to take charge of the situation that was beginning to grate on him. "Lepton, what brings you to these woods now?"

"We have been following some of Zylon's men. When they were first spotted in the area we became suspicious. These are arrogant haughty men of higher rank, they would not be wandering in this forest so far from their comfort, if it were not for a matter of some consequence." Lepton stood watching the commander a few moments before asking, "And you, what would you be doing in the woods miles from Gendla?"

"We are following some of Zylon's men also, Lepton." Will hesitated not fully trusting the man, regardless of Deanna's almost immediate acceptance of him.

"Then perhaps we can travel together." He smiled looking at Deanna and the others, and seeing the dark woman's agreement.

They continued their hike through the woods following the river in the direction of the cabin. Data questioned Lepton on many of the cultural differences and changes attempting to find the time line in accordance with Gringbald's ascension into power.

Lepton asked Deanna if she had been able to communicate with Abeathdor lately. "No, I have had no real communication with her for almost two days now. I think she is unconscious. I know she is alive."

Will Riker had been following the conversation closely. Something was wrong. Deanna never mentioned this Lepton, yet she behaved with such familiarity... he silently shook his head, thinking how Deanna had not been open about this. She had known all information was to be given up front, before this stage of the game. Riker walked a slight distance behind them. He heard Data again questioning the man, Will's mind on all that, he never noticed Deanna had been walking beside him. The others were several steps ahead as she came around in front of him, facing him, forcing him to come to a dead stop to avoid walking head on into her.

"What is it Will? I know you're uneasy about something - no I take it back. You are uneasy about me. You want to know if I keeping things from you?"

He looked closely at her, and thought she was becoming very efficient with her newly enhanced skills. But the eye contact, the eye contact was the killer. Those large dark luminous eyes seemed to read his secrets from the depths of his soul. "You've got to admit we had no idea about the existence of anyone down here in a position to aid us. You should have mentioned this to us- to me, Deanna. Is there more that you're holding back?" He put his hands on her shoulders. "Why didn't you reveal this to me?"

"Will, Abeathdor thought he was dead. How would I have known the man still lived? I should have talked to you more about what I learned from her, but I had no way to know if any of those close to her survived." She watched the hurt in his eyes fade to be replaced by concern. "No, there's nothing else that I'm holding back. Yes you KNOW you can trust me." Then at is startled look, "I'm sorry, there something about this atmosphere that seems to increase my empathic into telepathic skills. It's as unnerving to me as it is to you." She laid her hand gently on his arm, "Will, this is new to me too. Help me to stay grounded."

He stood looking down into those eyes; he could refuse her nothing. "Do you want Dr. Crusher to use a hypospray?" Keeping her grounded was usually something he did with great relish.

"No...not yet. If you think my behavior to be erratic or uncontrollable, then yes, do what you think to be necessary. Right now, I feel as though I need to be alert and open as possible."

Will nodded, dropped his hands from her shoulders, and pulled her along side of him to walk companionably up to the where the others waited. The pace picked up in an effort to make the cottage by nightfall. It was very late in the afternoon when a small cottage became discernable among the trees. There were several horses grazing among the trees along the side of the building.

Data stopped first, with his vision he could detect a group of men standing by the building's back entrance. "Commander, it is nearly dark. I suggest we wait until morning to do anything. There are some large boulders up above us. We could camp there tonight, and decide upon our approach."

Will agreed, "Let's go ladies, now you'll get to see the rougher side of outdoor life. We can't afford a campfire tonight, we don't want to take the chance of being seen."

"Oh stop! You're spoiling us?" Beverly tried to make light of the situation, hoping to hide the fact she was really beginning to miss life in their civilization.

They found the boulders to be perfect. They could make a temporary covered shelter using the boulders and tarp as a type of lean to. The shelter came in handy when the large drops of water started falling. Under the tarp the quarters were close, but dry. Beverly had to admit she found reason to be glad of Will's childhood camping days. He had dug a drainage ditch around the campsite to catch the water and divert it around the sleeping area. Otherwise they would have been washed out when the rain began to come down fast and furiously. They sat inside listening to the water running past in the drainage channels.

Warm and dry they listened to Lepton's story of how he met Abeathdor while they were both captives in Traitor's Keep. He spoke of how he was able to talk Zylon out of killing her, when it came time for his own release. He convinced the arrogant murderer to keep her alive and thereby keep her supporters quiet. Lepton had planned a rescue the night before the first away team arrived. Somehow news of this plot had reached Zylon, the would be rescuers were thwarted. Two of the men were captured and were part of the floorshow at the banquet. One of those had been Lepton's own brother. After listening to the description of the brother, Deanna believed it to have been the man in the research building, although she said nothing to Lepton about that.

It was a sad somber evening. A night of such darkness both inside and out. The dampness became penetrating even when bundled into the watertight sleeping bags. The smell of fall, the decaying leaves and wet earth added to the eeriness

Deanna lay awake, feeling the restlessness and worried dreaming of those around her. She sensed a more concentrated mixture of concern and anxiety from behind her. She knew it to be Will Riker. He may appear to take command easily, but Deanna knew he took it seriously enough to lose sleep over it on more than one occasion. She listened as he got out of his sleeping bag and tried to move about, finally he pulled on a cloak and went out into the rain. She waited a few moments then followed. She hadn't gone far when the very blackness of the night caused her to stumble. No sooner had she regained her footing when she was grabbed from behind and flung to the wet ground.

"Will!" She managed to wheeze.

"Deanna, what are you doing here? Never mind, I should have known I'd be keeping you awake." He helped her to her feet, brushing wet leaves from her. "I'm sorry. I thought maybe our friends from the cottage had found us. Do you want to walk a little?" The rain had slowed to a drizzle as she accepted his proposed walk. He took her arm and directed her toward the top of the low ridge they were camped on. As they neared the top the rain stopped and a moon was pushing through the clouds.

"I've been planning our approach to the cottage. Deanna, you know that I'm concerned about this mission. This place, this planet has a wicked atmosphere that is almost palpable. You must feel it too?" They had stopped walking, Will turned to look at her, there was enough of the moon's light to see her rain soaked face and the shine of the partially exposed moon reflected in her eyes.

If any thing goes wrong tomorrow I want you and Beverly to cross the river and contact the Enterprise immediately."

"I feel the evil of these men. But I feel a panic at leaving anyone to their devices. Will, I can't explain it, but I know Abeathdor to be the one person who has a chance of turning this around. She has a remarkable mind. I sense in her a fair and just heart. I can't turn and walk away; it would haunt me forever. This is something I have to do. I'm sorry I had to drag all of you into it. I'm afraid something might happen to anyone of you. I don't know how I'd live with that either. So don't expect me to run away from you if trouble arises."

He could see her feelings so easily now in the dark. "Do you think you could have come without me? How about without Beverly? Can you imagine what the captain would have had to put up with if he hadn't included her on the away team? You can't take on the planet on your own." He hugged her to him, for a long moment drawing comfort and security from each other.

"Come on, we'd better return before we're missed." As she stepped back from him, he reached for her, this time he tilted her head and kissed her. Her hands slid up to encircle his neck, caressing the strong tendons they found there. When the kiss ended he smiled down at her, "When this is over, I think we need to have a long very private conversation."

She reached to move the lock of hair from his forehead, "I'm looking forward to it."

When they returned to the others, Will pulled his sleeping bag over to Deanna's. She laid her head on his chest; the steady pounding of his heart lulled her to sleep. The steady warmth of her breath on his chest eased him into a light sleep.

When Beverly opened her eyes, everything was quiet. The gray morning light offered little to feel optimistic about. She slowly sat up, looking around her to see if anyone else was up. She saw Deanna still asleep in Will's arms her head on his chest. Will's eyes were open. She whispered, "Was there a problem last night?" concerned about the possibility that Deanna may have had and empathic encounter. " I must have finally fallen into a sound sleep."

Will smiled, "The only problem was I couldn't sleep, I must have kept Deanna awake with my thoughts. Although, she seems to have gone into hibernation now." He squeezed her shoulder to wake her. When that didn't work, he leaned up to kiss her forehead. She smiled, although she hadn't yet opened her eyes.

After a second kiss the empath slowly opened her eyes. "Good morning." She had not fully come around yet. Will chuckled, that helped, she became aware of the sounds of the outdoors and slowly sat up. She looked down at him and smiled, "At least it stopped raining." She got out of her sleeping bag, looked over to see that Beverly had her bag rolled up and was preparing to do the morning routine.

"Will, where did Data and Lepton go?" Beverly asked as she stepped outside of the tarp and looked around.

He looked at Deanna, "Can you sense Lepton?"

She nodded, "They're down at the river looking for a path to the cottage. I feel Lepton to be anxious. His adrenaline is up...Will.. I think I'm also sensing Abeathdor! Her thoughts are confused, but it is Abeathdor."

"Can you let her know we are close and to be prepared?" He could feel his own adrenaline surge at the thought of finally doing something physical in the direction of fulfilling this mission, finally making a substantial move in this chess game.

"I can try, she's not very lucid. Her thoughts are still hazy and random." Deanna turned to Beverly for an explanation, "Is it possible they continue to sedate and drug her? Would that explain the incoherent thoughts and feelings?"

Beverly nodded, "Very probable, Deanna, it would explain why you have long periods of time with little sense of her. Can she respond to you at all?"

Troi shook her head, "I'm not getting anything more than random those confused random thoughts."

Riker led the women down to the river. They had packed everything the three of them couldn't carry on to Lepton's horse. Upon reaching the river, they took turns cleaning up in the cold water. It was there Data and Lepton found them.

Commander, it appears that the occupants of the cottage are preparing to move to another destination. When they leave the premises they would be at their most vulnerable. It is at that time I recommend we attempt a rescue." Data then proceeded to outline a method of extracting Abeathdor from her captors.

"Will!" Deanna was clearly alarmed about something. "Zylons' men are coming this way, we've been seen!"


"Beverly you and Deanna back track a short distance then cross the river. Follow us from the other side. Lepton will guide you. If anything happens contact the Enterprise." Beverly recognized the tone as an order from the commander, and although her instinct said to stay together she trusted that Will had pertinent reasons for his command.

Lepton began to protest voicing his intent to stay and face these adversaries. Riker pointed out that Zylon's men may know him from his past imprisonment; and Deanna may be recognized from the banquet. Will knew, from the determined stance, the way she wouldn't look at him, that she was refusing to leave him. He said softly, "You can't be caught." She finally raised her head to meet his eyes, Will hardened his voice. "Go! NOW! That's an order!"

Riker turned away toward the sound of horses approaching while the other three departed quickly. Lepton lead his laden horse putting as much distance away from Will and Data as possible. They heard voices calling behind them, followed by a lot of rustling and the sound of horses in the wet leaves and brush.

When Troi turned to look back, Lepton touched her elbow, "Here is where we cross, it is much more shallow." He helped them down the bank into the low cold water. "Watch where you step, for the most part you can follow the crossing with your eyes." He pointed to the route out to them, then demonstrated that the riverbed was somewhat transverse with large flat sheets of stone. When all three had crossed, they stayed close to the riverbank and began moving back toward the area they had last seen Will and Data. They moved quickly in hope that Will and Data had somehow managed to elude the captor's web. Lepton moved with a deftness that revealed his familiarity with the land. They traveled for more than an hour; still there was neither sign nor sound of the others on the opposite side of the river. Finally Lepton came to a stop. The terrain had changed; they found themselves between the river and the base of a small mountain range. Lepton tied his horse to one of the many small conifers, then walked toward the higher stretch of the dense forest. Beverly and Deanna stayed where they were and continued to search the opposite bank for any sign of their companions.

Beverly edged closer to Deanna and whispered, "I think our friend knows more than what he's saying. Can you sense Will at all?"

Deanna shook her head; "I'm sensing several people close by. Not Will, I'd know the feel of his mind. There are others around, maybe they are flooding my senses, making me less sensitive to the familiar." She turned back toward the mountain slope; "We're about to have company. The others that I sensed before are coming with Lepton."

Both women moved behind thicker vegetation to wait for Lepton's appearance, giving Deanna time to focus on the intent of the newcomers. As they drew nearer, Deanna began to relax. "It's alright, they mean no harm. It appears they are also looking for Abeathdor." Neither woman moved, remaining concealed until the entire group was visible.

Lepton called out, "Deanna! Beverly! Please show yourselves. You are in no danger, my friends would very much like to meet you."

Deanna walked out first. "I believe we have met." The empath walked over to the woman that had only a short time ago served her dinner at the great banqueting hall in Gendla.

Lagi was now dressed in the dark, deeper color of the forest. Her long hooded cloak a perfect camouflage for observing, without being observed. "Lady, I knew it would be you -you would be the one to aid us. I knew when I looked into your eyes. Then, when you saw these hands, I watched. I saw. It is your compassion." Lagi had walked up to Troi and looked closer at her, she took her hand as though to shake it but held it out in front of her in an odd gesture of service.

Deanna was taken back by the gesture, she held Lagi by the shoulders, "Please, we - my friends and I are only visitors here. We cannot do anything without your help. This friend is also a doctor. Doctor Beverly.... We have two more friends -over there somewhere. I fear for their safety." Deanna pointed to the other side of the river.

"Yes, Lepton has told us of that. We have people who are going now to find them. Lepton will lead them; he knows these woods better than anyone else does. Please, come with us, you will be safe." Lagi started back up into the dense wood toward the mountain. Deanna and Beverly followed, with four young men behind them.

Deanna noticed that the way these people were dressed made the gender of the individual indistinguishable, taking away all identifying characteristics-making it harder to pin point any one as an outlaw. Further down below them she could hear Lepton speaking and shortly there after the sound of horses moving off in the direction they had last seen Will and Data.

"We have all the rations and the bulk of the supplies." Deanna stopped and faced Beverly.

"Lepton will find them. They may have to spend a night roughing it, but both Data and Will are resourceful." Beverly smiled encouragingly, "Deanna, try again to see if you can get a sense of Will. You know he's been in worse scrapes, he'll be fine."

"You don't know the evil in Zylon's people, Beverly. I've seen it. I'm going to contact the Enterprise to see if they can locate them by their comm links." Deanna took her communicator out from the folds of the skirt.

<<Troi to Enterprise.>> She paused waiting for a reply, none came.

Beverly retrieved her communicator and tried the to make contact. Again no answer. "Deanna, when was the last time Will checked in?"

Troi answered looking puzzled, "This morning, everything was fine. There was no mention of problems. Will would have contacted us if they were alone. We can't take the chance of contacting them and perhaps endangering them."

Beverly nodded, "We'll try again to reach the Enterprise again when we reach our destination, wherever that may be." They continued climbing higher, they could now look down at the river and see quite a distance of wooded area on both sides. Still there was no sign of Will.


Will and Data had not put up a fight. They tried to lose the pursuers in the woods, but were unsuccessful. They calmly gave up, claiming to be fishermen, fishing the river. The man who appeared to be in charge, had ordered the two to be brought to their cottage and questioned more closely. Ironically, they were to be taken to the very place they had been trying to find. They were stopped outside the cottage; Zylon himself came out of the building.

"What have we here, Gobvat? I ordered the land posted and guarded. How did these men get in?" Zylon didn't wait for an answer, he began circling Will and Data, scrutinizing each one in turn. "Gobvat have you gone deaf? I asked you how they got into the Riverlands? I suppose you made sure they were alone?"

Gobvat answered with confidence, "They are not locals, but visiting fishermen. Brothers. We found no evidence of any others. However, I left two men to watch for any others that may have hidden or run."

"Fishermen? Where is your equipment? What do you fish with, your bare hands?" Zylon's men chuckled. He stepped over to the packs that Gobvat had confiscated from Riker and Data, with his boot he prodded and kicked the material around.

"Sire, my brother has a good eye and fast hands. All we require are good sturdy branches and clear water." Will was improvising as he went -having someone with Data's abilities is like having an open door through which to escape.

Data tilted his head a little, nodded as the information was clicking into sense. He walked over to the nearest tree, broke off two of the longest low hanging branches, stripped them of their decaying leaves and appendages. He took out the utility knife and sharpened the end to a point. He then demonstrated prowess, by stalking and stabbing the "dirt fish" he pretended to see. The entire episode would have been funny under other circumstances. Will made a mental note to remember it for another time.

Zylon laughed, "Well you'll never get fat and rich!" Then with a look toward Gobvat he added, "Bring them along for now, maybe they can catch fish for us too!" Laughing with the rest of his men, Zylon strode back into the dwelling, leaving Data and Will outside with Gobvat.

It was plain Gobvat did not share the humor. "Yeah, great more for me to mind. Come on you idiots, you'll stay here until we are ready to move out in a short time." He tied each to the rail that the horses were earlier tethered to, then he too left to attend to other preparations for their departure.

"Data, this may be the opportunity we need. They haven't found Deanna and Beverly yet. At least they must be okay. Hopefully Lepton will follow with help. This could be over soon."


When her long skirt caught around a plant and tripped her for the third time in the last fifteen minutes, Beverly Crusher had had enough. She stopped climbing, bent to take the skirt by the hem to bring it up between the legs to tuck it into her belt. The skirt was full enough and long enough to cover the doctors legs down to an inch below her knees, it presented an odd sight evident by the looks she was getting from the group they were traveling with, but proved a more convenient fashion for climbing through the wood up a mountain then the long cumbersome outfit had. Deanna noticed and imitated her. They neared a crest in their climbing and could hear a distant sound of waterfalls. There was a change in the air too; the refreshing scent of pine was prevalent, replacing the smell of decaying leaves. The thick carpet of pine needles now padded their steps. They stopped to admire the vista, the ground quickly giving way to a deep gorge, watching as Lagi and several of the others began to wind their way down a steep but carefully marked trail.

"Do you think you could find your way back, if we needed to leave quickly?" Beverly asked Deanna when they had slowed at one particularly narrow spot.

Deanna shook her head; "We may be walking in circles for all I know!"

"You are not. The trail we follow has been carefully marked. Have you noticed the large mounds of stacked rock and stone?" The young man who had been taking up the rear, had overheard the conversation. "Each mound is carefully stacked in the same pattern, so those familiar with the set pattern will not get lost. The problem is - not all the mounds on this mountain are the same. We have made many decoy stacks on fraudulent paths, that lead nowhere, as a precaution against those who would like to seek to have us captured."

Beverly studied the mounds, "Similar markers, I believe are used on earth, they were called cairn. I've heard of their usage, but never saw them. A very wise use of them and their decoys." She felt some relief that these people had taken the time and trouble to think out such precautions, and a little troubled that both were necessary.

"Earth, that is where you are from?" asked the young man.

"I have spent some time on Earth. My parents are human. I 'm sorry I don't believe we've been introduced, my name is Beverly and this is Deanna."

"I am known a Rankeer. Which of you is the doctor?"

"I'm the doctor, are you ill?" Beverly was alert as she looked more closely at the young man.

"I ask not for me, but once we reach Fallscity, perhaps....if it is not a problem you would look at a little friend of mine."

"Of course I would. How much further to Fallscity?

"We are close now." Rankeer turned his attention now to Deanna, "You are the Lady that knows the mind of the our queen?" He looked at the empath with admiration gleaming in his eyes.

"How did you know that?" The only people Deanna knew to be aware of the communication between Abeathdor and herself, were the members of the away team and Lepton- of course Lepton.

"Lady", it was said as a way of formal address, "not all communication comes from the government. We may have the brand of "waste people", but we remain loyal to the queen. We look for any others who may be in the position to aid us in releasing her from captivity and gaining back the throne. We have nothing to loose and everything to gain." The last was said softly as though the very thought was too good to become a reality.

Beverly looked at Deanna to see what the empath was sensing. She watched as Deanna put her hand on Rankeer's arm, "We are here to do what we can to help you. The doctor will do all that she can do here. If more is required, our ship, the Enterprise is fully equipped with medical technology we can go there. How old is your little friend?"

"She is little more than a baby. In some ways she is still an infant." A sadness stole over his features, he walked back to take his place once again behind the women.

The doctor turned to look at Troi, "What do you think he meant by that? I'm beginning to see what you mean...about the evil taste to this planet."

They finished walking the rest of the trail toward Fallscity; each lost in her own thoughts. The entire ensemble stopped. There before them spread a large pool of water, across from the pool were the waterfalls they had been hearing for quit a distance. The water fell almost two hundred feet to the pool before them. The sound from their position was almost deafening. The power of the falling water vibrated the ground upon which they now stood.

Lagi walked over to the Starfleet women, "We are at the entrance to Fallscity. Walk only where we walk. We will pair up; one of us will be with each of you to help you. Are you ready?"

Both women said that they were, each wondering what it was they were to be prepared for - what new experience awaited them now? Rankeer came to stand beside Deanna, while another young adolescent with flaming red hair stood next to Beverly. He introduced himself as Rimamai. They began walking toward the waterfall. The stones they walked upon now turned wet and slippery. The pace had slowed, apparently even those familiar with the route were cautious. Deanna slipped twice on the wet stone pathway. Rankeer took her arm to further aid her. She was glad of his close presence, the light had now vanished, they walked in darkness with the thundering rushing water falling around them. They had now walked behind the falls. The darkness didn't last long, as they walked further into the cavern, large torches were lit. Another fifty yards and they found themselves outside again, in a naturally enclosed glen. The sun had almost set, but in the pre-twilight hours the glen was beautiful. The green of the pines and the aroma given off from them was light and refreshing. There were several small buildings, almost resembling the rustic cabins Will had shown Deanna scenes of from his mountain climbing expeditions in Alaska. There were flowers growing and in bloom. Now Deanna began to notice that the air was warmer. She mentioned this to Rankeer.

"Yes, there are some hot springs below us. They keep the soil and the enclosed air warm. We are well protected here."

"Are these buildings your homes?" Beverly pointed out the small cluster of cabins.

"No, they are merely shelters and storage areas. They are too damp to live in most of the year. We choose to live outdoors, we stay in the buildings over there when the weather becomes too bad." He pointed to several larger buildings further away. They were odd shaped, with large openings on the sides. Upon closer examination these openings were large windows, with the wooden slatted coverings propped open.

He pointed out several other components of the village, adding that is was getting late and perhaps the women would like to wait until the following day to visit them.

Lagi interrupted the group, "Rankeer, please show our guest to the accommodations for the night."

He smiled and directed them "Now, let's find a place for your belongings, and for you to spend the night." He led them past several small fires and groups of peoples, until he came to a fireplace with two hammock stretched between trees with a fine covering over the them.

"Now this is a step up - off the ground and more bug resistant. This looks very comfortable. Rankeer, there is one more thing," Deanna paused, "where can we freshen up?"

He smiled a little shyly, "This way to the hot springs, or would you prefer the cold shower?"

Both women readily answered, "Hot springs!" Then grabbing their bags, they followed Rankeer down yet another path from their sleeping area toward a small spring. Stone steps were laid for easy access into the water. There were larger slabs of a smooth stone in the water, conveniently placed to sit or recline on. Rankeer pointed out all the particulars, then made a quick getaway.

Watching his speedy retreat, the women had a gentle laugh. They wasted no time in undressing and padding down to the water. The entire area was well lit by many well-placed torches. It was apparent this was an essential part of this people's existence.

Beverly carried her tricorder down to the spring, just as a precaution, on this planet a precaution could mean the difference in life or death, and as they were learning death here was ugly. "It has a small percentage of an alkaline, but it's harmless." She caught Deanna's hesitant look, "Come on, this is just what the doctor ordered." They each had a large towel they dropped at the water's edge, then each carefully made her way into the warm comforting water.

After they each found a spot, Deanna tried once again to make some connections. First to Will, she leaned back, literally up to her neck in hot water, relaxed letting the warmth draw the aches and fatigue out of her bones. She closed her eyes, and in her mind she pictured Will Riker, remembering the feel of his mind and the warmth of his emotions. She reached out searching through all the other empathic impressions, dismissing them all, until she felt the one she had known the longest and desired more than all the others.

Beverly watched the emotions on the empath's face change. She knew Deanna had found Will and that he was in no danger. She watched as the bond between the two of them seemed to be strengthening. Beverly closed her eyes and left her mind drift thinking of her friends and wondering how they would deal with the changes back on the Enterprise. Will and Deanna had done their best to convince everyone that the intimate relationship they once shared was history. It may have been true that the physical relationship was repressed, but the attraction was still evident. It was present in the way they looked and talked to each other. Her thoughts were interrupted by a splash. Beverly opened her eyes to find Deanna gone. She nearly panicked, then looked behind her to see Deanna surface.

"I'm sorry, did I frighten you? I wanted to rinse the bio-cleanse from my hair. This feels great, it's been the best part of 'roughing it'." Deanna certainly seemed in a much better frame of mind.

"I take it Will and Data are okay? What about the Enterprise? Were you able to learn anything about what's going on?" Beverly watched her as she finished her washing the past two days of the planet out of her own hair.

"Will had contacted them, they left orbit and will return in several hours. Something about an emergency with a Ferengi freighter. We should meet Will and Data tomorrow. They were left tied to a hitching post. They managed to free themselves about the same time Lepton reached them." Deanna finished the narrative, then swam to the steps to climb out.

"I don't like the sound of that, this is not the resort I want to be stranded on without a safety net." Beverly swam to the steps where Deanna now sat wrapped in her towel with her feet still in the water. As the doctor approached her Deanna handed her a towel. They sat on the steps together.

"Where does that leave us? How close are we to Abeathdor?" She watched the ripples Deanna was making by tapping her toes in the water. She looked over at the empath's face, her chin resting on her knee, still absently tapping her toes slapping the water around her feet.

"Well, I know our new friends are waiting on us now. We'll take care of tonight and meet Will and Data tomorrow. Abeathdor is being moved to a town on the other side of these woods. Lepton can get us there, according to Will." Deanna was very vague with the information.

"We're playing this by ear, aren't we?" She looked at Deanna who gave a slight frown as the answer.

The two returned to their appointed sleeping area to find a host of Fallscity gathered there awaiting them. Among those waiting sat Rankeer with a young child of about four or five years of age. They were sitting on the ground by the fire. The two women made their way over to them.

The little girl was beautiful, she had short, dark curly hair and large eyes as blue as the cloudless sky. Beverly noticed Rankeer talking with the child. He held her face to be sure she was looking at him. He appeared to be taking great pains to enunciate each word carefully; he also was employing the use of many gestures. Beverly pointed this out to Deanna.

They sat on the ground with Rankeer and the child. Deanna spoke softly, "How long has she been unable to hear, Rankeer?"

"We are not sure she is deaf, she appears to understand somethings, and other things... We know she cannot or will not speak." He motioned for the child to stay where she was. He stood and helped the women to their feet, then pointed to an area a short distance away. He began moving them in that direction.

"She has been like this since my parent's death. We believe she may have seen them die. No one else knows what happened, but we know it involved Gringbald and his men. I was hoping that you, Lady, and the Doctor would..." he paused, then stopped as though he couldn't bring himself to ask.

Beverly squeezed his arm reassuringly and told him that they would do all they could to help her. They returned to the fire and the child, who had not moved from her spot, even though she had sat up on her knees to watch them. She watched closely even now as they approached her.

Deanna walked over to the little girl, "Rankeer, what is your sister's name?"

"Solace." He turned to his sister, "Solace, these ladies are very special healers. They want to help us. Will you let them?" He spoke verbally and with gestures, then waited until she cautiously nodded, and looked the two new comers over nervously. One of the other young men had brought a bench over for them to sit on. He shrugged his shoulders at everyone's look and pointed to Lagi. Solace smiled as though she thought it was funny. She was the first one on the bench.

Deanna walked over to her taking her small hand, "Solace, I'm going to talk to you here." Deanna pointed to the child's head. "Okay, you will hear me in your head. I don't want you to be afraid." She held the child's eyes with her own for a time before she nodded to her. Keeping eye contact, Deanna began slowly, waiting for a reaction from Solace to gauge her next move. The little girl's eyes grew wide. Deanna continued, sensing the fear slowly disappearing and a profound reluctance take its place-it too gave way to a sense of wonder.

Beverly and Rankeer sat on the opposite side of the fire with Lagi and several other young people. Lagi appeared to be the eldest, but age was hard to guess because of the life style they had been forced to live.

Beverly asked Lagi about the marks on her hands. Lagi replied they were brands to keep the lower class from infiltrating into the higher-class structure. It was also used to mark certain peoples as waste people. It had begun as a way of singling out those belonging to a certain ruling family that had been dethroned. The marks were to serve as a reminder that the dethroned could never rule again-they were to live their lives as the lower classes lived, to be outcasts among their people. As Beverly listened, she understood more and more Deanna's sentiments about the planet. She looked over to where Deanna and the child sat, wondering how she was doing with Solace. She was startled by what she saw; both Solace and Deanna were crying. She watched as Deanna moved to wrap the child in her arms, holding her close.

Rankeer also noticed the changes and began to get to his feet Beverly pulled him back down. "It's alright, she knows what she's doing. Let's wait here and give them a little time to work it out."

Lagi decided it was time for a distraction, and motioned for Rimanai, the red haired young man. He came with another young man each carrying a musical instrument. Rimanai held an instrument that resembled a violin in both structure and the way it was held. The neck was longer and the body deeper than the violins Beverly was accustomed to seeing. The sound it produced was beautiful, a full textured, warm sweet sound. His companion held a flute like instrument with the range of a clarinet and a flute, but the tone was lighter than either. The music the two produced when played in harmony was the most perfect Beverly thought she had ever heard. The two young men were proficient musicians, even though Beverly had never heard those particular pieces of music, she couldn't imagine them being performed any better.

She looked over to check on the progress Deanna was making with the child and saw her standing carrying Solace to them. The child was sleeping. Rankeer quickly went to her. Beverly followed.

"She'll probably sleep late tomorrow Rankeer. We'll let Beverly check her when she wakes, then we'll talk." She patted the teenager on the shoulder, "Don't worry, try to sleep, okay?" He nodded as he left with the child in his arms.

The two women went to join Lagi at the fire and listen to the music. After Deanna sat down, Beverly, without looking at her asked, "She'll sleep tonight, but how about you? That looked pretty intense for all the older she is." Deanna just shook her head.

The music continued for a while longer, then Lagi called an end to the evening by announcing there was little time to morning and their guests needed rest. When all the good nights were said the two were left sitting alone by the dying fire.

** "Would you sleep better if we talked about the child now, or would you prefer we wait until morning?"

Deanna had not said a word since Solace had been put to bed, now in answer to Beverly's question she again only shook her head. After several long moments of silence she spoke. "Beverly you will sleep better if we talk in the morning. Goodnight." She walked over to the hammocks crawled into the closest one and laid looking at the starry night sky.

The doctor watched as her friend slid into the hammock, knowing that Deanna would talk when she was able to manage her own balance and find a place to put the burden within herself. She sighed as she got to her feet, "Goodnight Deanna, if you want company, I'm here." Beverly stood beside her own hammock wondering why they were so narrow and exactly how she could get in and stay in while sleeping. After two false starts she finally managed to crawl into it, not managing as gracefully as Deanna had, but holding on until the swinging stopped, she was content enough not to have been tossed out of it either. Sometime later she had sniffling, she knew it was the empath attempting to work through the evening's events. She lay listening for awhile, then slid a long graceful leg out of the hammock feeling for the ground that she knew was there somewhere beneath her; touching the solid earth she slid over the hammocks side.

Deanna jumped at the touch of Beverly's hand on her arm. "Okay, I was willing to wait until morning, but I think we should talk now. Come on, the fires not completely out, I'll throw something else on it."

They sat beside each other in front of the low burning fire. "This evening we were brought to these peoples homes-the only place they feel safe while they shared with us all that they have and their music, it's hard to believe that there also exits such an element of iniquity here. It is certainly a planet of contrasts." She sat quietly staring into the fire. Beverly waited, just when she thought she would have to prod the counselor into speaking, Deanna began, "That beautiful small child had seen both parents taken by Gringbald's men. The father was killed outright. The mother was taken roughly away from her. The picture she carries in her mind of the mother being literally dragged away screaming is in itself quite traumatic. Apparently because Solace is so young she was seen as inconsequential, seen but ignored. If anything was done to her then, she has no memory of it. She is dealing with the event as most children do, she feels frightened by it, and I get the sense of guilt from it, maybe because she witnessed it but couldn't stop it. The details in her memory are very crisp, and that is unsettling. A child that young would have such clarity in her memory is very unusual."

"Did you see the details in your mind too when you were with her?" Deanna nodded. Beverly continued, "Rankeer said both parents were killed. How do they know about the mother?"

Deanna sat quietly before starting to speak; "The child's memory is that they had to go pick her mother up at a large hospital in Gendla. It appears the mother was dead then, although her memory isn't clear on that. She was dead when they got her home. Unfortunately the child had seen the body before it was cremated. Beverly, without having talked to Rankeer yet, my impression is that the mother was sent to the medical research building. The same one we had been to." Deanna sat staring at the fire, feeling helpless to do much of anything to alleviate the suffering and injustices she had found here. "Beverly, would you look Solace over -a good physical examination to make sure there's no problems with her physical health that we need to be aware of?"

"Of course I will, I don't have the equipment here that would permit anything thorough, but I'll do what I can. Deanna, try to sleep, you've done all that you can for now. Tomorrow I'll do the physical exam. We meet with Will and Data later, it's going to be a long day, if you expect to accomplish everything, you'll need some rest."

"You're right. I wish Will were here now. At least having him here, I wouldn't have to wonder where he is or if he's okay." She walked back to her hammock, carefully sliding in under the netting, feeling the fatigue so close and yet not being able to totally give in to its demand. "Good night Beverly, you are a good friend." She watched as Beverly stood silently contemplating the fire before getting into her own bed.

"Goodnight, Deanna." They both lay awake for sometime looking at the night sky and listening to the waterfalls in the distance. Morning was a breath away before either fell asleep. Deanna lay watching the dawn approach listening to the morning birds begin their early search for food. She became aware of someone else's presence. She turned slightly to see Lagi coming toward them. She went first to the fireplace to resettle the wood and rekindle the dying fire. She started toward Beverly's hammock, then turned as if aware of Deanna attention.

"Lady is an early riser? Or have you slept at all?" She now stood at the side of Deanna's hammock."

"I did sleep a little. It was not the accommodations, Lagi we are most grateful for all you have provided. including the wonderful music last night." Deanna paused before asking, "Lagi, with all that has happened, all that you and your people have experienced- how is it that you are so trusting of us. We are strangers you have never met, from places you have never heard of before; why trust us?"

The woman smiled, she searched Deanna's face -then answered. "Lady anyone who wants to know another's heart can do so by first observing then learning their mind."

"You are very wise. It is human to not always know our own mind or heart." Deanna slipped out of the hammock to stand before Lagi.

The older woman looked into Deanna's eyes, the with confidence and assurance said, "Lady, you know more than most, more than you admit to your own heart." She turned go, then looked back at Deanna; "I'll be back with the hot food and drink. You will need nourishment before this day ends."

"That was an ominous remark." Deanna spun to see Beverly trying to get out of the hammock. "I've come to learn, I'm not the outdoors type. I'm not too proud to admit that I'm much better suited to space travel than camping. How did you...." Before she could finish the question the hammock spun completely over depositing Beverly and the mosquito netting very soundly on the ground.

"Are you okay?" Deanna tried not to laugh but was unable to keep the amusement out of her voice. She reached down to give Beverly a hand in getting to her feet

"How do you get in and out of these?" Beverly asked as she viciously twisted the material until it was a tightly wound rope.

"I didn't really think about it. Pretend you are getting in and out of a canoe."

Beverly looked at her in disbelief. "Well that's something useful. How many canoes have you been in lately? And what in the world does that have to do with the hammock?"

Deanna was still grinning from ear to ear. "Years ago as a young girl we would go out on the lake in a small boat. It was always tricky getting in and out. You had to not over think it and just do it. It was the only comparison I could come up with."

Lagi returned with Rankeer, each carried trays of food and pots of beverages. "While you freshen up, Rankeer and I will prepare a little something for you. Take your time, Lochater is best when heated for a while."

Troi and Crusher gathered a few necessary items and went toward the area they had visited last evening. "I don't know what's happening here. You're right though, these people are different in many ways. I guess we'll find out soon enough. Perhaps we can find some answers together."

Beverly looked sharply at her, "How did you know?"

"Know what?" At the look from the doctor, Deanna realized that she hadn't said anything. "I was sure you just asked me if I noticed that these people were different and asked what was going on with them."

"You read my thoughts. I wasn't directing them toward you. Just pondering the events and the direction things are taking." Beverly looked at Deanna, "You didn't realize the difference, between hearing me ask and hearing my thoughts?"

Deanna shook her head, "Maybe because we're close- I just picked up on your thoughts. What is responsible for this? Can you tell a difference in what you perceive?"

"Are you asking if I can sense emotions or thoughts? Then the answer is no. Can I see a difference in you or your ability? Yes in your abilities, you astound me. It will take time to get used to that." Beverly had her tricorder out, "Let's do a quick check to see if anything new has shown up." She ran the diagnostic tool over the empath then began to read the results. "There is a different rhythm to your Beta waves. Your brain's electrical impulses seem a bit accelerated. That in itself is not conclusive to anything, however, your psilosynine level is greatly elevated." She enclosed the tool and hid it away among the items in her travel bag.

They completed the rest of the morning ablutions and were returning to the others. Deanna stopped, turning spoke quietly to Beverly, "I'm concerned about Solace, I'll feel better once you have examined her," she paused then added, "I hope."

"You want to know if there's a physical reason for the inability to communicate? There's more, what else Deanna?"

"I'm not sure. There is something wrong, I get a sense of it being terribly wrong, but I can't pin point it. I'm hoping you can."

"Have you sensed anything new with Will? Like where and when we'll meet with them?"

"I think they're close, I'm sure I felt his presence. I don't know any of the particulars. That seems to be my role in this doesn't it? I know enough to get everyone involved, but where we end up is anyone's guess."

The women were greeted with an aroma of hot food and Lagi, Rankeer and Solace. A long wooden table had been brought over and on it were several different steaming bowls of hot fruit, a basket of bread as well as beverages. Together it generated enough warmth that the slight morning chill was easily forgotten.

Deanna walked to immediately to Solace, she thought/sent <How are you this morning?>

The little girl answered by climbing into her arms and hugging her. The two of them sat quietly apart from the others for several minutes before rejoining them at the table. Deanna nodded to Beverly, letting her know that she tried to prepare the child for the doctor's exam. Solace sat very close beside Deanna for the entire meal. Lagi sat across from them beside Beverly answering questions about the young people living within Fallscity. They discussed the origins and preparations of each dish. The tea was brewed from several of the plants growing near the springs. They discussed the springs and the geophysics at work.

When the meal had ended and everything was cleaned up, Deanna went back to Solace and motioned Beverly to join them. When the child seemed to accept Beverly, Deanna walked a short distance away to talk with Rankeer and Lagi. She told them of the communication the night before and the memories the child carries. She then asked each for their own memory of the same event -trying to piece a picture together of the actual incident and the effect it had on the child. Beverly finished her exam bringing Solace along with her to rejoin the others.

Solace came to stand in front of Deanna looking up at her. The empath kneeled next to her so the two were closer to eye level. The child motioned to Rankeer to sit with them. Deanna learned Solace wanted to take her and Beverly to see something. She would give them no hint as to what is was, she wanted it to be a surprise. Rankeer laughed, he knew what it was she wanted to show them. They agreed they would go, but wanted to talk first. Lagi asked Solace to go pick more of the plants for tea. The little girl happily agreed.

Beverly began, "Deanna, there is a physical reason for Solace not speaking, but I think the answer is both physical as well as an emotional problem. It appears her voice box ha been damaged. It's possible it could have been a childhood accident."

"But you don't believe it was." Deanna didn't want to believe anyone would purposely harm a young child.

"It may have happened during the kidnapping of the mother, you are in a better position to find the answers to that one. It can be repaired. The equipment in sickbay would be all I need. The second problem; she also has some hearing loss, the ears and hearing apparatus is all in order, I need by equipment for any further answers." Beverly held out her hands as though this was to be her offering.

Rankeer looked at Lagi for direction. She responded, "When it's possible to take Solace to your ship, we would be pleased if you could help her. For now I guess we carry on as we have been doing."


Solace came scurrying back with her hands filled with green plants. She signaled to Rankeer to come with her.

Beverly looked at Deanna, "What's going on?"

"There's something she'd like us to see. She's been asking Rankeer to take us." The empath marveled at the communication the two had been able to work out.

Rankeer grinned as he asked the women, "Would you like to see the lightfoot that inhabit this area? They are some of Solace special friends."

"Certainly, but what are lightfoot?" The two Starfleet followed easily interested in the child and her world.

Rankeer led the small group down past the hot springs and through a lightly wooded area. Here he slowed and held his finger to his lips. Solace, who had been walking with Deanna, moved to the front of the group slowly walking further into the trees she held the green plants in front of her. A few minutes had passed; they heard some light rustling in the vegetation around them. Three small creatures came hopping over to Solace.

Beverly was delighted; the animals resemble the kangaroos she once saw in an old earth vid. The lightfoot were gently nibbling at the plants Solace held. The child's face beamed as the animals ate the offered greens. Once the small hands were empty, Solace went to Deanna and Beverly taking each by the hand and leading them to where the animals stood grazing at the ground looking for fallen tidbits. The child took plants out of her pockets placing them in the hands of each of the women; she then held their hands out to the animals. The lightfoot ventured forward sniffed the newcomers, then gingerly nibbled the greens that were held out to them. They were gently inquisitive animals.

Deanna slowly reached out and scratched one behind its pointed ear, the animal in response nuzzled deeper into her hand. She noticed a small head near its belly. "Beverly, look is that it's baby?" Deanna was delighted with the friendly nature of the animal that would carry it's young out like that. Solace reached over to rub the one's nose, she looked up at Deanna with eyes dancing, loving every second of the animal's presence and sharing it with the others. At the moment of looking into the child's eyes, Deanna felt her chest constrict She knew it would be hard to leave this child here on this planet - a planet with such an uncertain future, to move on to the comfort and ease of her own life back on the Enterprise.

"It is time we moved on. We must go back now." Lagi's presence was all but forgotten. The voice of reality, taking them back to the cares and requirements of the day.

The animals too, seemed to sense that goodbye was at hand. They moved off into woods. Solace stayed to watch them disappear. Her countenance seemed a bit crest fallen, Deanna held out her hand, the girl seemed unsure as to what response was expected, Deanna captured the small hand gently holding it. She noticed how fragile the little hand felt in hers. She remembered how light Solace was when she held her, there was very little to the child. Solace looked up at her, and the empath smiled down, playfully squeezing the hand she held, a big smile and a little pressure rewarded her.

When they reached their supplies Rimanai was waiting to speak with Lagi, she repeated the message - Lepton had sent word, they would meet with the women on the other side of the river. Rankeer knew of the place and would escort them.

Beverly and Deanna immediately began to gather their things together. Everyone left them to prepare for their departure, everyone, except Solace. The small child stood quietly off to the side with her head down looking dejected. Deanna watched her for a few moments then went to the child holding her arms out. Solace needed no further encouragement, she went to the counselor and held on in the tightest hug she could muster.

"It's okay, everything will work out. When we've done what we came here to do, Dr. Beverly and I will come back to see you. We'd like to take you to see where it is we live. Would you like that?" Even though Deanna verbalized this communication she also thought/sent it. Solace nodded, pulling Deanna neck down to look closer into her face. She looked so vulnerable as she held out her small fist. Deanna sat down on the ground with her; she took the small fist in her hand. The fingers slowly opened, exposing a little carved wooden figure of a lightfoot. Solace turned her hand over that of the counselor's, pressing the carved animal into her palm. Deanna examined the carving, the workmanship was expertly detailed and the texture smooth, either by the craftsman or the child's careful constant handling.

<This is beautiful Solace, who made this for you?> She thought/sent

"Rankeer", the girl mouthed. Deanna tried to hand the figure back, Solace moved away shaking her head no.

Deanna understood the child's thoughts, <Okay, I'll keep this for you until I see you again...and I will see you again.> She thought/sent and verbalized for the child. She gathered her up into her arms and warmly embraced her.

Solace stayed with them as they prepared to take leave of the comfort and hospitality of their new friends. When they made their way back into the central area of Fallscity, Lagi and Rankeer met them; here they said their good-byes, trading hugs and well wishes. Solace hugged both women once again, her tears threatening to spill over. She ran to stand behind Lagi, who nodded signaling the time to leave was at hand.

Rankeer and Rimanai led the way back into the cavern behind the falls, assisting them over the slippery stone pathway. When they were out on the other side of the falls, Rimanai wished them well and returned to Fallscity. The three mad their way down the side of the mountain toward the river. They walked in silence for some distance; each hiker had his or her mind on the past days events. They came upon a tree that had fallen along the river's bank, Rankeer showed them that is where they would be crossing. The river at this point was very narrow and would take only a few minutes. It was decided this would be a good time to rest.

Deanna sat on top of the fallen tree, closed her eyes and again searched for the mind that she knew so well. Will was close, but things had not gone as originally planned; they had become involved in a cat and mouse game with their former captors. Will still expected to meet with them at the designated spot that evening.

Next she tried for Abeathdor, for the first time in several days she was able to get a real sense of her. She communicated that it was Will that was following her and that soon she would join Will in gaining Abeathdor's release. She tried to convey the confidence she had in Will and the security she felt in him, continually reinforcing positive thoughts in the captive women's mind.

While Deanna was doing this Beverly and Rankeer talked. They discussed Lagi, Solace and the events that seemed to have tied all of them so tightly together. When Deanna interrupted them with her shout, "Rankeer! We must go back to Fallscity! There is something happening. I believe it is under some kind of attack. Come on, is there a shorter way in?"

Rankeer looked at her, "I will go, you must go meet the others and free Abeathdor. If you were to get caught here then it would all have been for nothing. I cannot take you back. We have taken precautions against such a thing, We will be okay." He showed them the easiest way to cross the river and described the paths to take to the meeting site. "I hope we meet again. I would like to learn more of your worlds and your ways." He embraced each one, then without another word or look, he moved swiftly up the mountain. They watched as he became indistinguishable from the surrounding trees and bushes. Then they began their way in the opposite direction. This time, for the first time since they began the mission, the two were without any assistance.

The water felt icy on their bare feet as they wadded carefully into the river. The fashion of gathering the skirt and tucking it into the belt was once again employed. Beverly tried to lighten the mood by joking about what the rest of the crew might say if they could see them now. Both were unable to continue that jovial atmosphere when their hearts were heavy with concern over the people who had shared their lives and opened their hearts to them.

They climbed out on to the riverbank, near the path Rankeer had pointed out to them. Once again they were traveling, the path was narrow but easily followed, this one required little climbing. It was late afternoon when they came upon the designated meeting location. It was nothing more than a clearing in the trees with a stone fire place, a low table and a couple of rolled up hammocks.

"I guess we should stay here to wait for Will and Data. Maybe we could scout around a little, we have sometime before nightfall." Beverly didn't want to spend a lot of time doing nothing when it seemed the world around them was falling apart. They agreed to leave a sign that Will would recognize. It would have to be vague enough that anyone would find no reason to question it. They left nothing behind, carrying all their meager belongings with them.

They decided to take the path that climbed the small ridge above them, to get a perspective of the area surrounding them. At the top of the ridge they heard a sound that seemed to come from many animals. They continued to move through the trees until they entered into a region cleared of brush and trees. On the side of the ridge they could see a large fenced area; enclosed within the fences were hundreds of lightfoot. Some of the animals appeared ill or injured, whether it was from the overcrowded conditions or lack of food and water it was impossible to know.

"What in the world is this?" Deanna looked at the doctor. "Why would anyone herd animals into this type of place? There's a sign down there, I think we should get a little closer look to learn more about this." She moaned and put a hand to her temples.

"Deanna, what is it? Are you in pain?" Beverly had a hand on the empath's elbow.

"The animals are over-loading my senses. There are so many of them, some are close to dying, others are separated from their young. Let's quickly find out what's on the sign. I don't have a good feeling about this."

They crouched low to the ground to cover about twenty-five yards. The meaning of the sign was clear enough to Deanna, to have made her stomach feel as though she had swallowed stone. The sign consisted of a picture; it was of the medical research building in Gendla. Beverly looked at Deanna, and knew by her face it was not good.

The counselor tried to explain, "These animals are here for laboratory testing. They're here to be killed. Let's get out of here!" They started back the way they came. Once they reached the crest of the ridge they could see an industrial area in the distance. Deanna wondered if that was where Abeathdor was being taken. She closed her mind to everything. Now all she wanted was to get back and meet Will. It was then, that Deanna again realized just how much she came to depend on Will Riker to help anchor when she became caught up in the emotional turmoil of a crisis situation. He could help her find a way of detaching herself from the emotional onslaught and find her way home to reason and reality. She longed now for his calm assurance and the security of his presence.

When they returned to the assigned meeting locale, there was no sign of Will or Data. It was just as they had left it. "Let's eat, Lagi packed us a meal. I'll get the fire started if you unpack the food." Beverly started moving around, she was wasting no time, her movements were jerky and forced. Deanna realized that Beverly was having a hard time adjusting to all the new rules this game had taken on. The empath slowly let her barriers down and opened her mind to sense what her friend was feeling. The two of them had always been able to talk freely about almost anything. She decided after the meal was over they would both benefit from talking about the day's events. She continued getting the food out and setting the heating tray as she had seen Will do it a day ago. Once the food had been set to heat and the preparations had been completed, she sat at the table and motioned Beverly to join her.

"We should have brought water along from the river, I can go down and fill our thermos." Deanna began to rout around for the thermos.

"No, I wouldn't advise it. It has some waste and odd chemicals in it. We were safe enough to walk a short distance in it, but I wouldn't drink or bathe in it. Didn't Lagi pack something to drink?"

Deanna shuffled some contents around in Lagi's bag before she found the earthenware jug. "Yes I believe she did. What is this stuff?" She uncorked the jug and sniffed the contents.

Beverly took the jug and sniffed, then looked at Deanna with a gleam in her eye. "I believe this is the fermented fruit drink I saw some of the older men drink in front of the fire last night. This should help us relax a little." She poured a generous amount into the travel mugs they had been carrying.

Each finished the mug before the hot food was ready. Then a second mug was poured and drank with the meal. The day's events were beginning to weigh less and less heavily upon them. They pulled the sleeping bags out before the fire and settled in, each with another mug of Lagi's brew. Neither wanted to worry with the hammocks on this night.

Deanna began asking Beverly what she knew about the use of animals and people in the quest for medical understanding.. "I know that it was the only way research could be conducted for many of the early years on Earth. With out the use of living organism, much of what we know now couldn't have been learned then. As times progressed and knowledge more abundant the need for that type of research diminished. What we have heard and seen about life on this planet is not typical of the ethics of civilizations. I'm not saying it never happened, but when it came to light, it was stopped-laws were put into action to prevent it."

They sat in silence watching the fire, sipping their drinks. Beverly asked, "Deanna, how are you and Will going to handle your relationship when we get back on the Enterprise?"

"Beverly, what are you talking about?"

"Don't try that maneuver on me! I know when you don't want to answer a question. It's even clear to me that something has happened to you two. I see your face when you communicate with him. There is more her than just a friendship. Be honest with yourself."

Deanna frowned. "I don't know. I don't think I'll ever have what we once had with anyone else. I use Will as a measuring stick, so far no one measures up to his high points...or down to his low point!" Deanna giggled. "And he does have those too!"

"Do you think that's why neither of you are seeing anyone seriously now?"

"Well, besides his reputation as a ladies man...how fickle can he be with women? Other than that, what if it didn't work out? How could we continue to serve together on the same ship?"

"You know I think that's an excuse. Pardon me for saying so but you deal with each other now and you are emotionally involved, whether you admit it or snot!" Beverly's drink was beginning to effect her speech, when she tried again and stopped she gave up in giggling.

Deanna rolled over onto her side to get a better look at the ship's doctor when she felt something dig into her side. She reached down to try to find the object. It wasn't in the sleeping bag. She had trouble trying to work the problem out. When she put her hand into her skirt pocket, her fingers touched something smooth. She brought her hand out to look at the object. Deanna caught her breath; it was the carved wooden figurine that Solace had given her. The earlier fear she had felt for the child and the rest of the small community came exploding back.

Beverly watched as she held the figure turning it over in her hands. It was taking Beverly more and more time to put her thoughts together. She finally managed, "Dee, that little girl has really touched you, hasn't she? I've never seen you with young children like you are with Solace."

She reminds me of Ian a little. Ian and I could communicate like that. The dark hair, the trusting way she looks at me. You never had the opportunity to meet Ian. He wasn't with us long." The empath became silent.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. When I heard of the experience, I thought not everyone could have dealt with it as you had. I still think that. Here let's finish this." Beverly topped each mug with the remaining liquid form the jug. For a while they sat each in her own thoughts. The effects of the drink becoming more and more evident They were no longer feeling to small and insignificant it change the stream of events, now the drink had given them a new stature or at least it had in their own perception.

Deanna was still holding the little wooden lightfoot, running her fingers over the smooth texture, when she looked at Beverly, "Let's do something. Let's make a difference for Solace."

The doctor looked at her, then looked at the wooden animal she held in her hands. "You are not thinking of ...Deanna ! Okay let's do it!" She giggled as she got to her feet, then held her hands out to try and balance herself. "Should we take a phasered - we could phasered the gate!"

"No let's do it the way the people here would.. torture someone else into it!" Deanna laughed at her own comment. "We can use Will's k-knife." She held up the all-purpose knife Will had given her days ago to cut a hole in the tarp for him.

"You want to torture someone with Will's k-knife?" Beverly howled with laughter.

"No use it to cut the fence. The fence wasn't too security minded. We could easily do it."

The two started back up the ridge. It was now dark as they wove their way up. At several steeper areas they found it much easier to crawl than to maintain their balance and continue up. When they reached the top, they looked over the area they had intended to attack. The wire fence was a barrier only to a docile friendly animal.

"Wow, now that's why these guys wouldn't make good pets. What an odor!" Beverly held one hand over her nose. "I am so tired...I think it's the drink. We're used to synthehol...hey why didn't we bring Guinan along?" She started to giggle again. "You know, this is more fun than I thought it would be. Where should we start counselor?"

Deanna pointed to the left of them, to a large gate that swung on hinges. "Let's see if the gate is seaco...sequr...locked up." The counselor and the doctor helped each other meander over to the gate. They found it barred. It took them another twenty-five minutes to find a way of forcing it open.

"Dee, I have to sit down for a minute. Does it feel like the ground is moving?" Beverly was unsteadily holding on to the fence to keep her balance. She watched as the empath struggled trying to pull the gate open by herself. A couple of lightfoot hopped to the fence were Deanna stood, she put her hand through the fence to scratch their ears. The animals began nuzzling her hand searching for food.

"Come on Bev, just a little more, than we're done. Come on help me open this. These animals haven't been fed. They need out. Come on, then we're done tonight."

Together they pulled the huge gate until it began to swing out toward them. Then, it was easy, once the motion began the weight of the gate continued the swing until it hit the outside of the fence. When it hit the fence so did the women. It hit hard enough to knock the wind out each of them. Now they found themselves sitting on the ground with the fence at their back and the gate against their chest. It took several minutes before either spoke.

"Are you okay Deanna?" Beverly asked without moving anything except her mouth.

"I think so, how did that happen?" Deanna was trying t look around moving only her eyes.

"Better yet, now what? Did the animals escape?" Now both were slowly getting their bearings back.

"Oh no, no! Beverly, I was afraid of this. Just look!" The lightfoot just stood there. Some were edging nearer to the opening, only a few hopped out, they took off over the ridge.

"Come on, we have to go in and move them out. Let's go this way." Deanna scooted, lowering her head; she went backward under the lowest wire strand of the fence, into the pen. Once she cleared the fence she pulled herself up on the inside. Beverly was having trouble positioning herself to follow. Deanna reached under to hold Beverly's head down and tried to pull her under the wire by dragging her into the pen. Unfortunately when a large number of animals are restricted to a small area over a long period of time, excrement becomes a powerful variable to be reckoned with. Beverly had just been drug through that variable and Deanna stood ankle deep in it.

The two looked down then at one another and began laughing. Finally after several moments they stopped to look around at the animals. "Come on, let's finish this, then we'll need to clean up. You stink really bad." Deanna began laughing again, tears were running down her face. She had no idea if they were due to the odor or the laughter. Both went to the rear of the pen, one from each side they began making noise and waving their arms until the animals began to move toward the open gate.

It took considerable effort to move all the lightfoot out. When they finally accomplished the task both women were totally exhausted and totally filthy. They closed the gate and barred it once again. Deanna collapsed on the ground. I'm sooo tired I don't think I can get back to our stuff."

"Me too, let's rest a little while than we can go back." Despite the evening chill both women were asleep within a short time.

Back at the meeting co-ordinates Will and Data found a fire going, an empty jug and mugs lying beside the arranged empty sleeping bags. There was no sign of the doctor or the counselor. Their travel bags were in place with the essentials they had each brought with them. Will and Data began looking for any clues that would explain their absence. Will was concerned that there were only two mugs, and sleeping bags. Where was their guide?

Data picked up the jug to study it, then he sniffed the opening and turned the jug up side down. He caught the last remaining drops on his finger and tasted it. "Commander, the contents of this container had been a fermented beverage with an extremely high alcohol content. The fact that the jug is now empty, and assuming it had been full, it is reasonable to conclude that the counselor and doctor may not have been acting with a clear head."

"Data are you suggesting that Deanna and Beverly were intoxicated?" Will couldn't keep the amusement out of his voice. He had seen Deanna once before in such a state, it was a picture he enjoyed repainting for her on occasion. But Beverly Crusher... and Deanna.

"Remember sir, they are accustomed to synthenol, and have had little experience with alcohol or the effects of it. Much less volume of the drink would be needed for either of them to become inebriated."

"Where would they have gone it that state? It appears they were preparing for bed. Let's look for paths or signs of recent movement through the woods." Riker was not enjoying the feeling that started in the pit of this stomach. They were so close to catching up to Abeathdor and lost another opportunity to turn things around.

Deanna lay under the cover of some of the trees bordering the now empty pen. The last thing she remembered was that it had gotten very dark, so why were her eyes aching? She tried opening them again, it was as though they were acting on their own. They certainly were not cooperating with her desires. Concentrating she heard movement and then a groan. Again the feeling of pain around her eyes. This time she managed to open them very slowly. There was a bright light, so bright it blinded her. She had to close her eyes against it. She felt rough hands hauling her to her feet. Her stomach felt like it had just fallen back to the ground without the rest of her. She heard voices.

"Can you manage that one. I'll get this little beauty. Well at least we'll have the culprits to show for tonight's work. That'll help get us off a little. Zylons gonna wanna meet you missy." Deanna felt his hot breath in her face, then she realized she was the missy he was talking to. Zylon, from somewhere in her mind she sensed fear, she couldn't think it through, but she thought it was her own.

Chapter 13

The next time consciousness found her Deanna was sprawled on her back starring at the night sky, enduring the roughest ride she thought possible. The ground seemed to be inches from her body; she felt every stone and twig in the transport's path. She tried to pull herself up enough to see what this ride was about.

"Beverly?" She whispered, unsure of her surroundings.

"I'm here, I think. How are you?" The doctor's voice sounded hoarse.

"I ...Okay. Do you know where we are?" Deanna was leaning back on her elbows, but the jolting her neck was taking from all the bouncing convinced her to force the effort to move into a sitting position.

"We are headed toward a town, I think it's the one we saw from the ridge. The two goons that have us refer to it as just 'town'." The doctor paused, then in a more urgent whisper she continued, "Deanna, they took our communicators. Apparently they searched us while we were asleep. I guess we can be relieved to have missed that." Through the darkness Deanna could see her friend running her hands down over herself -for assurance that nothing was out of place.

The empath had to smile to herself, even though she felt the same compulsion and had to force herself not to give into it. "Beverly, were you able to hear anything else." She braced herself waiting to her of their destiny with their captors.

"What I was able to hear from them, I'm not sure I understand. We are to be on 'exhibit' for one day. If no owner claims us we go to Gendla where Zylon will decide our fate. But not to worry, our friends here are thinking of putting in a bid for us. And until you see them, you can't full appreciate the circumstances that might present."

Deanna could almost her the gag in Beverly's voice. "This is not good." She said as much to herself as to the doctor. "Will and Data must find us first. If we go to Zylon...that is not something I care to think about."

"You'll be recognized." Beverly could see her friend nod. "Have any ideas? We can't just jump out we're too far above ground. Looks like it is used to move troops or equipment." Deanna heard sniffing, the "What is that smell?"

Deanna looked around, picked up the hem of her skirt, sniffed and coughed violently. "Beverly, I think it's us. It must be from the pen." Bits and pieces of the night's escapade were returning, "Did we get them all out of the pen? The lightfoot are they all out?"

"I believe we were the last out. I remember pushing the gate closed. Why didn't we go back to the camp?" Beverly was still missing some of the details, hoping between the two of them; they could fill in their whole night's work. She moved to get closer to Deanna so they could continue to talk more privately without the two men noticing. As she slid over she got a look at the other face. Deanna was concentrating, Beverly knew it was Will she was trying to communicate with. She smiled, it's amazing what you can learn about people by watching their reactions- and knowing a little of their past.

Deanna reached out with her mind, searching again for the one mind that complimented her own so completely. As she found what she was searching for, she smiled from the warmth of the emotions she sensed from that one. She thought/sent <Will, we are headed for town. We're now a transport of some kind. You must find us in one day. Beverly says we are to be put on exhibit until our owners or husbands claim us. Don't take chances, Will, they have our communicators. I don't think they know what or how they are used. Will...I'm sorry, this is my fault.> She didn't tell him that right now she'd give anything to feel his physical presence: his arms around her, to see the way his blue eyes would crinkle when he was amused. And she hoped they would find much to be amused about when this was over.

Lepton led the way up the trail toward the top of the ridge. Will and Data followed, they were moving quickly hoping to reach the two women soon. Lepton stopped abruptly put his hand out to stop the other two from moving. Then, from out of the trees came a rustling and the sound of much movement. The three moved off the trial and hid behind a couple of evergreens. Many animals came running/hopping down the side of the ridge, not in a panic but as though they had a previous destination and were late. Several had stopped short of Will, sniffing and moving around him, not sure of the human's intentions, nor really afraid of him. Will took out some of the meal he had stuffed into a pocket earlier. He held it out to the animal. It came to the hand, sniffed then nuzzled it to get to all the food. Riker was amazed at the lack of fear. Lepton also had feed in his hand; he talked to the creature eating from his hand, then reached with the other to scratch the head.

"They are lightfoot, one of the gentlest animals on the planet. Gringbald and Zylon experiment on them. In fact the holding pen is up a little way further from here, just over the top of this ridge. Someone must have left them out. They travel small groups, never like this. There must be a centrite of them right here alone." Lepton was looking at the top of the ridge where still more were perched, standing erect with their ears attentively listening.

Will exchanged a look with Data, "Brother, that would be about one hundred an fifty. Do you suspect that is were .." Data paused the continued, " our wives are?"

"It's a possibility..." Will broke off the statement and turned away from the other two. He stood very still. Data walked over to stand in front of him.

"Brother, are you communicating now with Deanna?" Data watched intently, as though by each facial move he could translate the conversation. He had become profoundly interested in this since Troi was first able to sense Abeathdor. Finally after what seemed long time, Will turned to see both Lepton and Data studying him.

"We have to get to the town, Deanna and Beverly have been caught. They're to go on some sort of exhibitions. Lepton we need to get there now."

Lepton nodded, he was familiar with the custom. "They will be on exhibit for one day, if no owners claim them, they are to be turned over to the magistrate. He decides their future. The magistrate in this area would be Zylon, Gringbald's secretary."

"We need to go now!" Will turned and was running back down to the horses, they had stolen from Zylon's men and had been traveling on. The other two were on his heels, as were about twenty-five lightfoot.

"Brother, do you believe that the two women are responsible for setting the animals free?" Data was compiling the details, Will could imagine what his report to the captain was going to look like.

"Yes, Data I do." They were already packing the supplies left by the two women on to their horses. Will was not looking forward to racing the horses up hill. Unlike Picard, he had very little experience with the animal. All that he knew, he learned on this planet.

Deanna turned to Beverly Crusher, "It's okay, they are behind us. They're on the way." She felt relief that Will was so close, and more than a little angry at herself. "If we had stayed at that sleeping site, we'd be with Will right now. I don't know why I insisted on doing this. I'm sorry Beverly."

The doctor laughed, "The only thing I'm sorry about is the smell and the headache." She patted Deanna's arm. "You know, I don't think I've ever had an experience quite like this away mission has provided. I never saw myself as a dissident or protestor. I'll bet as a teenager you were a real rebel."

Deanna smiled in the dark; "Not with my mother- I wasn't allowed to be...it must be a delayed adolescence!" The vehicle came to a sudden stop. They looked at each other, "No matter what happens try to stay together", Deanna whispered as the two men appeared through a sliding door from the cab of the vehicle.

"Ah...looks like the little missies are up now. We have a little surprise for you. Come on, can you walk or is it that you want me to carry you? Yea, I believe you enjoyed it." The taller of the two left no room for mistaking his intentions, even without Deanna's empathic skills it was too evident. The other man, a head shorter with shaggy black greasy hair that matched his shaggy full beard, stood behind the tall one allowing him to do all the talking.

Both women were quickly on their feet waiting for direction on disembarking the vehicle, much to the disappointment of their wardens. The tallest had his eyes on the doctor, "Here Red, this here be the way down." He stepped over the side of the vehicle, where the metal steps were encased into the vehicle. It took six steps for him to land on the ground. He stood looking expectantly. The two women stooped, pulled the hem form the back of the skirt, once again tucking it into the belt, then holding on to their heads as they straightened made ready to follow him down. Bother men were once again obviously disappointed.

Beverly said under her breath as she swung a leg over the side, "Depraved perverts." Deanna agreed as she watched her friend touch the ground. She then mimicked the doctor's example until; she too landed firmly on the ground.

"My head is killing me." Deanna moaned to Beverly while their wardens plotted their next attempt at getting a bit friendlier with the women.

"My guess is that it was Lagi's brew. Alcohol, something we don't get much a chance to get accustomed to. It will take about twenty-four hours for the affects to wear off. If I had my med kit with me, I think we could have found a way of countering the effects." The doctor shrugged her shoulders; it was all too plain, that all they had were the clothes on their backs.

They both looked around, trying to understand what the two lightfoot herders were up to. It appeared they were on a dark street with few building and one large platform. On the platform were benches with double railings in front and behind the benches. They were now being ushered to one of the buildings across the street. Deanna tried to get a sense as to their purpose, but it was like trying to read a blank sheet of paper. She could sense nothing but the simplest of thoughts, seemingly they had to think out every step of each function. It became very tedious trying to sift through all the mundane litter hoping to glimpse intelligence at work.

The building they now approached was a rustic, one floor wooden frame, with no windows that were discernable from their advantage point. The tall man walked up to the door and kicked once savagely. The door flew open, only to expose a gaping darkness.

"This be your home till mornin, missey," He latched on to Deanna's arm to drag her in. Beverly quickly followed, only because she didn't want either of the two disgusting men to touch her. The door was kicked shut and locked behind them.

Once the overhead lights were turned on, they looked around. There was a beat up mattress on the floor in the corner, a large wash tub in the center of the room. Both men made for the desk across the room and the chair in front of it. The women watched with fascination as the two went for the one chair. They reached it simultaneously. The ensuing tug of war was merciless, they tried kicking, smacking and biting each other, all the while holding on to the valuable chair. Someone must have relented because the chair flew across the room to land only feet away from Beverly. As pieces splintered off, both men started yelling at each other.

Beverly caught Deanna's eye, and in a low tone uttered, "I think it's safe to say we are not in the presence of any genius."

"That's an understatement," Deanna added, "never the less, I think we need to exercise caution that we do not underestimate them. WE need to get out of here somehow!"

Beverly watched the men wrestle on the floor when unexpectantly the door was kicked open again. Which made her wonder about the integrity of the lock. The newcomer was an older man, whose resemblance to the taller of the two wrestlers was striking.

"What are you two doin'? You have the place all tore up like this! Zylon will have you served up at the banquet for the king. Get this cleaned up. Soo, what'd you pick up here?" It was easy to see where the younger men learned that lecherous look. The sneer on his face as he slowly looked each of the women over was well practiced.

"Do you missies have owner?"

"Pater, that's why we bought them here. They left all Zylon's lightfoot out of the holding pen. We found them sleepin out by the woods. No one else was around. So, we brought them here. The tall one walked with the one called Pater to where the women stood. They were so close that both women had it fight the impulse to back away.

"You know, if we could find someone else who let them animals out, we could claim these tow for ourselves. It's time my boys branch out, have families of their own. These two little missies are pretty enough, a tad to old for you boys, You have to start somewhere, you could always add others, but these two would be no shame for you. Maybe I'll just keep 'em for myself."

*** The taller son walked over to Deanna, he stood looking her over from head to foot, he circled around her to continue the scrutiny, he then walked to Beverly to do the same to her. His brother grabbed Beverly pulling her against him. "No you don't, I told you before she'd be mine if we kept them."

"I was just looking, I think I got me a good breeder, right here." He pulled Deanna up against him, holding her arm bent across her back, she closed her eyes and tried to hold her breath against the foul breath that blew across her nose. There was little she could do - except for what she did. She brought her knee up into his groin. Both landed on the floor.

Beverly went to Deanna, "Are you alright? Good move, but I'm afraid you're going to pay for it."

No sooner had the words been out of her mouth than Pater roughly moved her aside. "Get away from her!" He yanked the empath to her feet, "Well now we got a little fighter. My Misrery knows how to pick 'em." He held out a hand raising it though to strike her. She stood fast not flinching; he began touching the side of her face, tracing her jaw line form ear to chin. When still she showed no reaction, he acknowledged his defeat by lowering his hand and walking back to the desk.

He perched on the desk to address his two sons, "Boys, I think we're gonna put the ladies up for exhibit. If they have no owners, then we'll see what we can do for them. Let them be for now, it will be morning soon. We'll let them clean up so their owners will know them- if they come for them. I want to see what kinda men show for these two." He squinted his eyes to look the women over again, "You do have owners...or is it husbands maybe. Yea I thought maybe it would be ...you two don't look like you would do unless you'd be in the number one spot! Yea, yea, man would marry you if you kept those looks." Pater walked to the door turned to signal his sons to follow him. The boys stomped behind their father turned to eye the women again, before slamming the door behind them.

Beverly, after several minutes, went to the door hoping that with all the kicks it had taken the lock wouldn't hold. Surprisingly it held, she opted of the local custom and tried a hefty kick. It still held. "I hope Will gets here soon. I'm beginning to think there must have been a lot of inbreeding going on here. And this is as close as I plan on getting to it."

Deanna shuddered, "Don't mention that 'B' word while we're here on this planet. Okay? Will has to be close. He would probably wait until daylight....ohhh, Did they say we could clean up? Because I really don't think we want Will and Data to see or smell us like this. We would never live it down.'

Beverly nodded absently as the counselor was talking. She was inspecting the room, looking everything over. "Let's try to get comfortable without the mattress. Could we both sit and sleep on the desk? It looks as clean as anything the room has to offer. The mattress is flea ridden. Look, you can see the bugs jumping from here!" She moved the desk up against the wall, crawled on the top with her back against the wall, she patted the place beside her.

Deanna looked once at the mattress and made for the desk. "I hate bugs. I guess we should try to sleep. It may be a long day. You can use my shoulder, as long as you don't snore."

"Very funny Counselor."

Daylight came all too quickly. The door was once again kicked open, admitting the notorious threesome. "NO time to do much cleanin' up missie. We brought you a bucket of hot water, and a bucket to use...for you know. That'll have to do. Oh and here's somethin to dry on." The tall one called Misrery eyed them appreciatively, "If you asked me real nice, I'd be happy to stay and dry ya myself."

"Forget it...we'll struggle through." Beverly intervened as Misrery went for Deanna again, apparently not having learned any respect yet. He shrugged, deposited his bucket and towels with one more lingering hot look before rounding on Beverly. "That might work for now, but you could end up taking orders from me!" They again made the unison exit.

"What did Pater call him, 'Misery?" Beverly held the towels checking them over, then handed one to Deanna. They moved as they had never moved before in cleaning up, neither desired to be caught in anything but a fully clothed state by their keepers.

Pater and sons arrived shortly with hot beverage and a biscuit of sorts. The women accepted and disposed of them when unobserved. The biscuits were crumbled up and sprinkled on the mattress, Deanna distinctly heard the doctor call as she sprinkled..."Come and get it" she assumed she was speaking to the fleas. Deanna dumped the drink into the used bucket of water.

"Well, since you're ready, come on let's go. This way missie." Misrery stood up and held on to Deanna's arm as he drug her out of the building. She angrily snatched her arm away and glared at him, trying to restrain herself from landing a solid well placed kick that would raise that irritating voice to a new high. They were led down the street to the platform they had seen the night before. Pater moved a head of the group, pointing to where each one was to sit. As the women did so, one of the boys tied their hands tot he rail in front of them.

"Sorry missie, that's the way it's done." Misrery looked anything but apologetic. When he had finished tying Deanna, he ran his hand up to shoulder, when it started to cross her collarbone she decided enough was enough.

"Would you like to the feel of my foot now?" He backed away making sure of the distance between them before he added, "Be careful missie, you don't know how things could end. You could be mine...or worse." The leer that followed by his laugh sent chill up her back.

"I'm glad you're his favorite Deanna. But maybe you should ignore him." Beverly suggested when they were alone again.

"It throws them off balance, you could almost count the minutes it takes from them to respond. They aren't used to women questioning or countering their demands. And he's a coward, he has no idea of the things he speaks of, he is merely parroting the things he heard."

The doctor took a closer look at the counselor now that they were in the sunlight. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, not great, but better. I can't believe I got us into this, I'm sorry Beverly this is my fault." She slumped over to put her head on her arms.

Beverly softly chuckled, "I know I can't believe what we got ourselves into. Can you imagine what our reports will look like. Now imagine the captain's face at the next debriefing. Don't make me laugh, my head still hurts. Especially now that the sun is in my eyes." Both women found it easier to sit slumped over with their heads pillowed on their arms on top of the rail.

They had dosed in that position for hours when the doctor was awakened, "Will! Beverly, Will is here." Both were straining their eyes and necks as they twisted and turned, trying to catch sight of the rest of their team. Then Beverly found Lepton standing close, watching them. He turned and moved toward the tow men holding the reins of three horses. One of the men moved to speak with Pater, he then moved as though to come toward them. Deanna had now also found him. It was Will. The empath had opened her mind trying to sense his feeling, hoping that they were close to her own feelings of him. She smiled, whether he would admit to them or not, his true feelings were known to her.

Commander Riker was looking over the platform. He wanted to be able to walk around to try to get a good look of it, in case things didn't go well and they needed to take things into their own hands to get the women released. When he neared the area and could get a good look at his teammates he caught his breath at their appearance. They looked physically as bad as he had ever seen either of them look, they were filthy, with the mixture of sunburn and dirt not flattering to either one of them.

Deanna and Beverly studied Will as he turned back to Pater and explained they had been away fishing, their wives decided to follow them. Women, you know, got lonely. Will winked giving Pater exactly the kind of impression he wanted. Pater laughed slapping Will on the back, and asked which was his wife. Will pointed to Deanna then proceeded to give an unique description of her to Pater, again the slap on the back. Beverly turned to her friend to see her blushing, "I suppose you know what was said? It must have been rotten to get that response from Pater. Remember Will, is playing a part to get us out of here." The empath nodded, but the look on her face gave Beverly the distinct impression that Will was going to answer for whatever it was he said. The continued to watch as Pater directed Will and Data into the building the women had earlier spent the night.

"You have your papers then, all you have to do is show them and they are free to go with you." Pater watched Will closely.

"I didn't think it necessary to take them fishing with me. You see, I didn't expect her to follow me and get herself into trouble. She should have had the family crest on her. In fact my brother's wife should have hers on her also. They look like this." He held in his hand his communicator. Pater looked at the object, then called his son over.

Yes, both women had them. The boys confiscated them to be sent to Zylon as a peace offering for the loss of the animals. "Well, that being the case, why not fill in a register of ownership documentation-to make everything legal incase the magistrate come to look into the incident." Pater knew he had lost the women for his sons but he would take charge of those family crests and perhaps get something out of the incident for himself. "Just one of you will be good, since you had proof of your family and all."

"Okay where do we do that?" Will was a little uncomfortable at the thought of Zylon having the communicators in his possession, but relieved at getting the counselor and doctor out of there.

"Here this needs filled out and your brother can sign as a witness." He handed the form to Will. Will took the form and looked at it. He couldn't make sense of the written language.

Data was looking over his shoulder whispering directions; "Line five requires your name. Line seven that of your wife. Line sixteen you sign your name. And Line seventeen your witness signs."

Pater was watching the two men laughing, "My youngest can't read neither, your brother there can help ;you. I'll go get your ladies." He left thinking his boys might have had a chance after all.

Data showed Will how to print the names and what Will's and Deana's signature should look like.

Pater returned with the women. Will quickly suggested to Data that he follow his example. He moved to see Deanna more clearly as she entered the room. She looked as his smile, then ran to throw herself into his arms. He barely had time to catch her when he heard her in his head, "I believe this is what he would be expecting from your description of me." She kissed him passionately on the lips, Will pulled her tighter against him and returned the kiss with everything she was putting into it. Her legs wrapped around him to allow her to continue the kiss.

Data turned to Beverly, who was staring with astonishment at the shipmates. She saw Data's look and said in an undertone, "Don't even think it Data." He affectionately put his arm around her waist. "When finally the two broke apart for air, Pater quickly took Will's arm, before Deanna could capture his attention again.

"Well now, it seems everybody is happy. All I need now is a permanent record of your wife's identification, for the file. What did you use before on the original documentation: retina scan? Finger/hand likeness? Or is there any skin etchin? If not we can do one now." Pater looked all too eager.

"We used hand finger likeness before. I never cared for the skin etching." Will had no intention of subjecting Deanna to anything that could cause any physical harm or demean her.

Pater looked genuinely surprised, "Most men in you position would prefer the skin etchin, then no matter what happens, what belongs to you will always, have your mark."

"Yes, well why ruin perfection when you own it." Will clapped Pater on the back, yet all the while keeping Deanna close with the other arm.

Pater opened the desk drawer with a tool he removed from a pocket of his trousers. Out of the drawer he took a wooden chest. The chest once opened the chest revealed a multitude of gadgets. He choose a small glass like square. The lid slid of the square to expose a black like sponge substance. Pater looked over the papers Will had signed, then laid them on the desk. He reached for Deanna's hand.

"This will take a minute." He laid her hand on the black substance then on the paper, putting pressure on each finger before liftin the hand from the paper. He looked at the results.

I'll be right back with a copy you'll need to carry with you" he snickered "in case your wife comes hunting more." Pater again exited the front door.

Deanna held the blackened hand up to Will face, very close. Will had to lean his head back away from the offending member. "Any suggestions as to how I can get this off Master?" She arched her eyebrows mocking his own.

"It appears to be an organic dye, Deanna." The counselor was a bit unnerved by Data's attempt at humanizing the relationship between group.

Will took her wrist , bringing the hand to his nose. "No, that's not it." After smelling the dye. "where is that smell coming from?"

Before the question could be dodged the three keepers entered the building. Misrery seemed to have had fallen through the door. He stayed laying face down, and didn't make any attempt to move. Beverly instinctively began to go to him, when Deanna whispered in her mind, <No Beverly, your not a doctor here> The away team stood back while Pater went to his son, rolling him on to his back as though expecting the incident to be a prank. One look at Misrery's face and the notion of joke passed quickly.

Will stepped up to Pater, "What is it?"

Pater and his youngest son exchanged look, Pater then shook his head, "Looks like my boy has the illness. You best be leavin' now." He handed Will his copy of the document, shifting his attention back to the ailing son..

Chapter 14

Will led the others out into the sunshine and fresh air. "Everyone keep moving, don't say anything until we're out of town." He kept his voice low enough not to be overheard by anyone outside of their little group. They continued up the road to where Lepton stood with the three horses. His smile was sincere when he saw the two women.

"Lepton, if you don't mind I think we are going to have to shift some of the provisions to your horse to make room for the ladies." Will began checking his horse, then stopped, "Lep, you old dog, you have it all taken care of don't you?"

He smiled at that then turned his attention to the women. "It is good to see you both again."

Will wasted no time on greeting. He wanted to put the town and the herder's family as far behind him as possible. " Deanna, you're with me. Beverly you and Data will ride together."

"Will..." Deanna paused, looking uncertainly at the animal; "I'm not a good rider."

"You'll be fine. I'll get on first. Data, could you give Deanna a hand up." Will reached down to grasp Deanna firmly by the arm as Data fashioned a stirrup using his hands. Deanna stepped into his hands as he lifted her up and almost over the horse. If Will hadn't had the firm hold on her that he did, she knew with out a shadow of a doubt she would have been thrown over the side of the animal. When she settled in as comfortably as possible in front of Will, they waited for a few moments for Beverly and Data to mount their animal, then together left the town.

Once they had put the town behind them and were beginning to relax, Will leaned down to whisper in Deanna's ear, "Mrs. Riker needs to change her perfume. We'll stop so you can change clothes and clean up. I can't wait to hear all about what has happened to you since we separated at the river."

She squeezed the arms that were wrapped around her midriff as they rode. "I missed you too." She whispered back to him. He understood the deeper feelings that ran underneath the cool surface. He was beginning to understand a lot about her that he hadn't before. He changed his hold on the reins to allow him to hold her closer.

Lepton slowed, then turned off the road they had been following. They came along a fast moving brook, where they stopped. "Okay, Ladies, we'll stop here for you to clean up and change clothes. We aren't spending the night so be as quick as possible. Please." He helped Deanna down, then handed her the travel bag. "If you need help..."

"No thank you Commander."

Will had dismounted and stood in front of Deanna, "It's husband to you." He smiled and ducked to avoid the bag.

It took very little time for the women to freshen up and change into cleaner clothing. Neither was happy with the quickness of the times allowed, but in the interest of cooperation they effectively used the resources and time allotted to them. They were soon back on the horses and riding again.

Deanna tried to explain about the trouble she had sensed at Fallscity when they left Rankeer behind. Will listened and quietly asked questions. Will and Lepton began discussing the night's lodgings and the near rescue of Abeathdor. Data and the two men had concluded her destination to be Gendla. They summarized moving her was a temporary measure and due to the Federations appearance.

Deanna followed the conversation up to the point when Lepton was describing Fallscity and it's inhabitants, and the other small pockets of 'waste people'. She soon found she only heard words sporadically. She felt Will pull her back against him as she sleepily jerked forward. It felt good to nestle back against his warmth. The air had chilled, and she still wore a silk blouse. She hadn't changed earlier, because the sun was still warming, and the heavy cloak was not needed.

Deanna had no idea how long she slept, but she was warm and comfortable. Before opening her eyes, she reached out with her mind to get the essence of those around her. Her first awareness was of fatigue and curiosity, then a warmer flow of loving thoughts flooded her senses. The arms that held her tightened as Will felt her stirring.

The hand that rested on Wills, gently soothed his arm softly rubbing it. "Will, how long have I been asleep? She sat up straighter to look around. The scenery looked familiar, but then they had been traveling in the same wooded area for what seemed forever. There was something else about the place, a feel about it, she knew she was here before. "Will, where are we?"

Will spoke softly in her ear, "Lepton has gone ahead to make sure everything is okay. You slept soundly for a good three hours. We crossed the river about forty-five minutes ago." He loosened the arms that encircled her but did not remove them. Deanna looked to see how Beverly was holding up. She was still sleeping in pretty much the same position that Deanna had been earlier. Data was holding her in front of him, his arms around her, supporting her on both sides, her head was tucked in under Data's chin. Will caught her checking on the doctor and again repeated his earlier request. "We are going to have story time around the fire tonight. I can't wait to hear what you two have been up to..."

"Will!" Deanna interrupted, "something is wrong, terribly wrong. Will." She couldn't bring herself to vocalize the things she was sensing.

"Deanna, what is it?" He tightened his hold, gathering her more closely. He knew her well enough to know that the tension he could feel in her body and hear in her voice was the controlled part of the alarm she was feeling. He knew her thoughts were churning in rapid waves, one after the other and if she didn't gain control soon, he would have his hands full. He stole a quick glance over at the doctor to see if she was alert enough to notice what was happening. "Deanna, can you tell if Lepton is in danger?"

"No he's not in danger, but we need to get there. Let's go quickly! Can you find the path, it's steep ahead we'll have to walk the horses." She was looking for a way off the horse, when Will with a firm grip on her arm tried to hold a little longer in place. She reacted almost in anger at his attempt to hold her there. He held on to her not letting her move a muscle, until she sagged against him allowing a moment to center herself. Deanna turned to look at Will, she spoke quietly, "Its okay, I'm fine now." He opened his arms but reached to help her off the animal when she slid out of his hands to land in a sitting position on the ground. Will jumped off, pulling her to her feet, and brushing her off.

"Deanna?" He asked with humor in his voice, although his eyes betrayed only concern. She nodded.

Data had helped Beverly dismount. She looked at Will, "What's happening?" Then with a glance at the counselor, "Deanna, what is it?"

"We have to get to Fallscity. There is much pain." The empath began moving at a run taking the same mountain they had only less than one day ago came down. She ran until the mountainside became too steep to run any further, only when she couldn't make her legs continue the sprint up the steep side did she slow and then eventually look behind her. To their credit her friends never questioned her, nor attempted to stop her, even though they had only her word or feelings to go on they trusted her skills implicitly.

She waited for Will to catch up, taking the time to catch her breath. He climbed up to stand with her, his horse behind him. "How much further?"

She looked at him, felt his trust and belief in her abilities. Deanna put her hand on his shoulder to pull him down and kiss him lightly. He grinned, "what was that for?" he asked surprised.

<For trusting in me and for everything.> her voice answered in his head.

"Come on, is that the waterfalls I hear now?" Will had begun moving again keeping one hand on Deanna's back, the other holding the reins of his horse. Several yards behind him Beverly was carefully climbing with Data and his mount following.

"We're almost to the falls, it's a little tricky getting around them, and very slippery. I think Lepton is returning, yes, look that's him." Deanna and Will stopped, giving the other two time to catch up.

Lepton was alone on foot and looking very agitated. They met at the area in front of the falls. The roar of the pounding water made conversation impossible. He motioned for them to follow him, taking Deanna's arm, leaving Will to walk his animal. She tried to communicate with him, but his emotions were so overwhelming she couldn't penetrate through them. She touched the hand that held her arm, trying to reassure him somehow. Her own mind was running riot again. Her thoughts continually returning to the kind people that she had in one day befriended. She bit back her fear at what lay ahead, telling herself they would do all they could; they could do nothing less or more.

Finally they were out the other side of the cavern and in the warm glen. She inhaled deeply, and gagged, now with the pine scent was another more terrifying odor, that of burned wood. Once again panic was riding hard on her heels trying to overtake her, now she was tasting the emotions of her companions as well as her own.

Beverly came to stand beside her. "Deanna, what has happened? What are we walking into?"

"I don't know, there has been an attack, but I feel sadness, fear and pain. Come on, I can't stand this not knowing any longer." She ran ahead. Lepton took Beverly's arm and held her back, trying to talk to her. By then, Will and Data had joined them. Will listened for a while, then handed his reins to Lepton to go after Deanna. The rest followed behind....

**** Chapter 15

Deanna ran head on into a scene that was akin to her worse fear. The wooden buildings were either smoldering or heavily vandalized. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to breath she lowered her barriers and was hit immediately by a paroxysm of such magnitude she nearly collapsed from it. She searched for the source and found Lagi sitting against of one of the wooden tables that had been knocked over to lie on it's side. Her bloody arm was lying across her stomach staining the cloth of her outfit and saturating the material, which bound the wound.

"Lagi, oh noo..." Deanna ran to the woman, kneeling down in front of her, she tried to touch an unharmed place to let Lagi know she was there. She gently placed her hand on the older woman's shoulder, the pained eyes slowly opened and filled with tears that spilled down her cheeks. "Lagi, what happened? Where are the others?"

Will had come to join her stooping to check on the woman, he stood and signaled the doctor to join them. Beverly quickly took charge of the situation, looking into the woman's injuries. Data returned handing her the med kit and tricorder. She stepped back, motioning Deanna over to her, "Deanna, Lepton explained that some of Gringbald's men found this place, they went about ransacking and destroying things. Everyone had been hidden in one of the passageways under the main structure." Beverly paused for a moment, knowing the result the words she had to say would have; she wanted the empath, her friend, to have the comfort of having the news told to her by someone who shared the emotional response it would bring.

Deanna could only sense the trepidation and pain from Beverly; she was to numb with her own fears to sense more from her. She waited while Beverly found the words Deanna knew she didn't want to hear.

The doctor continued, "For some reason Solace ran out of the building, Rankeer had been hiding among some trees watching, he went after her. They beat Rankeer. When they found Solace couldn't communicate, were going to take her with them. Lagi tried to convince them to leave the child and take her in instead. Well, you see the result of that. Rankeer is over there in a hammock. He's in been pretty badly injured, go with Will over to see him until I get done here. He'll feel better knowing you're here." She resumed her work on healing Lagi's arm.

Will took her arm walking her toward Rankeer, "Deanna, Beverly said you were quite fond of the little girl. We are not letting this go. We are going to Gendla to get Abeathdor; we will also find Solace. This is not the end of the story." He knew she was hanging on to her self control and fighting the overwhelming urge to crumble, to give in to the despair that floated all around them. he was hoping to give her a premise to hang on to, that of life, that they could/would set thing aright.

When she continued walking slowly toward Rankeer, Will stopped her turning her toward him, he gently held her chin to direct her gaze to meet his own. "I mean it. We will work this out, we are going to find her." She tried to smile, but the effort never reached her eyes. He gently pulled her into his embrace. "We will complete this successfully...I promise I'll do everything in my power to finish this." He whispered into her hair. Together they went to Rankeer, Deanna beginning to brace herself for this meeting also.

Rankeer had taken quite a beating, his left eye was swollen and black and blue, he had a large cut over the eye and the cheek below it was cut and swollen. It looks like he had been hit on the side of the head with a plank. His left leg was bandaged and strapped to a large piece of wood to immobilize it. He lay before them unconscious, whether that state was due to his injuries or something his friends had given him, they would need Beverly to decide.

Deanna moved to touch his hand, she opened her mind to try to get a sense of Rankeer's mental condition. What she did get was the vision that was Rankeer's dream. She saw through his eyes the men carrying Solace, and the malice with which they struck him over and over again. He moaned in his sleep as he envisioned the attack. Deanna gave into the tears she could no longer hold back.

Beverly arrived at their location to have a look at Rankeer's injuries. She bit back all she would have liked to say about anyone who would attack another so viciously. She directed Will and Data in aiding her to reset the leg and settling Rankeer into a better position.

Deanna went to set up the area by Lagi as a makeshift kitchen. Lepton had gathered all the supplies he could find, and together they were attempting to serve the survivors a warm nourishing meal. Deanna finally asked the question that had been playing hide-n-seek with her ability to reason since they arrived at Fallscity. "Lagi, was our presence here responsible for this attack?" She swept her hand out to encompass all the damage that had been ravaged upon the glen.

Lagi carefully shook her head. "Lady, they were hunting us. We became too confident of our seclusion. It was probably only a matter of time. They did not ask of any others. They did not ask anything. They came to destroy."

Deanna sat beside the leader of the "waste people" and asked, "You don't know why Solace ran out from safety do you? Where did she run to?" Deanna couldn't let it rest; she had to know, to understand the incomprehensible. She had been so totally shaken by the lose of Solace and could find no explanation for the child to have run into danger, or for the abduction of the child.

Lagi looked long at Deanna, then out into the area before them. "She ran to that area while the men were searching the buildings taking all they could find."

Deanna walked to the area Lagi indicated; she turned to look back at her verifying that this was the correct place. The counselor began a careful search of the area, kneeling looking through the grasses and among the pine needles.

Data soon joined her. "Counselor, may I assist you?" He knelt beside her assuming the same position looking through the plants, "What is it we are looking for?"

"I don't know Data. This is the area that Solace ran to, do you see anything that would entice a child away from safety and draw her here?" They both continued their search, carefully and thoroughly, yet nothing appeared that would qualify as a solution to that puzzle.

Will and Beverly soon joined them. They had not been long at it when Deanna observed Will stooping to look more closely at something he had found. She went to him, when she saw what he had found, her breath caught in her throat. He saw her reaction; she had wrapped her arms across her stomach as though she were holding herself together. He handed the small object to her. Her hand shook as she took it out of his hand and closed her own fingers around it. This time she made no attempt to hold the tears in. This time it was too much, she collapsed on the ground and cried.

Will pulled something out of his pocket and was studying it. He handed it down to Beverly, who was sitting on the ground with Deanna. She ignored Will, pushing away his hand. He sat behind Deanna, wrapping his arms around her, "Look, is that what you thought we found? Deanna look!" His voice held the authority of a command; one he knew would catch her attention. She looked. It was a twin of the lightfoot carving Will had found on the ground, the one she held in her own hand.

She looked at him confused. "I don't understand."

He held up the one he took from his pocked. "I am not sure I do either. This is the one I found at the site we were to meet at, where I found your belongings. It was lying beside an empty mug and sleeping bag. What can you tell me about them."

Deanna had stopped crying and held on to Will's hand to look closer at his carving. She looked from the one in her hand back to that in Will's hand. Slowly understanding came. She attempted to explain it to the rest. "Solace gave me that one as a gift to hold for her until I saw her again." She held up the one in Will's hand. "Rankeer made it, he must have made a second one." Deanna swallowed, regained her composure, "The lightfoot were special to Solace, she seemed to have a special relationship with the animals. I remember looking at the carving as we sat in front of the fire." She traded a quick look with Beverly, "I must have left it there. I was afraid my carelessness did this, that I left it behind here. I forgot I had it with us at the campsite later." On one hand she was relieved, on the other hand- it resolved nothing.

Will nodded, standing he held out his hands for each of the women to pull them to their feet. "It has been a long day. Let's try to get things organized and find a suitable shelter for these people. Data check out the remaining structures as to which can be made the most comfortable for the injured. Deanna, Beverly begin making rounds organizing the injured and their needs, what it would take to provide for them. I attempt to contact the Enterprise, so far they are either to far away or there is interference with the transmissions.

Several hours passed Will found the women, sitting with Lagi and a few of the others grouped around a fire. He motioned them away from the group. "I think we have things under some control, how many seriously injured?"

"Just Rankeer and Lagi were seriously injured. The rest are mostly scratches and bruises from the clean up." Beverly answered him tiredly.

Riker looked both over and realized both women were nearly dead on their feet. "Good. It's been a long day. Why don't you get cleaned up? Data and I will do what we can to put the finishing touches on the shelter. It feels like a storm is brewing, so don't linger long. We want everyone safely tucked in by the time the storm hits."

He had walked with them back near Rankeer's hammock, where Data was talking with the young man. Beverly inquired about their travel bags. Data lead her to their things. "Data no news from the Enterprise?"

"No Doctor, I have concluded that someone on the planet may be interfering with communications. It is unlikely the captain would not have returned and attempted to reach us." He handed both bags to Beverly.

Lepton, Will and Deanna were talking with Rankeer, as she approached Beverly heard Rankeer explain what had happened. It was much like the dream Deanna had earlier tapped into. Rankeer smiled at her as she joined them. The smile held no mirth; it was merely the recognition of a friend.

"You are all from the starship? You are here to get the queen back?" He looked from one to the other, then left his gaze stop on Deanna.

"Yes, Rankeer, we are all here to help. This is Commander..."

"William Riker, Deanna's husband." Will quickly interjected, then he finished the introductions. "We have learned about the queen and are here to do all we can to see to it that some kind of order is restored. We are going to Gendla for Abeathdor. We will stay until we find Solace too."

Beverly saw the fatigue and pain in Rankeer's eyes. "Rankeer, we will talk later, right now, you must rest. I'll give you a hypospray that will help you rest and speed your recovery. Okay?" He didn't have time to answer, Beverly leaned forward to find an area on his neck not harmed by his assailants and delivered the medication.

They moved away from the injured man allowing him to rest. Lepton and Data went to continue the work on the one large remaining structure, leaving Will, Deanna and Beverly. Deanna looked up at Will. He knew the look and answered it. "We are married. I thought it best to advertise that, in case we are discussed, Gringbald's men would have no connection between us and the first away team."

"You didn't mention Data and Beverly's union?"

"If anyone asks for identification we have only ours. I don't want to stray too far from the basic truth. Things are less likely to get confused." Will paused then asked, "Does it bother you to say we're married?"

She watched his expression closely, then choose his tactic of avoiding a question with a question. "Would you say then this is a marriage of convenience?"

In the same tone he queried, "In a manner of speaking aren't they all?"

Beverly stopped any answer with hands raised, "Okay, I've heard enough, when we come back you can play verbal tennis all you like - As long as I don't have to listen to it! I'm ready for a warm bath." Beverly was tired and in no mood to listen to the typical Troi-Riker speakfest, where they bait each other, neither saying what they really felt. The game had been going on for years, as long as Beverly had known them. She checked one more time on both patients, each was sleeping soundly. Finally they were on their way to the hot spring.

Will caught up with them. "I though you might want some company. I'm an excellent back scrubber and I can do a pretty mean shampoo." They looked at him like he had to have grown feathers. "Okay, I have some outfits that Lagi had sent for you. And I'm not leaving, I don't think anyone should venture anywhere alone, especially you two. I promise to be a good boy." He handed the clothes to Beverly, and continued to walk with them.



They stood at the hot spring Will took off his shoes and touched a toe into the water. "Nice. "

"Before you go any further let's check to see if the spring may have been tampered with." Beverly had the tricorder out before he had a chance to say or do anything. "Okay, looks exactly as it was before. Commander are you going to turn around so we can undressed an in the water?"

He obediently turned his back and stripped off his own vest and shirt, while he heard the two going into to the water. He felt their towels land on his head. "Very funny." He knew by their chuckles that they thought so. They had moved further out into the spring, Will took the opportunity to strip down to his shorts and got in too, staying close to the steps. He felt the warm water work its magic on the sore muscles and tired limbs. He could hear the women splashing as they continued their routine. He could also feel the change in the air, a breeze had picked up, and while still comfortable it was cooler. Will climbed out of the water and over toward their belongings he sat down hoping to dry near the lit torches surrounding that area of the springs. He could just see the two in the water through the darkness of the early evening. He quickly dressed. "Are you almost done, I really don't think you want to be in there if it starts storming." He could hear them swimming over to the side. Commander Riker stood facing away from the steps as he held out the towels to the women.

"I'll wait for you right over there." He waved his arm near the path back to the buildings. Then slowly turned in that direction, thinking how much he'd like to recreate all this as a holodeck program, one he could share with a certain ship's counselor.

"Deanna, how many times has Will referred to you as his wife, since that little impromptu ceremony today?" The counselor stopped dressing and turned to look at the ship's doctor. Beverly shrugged her shoulders, "I was just thinking, do you think that it is legally binding? Well, you know, will you have to have it annulled? Hey you might as well give the prospect a little thought. What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

Beverly, I appreciated your concern, I don't know what to think or what to do right now. I know my feelings for Will and right now I think I know his for me, but is it this planet? Things seem greatly enhanced here: my abilities for example, the extremes in the ranges of the inhabitants dispositions toward what we see as down right evil, or this people's kindness and gentleness. How much weight should I put on what happens between us here? Have you noticed the lack of competition, there are few women here that would appeal to Will. Maybe hi is suffering from withdrawal?"

"I'll only say one more thing: if you had these feelings toward anyone else, would you pursue them, test them to see where they would go?" Beverly smiled a little as she put on her shoes, "I have noticed the lack of females, they're probably locked away or all giving birth. They have this penchant for breeding I've heard."

"Yes, so I've heard." Deanna's tone quickly turned back to a serious note, "Beverly what do you think happened to Pater's son back there? He mentioned the 'sickness' like it was a well known problem."

"I've been thinking about that. It could be a viral infection, or a parasite. Who knows what those two could have got into. There is the possibility of flea carried diseases. We saw the mattress was loaded with them." Beverly stopped to think about that for a moment, then added, "If you notice any differences in your own health or that of any of us mention it to me. We'll act on anything unusual quickly, to prevent any of the worse case scenarios."

"Sounds serious." Deanna was concerned by the course the conversation was taking.

"It could be, on the other hand, it may be nothing. We'll just be observant. I'll speak with Data, he may spot something quicker then the rest of us. We seem to have our emotions are overdrive with all that has been happening. How are you dealing with all this? You have your own emotions to deal with plus all of ours."

"I think as well as could be expected. It helps to know we are going to make getting Solace back a priority. I think right now I'm just very tired." She collected the clothing she had on earlier, then stood to look Beverly in the eyes, "How are you holding up?"

The doctor smiled, "Much better now that we are all together."

They gathered up their belongings and found Will on the path heading back into the springs. He looked at the bundle of clothes they carried separate from their bags. "We'll wash those in the stream near the falls. You do smell and look much better. We do have to talk. I need to know how you came to be caught by the herder's family back there."

Beverly looked at Deanna, who kept her eyes lowered. The doctor replied, "Let's just say the report for the captain will prove entertaining if nothing else." She could see his face now as he reading the report, looking up at them when at one of the high points, looking up at them, running a hand back over his smooth head, then continuing on to the next interesting portion.

Data and Lepton had finished with the work on the shelter. "Commander, there was enough usable wood to maintain only one building. I choose the largest to house all sixteen of us. It is the building that the hidden tunnels are under." Data and Will were walking over to the structure as Data continued explaining his reconstruction. They returned after a short time. Will was anxious to get everyone settled in.

"Let's gather everyone together. We'll begin with the injured, get them settled in and see to their needs, then everyone else. We can settle in last. Doctor help Deanna prepare an area for Rankeer and Lagi. Data will show you what he did for them." He moved to talk with Lepton about the rest of the group.

Data had suggested hammock for Lagi and Rankeer. Beverly's concern was for the broken leg. She was informed by the android that provisions had been made for that too; he would suspend the leg from the ceiling above to keep it immobile and in the needed position for the restorative factors to function. The women found they had little to prepare, Data and Lepton had completed the preparations in a remarkably short amount of time.

The injured and any with special needs were moved in to the large building. The rooms were large, open and airy which made it easy to make adjustments to accommodate everyone. When everybody was settled in, Will requested his fellow officers to meet outside for a debriefing. Data went straight to the fire and immediately seated himself and waited. Once they had all joined Data, all eyes turned to Will, waiting for him to direct the proceedings. No one sat too close to the fire, gusts of wind now swept tongues of flames out of the stone boundaries.

"Okay, before the storm breaks and we join the others, let's try to paint a picture of all the events leading up to the present. I would like Doctor Crusher and the Counselor to begin with the period after we separated at the river. When you left with Lepton -what happened next?"

They explained the river crossing and Lepton bringing the others to them, and their trek up the mountainside to Fallscity. Beverly recounted the meeting of Rankeer and Solace, her medical examination and prognosis. Deanna, professionally detailed her encounter and the child's revelations. It was all told very factually with little emotion.

Will's attention was engaged when the counselor was recalling their departure and later when she began to sense a problem back at Fallscity and Rankeer's return to there. He questioned them about the provisions they had with them and the finding of the meeting site.

"We simply followed Rankeer's directions. They were very precise." Beverly answered, knowing the path that Will's questioning was going take.

"You find the rendezvous point, you knew we were to meet you there, yet you deliberately went off on your own. Why? What was so important that you left, knowing you may miss us or that missing could further endanger you or our mission?" He was speaking very soft; each word was a reproof. Deanna had sensed when he first found them in the hands of the herdsman that beneath the surface he was angry that they had taken that chance. He had been holding it all in waiting for the appropriate time to officially show his disappointment in the course they chose to follow.

Both women sat quietly, Deanna spoke, "We were not thinking with a clear head when we left the area. It was a stupid thing to do. It will not happen again."

Will nodded, the official reprimand out of the way, "Okay, continue, what happened after you left the area?"

Beverly continued the narration of the walk to the top of the ridge, the finding of the lightfoot pen and how they returned to wait for Will and Data to arrive at the appointed area.

Deanna picked up from there. "We were out of fresh water so we drank all of the..." She paused hunting for the correct words to describe the drink. "We drank all of the drink Lagi had sent along. We had been sitting by the fire relaxing talking about all that had transpired that day. Apparently the drink had relaxed us more then we were aware of, I had been studying the carved lightfoot, thinking of the pen on the other side of the ridge. Here were all these gentle animals crammed into that large pen waiting to be sent to the research center to be tortured and experimented on. I thought of Solace and the way she had with the animals, so, I decided we should set them free." She paused, sensing Will's reaction to the information, she found amusement but also something akin to consternation.

Will Riker had his poker face on, looking at her with all seriousness he said, "Go on."

She took a deep breath and continued, "I talked Beverly into coming along. Thinking that if we left our things you would know we hadn't gone far and intended to come back."

"But you didn't return. What happened next?"

Deanna sat studying Will, she either didn't hear what he said or was hesitating in continuing, so Beverly picked up the story again. "We got to the pen, opened the gate chased the animals out...and we passed out. Probably due to Lagi's drink. I should have checked it out more thoroughly before we...over indulged. When we regained consciousness we were in the back of a transport, that we couldn't get out of while we were moving. That is how we ended up with Pater and sons. It was his sons that were keepers of the pen. That pretty much brings us to when you found us." She omitted the part about how they came to be covered with the lightfoot dung, or how much time it took to accomplish the task.

The storm was now upon them, the thunder boomed in their ears and the wind began driving the stinging rain against them. "We'll finish this later, right now, let's get into the building." They began moving even as he spoke. When they stepped up onto the veranda, Lepton came out to talk quietly to Will, motioning directions into the house. After Will had thanked him and Lepton had gone back into the house, he told them of their sleeping arrangements. Once again he stressed the importance of keeping with their story, now as much for the protection of their hosts as for their own protection. "There is a second floor with two rooms. Lepton thought it would only be fitting for the two married couples to have some privacy. They have already taken our belongings up."

Will led them through the large kitchen and up a set of narrow wooden stairs. When everyone stood at the top of the stairs. Data looked into each room, finding his belongings he directed, "Doctor, you and I are here; while the Commander and Counselor will be sharing those quarters." He pointed across the hall and down several feet from their room was another door.


Beverly opened the door, a small light had been supplied on the corner table. A thick mat with the sleeping bags lay on the floor. A hammock was strung in the corner near the only window. "Doctor, I did not know your preference. These people appear to favor the hammock."

"I'll take the floor if it's all the same to you Data."

Data looked at the hammock, "As you wish Doctor." He literally jumped into the hammock, looking perfectly at home. The doctor shook her head in disbelief as she crawled into the sleeping bag. She listened to the rain blowing against the slatted wooden covering over the window, and thought this may be the first good night's sleep she had had since leaving the comfort of her own cabin on the Enterprise.

Deanna found their room much the same as Beverly had found theirs. The room Deanna and Will were to share was the only room with two windows. Deanna found herself charged with nervous energy, she paced around the room until she caught Will's concerned look, she found herself in front of the window. She pushed out on the bottom of the slatted covering to find that it easily propped open looking out into the glen.

Will watched her for a few minutes before speaking, "Deanna, this was not my idea. I don't want to put these people at any risk by placing them in a position where they would have to lie for us. They have been through enough. When Lepton came out to tell me of the arrangements, he was pleased to be able to do this for us. It was almost like a gift to us." Will grinned and continued, "For some reason he truly believes us to be married, as I suppose we are in the eyes of this world, and thanks to that little demonstration in front of Pater." She felt her cheeks warm at the memory,

He continued, "I didn't want to admit we were lying to him and these people. Do you understand what I'm trying to say."

She could sense and hear the sincerity in his voice. "I understand. Let's get some rest Will, it's been a long day. You choose, floor or hammock?"

"I think I'd like to give the hammock a try." He went to the hammock and slid effortlessly into it. "I haven't slept in on of these since I was a kid. Although, my memory of them makes them a lot larger than this." He smiled over at her. "Are you sure you'd rather not sleep here?"

"No, I wouldn't think of depriving you of that honor. I'm fine here, really." Their eyes met and held for a long moment before either could break the gaze. "Will, would you mind turning out the light."

"How about if we turn it down low, I'm not sure how to light it again." His arm was long enough to allow him to stretch to the table and turn the knob on the light lowering the flame until it the entire room was cast in shadow light. He watched as Deanna turned her back to him to dig through her travel bag, he saw her pull out a long night gown, then turned on his side away from her, affording her the small amount of privacy available. "Goodnight Will". He turned toward her to see she had climbed into her bag, "Goodnight".

She lay listening to the rain, turning again for what seemed like the tenth time is as many minutes, trying to find the position that would allow her to sleep. She heard Will get out of the hammock and stand before the window looking out, just as she had earlier. He stayed at the window for a short time then went back to the hammock. She had tried everything to try to relax herself. All the relaxation techniques she knew as a psychologist and had taught to others, none had worked for her now. She couldn't seem to turn her mind off; her thoughts went from one subject to another. First -the abduction of Solace, the fear she had for the child, and her own inadequacy in aiding her. Then Abeathdor, again her inability to help find and help the younger woman. Next her mind replayed all the questions she had regarding her relationship with Will Riker. It had continued speeding from one subject to the next then back to begin the process over again.

When the sounds coming from the swinging bed confirmed that he had gone back to sleep, she quietly slipped out of the sleeping bag. She stood quietly at the window, hoping not to disturb Will's rest. He had left the window open a bit, she pushed it further, to lean out and let the rain fall on her face. Hopping to let the rain distract her from her thoughts she allowed it to soak her face. Will groaned and moved. "Deanna, what is it? Can't you sleep?"

"I'm sorry, I tried to be quiet. Am I disturbing you?"

He went to stand behind her, his hands on her shoulders massaging her neck. "Yes, seeing you stand here in the middle of the night is disturbing. What's wrong, your neck is tighter than my hammock is strung." He worked his hands up; the back of her neck to the base of her skull, then down again and across each shoulder. Moving her hair from one side to the other as he worked. She gave herself up to the feeling of his hands on her neck, working out all the fatigue from the restless time spent in the sleeping bag.

"Deanna, talk to me. What's going on." It was the softness in his voice; the affection in his tone that touched her now, as it had on other occasions.

"I can't stop thinking about all the things I am unable to do. Solace, for example, I can't stop thinking about her. Abeathdor, if I hadn't gotten us tied up literally maybe we might have her by now. There is so much to accomplish, and sometimes the end seems even further away now then it did in the beginning. Listen, I've kept you up enough, get some rest. I'll go back and try again." She made a move to go back to her bed, his hands caught and tightened on her shoulder, holding her in place.

"You're not keeping me awake. I haven't been able to sleep either. Let's talk, maybe we can come up with some solutions, that will let us get some rest."

"It reminds me of a saying on my planet. 'A man with his house in order can sleep through a stormy night.'." She had turned to face him and could almost see him raise his eyebrows in his mock serious expression.

"And what does that mean Counselor?"

"I guess it means if you have your priorities straight and you've done all that you can do, you more relaxed when the storm hits; knowing things are secure and the storm outside is no threat- nothing can take your inner calm away."

"So, we need to put our house in order. Take care of what we can, and leave the rest until we can take care of that too." He paused, "Isn't that what we have been doing? We - I didn't expect to run into some of the problems we have encountered. We'll take it one step at a time until the mission is completed." Again the pause. "Come with me. I know how to put you to sleep."

She looked at him, trying to read what he was thinking. When she still hesitated he, gently pulled her along to his hammock. "Think how many times you have fallen asleep on my shoulder, while I told my best stories. Come on." He sat on the side of the hammock, "I think what we have here is a custom made story telling hammock. I think we can both get on this." He slid on, then patted the area beside him.

She looked at him skeptically, "Will are you sure we can both get on this..." She stopped at his look, shrugged then slid close to him. It took a few minutes of shifting until both were comfortable. Then with her head on his shoulder and his arms around her, Will began to tell his story.

"I'll tell you of our adventure after we separated at the river." He continued talking softly, she listened to the way he accented his words, to the inflection he put on the thoughts behind the words, but mostly she left herself relax in the warmth she sensed from him. He supplied the security that finally allowed her to sleep.


The counselor's escape into sleep and the peace it brought was brief. Her dreams were filled with tormenting visions. Solace was screaming, holding in her hand the small wooden figure. She turned to face Deanna, her hands held out in front of her as though beseeching the empath for help. Deanna was frozen, unable to do anything but watch in horror as Gringbald dressed in surgical clothes carried the child away. The scream continued as the two moved down a hallway, Deanna's vision followed them until they grew small and vanished.

Next one other person appeared a tall woman with red hair. At first Deanna thought it was Beverly, but there was something about the way the woman carried herself that led Deanna to reconsider the identity. Deanna's view of the woman so far consisted solely of her back. The dream allowed her a closer look, as though she had magnified the vision. Deanna could now see there were ropes tied to the head, arms and legs. She looked up to see where the ropes went, they continued to ascend, up many feet above here she could see someone looking down. The face was unfamiliar, but the laughter she heard emanating from that direction was familiar. The laughter was mocking her. She looked again at the woman to see a precipice now appeared below her. Her mouth was moving, but Deanna strained but could hear nothing, she began crying out to the woman to speak louder. Finally after much entreaty she heard the words, "Help me, only you can help me."

When Deanna slowly began to come out of her crazed sleep, she was in her sleeping bag on the floor. She looked around; the room was eerily lit in a gray light. She saw her travel bag in the corner and Will's backpack near it. She looked to the hammock to see it empty, she was alone. Deanna wondered if the comfort of Will's arms and his story were also part of the night's dreams. She shivered at the memory of those dreams.

There were footsteps approaching the door. It slowly opened Will looked around the corner. "Good you're awake. How are you feeling?" He came the rest of the way into the room.

The way he asked the question made Deanna a little nervous. "Fine, I guess I overslept. How long have you been up?"

"A while." He walked over tot he mattress and sat on the edge leaning over to look at her. "You seemed to have had a bad night. I was a little concerned. Beverly wants to look at you, sees been busy with Rankeer and Lagi this morning. I volunteered to come up and check on you." He smiled down at her, moving a strand of hair away from her face. "Can you tell me anything about what was happening last night?"

Deanna started to sit up then realized when the cool damp air hit her, she had very little on, she slid back into the warm sleeping bag. "What happened? The last thing I remembered was you holding me on the hammock telling me your adventures.. I remember having nightmares. They were horrible. But how did this happen? Was it all dreams?" She looked questionably at Will.

He was sitting very close to her, he leaned in to trace the orbs around the eyes as though he could erase marks of the restlessness night. She didn't need her empathic skills to know what he was feeling. It was clearly written on his face and in his eyes. He leaned down to kiss each eye. Deanna put a hand on each side of his face and held his head inches away, while she studied his features. She pulled him down to her.

Sometime later Will whispered, "When this is over Mrs. Riker, we will have some serious time alone. I think we have some small items to work out." He stretched out beside her with his arm protectively around her. "You really had me worried last night. I think we need to figure out what was happening."

"Will, the nightmares were very real. I felt their emotions.. The fear and pain.." She stopped and shivered, at the remembered intensity.

He hugged her closer to him, "Can you tell me about them. What do you remember?"

She hesitated, not wanting to go back into the depth of them. "I saw Solace, she had her hands stretched out to me. Gringbald took her away. I could hear her screaming even when I could no longer see her." She stopped talking.

He softly spoke to her, "Deanna, were all the dreams like this?" She nodded. "What do you think they mean?"

"I suppose it's my own feelings of inadequacy. We haven't found Abeathdor, and now a small defenseless child is in danger and I feel responsible." She couldn't look at Will. She closed her eyes and continued. "Abeathdor as a puppet, used by Gringbald...I think Solace will die if we do not reach her quickly."

Will tightened his arms around her. "Last night during those dreams it seemed you lost control. You fought me, twisting, turning and screaming. I understand now what was happening. It took Data and I to hold you still so Beverly could give you a hypospray. I've never seen you like that. We couldn't penetrate through where ever you were. That is why you are here, and why you are dressed as you are.... or aren't." She heard the smile in his voice, a trait that always endeared him to her.

"I can imagine how much you must have hated that."

He glanced over her, then playfully added; "You have no idea, especially when I have to undress you in front of an audience." Then more seriously, "If you are feeling up to it. Beverly is waiting to check on you. I imagine you're hungry by now. We've had lunch. While Beverly is checking on you, I'll get you something to eat. It looks like we're going to lose a day traveling. The rain is pounding out there. Seems like a good day to get our wits together make some plans and get rest up." After a few moments, he continued, "I think I know your feelings for Solace. I'm looking forward to meeting this child. We will find her, we'll be in Gendla early tomorrow." He kissed her on the forehead and waited for her response.

She nodded and whispered, "Okay."

He eased himself away from her and off the mattress to go fetch the doctor.

When Beverly opened the door Deanna was already on her feet hunting for clothes.

"I brought you the outfit you had on yesterday, we got everything dry. Lagi also sent up an outfit to wear today. She felt you would be more comfortable in." Beverly handed the clothes to Deanna. "Before you dress, let me do a quick check, since I only have limited equipment, I need to rely on intuition and eyes." When the doctor had done as thorough a check up as conditions would allow, she sat on the mattress to study the readings on her tricorder.

Deanna began to dress. She decided to wear the one-piece unisex outfit that Lagi sent up. She looked over at the doctor, noticed she was still looking at her tricorder. "Beverly, I feel fine, a little tired, but that 's probably a residue effect from the hypospray."

"That's possible. Will, said you were not aware of anything that happened last night. Can you explain how nightmares could have that effect. You were very demonstrative, we were unable to wake or calm you. It was very unnerving to see you like that."

"I'm sorry. I don't know how to explain it. Those were the most intense nightmares I have ever had. The most unsettling part was hearing Solace scream. When we've never heard a sound from her. It's possible my physical response was incorporated into the unconscious part of the mind- my dreams began actually taking sounds and sensations from the physical reality and mixing them into the dream. In other wards feeding on each other. I couldn't move to help either person, maybe someone-Will, was trying to restrain me from tossing and turning. The more restraint, the more I felt I had to move to help them."

"Sounds possible, but I'm concerned about the fact we couldn't breach that line into consciousness. I used a hypospray of the neuroblock, yet you show high levels of psilosynine. Have you noticed any new sensations, any new abilities?"

"No, none that I'm aware of yet. I suppose I kept the entire house up last night?"

"I know you went over the dreams with Will, let's go over them again to see if we can find something that may offer an explanation."

Deanna stood at the window looking out at the rain, and began once again to recount her nightmares. Will returned with a tray of food. Listening to the dissertation he quietly laid the tray on the small table and leaned against the wall to listen again to the dementia of the night. When he noticed Deanna's voice begin to sound weary he glanced over to the doctor to see if she too noticed the change.

Beverly heard the change in the voice and saw the look of concern on Will's face. She shook her head to signal her awareness. The doctor had the feeling that they were on the brink of understanding some of the night's events.

Deanna had just finished the first dream, when Beverly stopped her. "Did you say surgical clothes? Deanna, go back a minute, did you say Gringbald was wearing a surgical gown when he carried Solace off?"

The empath looked from Beverly to Will, "Yes, I saw it quite clearly, why?"

"What does that signify to you? It was your dream, think about it." Beverly looked at Will to see if he understood what that detail could represent. He was watching Deanna, waiting for her to realize the importance of that one image.

Deanna looked from one to the other. "The medical research building! But how could I have known that? Maybe that is just a coincidence because of the lightfoot, my mind just coloring in the dream with other images." She thought for a moment, then softly, "Oh no, not there...not Solace." Tears coming to her eyes at the thought of such a thing.

"Okay, we'll leave that for now. Go on with the next one, the dream of Abeathdor." Will spoke hoping he could relay a sense of calmness to her, helping her to carry the feeling of weariness for just a little longer.

She began the narration of the other nightmare, when she began describing the ropes attached to the woman and how she hung over a precipice, Will stopped her this time.

"Remember when you first had contact from Abeathdor, where was she? You described where she was being held from your empathic link with her."

"I said she was in a tower, high above the ground near a river. If all this is true, they are both in Gendla. How would I have come to know that?"

"It seems you are able to tap into dreams. Perhaps one of the men who ransacked Fallscity, or even Abeathdor was able to communicate this to you." Will picked up the try and sat it down on the mattress, then walked over to her. "Come on, we can talk while you eat. I made it myself, with Lagi's direction. AND I have been assured of it's nutritional value." Will was looking very pleased with himself.

Beverly couldn't resist, "Yes, but how does it taste?"

Will grinned, Deanna had just put some into her mouth when he answered, "I have no idea."

They both watched, as she froze then smiled. "It really tastes pretty good. Come on help me, there's entirely too much here for me."

The three sat eating and talking until Beverly remember she promised to spend time with Rankeer. "I think he is going to be okay physically, anyway. Deanna, when you're up to it, maybe you could talk with him. He's carrying around a lot of quilt. I'll be downstairs when you're ready." Beverly quickly made her exit closing the door behind her.

Will and Deanna stayed and talked while finishing the meal. Will gathered the tray up as they went to join the others.

Deanna found Rankeer awake and in better spirits then the last time she had seen him. Most of the improvement was a tribute to Beverly's administrations; his physical wounds were healing fast. The empath opened her mind to get a sense of his emotional state. He was feeling much of what she would have expected from anyone as closely involved in a situation such as this.

"I understand we have something in common." Rankeer looked at her. "We both feel we are to blame for the events leading up to the abduction of Solace." She paused when she felt his surprise. "I feel that had we not been here at all, this would not have happened, or if Beverly and I had come back with you when I first began to feel there was a problem, this may not have happened."

"Lady, you did send us back. I told you to go ahead, that the queen's safety was more important. I still believe that. Solace was safe...for a while. I could not keep her safe." He hung his head, Deanna touched his arm gently.

"Rankeer, we cannot always protect those we love. It would mean thinking for them, living for them and not allowing them the space to grow and become their own person. You could not know what she was about to do, or why. Children sometimes act quickly, without what we would consider good reason.

"You have made a home for Solace, she was happy in that home. We cannot always control the outside influences that come to bear on us. There is a wise old proverb from earth that says, 'Time and unforeseen circumstances befall us all.'"

"Yes, Lady, my mind tells me that all you say is true, but my heart sees cracks in the logic."

"Mine too, Rankeer. We will work on that, reminding each other that as much as we may want to, we cannot always direct our own footsteps. Ask yourself, what could you have done that would have changed the outcome."

Deanna and Rankeer continued to talk until Data approached letting Deanna know Will had asked everyone to assemble in the kitchen for a meeting.

When everyone had gathered in the spacious kitchen, Will had several large thin slabs of a slate like stone lain on the long wooden table. He and Lepton were tracing on the slate and devising a somewhat detailed map. Lagi was on one side of Will and Lepton on the other each advising him on the placement of roads and buildings. Sometimes asking different ones who were scattered throughout the room for their opinions.

Deanna looked the crowded room over. Lagi appeared the den mother over the mostly younger people. These intelligent, eager to please young people called "waste people" were living their lives as if outlaws. It reminded Deanna that without their queen this would be all Solace would know of life. Throwaway people because they or their family could not, would not conform to the mean spirited dictatorship that Gringbald and his men forced on them. All their hope rested on the hostage queen, Abeathdor. Could one woman live up to that much expectation?

Deanna watched as Data drew in roads that others described and helped him locate their spots on the makeshift map. She watched Will fulfilling the positions of leadership, how he listened to those advising him, questioned until a defined result was achieved. There was no doubt as to his ability to be an excellent Starfleet captain.

Her attention drifted to see Beverly talking to the red headed man Rimamai, who had played such beautiful music for them. Deanna hadn't seen him again until now. It pleased her to know no harm had come to him. She was startled from her thoughts by Will's voice.

"Deanna do you remember the location of some of these buildings in relationship to the state building you met Gringbald?" She joined them at the table, but could add little to what Data had already detailed.

There was something gnawing at her. When the conversation had moved on to where she thought she would not be missed, she quietly made her way out of the kitchen area and on to the veranda. The rain was steadily falling, the wind had calmed, but the gray day held out little optimism for its beholders. Deanna sat on the step protected by the overhanging roof. She tried to center herself to find the source of her uneasiness. She concentrated on the sound of the rain and tried to let the peacefulness soak down into the depths of her soul. She slowly sifted out emotions, finding their sources and eliminating them. Then she reached out with her mind, she could not sense Abeathdor. But there was something else, something new. It felt as electric as the storm had last night. The feeling you get when your mind can't piece together a mental picture. It felt like finding a favorite book with pages missing, or working on an intricate puzzle to find the pivotal piece gone.

Deanna was brought back to the physical reality of the veranda when she felt the presence of someone. Lagi was standing in the doorway watching her. She turned to acknowledge her. "There's something refreshing about a rain storm. It's as though it's nature's way of giving life a fresh start."

The other woman nodded in agreement as she slowly came to share the step Deanna was sitting on. She looked closely at the empath, then asked "Have you learned something new, Lady?"

"Why do you ask?" The empath had not dismissed the idea that Lagi may too possess a form of empathic ability. She had been trying to learn how much of the population could be influencing her.

Lagi's answer was not totally unexpected, "I have watched you with Solace, when you communicated with her. You had much the same look about you now. It's your eyes that reflect what you feel or where you are."

"Lagi, is it possible that you have some other skills too, like being empathic? Is it possible that there are many people on this planet with these skills?"

Lagi looked at Deanna a little strangely, "What would these skills do for me?"

Deanna described what having such skills would be like. When it became apparent Lagi was not totally comprehending what she was asking Deanna decided to try to send her thoughts to the woman. She thought/sent <Lagi, is it possible your people have always had gifts of this type of skills and perhaps due to fear or an outside influence allowed these skills to grow dormant?"

Lagi was almost awe struck that anyone could have that ability. She had heard of it, but until Deanna demonstrated it, never had she imagined that it could be that refined and direct or personal. "Tell me Lagi, do you sense something ..something that isn't quite right?" She paused not sure how to word what it was she herself was feeling. "I feel as though there is something I'm not seeing but should. Something important. It almost makes the hair on my neck stand up, it is that electric, and I can't put it into prospective, I can't make sense of it. I don't know where or how to look for the answer."

"Lady I can sense nothing. I must rely on observation as my defense. I can surmise who my enemies are by keeping my eyes and ears open, then I follow my instincts. If I am wrong, I endanger my life and those who depend upon me. It is better to misjudge harshly then kindly these days."

Then it wasn't always as it is now, thing were better once?" Something clicked in Deanna's mind, maybe she could find the missing pieces to this puzzle.

"Things are always unsettled at the times when the sovereignty is in question. But since Gringbald has forged the entire planet together it is his belief that fear and suspicion will keep him in control. It has worked only because we live among cowards, ferocious cowards, but cowards none the less. We have learned to trust only those who have suffered as we have, as waste people. Even with that there have been some that have lived double lives. One as we live the other as one of Gringbald's well compensated henchmen. These are the ferocious cowards." Lagi stopped speaking Deanna could sense her sadness as unsought memories stirred up by her words replayed uninvited through her mind. Deanna remained silent gently laying a hand on the woman's good arm, giving her time to work through all the mental pictures of the past, before going on.



A few minutes had passed Deanna sensed that Lagi was ready to move on. She gently squeezed her hand, "Lagi, how did you come to be at the palace banquet serving us?" Surely Gringbald knows you are not a loyal supporter?"

Lagi laughed, "I am worse than wastepeople to him. My heritage is that of one of the royal families. I am so branded." She held out her marked hands. "These skin etchings are for everyone to know that I am watched as an enemy of Gringbald. He enjoys having those of us who are still alive serve him and his guests. You see, as long as we make our appearance and allow him to track us, he feels we are no threat to him. I have ways into and out of Gendla that he knows nothing of. I had planned that banquet to be my last visit to both. Lady, when I waited on your people, I knew then you were different. If anyone could stop this it would be you people. I watched our reactions to all. I saw the disgust you viewed these men with. You saw them as barbarians. They are that, but don't be fooled; there is more to Gringbald then anyone knows. I have seen enough, he is more than he appears. He can appear in many men. He wants you to see him as a stupid bully. When next you meet, he could be a wise gentleman, until he you let your guard down, then you are lost. He has won."

She knew the woman to be speaking the truth as she knew it. Again Deanna felt that prickle up the back of her neck, and a pang in her stomach. "Lagi, what are you saying, Gringbald is some sort of shape-shifter? What is he-he's not of this planet?" Here maybe the confirmation of what they had believed all along that Gringbald was the outside influence.

"Lady, I know he is not one of our people. When and from where he comes, I don't know. He is here...."

Deanna stopped her by holding a hand up, "Please wait, come back in with me. Would you explain this to the others?"

Lagi solemnly nodded that she would. Deanna stood, then helped Lagi to her feet. They entered the large kitchen area where the others were still gathered around the table. Will looked up as they approached, instinctively knowing Deanna's presence.

He looked into her eyes then asked, "What is it Deanna?"

"Lagi has some information I think we need to be aware of Will. This is going to change the picture considerably." She looked at the older woman, then asked, "Lagi, please tell them what you've told me. Start with the banquet and how you came to be there, then tell them of Gringbald. Please." Deanna watched to see how the woman was handling the emotional strain. She appeared strengthened by the her hardships it seemed that they had lent her a courageous heart to draw from now, now that the time had come to set matters right.

When Lagi began to speak the room quieted. Deanna watched for the effect the new information would have on her teammates. She sensed their apprehension. Beverly's detailed mind making connections with her medical knowledge. Will's mind searching for chinks in chain, any weakness in Gringbald's world; he was continually hunting for the one word or piece of knowledge that would set up the new game plan. Data stood watching the woman speak; he would then scan the crowd around the table studying their reactions. Deanna found him studying her as well. She sensed that this information was also new to many of the room's other occupants. The young people looked at Lagi with renewed admiration, the older ones with respect.

Conversation at the end of Lagi's revelations began only after a brief silence. Will looked thoughtfully at her, "Thank you, you've been very helpful, more than you could possibly know. Lagi, You've waited until now to tell us, and you've risked your privacy and possibly your own safety. Why now?"

Lagi looked over to Deanna, "I realized when speaking to Lady, your wife, that I have come to realize that I believe in my heart, if you do not succeed in getting Abeathdor to the throne, we are lost. There would be no one else, if Gringbald kills Abeathdor, as I suspect he will eventually, there are no royal family members with a line to the throne left. We must all do what we can for own sake and that of the Queen and for Solace."

Will nodded, placing his hand on her shoulder, "Lagi, we'll do the best we can." He looked at Deanna, "Would you know Gringbald in another form, would you sense the same mind set as earlier?"

"Will, I'm not sure what I sensed from him before. Zylon, yes, him, I'd know. Gringbald was odd, I'm not sure how to explain it. I could sense his presence but...he may have other capabilities that I don't know. I'm sure what to expect from him. How much does he disguise his true identity, how much does he hide behind his machinations?"

Will studied her for a few moments before moving on. "Lagi, you know of other ways into Gendla, ways through which we could gain access into the palace, the towers and the research center?" Will's mind was fitting into place all the information he had available. He already had a plan in mind.

"I know of many ways in and out of most of the central buildings in Gendla all that you ask for, however the passage into the prison towers is very dangerous. The tunnel's entrance into the prison is outside and very difficult to follow.

"Excellent Lagi, this is most helpful. We need details, can you show us on the map where these entrances outside are." Will's eyes gleamed with renewed excitement.

The planning went on until dark. The plans having been made would give the away team some time for sleep. It was decided they would leave for Gendla before dawn. Lepton would accompany them as their guide. Lagi also volunteered, but due to her recent injuries Will under Beverly's advice declined her offer, stating needed to keep things going at Fallscity.

They entered into their respective sleeping chambers to try to get as much rest as possible. The rain continued at a steady rate. Deanna and Will entered their room, she to the sleeping bag on the mattress, Will turned down the light then stood looking out the window. Deanna had decided to wear the jumpsuit from Lagi to bed. She laid out the clothes they had washed in the stream the night before, then slid into the sleeping bag. She watched Will staring out of the window, trying to sense his thoughts, he turned and smiled at her as he walked over to her and fluffed out his sleeping bag beside hers.

"I've grown accustomed to having you near me." He said in answer to her look. "Is it my imagination or am I picking up your thoughts."

She watched his face intently as she thought/sent, <I have grown accustomed to this closeness too. What will happen when we're both back on the Enterprise? Do we pretend it never happened, or do we go back to the old state of neutrality?>

"State of neutrality? That's an interesting way to put it. I can't imagine not having you close. I don't think I want to either. You told me once that every new experience changes us. I believe this is an example of that change." He slipped into his bag, then pulled her sleeping bag closer to his own, then after a sweet kiss goodnight, he felt for her hand. They stayed like that until Deanna heard the familiar soft snore. She propped herself up on her elbow to watch him sleep., She sat up and leaned over to gently brush his hair with it's stray lock from his forehead. She touched the sunburned area around his neck. Then felt his fingers squeeze then loosen their hold on hers as his sleep moved into the next deeper level.

There was a soft tap at the door. Deanna whispered, "Yes."

Beverly looked in, "I'm not disturbing anything am I."

Deanna shook her head, "You never give up do you? Can't you sleep?" she peered through the darkness at her friend.

"No, can we talk. Data went down to look over the route to the river."

"Can we go to your room. Will hasn't had much sleep since we got here."

Beverly nodded, then waited outside the door for Deanna. "How long have we been here, it's beginning to feel like forever. I can't wait to get back to the Enterprise. Hygiene was so much easier then."

Deanna smiled, "We've been here longer than any of thought we'd have to be. What did you make of the information Lagi had shared with us?"

"You know the first person I thought of as a Gringbald alter ego was Pater! Well I know he didn't come off as being wise, but there was something very strange about him and his sons."

Deanna agreed, "That was my first thought too! Thinking back, it was a totally different mindset. I wonder whatever happened to the mother of the boys?"

"I'd like to think she died giving birth, she would never have to see what came of her baby boys. Can you imagine the life these women have? Did I mention I miss the Enterprise a lot! I appreciate what I have much more, friends I can trust with my life...do you realize that without thinking we put our lives in each others hands almost daily. That is pretty remarkable when you see how cheap and dispensable life is to some of these people."

Beverly looked over to see Deanna looking out the window. "You know, every time I mention being back on the Enterprise you get this look on your face. I take it you and Mr. Riker haven't made a decision about what kind of relationship you'll have once we return?"

"We both admitted we like the change that's taken place." She shrugged her shoulders hoping she wasn't adding her to her own wishful thinking.

"Deanna, you can read Will's thoughts and emotions, what are they? You would know if they were sincere. Why don't you go with your own feelings? Isn't that what you would tell me? I would love to see this work for the both of you. The entire ship would like to see it. I've never seen two people more right for each other. You compliment each other in many ways. " She turned to pretend she was now watching something outside, giving the empath time to think about what she said."

"I know Will has changed from the brash young officer I first met and fell in love with on Betazed. I would like nothing more than to start our life together now. The past years together on the same ship has strengthened our relationship."

The two continued talking for a while longer, then when Deanna caught Beverly yawning, she suggested she try to get some sleep. The doctor agreed and walked to the hammock and without thinking slid on to the elevated bed expertly and was nearly asleep as soon as head hit. Deanna opened the nearby sleeping bag to cover her with it, then made her way back to her room.

She carefully got into her sleeping bag, hoping not to disturb Will's sleep. He stirred, and somewhere in his dream filled sleep he called her name, pulling her closer to him. She stayed still watching him as he worked through his dream, knowing things could never go back to the comfortable way they were.

It was only a short time when a soft knock came at the door, then a whispered, "Lady, it is time." Will had asked Lagi to make sure they were up before dawn.

Deanna again moved out of the sleeping bag to open the door. "Lagi, is Data back yet?"

"No Lady, I'm sure he'll return before you are ready to leave." Lagi turned to go, then looked back to Deanna, "If you will pardon my frankness, Lady, I feel I need to offer a piece of information." She reached with her uninjured arm to take Deanna's hand, "Be careful. In these days it is not safe to let others see that which means most to us. Those that are precious to you may be taken away, if for no other reason than to inflict pain. Gringbald thrives on other's pain. You must learn to mask your eyes. You reflect in your eyes your heart." She looked meaningfully at the door behind Deanna, then patted her arm before going down the narrow stairs. Deanna stood watching her descent, while sounds of the day's preparations and the scent of warm food drifted up to her.

Beverly came out into the hall as Lagi departed. "She seems to have adopted you. That's nice, except for the ominous warning. I know I don't want to meet Gringbald. Is Will up yet?"

"No, I'm going in to do that now.'

"Deanna, have you slept at all?"

"No, to be truthful, I'm too keyed up. I think I can see this assignment nearing completion. This is it. Hopefully by the time this day ends, we'll have Solace and Abeathdor safely aboard the Enterprise. I'm feeling as though the end is now in sight. I'll see you in a few minutes." Deanna heard Beverly's door close as she went in to rouse Will.

After dressing she turned the light up to have a better look at him. He appeared to be sound asleep. She sat next to him touching the hair moving it back. Then leaning over more she kissed his forehead, she felt him stir as she straightened, then she felt his hands on her shoulders as he pulled her down to him. Sometime later he asked if Data had returned yet.

"He hadn't a few minutes ago. How did you sleep? Interesting dreams?" She was all smiles.

Will looked at her with his mock serious face, only his eyes betrayed the smile hidden behind the words. "We need to set some ground rules. No ease-dropping into dreams. I cannot be held accountable for my dreams, anyway I don't remember. What did I dream?"

Deanna laughed, "Yes you do. I'm flattered you remember those details. I have to make the best of these opportunities now. When we're back on board the ship, I may not have the skills I have here." She became serious, "Will do you think that would change what we have now?" She watched his face closely for any expression.

He returned the scrutiny, "My feelings for you are not going to change if, when we return, you can't tell me my dreams. I know you better than I have ever known anyone." He held her eyes until she smiled. "Come on, we'd better get a move on."

She watched as he went to the window and peered out into the still darkened glen. He closed the propped window and turned to her. "Deanna how would you feel about having Captain Picard make it official once we're back on the Enterprise?"

Her eyes had grown wide, she turned to him her voice barely a whisper, "Will, are you suggesting that we make this relationship permanent?"

"I believe I am. Deanna are you crying?" He walked to her and turned her to him. "You didn't cry at our wedding."

"I spent the night before in a lightfoot pen. I had a hangover through out the whole business transaction. I was too miserable to cry." She chuckled with him at the memory, as he hugged her to him.

Beverly opened the door. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt..." She took in the scene of the two of them in each other 's arms smiling. "Anything you want to share?"

"What is this? Everyone is a mind reader!" Will couldn't wipe the grin off his face.

"Does this mean what it looks like?" Beverly waited watching them.

Will smiled back liking the idea of keeping the good doctor guessing, "It could. Now before we go celebrating lets get this finished."

Deanna gathered the rest of her things into her bag. Will took her bag and stood directly in her path as she tried to leave. She knew his mind, on her toes she reached for a kiss then followed Beverly out of the room. **


On entering the main room, they noticed the fireplace was already in use for the preparation of the morning meal. Rankeer was moving slowly around with aid from Lepton. Deanna could sense that Rankeer was pushing himself, he wanted to be anything but helpless. He saw this trip into Gendla as an opportunity to redeem himself- to exorcise the guilt he had been carrying. The counselor's experience taught her to allow Rankeer to see for himself the impractical and unwise course this decision would be for him. She pointed out that there might be times when no one would be available to help him.

In an angry attempt to show that he would not be a hindrance Rankeer pushed Lepton away, trying to stand on his own. Once that was accomplished, he endeavored to walk on his own over to where the doctor and counselor stood painfully aware of the young man's limitations. Rankeer struggled to shift his weight from one leg to the other injured leg; he struggled longer than any of the observers thought possible.

Finally Beverly could tolerate no more of his self-mutilation. She pulled a chair to him, and helped him sit on it. Then proceeded to tell him of the magnificent structure of the leg and how it heals quickly when properly taken care of. Rankeer conceded. He would stay and work with Lagi in organizing the clean up and protection of those remaining in Fallscity.

Will and Lepton began packing the travel bags and few supplies on to the horses. When that had been accomplished, they once again gathered around the long wooden table to go over the tunnels and passage ways around and through the city. Will was beginning to show his uneasiness, when Data finally arrived back.

Data had timed the trip from Fallscity to Gendla, found his way to two of the government buildings they would need to enter. The timing had been excellent. They would take the horses to the edge of the city and walk just into Gendla, where they would use the first tunneled passageway.

"Let's get moving. We want to be at the first passageway before the city gets into its busy daily routine." Will lead the small group outside.

Gathered around the horses, the good-byes were once again said. Each time seemed to get harder, and more heart felt. Lagi adopted the away team as part of her pack. The woman who had at first seemed distant had warmed greatly, hugging and kissing each. Even Data seemed reluctant to leave her embrace. Deanna wondered if he was only mimicking the actions of the others. She hung back, waiting until last to say her farewells.

"Lagi, try not to worry. We will get Solace and Abeathdor out of danger, and back where they belong." She embraced Lagi, "Thank you for everything!"

"Lady, remember to be careful. Mask your feelings. Do not let Gringbald know that which is important to you, because there is nothing important like that to him. Please, be watchful and do not betray your heart, Lady, no matter what happens." Again Deanna was hugged to the woman's body.

She whispered in Lagi's ear, "When I see you again, please call me Deanna." Lagi smiled, but did not answer, turning she retraced her steps back on to the veranda and into the house.

Will had overheard Lagi's advice. When Deanna had taken her place in front of him on the horse he said, "If I didn't now better I'd think this was your home planet." She just leaned back into him letting his warmth saturate and overtake the chill that touched her at leaving the glen.

It took a short amount of time before they came to the place to walk the horses behind the falls, leaving the glen and it's people behind them. They were all comfortable in the warm hooded cloaks. Even though the rain had ended the air had a bite in it that hadn't been there before, a premature taste of winter was hinted at in the breeze that swirled around them.

The falls quickly faded behind them as they continued toward Gendla, Will and Data picked up the pace making any conversation between them difficult if not impossible. The mood was subdued, Deanna sensed the heaviness of the emotions, and the mixture of cautious apprehension and the need to have this accomplished successfully.

The finally reached the area outside of Gendla where they would leave the horses. They unpacked their travel gear, leaving no trace of their identity on the animals. They would carry the gear and stash it in the first tunnel they would come to and leave it hidden there.

Will gathered his team around him. "We'll cross the bridge into the city, then separate into two groups. Lepton and I will go to the communications building, using the secret entrance that Lagi described. We should be able to either contact the Enterprise or shut down the interference band they're using. Data will take Beverly and Deanna with him to the tower where we believe they are holding the queen, Data knows the approach to take.

"Counselor, I'm hoping you will be able at that point to help locate her. By that time Lepton and I should be in the sub-ground level of the tower, where we will meet. Data, take no unnecessary chances. Lagi has given us the schedule for the guard movements use that as a guide, however, be ready for anything, it's very probable that schedule has been changed by now. Are we all ready? Everyone stay sharp, keep your wits about you."

They had all begun to move back up to the road leading into the city when Will stayed behind, "Deanna". She turned to him, feeling his emotions; she knew what to expect. He took her hand, holding it to pull her closer to him. "Be careful, after we get Abeathdor free we will go to the research building for the child."

Deanna nodded, "Agreed". They stood within a breath of each other for several seconds before Will gently lowered his face to hers, to touch her lips with his, separating for a milli-second before repeating kiss. He continued to hold her near, he chuckled, "We'll have time for this later, Counselor."

She whispered, "I'm holding you to that Commander."

When they rejoined the rest of the group, they could hear the sounds of the river nearby. It was becoming daylight. A few birds were out in search of breakfast; there was no bird song. Deanna thought that to be ironic, just as there appeared to be little happiness on the outward appearance of the people inhabiting the town, nature echoed the same theme.

Their breath appeared as puffs of steam. The chill was definitely established here, no longer as a whisper of a premature winter, but as winter itself. They saw only a few people out and about as they came to the river bridge. The five spaced themselves out, so not to draw attention as a group. Will, Deanna and Lepton walking several yards ahead of Data and Beverly. They saw no women out alone, and the women they did see walked with their heads down, like well-trained spaniels their eyes focused on the heels of the man they followed. Deanna and Beverly followed that example. Beverly found herself grinding her teeth looking at Data's heels.

Deanna was following behind Will, not watching his heels or anything else. She was reaching out with her mind searching past those of her friends, past those of the strangers around them, hunting for the two minds that she had come to know and miss- a queen and a child. She had become so absorbed in her thoughts and search that when Will stopped in front of her she walked into him. He turned to look at her with a concerned expression on his face, she smiled sheepishly. He raised his eyebrows questioning her. She shrugged her shoulders keeping her face lowered for the benefit of any watching the small group.

Beverly, although walking behind Data, caught the misstep and Will's face. She chuckled and said softly to Data, "Thins should be a lot more interesting with those two as a couple. What do you think Data?"

He did not turn around, but cocked his head as he answered, "Doctor, are you implying that the relationship between Commander Riker and Counselor Troi is more than a fictional relationship?"

"Come on Data! Tell me you haven't noticed a difference, you surely don't believe all that is just for show?"

"I have been aware of a deepening friendship between them. That is how the commander and counselor have always referred to their relationship, is it not?"

"That has been the line they have used. You've never questioned that? Even when you've seen signs of a stronger emotion?" Beverly was truly amazed by Data's innocence, or was it gullibility to Will's poker face?

Data again tilted his head, "I will be more observant now. Thank you Doctor." Beverly shook her head, no one can say this has been a boring assignment.

Will and Lepton had stepped off the pavement and disappeared from sight, into a thicket of trees and underbrush. Deanna waited until Data and Beverly caught up with her, then fell into step behind Data with Beverly.

"We will move off to the left a little way ahead, then down a slight incline to the area marked by thick brush." Data kept his voice low so just the two behind him were able to hear his directions. Not that there were anyone close... in fact there were very few people anywhere.

They too stepped off the pavement and disappeared from the roadway. They traveled through a small thicket of trees before coming upon the underbrush. Data guided them through that underbrush, and toward several large boulders on one side of a tall tree behind the tree was an embankment of soil and rock rising about ten feet above them. Looking beyond the embankment they could see the tower looming over them. The sound of the river could be heard nearby.

"Counselor, can you sense Abeathdor yet?"

"Yes, Data, I can. I've been able to let her know to be alert for us, but I'm not picking up anything coherent from her."

"Deanna, they are probably keeping her sedated." Beverly looked puzzled. "Why would they do that now?" she looked from the empath to Data.

"Doctor, if I am not mistaken, Pater told Commander Riker that they had your communicators sent to Zylon to compensate for the lightfoot you sent free. If that is the case, I believe they can assume they know of presence of Starfleet. We will not give them time to react. May I suggest we proceed with caution and speed." Data checked his phaser then returned it to the inside pocket of his cloak. He led the way along the embankment; the large face of a boulder now stood before them. Data reached above the stone into the dirt packed around it and pulled what looked like a piece of tree root. Through the clever combination of pulleys and gears the stone rolled slightly to the left. Data reached into the space left by the stone to finger yet another lever. The bottom fell away from under the stone. The stone itself did not appear to move this time. Upon closer scrutiny a stairway could be seen. Data sat on the top step, slipped or more accurately scooted down tow more steps until he could stand to continue his descent down. When he reached the bottom, he turned and motioned the other two to follow him.

"Deanna go next, I'll follow, then I can take my time without holding you up." Beverly moved aside for the counselor to move into the position to sit on the first step, following the Data's example. She had not gone more than three steps when she felt the crush of the prisoners held her. She nearly missed the fourth step; she had become so distracted. Deanna regained enough of her senses to have finished her descent down the rest of the steps and reach the bottom.

After Beverly had joined them at the bottom, Data went back to reset the stone and the catches that masked the entrance. Now there was no trace of the opening that had been there only moments before. Deanna stood beside Beverly gasping, "Did you bring the medkit with you?"

The doctor lifted her cloak to show the shoulder bag underneath. "Deanna, you need a hypospray now. I imagine you're getting a bit overloaded with the unpleasant feed back from those unfortunate souls being held here."

Deanna nodded, "A little, perhaps a low dose will be all I need. I must be able to pinpoint Abeathdor. If she is drugged it will be harder to pick her out from all the other minds in here."

Data held the light for the doctor as she opened the medkit and prepared the hypospray to be used now, and checked two others. She saw Deanna looked perplexed by the action. "I want everything prepared if we need something quickly."

"A wise precaution Doctor." Data held the kit while the she delivered the medication into Deanna.

They had traveled some distance when the passageway began an upward inclination, becoming narrower as it climbed steadily upward, until they rubbed the walls as they walked. Suddenly, they were facing a stone wall. Data moved forward feeling around the face of the wall; finally he found what it was he was searching for as he tripped yet another lever. The face of the wall slid off to the side. The three now entered into the subground level.

"This reminds me of the stories of ancient earth; castles and the dungeons underneath." Deanna looked at the doctor, pretending to be amazed at this revelation. Beverly added, "I told you I loved romantic fairy tales, those stories of knights in shining armor."

"Yes, but dungeons, what kind of romantic fairy tales were you reading? And Beverly, exactly how old were you when you were reading these romance in dungeons?" The counselor didn't duck fast enough to miss the slap on the arm.

Data turned to them ready to fly into his dissertation of dungeons and their place in history, when they heard the sound of boots scraping against the stone floor. Quickly they found a hiding place between several stacks of crates. The footsteps and voices stopped short of entering their area, instead they continued up the stairs.

The three waited until the sound of the boots had disappeared totally, before leaving their hiding area. Data held his tricorder out investigating the direction the others had taken. "I believe that is the way to the upper levels." He led the way.

"She's expecting us Data! She knows we are close. Can we go to the sixth floor from here? That is where she is." The counselor was showing her newly found optimism; the most she had felt since their arrival on Prakal.

Data tilted his head at the readings he was seeing on his tricorder. "Unknown, however, the readings do indicate levels at greater heights. It would appear we can ascend to higher levels by accessing these stairs, Counselor?"

They began climbing the steps cautiously, there was no where to hide between floors. If they were found now, there would be few options left to them. Deanna found their progress painfully slow, she had to use all her self discipline to hold herself at that pace, and fight the impulse to race to their destination. The very goal that had eluded them time and time again now looked to finally be within their grasp.

Deanna never noticed Beverly standing beside her until the doctor put a hand on her shoulder, "How are you holding up? You may feel another onslaught as we near areas with more prisoners."

"I do feel other's emotions, but so far I am able to concentrate on Abeathdor, I'll let you know when it becomes a problem. Thanks."

They were nearing the third floor entrance when they heard others coming up from the floor below them. Data quickly reached the door opening it slowly, he slipped through, and the women followed him. They found themselves in a dimly lit short narrow hallway ending with connecting hallways at either end, giving it an H shape. There were three closed doors on the left-hand side and two doors on the right. The second door on the right was slightly ajar. Data went to the door, tricorder in hand, after reading no life signs inside, he signaled them to enter.

The room was well lit. It was suited for questioning prisoners and a study in contrast between the dark ages and modern technology, between an enlightened people and a people enshrouded in a darkness crowded with hatred and suspicious paranoia. Devices for obtaining hidden or imagined truths lined one side of the room. The opposite wall was lined with shelves containing hundreds of books.

Deanna felt the pain and misery of the many that had inhaled the poisonous air of the room. Her own lungs were now fighting for the oxygen that the previous occupants had fought for and had been denied. She began backing out of the room, when her back touched the door, she found she was not alone in her reaction. Beverly too, had found the equipment and it's purpose to be barbaric and a curse to her profession. Data alone was untouched by the onslaught of feelings brought on by the rooms' furnishings.

He looked over the equipment with curiosity. "Interesting, that the scientific mind could be employed to create such instruments when they would be better used in the medical treatment of these people." He turned to look at his silent companions. He was mildly surprised to see both of them at the door with horrified expressions on their faces. "Are either of you about to be ill? Doctor?'

"Only if you insist on staying here to examine these interesting instruments much longer Data. Shall we see if the stairway is clear? I think we would both feel better once we're out of here." Then looking at the empath, "If I feel this way you must be in pain." Deanna didn't answer but turned to leave behind Data, not waiting for him to check for others. They met no one else and so continued their way up the stairs, until suddenly on the fifth floor the stairs ended.

"There must be another stairway connecting only the fifth and sixth floors. It's probably isolated from the natural flow of traffic within the building, helping to secure the sixth floor. Data are we close enough that you could locate it?"

"I believe I have Counselor, if you will allow me a few minutes I will attempt to devise our next climb>" Data opened the door from the stair well on to the fifth floor, then disappeared into the hallway.

The counselor and doctor waited, "waiting was never one of my strengths. Deanna can you sense Will, what's happening with them?"

"They have left the communications building and are on their way to meet us. They have regained communications with the Enterprise." Deanna smiled, "So far everything is going smoothly."

The doctor watched her face, the smile fading, and a look of concern replacing it. She had to wonder at the communications between the two of them. She saw different emotions cross Deanna's face within a short period of time. "But, there's more?"

"I don't know, it's that feeling that there is something we are missing. It's that same feeling..." she didn't finish Data returned.

"This way, the hallway is unoccupied for now. Go down two doors to your left. The second door leads to the stairs for the next floor." Data held the door allowing the women to leave ahead of him. He took up the rear watching for anyone who may be following them. They were on the sixth floor before making contact with anyone. A guard walked out of a door next to the stairs as they entered the hallway. Data effeciently disposed of him with one fast smooth blow to the chin the man went down. His assailant hid the unconscious form, easily moving him into another room.

As soon as the man was no longer a threat, Deanna continued down the hallway. She had a strong sense of Abeathdor, she was near and Deanna could no longer move at the same pace. She rounded the corner knowing instinctively where to go. She went through the first door on the right; she was running purely on instinct, no longer paying attention to the need for caution. The room entered was an office or lobby area, there were other doors exiting the room. The empath went straight to one door. It was locked; she looked to Data, then stepped back.

Data used the palm of his hand to smash the door above the handle. Nothing happened. He looked at the door incredulously, then repeated his action. The door slowly creaked open. Nobody moved. Data pushed the door the rest of the way open. The room was pitch black; there was no light anywhere, just total darkness.

"Can you sense anyone, Counselor?" Data asked.

"Abeathdor. She is in there. I sense no trap, Data can you tell with the tricorder if there is a trap?"

"The readout I am getting does not indicate a snare, Counselor."

Deanna stepped slowly into the room, using her mind she called out to Abeathdor. Data there's a light off to your left. Can you find it?"

The response was light, very bright light. It took several moments for all but Data to adjust to the sudden brightness enough to see the room's contents. There was little to see, the room was starkly supplied, no windows, two hard-backed wooden chairs, and a shelf type bed fastened on to the far wall. The occupant of the bed lay watching them.

Deanna went to her, pulling Beverly along with her. "Abeathdor." Deanna touched her arms feeling the restraints, "We are here now. It's over. Are you able to move?"

"I will need assistance to stand. I have not been capable of breaking these." She lifted her arms to reveal the chains that were sunk into the solid surface on either side of her.

Beverly was mortified, "How long have you been kept like this?" She talked as she had her medkit open and began checking the woman's physical condition.

"I have rarely been without restraints of one kind or another. Is it possible to release these?"

Data held the chain off of her right arm, looking at it, his mind making record of it's density and the pressure required per inch that would be needed to snap a link. Then he simply squeezed one of the links to break the chain. He walked over to the other side of the woman and repeated the steps, leaving the queen free of restraints at long last.


Abeathdor tried to stand but found that all the weeks of inactivity had taken a toll on her muscles. As she attempted to slide off the shelf that had served as her bed her legs could no longer hold her. Deanna and Beverly quickly moved to hold her helping her to stay on her feet. Beverly signaled Data over to assist the woman. He asked Abeathdor's permission then lifted her gently in his arms.

"We should go now." There was no need to elaborate; they were right behind him as he led the way back to the stairs. Deanna walked behind Data and Abeathdor communicating what their plans were to the queen. She noticed the perfect posture, the regal way the woman held herself. Even now, after all the time spent as a captive she had not buckled under Gringbald's pressure. She never gave up her inheritance, or her sanity. The counselor noticed the physical attributes, her red hair, and her large green eyes, the high cheekbones and prominent nose. A striking woman of some height, judging by the way her feet hung well past Data's knees, as he carried her in his arms.

They moved rapidly this time, slowing only to wait for people using the fifth floor stairway. Finally they were on their way down past the entrance to the third floor. Deanna stopped suddenly, almost tripping Beverly; she put her hand to her mouth and cried out, "WILL!" She flew past Data and began taking the steps at a break neck speed. "We've got to get down to help Will!" Then more quietly almost to herself, "NO... hand on Imzadi."

Beverly and Data were close behind her. Beverly was sure she had heard Abeathdor whisper something. She looked sharply at her, Abeathdor's eyes were closed and a tear glistened in the corner of her eye. "What? What did you say?" Beverly managed to wheeze as they continued to race down the stairs.

"It's too late." Abeathdor repeated softly.

Deanna had already run through the subground door into the area they had hidden in not long before. She stopped abruptly, looked with amazement at Will Riker who stood before her smiling. Now the others had caught up with her and stood behind the counselor watching. Beverly took a deep breath of air, as relief flooded over her.

Something was not right. Deanna stood there staring as though she couldn't believe her eyes. She looked around for Lepton, but could neither find nor sense his presence. She began to react to the dread that had gripped her heart. Will Riker went to her holding her tightly against him, her head buried in his chest. He continued to hold her tightly, too tightly, even Beverly knew something was wrong ~very wrong.

Deanna tried to turn her head from Riker's chest to warn the others, but the hand that held her head was not loving, nor tender. She tried to push him away, tried to kick at him, the position he held her in would allow none of it.

"Come now, is that anyway to treat your Commander?" It was said in Will's voice, but not Will's voice. It was said in a way that chilled the blood of the three that knew Will Riker. Deanna felt as though her heart was being squeezed. She needed to get away from this Riker. With her head crushed against his chest, she closed her eyes trying to think of what to do. This was not her Will. It didn't smell like him. It didn't sound like him, and those were not Will's arms that held her. She sank her teeth into his chest. It was all she could think to do. He howled in pain, she held on to him as he tried to disengage himself. Finally he literally threw her from him. She came to a sliding stop close to a pair of boots sticking out past the crates they had hidden behind earlier.

Then with an overwhelming sense of foreboding she went to those boots to find the one thing she would have given her life not to find. There was her Will; he was lying on his back, his eyes closed and a large red mark spread from his temple to his chin. Deanna fought the nausea and the blackness that swirled around her and threatened to suck her into its vortex. She swayed, fought it, drawing upon her own need to prove that what she saw was not real. Already all of her senses told her to expect the unacceptable.

She sank down on her knees to feel Will's neck for a pulse. It was there but so faint she could easily have missed it. Beverly was at her side running her tricorder over him. She stopped looking stricken; she turned to look at Deanna. "He is dying. His brain has all but stopped functioning, there is very little neuro activity."

The other "Riker" now stood behind Deanna, "I knew the first time I laid eyes on you, that this would be our destiny. You shall now depend on me for your life." He threw back his head and laughed, a hollow stilted sound echoed through the cement walls.

Deana could hardly contain the anger and grief she was feeling. "What have you done to him?"

He reached down, pulling her by the hair he brought her to her feet. "It's a little something I picked up on another planet." He held a phaser like weapon for her to see. "It's called a mind disrupter. One shot to the head and the victim dies slowly from the brain down!" His face held a hideous smile painted on it. "There's no way to stop him from dying now. It's a slow and quite enjoyable way to send someone to their death ....if you have a penchant for such things."

Deanna could no longer control the rage that was storming within her. She struck out at him, her blows had no affect. She hit with more force; the blows she landed hadn't even wiped the smile off of the man's face. She did something she had never done before, she pulled her arm back, then struck forward with all of her strength, striking him, using the palm of her hand to connect with his chin to drive his head sharply backward. Giving him no time to recover she kicked at his knee sending him fling on to his back.

Beverly had remained with Will, Deanna joined her at his side. The doctor looked at her with despair stamped in her eyes. Data brought Abeathdor to them, after seating her carefully on the floor; he went to tend to the imposter Riker.

Abeathdor knew the emotional turmoil of the two women, she was keenly aware of Deanna's feelings. She thought/sent <He can be saved. You alone can save him. However, you may only be trading places- your life for his.>

Deanna looked at her verbally she said, "Yes anything, Tell me what to do."

Beverly and Data exchanged looks, having heard only one part of the conversation they were skeptical as to what could happen to change the situation with which they were now faced.

Abeathdor moved to the side of Will opposite of Deanna and Beverly. This time she spoke to Deanna, having sensed the empath's desperate emotional state she wanted to make sure her directions were heard b both women. "Deanna, you understand you may only be trading places with him?"

"Yes, I understand the implications. Now please tell me what to do." The voice was edged with impatience and raw with barely constrained emotion.

Abeathdor nodded, "Put his left hand on your heat. It must be over the heart. He must be able to feel the heartbeat." After adjusting the low blouse, Deanna picked Will's hand up placing it on the skin above her heart. She held it there. Ironically, the thought that the clothes they wore finally seemed to skip through her mind.

Abeathdor continued, "You must hold it with your right hand." She paused allowing Deanna time to follow her instructions. "Now place your left hand on the flesh above his heart." This took some maneuvering, the heartbeat had become so slow and faint that Deanna had trouble finding it. Sliding her hand under his shirt she moved her hand to the area Beverly directed her to. Deanna looked at Abeathdor awaiting further instructions. They came to her spoken clearly and slowly, "You must convince him to live. You need to speak to his mind and to the heart of him so that your thoughts become his. Speak from your heart to his. You are the only one here that can do this. Deanna, you need to speak non-verbally and with all of your heart."

The other "Riker" had now recovered and strolled over to them. Even with Data holding his weapon on him, he spoke as though he was still in control of the situation. "Really, this is very touching, but the man is dead - or close enough to it. I'll tell you what; we'll do a little trade. I'll keep one of you and the rest can go." He looked meaningfully at Deanna, leaving no doubt which one would be staying. "Ah, you can take the remains of that one too if you so desire. What do you say?"

"Do you mind! Can't you see we need a moment here. Let her have a minute alone with him. She is in the middle of a Betazoid Death Ritual. You cannot interfere." Beverly was throwing a screen, hoping to buy the empath the time she needed.

Deanna could hear what was happening around her, but it no longer mattered, all that mattered lay before her. She cried out to him that he could not leave her now. They would make many journeys together, but he could not take this one...not now. Not after all the years it took for them to finally come to know they needed each other to be complete. Her tears soaked her cheeks, and clouded her vision, none of it mattered. So deep in her concentration on him, on her binding their lives together in the weaving of an eternal thread around their souls, that she missed the slight changes in him, at first. Then, there it was the slow deeper heart beat under her hand. Her eyes still closed; she pressed her hand harder into his chest. Yes, he was living, the heartbeat continued to pick up the tempo - slowly and little by little the thudding in his heart came close to mirroring that of her own. Beverly noticed her change, then looked closer at Will. The gray appearance began subsiding. Deanna continued concentrating speaking non-verbally to him. She nearly jumped out of her own skin when she felt his hand over her heat caress the skin there.

Beverly and Data had now begun questioning "Riker" in earnest, arguing with him to further shield him from viewing what was happening. Deanna carefully reached into the medkit Beverly had left beside her, she removed a hypospray of a sedative, and then leaned over to kiss Will tenderly on the lips as she slid her arm around him to deliver the medication. She covertly returned the hypo to the medkit and leaned over to again kiss the lips of the man she would give her life for; she whispered her love against them, for perhaps the last time.

Sitting up, she noticed Abeathdor's questioning look, she thought/sent <He needed to believe in Will's death, or he will never permit him to leave.>

Beverly continued to face down the adversary demanding, "Why should any of us do what you ask, you are now our prisoner."

"Unfortunately for you, dear lady, I have my men surrounding you. You see it is you who have no choice." He made a motion that brought all of his men from their hiding places. They were indeed surrounded.

"If you don't mind, I'll have my weapon back now. I've allowed you a turn at the lead. Now let me repeat my qualifications for you to live, and yes I'll even permit you to return to your ship. One of you will stay here for the rest to leave."

He turned to face Deanna. She stood in front of him. "You want me to stay, and in return you will allow the rest to leave?"

In front of their eyes, "Riker" changed, his form shifted back to the familiar shape of Gringbald. "That is what I said."

"All of them can go. Abeathdor and the body of the Commander?"


The doctor moved over to stand beside Deanna, facing Gringbald. "Wait a minute, why Deanna? What is it that you would give up the queen for?" She was mystified as to Gringbald's scheme, and horrified that Deanna would even consider staying here with him.

"Keeping an heir to the throne is only inviting trouble. I would only have to kill her eventually. Take her back to your starship. As to why keep this one... she has what I need, but she does not hold the threat of rebellion that Abeathdor will carry as long as she is alive here."

He walked closer to Deanna, fingering a long strand of hair, he said, "You would be my Queen now that you will be staying here with me. This could be very invigorating." He laughed the dirty snide laugh full of innuendoes.

"You'll let us say good bye in private?" Beverly asked, barely able to keep her own anger under control.

"You mean will I leave while you contact your ship? NO! I will take Abeathdor over here so you can say your good-byes. If you pull anything I'll kill her." There was no doubt he meant it. They watched as he hauled Abeathdor to her feet, dragging her over by the archway, where the body of Lepton lay.

Beverly, Data and Deanna huddled together, Beverly embraced her friend. "Deanna, what are you doing" You can't stay here alone. I am not going back without you."

"You don't have a choice. Will needs your expertise, as does Abeathdor. This is the only way to get them both out now. It's all I can think to do, do you have a better solution. Beverly, please. We don't know how much time Will has before the sedative wears off, or what kind of shape he will be in when it does. I'm going to bargain for Solace before you go." They hugged again before moving apart.

Following Beverly's example Data now moved up to embrace Deanna. "Counselor, I may be able to come up with an alternative plan. Are you determined to rescue the child."

"I am Data. He seems to enjoy compromise and bargaining, I will begin before you go."

He hugged her and slipped his communicator into her pocket. "Counselor, you please check your right pocket when you are alone. I will attempt a beam up when we can clear their jamming devices. Stay well Deanna, we shall have you back with us soon."

"What about Lepton Beverly, Can you do anything for him?"

I scanned him earlier; there were no life signs. It was too late." She paused, looking hard at her friend, "Deanna, are you sure?"

"Yes." Their eyes never left each other as they spoke each hoping this would not be last time they would see one another.

"Okay, time is up. Let's get moving. Nothing clever, no heroics. One martyr in the group is plenty. I think you have no recourse but to do as I say." Gringbald walked Abeathdor over to them, then with one fluid movement latched on to Deanna, dragging her away from her crewmates.

Deanna spoke now, "Before they go, I want you to allow me the deaf child your men took abducted. I believe she is now in the research building. She will be staying with me." She held her ground like a general, hands on hips demanding a move.

"Last minute request?" He paused as though considering the alternative. "You may have the child. Provided they haven't begun infection procedures. You will be too occupied with my plans to spend much time or effort there." He shrugged his shoulders; "You may have her if that 's your desire. I will allow this, but you will not get all that you want. I on the other hand, shall have all that I desire. Do you understand?"

"I understand perfectly." It was the steel in her voice that drew not only his attention but also the scrutiny of her teammates.

Gringbald laughed, "Do you smell the scent of burning hair, doctor? You know what that means don't you? I believe there is a beautiful martyr in our midst, and I do love a good martyr." He held Deanna by the arm to embrace her. "Say goodbye to all your friends."

Beverly looked at her friend, her lips tightly compressed. "You are a twisted cruel creature."

"Go on your way, before I change my mind!" Gringbald signaled his men to close their circle around the away team and Abeathdor.

Deanna watched feeling more and more the weight of her decision like a millstone weighing her down. The depression of seeing her friends prepare to leave without her was more then she had prepared herself for.

Data went to Will, reached into his pocket to retrieve his communicator. Beverly and Abeathdor stood near to him, the doctor had one arm around Abeathdor, and the other on Data's shoulders as Data activated the communicator.

"Data to Enterprise four to beam directly to sickbay, medical emergency."

A startled Worf replied, "Acknowledged."

The group shimmered then disappeared. Deanna steeled herself not to give into the hopelessness that would soon lead to the tears that were lurking behind her eyes. She would not let this Gringbald see what watching them, seeing Will leave in the state he was in, did to her. She was holding on to her emotions by a thread.


When the away team materialized in sickbay the doctor sprang into action reclaiming it as her domain. She instructed her staff to help Abeathdor and Commander Riker on to biobeds. Doctor Crusher immediately began to work on the Commander when Captain Picard arrived, "What happened?" He took a quick look around noticing the stranger, he assumed to be Abeathdor. He knew that the beam up was for four people. Data now stood beside him. "Where is the counselor?" Without waiting for an answer, "Mr. Worf, lock on to the counselor and beam her aboard immediately."

"Captain, I cannot establish a fix on the counselor. I will continue trying."

Picard had walked up to Commander Riker's biobed, attempting to stay out of the doctor's way. She knew his concern and determination to ascertain the events leading up the reality they now faced. Crusher spoke between giving orders and running tests on the unconscious commander. "Captain, it's a very long story. Deanna stayed with Gringbald to allow us to get Will and Abeathdor back to the Enterprise." She nodded over to where her staff was taking care of the queen. "Data is trying to come up with a plan to get Deanna back. I need to look after Will, Captain." The doctor moved around him to look closer at the mark on the commander's face.

Picard backed way having no desire to exasperate the doctor or the situation any further. He could see the toll the mission had taken on her. "Data, I'd like to hear what happened. We can use Doctor Crusher's office."

Three hours later Beverly entered her office as Data was describing the confrontation with Gringbald. She stood in the doorway listening to the details of their last moments on Prakal. When Data had completed his narration she watched as the captain tried to decipher the whole mystery.

"Captain, I don't think Gringbald will give Deanna up. I believe there is more to this than his needing or wanting her empathic skills."

"Doctor, what are you basing your assumption on? Do you know what it is he wants?"

"No I don't know what he wants. Captain on that planet you learn to rely on your instinct and mine tells me there's more here than we know. Deanna felt that there was something important that we were not seeing."


"I have nothing to base a theory on at the present time. I am now reprogramming the entire mission events to attempt to postulate an apt hypothesis on the subject of Gringbald and his purpose in holding the counselor."

A nurse stood in the doorway. "Doctor, Commander Riker has regained consciousness and is insisting that he speak with you."

"Thank you Alyssa." Beverly went to the bio-bed Will was on. The Captain and Data were close behind her. When they had reached him, he was already sitting on the edge of the bed. The large swollen mark on his face was now a deeper, darker shade of maroon, if the change was brought about by the restoration of a normal flow of blood to the area, Beverly would now find out.

Riker's look encompassed the three of them as they approached him; his scolding comments were for Data and Beverly. "They told me Deanna is still on the planet. How could that have happened? How could you have let it happen?" He was angry, probably angrier than Beverly had ever seen him, and most of the anger she knew to be directed at himself.

"Will, she insisted. It was the only way Gringbald would allow us to return. You were in great need of medical attention, and so was Abeathdor." Beverly looked over at the bed occupied by the queen. Will followed her look, he had never seen Abeathdor until now.

"Captain, permission to return to the planet." Will started off the table, his knees buckled as soon as his feet touched the floor.

"Commander, right now you can't stand on your own two feet, you are in no shape to lead a rescue mission. We will go back down for the counselor. First we need all the information available about exactly what is happening down there."

Picard next addressed the doctor, "How long before he is able to maneuver on his own?"

"I'd like him rested for at least twenty-four hours. We haven't any experience with that kind of weapon. I don'' know what kind of after effects to expect. The weapon was designed to leave no survivors. I know he is alive now primarily due to Abeathdor and Deanna." She looked back to where the future queen was still being administered to.

Data confirmed the statement. "That is correct, the weapon was meant to kill. The design is one we have no knowledge of, and the Commander was in fact dying."

The captain listened quietly, then after a long sigh, "Doctor Crusher, how is our guest?"

"She is suffering from exhaustion. We have managed to cleanse most of the drugs from her system. She is somewhat impaired by the long periods of physical inactivity. Other than that, I believe she will always retain some of the effects of the mental and emotional trauma, but seems well enough adjusted that even that will not be an impairment to her well being."

"How long will you hold her in sick bay?"

Beverly raised her eyebrows at the question, "She can leave now, as long as she is allowed to rest."

"You think her well enough to enlighten us on her homeworld?"

"As long as you go easy, Jean-Luc and stop when she shows signs of fatigue."

"There will be a senior staff meeting in one hour. Doctor, I would appreciate your attendance." He turned to Data, I believe an introduction is in order with her majesty, would you be so kind?"

"Yes sir." Data and the captain made their way over to Abeathdor.

Beverly stayed behind with Will. "She really is quite regal. I understand what it was Deanna was trying to describe."

At the mention of Deanna's name Will winced. "Beverly, I need to know what happened. How Deanna managed to stay behind. All of it."

The doctor continued monitoring his vitals as she talked. "We were coming down from the third floor. Data was carrying Abeathdor, when we became aware that something was wrong. Deanna called out your name and began flying down the steps. She must have had some contact with you. I heard her say, "try to hang on. Imzadi' Do you remember any communication with her at the time of the attack, or shortly thereafter?"

"I think I remember hearing her in my head. I remember ...some of it." Will shook his head, "The details become a little fuzzy. We were in the tunnel and had just moved into the subground level when we were surrounded by Gringbald's men. Someone asked if the woman was with us. Then I felt this tremendous pain in my head. I think I may have called out to Deanna then, to warn her. I have no memory of anything else... except I do remember hearing her voice in my head. And the sound of a heart beat." He stopped talking to look at the doctor while thinking out what he was about to say next. He held his hand out in front of him, palm up, his voice a mere whisper. "I felt as though I held her heart in my hand. Maybe it was just a dream, or part of my brain as it was closing down."

Beverly had given him a hypo and helped him into her office where they could continue the conversation in a more private setting. After both were seated she began to tell him how things had come to this end. "When we reached the subground level, *you* were waiting for us. Deanna was the only one who knew it wasn't the real you. It was Gringbald." She smiled as she remembered how the counselor deactivated him. Beverly left out the details of Gringbald's rough handling of Troi, but continued on with the story. "Deanna found you unconscious behind a stack of crates. When I examined you, you were dying. The weapon he used shuts down brain activity, then the rest of the body dies. Deanna found a heart beat. Abeathdor instructed Deanna how to use her own heart and her empathic skills to revive you. Although I'm sure there was more to it than that, but I have no explanation for how it worked, or why. Just that she was told she would be exchanging her life for yours, she did so willingly, choosing also to stay behind. We could not persuade her to wait until another options became available. Getting you and Abeathdor out were the priority."

"Once you were revived, Deanna used a sedative on you, to allow Gringbald to continue believing you to be dead. He allowed everyone to leave but her. His reasoning was that Abeathdor was too much a liability. Deanna had the same skills and none of the threat. Personally, I believe there is so much more to the story. I just don't know what."

"What about the child, Beverly?"

"That is also part of the deal she struck with Gringbald. She requested the child and that the child be allowed to stay with her. He allowed it. I find that disturbing and totally out of character. There is more going on here than we know, but what?" The doctor continued working on the commander's face, until the redness disappeared.

When she completed all her administrations she stood back and asked, "How are you feeling? Are you up to the senior staff meeting?"

"I wouldn't miss it, or the opportunity to talk with our queen. He looked over in the direction he last knew her to be, noticing for the first time that she had gone. "What is you impression there, could this be a set up?"

"I don't know, she seems sincere. There is something strange going on, but what?"

Will slowly got to his feet, with deliberate and practiced movements he was able to move about on his own, slowly at first. "Doctor, shall we go." He watched as she placed her tricorder in her jacket pocket to take along.

She caught his look and smiled, "Some habits are hard to break, you just get used to having things close by."

"Tell me about it." It was said in a low voice. Will was thinking of Deanna, this wasn't the first time they had been separated, even on this mission, but it had a desperate feel about it now. Will stopped in mid stride to look at the doctor. "Could Abeathdor contact Deanna from here? They had contact before from a further distance?"

"You're right, come on let's go."

They reached the observation lounge and were the last to take their seats. Captain Picard noted their arrival. "Good, I believe we can begin. Commander Riker, I would like to introduce you to Her Majesty Abeathdor."

"Commander, I feel as though we have known each other for a long time. I would like to thank you for all you've done. You could never know what it means to me. If I could do anything for you, please name it."

Will bowed, "Your majesty, there is one thing I would ask in return."

Picard was surprised that Will would ask anything so soon, and yet, he knew what it would be that his first officer would ask.

"Please, Commander, I know of what you would ask. Please be assured I have tried to communicate with her. I have been unable to reach her as of yet. I do have a sense of her, I know her to be alive. Gringbald has a habit of drugging anyone he has a problem with. She may simply be unable to communicate now."

"Is that what he did to you, Your Majesty. He drugged you? I know there were many times Deanna could feel your presence, but was unable to make a connection." Beverly had the medical test results from Abeathdor with her, rather than read them, she thought everyone would get a better idea of what they were up against if one of the victims would share the experience with them.

"To be honest, I have little recollection of time. Days and nights were barely recognizable one from the other. Everything was hazy. Deanna was the only thing that set things apart, she made a difference in that long blur of time." Abeathdor sat rigidly regal, her back straight, her speech was pure. She had royalty written about her person, just as surely as if she had a crown upon her head. It was clear from her slightest movement she was born to rule.

She talked for sometime about her experience with Gringbald and his henchmen. One other fact became quite clear - she had a great distaste for Zylon and his torturous methods.

"Captain, have you learned the origin of Gringbald yet?" Data asked.

"Abeathdor and I have come to no strong conclusions. We do know he is not from Prakal. We have been asked by Abeathdor to intercede on the planet's behalf, and the Federation ahs agreed to help." Picard looked down the length of the table before continuing.

"Let's begin to piece it all together. Let's see how many pieces to this puzzle elude us. I will want full detailed reports from each of you. Right now, let us stick to Gringbald and Zylon, and the others you have made personal contact with. Do we have any reason to believe him to be empathic or telepathic? I want examples to explain your opinion."

Beverly shifted in her chair. "Well, there is one thing. He called me doctor. When Deanna agreed to stay if he allowed us to leave, he said ' Doctor, do you know what the smell of burning hair means?'"

"He asked you what?" Will was appalled. "Who's burning hair?"

"He was referring to what he called the martyr in our midst - to Troi's willingly staying." Beverly spoke quietly, knowing the kind of effect this had on him.

"Captain, Gringbald also knew of the counselor's empathic skills. These were not discussed on the first mission. Someone either told him, or there is the possibility he too may be telepathic. However, if that were the case, why would he need someone with those same skills?" Data looked at Abeathdor for the answer.

"I do not believe Gringbald to have any of those skills. I know he is very resourceful and he has many that would betray even their own family just to gain his favor. His network of spies is unfathomable. I would believe that he has used a collaborator, someone still accepted by the wastepeople as one of their own. Someone wit up to the moment details of any threats that would cripple his plans." Abeathdor sat quietly before turning to Beverly; "Did you examine Lepton?"

"I did a quick check on him. There were no life signs. Cause of death - acute brain dysfunction that ultimately led to organ failure." Beverly stopped to think about the question. "Do you have reason to believe Lepton may have been the agent Gringbald used?"

"Gringbald is in the habit of using people's emotions to recruit them into doing deeds they would not have ordinarily even considered doing. Lepton and I were at one time childhood friends. He played an important role in my life when my sister was queen. Our friendship ran very deep, but I knew him to be weak when it came to things he held precious. He was materialistic; he had the need to look prestigious. Gringbald could have used my captivity over him to get him to co-operate in his notorious deeds, or he could have promised him gifts. He went for a long time with little or nothing, you cannot overestimate the impact such promises would have on one." Abeathdor began to look tired and worn; her shoulders seemed to sag under the weight of the insight she imparted. "I may well be s responsible as Lepton, I should have been able to see this outcome."

"Your majesty, when you came aboard the Enterprise you still had a fair amount of chemicals in your system. I'm certain they were there precisely to keep you from full understanding and communicating any of this. Lepton may not have had such a big role to play in all this. Deanna would have sensed his deception." Beverly was impressed by Abeathdor's humility to take the blame upon herself.

"When you left Prakal, you were able to communicate with us for beam up. Are there any communications channels open, that we are unaware of?" the captain looked at Data.

"I believe we were permitted to communicate only because it served their purpose, sir." Will was now beginning to focus over his own feelings better with the goal of getting Deanna back.

Chapter 20

Gringbald watched Deanna as she viewed her friend's departure. She knew he was playing a gam. She knew he was watching her. What she couldn't answer was, what kind of game and why her. He made concessions that didn't make any sense, and yet she expected him to make those very concessions. She knew he would allow her to have Solace. What she couldn't figure out was why.

"Well, my dear, I'm afraid they will have to have the rest of the death ritual without you. Let me show you to your new home." He was smiling as he took her arm with a firm grip, one hand holding the wrist the other he placed on her shoulder; before she could react another man came to inject her in the arm with a long dangerous looking needle. "Zylon always said a little pain is good for the soul. I wonder what he meant? This is good for my peace of mind."

She began to feel numbness starting in the arm but spreading quickly through her. Gringbald was holding her by the arm while the other man supported her on that side. Gringbald or his men flanked her on every side, front and back. They walked in that procession to the palace. When she realized they were not going in the direction of the research building she pulled out of Gringbald's grasp. "Are we going to get the child now?"

"No we aren't. We are going our new home." His statement was heavy with sarcasm. He put his arm around her waist. It may have looked friendly but the force with which we held her was far from that of a companion. It was just another way he would control her.

They entered the palace. Deanna looked around trying to orient herself with her surroundings. Nothing looked familiar, it could have been the effect of the injection, or this was a part of the palace she had not seen before. These rooms were obviously set aside as private living areas. The hallways were thickly carpeted and much narrower then the broad open areas she had been in previously.

Gringbald pulled her up a flight of stairs; most of the men that had accompanied them from the tower had dispersed by then. One man stood at the top of the stairs, he came along side of her replacing the earlier soldier with the needle. Deanna tried to get a look at his face; he kept his head turned or down to avoid eye contact with her. When she turned to look ahead, she knew he was studying her. She could sense his curiosity, but she was fuzzy enough with the drug she could sense little else.

They came to a stop in front of an automated door. The first sign of modern technology she had seen in the palace. The door opened to expose a room quite lavish in its creature comforts: well-cushioned chairs and a couch made up one side of the room, there were a table and chairs on the other side. The room appeared to be an "L" shape, without entering it was impossible to see what lay beyond the table and chairs.

Gringbald started to enter into the compartment with Deanna still within his grasp. She jerked away from him, to stand, swaying, on her own; refusing to step inside. "I can have you physically carried in, either conscious or unconsciously. It is your choice. Why fight now, save it for a time when it will mean something." He looked smugly at her, then at one of the guards. The guard interpreted the looked and moved to her side, awaiting the regent's further instructions. Deanna looked at the guard, again trying to understand his almost sympathetic emotions.

"Well Deanna, you make your decision, now." He waited, watching her.

She hadn't any doubt there was no good purpose behind Gringbald's motives, and yet there was no plan, no help for her now. She had to buy some time until an opportunity or help became available. She put her head back standing as straight as possible then walked as aristocratically as she could manage into the room. He followed her, watching closely his face still holding the smug look, but she knew he didn't expect her to pull that one off.

Once inside the room she did a quick reconnaissance, checking out the part of the room unobservable from the doorway. Here she found a bed, a chest, a wardrobe, and the needed furnishings for personal hygiene.

"Very good, Commander. Now I'd like you to wear these clothes for now on." He had gone to the wardrobe, opening the door to expose a closet full of clothing. Deanna could smell the pine scent from the wood of the wardrobe, the same scent that brought memories of the glen. She watched as he displayed some clothing. Again, she experienced the feeling of seeing but not seeing something. She tried to pull back to look at the scene dispassionately, as though it was all happening to someone else. Like looking in a child's learning book, find what's wrong with this picture, find the object that doesn't belong with the others. She could find no answer.

"I don't think so, not until I have the child Solace. Then we will talk." She looked at him defiantly, then moved to sit in the cushioned chair - the chair the furthest from him, the clothes and the bed.

"As you wish. We will spend little energy arguing in the future, you will come to appreciate that soon enough. However, you will not leave this room again dressed as you now are. That is not debatable or negotiable." He stood a few feet from her and looked her over from head to toe. Gringbald went to the chest of drawers, picked up the box that sat on the surface of the chest. He brought the box over to where Deanna was sitting.

"I require you to wear this. Think of it as ornamental. You have no choice." He held her wrist with one hand then withdrew from the box a white armband. He held it in front of her for her to see it; its composition was of a ceramic material, yet it was of a more translucent nature. There were fine delicate designs around the band. He held her right hand out, the band opened on a hinge type of mechanism. He placed it above the right elbow, then snapped it shut. It fit rather snugly as if it was made for her. The fit prevented the band from being slid down the arm and off.

"We shall talk later." He tested the band one last time, then Gringbald and his men left. The door closed and locked.

Deanna found she was alone, for the first time on the planet she truly felt all-alone. She began pacing the room looking for clues to solve this puzzle. Only questions came to mind: What was Gringbald up to? Why did he want her when he could have had Abeathdor? She was reasonably certain it had little to do with her empathic skills, although it might have been an added prize. How did he know she was empathic? What was the difference between Abeathdor and her? She was a Starfleet officer- but so was Beverly, Data and Will. Why would he be interested in her above them? They all had skills this planet had a deficit in.

She circled the room countless times before she went to the wardrobe and began to look through the clothing. She needed a diversion but didn't find any in the clothing, she couldn't concentrate, the drug was dulling her wits and she desperately needed them now. She fought to stay on her feet, prancing from one thing to the other, fingering the water jugs and towels, then back to the wardrobe to rummage through the odd fabrics. She caught her reflection in the mirror hung on the wall, it rendered a vision of a weary and scared counselor. She missed her friends, she missed Will. The weariness tugged at her bones until she could barely remain on her feet. She went to the bed, stripped it of the blanket, then made her way to the cushioned chair that faced the door. There she curled up with the blanket wrapped around her, and was asleep within minutes.

Deanna was awakened by voices outside the door; it opened to reveal Gringbald and another man. It took seconds for Deanna to realize the man had a child in his arms. She was quickly out of the chair, leaving the blanket to fall on the floor. She reached for the child, Solace appeared to be asleep, totally unaware of the change in her surroundings.

"What have you done to her?" Deanna demanded of Gringbald in a tone of such strength he could not ignore her.

He again gave her the practiced smug look, arching his eyebrow. "Commander, she is sedated, she became so agitated it was the only way to easily move her." His statement was dripping in condescending tones, as though he had to explain to a moron the theory of relativity.

Her outstretched arms ignored, Deanna stepped back to allow them access into the room. Now in better light she could see that the man holding the small girl was the guard that she had earlier gotten the confused emotions from. She was alert to any mistreatment, which would be expected for such a callused society. She didn't need to worry, Solace was gently laid on the bed. The guard looked down at the empath; it was a challenging look he presented her with before he moved to return to the door. Deanna tried to get a sense of what was happening. It was becoming ever clearer to her that not all of Gringbald's people were as sinister and evil as Zylon. This man clearly was concerned for the child; she saw it in his face as he put Solace down on the bed.

She went to the child, looked her over, she checked her pulse. When she could detect no drastic problems, she turned to Gringbald, "Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?"

He smiled and answered, "From you my dear Commander Deanna Troi, you will know soon enough. Calm yourself if you do not wish me to have you calmed. You shall change out of that outfit on your own, or with help. I have now fulfilled your requests, so now you shall fulfill mine." He stood his ground and watched her, waiting for her reaction. She remained outwardly unchanged.

"It is late, we will finish this in the morning." Gringbald and his man left, the door closed and automatically locked once again.

Deanna stood looking at the door. Now she tapped the communicator Data had put into her pocket. She waited, then tapped it again. Nothing. She went to the bed where the child was sleeping, her dark curly hair tangled and her beautiful little face tear stained. Deanna went to the area set aside for the more personal needs, gathered a few towels and dampened one with enough water to gently clean the tear streaked cheeks.

Solace stirred, she didn't open her eyes, but sobbed in her frightened sleep. Deanna gathered the blanket and carried it to the bed to cover the child. She sat on the edge and kicked off her shoes, then carefully laid beside the sleeping child. Solace snuggled closely around the empath as if being drawn by her warmth; the small hands encircled Deanna's neck. The comfort of having another's warmth was a salve to each.

Deanna began to feel those little needle pricks at her mind. She knew from where they originated - the Enterprise. She closed her eyes trying to reach out with her mind, < Will,> she thought /sent. The words she wanted to say wouldn't come to her, only the emotion. The need to relieve his mind, to let him know she had Solace and they were safe, for now, in the palace. She fell asleep holding on to the comfort of another place, another's warmth.

Chapter 21

Will sat alone in ten-forward at a single table along the windows. Beverly thought it looked as though he wanted to be as close to Prakal and Deanna as possible. Guinan came to stand beside her, "He's right where I told you he'd be. He's been there for over an hour. I've heard things got a little ugly down there."

"You could say that. Right now, Will feels it is his fault we're here and Deanna is still down there."

"And you, how do you feel about how things went down there?"

"Guinan, things became very complicated while we were there. We achieved our primary goal, we retrieved Abeathdor. No one expected the difficulties that that one achievement would bring. Will and Deanna had become very close down there, you could say they rediscovered their relationship." Beverly smiled a little sadly at some of the memories of the past several days. "The funny thing is that other than the last two hours we were there, it was the most interesting and at times the most surprising experience I have ever had on an away team. Now, we are here safe and sound, and Deanna is there." The doctor's smile was gone, replaced by a sadder remorseful frown.

The doctor shifted her attention back to focus on Guinan, "Have you met Abeathdor yet?"

"Captain Picard introduced me to her a little while ago. She's an interesting lady. Do you have a purpose in asking?"

Beverly sighed, "I'm not sure Guinan, do you think it's possible that we had walked into a trap, a trap in which she was the bait?" The doctor watched as Guinan showed no surprise at the question.

"As willing or unwilling bait?"


"Do you trust the counselor's empathic senses? She trusted Abeathdor enough to put her life and that of the entire away team in possible jeopardy. The news around here is that she with Abeathdor's help, saved Commander Riker's life, and the story goes, she stayed there allowing you all to return. That sounds as though the one person with any way of knowing the lady trusted her implicitly. Now do you have faith in the counselor's judgement?"

Beverly conceded, "I see your point, okay, what are we facing? Whose trap and why? Guinan, I know there is more to this. Every instinct in me says so."

"I just pointed out that Abeathdor wouldn't be a willing part of the trap. She may have been used, just as you all were." Guinan gave Beverly one of her well practiced all knowing smiles, then gently nudged her toward Commander Riker.

Will never looked up as Beverly approached his table. He continued staring out at the stars, occasionally gulping his drink.

"Hi Will, I know I don't have all the answers, but if you would like someone to talk to..." She waited, no answer. She pulled a chair from a neighboring table and sat next to him. "Will, I'm worried about her too, and I'm concerned about you. Physically you have been through a lot. We really have no idea what to expect from the kind of injury and recovery you have experienced. You have to rest and take care of yourself." Still no response. Beverly decided to go for the jugular, she knew how to get a response and the kind of response she would get. "Will, if you don't take care of yourself then in a way aren't you saying you have little regard for something Deanna cared enough about that she would trade her life for?"

"Damn it Beverly, that's pretty low. You really don't expect me to sleep now? How can I, when I can't stop thinking that somehow I left her I the position she's in." He looked and sounded down right miserable.

"Why don't we get together with Data and go over everything. There's something we've missed. Between the three of us I'm certain we can come up with something." Her optimism was waning, but she did believe that they would come up with a plan of action. She had no sooner finished speaking than Captain Picard and Data walked into ten-forward. She saw Guinan speak to them and direct them to Will's table.

"Will, I think we are going to go over this again, whether you are ready to do it or not." She looked at him, then looked closer, afraid the stress and the wound had taken a toll on him. He sat with a dreamy look on his face. Suddenly it struck her where she had seen that look before. Deanna. Beverly motioned to the approaching captain and Data for them to come quickly.

"Doctor is there a problem?" Picard looked from her to Riker.

She motioned at Will; "I've seen that look before. If I'm not mistaken, Deanna is trying to communicate with him. That look makes me thing she's not in immediate danger."

Data walked around to Will's side to look directly into his face. "I believe you are correct Doctor. That is the same catatonic look the counselor has had."

The two pulled chairs over to join the doctor in the waiting for the commander to return to them, hoping that when we did we would be able to give them some positive news. Will Riker closed his eyes then opened them to look at Beverly. "I think she is okay. She has Solace with her in the Palace."

"Is that it? Nothing else about what is going on?" Beverly was frustrated at not knowing more. "I mean that's good, but no clues as to how to get them back or why they're being held?"

"She doesn't have the answer to those questions, I'm sure if she did she would have let me know. I couldn't really communicate anything. I think she just wanted us to know she was okay. I get the feeling something is wrong, maybe she's just tired." Will sounded better, a touch of relief had entered his tone, but the loss he felt was anything but lessened.

"Number One, I would like you to recount the events as you remember them up the present. I brought Data with me in hope that between the three of you a possible resolution to this situation would be possible. If you prefer to wait until morning and start fresh, that's fine, however, I'd like to get this business over with as soon and effectively as possible."

"Captain, sleep is the furthest thing from my mind right now. I think this is as good as time as any to work out a solution."

"I agree, Captain, now while our memories are still fresh would be somewhat advantageous. Will and I were just discussing doing just this with Data when you arrived."

Captain Picard almost smiled, "Fine, contact me the minute you arrive at any decision. Will, this shall be resolved shortly."

The three officers worked late into the night before they were ready to go to the captain with their conclusion. They were agreed on one point, the only point left to debate was when. They had agreed that no matter what game was being played, they had to get Deanna and the child out. Then, with the last Federation member out of any immediate danger they would deal with Gringbald.

The captain was summoned from his sleep to listen to their objectives. "Do you have your course of action, Number One?"

"Yes, sir, we do. First we need to send another probe to the planet. This one would be rigged to by pass their jamming devices; we could rely through the probe. Then we would scan the palace for Troi's comm badge, Data had given her before we left. If that proves unhelpful we scan for force fields or holding areas, then check for Deanna's life signs within them. Data can make the needed modifications to our communicators, using a subspace frequency that would not be detected by their systems. Then the easy part -we beam down and right back with Deanna and the child."

"Who did you have in mind for the away team?"

"Data and myself."

Picard said nothing for awhile; looking from one to the other, considering and weighing other options that may have gone overlooked. "Doctor, Mr. Data do you agree with the assessment Commander Riker has outlined?"

"I can't think of anything simpler or with the possibility of a greater degree of success." The doctor looked as though she would have liked to add a postscript to that but decided against it.

The Captain waited a second longer, when she didn't continue, he moved on. "Mr. Data, you are in agreement?"

"Yes Captain, we would be quickly down and back. All preparation needed would take place on the Enterprise before transporting down to the planet, minimizing any unforeseen incidents."

"And when will you begin these preparations?"

"Begging the Captain's pardon, the modifications to both the sensors and communicators have already begun." Riker looked at once both pleased and sheepish. "We wanted to make sure we were on the right track, and could meet the expectations within the needed timeframe."

Picard smiled, "I see. LaForge and Worf are available to give whatever assistance you need. Keep me appraised." He stood, signaling the meeting to be adjourned.

The three left to continue the finishing touches on their plans to retrieve their crewmate.


Deanna lay awake; feeling somewhat disoriented after falling into a brief but sound sleep. Solace was still curled up tightly against her. The empath lay still, trying to find what it was that brought her out of the deep slumber. The child moved against her, her head against Deanna's collarbone seemed unusually hot. Deanna placed her hand on the small forehead, then touched her cheeks. Solace was definitely hot; she had to be running a high temperature.

Fear and anger now brought the counselor fully awake and alert. She held the little girl tighter; noticing the breathing seemed labored and harsh. She gently disentangled herself from the sleeping child, slipping quietly from the bed to return with towels and the jug of cool water. She began mopping the small brow and cheeks trying desperately to lower the fever.

Her feelings for both Solace and Gringbald had grown to the furthest degrees of the extreme. The fear for Solace that she had earlier felt was born of the protective love that she had developed at their first meeting. The anger, which threatened at times to consume her, was for Gringbald. In all her life, she had been able to say that she never hated anyone, but now she continually had to remind herself of her professional training. Every time she looked at the helplessly sick child or thought of Will she could feel the anger begin to swell again. Gringbald had exploited anyone and everyone weaker than he, or just someone he perceived as a possible threat.

Solace opened her eyes, looking wildly around the room. Deanna didn't need her perceptive powers to know the great fear the child was feeling. Deanna watched the wild darting eyes finally rest on her, Solace sat up and tried to go to her. <It's all right little one, I'm right here. I'm not leaving you.> Deanna thought/sent. She was surprised to find herself using the same term of endearment for Solace that she so disliked when her own mother used it for her. Deanna sat down on the bed, and lifted the sick child on to her lap, the warm arms wrapped around Deanna. The empath held the child against her, while her mind warped through all the knowledge she possessed on this type of illnesses. She deeply wished Dr. Crusher were here, she knew Beverly would, if it were possible anyone could, cure the child. She sat rocking and soothing her, knowing that would never be enough. She knew too, that it wouldn't be long until Gringbald or one of his henchmen would check on them. She laid her head against the smaller one and thought/sent, < I'm here with you sweetie, no one is taking me from you. Remember I'm taking you to see where I live?>

Solace nodded.

Deanna kissed the hot forehead; hoping help would come in time. She continued rocking the child in her arms, while she tried to assimilate the bits of information she had, while preparing for the consequences that she feared awaited. As bleak as things looked at that moment, she knew Will and the Enterprise had not deserted her. She only hoped their help would come in time. The victim she had seen at the research building had deteriorated quickly in a few hours. They would have to get help to Solace soon. When the child fell once again into a restless sleep. Deanna laid her gently on the bed and covered her.

Her own clothing had begun to cling damply to her. She went back to the wardrobe and found an acceptable outfit made of a light silky material with long full legs. It wasn't something she would have picked for herself, but under the given circumstances, it would do. She could move easily in it and the cool feel of the fabric against her skin was refreshing. The room had become warm and close; her hair hung in damp curls, sticking to her face and neck.

<Will, come soon...> she thought/sent, not knowing if Will would know she was thinking of him, she hoped so. Solace whimpered in her sleep, thrashing around as though hunting for Deanna. The empath climbed back into bed to hold the ailing child. She knew without any doubt that whatever Solace had been infected with, she too now had begun feeling the beginning pangs of distress.

Chapter 22

Will and Data met Captain Picard in transporter room three, there was no conversation between them at this point. Conversation now was moot and would only delay the outcome, and no one wanted that. There was an underlying sense of urgency that prevailed all through the night, and in fact seemed to lurk unbidden in their minds throughout the mission, beginning with the counselor's first contact with Abeathdor during the poker game.

The two stood on the transporter's platform, Will nodded to Geordi who took the console to beam them down to the planet's surface, within seconds their forms on the platform shimmered and disappeared. Seconds later there was a shimmering of matter in the secured quarters that the Starfleet woman and her charge were detained.

She had been propped up in bed, the child lying in her arms. She opened her eyes, "Will?"

He moved immediately to the bed, he felt the need to touch her, he had to touch her, to know it was Deanna. Nearing the bed, he began to feel alarms going off in his head, and fear clenching knots in his stomach; Deanna's hair hung in damp curls, her eyes held a feverish light, her face flushed with fever. Laying his hand upon her arm he fought the panic raising in him. Data had come around to the other side of the bed; he studied the counselor then looked at the deep concern in the commander's face, before carefully lifting Solace from Deanna's embrace.

"No..NO...Please don't take her." Deanna attempted to hold on to the child as Data gently gathered Solace from her. The counselor began to sob.. "No, you said I can have her with me."

"Ssh, Deanna it's okay, we're taking her with us to the Enterprise. It's okay." Will spoke soothingly as he carefully pulled Deanna into his own arms, holding her against him as the heat from her body penetrated his own.

He wasted no time, the panic evident in his voice, "Enterprise, four to beam to sickbay, medical emergency!" They shimmered and three appeared in sickbay. Data holding Solace was greeted by Doctor Crusher and Seler. Will stood alone with his arms outstretched but empty. Solace was quickly put in an isolation area.

Will hit his communicator, "What happened Geordi, Deanna is not with us?"

"I'm not sure Commander, I couldn't maintain a pattern, there must be something on her that would prevent the molecular to energy transport. Did you notice anything unusual?"

"I'm not sure, and I'm sure as hell not waiting around to guess." He moved to open one of the cabinets holding medical supplies, after removing several pieces of equipment he found Data motioning for him to follow him. "Geordi, beam two back to the same location, immediately."

They found Deanna unconscious on the floor at the exact spot Will had stood holding hr moments before. Both officers were beside her looking for anything that could have foiled their attempt at transporting her back with them. Will fingered the arm band pointing it out to the android, "Data, could this have been the reason?"

Data cocked his head, looked it over then he pointed his tricorder at the band. "Yes sir, it transmits a low band of energy on the same frequency that we communicate on. Once removed, I will attempt to deactivate it."

Both endeavored to slide the band off, failing that they attempted to open the band. "It must have a hidden catch. Data, can either of these be of any help?" Will held out the medical tools he had borrowed from the cabinet before returning to the planet.

"Yes, Commander, I believe either of these instruments may prove valuable." Data choose the cauterizing pen, after playing with the fine laser beam until it was at the spectrum he wanted, he nodded to the commander. Will held Deanna's arm at an angle to allow Data easier access to the band. It took him over a minute to achieve the result he wanted then slightly longer to deactivate the band. He then carried it with him as he went to the only window in the room to break the frame and dislodge some glass to give the appearance of escape.

Will gingerly picked Deanna up, holding her close her forehead against his lips. Data joined him and called to Geordi, "Enterprise, three to beam to sickbay." This time no one was left behind.

As they appeared in sickbay, Dr Crusher and Captain Picard were anxiously awaiting their arrival, relief very visible on their faces. Beverly moved quickly to Will's side, running her scan over the unconscious empath. She picked up her hypospray and laid it against the patients neck, then again on Will's to deliver an antiviral serum. She began giving direction to her staff. Both patients were to have a topical disinfectant and were to be out of the clothing they wore from the planet. Crusher wanted everything analyzed, taking any and all precaution against a viral agent spreading throughout the Enterprise.

Will was standing beside Deanna holding on to her hand. Beverly moved him out of her way, suggesting he wait in her office. He moved back but did not go beyond the next bed. He noticed Solace in that bed, sitting soundlessly crying pointing to Deanna. Will went to the child, held out his hand, she climbed into his arms. He carried her over to the empath's bed. Deanna slowly opened her eyes, as though on cue, looked around her to see Will holding Solace, her arms around his neck; the counselor managed a tired smile, then fell back into unconsciousness. Solace settled down, sobbing in a hiccuping fashion.

Beverly took her out of Will's arms, holding her so the child could see her mouth. "She's okay Solace, look we'll move your bed closer to Deanna. Now both of you can sleep." She deposited the child on the bed and prepared another hypospray for her. Will stood between the two beds watching the doctor work. Beverly finished with the examinations, she turned toward Will, taking his arm and walking back to where the captain waited.

"It appears both were infected with a highly contagious virus. Will, I'm putting you in the isolation chamber next to theirs. I'll need to give everyone in here an anti-viral hypo. Two hundred years ago this would have wiped out the human population on the Enterprise in a matter of days. I'm not sure exactly which strain we are looking at, however we do have a serum aboard that covers the mechanism that reacts with the body's immune system in fighting the variations that this virus attaches to. We should be fine" She looked at the captain, "If we can get these two through the next twenty-four hours, I expect they will recover fully. The problem is I don't know how long ago or how potent the sample was that they were infected with."

She watched as the counselor and the child were settled in the isolation room, "The child's respiration and temperature are already becoming manageable, so if I were to go by the surface appearance, I'd say the prognosis is extremely positive, considering everything."

Will's eyebrows went up, "Considering everything?"

The doctor was clearly exasperated with the situation, "Considering that left in that condition they would have surely died within two days. Considering that the serum is not that difficult to produce when you have live host samples, and considering if that's true -there is every possibility that they were deliberately infected and were going to be allowed to die." She stopped speaking to walk closer to t he glass partition into the isolation room. Beverly laid her hand against the glass separating her from her best friend. Will and the Captain exchanged a look, in the commander's eyes the captain easily read the same emotion that he had just seen in his CMO, except in Will's there was a hint of retribution.

Beverly turned, "Will, I want you in an isolation room too, I want those clothes off pronto! Nothing that you have come into contact with while on that planet is considered safe." She watched his profile knowing he was about to object. "I'm not taking anything for granted. Everyone in sickbay is to be given two doses of the antiviral serum. Just as a precautionary measure. Now, Commander, please. You can have the room next to Deanna's for now."

"Doctor, I would like a senior officers meeting in one hour. Would that give you time to get your patients settled in?"

"I think so. I'll keep you apprised." She caught Picard's eye then looked over at the commander's room.

"I'll have a word with him before I leave."

"Use the intercom system Captain, no sense continually exposing yourself at this point."

"Understood doctor." Picard watched as she whirled through sickbay, comfortable with the knowledge that she had the situation firmly in control.

Will sat on the edge of his bed, facing the window into the neighboring chamber, when the doctor entered his room. She said nothing as she ran her tricorder over him, when she finished she spoke softly, "The captain has been asking for our reports on the mission, I've been putting him off, but now that we are all back, I'm afraid that is not going to work for long. You will have to talk to him. Are you wavering on your decision Will Riker?"

"I've been thinking how close we came to losing each other. If I can't send her on away missions and allow her to perform her job, then we had made the right decision before by not becoming involved again. On the other hand, we could use every opportunity to be together." Will shook his head, "I don't know, what's the answer?"

"You didn't have a choice about sending her on the away team, she was going. You almost didn't make it back; you wouldn't have if she weren't there. Will, get off the fence, don't you dare disappoint me - because I shall not let you forget it! Could you honestly go back to the old relationship now? I don't see how." She patted his arm, "Remember Lagi's words to Deanna, 'Don't betray your heart.'" She left the isolations chamber. Will lifted his legs up on to the bed, and laid on his back, arms behind his head.

Doctor Crusher kept to herself the fear and concern she had. It had only been a matter of hours since she had last seen the counselor on the planet. The drastic change was indeed something to be reckoned with, the change from healthy to dying was too drastic and too frightening to be waved off with the magical swish of the hypospray. She was reluctant to leave her patients to attend the senior officers meeting. She stood watching the latest readings over the counselor's head; she appeared to have stabilized. Deanna began to stir as the doctor monitored her respiration and heart, her eyes opened, in a hoarse whispered voice she asked, "Beverly?" as though not trusting her eyes.

"Yes Deanna, you're home now, on the Enterprise. How are you feeling?"

"Like we were drinking Lagi's brew again." She paused, then tried to look around her. "Will....Solace...?"

The doctor held her shoulders down, keeping her in place. "Take it easy, Solace is right here with you. She is recovering very well. Will is next door, he's fine. You will recover better if you lie still and rest. I'll be back in a little while. Dr. Seler is close by if you need anything." Deanna's eyes closed again before the doctor had the statement finished. Beverly checked once more on Solace, then went to the window to look into the neighboring chamber to see Will sleeping. Then like a mother hen counting her chicks and finding them all in place, she left sickbay to attend the captain's meeting.


The staff meeting was minus the two officers confined to sick bay, the captain had included Abeathdor once again into their meeting. Beverly had noticed upon her entry that the atmosphere seemed much lighter, less stressful than it had for sometime.

The captain wasted no time in filling in the others on the latest developments. He watched the faces of those around him as he began, "Starfleet has asked that we do all we can to aid Abeathdor to reclaim her throne, there is one obstacle to overcome in meeting that objective. Which means, of course, we must remove Gringbald and his supporters from power and see that they are no longer a threat to the government on Prakal. Now before we discuss that, we need to know a little of the resources at his disposal, and we need to be in a position to protect those of the population he would retaliate upon."

Picard picked up the object that had lain before him. Beverly had not seen the band before, Data had taken the object analyzed and examined it for contamination, she watched now as the captain handed back to Data to explain it's origin and purpose.

Data explained that the band was secured on Counselor Troi to interfere with any attempts to transport her back to the Enterprise. He told them of the problem of removing and the dismantling of it. Data revealed the results of his study and testing of the piece. As the band was passed around the table he explained it was made of a materiel that had properties that would allow the band to be easily tracked and why.

Picard stood as it made it's way into each of the officers' hands. "You need to see that, although Prakal may appear bereft of technology, it is not. Science has been applied in areas that will benefit and elevate Gringbald and his purposes. The hour is late. Take this information back with you, give it some thought. We will meet again tomorrow to outline the steps we shall take."

Everyone stood to leave, and within minutes Captain Picard and Abeathdor were the only ones left in the lounge. "Captain, I understand your feelings, but I don't expect the Federation to do more. I appreciate all that you and your people have accomplished here on my behalf. Perhaps, you have overlooked the fact that Gringbald has already attempted to destroy you. I believe he planted that sickness hoping it would over take you and all aboard this vessel. I do not wish to be responsible for any other tragedies to your people."

"Your majesty, I have not missed that point. He has failed at least in that endeavor. He failed when he though he killed Commander Riker. Gringbald is playing a deadly game and has lost his opening gambits. He will not be taking us lightly in his next moves. I believe we will see exactly what game it is he's playing and soon."

"Your majesty, our counselor found you to have a remarkable mind and a kind heart, I believe is how she put it. I must say that from what I have seen I agree with her observations. My own planet has had times of bloody cruelty. Sometimes it's because we see just what kind of maniacal deeds we, as a people, are capable of that brings enough disgust and the needed strength and determination to stop what it is that is being done, and decide never again. It appears our imperfections allow us to see the path we are walking on without feeling the glass under our feet, until we can no longer walk."

Chapter 23

After a brief glimpse into sleep, Will laid awake in his chamber, finding sleep to be avoiding him as though it were the prey and he the hunter. There was something nagging at him, he sat up to look into the other chamber to see Solace sitting up in bed looking frightened. He didn't see a nurse or doctor around. He moved quickly to enter the other chamber.

At Deanna's side he could see she was breathing, he looked closer to see motion under the closed eyelids. He surmised her to be dreaming. He looked back at Solace, she would glance at him, but her attention was clearly on the counselor. He put his hand over Deanna's heart to feel an accelerated beat. He felt the need to calm her. How? He remembered Beverly describing how she had helped him, possibly saving his life. He picked up her left hand holding it over his heart, and laid his hand over her heart. He began to communicate peaceful thoughts and calming pictures, his mind describing the beauty of the Janaran Falls; a short time passed before Deanna took a deep breath almost like a sigh. Whatever had been happening, seemed to have passed.

He looked over at Solace, she too seemed to relax, and the fear that he had seen in her face had lessened. Will went to her bed to sit next to her, she scrambled to move to his side where she sat cross legged her hand resting on his as they watched Deanna sleep. When it looked like she was once again in a normal sleep, Will moved to put Solace under her covers, she slid out of his reach and shook her head, clearly indicating that wasn't what she wanted. She looked back at the other bed then at Will. He smiled gathered her in his arms and put her in bed with Deanna. She smiled at him and closed her eyes.

When Beverly returned to sickbay, she went straight to the isolation chambers. Dr Seler was coming out of the counselor's; Beverly looked at the other doctor's face, the expression she saw there was a cross between a smile and a question. "What is it? Everyone is still progressing aren't they?"

"Look in on our patients. I cannot keep the child in her own bed. Twice now, I have moved her back. I leave and she is back with the counselor."

Beverly looked in, it was true Solace was curled up next to Deanna, both appeared to be sleeping. She looked at Seler, "Thank you doctor, I'll take care of it." She knew Deanna had been the only one to communicate directly with the child, and now Deanna was all she knew in this strange place. Beverly went into the chamber; Solace opened her eyes, watching Beverly move around the room. When the doctor walked up to the child she sat up. "You are doing much better Solace, would you like something to eat?" Beverly pantomimed eating.

Solace nodded her head. Beverly went out to the food replicator to get something for her youngest patient to eat. She returned with a variety of foods for Solace to taste. She sat it on the bed initially intended for the child. Solace looked at her suspiciously. Beverly motioned for the child to come over to the other bed. She said, "Come over here and eat. You can go back when you've finished." She went to her and held out her hand; Solace looked up into her eyes for several long seconds before reaching to take the doctor's hand. Together they went to the empty bed where the small child sat cross-legged and picking up different foods, smelling them before tasting them. She never stopped watching the doctor.

Beverly returned to Deanna's side to examine her closer, her temperature had begun to drop to within a few degrees of normal, her respiration was still labored and not close to where Beverly wanted it. The doctor looked closer, had the lights brightened over the bed as she noticed some red blotches upon the counselor's face, neck and upper torso. She again ran the tricorder over the prone counselor making adjustments to the various readings. All in all Deanna had shown marked improvement in the last couple of hours, the blotches were due to collapsing blood vessels, a circulatory disorder that was no longer occurring and the evidence of it would eventually disappear.

Doctor Crusher prepared another hypospray, as she placed it against the counselor's neck, Solace climbed back into the bed and up to Deanna, watching everything with a protective eye, suddenly their roles had now been reversed, and she was now the guardian. Beverly smiled kindly at her and tried to explain what she was doing. Solace appeared to pay close attention, then nodded giving her consent. "I'm glad you approve of my medical techniques Solace, just so you know little lady, this is my best friend and you and I need to take good care of her." Solace looked up at Beverly as she spoke, looking very serious as she watched the doctor's face, then again bobbing the dark head as though in agreement. Beverly stopped to stare at the child, trying to elucidate how she understood or if she understood what was just said to her.

The doctor sat on the edge of the bed, patting the place beside her for Solace to sit there. When the child complied Beverly examined her once again, checking her ears and throat, running a quick diagnostic on her. When she had completed her ministrations she helped Solace under the covers, watching as the child once again snuggled close to Deanna.

Captain Picard listen as Doctor Crusher explained the results of the patients' examinations. Seated in front of him she went on to explain what she and the counselor had hoped to be able to do for the young child. Picard expressed the thought that perhaps Abeathdor would give her approval for the needed procedure. Beverly agreed to approach her later that day. After leaving the captain Beverly went to her won quarters to, for the first time in a very long time, sleep in her own bed. The rest she found there was deep and undisturbed.


Deanna awoke to the uncanny feeling she was being watched. She reached out with her mind, to discover the intent of the observer to be a mixture of concern, impatience and curiosity. She slowly opened her eyes to see a smaller set of eyes not ten inches away from her own. Solace was lying on her stomach, her head on her hands, elbows resting on Deanna's pillow, legs bent at the knees and feet up in the air, waiting and watching for Deanna to awaken. When she realized Deanna's eyes were now opened, her excitement could hardly been contained.

< Hi sweetie, have you been waiting for me > Deanna thought/sent. Still feeling a bit weak, it was easy to remain motionless while communicating with the child. Solace nodded her head, smiling from ear to ear, she put a small hand on either side of Deanna's face to hold and study the counselor's features. The empath sensed she was looking for something. She waited for Solace to communicate something back to her, when after a while nothing was expressed, Deanna tried again, < Are you feeling better now?>

Solace nodded. < Do you think it's time we get out of this bed? > Her answer to that question was to smile and hug the counselor, snuggling close again. Deanna put an arm around her and touched the small face, fearing she may not have recovered fully, but could not detect a fever.

The door to their chamber opened and a familiar male voice proclaimed, "Good, finally, you're both awake! How are the two hottest women aboard the Enterprise doing today?" Will grinned as he sat on the bed, "I have permission to visit, as long as I follow all the good doctor's stipulations." He leaned over to kiss Deanna's forehead and playfully ruffle the child's hair.

"Will, we've cooled off, haven't we sweetie?" She thought/sent even as she spoke to Will. Solace, who had moved to sit beside Deanna, nodded and smiled in response to Deanna's remark. She watched the interactions between the two adults closely. They hadn't taken their eyes from each other since Will's arrival.

Deanna looked up at him; she reverently touched his face where, the last time she had seen him, he had been injured. "Are you okay?" she softly asked.

He held that hand in his own, "I'm much better... now. It was entirely too close this time. Imzadi, do me a favor, don't go about meeting strange men without me." He smiled as he watched her, he could have told her the moon was made of cheese, and she wouldn't have cared.

Beverly stood at the window to the isolation chamber watching her crewmates. She witnessed the way each couldn't drag their eyes from the other, the way they touched, she watched the child seemingly almost hypnotized by them, and she smiled giving them a few more minutes before interrupting them.

Doctor Crusher entered the chamber, "Good, I'm glad to see everyone awake and doing much better. I hate to break up a good party, but I need to run some tests on Deanna that would be better done without an audience." She looked meaningfully at Solace. "Will, can you and Solace go for a little walk, to give us an hour or so?"

Deanna looked at Solace and thought/sent < Would you like to go with Will, he'll take you for a walk? This is where I live; you will be staying with me while you're here. Would you like to look around with Will?>

The little eyes filled with tears, < It's okay sweetie, I'll be here when you get back, I promise. You like Will, I know he will take good care of you.> Deanna took the small hand and pulled the child to her for a reassuring hug. Solace studied the counselor's face, then as if contented in what she found there; she wrapped the small arms around the counselor's neck.

Will stood watching them knowing Deanna was communicating to Solace. He waited until she looked at him; she read the indecision in his face and smiled. "Will would you take her to ten-forward to see the stars." He held out his hand to the child, she stood on the bed, looked at him then back to Deanna.

"Beverly, can we get her something else to wear?" Deanna just realized they both had on the blue shifts from sickbay.

Beverly smiled " How about we change into some play clothes, I have something ready for her in the other room." She waited for the empath to communicate the change to Solace before reaching to scoop the child off the bed and out the door.

"Beverly has permission from Abeathdor to do the procedure on the child's throat." Will sat with Deanna trying to make casual conversation. "The captain is getting impatient about our reports, I have one prepared for him. I 'd like your opinion on it first." He watched her waiting for her reaction. He saw none. She laid looking up into his face, never taking her eyes from his.

"For a while, I thought I'd never see you again. Can we work this out, Will?" She sat up to search his face.

He pulled her into a tight embrace, feeling her respond by wrapping her arms around his neck. He whispered into her hair, "We will work out whatever we need to." He continued to take comfort from their embrace.

Captain Picard had stopped at sickbay, to check with the doctor on the prognosis of the counselor, he found Crusher with her youngest patient outside of the isolation chambers. There he was formally introduced to Solace. The doctor up dated him on everyone explaining the need to keep the counselor a little longer to finish some tests.

"When do you expect to release the counselor and allow her back to active duty, Doctor?"

"I'll probably release her from sickbay after the tests, pending the result; as far as active duty, I'd like a few days of rest. Solace was about to go to ten-forward with the Commander weren't you?" Beverly turned to see that the child was no longer with them. The captain looked slightly alarmed at the thought of a small child lost on his ship.

Beverly had to hide her smile, "Jean-Luc, she wouldn't have gone far from Deanna. Let's check in with your officers." She led him back to the counselor's room. The peered in to see Will sitting on the bed his arm firmly around Deanna and Solace, who was sitting on Deanna's lap. "Solace doesn't allow Deanna out of her sight, and is as protective of Deanna as Deanna is of Solace."

Will shifted to stand as the captain entered the room. "As you were Commander. I came to check on the counselor. Deanna, it's good to see you looking much better. You had us a bit worried."

"Thank you, Captain. I can't tell you how good it feels to be back on the Enterprise."

"Captain, Will, if you gentlemen would excuse us, I have some business to conclude with the counselor." Beverly stood holding the door open, hoping to expedite their departure. The captain said his good-byes and went out giving Will a moment to do the same.

Will's arm around Deanna tightened, "Well, the Captain is waiting for me, I'll leave a copy of my report in Beverly's office for you to read when your up to it." He held her lightly then kissed her on the temple. "Solace would you like to come with me now, we'll look at the stars, billions and billions of stars, what do you say?"

Deanna thought/ sent Will's request. The child smiled up at him, as he reached down to scoop her off of Deanna's lap. At the door he turned back tot he counselor, "We will see you later." -He carefully annunciated each word for Solace, she smiled. Will blew a kiss to Deanna, then put the child's hand up to her mouth to mimic his actions. She silently chuckled, he was surprised by the reaction, and looked back to Deanna with an eyebrow cocked.

The empath smiled, and waved good bye to them.

Beverly upon reentering the room found the counselor smiling and very relaxed. "Well it looks like you're feeling better. I want to run some tests on your neuro-activity and look for any modifications that may have taken place since you left the Enterprise. Have you noticed a decline in our empathic skills?"

"Deanna? What is it?"

Counselor Troi was sitting in looking at the floor, "I'm sorry Beverly, I guess I wasn't paying attention, what did you ask me?"

Beverly sat beside her, "What is it? What are you thinking about?"

"Everything, how did I get back here? Can you tell me about Will, how is he really? I feel like I need to fill in the gaps." She looked at her friend, relieved to see Beverly smile, and sensing that there was nothing in her friend that she would hold back.

"Okay, I'll start with our return to the Enterprise, but I need to get these tests underway, before Will and Solace return."

The captain and commander talked as they walked to ten-forward. Solace paid little attention to the two men, she was so awe struck by her new surroundings she watched everything with the amazed look of the very young. Guinan met them as they entered into her realm, taking the privilege of seating them herself and making sure they had the perfect window seats for Solace to view the stars. The child was astounded by the darkened sky lit by the countless stars.

The two men had continued in their discussion of planet and the past several day's events, when Guinan tapped Will on the shoulder, "I don't mean to interrupt gentlemen, but if you were suppose to entertain a certain young lady, you must have bored her immensely."

Will turned to see where Solace had turned her chair to the window and now sat asleep facing the star lit sky. "Captain, would it be possible to continue this later, I promised Deanna I'd bring her back to sick bay." Commander Riker waited for the captain's nod, before carefully gathering Solace from her chair. She never opened her eyes as Will carried her out of ten-forward and toward sickbay.

Guinan smiled as she watched them leave. She turned to Picard, "I like some of the changes I've seen since the away team's return from the planet. How long before you return Abeathdor as their Queen?"

"Guinan, we are working on that now. First we have to remove Gringbald and his influence from the planet. Then the queen can decide how to best set up her government."

The hostess remained standing beside Captain Picard's chair, "How is Counselor Troi? I understand she has had quite an experience. Rumor has it Gringbald has a special interest in her."

How is it Guinan, that you have come to have learned so much when I am just beginning to get the reports in from the officers involved?"

"Captain, I'm the hostess in ten-forward, where else would I learn such things?" She smiled and walked away to complete some duty somewhere else, presumably.

Chapter 23b

Deanna stood beside the doctor watching as Beverly finished with the last test results. The doctor stopped scanning the results to again look Deanna over, checking beneath the eyes, and closely examining the neck and shoulders.

"What is it Beverly? What are you looking for?"

"The virus you were contaminated with breaks down each of the body's systems. It seems to begin in the respiratory system then the circulatory and probably the renal system, until the body has nothing left to continue to operate, that is if it can hold out that long. It had progressed in you to the circulatory system. The dark red blotches on you are the result of the collapsed blood vessels. I have been keeping an eye on those marks, timing the body's ability to repair and replenish. Don't look so worried you are doing fine."

"What about Solace? I didn't notice any on her?" At the question the doctor nodded, thinking she should have guessed that the concern she saw was directed toward the child.

"No, neither have I. It may have to do with her immune system having been exposed to different viruses, or perhaps the illness hadn't progressed that far, she also recovered much quicker than you. It could also be the difference in her system and yours.

"She has been keeping an eye on you for me." Beverly laughed softly at the mental picture. "When ever I came in to check on you or give you a hypospray, she was right there. I tried to explain what I was doing and asked her to watch for more of the marks, she was to report to me right away if she saw anything. I don't know how much she understood, but she took to heart how ever much she knew."

Deanna smiled remembering coming awake to the child's intense scrutiny. "Beverly when are you prepared to begin the procedure on Solace?"

"Today, while you are still here. I don't think she'll do as well if we wait too long and you're back to your duties. When Will returns with her, I'll sedate her and begin." Beverly noticed the look of concern on Deanna's face. "She'll be fine, this is not a serious procedure, other than what it will do for Solace."

Deanna nodded, "Thanks, I know. I guess I just think of all she's been through. A lot of adults would have problems dealing with a reality that harsh. She has a resilient spirit doesn't she?

Will choose that moment to carry a sleeping child into sickbay. He gently laid her on the bed. "Am I too early- have you finished the tests?"

"Yes, we've finished, we were just talking." Deanna walked over to stand beside Will. She stood looking down at the peacefully sleeping child.

"How did the tests go, Doctor?" Will was Deanna as he asked.

"The virus is no longer active. It has left its mark and will take a little time for her system to completely rebound. I've been testing her empathic and neuro-system for any abnormalities or growth, then matching those results with Deanna's enhanced skill levels. I've been able to gain some valuable insights into what had previously been nothing more than educated guesses. It looks as though some of those new abilities may be permanent by the new synapses whose patterns seem to be imprinted in the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex."

"Are you saying that Deanna will continue to have those abilities? How do you think that happened?" Will seemed to be more concerned than the patient was. Deanna was lost in her thoughts, appearing not to be paying any attention to the discussion around her, about her.

The doctor looked baffled; "I have no idea. It may have something to do with the planet itself or the exposure to Abeathdor's more powerful telepathic skills. I hope we have some answers before we leave Prakal." Both turned their attention to the counselor.

Deanna held one of the small hands in her own hand. The smaller fingers held on hers reflexively. She looked at the doctor, "Are you going to start now?"

"It would be less traumatic for her if I would; there would be no time for any apprehension. Let me prepare a hypospray for her, then we'll move her." Beverly left them in the chamber to prepare her equipment for the procedure.

Will watched Deanna with Solace, "The captain and I were discussing ways to capture Gringbald..." Will hesitated, it was his hesitation that drew Deanna's attention.

"Go on Will."

He knew when he looked at her; she understood why he would ask what he had to ask of her. "Deanna, because of Gringbald's interest in you, knowing he would react to you, your presence...would you be willing to go back down to the planet? You would not be alone; Worf, Data and myself would be there. We would not let anything happen to you."

She shuddered at the thought of meeting Gringbald again, but the request would not have been made if the captain had not thought it necessary. "Yes. I'll go back with you." She put her hand over his reassuringly. She knew that if this relationship were going to work, Will would need to know he could approach her with the responsibilities that fell into her area of expertise. She would do her job as a crewmember.

"When does the captain want us?" She asked knowing the answer would have to be soon.

He smiled down at her, "When we can persuade the good doctor to release you from her custody. Today, the latest tomorrow." Deanna's heart sunk at the thought of returning so soon, but she tried to let on to Will that it was no problem. The forced smile never reached her eyes; it barely touched her lips.

Doctor Crusher and a nurse entered, she went to administer the sedative and prepared to move Solace into surgery. Will volunteered, "I'll carry her, where are we moving her to?"

Beverly quickly covered her mild surprise by directing him; she stayed behind with Deanna for a moment. "This shouldn't take too long. I'll repair her vocal cords, then check the membranes in the ears. If she were an adult, we wouldn't need to put her to sleep, but considering everything, this would be the easiest and probably the kindest way. She'll wake up with a little bit of a scratch throat; otherwise she wouldn't know anything at all had happened. You'll be here with her, which should comfort her. Why not wait in my office."

Will met her in the office and handed her the report to read. "I have a meeting with the captain. I'll see you later." He kissed her lightly on the forehead before leaving.

The entire procedure took slightly under thirty minutes. Deanna read Will's report and began one of her own. When the doctor had finished she and Deanna sat together in her office catching up on the events of the past couple days. Deanna had just filled her in on their short but deadly stay in the palace, when Doctor Seler notified them that Solace was beginning to come out of the sedation..

When Solace opened her eyes, she immediately looked around her, instinctively knowing she was somewhere new. She searched for something or someone familiar, when she caught sight of Deanna and Beverly she began to relax.

< Hi there, did you have a good rest? You feel asleep looking at the stars, Will brought you back here. > Deanna thought/sent. Solace nodded, rubbing her throat.

"Would you like something to drink?" Beverly held up a glass with a straw in it ready for her to drink. The doctor aided her in the use of the straw, "Your throat may be a little sore now, but that will go away by tomorrow. I want you to make a humming noise, like this." Beverly demonstrated the sound. Solace looked at her suspiciously.

Deanna could sense the child's distrust, she thought/sent the same information Beverly had given, then held the child's hand to her own throat, then hummed. She could sense the child's reluctance.

< Solace, Doctor Beverly would never do anything to hurt you. I bet you didn't know that you will be able to make noises just like we do? You will be able to talk too, but you need to warm up to that, so we need to help you practice humming. What do you think, think you can do that if I do it with you? >Deanna had Beverly demonstrate the sound once more. Solace looked from one to the other, then holding out a hand to Deanna, for the empath to sit with her. Once seated beside the child, Solace stood on the bed to hold the empath's face looking intently into the counselor's eyes again seeming to read or look for something hidden in the dark pools. Once she had pulled back the counselor continued, "Sweetie, nothing is going to hurt you here, I wouldn't let it. Please try for us, okay?"

Solace thought about it, then put one small hand around her own throat and made a squeaky sound that almost passed for a hum. "Very good, can you practice for me? I need to talk to Beverly for a few minutes. I'll be right over there. You can see me from here." Deanna again verbalized, watching closely to see if Solace understood. The child nodded.

When the two women had gone a little distance, Deanna asked about the child's hearing. "I think she can hear, the membranes were thicker then they should have been. I thinned them, which should make a difference. Keep working with her."

"Beverly, I'd like to take Solace back to my quarters. I think we'd both rest better there."

"The only reason I'd let you go now is because I know you can't rest in sickbay without being sedated, so I'll permit it under two conditions."

Deanna smiled, "Okay, I think I can live with that, name them."

"You come in once a day for a neuro scan, so I can keep an eye on the patterns I found today. The information we gain may help in understanding more of the brain function in empaths with applications for telepaths. I want to make sure there is o set backs. Number two: you don't go back on duty until I release you. Okay?"

"Yes doctor, I'll do my best. You will know when I report back for duty." Deanna didn't look her in the eye, knowing she could well be back on the planet before the day was over.

They went back to find Solace practicing her squeaky hum. The sound was getting strong and slowly losing some of the squeak. "Guess what sweetie, we are going to my quarters. Where you will be living with me while you are here. Okay?" Deanna's enthusiasm quickly caught on. Solace jumped off the bed, grabbing hold of Deanna's hand.

They talked to Solace about the Enterprise and all she could see and do on a starship as they walked to Deanna's quarters. Solace walked between them, holding their hands looking from one to the other as each talked. When they stepped inside the quarters, Beverly watched the child as she walked around carefully touching things that were new to her.

"Deanna, why do you think she holds your face like that when you talk to her?" Beverly softly asked as they watched the small girl continue her adventure through the counselor's rooms.

Deanna smiled and shook her head, " I wonder if she may have understood Lagi different times when she mentioned about being able to read my eyes. I have been trying to get a sense of it. What I do get is that she is looking for an answer to her feelings. Like when you ask someone - Are you telling me the truth? She is looking to see that I am."

The door chime sounded at that moment. Solace looked directly at the door, surprised and a little alarmed. Beverly caught Deanna's eye as she went to Solace. "It's okay, that sounds means someone is outside. Look!" Beverly released the door. Will Riker entered to stand in front of Solace.

"Hello ladies, I brought something I think a certain young lady lost." He stooped down until he was almost at eye level with her. He had one hand hidden behind his back; slowly he brought the hand in front of him. He held out the closed hand to Solace, and slowly opened his fingers. In the palm of his hand was one of the little wooden figures of the lightfoot.

At first the child didn't touch it, she looked from his hand to his face. Her smile was warm and went from ear to ear. "I believe this is yours." He reached for her hand turned it so it was palm up, then placed the figurine in it. She hugged his neck. Will replied softly, "Your welcome."

Solace walked off with the prize to sit on the floor a short distance from everyone. "She may still be drowsy, I imagine she'll sleep well tonight." Beverly watched her a while longer. "Deanna, I don't envy the decisions you have yet to make. Things may get very complicated for you if she is returned to the planet."

Deanna sighed, "I really haven't given it a lot of thought, but I suppose being back with Rankeer would be best."

The three adults sat in the living room making sounds for Solace to imitate. She thoroughly enjoyed being the center of attention. She would make a noise then point to one of the adults to imitate her sound. They would guess what animal made that noise. She would smile when the others laughed at their own attempts. It wasn't long before she could hardly keep her small eyes open, after climbing up to sit between Deanna and Beverly, she laid her head on Deanna's lap, and closed her eyes.

Captain Picard's voice sounded, "Commander Riker, will inform the doctor and the counselor that there will be a senior officers meeting in one hour?"

Will looked at the expressions on the two women's faces before answering, "Aye sir, we'll be there."

Deanna looked down at the sleeping child. "Who can I get to stay with her? I can't leave her alone?"

"Let me talk to Guinan, she met Solace earlier in ten -forward." Will stood to leave then came back to where they were sitting. "Do you want me to put her to bed for you before I leave?" Deanna surprised nodded, helping to reposition the child's head so he could pick her up more easily. Then she followed him into the bedroom.

"We'll need another sleeping compartment. I'll see what I can do." He lowered the sleeping child into Deanna's bed, then stood back as she removed the shoes and covered her.

Deanna held the small hand and carefully opened the fingers to see the wooden animal still in clutched in the palm. She gently closed the fingers back and tucked the hand under the covers. She looked up at Will, "That was sweet of you to give her that. I think your timing was perfect. It helped smooth the road through this transition." Deanna kissed the sleeping child on the forehead, turned to see Will standing directly over her. She sighed, "Is there anyway we can be certain of her safety when it's time to return her to the planet? Is there some way to see to it?"

There is no guarantee on anything, you know that. We can se that they are well taken care of and we'll do all we can to secure Abeathdor's reign."

"Will we be going straight down to the planet after this meeting? If anything happens, Solace will be looked after, you'll take care of that?" Deanna's eyes pleaded with his own.

"Nothing is going to happen." He gathered her in his arms. "Why would you even think that? This will be the easy part, we will be back her before you know it" He paused to hug her to him, he thought how fragile she felt in his arms. "Deanna, you really aren't up to this yet are you?" he didn't wait for her reply but led her back to where Beverly was waiting.

"What's wrong?" She could tell by the look on Will's face that something was not right.

"Would you take a look at her, Doctor. I don't know that anything is wrong, I just want to make sure."

"I'd rather do this in sickbay where my equipment is. Deanna, do you feel there is something wrong?"

"I'm fine, just a little tired."

"Why don't you let Beverly take you to sickbay, I'll contact Guinan from here. I'll wait until she comes. I'll meet you in either sickbay or the observation lounge. " Will walked them to the door, leaving no room for debate.

When the two left he communicated with Guinan. She sat in Deanna's quarters for fifteen minutes after receiving Will's request. She was surprised by their following conversation, a condition she was had almost forgotten was possible to feel in dealing with humans

Deanna looked over her shoulder to see Will watching them from her doorway. She saw him turn and reenter and her door slide shut. "Is it my imagination or do you think Will was a little pushy back there."

"He's just concerned. This mission may have unnerved him a bit, at least where you are concerned. I know it had unnerved me, and I find it hard to believe you were unaffected by it." Beverly caught the frown on the counselor's face, deciding a change of topic was needed she asked, "I think Solace is doing well. It shouldn't be long until she's behaving like any other four year old."

"I don't think she'll ever be a four year old, she's like a miniature adult in many ways, but I look forward to seeing a little more of the child in her."

They reached sickbay to find the captain waiting for them. "I understand the counselor is not fully recovered?"

"I'm fine." Deanna wondered what Will had told him and why. She could only sense concern from the captain.

"That's why we are here, to make sure there is no other problems. I would be concerned if she wasn't showing signs of exhaustion." Beverly talked as she escorted the counselor to a biobed and began running a tricorder over her.

"I expect a report at our meeting, Doctor. In the mean time do what needs to be done for the counselor's health and well being."

After the captain left, Beverly stopped what she was doing and turned to Deanna and demanded, "What is going on? Are they trying to send you back to the damn planet? Is that what all this fuss is about? I'm not going to permit it. You are not ready for that kind of exertion yet, not physically and not emotionally. They have no idea what that last trip was like for you."

Counselor Troi did not need her empathic skills to feel that frustration and wrath flowing off the doctor, the skill she had allowed her to be buffeted by wave after waver of the emotions. Deanna closed her eyes to try to withdraw to begin centering herself, and to give Beverly time to do the same.

The doctor finished the examination without saying another word. When Deanna could sense her mood change she opened her eyes. Beverly was watching her, she held her PADD out for Deanna to look at. She took the PADD from the doctor. "Do you see the vital signs? Now look at the brain activity chart. What do these results tell you? Come on, you've had enough medical training to understand this." Beverly waited, watching Deanna's reaction, she knew Deanna understood the possible ramifications.

"So I'm fighting an infection, we knew that."

"Tie in the brain activity What do you have?" Beverly's anger rarely came out in loud angry shouts, she maintained a quiet tone, like now. Most times it was the quiet anger that was the worst to be accosted with. She didn't wait for Deanna's answer, but continued with her diagnosis. "It could be a form of meningitis." She waited, now she did see the other woman show a shocked expression. "It isn't but it could have been. I'm trying to tell you that you have to take care of yourself. It is most likely a combination of the virus you were infected with ant the effect of prolonged use of the neuroblockers."

The two women were the last to arrive at the meeting. Everyone was seated and waiting. "Doctor, Counselor," Picard acknowledged their arrival. "It has been decided that to install Abeathdor to her throne, we must take Gringbald and Zylon out of the picture. We could set a trap for him; we would need something that would draw his attention. What ever the trap is - it will need to have a powerful pull on him. Remember we need to take Gringbald and Zylon. We know little of each of them. What we have learned is that Zylon is the sadistic torturer that held the queen. We know Gringbald is a shape shifter, not a native to this planet. We have reason to believe neither is empathic.

"We have concluded that the most effective trap would include the counselor." Captain Picard paused, and waited attentively for a comment. The doctor was clearly going to object. The counselor showed no reaction. He continued, "To adequately protect the counselor, we need to understand why Gringbald has developed such an interest. Deanna, what can you sense of his feelings toward you."

Captain, I have had a difficult time sensing him at all. What I do sense is mostly a curiosity. I feel he was testing me with his demands. I have no reason as to why he would do that."

Picard looked sharply at her, "What demands? Give me an example."

"When he took me to the room at the palace he demanded I walk into the room. When I stopped he said I would be in that room on my own or with help. Then later he demanded I change into one of the outfits he supplied. I ignored him; he didn't press it until later when he brought Solace, he repeated that demand. When I ignored it a second time, he still didn't pursue it. Now in looking back, I can see that with each demand he tacked on a threat of being physically forced to comply with the demand. He never asked that I do something it was always a demand."

Picard's interest was aroused; he was beginning to wish the meeting had not included all the senior officers. If he could feel the discomfort from Crusher and Riker, Troi would certainly be aware of it. He asked the question he needed the answer to. "You did what he wanted though, in the end?"

"I obviously went into the room. I believe he would have had me carried in. I did change clothes, but that was later and for my own comfort. He didn't see the result of the change."

"Doctor, do we still have the clothing the counselor was wearing when she was brought into sickbay?"

"Yes, Captain, we kept everything to be analyzed. It is in a decontaminate analyzer. We were looking for information on the virus."

"Have you the results from you analysis?"

"It won't be complete for another two hours." Beverly paused, glanced at Commander Riker, then the counselor before asking, "Captain, when are you planning this return?"

"I was getting to that Doctor. It would appear that to be most effective it has to happen very soon. We have lost forty-eight hours since the counselor's return; it can't wait much longer. The plan we've worked up and found to have the best chance of succeeding quickly includes the counselor returning to that same room in the palace, dressed as she was with the now redesigned arm band. We will have the band functional as a communicator. There will be people within transporting to her at all times. Hopefully the interest in her still exists. If it does, this will certainly peak it. Both men need to be captured on this mission. There will be little chance for another try without involving innocent bystanders. I want this wrapped up quickly." The captain looked at the counselor then back to the doctor, "Is there a medical reason this can not happen now, doctor?"

Beverly caught Deanna's eye; she tried to imagine what she wanted for an answer. Beverly knew going back down had to cause some anxiety for the counselor, but Deanna never let her know exactly how she felt about it. She turned her attention back to Picard. "I don't want her to go back down there now or later. The results from the examination I just completed prove that she has not fully recovered from her previous visit. She is still fighting some of the after effects of the virus. She is emotionally and physically exhausted."

"At what point do you think she would be able to help us? If you had to give me a time frame, Doctor?"

"I would like another twenty-four hours." Beverly knew that was not acceptable, but she had her own purpose for that answer.

Picard looked to his first in command, then answered; "We need to move much quicker than that for this plan to work."

Deanna interrupted, "Captain, perhaps eight hours of rest would be all I needed. That would make it possible to have the clothing and the armband prepared, and the medical routines done. If that would give Doctor Crusher more time to do what she needs." Deanna looked at Beverly for an affirmation on the revised plan.

The doctor was surprised by the counselor's remark, only because that was exactly what she had in mind. First she wanted the captain to appreciate the fact that Deanna shouldn't be going at all, but if needs be they could work it out. Apparently Deanna was still excelling in her telepathic skills. The doctor answered the captain; "Yes eight hours of rest would be very helpful. That would mean at the minimum of twelve hours until the next away team leaves."

"Very well, Mr. Worf, LaForge and Data will work with Commander Riker on the security details. Doctor will you have Counselor Troi at sickbay?"

"No, I'll work with her in her quarters where she can rest and further recuperate."

"Good. Counselor, if anything else develops, you and the doctor will let me know right away. If for any reason you feel you are not up to this, I want to know."

Deanna answered quickly, "Captain, I'm sure I'll be ready, thank you." She knew the doctor was watching her, she also knew without looking at her, she would have on her face the bemused expression she frequently wore when someone behaved in a manner she expected them to behave in.

After the meeting was over Beverly waved to her telling Deanna she would meet her in her quarters later. The counselor nodded then walked to the turbo-lift, as she entered she became aware of someone hurrying to enter behind her. She spun to se Will as he slipped in before the doors closed.

"I'll see you to your quarters." He gave direction to the computer, watching her with raised eyebrows. She had to smile back, knowing exactly what was going through his mind. "Computer halt." The turbo-lift came to a stop at his command.

Deanna went to him, putting her arms around him; she gazed up into his eyes.

"It seems we never have a moment alone. How do you really feel about going down? You don't have to go. We can find another alternative."

"I just want to get it over with." Her gaze never wavered. He lowered his lips to touch hers. Their reactions surprised them both.

Breathlessly he pulled away, "How much rest did Beverly say you needed?"

Deanna laughed, "I'm not feeling so tired anymore, but I don't think they'll let us keep the turbo-lift and Beverly is probably already at my quarters."

He smiled down at her, pulling her closer he said, "Then we'll just have to make due for now." As he again lowered his head and they resumed their previous activity.

Suddenly the captain's voice was heard, "Number One, if there are no mechanical problems, and you and the counselor have finished, the turbo-lift has other uses..." His voice sounding stern and a bit bemused.

"Understood, sir. Computer resume."

They laughed in each other's arms, then pulled apart to look business like as the doors opened on the counselor's deck. They both had the look of getting caught at something when the doors opened and the two found themselves looking at the captain and the doctor.


"Number One, I have a meeting with Abeathdor in thirty minutes. Your presence would be most appreciated. Counselor, I need you to get some rest and to be well." He entered the turbo lift the had just left, "Will, thirty minutes."

Beverly, Will and Deanna entered the counselor's quarters to find Guinan sitting on the floor talking with Solace. When the child caught sight of Deanna she was up and running nearly throwing herself into the counselor's arms. Deanna swung her up to hold her close; Solace again looked into her eyes. This time she did not find what she had sought and found the previous times, she encircled the counselor's neck with her arms and cried. The three adults looked at each other in surprise. Will and Beverly searched Deanna's face looking for whatever it was Solace had found.

Deanna carried the crying child back to her bedroom to try to comfort her. She was sitting on the edge of the bed holding Solace, who had quieted now, though continuing to hold on to her with a surprising fierceness. The counselor talked soothingly to her, reassuring her that all was well. She sat Solace up to look into her face.

"Have I done something to upset you? I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke-up. I had a meeting to go to. There are going to be times when I have to be away from you to do my job. I won't stay away any longer then I need, I'll be back as soon as I can. I never leave to go away from you. It's part of my job here on this ship." She whispered, "Sweetie, I love you, I wouldn't do anything to hurt you." The breath caught in her throat, the words had come out so naturally, surprising her. She had made the decision not to get too attached to the little girl, for fear of making their parting all that much more difficult when the time cam. She told herself it was for the sake of Solace that she would remain somewhat detached, in her heart she knew it was as much for herself as for the child.

Solace was sitting facing hr, straddling Deanna lap with a small leg on either side of the counselor, she laid her head against Deanna, all the while the counselor continued talking to her soothingly, lightly rubbing and patting her back as she talked. She was telling Solace about all the things they could do together once she finished doing her job and returned.

When Deanna could no longer sense the child's emotions she tilted the small head to see that Solace had gone to sleep. She carefully eased her down onto the bed and covered her. Deanna noticed Will leaning against the doorframe watching her.

"Beverly's waiting to give you a hypospray of God-knows-what, and the captain is waiting on me. I expect I may have to make some explanations as it is, so I guess I'll see you later. Get some rest." He held her to give her a quick good night kiss, but they again found themselves pulling breathlessly apart.

"We need to be discreet, for now." Deanna warned.

"We need privacy and soon, Mrs. Riker." Will smiled down at her as his hands gently caressed her shoulders. He looked longingly into her eyes, then pulled her to him for one more kiss, "Sweet dreams, Imzadi." He whispered before leaving her. She suddenly felt chilled, bereft of the warmth his arms provided.

Deanna stopped to check her appearance in the mirror, shrugged then headed toward the living room area. Beverly and Guinan stopped talking as she entered.


Beverly smiled at the defensive attitude that was out of character for the counselor. "Guinan was telling me about her visit with Solace."

"She's quite a child, and she's thoroughly taken with you. I don't believe she is interested in returning to the planet. Is there a home for her to return to?" Deanna always welcomed Guinan's opinions and the hostess generally felt free enough to voice them.

"I believe there are people who care about her there, an older brother and Lagi. I will be in touch with Rankeer soon." Deanna's eyes narrowed as she looked closer at Guinan, "Go on. You have something to say, I'm interested in hearing it."

Guinan smiled, "Do you notice that she doesn't seem to miss anyone except you, when you 're not in her sight?"

"That's only because she is out of her element here, and she knows me."

"I have to agree with Guinan, I think it's more than that. Did you see her reaction when you stepped in? What was all that about when she looked into her face? That usually calms her, tonight it upset her. Do you think she could read from your expression that you were leaving tomorrow without her?" Beverly was intrigued with the odd behavior.

"That was strange. I don't know what she saw or thought she saw, but it does concern me. She may actually have some empathic skills of her own." This was the first time Deanna had even considered the possibility of Solace having such skills.

Guinan continued, "If that were true, how would it be accepted on Prakal?"

"I'm not sure. Rankeer is really only an adolescent himself, I'm not sure he could handle it. I think once Abeathdor is returned to her position as queen, Lagi will have her own agenda."

"Deanna, you are probably as close to having a mother as that child is going to see. I know you haven't know her long, but what else does she have." Beverly had leaned forward to lay a hand on the counselor's arm.

"That's somewhat exaggerated Beverly, I haven't even spent a full twenty-four hours with her yet. What are you suggesting that I adopt her? This is not a pet we are talking about. I'm not sure I'm capable of being a good mother to this child. Besides, I would imagine there would be an infinite amount of preparation involved in adopting a child like that- both from Starfleet and Prakal." Deanna became silent, but her mind was racing; how would Will feel about such a thing. They had waited a long time for the relationship to progress to the depth it had now seemed to settle in. How would Captain Picard feel about a senior officer who had quietly married another senior officer, now adopting a child from a fairly hostile world: who may -or may not be capable of empathic skills? How could she manage all these new curves in her road and still remain in the driver's seat with her own life?"

Counselor Troi sat shaking her head, unaware the other tow women were watching her and waiting to be left in on the conversation she was having with herself.

Finally the doctor offered, "Deanna, it is something you need to be aware of, an option you might want to give some thought to. Guinan and I will take turns staying with Solace while you are away. I'll be checking in with them too."

It's been a long time since I've been around a child that young. I forgot how enjoyable children could be. Solace is a joy; she is a bright child. Counselor, I don't think you are aware of the trust she has invested in you. Well, it's getting late; I'll go so you can prepare for you trip. Counselor, Doctor, I'll see you back here in about ten hours. Goodnight."

Deanna watched as the woman made her leave of them. Guinan always had another sense about her, not necessarily empathic sense - but more of omnipresence. The counselor marveled at the conclusions Guinan came to in such a short amount of time spent with Solace.

Beverly opened the medkit to prepare the hypospray, then paused. Deanna looked up at her seeing the humor in the doctor's eyes asked, "Okay, what are you finding so humorous?"

She asked the question she had been curious about ever since they returned from the meeting. "What I want to know is- what was going on in the turbolift? The captain was notified that a turbolift was between decks for twenty minutes. The computer identified the occupants, until he looked at me, I thought Will may have enlightened him about your relationship." Beverly's face mirrored the humor she saw in the episode.

Deanna could feel her cheeks get warm. "We were talking."

Beverly knew there had to be more and she was not going to allow the ship's counselor to get away with it unscathed. "AND..."

"Well it was a private moment. The only one we've had to even discuss anything."

"Come on, you weren't discussing anything there. If you could have seen your face when the doors opened!" Beverly laughed hard; harder that Deanna had seen her laugh in what seemed a long time.

"Well I'm glad you enjoyed it!"

"And I hope you enjoyed it too Counselor!" Beverly reached to deliver the hypospray to Deanna's neck. "Go to bed. I'll be here for awhile, I want to check on the progress of the medication I just delivered before I leave. At least Solace will have you near before you go."

The counselor went to the bed now occupied by the small girl. She changed into a comfortable nightgown, then crawled under the comforter. It wasn't long until Solace curled up against her. Deanna wondered again about the possibility of the child being empathic. It was the last thing going through her mind before falling asleep.

The doctor checked in on them once more, she found Deanna on her side with an arm around the child curled up in front of her. Beverly ran her tricorder over them to be sure the hypospray was working. Content with the results, she went to her own quarters for a restful night.

Will met with Abeathdor, Worf and Data after the earlier meeting with the captain. He stopped at the captain's quarters to update him on the subsequent gathering. After covering the finer points with the captain, he hesitated.

"Number One, is there something wrong?" Picard knew his officers enough to know when their behavior was out of the ordinary.

"Sir, I regard you not only as my captain, but I also have come to know and trust you as a friend." Again the hesitation.

"Will, sit down, would you like tea or something?" The captain thought that by the look on his first officer's face he himself might need something.

"Ah...not thank you sir." Will waited until the captain had his tea and was again seated before continuing. "Sir, there are some things I left out of my report, not to deceive you. They entailed something of a personal issue and involved another crew member." He paused again.

"Will would it be easier if we started with the report you did give me, then we can fill in the other details."

Commander Riker described the finding of Lepton, the splitting of the away team. He described the chase for Abeathdor, the capture of Data and himself. When he reached the part about the empty camp area where the doctor and counselor were, but then had left; Will noticed the captain seemed to become a little more alert. This was the first time he had heard about the incident with the lightfoot, and Lagi's drink. Will continued the story with the women getting caught and put on display. He paused ..hesitating on how next to explain the exiting circumstances.

"Go on Will, I'm sorry I missed seeing this in person. Please, by all means, continue." The captain was smiling.

"To have the women released to us, someone had to show proof of ownership and marriage. I had concocted a story about my brother and I going fishing and lonesome wives came hunting us. I didn't have the papers with me because I didn't think I needed them. To make a long story short, Deanna and I were married. It wasn't a ceremony, more of documentation with witnesses. I have the papers." Will stopped and watched for the captain's reaction.

"I'd like to see those papers. Are you telling me that you want it annulled, or do you want to know if it is binding and want the marriage respected?"

"If the union is legally binding, we want it respected."

"I see, that shouldn't be hard to find out. Abeathdor and I are having breakfast tomorrow with Doctor Crusher. Stop back at my quarters tonight with the paperwork. You know you will have further documentation of the union to do for Starfleet?" Picard thought now he understood the turbolift incident.

"Yes Captain, that will be no problem...there is one other item."

Now Picard did look surprised. "More? What else have you left out of the report, Number One?"

"What would our chances be of keeping Solace here with us?"

"Ah...I've heard she have become very dependent on the counselor. She has no family on the planet?"

"Her family consists of one teenage brother and a band of what they refer to as waste people. They all live like refuges. Deanna has developed very strong feelings for her. She fears for the life the child would have on the planet. I have to say I share that fear after having seen the life she has had up until now."

"I'll speak with Abeathdor about it. As far as the Enterprise is concerned, I believe we can work it out. What about the brother, would he also be joining us?"

"I don't know sir, he was pretty badly injured by Gringbald's men during one of their attacks on the waste people."

"Nasty business. Allow me to take care of these items for now. Perhaps you and the counselor would like to make a stop at Fallscity after we wrap up the mission. Talk with the brother and find out his feelings on the subject. I'll talk with Abeathdor about both items."

Will nodded looking relieved as he got to his feet. "Thank you sir."


Riker stopped and turned back to look at his captain, "Yes sir?"

"Congratulations it's about time."

His face split into a huge all encompassing smile, "Thank you sir." Will stepped outside into the corridor and took a deep breath. He had hated omitting parts of the report tot he captain, but now that he had taken care of speaking him all he wanted to do was go to Deanna and.....Solace, he had temporarily forgotten the child. He would have to get Geordi to work on the other bedroom for the child as soon as they had the matter on the planet taken care of.

Deanna awoke first, her arm still around Solace, who still appeared to still be sleep. Deanna slowly and carefully eased away from the sleeping child. She opened her hand; the one that had been wrapped around the child's shoulders, there nestled in the palm was the carved lightfoot. She looked at the child. Solace was now awake and watching her. The counselor lay back down beside her, pulling her close she whispered, "What is this? Did you put this in my hand?"

Solace nodded yes. She could sense the child's emotions, just as last night Solace was afraid Deanna wasn't coming back. The carving was to work it's magic as it did before, Deanna would return with the carving. "I don't nee this to return. I have you to come back to. No matter how far I am from you, I won't stop caring." Deanna could sense that nothing she said had convinced the child. "Sweetie, if it will make you feel better, I'll take it along. Okay?" She kissed the small cheek and held her for a few reassuring moments, when she moved to get up Solace held on to her, putting a hand on each side of the empath's face she looked into Deanna's eyes. This time apparently Solace found what she was looking for; she smiled and laid her cheek against Deanna's. The door chimed, before Deanna could stop her, Solace jumped out of bed and made for the door. She drug a chair over to the release button allowing the doors to slid open.

Beverly was surprised to see it was Solace that opened the door. The child smiled at the doctor and moved for her to enter.

Deanna stood back and watched.

"My, you're up early. Did you sleep well?"

Solace nodded her head. "Is Deanna up yet? She's not in bed yet is she?" Beverly had seen her standing near the bedroom door. The doctor was trying to learn how much Solace understood and how well she could vocalize an answer.

The child padded over to Deanna, taking her by the hand let her to the doctor. Deanna smiled, "Good morning, Doctor Beverly, how are you today?"

"I'm fine. You two look as though you had a good night's sleep. I'll find out exactly how you are when I examine you. I've brought a replicated copy of the outfit you had on when we beamed you back." Beverly handed it to the counselor. "Let me check you two over now. It will only take a few minutes."

Deanna looked at Solace. "The doctor wants us. Who should go first? You or me?"

The child looked surprised by the question. She gave the answer Deanna expected from her; she pointed to the counselor. Her expression an anticipatory smile as she watched to see if the counselor would accept that.

"Okay, Beverly, I'll go first. Where do you want to do this?" Deanna smiled, as Solace looked relieved.

"Sit on the bed, that would be the easiest." They went into the bedroom where Deanna followed the doctor's instructions. Solace accompanied them sitting cross-legged watching everything. Then as she became more and more curious, she would move closer to see what the doctor was doing. Sometimes she got in the way, so that Beverly would be getting readings from her rather than Deanna. She had Solace hold the tricorder for her while she read the results.

"Good, a healthy improvement over the last examination. I can't keep you here -no matter what I personally think." Beverly looked at Solace standing next to her still holding the tricorder. "Okay young lady, you are next." Beverly regained possession of the tricorder. She sat beside Deanna as they talked about the results. When she was ready for caught Deanna's eye, Solace was standing behind the counselor, leaning into her back while playing in the bountiful hair.

"I believe that is typical of a four year old." Beverly said loud enough just for Deanna, then to Solace, "I don't know, do you think Deanna needs a haircut? You hold her and I'll get the hair cutters."

Solace shook her head no, then wrapped her arms protectively around Deanna's neck, putting her chin on the counselor's shoulder. Deanna patted the small arms, then pulled her around to sit on her lap, wrapping her own arms around the child, she whispered in the small ear, "Doctor Beverly is kidding you. Don't you think she's being very silly."

Solace nodded her head then for the first time answered verbally, "Yesss." It was not much, but it was a beginning. She was rewarded with a hug and a kiss from the counselor.

"Okay, sweetie, it's your turn." Deanna sat Solace beside her. "I'll get a bath ready for Solace and change into the outfit."

"I can see to that, you're running out of time Deanna. Solace will be fine with me. Guinan should be here soon too."

"No, I'll see to the bath, it shouldn't take long." Deanna had begun the water as she freshened up and dressed.

When the doctor had finished wit the exam; Solace timidly walked into the bathroom. "Come on, you'll enjoy this, I know I do." Deanna had a large amount of bubbles in the bath. It was clear by the girl's expression that this was new to her. Deanna undressed her, then lifted the child to put her into the water. Solace latched on to the counselor, with no intention of going into the water alone.

"Okay, let's try this another way." Deanna put her down beside the tub and wrapped a towel around her slight body. She leaned over the tub, gathered a handful of bubbles, and then blew them into the water. Solace watched, her eyes got big with each handful.

Beverly looked in, "A challenge at each turn, that's what having children is all about. You can become quite inventive when you have to. It will be good for you, a part to grow into."

Deanna looked at the child and winked, then turned to Beverly and blew the next handful of bubbles on her. No one heard the chime at the door, so Guinan let herself in. she followed the noise to the bathroom to find two adult women and one child throwing and blowing bubbles, all three were laughing. The floor and the two dressed adults were all displaying many wet spots. The driest object in the room was the small naked child running around between the adults with a washcloth on her head.

The door chimed again, Guinan said to no one in particular, "I'll get it." She turned to go to the door when Will Riker met her in the doorway to the bathroom.

"What's going on?" He looked at Guinan then around her to the source of the noise. At that moment everyone seemed to notice each other. There was a deafening silence.

Deanna picked up Solace and got her into the tub, trying not to laugh. Solace saw through it and put a soapy hand up to the counselor's mouth, setting off another round of laughter from the participants.

"Ladies, I'll wait out here." Will and Guinan walked back tot he living room. He looked at her with raised eyebrows.

She smiled, "You have to admit things have gotten a lot livelier."

"They have, haven't they." He shared a conspirator's smile with her.

Beverly joined them carrying a tray with cups and hot coffee. "Deanna and Solace will be out in a few minutes. They're having a discussion about this trip down to the planet."

Will went back toward the bedroom, where he could hear Deanna's voice. "Dr. Beverly and Guinan will be here with you until Will and I return. I'll come back as soon as I can, and I'll bring this little guy back with me." She held up the figure of the lightfoot. "When I get back we'll do something special, you think of something you would like to do, okay?"

Will looked in to see the counselor holding the child. The two looked very serious, Solace like she was on the verge of tears. Deanna's voice had in it the quality Will had come to recognize as being present whenever the counselor was battling her own emotions. He watched as she hugged the child.

He walked in, carefully took Solace out of Deanna's arms, holding her up too look at her he said, "I'll take good care of her for you Solace, I promise. Go on in with the doctor. I'll help Deanna get ready to go." He put her down. The child stayed looking at them.

"It's okay sweetie, I'll be there in a minute." She looked intently at Deanna before turning and going in to join the doctor.

Will took Deanna's hands to pull her to her feet. He looked her over walking behind her then back. "That's an interesting outfit, one of Gringbald's?"

She watched him not allowing herself to smile, "Yes."

His eyes held the spark that she knew so well, "Turn around." She turned around to see him smiling. "I think you should keep this one." His effort at looking innocent was totally lost.

"Only if you wear it the next time. You would look good in a backless uniform, maybe I should suggest it as a first officer's dress uniform." She returned his false innocent look.

He relaxed and smiled; at least that hurt sound was missing in her voice. He pulled her close and escorted her into the room with the others. Solace left her place beside Beverly and came to stand in front of Deanna. The counselor stooped down to see what the child wanted. Solace hugged her again and returned to her place with the doctor.

Will took his cue from that, "Well ladies, we'll see you later. Hopefully this shouldn't take too long." Will kept his arm around Deanna's waist not allowing her to deviate from the course he set to the door. The last good-byes were quick and painless.

Little was said as they made their way to the transporter room. When they arrived it was all too evident the others had been waiting for awhile.

Chapter 25

"You are late." Worf was never hid his impatience well.

Will and Deanna took their places on the transporter platform. The ensign at the console, stopped setting co-ordinates, "Sirs, the captain is on his way and asked that we delay beam down until his arrival."

Data was looking intently at the counselor's hair, he moved to poke his finger at something then looked closer. Will moved to see what had caught the android's eye, seeing the Deanna squirm under such observation. The commander smiled, "That is why we were late, the counselor was involved in a bubble battle with the doctor and child." He tried to and came close to carrying Worf's tone of the perturbed Klingon.

Worf looked at the counselor, then in a conciliatory tone said, "Understood." When Deanna turned her back on him Worf added in a more appreciative voice, "Nice outfit."

Will had gone back to the control console with Data and Ensign Stutter to check some of the co-ordinates for the beam down. This trip would involve several sets to allow them to move quickly from one site to the next. They would all beam tot he secure room where Deanna and Solace were held, make some adjustments to the room to give the false impression of the counselor's return, then they would split. Data would remain in the communications room in the palace; Geordi, Worf and the commander would beam to the power station to make a few alternations in the power grid. This time they would not be locked out, their communications and transporter would all be working.

Worf startled Deanna out of her thoughts, "Counselor, I have found some of Alexander's playthings, perhaps there may be something there the child would like."

"Thank you Worf, that's very thoughtful. I'm not sure how long Solace will be staying with me. Thank you for thinking of her." Deanna saw the Klingon exchange a look with the commander, then turn away. She had been sensing that Will was going to great lengths to conceal something from her, she decided to let it go for now and not infringe on his privacy. She trusted him enough to allow that if it involved her, he would eventually talk with her about it. Besides, there would be time later to get to the bottom of what ever was going on, right now she needed to stay focused on what was happening in regard to their mission.

Everyone had relaxed a bit waiting on the captain to stop, Deanna found she had a hard time relaxing, getting this trip to the planet was all consuming- the rest of life was waiting for the conclusion of their mission.

Captain Picard and Abeathdor now entered the transporter room. "Commander, a word please before you go." Will glanced at Deanna trying to read her expression, to see if she knew what was on the captain's mind. The captain pulled him aside to speak privately, leaving Abeathdor to stand alone. Deanna made her way over to the queen to speak with her.

"Deanna, it is good to see you are fully recovered. I must apologize that you may have suffered the dangers of my home."

"Please, you have nothing to apologize for, I've met a wonderful child and I think those of us who faced those things together have developed a closer bond of friendship."

"Yes, I've been asked by Captain Picard about the legality of the contract of marriage between you and Commander Riker." She could tell from her own telepathic skills, that this was not something Deanna expected to hear about.

Deanna tried to cover her surprise, "Your Majesty, what have you found?"

"It was properly documented, as is the law on my planet. I have also signed it attesting to its validity. Now, whether or not it is observed on the Enterprise is not within my jurisdiction. In other words you two may have that choice." Abeathdor was about to ask which direction Deanna was considering but thought it would wait. She found the relationship between the two to be very intriguing.

Will and Captain Picard joined them. "I talked with Doctor Crusher, she says there are no physical reasons you should not go. Are you up to this Counselor?"

"Yes, Captain."

"Good. Then perhaps we had better not hesitate. Number One, you have your plan of action?"

"Yes Sir." Will noted the look he had been getting from the counselor, and was slightly distracted by it.

"All subdermal communicators have been activated? The arm band? Good. I'll be monitoring you closely from my ready room." Picard escorted Abeathdor over to the console where he gave the "energize" directive.

The five on the platform shimmered and disappeared. "What amazing technology, Captain. I am truly envious of your superior advancement into the worlds of science and health. We seem to squander time, energy and resources on self destruction when we could be curing diseases and going to the stars." Abeathdor sadly shook her head.

"Your Highness, it is never too late to make advancement. You know what is behind you, so you look ahead. We'll do all we can to aid you in overcoming the past. You will have to make the decision to take the step into the future."

They left the transporter room to visit the only other Prakalian aboard the Enterprise

When the chime sounded, Solace flew from the table where she and Beverly had been sitting, to get to the door. Beverly thought it would be Guinan returning she was surprised to see Picard and Abeathdor.

"Hello Solace." Picard looked for and found Beverly.

"Captain, Your Highness, please come in. Can I get you some tea?" Beverly knew of the captain's discomfort with children and was trying to circumvent it, surmising it would easily be detected by not only Abeathdor but certainly by Solace.

"Doctor, something else has-a-come up, and quite frankly I'm not sure how to handle it." He certainly looked ill at ease.

Abeathdor went over to sit beside Solace. "Please, I would like to come to know this young lady."

Beverly introduced them; each sat smiling at her introduction. She listened as Abeathdor talked to Solace asking her questions about her home. When asked about family, Solace didn't answer, but looked at Beverly. The doctor filled the queen in on the waste people and the brother that was still in Fallscity. She told her of the child's communication with Deanna and suggested that, should Abeathdor be interested, Solace would probably welcome that communication with her.

The door chimed again, Solace had now taken on the responsibility of opening the doors, a chair had been left beside the door for that very purpose. She stood expectantly in front of the door, when it opened the child moved back to wave her arm as if saying come in. A gesture Beverly had seen Deanna use quite frequently among close associates.

Guinan greeted her, asking if she had now finished eating breakfast. Solace nodded her head. She chose to sit between Guinan and Beverly.

"I can see that our little guest is going to be well taken care of during the counselor's absence." Picard looked from Guinan to the doctor. "Which brings me back to the purpose of my visit. Partly to introduce Abeathdor to Solace; if need be I thought Abeathdor could communicate with the child as the counselor had done."

"The second reason has to do with one piece of news I greet with great trepidation." The captain paused as though just by saying it the terrible truth would materialize before them. "I have just received word that Deanna's mother, Lwaxana Troi, is about to pay us a visit. She is due to arrive later today. I think we're all aware of the special circumstances existing right now concerning the counselor. I want to make certain that none of us accidentally let slip any information regarding those circumstances. The child may serve as a distraction, however, I can foresee fireworks even there. We need to be as supportive as possible for the counselor. We all know how these visits tend to go."

Guinan noticed Solace going off to the bedroom. She followed to find the child holding one pillow and crying into another. "Hey little one, what is so bad that you have to come in here all alone to cry?"

Solace looked up at her; the blue eyes were filled with tears. Guinan sat beside her taking a small hand; "Did you hear us talking about Deanna?"

Solace bobbed her head. "Sometimes when we want to help someone we get together to decide how. You see, Deanna's mother is coming to visit. She doesn't know about the planet, and that you and Deanna had gotten very sick. We're trying to decide if we should tell her." Guinan watched the child's reactions, "Why don't you and I go for a walk? There are many things here you haven't seen yet." She stood holding out her hand; Solace looked up at her face, then slowly took the offered hand.

When they entered the living area with the adults Guinan explained, "Excuse us, we're going for a sight-seeing expedition. If anyone would like to join us, they are welcomed." No one made a move, so the hostess and the child walked out into the corridor in search of new discoveries.

Chapter 26a

On Prakal the arrival of yet another away team from the Enterprise almost went completely unnoticed. If the counselor had had a subdermal communicator instead of the armband their arrival would not have interested anyone.

It was the day before Gringbald was to be crowned king. Preparations were in high gear. The palace was crawling with people, the majority were guards, intermingled with a much smaller number of guests and dignitaries from the other continents on the planet.

Gringbald and Zylon were meeting to discuss the disappearance of Commander Troi and the child, it had been nearly three days and not a trace of either had been found. She had to be on the planet. As long as Troi had the armband on she could not be transported. The child however could have been retrieved by the starship. That would have worked right into Zylon's plan.

Gringbald wanted Troi and would have her, if she still lived. When they examined the room they found that she had changed clothes and evidence that the child may have been ill. Which didn't affect Gringbald at all, as long as Troi hadn't fallen victim to the illness. If she continued to defy Gringbald her life could become a bit more tenuous. She may well end up dead, one way or another. On the other hand, if she co-operated she would live a prosperous life with him; one with everything she could ever want. Gringbald's plan needed her alive for now, but there was no certainty, plans could be altered and have been in the recent past.

A man in uniform ran into the room, at his entrance their conversation abruptly ended. "Sir, we found traces of the iamic compound from the subspace deflector."


"Here in the palace. In the secured room. We don't know how she got back."

Gringbald was out of the chair and holding the man by his shirt. "Are you sure? Did you check for occupancy?"

"Yes sir, I am sure. There is one occupant in that room. Life monitors pick up a single occupant." The man's face had turned an ugly shade of magenta, only then did Gringbald relax his grip on the messenger. The man fled from before him.

"I want that occupant brought here. NOW!" Gringbald spoke to Zylon, "It must be Troi, who else would be wearing the energy reflector?"

"It could be a trap. I'll see to it myself." Zylon began to leave the room, then turned back to his master. "What will you do with her, if it is Commander Troi? Are you going on with your plans?"

"I have every intention of fulfilling my plans. Bring her to me...and Zylon, I don't want a hair on her head touched. Do you understand me?"

Zylon spun on his heel and left the room. He took a contingent of six men up to that secured room. They approached the room as though they were completing a military drill, rather then the act of retrieving a single unarmed woman.

Gringbald knew the occupant would be Troi. It had to be. He waited a long time for this plan to be completed. Ever since that first away team attended the banquet he had schemed for this.

The door opened, three of the men sprinted through the door with weapons drawn seeking the enemy. Commander Deanna Troi stood alone, making no move. She could sense their approach and the ambivalence from Zylon. Her training warned her of his eagerness for an excuse for violence, she would give him none. Zylon approached her; he roughly grabbed her arm to look at the band. Then still holding her by that arm pulled her from the room. They were escorted down the stairs.

Zylon spoke to her only after they arrived at their destination, "You will not find the comfort here that was previously allowed you, nor will you be allotted the previous courtesies." He opened the door shoving her in, the door closed quickly behind her. She could feel his burning contempt of her, it left her shaken.

She tried to free herself from Zylon's raw emotions by focusing on the room's details. It was a Spartan display of comfort. She quickly scanned the room, relieved that she was the only occupant. She also noted there was no place to hide, no place that couldn't be viewed by the many monitors watching her from each corner of the room. As she moved so they moved too. She knew the observer would be Gringbald. She could sense the presence of a predator watching his prey. She still had no understanding of his purposes. In all her life, she never knew such frustration as she was feeling now, trying to learn what Gringbald's motives were. She was wanted, held captive by a powerful man who needed her- Why? All she knew with an absolute certainty was that it had become an obsession with Gringbald that she fulfill his need, his role for her. Whatever it was it was bound up with this planet and his role as it's ruler.

She looked at the furnishing in the room. Along the wall was a narrow bunk type bed, without the comfort of a mattress, opposite the door stood a small wooden table with two wooden chairs. It appeared to be a holding room, where one may be detained, like a prisoner awaiting sentencing. It was designed for short-term occupancy, but then Troi considered nothing on this planet seemed to have a future purpose. Life appeared to be based on a moment to moment, day by day existence.

Deanna knew Will and company would be in the vicinity of the city's power station, trying to shut down the entire power network, throwing everything into chaos. She knew the captain was able to hear what was said, and that they would be able to transport her back to the Enterprise within seconds, at the slightest threat, still, she was uneasy. It wasn't that she feared for her life or health, there was something about meeting Gringbald again that made her skin crawl.

She reached out to Will to let him know that things were progressing as anticipated and to get a sense of his well being. She could feel that all was well, no unforeseen problems. She could feel no sense of danger from any of the ones with whom she had beamed down. Deanna heard sounds and talking coming from outside the door. She sat on the chair facing the door, folding her hands on the table in front of her, she staged the scene to look as serene and dormant as possible.

When the door opened, it came as no surprise to see Gringbald. He stepped in signaled someone to stay outside. The door closed and was again secured before he approached her. He stood now facing her from across the table, watching her, his gaze missing nothing. It paused at the armband, then continued downward; noting the clothing and it's fit before returning to her face.

"Where have you been?" His voice was dangerously quiet; the demand was not softened by the quiet tone.

"Around." Deanna decided a head of time, that she would give him no ammunition-no lies to shoot her down with later. The smoother things went the faster she would be back on the Enterprise with her crewmates.

"Yes, I know around. I asked you where."

"Isn't it enough that I have come back?"

He watched her for several minutes before changing the subject. "Where is the child?"

"She is aboard the Enterprise." She noted the change on his face, as though he was expecting a lie and got the truth.

"Why aren't you with her?" He hadn't made a move; he stood exactly as he had when he first entered the room.

"I think you know why. That was the purpose to this -wasn't it?" She pointed to the armband.

"It has many purposes. But, yes, that is one." Now he moved over to stand behind her. She felt his fingers on her bared back. She arched her back, breaking the connection with his touch. Deanna had steeled herself not to move, but found she could not allow that touch.

"Relax, I do not force intimacy. It will be mutual when it happens." He pulled the remaining chair over to sit beside her. He continued watching her.

She had to control the repulsion, and remind herself that she was controlling this scene. She could be beamed out of there at any time. He had so much confidence in his control over her, "when it happens" not if, where did that arrogance come from?

"We are long overdue for a heart to heart chat, wouldn't you agree, Commander Troi?" He paused, again watching her intently. "But then, you have other titles - other abilities, don't you Deanna? You see, since your disappearance my people have had time to report in. I've been able to compile a lot of information. For instance, I have a copy of a piece of paper, shall we call it a document. I know of your escapade with the animals. I have to say I am most impressed with the information I have received from my infiltration of those hopeless dreamers - our waste people. It has been reported that you have this marvelous talent of communicating by means other than speaking. My dear Commander, you have so many hidden talents. I hope only to scratch the surface." He had reached over to lay his hand on top of her folded hands. He never broke eye contact, but watched closely as he slid a hand under her wrist.

"Exactly what is it you want from me? Let's not play these games." Deanna knew he was feeling her pulse to further his knowledge of her reactions. She was able to continue focused, she wasn't sure for how long. She couldn't sense the reasoning for his behavior. Instinct told her it was to break down her resistance so she would co-operate with him. At least maybe now she could fit this puzzle together.

"One mistake I have made, and I'm sure you will agree with me, is that I should have banded the child, instead of you. If only I had know of the bond between you. I don't understand the relationship but it fascinates me. I know you would not have gone without back without her. You may have been more willing to see things my way if the child had remained here. I realize you would have traded places even to the point of martyrdom. Oh, my dear Troi, I love a good martyr, and you do play the role with such class." He squeezed her hand. "That is one way your are so different from the people here."

"You're wrong, you know, I am not a martyr. Starfleet does not train officers for that role. I am a victim." Deanna watched him now. She knew the game she was playing. She had begun to fill in some of the missing pieces. If by playing a game of semantics she could get him to reveal more of his machinations it would be well worth the effort.

"Earlier you made the choice to stay here. A victim has no choice- you as a martyr made that choice. You see, my dear, I know the language and the history behind it. Let's move on, shall we. Good, you've returned at an interesting time. Whether by coincidence or forethought, it doesn't really matter. You see, I am to be formally crowned as king tomorrow."

"Wonderful, and how does that affect me?" Deanna wanted him to explain her place in the game once and for all.

"You'll know all very soon." He paused, as though he was actually considering giving her the information. "Before continuing, why is it you detest me so much? You know, you will change your mind..Eventually. There is much I can do for you. So much I want to do...." He moved the hand that had been holding her wrist to slide up to her elbow.

She had been able to sit perfectly still until that moment. Deanna could feel the repulsion turn to anger. "You have no rules of conduct. You do what you like to whomever you like. You murder, torture, and humiliate for no purpose -except your own selfish ego. I could never think of you except in those terms!" Now she pulled her arm away from him.

He was not deterred by her words. He leaned back in his chair. "Ah, I know what this is all about. That man you were with Commander Riker, the man that owned you. He could never have made you happy, not like I can. He had no depth or he'd be alive now....You see, I know you. I know things that you have yet to know of yourself. We are more alike than you..."

"We are nothing alike! I have never killed anyone or anything. I can never be as callused and unfeeling as you are!"

"I'll try not to hold that against you, anyway those points are minor. You would kill me now if you had the opportunity. You attacked me when you found Commander William Riker. Yes, I know his name. I know much more, but I am repeating myself. As I was saying you have capabilities that I could help you refine. Together we would make a team that would be unassailable." He slid his chair closer to hers, his legs straddling her own; their chairs nearly touching seat to seat.

"No!" Her anger was getting the best of her. She knew she was losing it in a rage, just as her reminded her she had done earlier. She fought hard to find the balance of emotions, she closed her eyes, reminding herself of her own identity, she would not let her own emotions play into his hands.

Chapter 26b

On board the Enterprise, in Captain Picard's ready room, the captain sat listening to the exchange between his counselor and the sadistic alien Gringbald. He looked across the desk to Doctor Crusher, "What do you think Gringbald is trying to do?"

Beverly shook her head, "I think he's trying to get her angry, hoping that when he does she will play into his hand. I'm sure Deanna has seen through it. She's working on getting herself centered now."

Picard gave her a sharp look, the doctor smiled and replied innocently, "I just know. We have spent a lot of time together lately. I'm sure she's in control, for now. Is Will able to hear any of this?"

"No, I thought it best if we act as control, intercepting and relaying information to him as the need presents itself. I'm sure he'll know when there is a problem. He and the counselor always seem to have that awareness of the other. I just thought it best that he be spared the details that we are receiving. He'll be better able to concentrate on the job at hand. Data is monitoring the counselor, because he is the closest to her, in the case she needs assistance, but doesn't require transporting back to the Enterprise."


After centering herself Deanna opened her eyes. She caught a strange look in Gringbald's eyes. It was there briefly before he had time to get his mask firmly back in place. She tried to sense what it was she had seen. Once again curiosity was all she was able to sense, that disturbed her. There was where the answer lie, she was sure of it, but for now she couldn't see it.

"My dear counselor, for that is what you will be for now, you are going to be my guide through the maze of emotions.:" He moved even closer to whisper in her ear, "You see my dear, I have no emotions. You are going to have a lifetime of excitement, and I promise you, you will come to appreciate all I can offer you."

Deanna sat unmoving, stunned. While she knew he was not necessarily humanoid, she should have known this, it should not have come, now, as a surprise. "I sensed some responses from you, surprise, curiosity for example, although not emotions in themselves, I did sense other desires from you."

"Desire, that's an interesting word. All sentient life has wants or needs, that does not give them all emotions, does it dear? I can mock what I see around me, but I need to understand the where, the whys and hows to present these emotions as my own. You see, we could spend a lifetime dissecting and relearning each emotion. I would provide for your every need, you would have all that you require. You would be satisfied with your life here with me."

He turned her head so that she was looking directly into his eyes before continuing. "This form I have now has many flaws, or should I say imperfections, that you can help me correct...to your satisfaction. This form was merely convenient, now, though if you would prefer a more comely face or physique, and would direct me in that endeavor, you would be rewarded with the perfect mate."

"I have no wish to make a perfect mate." Deanna tried to make some distance between them, by sliding her chair back a little, she stood, believing it would be easier to maintain that distance.

"I have been told that sometimes death can bring about a period of mourning. I can give you that time. I guarantee you wouldn't want longer. You will be a willing participant in everything. We will begin now, with getting better acquainted. Let me show you my true self." Gringbald stood then moved a distance away before his form began to glow, then for a brief moment all but dissipated. The glow enveloped the room, when Deanna's eyes became accustomed to the light she could see a large winged creature. It flew around her circling in great orbits effortlessly through the room. Each movement of the wings left a glowing trail, after several passes the room looked as though it had been strung with odd lights. As the creature neared her, Deanna could feel the tingling warmth it projected. It began circling in ever closer rapid orbits, until she felt she and it were almost one. Her head began throbbing with each winged movemetn. The it moved away to once again become Gringbald. The glow remained about his shape for a few moments, then he was as he had been before.

The counselor was standing behind her chair, holding on to the back to support herself. Gringbald moved over to her whisking the chair away. The move caught Deanna totally off guard, she fell into Gringbald's arms. He held her tightly, restraining her. "Now my dear, we'll continue with our lesson shall we?"

She didn't answer, her mind completely absorbed in controlling her physical and emotional state. She was trying to resolve the situation in a manner that would give her the needed time, time for Will and the rest of the away team to do what they needed to do to expedite the end of this mission.

"There is so much you could teach me. Let me explain something to you that may make this easier. Until I arrived on this planet, my species were - what you may call parasites. I prefer to think of us as needing to be in a symbiotic relationship. :You felt the affects of my energy as I circled near you. I could have, by increasing the speed of my rotations, bound our forms together. I would have become you, in a sense. However, that relationship is never very lasting. We tend to burn out the fragile body you wear so well." He continued holding her, his hands caressing her bare back.

She pushed away, moving quickly out of his embrace. "A symbiotic relationship is tow lives in a close union, of what benefit will this relationship be to me? Right now, whether you would like to admit it or not, I am held against my will- here on the planet and by you physically holding me as you were. I have not acquiescence. I certainly have gained no pleasure from any of it. You said you existed as a mutualist before you arrived here on this planet. What changed here?"

"Come now, you have noticed that on this planet any talent or skills that are inherit to you are doubled. I found that on Prakal, I can become the forms I had previously existed with in a symbiotic state, as a species. It's as though I've somehow imprinted the biological sequence of those forms and can now resume them." The smile he presented her with made the hair on the back of her neck raise. "As far as what I give the other life in the relationship....I've never heard them complain!"

He walked around her, "Now , I would like a demonstration of your skill as a telepath. My dear, I'd like you to communicate with me nonverbally," He sat in a chair.

Deanna considered ignoring his request, or just outright refusing, but then relented. It would be a safe way of using up the time she would have to spend with him. She thought/sent < Are you able to kill so easily, because you have no emotions? > She scrutinzed his face for any reaction.

He walked over to her. "Very good, it is what I had hoped for. This partnership will be all that either of us could want. Now, as for your question, let me answer it with a question of my own. Dear Deanna, why is ti you are so focused on death?"

She looked at him, shaking her head, then looked away for a few seconds before answering him. " Because death is the end of life. When someone close to us dies, it leaves an empty space in our life. It causes pain. These are principles you would not understand. It has to do with love and loss."

" Then emotions are a liability. You loved this Commander Riker? And the child, you loved the child you allowed to leave?"

"Yes." Deanna could feel her eyes tearing, not over the fictional departing of Will and Solace, but because in reality she came very close to losing them both.

Gringbald walked back to where she stood to look closer at her. He reached to touch a tear as it slid down her cheek. "I am the one who took those away from you. What are the emotions you have toward me?"

The question was totally unexpected from this arrogant life form, and yet she had answer prepared. "Repulsive. At one time it was a stronger emotion, now, repulsive and confused ... and guarded."

"Guarded? How is that an emotion?"

"It is more of an emotional response. It means I'm not comfortable around you, so I guard my emotional state in a sense. I put up barriers that shield me from you."

He nodded as if he understood her answer. "How can you love the man and the child the same?"

Her head was reeling, the throbbing never stopped, which is how she was beginning to feel about his quest for emotional information. "It is not the same in composition. The love of a women and man may bind them in a very special relationship for a lifetime. The love a parent has for a child is unique, because it involves the caring for the child and providing a future for it. The child is totally dependant on the parents until it is old enough and wise enough to make a life on it's own. It's very complicated." Deanna put her hand to her temples hoping to massage the pain away.

Gringbald continued, "Very interesting, you are not the progenitor of this child and yet you responded to her needs as though you were."

"I responded to a child." She had grown excessivelly weary and had had enough.

"You see why I need you here with me? I will be king tomorrow, I will rule these people. That is simple enough, but to make my life here enlightening, I want to be taught what makes these people different from my kind. I want you to teach me what love is, what it is to enjoy life your way. In exchange for that I promise you, your life will be like no other."

"Then I suggest you develop a conscious. You see the other side is that you care about these people, because it's right to care and not to care is wrong and it's painful to them. This planet is not a laboratory where you simply play around with these peoples lives, dispensing life and death, pain and suffering to see what the results are." She held her pounding head with both hands, looking at him for relief, then she passed out.

Gringbald caught her before she hit the floor. He called for his guard, then decided he would carry her himself. The guards came into the room to see Gringbald with the unconscious woman from the Federation in his arms. The first guard stepped forward to take her from Gringbald. He was waved off, "I'm taking her to the secure room, make sure all is ready. GO! NOW!" The man ran out of the room.

Zylon met Gringbald on the stairs. "I don't think this is a good idea. She has escaped from there before, she seems to be able to come and go as she wishes. Send her back or kill her. She has become a burden."

Gringbald stopped, he easily shifted Troi to one arm, reaching with his other to grab Zylon's shirt front. "You are over stepping your position. If anyone dies tonight - it may well be you. I have no time for fools." He shoved him backward as he released his hold on Zylon's shirt. The secretary bounced down five steps before he caught himself.

After entering the secured room, Gringbald laid Deanna on the bed. He looked down at her, then feeling nothing he turned, calling for the guard at the door to see to her comfort. He turned to look back once more before leaving.

When Deanna opened her eyes, she was the same guard that had delivered Solace to her; the guard that showed a caring attitude toward the small child. He had placed a cool cloth on her head. She tried to push it away and sit up.

"I wouldn't move too fast. I take it his lordship did his little 'I am a comet' for you?" It was said in a dry sarcastic tone.

Deanna watched him walk around the room, bringing her a glass of what looked like weak tea. She hoped it wasn't the city's water supply. Reaching out with her mind she found that his tone betrayed his true feelings. He was unhappy with the king to be. He was angry and feeling a great deal of regret.

"How did you know....about the comet?"

"It used to happen a lot. A show of power keeps the troops in line. Not that it is used instead of physical punishment or death. He uses it to reinforce the idea of his super Unprakalian power. It works, usually." He grinned at Troi. "I'm surprised he tolerates you. :You must have something he wants badly. You don't know how much more he has done for you, then he had done for Abeathdor. Did you see her cell? There's a kinship he feels for you, like your both out of your element."

Deanna stood up slowly, holding the beverage. "How is it you have come to have all this knowledge of Gringbald? Surely, this is not common knowledge among the people?"

"Please, sit and drink, it will help the head pain. It is an extract from plants used for medicinal purposes. It will take the pressure off the eyes."

"You're a doctor?" She sensed the answer as she asked the question. Why would a doctor become one of Gringbald's personal guards?

"Doctor? Ah..you mean Almoner. Yes, I was an Almoner for Abeathdor's family. I had been on a sojourn, when I returned, Yarmie was dying and Abeathdor already was convicted and in the tower. Our families were once close. My father was also an Almoner he assisted in the birth to both women. Abeathdor and I are of the same years. We were educated together." He sighed deeply, "Now I clean up Gringbald's mess." He was silent for several minutes before asking, "Are you the Alienist Abeathdor had been in contact with?"

Now it was Deanna's turn , "Alienist? Abeathdor communicated with me. Are you asking if I am a doctor of the mind? I suppose in those terms I am."

"How is Abeathdor? She is safe?"

"Yes, she is safe and well."

"He looked relieved, "How is your head?"

She realized the headache had gone. "The pain is gone. Could you give me some of these plants? I would be interested in how they work. Our doctor on the ship has a hobby of collecting and growing medicinal plants."

His face changed entirely when he smiled. He looked younger, like a man his age should look. "Listen," his voice took on the qualities of a co-conspiritor, soft and low, "if you need allie, I am here for you. Gringbald's right about one thing."

She watched him wondering what it was, his tone had changed slightly now, there was a little amusement hidden carefully among his words. "You would be an asset to his rulership. I can't imagine that you would have enemies, a definite asset for him. But be careful, this room has no listening devices, yet anyway. If Zylon had his way there would be no room in the city without them. Gringbald will surprise you, you will find yourself doing what he wants, when and how he wants it. He is a master of manipulation, and for some reason he has made a special project of you. Be careful, for he does not tolerate anyone who continually defies him. I will be around if you need to talk to someone or have a need of any remedies. Ask the guard for the Almoner. I must go now." They quietly said goodbye, he remained looking at her for a moment longer before leaving.

Deanna sat in the same chair she had claimed for herself during the last stay as Gringbald's guest. She tried to get comfortable while waiting for the next move of her host. Sitting with one leg tucked under her and the other pulled up, she crossed her arms over the knee and rested her head on her arms. The power suddenly went out. There was no light in the room, making it easy to see the figures shimmer in the darkness. She was surrounded at once by friends.

Will gently touched her arm, "We're ready to end this. Is everything okay?'

She smiled warmly at him, having been ready to end it a long time ago, "Yes, lets finish."

If I guessed right you should be getting company very soon now." Will motioned to the others to take their places.

They didn't have to wait long until Zylon and a guard entered the room. The guard stood at the door as Zylon held a disrupter pointed at Deanna. "I don't know how, but I know you are somehow involved in this. Come on, move, I have some plans of my own for you."Deanna stood and waited, knowing that the away team had their phasers aimed at Zylon. He reached over and grabbed Deanna's arm, "I said let's go! NOW!"

Another figure appeared in the doorway, the guard Zylon had posted at the door seemed to have disappeared. "I knew I'd find you here. I told you before to stay away, that I would handle things my way. Now, I'm telling you to step away from her now." Gringbald held his own weapon aimed at Zylon's back. No one moved. For a few seconds it was deathly silent, as though all the air had been sucked out of that room and everyone was forced to hold their breath.

"Fine, we'll do it your way. This is your choice." Gringbald fired his weapon at Zylon. He couldn't have missed at that range, the light from the discharge was like a finely tuned bolt of lightning. Zylon crumbled to the ground, his hold still firm on Deanna's arm, dragging her to the floor with him.

Gringbald still unaware of the other moved to Deanna, "Stand back Gringbald." Will Riker ordered. The being spun around with his weapon searching for the source of the sound. Will fired his phaser and it Gringbald on the upper torso, the being started to raise his weapon aimed at the new target when he was hit again. This time it originated from the far side of the room. He still hadn't fallen, but remained standing searching the darkness for the source of the latest shot.

Worf stood feet apart, phaser still on Gringbald. The hits by the phasers seemed to have little affect on Gringbald. He appeared dazed and confused,but showed no other physical damage. When he began again to raise his disrupter, Data fired on him from yet a different location, only now did he fall, and as his body hit the floor it began to glow.

"Will, he's returning to his natural state!" Deanna shouted.

"Enterprise beam down a stasis containment pod."

"What size Commander?"

Will looked at Deanna, he had no idea what Gringbald's natural form was. "About forty liters.." Deanna guessed.

Acknowledged. Within seconds the pod arrived. Just in time, the glowing bird like energy was growing brighter as it re-energized. Geordi and Data were attempting to get it into the pod when Worf struck at the glowing mass with a chair, apparently stunning it enough that they easily encased it within the pod. Will was immediately at Deanna's side trying to loosen Zylons death grip on her. The man was dead and yet his grip on her seemed frozen, Data approached Zylon, held his wrist in a firm hold, then by reflex all the finger opened. Will got the counselor to her feet and into his arms. "Data, see that our firefly gets to the secure room, keep him in the stasis pod inside a force field with guards. If there are any other precautions you can think of, please enforce them."

"Worf and Geordi, we will need security at the research building, notify Doctor Crusher, she may want to quarantine the building and the occupants until things are sorted out. The counselor and I need to put the finishing touch on our work here. We will be beaming to Fallscity."


Chapter 27

The three beamed back to the Enterprise with Gringbald. Will had Deanna and himself transported to Fallscity, where they would contact Rankeer and Lagi to inform them of Gringbald's capture and the safety and well being of Solace and Abeathdor.

They beamed to the outskirts of the encamped waste people at the waterfalls. Will took Deanna's arm as they made their way through the falls into the cavern. When they had come into the glen, Will stopped to turn the counselor around and look intently at her, "Are you okay? You haven't said a word since we captured Gringbald."

"A lot has happened, I guess I'm just trying to sort it all out. Will, I'm fine." She squeezed his arm to reassure him or herself, she wasn't clear on which.

"I told you this part was suppose to be the easy part." He smiled down at her. His smile had a warmth she had come to love.

"Well it was a bit more frightening than I would have liked." She paused, returned the intense scrutiny, then added, "You haven't relaxed yet either. What is it that has you tense?" She watched his eyes; "It has something to do with us. With my MOTHER! What about my mother?"

Will's eyes never left hers, and then they skimmed down over her stopping at the armband. "First, let's get this off." He removed the communicator from her arm, then discontinued the communication function. He smiled at her surprise. "We can use mine when we want to include the crew in our conversation." He revealed his standard communicator. "I opted for the regular issue, there was no time for the doctor to plant the subdermal."

She raised her eyebrows and smiled, "How convenient Commander. Now, continue, you were going to tell me why my mother has you tense... now."

"When the captain met us in the transporter room before our beam down, he said that they had just received word that your mother would be making a visit. She was concerned that something had happened because you had failed to return any of her communiqués in the past several days. I'm concerned with her timing and our relationship. How do you think she'll react to all the changes in your life." Will held her, his hands on her shoulders feeling the skin bared by the outfit. "You 're freezing! You can't continue to wear that, as much as I enjoy seeing it on you."

He tapped his communicator, "Riker to Enterprise."

"Go ahead Commander."

"Beam to our location, one of the Counselor's uniforms and two jackets."

"Acknowledged Commander."

Will enfolded her within his arms trying to cover as much of her with himself as he could. "Does this help?"

"Mmmm" she snuggled into him. "Will, it doesn't matter what my mother thinks of this situation. It only matters what we think. Believe me she'll adjust. She'll probably be thrilled that I've finally made a move in the direction she has been pushing me in for years. Then she'll nag for grandchildren. Everything will work out." To make her point she backed a few inches away to gaze into his blue eyes, reaching up she guided his face downward to allow her to demonstrate with a passionate kiss just how moot Mrs. Troi's opinions in this matter were.

The uniform and cloaks materialized a few meters away to go unnoticed for quite sometime. Later Deanna emerged from the shelter of shrubs and pine trees to appear fully dressed in uniform. She had turned down Will's offer of help, knowing she would never get to Fallscity that night.

They hadn't gone far when Rimanai and Rankeer joined them. Rankeer was moving along with the aid of an artistically carved cane, which didn't dampen his enthusiasm at seeing them again. Rankeer immediately asked for news of Solace. The counselor was thrilled to tell him of her good health.

"Lady, I don't know what to say, you have been very good to us," He dropped his cane to hug her, then he gave Will a bear hug.

"Please Rankeer, I'm Deanna". She smiled waiting for Will to catch his breath before asking about the rest of the inhabitants of their make shift village.

"All is well here, we have begun to rebuild and heal. I apologize, in my happiness to see you and hear of Solace, I forgot my manners. Please, let's go, you can see for yourself the progress we have made." The rest of the walk was accompanied by Rankeer and Rimanai's singing.

Lagi watched as the four made their way to the main house. She summoned those nearby to ready the table with drinks for their guests. She knew by their approach that this was the news that she had been longing for. It had been slow in coming, years had gone by. It would make the victory all that much sweeter, for her a victory from the life she had been forced to live, but more than that, it was a victory due to her endurance. There were many times she could have given up, left these young people to others to care for, but didn't. This celebration would be for all of them.

She could hear the boys singing and behind them she could easily see the two from the starship with their arms around each other. As they neared, she could more easily recognize the commander and his wife. She went out to greet them.

"Commander, the return of you and your wife is good news in itself. Please come inside." Lagi hugged Deanna, then with her arm through the empath's, she led them up on to the veranda and into the large kitchen.

They entered the building and could feel the kitchen welcoming them with its warmth, both physical and emotional. Lagi ushered everyone to the table, where cups and plates were waiting. Everyone was seated before Lagi asked the two visitors for the news. "Please Lady, Commander, we know it to be good news that you have come to us with. Tell us, what has happened since we last sat here together.

Deanna looked at Will wanting him to tell the story. He told of Abeathdor's aiding Deanna in helping him and the others get of the planet. He told of their returning to the palace to return Solace and Deanna. Then he related the recent entailing the removal of Gringbald and the death of Zylon, when he had finished there was silence.

Lagi left the table and returned with two large jugs. Deanna recognized the beverage immediately as Lagi began pouring. She was about to refuse when she sensed Will watching her with one eyebrow raised. She knew he was anticipating her refusal, so she accepted the glass, watching stoically as Lagi poured. When everyone had a glass filled with the drink Will toasted the return of the queen. Most glasses had been refilled a couple of times in celebration before the group began to break up. Lagi and Deanna went back out on to the veranda to talk. She told Lagi about the repair to the child's ears and throat, and the positive prognosis offered by the procedure.

Will and Rankeer continued talking sitting at the table. Deanna watched through the door as Will refilled another glass of the brew. She smiled and shook her head, he couldn't say he didn't know what he was doing. Watching Rankeer and Will talk she began looking for resemblance's between Rankeer and Solace. They both had dark hair, but other than that Deanna could see nothing else. The facial structure was completely different. Their eyes were not the same in either color or form. Rankeer had nice kind dark eyes, but not the large beautiful blue eyes framed by the long dark lashes that Solace had.

"Lagi, I have spent a lot of time with Solace. I see little resemblance between her and Rankeer. Does each resemble a different parent?"


"Please Lagi, call me Deanna. We are friends, please address me as my friends do."

Lagi smiled, "Deanna, they have different parents. Rankeer's parents found and took Solace in as their own child. We know nothing of her early childhood, or her exact age. She was found not long before Rankeer's own parent's died." Lagi looked in at Rankeer, then added; "Rankeer has been trying to be both parents to her for a while now. You have grown attached tot he child haven't you?" The other woman watched Deanna for her response.

Deanna spoke softly, "Yes, I have. She is quite a remarkable child. I believe she may also have some of those abilities we talked about. Where do you think she could inherited them from?"

Lagi sat quietly thinking for a while before answering. "It is said that one of the ancient royal families had special talents. That they had grown powerful by using them and they ha abused them to gain more power. They became heartless and cruel toward their subjects, who rose up and overthrew them. The family was separated one from the other, never to see each other again." Lagi ended her narrative, glanced over at Deanna and shrugged, "It is a story, perhaps nothing more. I heard it when I was young, it is still passed down through families, although it has grown and changed with the years."

Deanna smiled, "Many cultures have such stories. Some have been fantasies to explain an occurrence when the true facts are unknown or misunderstood or buried in ignorance. I guess we may never know the background of Solace. It is important to me only because I want to be able to help and understand her."

"I'm certain you have helped her, Deanna." Lagi again paused as though to gather her thoughts. "Perhaps, if it would be possible, it would be best if you would consider taking Solace with you. There is much more you would do for her, that none here could."

"Lagi, I would not be truthful if I told you I had not considered the possibility. There are some issues that I need to address before I can do that. How would Rankeer feel about such a thing?"

Lagi shrugged, "He is young, he has dreams...he also has limitations. I think he would understand it to be in the child's best interests." Lagi watched Deanna look in at the commander and Rankeer talking, "Will the Commander oppose the idea?"

"No, I don't think he would, but..." She choose not to finish the thought, instead moved on to another. "It's getting late, excuse me I need to talk to Will about getting back." She kindly patted Lagi's arm before standing.

"Lady, is there a need for you to leave? You and the Commander can have the room upstairs tonight. You would honor us with your presence."

"Lagi, that is very kind of you, however, we do have a meeting with our captain... and I promised Solace we would return tonight. I'll see you again in the next couple of days."

Deanna walked into the kitchen to where Will and Rankeer remained deep in conversation. She tried to get a sense of the emotions from the two. She sensed nothing out of line with the day's events. The celebratory atmosphere had continued, although it was a bit subdued as the drink and the evening wore on.

She put her hand on Will's shoulder. He looked up at her, "It's getting late, Will, what do you want to do about tonight?"

He agreed that they should be heading back to the beam up site, as she stood to go Rankeer offered to walk them back. "That's not necessary, Rankeer. Take tonight to think about what we discussed. I'll get back to you tomorrow." Will shook the young man's hand, "Tomorrow, then. Goodnight, Rankeer."

Commander Riker contacted the ship to inform them that they had finished and were heading back to the beam up co-ordinates. Will and Deanna left for the beam up site walking slowly, each lost in their own thoughts when Deanna reached for his hand. "You know, Lagi invited us to stay tonight, we would have our old room back." She looked at him awaiting his response.

"Why didn't we stay?" Again he raised the eyebrows thinking he knew her answer.

She stopped to get a good look at his face. "Because you had too much of Lagi's brew and I wanted you to be fully alert and conscious for the occasion. We waited this long, it will not be lost at the bottom of one of Lagi's jugs." She got what she was watching for, his smile was huge and warm, even his eyes crinkled.

He held her against him. "How can I be anything else with you! If there is one thing I've learned from all of this - it is never take anyone or anything for granted. Do you know how long I've waited to tell you how much I love you?"

"Yes, and do you know if you had said those very words to me on the way in to Fallscity, we might still be there in that upstairs room right now?"

"And I thought you just didn't want to take advantage of me tonight." He laughed at the sight of her face, then pulled her into a tighter embrace.

They took their time getting back to the beam up site. Once they arrived there Deanna gathered up the clothes she had stashed earlier, then went to stand beside Will. "What were you and Rankeer discussing for so long?"

"What did you sense?" He asked as he again wrapped an arm around her waist.

She looked dismayed, "Will, I don't ease drop into private conversations, unless there is an issue of life and death. I was concentrating on my own conversation with Lagi. I have learned to block out other's thoughts. That would be a violations of privacy."

"Rankeer would like to serve the queen when she is enthroned, if we can see that Solace would be taken care of. I gave him another option, to come with us and perhaps go to Starfleet academy if he wanted."

She caught her breath, "How would you feel if I got Rankeer's approval to take care of Solace?"

"I think if we do that, it should be on a permanent basis. Don't you? That is if we can get the Captain's permission, and of course set it up with Abeathdor and Rankeer."

Deanna said nothing for a long time. Will smiled as he whispered in her ear, "So I can still surprise you. I like that."

"Is that what you've been scheming? I knew something was up."

"I didn't want to say anything before I knew what the possibilities were of actually working it out. Rankeer's request was perfect tonight."

"Then the only one that may be surprised is my mother. OH, Will, she's probably already on board."

"Are you sure you don't want to go back to take Lagi's offer?"

She knew by his smile, he was joking, reaching up, she tenderly kissed his lips, "Thank you."

He smiled again, "Anything for you." Then tapping his communicator, "Riker to Enterprise. Two to beam up."

Chapter 28

Doctor Crusher and Captain Picard were discussing preventative measures to be taken regarding the research center and those inflicted within it, when the two materialized before them.

"Number One, Counselor, it's good to have you both back. Congratulations on capturing Gringbald. We have some unfinished business to clean up the debris left behind by his machinations. I'll give you two hours to freshen up, and then we will meet in the observation lounge. Good work, I mean that." His eyes held Deanna's as he continued, "You both have some well deserved shore leave coming as soon as we can do without you."

Beverly watched the captain praise her fellow officers, then after he had made his exit, she asked, "How was everyone in Fallscity? I wouldn't mind returning there, now that the threat from Gringbald has been removed." They talked as they made their way to the counselor's quarters.

"Everything seems to be going well. The injured are all improving. Rankeer is using a cane to get around, but it isn't keeping him from being mobile. I'd say everyone is doing very well." Deanna paused, sensing Beverly's apprehension, "Is everything okay here? How's Solace?"

"Everything is fine. I wanted to talk to you two alone before you go to your quarters." Now it was her turn to pause and gather her thoughts before speaking. "I've done some testing on Solace. The results are quite interesting. They show a lot of the same brain patterns as a Betazoid brain, indicating the potential for empathic skills. I also found a lot of activity in the cerebellum and cerebral cortex.."

"How do you think that's possible? Her brother doesn't appear to be empathic, nor do any of the others in Fallcity. Could one child have those kinds of skills and another not?" Will looked from the doctor to the empath waiting for someone to answer his questions.

Deanna squeezed the hand he had wrapped around her shoulders, "Yes Will, that is possible when each child had different parents. Lagi brought some information to my attention that I wanted to speak to you about earlier. Rankeer's family adopted Solace; no one seems to have any information preceding the adoptions about the child or her natural family. The possibility has certainly been evident of those skills, there have been times when Solace reacted as though she had sensed things; it may explain how she seemed able to pick up on conversations when her hearing was impaired."

Beverly stopped at the turbolift to look at the other two, "Which brings me to the other subject. Deanna, your mother is here. She's in your quarters now with Solace and Guinan. Everything if fine, I think you may be surprised." Then under her breath, "I hope." She continued looking at the empath even after the doors of the turbolift had opened for them, "Deanna, what are you carrying, is that the outfit you had on earlier? Can I ask why you brought it back, or don't I want to know?" She glimpsed the smug look on the Commander's face.

"Oh, I'm glad you reminded me, I nearly forgot, I need to give this back to Solace." She searched in the folds of the material to find the small wooden lightfoot. It was perfectly plain she would not be giving a more definitive answer to the doctor's question.

"Oh, I see." Beverly smiled as she shook her head.

They talked about the inhabitants of Fallscity and the upcoming celebrations, speculating on the future of the people there. When they reached Deanna's quarters, Beverly suggested Deanna wait a few seconds after she and Will entered. The doctor touched the chime; it took seconds for the door to open to a smiling child. Solace looked past Beverly to Will, she reached for him, as he lifted her up into his arms, her eyes traveled past him looking for someone else.

"What no hug?" Will teased. Solace smiled and obliged, hugging his neck. "That's better, after all I did something special for you." He reached around and motioned Deanna in. As she came up behind him, her slipped an arm around her to pull her into the child's sight. "I told you I would take care of her!" Will told her as Deanna moved close to him. Solace easily moved from one to the other, like a little monkey going from limb to limb.

The child now enclosed her small arms around Deanna's neck enveloping her in hugs and showering her face with little peck like kisses. She whispered, "Dee-ann".

"You've been practicing! Very good." Deanna squeezed her, then asked, "Who is this?" as she pointed to Will.

Solace mumbled something unintelligible but it had the distinct sound of Imzadi...although twisted and turned a little. Deanna smiled, "Let's work on calling him Will, for now. Here, I brought your little friend just like I promised you I that I would." She placed the little wooden carving in the child's hand; she was rewarded by another hug. "Can you try to say Will for me, please?"

Solace happily nodded her head, "Yesss...Will".

Deanna had forgotten about her mother for those first few minutes. Lwaxana had been sitting with Guinan watching the scene play out before them. The formable Mrs. Troi decided to now make her presence known.

She wasted little time in getting from the sofa to stand in front of her daughter. "Little One, you don't look well. You are pale and obviously over-worked. I'll speak to Jean-Luc about getting you some time to recuperate. I've been hearing all about your little escapades, and close call with death, this plague thing that nearly killed you! Honestly Deanna..." She swooped her daughter up in an undeniable embrace including Solace along with her.

Deanna tried to bury the annoyance that was creeping up on her, "Mother it's good to see you." She leaned over to kiss her mother's cheek. To Solace she said, "Sweetie, now that you met my mother, should we tell her which one of us is 'Little One'?"

Solace grinned and pointed to herself before hugging Deanna again. It would take more than that to daunt the ineffaceable Lwaxana Troi. "Yes, well for goodness sake come in and sit down. You've been very ill. I sensed you to be in great danger that's why I came. I see I should have been here days ago." She guided Deanna into the room firmly holding on to her daughter as she directed her toward the sofa, leaving Will in her wake

Deanna turned to include Will; he regarded her with raised eyebrows. She knew he would like nothing better than to make a quick escape. She though/sent, < Come on, you can help me get through this, you know moral support!>

Then she whispered to Solace to tell Will to come too. "Come Will." She held out a hand to him to join them. Will chuckled as he took her out of Deanna's arms.

Beverly and Will sat on opposite chairs flanking the sofa. The next hour was spent trying to keep Mrs. Troi in check. Beverly spent most of her time reassuring the elder Troi that her daughter was fine, probably tired but well.

Finally Guinan asked Will, "Commander, isn't there a senior officers meeting tonight? You three are going to be late. I'll stay and keep these ladies company. Mrs. Troi was about to tell me all about Deanna's teenage years."

"Thank you Guinan, we need to be there a little early the captain wants to debrief us on the last mission." Will stood and waited on Deanna and Beverly, trying to make eye contact with the counselor, sensing her discomfort at the topic Lwaxana was about to discuss.

Solace had claimed Deanna's lap and was not about to vacate it willingly. She appeared very put out when the counselor tried to explain why she was needed. When Deanna quit talking and looked sternly into the child's face, Solace must have realized she was not going to get her way. She slid off the lap and went to sit between Guinan and Lwaxana.

"That's a good child, Little One, Miss Guinan and I will keep you company. I'll be here with you until Deanna returns. You and I will be great friends. You'll get used to her leaving, (sigh) I know I have had to. Let me tell you about Deanna when she was a little girl..."

Will caught Deanna's arm to lead her out when it appeared as though she would have liked nothing better than to stay behind. He found her rolling her eyes as they left her quarters to emerge into the corridor, "I don't know whom to feel sorrier for, Solace or Guinan."

"Guinan." Beverly was smiling sympathetically at Deanna. "Solace is young, and she's already endured much worse." The other two nodded in agreement.

"Yes but with an evening of those stories, how will I ever be able to look Guinan in the eye again? It's as though she has memories of me confused with at least half a dozen other young girls. I don't know where she comes up with some of it. The rest, well, let's just say she has mother's unique prospective on past event."

"I wonder if I should sit down with her and have a little heart to heart, she does have one doesn't she?" Deanna looked at him quizzically. "Well, I think if anyone is entitled to know of your past, it's me!" Will was enjoying the discomfort that the counselor was distracted by, he noticed Beverly was trying not to be seen with the smirk on her face.


The meeting began as they had all begun, with a summary of the latest events. The captain then filled them in on how the situation on the planet presently stood, describing the contaminated research center and its victims. The discussion was long and detailed resulting in a plan of action to be set in motion the next day.

Beverly was seated beside the counselor, she took the opportunity to watch and note the behavioral changes in her crewmates. She had seen things rapidly progress back on the planet, but here now aboard the Enterprise it was like seeing the entire thing begin again. The small tender moments now seemed exaggerated, as they were now incorporated into the commander and counselor's ordinary routines. Whenever Troi and Riker were together in the same room, it was as though they were connected, and perhaps they were. There did exit the empathic link they had always shared, it was possible that the link had been fortified by the circumstances brought about on the planet. Their moods generally matched. You never had to ask one where the other was, all you needed to do was watch where their attention seemed drawn and there you would find the other. Their attraction was like magnets, they seemed to need to have physical contact, not the draped over-hanging on to each other contact, rather it was more casual- an arm against an arm, a hand against an arm or leg touching leg.

Now at the meeting Beverly observed at Will rested his right hand on the armrest of Deanna's chair. She sat in her usual position with arms crossed, allowing her right hand to lay against Will's hand. The doctor watched as he moved a finger along her hand, softly caressing it. Beverly allowed her mind to drift, tying in all the occasions that the two seemed to unconsciously show their deep affection for each other. She was abruptly brought out of her private meanderings by the Captain's voice.

"Doctor, how would you suggest we go about stabilizing the risk of the contamination from the research facility?"

She caught Deanna's quick look and sympathetic smile as the empath picked up on her discomfort at being found daydreaming. " Captain, I suggest that we vaccinate all in the research labs and begin using the serum we used on the counselor on those infected. It would help if we could count on their medical people to help. As it is, I have no idea who the doctors are, except for the one Deanna met, and which doctors were not involved with the infection program."

"Captain, perhaps Abeathdor could help with the identity of the man I met, the doctor in the palace who went by the title of Almoner." Deanna looked at Abeathdor; the ruler had been sitting quietly, listening. "He said he was educated with you, that his family had served yours as your physicians."

Interest shone on Abeathdor's face, "I thought him dead! I lost contact with him during my imprisonment. Deanna was the only one I had any sense of, due mostly to her skills and empathy." She smiled, "He is alive then, that is wonderful. He could be trusted above all others. He is a good man, his name is Nairma. If you can find him he would be an excellent choice in aiding my people."

Deanna sensed the strong feelings for this man and wondered at the relationship the two might have share, now that their lives could return to some form of normalcy. "Captain, have we begun to secure the palace yet? That was the last place we knew Nairma to have been."

Worf felt all eyes on him. "We have the palace secured now. A list of all found in the palace is being prepared. I will have the completed list before the night is over." He looked at Abeathdor; "I would be pleased to go over the list with you, at your earliest convenience."

The captain began assigning responsibilities to different crew members, stopping as he got to the counselor and his number one. "I'd like you tow to stay on board for now and rest. You have both completed your assignments in a manner that requires commendations. Commander, Beverly and I will see to the needs of the young man and the rest of the people in Fallscity."


As everyone left the lounge, Will and Deanna stayed behind to speak with Abeathdor and the captain. Deanna has some questions regarding Lepton and the information he appeared to have about their communication. Abeathdor explained that when she was first held captive Lepton too have been a prisoner. They had been able to talk at times before he was allowed his freedom, up to this point she believed him to support her. Later, there were few occasions that she could sense him and his thoughts but could understand neither. That is when it occurred to her that he may have shifted his allegiance, and could no longer communicate clearly with her. His betrayal still stung, but she felt again only Gringbald's masterful manipulations could have been responsible. Abeathdor considered that Lepton probably had no idea he was being used against her. That would explain Deanna's inability to sense his double life.

Abeathdor had many question for the counselor. Some of the answers no doubt perplexed her. She finally thanked them all for their efforts. The manner in which this was accomplished was also their dismissal.

"I believe we have been royally thrown out." Will tried to make light of it as they strolled toward the turbolift. "What do you think that was all about?"

"She's trying to find her cabinet of officials and she doesn't know where to begin. A difficult beginning, but because of her empathic skills, it wouldn't be impossible. She'll find those loyal honest people she needs." Deanna took Will's arm as they waited for the turbolift.

"Ah... our chariot awaits." Will led her in, "My castle or yours?" He smiled down at her waiting to direct the computer for the turbolift to continue.

"Let's go to mine, as much as I don't want to face mother right now, I know it is only because she is concerned. And it would be rude to keep Guinan waiting any longer."

When the they came to the floor the quarters were on, Will had the computer hold the doors closed, "A goodnight kiss now, I may be thrown out on my ear later." He watched her face; she had a way of almost repressing a smile that he enjoyed. Times when she was trying to appear so proper or professional, he could sometimes break through that façade, and if he caught her off guard he would be rewarded with genuine laughter, that would begin in her eyes and on occasion nearly capsize her with it's hardiness.

She looked into those blue eyes that crinkled when he laughed or was attempting to get her to laugh, she smiled, "Okay, just one. Before long we won't be allowed in here without a chaperone. Her eyes twinkled as she flashed a rather mischievous smile. They were careful this time not to draw the attention of a previous time.

"We are expected down on the planet sometime later, so let's enjoy the quiet time together while we can. I imagine you'll be taking Solace down to see Rankeer?" Will spoke as they moved arm in arm down the corridor towards Deanna's quarters.

"Truthfully, I haven't decided to do that. I would rather bring Rankeer here. You did talk to him about the possibility of coming aboard, didn't you?"

"Yes that's one reason I would like to personally go back. Why are you feeling reluctant about allowing Solace to return for a visit? We'll be with her. This way if all goes as we hope, she can say her good-byes and see the lightfoot before she leaves with us."

"We don't know if that will be the direction everything takes, and they are all good reasons for her to go back. Mine may not sound as practical. Will, we have no idea what she went through during the time she was taken from the glen until Gringbald returned her to me. I'm afraid for her, afraid of her reactions to those things that my trigger memories we have no knowledge of, I would like to work on that in a more controlled atmosphere."

They had walked slowly enjoying the small moments of privacy they were able to steal. As they neared her quarters, Deanna's arm around Will tightened, he turned to embrace her once more..."Well, it's about time! Guinan has responsibilities to take care of, which are more important than baby sitting me." Mrs. Troi stood in the now open doorway with her hands on her hips looking more than a little perturbed.

Deanna walked past her mother into the living room. "I'm sorry Guinan if I kept you from anything. You have been very gracious in your help with Solace. I know she enjoys your company."

"Counselor, I would not be here if I didn't want to be. I had a nice time with Solace and an interesting time with your mother. Please call on me anytime I can be of help. I truly enjoy spending time here. I think right now you people need some time to catch up, so I'll say goodnight. Solace is asleep in bed." She nodded her goodbye or was it run while you still have the chance to Will as she passed him on her way to the door.

The doors had no sooner closed behind the hostess, when Mrs. Troi began, "Okay Deanna, let's talk." She took her daughter by the hand to lead her to the table. She glanced over her shoulder, "William, either you are joining us or you aren't, don't stand there planning a retreat. Come or go as you wish."

Will stood with a surprised expression on his face, looking at Deanna. She shrugged her shoulders, then thought/sent < You don't have to be here for this, it's up to you. >

He stood for only a second before joining the two at the table. Will moved quickly to hold Lwaxana's chair for her. It was then her turn to be surprised. If she hadn't been concentrating on Deanna she would have known that Will was trying to keep her on her toes. this time he wasn't going to allow her to gain any more of the upper hand then she already seemed to hold. He was not going to force Deanna to stand up alone to her for them. He made that mistake once, and had been paying for it ever since. He watched the interaction between mother and daughter, know Lwaxana would use telepathy to speak to her daughter.

Lwaxana Troi sat looking intently at her daughter, "Alright Deanna, let's begin at the beginning. Everyone is acting like I'm the bad guy. I want to know what it is that you're holding back and everyone else is protecting. It's bad enough that I learn you were at deaths door, what could be more frightening than that?"

"Mother, before we begin, I'm going to check on Solace. It would not be in her best interest to overhear any of this." She looked at Will as she left the table. He remained watching as Deanna turned into the bedroom.

She stood beside the bed, watching Solace as the child slept. There were so many little things she had come to find endearing about this child. Not the least of these qualities was the fact that Solace seemed to have had an unquestioning trust for the counselor from when they first met back at Fallscity. Solace slept on what had been Deanna's side of the bed, all the pillows either beside or under her. When Deanna leaned down to kiss the small forehead, two little hand caught her around the neck. Deanna looked closely at her; the small eyes were still closed. The counselor gently brought the hands from around her neck to lay them beside the child and cover her. She straightened and started concentrating on the small person; the child was still asleep.

< Mother, please bring Will in here with you.> she sent . Knowing her mother to be very advanced in her telepathic skills, Deanna thought that perhaps she would be able to tell if the child did in fact possess some skill of her own.

"Do you sense that she is sleeping?" Deanna stepped back to whisper to them.

"Yes, why, what do you think is wrong?" Lwaxana looked for the sleeping child to her daughter.

"Nothing is wrong. Beverly and I have thought at times Solace may possess some empathic abilities of her own. Let's see if this happens again." Once again, Deanna walked up to the bed leaned over the child and kissed her. At first nothing happened, then as Deanna straightened to stand looking down at her, a small had caught her own, holding it tightly. Solace turned on her side holding the hand against her, a smile appeared on the otherwise sleeping face

Deanna looked at her mother; Mrs. Troi was entranced by the child's actions. She thought/sent < Slowly move away Deanna.>

Daughter slowly did as her mother requested. Lwaxana took her place standing where Deanna had been; she gently brushed the short curls from off the small face. There was no reaction. Mrs. Troi sat on the edge of the bed to pat the child's back. No response. She moved away, signally Deanna to sit where she had been. Deanna sat on the bed beside Solace, the child moved over to the counselor lying close to her.

It melted Deanna's heart, that the child had known her identity and moved to be close to her. Up to now she had thought it was purely by instinct to be close to someone. Mrs. Troi left the room, waiting outside for Deanna and Will to follow her. Will went to the bed, looking down at Solace and Deanna, he smiled holding his hand out for the counselor. She got to her feet looking into the blue eyes she thought /sent, < You try it, see if she knows you.>

He stooped down to kiss the forehead as Deanna had done earlier. A small hand felt his bearded chin, then nestled again by her own face. Deanna could sense how much this pleased him. She took his arm as they went out to join her mother.

"What else have you noticed?"

"Well there are many things that by themselves may mean nothing. Once you begin to look you see little things in everything she does. It begins to feel right that she has some skills herself. Beverly has done some tests which leads her to believe the capacity within the brain is there."

"What about her family- any telepaths or empaths?"

"Her parents seem to have disappeared no long after her birth. She was adopted by a family when she was quite young." Deanna went on to relate the child's history, as they knew it.

Lwaxana looked thoughtfully at her daughter, "Give me some time to observe her. Will, Deanna let's sit and have that talk. I need to know what's been happening. I've been getting all kinds of thoughts from your friends." Her tone had softened, as had her whole demeanor. She went to her daughter to look closely at her, "Dear, I am concerned about you. You look absolutely exhausted, and some of the stories I've picked up on scare me. You know, you are all the family I have. I wouldn't be here if I didn't care."

"I know Mother." Deanna kissed her cheek. "I'm fine. Everything has worked out just fine. You have Will to thank for that." She stood watching for her mother's reaction, expecting a dour comment about why she would choose the choices she did. Mrs. Troi occasionally even surprised her daughter, she did so now.

"Yes, I've heard as much. I've learned it's been a frightening experience for you both. Some of your crewmates feel a change in both of you has occurred. I'd like to know what all has happened."

They looked at each other; neither knew where to begin. Deanna started at the beginning, leaving out details involving Gringbald and his interest in her. This was a topic she felt would be better told with the passage of time. Not here and not now with Gringbald still being held on the Enterprise.


Lwaxana was impressed with Deanna's enhanced skills. She also displayed an acute interest in the people of Fallscity, after Deanna described her visit there and later finding Solace in the research facility. At the learning of the child's history, Lwaxana softened considerably, "That poor child, Deanna, I am so proud of you for helping her. Why don't you come back with me to Betazed, where we can have Doctor Dinal examine both you and Solace? The child definitely should be tested. This doctor is a specialist, the top in his field."

Deanna exchanged a look with Will. "That probably would be a good idea, but our work here is going to take a while longer."

"How much longer, Little One? Are we talking days, weeks, what? Because if we are, that's fine, I'll stay and go back with you. I'll help you with Solace until you are free to go."

"No, Mother. I don't know how much longer I'll be. There is a lot to be done. I won't tie you up indefinitely."

"Deanna, don't tell me they couldn't get along without you now, that you are needed to save this planet!"

Will was dismayed, Lwaxana never failed to surprise him. He watched now as she belittled her daughter's achievements, when only moments before she was commending those very actions. "As a matter of fact Mrs. Troi, Deanna did practically save this planet and without her aid, we would never have found Abeathdor or gotten back safely. It's late, perhaps this discussion would be better left to another time." He waited for a rebuff from the older Troi, but none came.

"Yes, well; you may be right there are other questions I'd like answered, one about your relationship with my daughter. Just how serious do you take it this time? But I sense this may not be the best time to delve into that." She went to Deanna, hugged her again with a kiss. "It's only because I love you that I interfere as Will thinks I'm doing." She cast him a challenge, then when it was evident he was not going to pick up on it, "Goodnight dear, do try and get some rest. William, I expect you to watch out for her." Lwaxana Troi nobly strode to the door and out into the corridor, leaving Will and Deanna in her wake, wondering about how the encounter proved too easy.

"Don't look too relieved Will, I know Mother and it's not over by a long shot. I expect her next move is to go to Captain Picard."

"I trust the captain has by now come to know your mother. Are you okay?"

"I think so. Are you going now?"

"Do you want me to stay with you for a while?" He asked softly, noting the tired anxious eyes.

She smiled up at him, "Would you mind?"

Will moved to her, enveloping her in his embrace before leading her to the sofa, "What's wrong?"

"I'm just feeling a little overwhelmed. Tell me what you think of the possibility of Solace having empathic or telepathic skills? Does that alter you decision to keep her with us."

"When I look at her, I never think of that. She is just a little girl. It changes nothing in how my decision stands. It will make things a little more interesting for us, but I think we are both up to the challenge. Is that what is worrying you, you think that I'll turn and run at the aspect of living with two women who can read my mind? Let me tell you, that is a prospect not just any man could take on...unless he finds himself unable to live without one or both of them."

She smiled and listened to him talk about some of the changes he could foresee going on down on Prakal. He talked about the play Beverly was working on and the roles she was assigned to everyone. He talked because he knew she just needed his company now. She stayed close within his arms because she knew she needed his strength, and this was her way of absorbing it. When some time had passed he looked down at her to see she could barely keep her eyes open. "Why don't we call it a night, since I'm off tomorrow let's meet for breakfast together. I'll see you around 0800." He leaned over to kiss her goodnight, then held her face to whisper in her ear, "I'll see what can be done about family quarters, or at least adding a bedroom on for now." She smiled and nodded.

After Will had left, Deanna went back into the bedroom. She sat on the chair close to the bed to work on a report for the Captain on the day's events. Something pulling on her foot woke her. She opened her eyes to see Solace had covered her and was attempting to take her boots off. "Sweetie, why don't you jump back into bed. I'll change and come to bed too." Solace went back to the bed, sitting cross-legged waiting on Deanna to join her.

Once they had settled in for the night, Deanna asked Solace if she'd like a room of her own, one that would have her things in it and her own bed. Solace looked doubtful, Deanna sighed, that would be a battle for another day.

Her sleep was intermixed with her dreams, dreams of isolation and of being paralyzed with no will, strength or authority of her own. She dreamed of being smothered, when she finally was able to swim to the surface of consciousness, she found herself being held tightly by a small girl. She was wrapped around the counselor, patting Deanna's back, consoling her. Deanna sat up to hold on to Solace as she moved. The child pulled away enough to look at the counselor's face. Deanna was touched and concerned to see that Solace had been crying. "Oh sweetie, did I frighten you? I'm sorry. I must have had a bad dream. It's okay now, let's lay down and rest." There was no reply. The child held on and buried her face in the counselor's shoulder. Somehow they both fell back to sleep like that.

That is how Will found them the next morning. When no answer came to the chime, he let himself in. Alarmed that there was no sign of anyone he rushed into the bedroom. Once he had looked the situation over, he surmised that someone had had a rough night. He found the PADD Deanna had been working with on the floor beside the chair, sitting on the chair he began to read it.

He had just finished reading the report when he felt someone 's eyes on him; he looked up to see Deanna watching him read. He laid the PADD down and went to the bed to help lie Solace beside her. Then as Deanna got up, he raised his eyebrows at her sleepwear. On catching the emotion going through his mind, Deanna looked meaningfully at the sleeping child. The she looked down at the nightgown she had chosen, thinking she wasn't fully awake and may have put on a different nightgown than the one she intended to wear. No, it was the simple white shift she meant to wear. She looked at Will and shook her head, unable to keep the smile from her face. Will said nothing, he picked her robe up from the floor at the foot of the bed he held it up for her to put on.

"You had better change then, I'll get something from the replicator for breakfast." He gave her another on of the mischievous looks hoping for a response. She responded, by going to him and wrapping her arms around his neck to deliver a surprising good morning kiss.

"You had better change." He whispered into her hair. "Now, please." She smiled, pulling away to find her way to the closet and bathroom. He watched her go, until she disappeared into the bathroom.

He had just set a thermos of coffee on the table when Deanna fully dressed and groomed for the day, appeared in the doorway. "That's better, not quite so alluring. Who had the bad night? It appeared one of you did."

"I believe it was me, I had a couple of bad dreams. I must have frightened her."

"Was it anything like the ones you had down on the planet? Because if they were, I can understand Solace being frightened. Do you want to talk about them?"

"No, I think these were just the my mind playing back the day's events. I think Mother may be right, an expert should see Solace. There may be things we could be doing to help her and by understanding her makeup better, we would be able to be more supportive and be better able to prepare her for what may lie a head. What do you think?"

"Does this have to be done right now? I think it would be better to let her come to know her and us now home here first. Then when she's feeling more secure, take her off to a new place with doctors she doesn't know to examine and test her. Aren't you afraid that may trigger memories? Will talked softly yet his words were filled with a strong conviction.

Deanna's eyes widened at the way Will was handling this, his words were loaded with turmoil, she didn't understand where it stemmed from. "Yes, I am afraid of that happening, but then that may well be the best controlled atmosphere for it to happen in. A specialist would be there to help her and us deal with it." She watched his expressions as she talked, because they often betrayed his immediate feelings, before he had time to refine and rethink them.

"Each of us needs to decide for ourselves what our priorities are, who or what comes first. Look at your time element, Deanna. How soon would you go to Betazed? Now? With your mother, because that is what she wants. Or will you wait to finish what we've begun on this mission?" He was referring to more than the planet Prakal.

"Wait! Before we go any further, you know what my feelings for you are; you never have to question that. After all, you took a lot of time working out your priorities. This is different; we are talking about another life that is dependent upon our decisions. We need to do what is right for her." Deanna felt herself going on the defensive, suddenly she what this was all about Will was concerned that she was allowing her mother to make this decision.

"Deanna, I'm not questioning your motives. Just think about it before you follow your mother home. I told the captain, I'd log some bridge time this morning while he is down on the planet with Abeathdor. I've got to go." He left his untouched breakfast, leaned down to kiss her allowing his lips to linger, before looking long into her eyes, his hand touched her cheek then without saying another word, and he left for the bridge.

She could see the regret in his eyes, she knew she has somehow let him down. A noise came from the bedroom; Deanna turned to see Solace standing in the doorway rubbing her eyes. "Come here sweetie, you didn't have to get up yet, want to go back and sleep in this morning? I'm not going anywhere for a while"

She sleepily shook her head, and padded over to Deanna's chair "Will go?" Solace asked standing at her knee looking intently into her face.

"He had to go to the bridge. Are you ready for some breakfast yet?"

Solace again shook her head, then made to climb on to the counselor's lap. Deanna lifted her up to sit across her knees; the child leaned back to lay her head sleepily against her. They sat in silence for sometime before the door chimed. "Come in," Deanna called almost defeatedly, she well knew the presence on the other side of the door. Even Solace seemed unwilling to face the guest; she made no attempt to answer the chime or even to lift her face from the counselor's shoulder.

Mrs. Troi entered, "You two should have stayed in bed by the look of you. You aren't getting sick again are you?" She touched the child's forehead, then her own daughters. "You didn't sleep well. What happened? Don't bother trying to change the subject. I'm on to that little maneuver by now."

Deanna's first impulse was to suggest they get together later when she felt better able to cope with the delicate questions she knew were about to be asked. Then, she realized that there were few better equipped with the telepathic skills of her mother and that perhaps her mother may be in an ideal position to help her reason things out. The problem with that was that she would have to relay details that she had been unprepared to confide in to her.

The door chimed again. Lwaxana looked at Solace, "Little One, that would be for you."

Solace glanced at Deanna, they were both smiling. "I think she means you this time." Deanna glimpsed the child's expectation as she went to answer the door.

Two ensigns stepped inside the door with their arms full of parcels. "Counselor, where would you like these?" asked the first.

She looked at Mrs. Troi, "Mother, what is this?"

Lwaxana answered the ensign, "Just take them over by the sofa, that will be fine young man. Is that everything?"

"No ma'am." Two more civilians from the replicating center also entered the quarters, laying their parcels next to the others.

Solace studied the whole proceedings wide eyed; unsure of what her part in all this was to be. Mrs. Troi took her by the hand to lead her to the many packages now stacked by the sofa. "It's high time you have a childhood and all the trappings that go with it." She stood behind the child, with her hands on the diminutive shoulders; "These are for you."

Solace looked back questioningly at Deanna. The counselor was very touched by the thoughtfulness, albeit a little overdone by the look of the amount of packages. She went to kneel beside Solace, then with an arm around her, she encouraged her to begin to open the gifts, "Well let's see what Mrs. Troi has brought for you."

"That's entirely too formal dear, we'll have to find something else. How about Aunt Lwaxana?" Deanna raised her eyebrows, but kept her remarks to herself. She continued to sit on the floor beside Solace, handing her a box and watching as Solace opened it. The child looked at the contents unsure whether or not to touch them. The counselor removed the material to reveal the brightly colored outfit for a small girl. The next several packages contained other pieces of clothing. Solace was delighted with each one, wanting to wear everything. That is until they came upon the shoes. Deanna tried to put them on the small feet; Solace kept taking them off.

"What's the problem, Deanna? Aren't they the correct fit? I can have that corrected'

"I don't think that is the problem, I don't think she wore shoes a lot back in the glen. She was barefoot most of the times I saw her. I'll work on it with her later."

Aunt Lwaxana watched her daughter and Solace going through each package, she remained the onlooker, saying very little from her post on the sofa. When they came to the many toys that were intermixed with the clothing, the child could not decide whether to continue opening packages or to figure out the toy. Finally, all the packages were opened and lying scattered across the floor.

Deanna moved up to sit with her mother on the sofa. "Thank you Mother." She embraced her and planted a kiss on the older Troi's cheek. "I have been negligent."

"No, you haven't, you've been busy and trying to fill too many roles at once. Don't look at me like that, I take a different prospective on things, that's all. I'm allowed, I'm your mother." Lwaxana put her arm through her daughters, "Come let's go where we can talk."

Deanna obediently went with her to the uncleared table. She began resetting it with fresh juice and coffee. They talked about Solace for a while before Lwaxana broached the subject Deanna knew to be on her mind. "Are you ready to talk to me yet? You've become very quiet, oh you never were a big talker, but lately...well let's just say I know there's something more." Mrs. Troi reached over to put her hand over her daughters. "What happened on that planet? I know it has to do with Will. I could find out, you k now, but I want to hear it from you. This time let me decide about the parts that would upset me."

"So much happened." Deanna wanted to be unemotional in the retelling of their adventures, trying not to allow the parts that touched her show. "I didn't tell you about the lightfoot, and how Beverly and I got caught..." She continued in the relating of the experiences of the trip down to Prakal, she had decided this time she would tell it pretty much as it happened. Mrs. Troi would know one way or the other regardless of Deanna's wishes.

Dreamers chapt 29

The door chimed again, Solace stood in front of it just as she and Deanna practiced. "Who's there?" She asked slowly and carefully.

"Commander LaForge."

Solaced waited for Deanna's direction before allowing the visitor to entrance. Deanna nodded her consent to allow the visitor in.

"Come in." Solace stood back as the doors opened, waiting to see who this LaForge was.

"Hi there, is Counselor Troi in?" He directed his comments to her,

"Yesss." The small girl led the way to the table where the Troi women were seated.

"Hi Geordi, I hope you don't mind, Solace has taken on the responsibility of answering the door. She's actually doing quite well." Deanna's arm around the child tighten slightly,

"No problem Counselor, Commander Riker requested a new sleeping compartment to be added on to your quarters. Things are getting pretty quiet in engineering, so I though it would be a good time to meet the young lady you have staying with you." He looked at Solace and introduced himself to her. Although the counselor could sense the child's fascination with Geordi's Visor, Solace never asked or reached to touch it, nor did she react in fear of the strange mechanism.

After exchanging pleasantries, he asked the counselor, "Where do you think you would want this addition? Since Doctor Keith transferred to a space station, the easiest place to reconstruct the modular unit would be along this wall. That way we could tap into his old quarters." Deanna and Geordi walked back through the quarters. There weren't a lot of options, if she chose to remain in these quarters. In the end Deanna had Geordi chose which would work out the best.

Lwaxana and Solace were deciding which outfit to wear, when Deanna returned. "We're going to go for a walk to ten-forward to show off our new clothes..."

Whatever else Lwaxana had planned was interrupted by the Deanna's comm. "Riker to Counselor Troi>"

"Yes Will, what is it?" She sensed an urgency in his voice.

"Counselor can you arrange to be in the Captain's ready room in five minutes."

Deanna looked at her mother, Lwaxana nodded, "On my way Commander." She turned to Solace, "I guess you'll have to go with out me, I'll try to catch up with you later. Are you going to surprise me with the new outfit?" She picked her up for the eye to eye contact that she knew would occur. The empath wasn't disappointed. Solace apparently found nothing amiss, giving her an affirmative answer on the surprise and a hug goodbye. Deanna kissed each little cheek before putting her down.

"Is that a common practice?" Lwaxana asked. She didn't have to elaborate, Deanna felt her mother's attention sharpen when Solace held her face to look into her eyes.

"Yes it is, why? Do you recognize it?"

"Yes, that with the other traits add up to an interesting possibility. We can talk when you're done. It sounds as though you and William have something to work out, so you had better not be late."

She studied her mother's face. "Thanks for being here Mother." She kissed her cheek too, before going. Solace walked her to the door. "I'll see you in a little while, okay?"

The child nodded. Deanna smiled down at her the walked out of her door to find two security people waiting for her.

"Counselor, we are to escort you to the captains ready room."

Will stopped pacing for a moment to check to make the counselor had left her quarters, patience was never a point he excelled in, not when it concerned a particular crew member, especially not now. He had paced the room to the extent he knew how many steps it would take to cross from one side to the other, he was becoming more and more anxious with each passing minute. The entry chime sounded at last, "Come." He barked the order much more harshly than he intended. He stopped in front of the door waiting.

"Will, you wanted to see me." She paused almost reeling from the intensity of his emotions. "What is it?"

He gently pulled her in, allowing the doors to close behind her. As the doors closed, he wrapped his physical being around her pressing kisses on her lips, he continued to hold her as he spoke, "We have a problem. I've notified Captain Picard, he's in the middle of doing some negotiating on Abeathdor's behalf, he is returning as soon as possible."

"Will, what is it?" Her dark eyes filled with apprehension as she softly repeated her question, sensing his reluctance to explain to her the circumstances that had brought her here, and caused the anxiety that she sensed in Will. She would not allow herself to use her newly found skills and search his mind for the answer. She would wait for him to tell her, now that she had gotten more comfortable with the telepathic skills she had also learned to override them.

"Somehow Gringbald is out of the stasis pod. I haven't let the force field down, I think we are not aware of all he is capable of, and if there is a chance he is still in that holding cell, I'm not going to give him an easy way out." He tilted her chin to see into her eyes, "You, are not to be alone. You are going to stay here with me until the Captain returns, then we'll sort out the security problems."

"Will, I don't think he'll come for me directly. It would be Solace or you he would use."

He could see the concern in her eyes and hear it in her voice; it was all he needed. "Riker to LaForge."

"LaForge here. What is it Commander?"

"Are you still in Counselor Troi's quarters?"

"Yes sir, though she has left."

"Yes, she's with me Geordi. Is Lwaxana and the child still there?"

"Yes sir, they are."

"I need you to stay there with them until I authorize differently with a security code. Geordi, if you notice anything peculiar take security measures immediately."


Will looked at Deanna noticing for the first time the agitated plucking of her hands at her sides. "This may easily be for nothing. Gringbald maybe in his detention cell. I'm not taking any chances. The captain and the others will soon be here."

"I'm not afraid for myself, he has said he would know the next time to use the child." She eyes pierced his, or you. Lagi was right about not showing whom you care about. He'll use one of you to get to me."

His communicator sounded, "Commander, Captain Picard and the away team are about to be beamed up."

"Acknowledged. Riker out."

He stood watching her, the pulled her to him, "I feel I need to apologize to you for this morning. I should have sent you and Solace to Betazed right away." They stayed close, "Listen, Gringbald doesn't know I'm alive. Right? So we are one up on him." When she didn't answer he guessed part of her concern, "He couldn't get rid of me before and I'm sure as hell not rolling over now. Deanna, he's in our element now, we will have control. Stop worrying, we have the upper hand, it is not at all like before." He held her tighter trying to convey a sense of security to her through his embrace. They stayed close until the entry chime sounded. Will asked for the identity of the caller before releasing the security lock.

Captain Picard entered his ready room, followed by Doctor Crusher, Data and Worf. Commander Riker quickly filled them in on the situation. The captain wasted no time in organizing his people and attempting to gain control of things. Worf was to escort the doctor and counselor back to the counselor's quarters and to remain there until the situation was resolved. Geordi would join Riker and Data at the holding cell where they would begin a thorough investigation into Gringbald's location and capture.

Starfleet was notified of the problem, the captain asked for immediate transportation for the shape shifter to a nearby starbase with adequate means to keep him detained, thereby allowing the Enterprise to finish it's responsibilities on Prakal.

Worf escorted the two women back to the counselor's quarters, he gave the security code that allowed Geordi to release the door. Worf and he exchanged several words before Geordi left. Deanna knew her mother had been grilling Geordi for information, by the why he made his fast escape from them. Solace was very pleased to have her back, but then so was Lwaxana, now she would get those answers, while she had her daughter as a fellow detainee.

Worf left to stand watch with the other two security people outside in the corridor. He had little time for Mrs. Troi's mind reading antics and less for "Mr. Woof", as she insisted upon calling him.

"What does this Gringthing want with you? Deanna, you left a lot of details out of the story. I think the time has now come that warrants some forth-coming information. No more procrastinating."

Beverly was trying to think of some place of refuge to take Solace when Lwaxana suggested the child show the doctor her new room. Together they escaped into the new addition, where they began putting away the new toys and clothing, allowing time for Deanna and her mother to work something things out. Most of the detailed information was communicated non-verbally to prevent Solace from overhearing any of it. Deanna secretly wondered if the child didn't already know a lot of the details, she had become so tuned into Deanna's feelings that it was becoming harder and harder to shield her from things Deanna felt best if left unknown to her.

It took relatively little time to complete the information Mrs. Troi was lacking. In the end it was she who was in tears and her daughter that was trying to comfort her. "If this is going to be your family, why not leave Starfleet and take care of Solace. Will can come back on leave or get stationed on Betazed. He was there before, I'm certain a word in the right ears could open up a very prestigious position for him. It would be sooo nice to have you and grandchildren near me before I did. It would make me soo happy, Little One."

"Mother, I can have a family and still do my job here. Nothing is written in stone. Will and I...well there are still somethings that need worked out."

"Deanna, if you love him and he loves you, he'll do what's best for you."

"But Mother, that may not be what's best for you." She mirrored her mother's icy glare.

That was the first thing Beverly heard as she and Solace returned to the sitting room. Solace took Deanna's hand wanting her to see her room; she gently pulled until the counselor was following her back to the new room.

"My room." Solace proudly showed the room off.

"It's very nice, are you happy with it?" Deanna sat on the child's bed that Geordi had replicated and beamed into the room.

The child sat beside her, frowning a little, then she smiled as though coming to a decision. "Yess."

Deanna pulled her onto her lap and put a hand on each side of the child's face imitating her by looking long into the deep blue eyes. "Where's Will?"

"He has some work to do with the captain. We'll know when he's done. Okay? Do you miss him when he's not here?"

Solace nodded, then pointed to Deanna, "Miss him?"

"Yes I miss him too. We'll see him later, but for right now, let's see what Doctor Beverly and -" She choked a little, "Aunt Lwaxana are up to." Solace chuckled.

They went back to find Beverly and Mrs. Troi were sitting at the table with tea. "The doctor and I were discussing Doctor Dinal and some of the fabulous results he has been able to achieve with his research into telepathy and empathy. I think that both you and Solace should be seen. I have contacted him and he would be delighted to see you both. I've met him at several social functions, he is quite charming for a young single man." Lwaxana now turned her full attention on her daughter, bestowing her with such a patronizing smile that Beverly swallowed her tea wrong and went into a spasm of coughing.

Deanna glared back at her, now this was more like what she had come to expect from her mother. Solace was patting Beverly on the back repeatedly asking, "Okay now, okay now?" The counselor looked at the scene before her wondering if she had somehow just stepped into an alternate universe.

Once Beverly regained control of her coughing and had wiped her eyes, she asked Solace if she would like to show Mrs. Troi where all her pretty new clothes and toys were. Solace nodded and held her hand out to Lwaxana to take her back for the now practiced tour. After they had gone, Deanna looked at Beverly, "What is it?"

"Deanna, you may not like what I'm about to say, but as your friend and physician I feel compelled to say it. I think Solace should definitely been seen by an expert. She is so tuned into you and your emotions that sometimes it's almost like she is apart of you. That may be why her own personality at times seems surpressed. What do you sense about her feelings toward you? Other than the obvious, she loves you and Will, you are her world."

"I make her feel safe, secure, that's not so unusual Beverly. It is amazing that with all she's been through she is as affectionate as she is, don't you think?" But then it's almost like she is so love starved ...I have begun to feel that this Doctor Dinal may not be such a bad idea."

"I think you too may benefit from a visit to him. Possibly explore the relationship between you two and the enhanced skills you have gained. I would like to hear his opinion on both." Beverly noticed the counselor's frown, expecting a rebuff she was surprised at Deanna's next words.

"I've been considering that a visit may be needed for all the reasons you've just named. The problem is when" I also have an obligation to Will, we need some time alone. I guess we'll just have to make opportunities." Deanna shook her head not knowing exactly what she needed most, the peaceful routine of life again, or a long vacation.

Chapter 30

Will suddenly came through the doors into her quarters. Deanna and Beverly knew by his face that something was wrong. " Deanna can I see you a minute. Beverly, Data requires your assistance with some new information he's attempting to decipher. Would you mind meeting him in sick bay, before you go could you relay to Mrs. Troi that Guinan is on her way for a visit."

"Certainly." Beverly really wanted to know what was going on, but knew from Will's tone and look she wasn't going to get anywhere with him.

They started down the corridor, Will held on to her arm and steered her to the door to his quarters. Her eyes quizzed him though she said nothing. He explained, "We need somewhere to talk that we won't be interrupted or overheard by little or big ears!"

"This has to do with Gringbald, doesn't it? What happened?" They stopped inside the door where he held her shoulders, looking down into her eyes.

"He was in the detention cell, but his form was breaking down. Gringbald says he cannot exist in such a manner as captivity. He broke out of stasis - how? We are still working on that. We are dealing with a life form we know little about. What we have learned, we learned from him. Data is working on some information that was recorded during his break-out."

"Has his life signs changed since he's out of stasis?"

"Yes, but he's a shape shifter by nature and a symbiotic being. What is natural to him? We have only his word to go on. I'm not sure we should rely on his word for anything."

"My experience with him has been that he doesn't openly lie-while he will deceive you by misrepresenting the facts, he'll maneuver the situation, he'll play games with your feelings, but he hasn't openly lied to me, yet."

"I hope that wasn't intended on making me feel better." Will's narrowed eyes met hers.

"What is it, Will?"

He continued to look at her through the narrowed eyes. "He asked to be allowed to speak with you. He gave his word that no harm would come to you." He guided her to him, her head against his chest, where he could hold her protectively.

She understood the gesture and turned her head to kiss his neck. She could feel him relax, until she asked, "When?"

"Now. In about four hours the transportation the Captain has asked for should arrive to ferry Gringbald tot he nearest space station with a facility to hold him."

"What does the captain think about a visit to Gringbald?"

"He left the decision up to you. If you decide to see him, you are not to be alone, nor are you to go inside the force field." His voice was tight with tension.

"And you, how do you feel about it?"

"I know you'll do what you think is needed. Sometimes I wish you didn't feel such a strong sense of duty about these kinds of things. You never get those wishy/washy on the fence feelings do you?" He held her to him for a little longer, "I guess that's one of the qualities about you I love. Since I know what your decision is, let's go get it over with." He moved a step from her, but continued to hold her with his eyes, wishing he could have made the decision for her, or failing that requested she not go to the captain. Now standing next to her he put his arm around her as they left his quarters. As they approached the detention area Will stopped to inform the captain of her decision and their location.

"I'd like you to wait there for Data and Worf, as an added precaution. Data is to fill you in once he arrives. Number One, keep me informed of any new developments." Captain Picard too was uneasy with the way things had developed, but to give up an opportunity to learn more about this life form would be unfortunate. He wanted every precaution necessary take to safeguard his people. They may learn some needed information about the planet or the events that led to the need for their intervention into it's affairs through this meeting, but no information was worth one of their lives.

Worf and Data arrived shortly after the captain spoke with Will. Gringbald was to be transported from the detention area directly aboard the Starfleet carrier when the time came for him to leave the Enterprise. This would take place after Deanna and Gringbald had their talk.

The four entered the detention area. It was not hard to find the cell holding Gringbald. There were security people at the force field and one at the console monitoring his movements. Upon their approach, Deanna noted that he had chosen the form of the man Gringbald once more.

He watched them arrive, as they neared, he stood and moved as close to the force field as he could without feeling it's effects. "I knew you would come. I see you have brought friends. I believe I know them all. I gravely misjudged you Commander. I suppose I should apologize for that. I really didn't expect you to live. But then, I believe that your living had more to do with our counselor here than your own abilities. Am I not correct?"

Will would give him no satisfaction, his patience was worn thin, "What is it you want Gringbald? We owe you no courtesy, so you had better take advantage of this now!"

"As you wish." He moved to the side nearer to where Deanna stood. "Counselor, is it possible to talk to you without the ears of so many pinned to your sleeve? You see I am in need of your vocational skills, Counselor."

Deanna looked at Will, "Could you stand back at the desk for a few minutes. You would still be close, if I should need you. Please."

Will frowned, and gave Gringbald a fierce look, before going back to stand with the ensign at the console. Data and Worf followed him each steeling a glance back at the counselor. Worf could be heard muttering a low growling type sound.

"Okay, how is it you have need of my vocational skills?" She was watching him closely for any sign that may forewarn her of his intentions.

He whispered, "I cannot live in confined spaces. Do you believe me when I tell you that it would be far easier to die then to even consider such a future?"

"Do you want counseled on the ethical stand of suicide?" Her voice may have sounded as though the subject and the being asking of it were of no consequence to her. However, her body language spoke differently to those you knew the counselor well.

Will stood back at the console watching and straining his ears to learn anything, He saw her straighten her back, shift her shoulders, then cross and uncross her arms; he knew what ever was being discussed was going to be trouble. With one look at Worf and a glance back at the counselor the commander was able to signal his wishes, Worf knew what was expected and moved closer to the cell.

Gringbald would have touched her if could have done so through the force field. He knew he could keep her off balance by his physical presence, then control her by his conversation. "No my dear, I want your help in committing that deed."

"Why would you think I would even consider helping you?" The counselor was astonished. Will and Worf both edged their way closer at the sound of her voice. The wariness showing in Wills eyes moved Worf even nearer to the counselor.

"Because my dear, I have a bargaining chip you are unaware of, and you need this little piece of knowledge, my dear. I can enlighten you as no other. It will change your life and the lives of those you hold so close to your heart." He caught her quick glimpse back to Will. "Oh, by all means talk it over with him. It may well change your relationship quite profoundly."

Deanna stepped back a couple of spaces, keeping her eyes on Gringbald, before turning and moving quickly to Will's side. "What going on? What does he want?" Will waited for her answer.

She took a few moments to catch her breath and try to reason out the request and the manner in which it was delivered. Deanna considered that Gringbald wanted her to prove herself without going for the commander's advice, perhaps thereby playing into his hands... "He has information he wants to barter with." She gratefully gave up the information, hoping that in some small way she had thwarted him in using her.

"He can have no information grand enough to earn him his freedom..."

Deanna placed a hand on his arm stopping him, "It's not his freedom he's willing to bargain for....it's his death."

"What?!" Will looked back to the holding cell, Gringbald was watching and waiting, he had absolutely no expression on his face, as though he was waiting with no expectations.

"He says he cannot exist in confined spaces."

Will moved over to Gringbald, "What kind of information could you possibly have that would force us to consider such a step?"

Gringbald smiled, it was a diabolical smile, and a smile that Will felt had been practiced to give an impression of total evil. He had begun to wish he hadn't asked he had the gut feeling this was information he didn't want to know. Will could feel that Deanna had now moved to his side. He fought the impulse to send her back to Solace and her mother, because somehow he knew this would center around her. Why else would Gringbald have wanted her here.

"I cannot give an open answer without more information to take to the captain. You must know that it would be his decision to make."

"Yes, yes, I keep forgetting the pecking order of your society. How incompetent you all must be to be only capable of doing another's whim, but reap none of the rewards or take credit for the labor of the performance. I am not asking for a precious Starfleet pardon! I am asking for my death - be it accidental in appearance or design or outright - I want it before the transfer. You have very little time to make the decision or have it made for you, Commander."

Will took Deanna's arm leading her back to the console, he tapped his communicator, "Riker to Captain Picard."

"Go ahead Number One."

"Captain, we have a situation down here that requires your attention."

"I'm on the way Commander."

Gringbald cocked his head and looked at Riker, "I believe you may have changed my mind for me, Commander, I will talk only to the counselor. You understand, I believe she alone will listen to me." He looked at Deanna for what seemed to her, along time, looking her in the eye, before turning to walk to the back of the cell, where he sat facing away from all of them.

Doctor Crusher's voice suddenly broke the silence, "Crusher to Counselor Troi. Deanna we have an emergency."

"Yes Beverly, what is it?"

"Can you come immediately to sickbay, it's Solace."

"What has happened?" Deanna was beginning to feel a panic like a blow to the stomach.

"She appears to be having some kind of seizure, she's screaming for you." In the background they could hear the distant wailing of the child. Deanna closed her eyes and reached out trying to sense the child. She was hit immediately with tremendous fear. She tried to cut through the emotion to calm the child, but Solace had almost encased herself in terror. Deanna looked at Will.

"You couldn't reach her?" Will knew by the anxiety in her face she hadn't. He gave directions without taking his eyes from the counselor. "Worf escort the counselor to sickbay."

"You know, I could save you the worry and the trip, if you'd care to meet me half way." It was Gringbald's words, which shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone.

"You are responsible for this? You can harm a child from in there?" Deanna had stormed to the front of the force field facing Gringbald, her fists clenched at her sides.

Will followed her, "If you're responsible for this, prove it. Stop whatever you're doing to her now!"

Gringbald smiled like a man with the universe in the palm of his hand. "Talk now to the good doctor."

"Troi to Doctor Crusher. Beverly, what's happening?"

"Deanna, I'm not sure. Solace has passed out. It appears to be a normal sleep. I'll continue to monitor until you can get here."

Deanna tapped her communicator, terminating the link; she turned to glare past the force field into the cell at Gringbald.

"The counselor here is beginning to think death is exactly what I deserve. Don't you my dear? So, why not in the best interest of all do it?"

"Because we do not take death as lightly as you do." Deanna knew how manipulative he was, for someone with no emotions he was very skilled at using others' emotions to get his own purposes accomplished.

Captain Picard entered the detention area. "Commander Riker, Counselor Troi, may I see you?"

He exited the area going back into the corridor outside, awaiting his officer's presence. They wasted little time in joining him there. "What exactly do we have here? Beverly has informed me that the counselor is needed in sickbay. Now, I understand the situation there has been somewhat stabilized. Is this a coincidence, or is there a connection between Gringbald and the episode in sickbay?"

Riker answered, "There apparently is a connection, at least Gringbald wants us to believe there is. We are hoping to get to that. However, the price to be paid is that Gringbald wants his death in exchange for information."

"He wants us to kill him?" Picard rubbed his head; "I don't know why that should come as a surprise. This whole thing has been a bit melodramatic from the beginning. Come on, let's see if we can get to the bottom of it." Picard was about to enter into the detention area when Will stopped him.

"Captain, there is one other thing... He wants to deal only with the counselor."

"Let him tell me what it is he wants. Counselor, are you prepared, if that is the only way he'll communicate? If he is using the child to bait you, can you remain objective?"

"I think so." She hoped she sounded more unaffected than she felt.

"Good." The captain looked from one to the other, then turned to go in to face Gringbald.

They returned to stand in front of Gringbald's cell. The captain spoke first. "I want to hear your request. Exactly what is it you want from us?"

"Do you have so little confidence in your people, that you do not believe them? I am sure it was repeated to you correctly. I am not in the habit of begging so let's get it over with quickly, shall we? My bargain is this: for the privilege of death I am willing to come forth with information that is being sought by your people. I cannot give more without giving it all. What I ask in return is quite simple. Kill me. You see, I cannot exist in captivity, and you cannot nor will you set me free." He paused letting his words penetrate, before adding, "Anything more I will communicate only through the counselor." He again left the front of this cell to go to the furthest side where he sat with his back to them.

The captain moved away, signally his people to follow him. When they had moved a distance from the cell he began, "Counselor, talk with him, find out what you can. Be on the alert for an angle that we can use. In the mean time I'm going to contact Starfleet. Let me know of any new development. Do not allow yourselves to be provoked into anything. I'll be in my ready room. I'll stop at sick bay and see how things stand. Perhaps Doctor Crusher may have some insights we could use." He held the counselor's arm briefly, "Be careful, don't take any risks without consulting Commander Riker or myself."


"Commander, a word please." They talked quietly as they watched the counselor talk with Gringbald. "Will, I don't like the turn this is taking, pull the plug on this at your first inclination of trouble. I'll be in sickbay; I'll do what I can there. Mrs. Troi is there, perhaps she may be of help in understanding this." He paused, glanced back at the cell, "Contact me with any new development, but don't wait to handle a problem." Will shook his head but continued watching Deanna and the prisoner.

The counselor walked back to stand in front of Gringbald, "Okay, why me? Talk to me, Gringbald, why me?"

"My dear Counselor Troi, I've wanted you since your first arrival at the palace. You could have been my queen. What's more, you would have been happy. You would have never questioned my loyalty. This may surprise you, but I know you better than you know yourself, and what it is that makes you happy." He watched her closely. If only he could have had more time alone with her down on Prakal, he knew he would have convinced her. She would have become a willing partner in his plans.

Gringbald decided to try a different avenue, "Listen, my dear, if you allow a transporter accident to occur, I'll give you that information you desire so badly. You see, I will die. Whether it is here with your aide ore elsewhere by some other contrived means, I will die. I would like to be with you, with your help. I wanted you to spend your life with me. I wanted to make you happy."

"Enough! You have no idea what the concepts of love or happiness means. Don't you think that by now, I know when you're attempting to manipulate me. Communicate with me without the manipulation; just tell me what it is that brought you to this end. What is it that you feel we need to know?" Deanna knew he was trying to play her, using his words to precipitate a course in his own behalf.

They were quietly watching each other when they heard the ship's communication system notify them of the transferring vessel's near arrival. Deanna tried again to find out what he had to do with Solace. "How were you able to affect the child like that? Why would you harm her, she has nothing to do with you're being here?"

"Dear Deanna, you know the price you need to pay for that information. What do you say? Will you help me?" His voice had become a conspirator's whisper, "Deanna, let me die, or I will take the secret to my death. I will die, you will simply have missed your opportunity to have gained the desired information."

"I told you before, I have never killed anyone, nor could I kill now, not even you! I could not be responsible for someone's death." She had paled; surprising herself that even his death would weigh heavily on her conscious.

"Counselor, I believe you would be touched by my demise. I have never met a species that would not kill if the right circumstances presented themselves. I have always said you were capable of so much more than even you know. Let's say I give you the information and leave the burden of the repayment with you. You will do what is right, am I correct?"

She knew he was still conniving to control her. The game was getting old fast. "I will do as my conscious dictates. There is every chance it will not be what you would want. Tell me about Solace, why were you able to influence her from here. That is the bartering chip, isn't it?"

"My dear Counselor, you are so perceptive. You stand on the threshold of understanding and yet you can't quite get your head out of the sand." He watched her face, she knows he thought, she knows and is afraid of the truth. He continued, "Here is a clue for you: My plans for you began when I first saw you. It was the way you watched and interacted with people that made me determined to have you. When you demanded the child, ah that was the deciding factor. That and when you resolved to stay behind to allow the other's to leave. You would give so much for a child you knew relatively nothing about...Well, enough said. I have every confidence in you, my dear Deanna, that you can piece this together. All you need is a little more information to confirm your suspicions. Let's not waste time, or shall I be taken away and you will never know whether your fears are truths."

Will walked over to where the two stood, separated now only by the modified force field keeping Gringbald within the cell. "Time is running our, Gringbald. If you have something to say, do it now!" Deanna caught his eye and walked back to the console. Will followed her.

"It has something to do with Solace. I'm almost certain of it. I'm afraid of where it's leading."

He looked at her, and softly asked, "Where do you thing it will lead to?" He moved closer, to watch the emotions play across her face.

"It may be better not to know. He claims it will change our relationship too."

"Deanna, I have never known you to back away from the truth, no matter what the consequences were. Gringbald cannot influence my feelings for you."

She looked into his blue eyes and wished with all her heart that she could believe that. She smiled and returned tot he cell to face the being. "They are ready to take you out for transportation. If you have anything to say, say it now."

"My dear, you mean you intend to rush through this?" He mockingly looked hurt.

Will had come to stand immediately in front of Gringbald, placing Deanna behind him. "Your time has about run out. If you have anything to say, say it now!"

"Fine have our people escort me to the ship. Let's get it done with." He looked at Deanna, "I am disappointed in you my dear."

Worf, Data and two security people came forward to keep Gringbald within the cell as the modified force field was removed to allow his transportation to the other ship. Two of the security detail would be transporting with him. The force field was disengaged, Worf and Data each had a phaser pointed at the shape shifter but never had time to do much of anything before Gringbald began to glow, then quickly resumed the form he had previously shown to Deanna as his own natural form. He began circling her, making wide rotations around the empath. Will, who had been only a few steps away quickly move to embrace her as tightly as he could, he would not allow Gringbald to use her as a host or a shield. He would not lose her now.

The shape shifter parasite could not meld into two people, even though they now stood as one. Worf watched as the glowing alien gave way from the two, he aimed his phaser and fired. Gringbald fell to the ground like a flaming arrow, then slowly took the shape of the humanoid Gringbald. He lay very still; Data took a tricorder from the console to check the alien's condition.

Will continued to hold Deanna close to him while waiting for Data's findings. "His life signs appear to show he is dying."

Chapter 31

Will reported to the captain on the events and the situation, as it now appeared to stand. A team from sick bay was on it's way to them. While they awaited the doctor, Gringbald asked that Deanna be allowed to sit by him. Will adamantly shook his head, "Why should we trust you?"

"Because Commander, I am using all my energy to hold this form just long enough to speak with my dear counselor."

Riker looked at Data, who stood near continuing to monitor the alien's health. Data agreed, "He was already in a weakened condition and could not survive another traumatic event. In short his system over loaded when hit with the energy from the phaser."

Will glanced down at Deanna, unwilling to allow her to move from him. She smiled up at him, sensing his concern and desire to shield her from danger. She spoke quietly, "I feel his life draining away, there is nothing more he can do." Will allowed her to move from the safety of his arms to Gringbald's side.

Gringbald watched them as Deanna left the commander's embrace and started toward him. She stopped a distance away. "You must come closer if you are to hear what it is I am about to tell you." He used little energy in speaking, those present could only barely hear his request.

She moved to sit beside him and waited. Gringbald was lying prone on his stomach; he stretched his arm so he could lay his hand on hers. "That is better, Deanna. Do you know why I picked you over Abeathdor, or anyone else?"

She shook her head, "No, why?" She looked around to see the attention of the others were on them.

He began to speak even more quietly; she had to lean down closer to his face to hear the words. "It has very much to do with the child. I heard of and later saw for myself how you treated her with affection. She was a total stranger, you knew nothing of her, yet you put her well being above your own. Yes, having your other skills were a part of it too. I didn't lie to you about learning emotions."

He paused drawing upon his last energy to continue, his voice now barely a whisper, "I need to tell you... you wanted to know the parentage of the child. What did you say they call her?"

"Her name is Solace"

"...an interesting choice for her. Her mother unbeknown to anyone now living....was ...Yarmi, Abeathdor's sister. The father was...is...what you see before you."

Deanna gasped as she heard the words, she felt as though her heart had stopped beating. "How could that be? You have no emotions, why would you care about having a child? How could you father a child like her? How did this happen?" Her mind sought answers to endless questions; questions she could never have believed would need answers. The whole thing was bizarre, unintentionally she looked at Will, hoping he would confirm that the whole thing was a dream, a nightmare.

Gringbald squeezed her hand assuring her of the reality of the moment. "I don't care. She was born deformed, unable to hear I had no time for that. I was content to leave her with a couple who took her as an infant. They knew no more than did anyone else as to her parentage. I wanted no part of her, until you became so interested in the life she had. You and I could have begun our own ruling dynasty that would have lasted for many years. Yes, it would take work, but I have men working on that right now, the science of the universe is quite remarkable, once you open the windows to the mind. Yarmi had a weak mind and feeble body, you would endure the procedures with little effort. What would be the final result would be superior to all of the rest of Prakal's inhabitants, my longevity would have seen to that. You would have cared for and trained the heirs to the throne. They would have been beyond imagination, with your skills and beauty and my shrewdness and higher intellect."

His ramblings were of madness and his words were a sickness, Deanna had to stop this dogma, she had to try and make sense of his entire mind numbing utterances. "Why are you telling me this now? It's not because you care about the child." She felt the emotions of the people around her heighten due to her own reactions. They could not have heard most of the conversation or she would have felt the buffeting from the affect of his words, especially from Will.

"I am telling you this now, because I am dying and Solace has the claim to the throne as Yarmi's daughter. You see, no matter what happens a piece of me remains. You may be the only one that will want her alive." He stopped talking, the room became so silent that the only sound was the constant ambient sounds of the Enterprise engines.

Gringbald's form began to fade as though fading out of existence, it suddenly glowed, the form taking on an almost flaming bat appearance, then as the glow dissipated, the physiognomy resembled a large dead bat.

Deanna continued to look at the form, not attempting to move away yet. Will stooped beside her, putting his hand upon her arm, he waited for her acknowledgement of his presence before helping her to her feet. He scrutinized her features trying to access her thoughts to the conversation with Gringbald.

Doctor Crusher and her team had arrived in the detention area in time to see the last moments of Gringbald's life. She had watched in silence, until now. "I am not needed here. Deanna, come back to sickbay with me someone there needs you." The doctor watched the counselor, curious and concerned about what she had just witnessed, she knew Deanna's mask was covering something of importance.

Will too knew something consequential had transpired between the counselor and the alien. He watched her eyes trying to see how this information was affecting her. He had gotten pretty good at reading her, however, there were times when she pulled back into herself, closing the shutters over those windows into her soul. Times like this when she needed to find her own footing before she would be willing to open up to him.

Now she looked at him for approval to go with the doctor to sick bay. He nodded giving it, "I'll see you later." He saw her leave with the doctor; She was almost out of the room when she turned to look back at him. He caught something in her eyes, a reluctance. Whether it was a reluctance to leave him or to go to sickbay, he was unsure.

The doctor left behind her staff to collect the remains of Gringbald in the possibility that the new government on Prakal would request proof of Gringbald's demise. She and the counselor had walked in silence back to sickbay. Beverly had stolen several glimpses of her friend, at first curious at the events that had transpired, but now with concern about the heavy silence and the haste to get to the child.

They entered sickbay to find Lwaxana sitting on the med bed trying to calm the dark haired child, whose voices had carried to them in the corridor. "Thank God, Deanna!" Lwaxana greatly relieved relinquished her place with Solace for her daughter.

Solace stopped wailing, startled by Deanna's sudden appearance, her red tear filled eyes staring at the counselor. "I'm here now. What' s the problem little one?" Deanna spoke softly to her. Solace had continued to whimper in a more childlike way, then the hysterical crying from earlier, she held on to Deanna so tightly that the small hands had a painful pinch hold on the empath's neck and arm. "Everything is alright, shhh...what's wrong?" All she could sense from the child was fear, a great consuming fear. Deanna looked over the child's head to the doctor; Beverly had prepared a sedative and was waiting for Deanna's nod to deliver the drug into the child's system.

It took several seconds for the sedative to take affect. When Solace grew quiet, Deanna cradled her in her arms as she asked, "When did this happen? I thought you said she had fallen asleep?"

"She was actually unconscious for only fifteen minutes, she was exhausted from screaming for the first twenty minutes when your mother brought her in her crying for you." Beverly looked at Mrs. Troi.

"We were in ten forward with Guinan when she started pulling my arm to go. She kept repeating your name. I thought she just missed you and wanted to go back, then she began screaming. Guinan helped me get her in here. I tried to tell her I could sense no danger to you, but to be honest I couldn't concentrate enough to sense you or to penetrate her emotions to reach her."

Deanna nodded, "I tried too when Beverly first contacted me, but just like now, all I could sense from her was this terrible fear." Solace stirred in her arms, she looked down at her, and the tears still hung to the long eyelashes. Deanna realized she didn't care about the parentage, the child was an innocent who needed someone to care and love her. Solace opened her eyes to look at the counselor, she began to whimper again.

"Beverly, could she be ill, are there any sings that these could be symptoms of a lingering virus?"

"No, I checked when she was first brought in. Physically she seems fine. The only abnormalities are those brought on by her emotional state."

Deanna held Solace against her. The child maintained her grasp on the counselor as she shifted her position to bury her head between Deanna's neck and shoulder, transferring her hold to grasp a handful of hair.

Lwaxana moved to remove the hair from the small hand. Deanna softly stopped her, "It's okay, I'll take care of it" She kissed the child's forehead while continuing to speak reassuringly to the little girl.

Beverly took Lwaxana's arm to guide the older woman to her office, leaving Deanna alone to try to uncover the cause and learn the remedy for the small child's dilemma.

When they were alone, Deanna tried again to understand through her empathic skills, what was happening with Solace emotionally. Again she ran into a barrier of fear she could not break through. She sat in silence holding, rocking and gently patty the child's back. A tune played in her mind; her memory tried to match the tune with a place and time. Then it came to her, this was the beautiful haunting music the two young men had played in the glen for them. She had all but forgotten it, but it seemed her subconscious mind had logged it for her. She began to hum the melody, rocking Solace in time with it.

Deanna could feel Solace begin to relax; her hold on the empath's hair had slackened. The small hand slid around Deanna's neck, while the head felt heavier and heavier against her shoulder. After a while Solace sighed and brought both arms up to encircle Deanna's neck. She continued to rocking and humming until she sensed the child's fear abating.

She spoke as she continued to rock, "Sweetie, tell me what has happened. I want to help you but I need you to help me understand." She waited for a response, she could sense that Solace was struggling with translating into thoughts the feelings that had overwhelmed her.

"Think it to me, I'll understand." Solace buried her head in Deanna's neck. The thoughts came in the way of pictures. Pictures of the child being sent back to the planet, of Deanna in sickbay unconscious, of Solace standing alone reaching for someone. This came not as one clear scene, but from many bits and pieces, like many still holographs laid out on a table.

The counselor tightened her arms around the child. "I want you to listen to me, okay, this is important. I will not send you down to Prakal without me. If we go, it will be for a visit that is all. I will never turn away from you." She pulled Solace from her neck to look at her and for the child to see the sincerity in her face. "You are part of my family now, I'm going to take care of you. No one is going to take you from me. Do you understand me?"

The small dark head bobbed, "Yess." Deanna pulled her back to hold her, wondering how she was going to keep those promises, but knowing she was keeping them.

Lwaxana Troi stood in Beverly's office watching her daughter with pride. "I was never able to watch Deanna at work. She's quite good with people isn't she?"

Beverly smiled, wishing she could record this to play for Deanna at a future time. "Yes, she is. She's especially good with Solace. There seems to be a connection between them. Your daughter is a good ship's counselor, believe me, she wouldn't be aboard the Enterprise if she wasn't"

"I know she did her job well, I guess I don't always understand the job." Mrs. Troi turned to look at Beverly, "Do you consider yourself a good friend to Deanna?"

Beverly thought she had gotten used to Lwaxana's brutally frank remarks, but the older Troi had always found ways of surprising those around her. "Yes, I do consider Deanna to be a dear and close friend."

"Good, because if she is going to continue what she has begun, by daughter is going to need your support. I'll let her explain the details when she is ready. I guess I'll go to my quarters. I could use a rest after all that." Mrs. Troi swept out the door and was gone.


After returning back to their quarters they decided on hot chocolate as a treat for getting through a long and difficult day. In the short period of time it took for Deanna to retrieve the beverages from the replicator, Solace has curled up on the sofa and fallen asleep. She put the cups down and leaned over the sleeping child. One hand was curled into a fist; the counselor opened the hand to find the coveted wooden lightfoot.

"Come on, it's time for bed." She lifted the sleeping child and carried her to her own new bed. While she removed the shoes and blue jumper preparing to cover her, Solace began to stir, she opened her eyes to look up at her and ask, "Sleep in my bed too?"

"Wouldn't you like to sleep alone in your new bed?" Deanna hoped she would at least try.

"Nooo!" Solace looked at her with the big blue eyes, Deanna sighed, knowing she couldn't refuse her, not after the day they had had.

"Okay," Deanna smiled, "let me change. Since you are awake now, how about putting on your own bedclothes. You can wear one of your new nightgowns, here they're in this drawer." She opened the drawer, then stood near the doorway to see if the child was going to change. She smiled as she watched Solace kick back the blanket and pad over to her chest and look into the drawer, choosing the blue silk nightgown similar to the one Deanna had.

When Deanna returned, she was pleased to see the little girl sitting in her usual cross-legged fashion waiting. She grinned when Deanna entered the room at seeing the counselor's attire. Solace stood on the bed for Deanna to see her new nightgown was just like the counselors. "How about that, my mother must have wanted us to look a like."

Solace bobbed her head, still standing on the bed, she walked to the side to hug Deanna. It seemed she had put the fearful moments of the day behind her, at least for now. Deanna wished she could do the same. She sat up working on her report of the day' events, trying to work on her report of the day's events, trying to put into prospective what she had to do about the knowledge Gringbald divulged. She thought she had used all the scenarios that could have fit the situation. The reality was not one that she would ever have imagined. How could Gringbald have fathered such an affectionate child? How could a relationship with him have reached that conclusion? So many questions, so many variances on possible answers. She had been working for a while when she noticed Solace was no longer sleeping, but lying close watching her. "What is it sweetie?"

The eyes filled with tears. Deanna moved over to her pulling her close. "It's alright, we've had a very long day. Things will look better tomorrow." She hummed the melody that had helped calm Solace earlier. As she hummed she watched the child's eyes grow heavy and eventually close, soon she was back asleep, Deanna carefully laid her down, then stretched out beside her. Solace once again curled up close after being covered. The chime sounded, Deanna managed to get up without waking Solace, went to her own room for her robe, before releasing the door.

"I'm sorry, did I wake you? The captain stopped back after you left. How's Solace?"

Deanna ushered Beverly in, "I'm not sure how Solace is, because quite frankly, I'm not sure what happened. She seems as though what ever had happened had passed one minute, then the next she's crying again. I was laying with her until she fell asleep." Deanna brought two cups of tea back to the sofa with her as she talked. "All I feel for certain is that somehow Gringbald is involved. I believe he either manipulated me to react in a way that Solace could sense, or he directly manipulated her emotions, but how?"

The door chimed again, Deanna responded with, "Come in" knowing the new arrival to be Will.

"Hi, I'm sorry it's so late. How is everything?" He studied her appearance, noting the sleepwear, disheveled hair, and the weary look in her eyes.

"I was just telling Beverly, right now things are quiet. Solace is sleeping, but what ever brought this on has not been resolved. I did manage a little communication with her."

"Have you put together any information for the captain yet?"

"I managed to put together something, I'll get it for you." She went back to the child's room to get the PADD she was working on.

He gathered the tea cups, with a glint in his eyes he returned shortly with three brandies. At the looks he received from the ladies, he commented, "I wanted you to try this, I think we could all use something a little more potent than herbal tea. Geordi has been working on getting this into the computer system for weeks, he thinks he has it now. This is guaranteed to lift the spirit and quench the demons." He handed each of them a greenish colored drink. The two women waited for Will to take the first swallow before they put the glass to their lips. He sampled his with a large gulp, then he smiled at them. "Now that is what is prescribed after a day like today."

The other two sipped their drink. Beverly looked as though she had been sucking an unusually sour lemon. Deanna turned to Will, "This is terrible! How could you drink this?" He had just drained his glass still smiling he went back tot he replicator and ordered a large glass of cold water and drank the entire glass before returning to the women.

"Since your both here, the captain has called a senior staff meeting in the morning at 0900 hours. I 've talked with Guinan, she'll stop by and give your mother a hand with Solace." He sat with the PADD looking over Deanna's notes.

It wasn't long before they heard sounds from the back bedroom. Deanna has stood to look in on Solace when she met her padding out of the bedroom. Deanna went to her and picked her up, returning to the sofa with her. "Would you like to sit with us for a while?" she quietly asked the child. Solace nodded, but buried her face in the counselor's neck.

Beverly touched the small forehead, then reached into her lab coat for her tricorder, after doing a check and reading the results she looked at Deanna, "Same as before. I think you both need some rest, I know I can use a good night's sleep. Is there anything I can do for you before I leave?" The counselor shook her head. Beverly smiled, "If anything comes up and you want me, I'll be in my quarters. Goodnight Solace." She stopped to pat the child's back, "Don't hesitate to call if anything comes up."

"Thank you Beverly, goodnight."

Will walked her to the door. They talked a little before he returned to where Deanna sat with Solace. He reached down and gently gathered the sleeping child off her lap, holding her so that her head rested on his shoulder.

Deanna stood too; they walked back toward the bedrooms. He went in to the new room, laying Solace back in her own bed, he kissed her on the forehead, then stepped back to wait for Deanna to do the same. The blue eyes opened. Deanna spoke softly to her, "I'll be back in a few minutes, okay?" The sleepy nod of the head was her answer.

Will raised his eyebrows in question. Deanna took his arm to walk with him to the living room. He stopped at the entrance into her room, "How long are you going to be able to keep this up?"

"What are you talking about?" She looked surprised by his question.

"You haven't slept well for sometime. I can't imagine sharing a bed with a four year old would be sleep inducing."

"Are we talking about a four year old or a forty year old..." She smiled slyly at him, for once beating him at his own game. At his expression she leaned into him to lightly kiss his chin, "Actually, I sleep better than you think. It's been a very hard day for her; it's not a good time to start something new. We'll be fine."

"Where would she sleep when we get things straightened out and are together, whose bed would she be in then?"

Deanna smiled again at him, "Then, I guess she'll be in our bed with us on days like today."

"Let me assure you of one thing Mrs. Riker, it would not be very often."

"Oh, you talk tough but you're an old softy. She already has you twisted around her finger." Deanna felt him chuckle in her embrace.

"She does, doesn't she?" He held her away to look at her, "Do you want to talk about the situation with Gringbald yet? I'll stay as long as it takes if you want to go through this tonight. I know you needed some time to work through it, but I think we should discuss it. Are you ready yet?"

"Can you give me tonight to try to put it into perspective? If you come early tomorrow we'll talk before the meeting." Arms around each other they walked toward the doors.

"Very soon this will be a thing of the past." Will smiled at her expression, "Saying goodnight like this. I'm not far away if you need anything." They said their goodnights and Will left for his own quarters.

Solace was awake watching the doorway for Deanna's return. "I thought you would be sound asleep by now. It's been a long day, hasn't it?" She got into bed then leaned over to cover Solace again. The child's expression never changed, she never took her eyes off Deanna. The counselor stopped moving and looked closer at the child. She reached out with her mind to try and get a sense of what was happening with her. The child was still fearful of something, but Deanna could not pin point the source of that strong emotion. She thought/sent < Come her little one, nothing is going to harm you. >

Solace moved quickly over to Deanna, snuggling close with her head on the counselor's shoulder. "It's okay things will look better tomorrow." Deanna again hummed the unnamed tune that remained in her memory. She made a mental note to either get the name of the tune or better yet, a recording of it into the ship's computer. She could feel Solace relax, as she stroked the small face and smoothed back the short curly hair. The trip to Betazed and the specialist was looking more and more like a necessity and one that should be initiated soon. She lay awake long after Solace had dozed off.

Deanna thought she heard a familiar voice calling her, "Deanna, there...Ladies it's time to get up." She opened her eyes to see Will leaning around the doorway smiling. She turned her head to see that Solace had pulled the covers up over her head. Deanna decided to pretend nothing exceptional was happening as she talked to Will.

"Good, morning. You look like you slept well." Deanna sent the thought to him to go on as though everything was as it should be. He understood, she could tell be his facial expression and the way his eyes went once more to the hidden child.

He walked over to the bed, "I'm sorry to get you up so early, but there is a lot to do before the meeting. Besides I like the idea of yours being the last face I see in the evening and the first in the morning, a tradition that is only beginning." He sat beside her as leaned over to exchange a kiss. "How did you sleep last night?"

"Not as well as I had hoped. Neither of us got enough sleep." She looked at the tiny mound under the covers.

Will looked too. "You mean there is someone else here? Where are they?" He moved around and pretended to look around the room hunting for someone. He swatted at the covers coming near but never touching the giggling blanket. Then finally pretending to accidentally find her head, he felt her face. "This feels like a nose, and this...Deanna I think I found a mouth!"

Solace jerked the covers down quickly, Will jumped back faking a startled look. The little girl laughed outright, it was the first time Deanna had witnessed a good outburst of frivolity. He sat holding his chest, telling Solace she had scared him. She walked across the bed to hug him, Will squeezed her then held her back to look at her, "Wait, what is this?" he looked at Deanna, who was now sitting on the edge of the bed. "Do you two have the same night gown on?" He acted shocked.

Solace stood smiling and nodding her head, looking very pleased. "Yess, the same." She went to sit on Deanna's lap, "The same, right?"

Will laughed, "While you two ladies get dressed, I'll wait out here with breakfast." He patted Solace on the back and squeezed Deanna's hand before leaving.

"What new outfit do you want to wear today?" They picked several that Solace wanted to wear, Deanna watched, as she couldn't seem to make up her mind, "I'll tell you what, you decide. I'll go to my room and get changed."

The counselor was in front of the mirror working with her long dark hair, when Solace came in and flopped on the floor, to sit cross-legged as was her custom. "Come here sweetie, let's comb your hair. Let me see what you've decided to wear today." Deanna waited for her to get up; she walked over to the counselor showing off a violet colored jumper. She had dressed herself and put the jumper on backwards. Deanna explained how to tell the difference between the back and front, then helped her correct it. "Good choice, that looks very pretty on you. Aunt Lwaxana picked out some very nice things for you to wear didn't she?" Solace smiled, looking down at the outfit, running her hands over the front as though smoothing out invisible wrinkles. Deanna sat her up on the counter as she finished combing the child's hair; Deanna watched their reflection in the mirror. Solace had her head down, her lips were moving. The empath knew the child was attempting to tell her something. She finished her hair, then turned the girl around to look at the mirror. She smiled at the reflection, then again moved her mouth, attempting to say something.

"Sweetie, I know you're trying to say something. Just try telling me, I'll help you." Solace scooted off the counter top to look up at the counselor. Deanna kneeled on the floor in front of her, "If I hold you real tight, will that help?" Solace nodded, moving into the counselor's embrace, the small arms around Deanna's neck, as she whispered in her ear. Deanna smiled, "It's okay, we'll find something you can say. That is a hard name to learn. How about Aunt Troi?"

"Okay, let's go get breakfast before Will thinks we went back to bed. Why don't you go first and show him your new clothes. Solace looked at her closely before scampering off; Deanna sat alone for a few moments before following.

Solace chattered throughout the meal, the most effort she had made yet at speaking, the efforts were rewarded by the adult's attention and evident pleasure with the child's attempts. Deanna realized that Solace was a very intelligent child, capable of learning very quickly when encouraged. The door chime interrupted the meal. Solace was off her chair and headed for the door. Will looked amused as he commented to Deanna, "Table manners aren't really all that important." Solace returned holding Guinan's hand.

Guinan turned down any offer of breakfast and added, "I spoke to your mother, she asked that you see her before going to your meeting this morning. That's why I cam early; to give you some time with her before you need to meet with the captain." Guinan remained standing, adding to her words for their need to make haste.

They stopped at Lwaxana's door, the doors slid open before either of them had a chance to touch the chime. Deanna looked at Will, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She knew how much Will hated it when Lwaxana reacted to him before he had completed the word or deed.

"I had given up on a visit from you. I know that you job comes first, that and all the other entanglements you have now." Mrs. Troi looked at Will as she completed her remark.

Deanna tried to smooth out the wrinkles of tension she was sensing. "I'm sorry we didn't get here earlier Mother, but I think I made some valuable progress with Solace this morning." She went to her mother to greet her a little more personably with a kiss on the cheek. Mrs. Troi smiled and embraced her daughter.

"That is why we need to talk now. Please, both of you sit down." She waited until they had seated themselves to begin. Lwaxana watched her daughter hesitate then choose to sit on the sofa next to Will; he put his arm around her. "I want to talk with you about the prisoner. I know how upset Deanna has been over that situation; you need to work this out before your meeting with the others. I also know how little the time is you have to talk things over, so I decided now would be a good time to work these things out. I knew you wanted to talk to me about Solace, and since these things are all tied together, we should discuss them now. Knowing Jean Luc as I do, I am sure these matters have not gone unconsidered by him."

Lwaxana moved to sit opposite her daughter, facing them on the sofa. "Deanna tell me what happened with the being in the detention cell, I know some of it, but to put it into perspective, I would like to know the whole thing as you know it. Begin with what he wanted from you, and for what was he willing to exchange for it?"

"Gringbald had information he said we needed, in exchange for letting him die, or killing him." Deanna paused not feeling comfortable sharing the information Gringbald imparted to he on the parentage of Solace.

"But, he gave you the information any way, because in a manner of speaking your people did kill him. Is that correct?"

"Yes, I suppose it is." Deanna looked at Will; he was still bristling at the thought of having been manipulated.

"Let's stop playing hide and seek, Deanna I know the information he gave you. I know you, I know you've been upset by it. I take it you haven't talked to Will about it and the consequences of having that knowledge, have you?"

Will looked at Deanna, she glanced at him and would have turned away, had not the intensity of his eyes held her own. He answered, "No, we haven't been alone along enough to discuss much of anything, but I believe since you have begun, Mrs. Troi, let's discuss it now." Will looked away from Deanna's eyes to watch the agitated folding and steepling of her fingers.

She took a deep breath before beginning. Deanna turned to face Will, "You heard some of Gringbald's proposition, what you did not hear was his final conversation. The final piece of the puzzle was the parentage of Solace." She paused, seeing that she had captured the attention of her audience. Will waited to hear the results of her conversation. Lwaxana was monitoring their thoughts and emotions. Will stilled the agitated movement of her hands by placing one of his hands over them, and gently squeezing them reassuringly. She took a deep breath, "Gringbald claimed to be the father of Solace." She had uttered the words softly.

"What! How could that be? Who was the mother?" Deanna was concerned, Will's reaction unsettled her, she grew uneasy with what that reaction could symbolize concerning their future.

She softly explained the connection with Yarmi. She spoke of Gringbald's lack of feelings toward Solace, and that he had at one time wanted the child dead because he viewed her as deformed.

"That explains why she clings to you. She never had the security of a family; everyone she had grown close to was either taken from her or she from them. That is why she won't let you out of her sight, she's afraid she won't see you again." Deanna was relieved at Will's thoughtfulness. She looked at her mother for her reaction. Mrs. Troi was quietly studying the two of them.

Deanna continued, "That was apparently his terrible truth that would change our relationship." She opened her mind to Will's, a smile slowly appeared on her face. All she could sense from him was his concern Solace and herself, a flood of warm loving thoughts easily flowed from him.

Mrs. Troi wouldn't allow the process to slow or stop, "What do you think happened earlier, when the child became so distressed. She was feeling abandoned by you then. Did you at some point feel disgusted by her parentage, Deanna, even if it were fleeting or perhaps more at the thought of Gringbald as a parent than at the child?" When Deanna sat quietly reliving the experience, Mrs. Troi continued, "There maybe another option. Dear, I thought about this a lot last night. Is it possible Solace was reacting out of fear for you? She may have overheard enough to know you were meeting Gringthing. The child lived on that planet where the entire population practically lived in fear of him. She has always been upset when you leave her sight. The whole episode yesterday may well have been from her fear of losing you. She didn't know how to handle the intensity of it."

Deanna was perplexed, "I know Solace is capable of understanding more than we may have originally thought. On the planet she was somewhat hindered by her lack of hearing, exactly how much she understood about the political atmosphere is debatable. I did not sense any communication attempts from her during the time I spent with Gringbald. I know I was greatly surprised by his information. I suppose I was feeling a lot of things. I wanted to believe he was lying about it. I have never changed by feelings toward Solace, not then and not now. You may be right though about the child having a problem dealing with intense feelings. Why not adults do!"

"Is it possible Gringbald was lying?" Will was still reeling with the idea of Gringbald as the child's father. The same child who had somehow managed to wiggle her way into his heart.

"Why would he lie, what end would that serve? He was dying." The three of them continued discussing the events of the previous day, and the part the child had played in those events. Lwaxana detailed some of the possibilities of the child's skills and the consequences they may have. Again the necessity of the visit to Dr. Dinal was stressed and agreed upon by all three this time.

They came to realize they may be told to return Solace tot he planet. This was a heart rendering thought to all of them, particularly to Deanna. She had spent so much time, effort and emotion convincing the child of her security within their lives, now to have to reverse all of that would further traumatize her. More than that, Deanna had to face that fact that she had become too closely involved in a situation that required, no needed her professional abilities. Had she remained distanced and professional she would not have made those commitments and promises to a child she may have to send away. The part the worried her the most, in looking backward she could see no place where she would have changed what was done.

The time had come for the two officers to take leave of the older Troi and head to the meeting with the captain and the other officers. They arrived first in the observation lounge, Deanna went to stand before the windows looking out into the star lit universe. Will went to stand behind her, his hands on her shoulders. "We have to bring this up, with all the minds that will be in this room, if there is an option, if there is a solution, I have every confidence that we will find it."

She put a hand on his, she was glad for his support. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Deanna, we will get through this. I promise you." He turned her to face him, she looked up into his eyes and nodded. He hugged her to him.

The doors swished open, then shut, they moved from each other as Beverly cleared her throat. "Don't tell me you've been barred from the turbo-lifts!" Then she saw the expressions on their faces. "What's happened?" She walked over to join them at the window.

Will gave a brief summary of the parentage and the possible issues facing them due to it. Beverly shook her head, "That's a bit bizarre, I'll do a DNA test. We still have Gringbald's remains on board. I'll compare the DNA from Solace with that I also have Abeathdor's medical records here from when we treated her. I'll run those too. At least we can determine whether it is the truth or not. Although after that.." She looked at them both, "Did you ever hear the saying 'Ignorance is bliss'? Well, once the truth is known we would have the responsibility of dealing with it. I can't imagine the captain forcing you to send her back, but again that may not be his decision to make. I guess the question is, do we really want to know?"

"I can live without knowing, the only problem with that is there will be physical and emotional problems surfacing for Solace as she grows, remember Gringbald was initially symbiotic. What would be best for the child?"

"Counselor, I'm sure you are in the best position to decide that." Captain Picard stood just inside the doors. How long he was there or how much he had heard was unclear.

"Captain, there are some developments you need to be aware of, have you read our reports?"

"Yes, Number One, I have also just finished speaking with Mrs. Troi and Guinan. I believe we have an interesting day ahead. When the others arrive we will begin." He turned to Beverly, "In the meantime Doctor, please begin the DNA test yourself."

Beverly looked at Deanna, then nodded her acknowledgement to the captain and left for sickbay. The captain looked at the remaining crewmembers. He saw Will pull the counselor's chair closer to his own, noticed his hand remaining on the armrest of her chair as his fingers slid around her wrist.

"Counselor, in talking with your mother, I've learned it has been suggested that the child be taken to Betazed for an examination by a specialist. Doctor Crusher agrees with the necessity of this examination. Do you concur?"

"In view of all the information we have been given, I believe that is what would be best for Solace."

"We'll arrange it as soon as I can do without you two. Unfortunately that may not be for several more days or a week. How soon do you feel she should be seen?"

"Captain, I think the sooner the better. Everyday something new seems to arise. Nothing, yet, that couldn't be handled. In having her seen soon, we may be better equipped to anticipate these situations and deal more effectively with them."

"Counselor, your mother and Doctor Crusher highly suggest not only your presence, but that you too undergo examinations by this expert. How long will you be gone for?"

"One week to ten days, Captain." Again she avoided Will's eyes. She didn't want to go without him, but right now she saw little else she could do.

Chapt 32b

The Captain summarized the events after the rest of the senior staff had arrived and taken their seats. Doctor Crusher returned from sickbay, having set in motion the detailed test that would answer the question of the child's parentage and perhaps her future.

After the doctor had taken her seat the captain, posed a question, "Let us suppose the DNA results show Solace to be as Gringbald claimed, what then? Do we send her to Prakal as a legitimate heir apparent? Remember Yarmi was queen when Solace was born. The next choice is: Do we do nothing, keep the child here with us, never notifying the leadership on the planet?" He waited for the discussion to begin, fully expecting the counselor to begin with an objection to the proposed first choice holding only with the last choice of leaving with the child. As it turned out, he was only half-correct; the counselor did open the discussion.

"Sir, maybe we area jumping to conclusions here. They may not want Solace on the planet at all. I f she were the offspring of Gringbald it may not matter whom else is involved, she may be the object of many assassination attempts. Gringbald was far from the beloved ruler, and from what I've been able to learn, Yarmi was a heavily flawed queen. We could be writing a death certificate for her-and quite frankly I will not be a participate of such a thing." Deanna spoke slowly and softly, all at the table knew of the relationship she had with the child, but only a few understood how deeply that relationship ran.

No other comments were made after the counselor's. There was little to be said until the results were known. The captain began wrapping up the meeting, "Doctor Crusher, I want those DNA results as quickly as possible, they are to be shared with the counselor, Commander Riker and myself only. Counselor, Commander, I believe we may be visiting the planet, make plans to be available. Worf, you had met with the queens people, how does security stand now?"

Picard spent several minutes discussing with each member their assignment, before dismissing all until further notice. As the participants began leaving, the captain softly requested that Will stay behind. He caught Deanna's glance back at him as she left with the doctor. He could feel the apprehension rolling off of her and see the sadness in her eyes, but the commander of the Enterprise felt helplessly unable to eradicate her pain.

"Will, you know the situation and have a little more perspective than most of us, what do your instincts tell you?"

"That it is probably the truth, that Gringbald is somehow the father. If you want to know if the child has any of his characteristics-I haven't seen any. She is bright and very affectionate. I believe she is probably empathic at least to some extent. The fact that she is affectionate alone makes me feel better. She is very sensitive to people, especially to Deanna, she watches and imitates her as though she were her own mother."

"Will, if we are requested by Abeathdor to return the child to them, how will it affect Deanna? I'm asking because I don't think she'll be easily persuaded, if in fact she can be persuaded at all to comply with such a request." He watched his number one, the way he looked steadily at the chair in front of him absently scratching at his bearded chin, pondering the question put before him.

"Deanna has always faced difficulties head on. I've never seen her side step a problem. I think she would deal with it. It may take time, but I know she would ultimately do what she knew she had to." Will looked the captain in the eye before adding, "I know she would not allow the child to go down to the planet knowing it was unsafe, or that her life would be danger- but then neither would I."

"Number One, that is not a decision I would expect either of you to make. I would not accept that as a solution. Once we have the results from Doctor Crusher, if they are as you suspect they may be, we'll be going back down to cover the information with Abeathdor. I don't want to delay this. You and the counselor will be joining the doctor and myself. However this is resolved it will be with the best interests of the child in mind."

Deanna had paced Beverly's office to the extent that she was beginning to get on Beverly's already overloaded nervous system. She put the PADD down that she was working on to watch the counselor pace past the desk, then turn and stop in front of it. "Deanna, I know how important this is to you, but it may be a while until I have the results. Gringbald's genetic make up is unlike anything the computer has been exposed to before; I'll have to tap into the universal data bank for information. Why don't you go spend time with Solace, I'll personally come to you with the results as soon as I have them.."

Will walked into the office in time to hear the tone of Beverly's voice. She looked at him and sighed loudly, "Please find something to occupy yourselves with until I get the results. I can't concentrate with a parade of pacers traveling past my desk. Pacing and worrying here is not the healthiest way to spend the time."

He looked at Deanna, a mask frozen on her face, hiding her emotions, that in it self was not a good sign. He heard her voice, an octave higher and louder than normal, "I'm sorry Beverly, I wasn't aware I have become that annoying." The counselor turned and fled, walking as fast as her legs could carry her, arms pumping, hands balled into fists she nearly ran through the corridor. She passed the turbo-lifts, and continued on until she slowed her pace trying to work through in her mind what just happened. A hand firmly gripped her shoulder; she was stopped mid stride and spun around to face the commander. He didn't say a word, but gently took her arm leading her back toward the turbolift. Neither of them spoke as he directed the computer to their destination. He watched her; she stared at the floor, standing woodenly beside him. They exited the lift, Will continued to lead her to that unspoken destination.

When they came to the holodeck, Deanna looked at him questioningly, he smiled punched in a program, then taking her arm, together they entered into a beautiful beach setting with the sunsets. "This is nice, Beverly suggested it. She also apologized, she knows the strain your under. I know you didn't sleep last night. You've been up trying to think how to tell me. Were you afraid I would change my mind about us once I knew? " He turned her chin to face him. She didn't answer, but moved into his arms. He held her close, "Do you think because you're the ship's counselor you can't show when things begin to affect you? That somehow when you show impatience or anxiety you are less? You do very well at stuffing your own feelings inside your pocket, except once in a while that pocket is going to get full and you are going to show your imperfections."

He could feel her crying as he held her. She regained her composure, pulling out of his embrace to look at him, "I'm sorry, you're right, I'm feeling stressed. You've been so helpful and supportive these past few days, I don't know what I would have done without you."

He swallowed, to him the words sounded as though she was justifying a decision he hadn't made. "Lady, if you think you can scare me off, you are wrong. You are stuck with me now. The only difference I plan to make in the future, is more time for us. You and me. I don't know how or when, but as soon as we get this matter taken care of, that gets priority." She moved again into his embrace, he kissed her forehead. Then looked around him at the setting. "What made you think of this scene?" he asked looking at the colors pained on the sky and feeling the salt breeze on his face.

She was taking off her shoes as she repeated the old earth poem, he followed her example enjoying the feel of the sand on his bare feet. They walked into the water until it was knee high soaking the legs of their uniform with the cool water. She finished the first several lines of the poem and looked at him. "That was the first stanza, I didn't realize until now how significant those words are to this situation. The dreams of the waste people, their music. The poem continues - a man with a dream can conquer a crown, and three with a new song's measure can trample an empire down. "

"I'm missing the part that music plays in this."

She addressed the computer, "Computer, have we down loaded the cultural information from Prakal yet?"

"98% if the cultural history and modern arts have been added tot he Enterprise's data base."

"Is a music program from Prakal included in that data?"

"Music and fine arts are included in that data base."

"Can this piece of music be matched with that data?" Deanna began to hum the melody from the glen. Will stood listening to her voice, watching her and thinking he could never leave her out of his sight again.

"The music requested is found in the data base. The title of the piece is "Waltz of Hearts".

"Computer play Waltz of Hearts with flute and violin as the sole instruments. It there a vocal accompaniment?"

"Vocal accompaniment is available."

"Include it."

There was a long instrumental introduction to the piece. Deanna took Will's hand to walk out onto the sea breaker to sit facing the sunsets. They listened to the music; it was as Deanna had first heard it in the glen. "When Solace had been so upset these last couple of days, I hum this tune. It has a soothing affect on her almost immediately."

"I can see why, it's beautiful."

The singing began the singers voice was as haunting and compelling as the melody. They listened trying to understand the words.

Free from the chains that restrain >From the toil that only serves to drain And leaves men alive though really slain Attempts were made to kiss away the pain >From the grief of the many mercilessly slain Now to be finally given a permanent name And know the log sought day not in vain First we must escape this cynics paradise Where lies still threaten to hypnotize Now we brace each other to be bound together To continue to endure this forsaken weather Only pure hope is tied fast to our dreams We have learned on these we must lean Have we tasted realism and chosen to flee >From reason to drift upon the idealistic sea

Then let us bind together our very hearts And move united and from each never part We dream to see a grander day together The day that brings forth fairer warmer weather Holding on to hand-hands that touch our hearts Have we tasted realism and chosen to flee >From reason to drift into insanity

So circle now hand in hand The time has come to lay your heart on the line And speak carefully using your whole mind With heart in hand Dance hand in hand

Have we trampled all that's dependent upon us If such life cannot flourish continuously through us How can we expect to gain a grain of true justice Our own offspring's survivals precariously balanced On tomorrows grace and the whim on which we dance Have we swam through the sea of insanity And now choose to sail upon the idealistic sea

So circle now hand in hand The time has come to lay hearts on the line And sing carefully using the whole mind With your heart in hand Dance hand in hand

They sat in the quiet that proceeded the song's finish. Will broke the silence, "Computer when was Waltz of Hearts written and by whom?"

"*Waltz of Hearts* is a modern day folk song. The time of its writing is unknown. The writer is unknown."

Will moved to get up, "Let's walk a bit." The walked back to the beach, walking in the water, each lost in their own thoughts.

"Crusher to Riker"

"Go ahead Doctor"

"I have the results you are waiting for, is Deanna with you?"

"Yes she is."

"Can you both come to sickbay?"

"We are on our way, Doctor."

They looked at each other, Will again saw the sadness in her eyes, "If you want, I'll go to sickbay, get the results and return here, where you can hear it in private."

"No! I need to go. I want to know, I couldn't wait here." She softened her voice, "Thanks Will, I have to go too." They sat in the sand putting on their shoes; she finished first sitting watching him. Before he could stand she put a hand on his arm, stopping him.

"Will, I .."

He anticipated her comment, gathering her to him he kissed any doubt away. "We are together, now and always. We will face whatever is awaiting us together, I am not going to let anything change that now." She watched him as he spoke, reading his resolve in his eyes she nodded.

They entered Beverly's office, the captain was already there, he stood for Deanna to take his seat. The counselor could sense the feeling of anticipation from the captain and Will. She was more interested in what she sensed from the doctor, Beverly was exuding concern and anxiety. Deanna quickly sought Will's attention, he tried to smile reassuringly, but he too was concentrating on the doctor.

Beverly moved a chair to sit close beside Deanna, Will perched on the desk facing them, Captain Picard had moved around the desk to sit in the doctor's chair. Beverly sat watching Deanna as she began, she talked softly giving everyone time to digest and comment as she went. "The results I have are not one-hundred percent absolute, however, I'd say they are as close as we will be able to get. The easy part is that Solace shows a lot of the same genetic code as Abeathdor. It is ninety-five percent accurate to say that Solace and Abeathdor are genetically related. The rest is more difficult. Gringbald's DNA structure is unlike any we have seen. The computer analysis finds one distinctive similarity in the code material that links Gringbald and Solace. Only one, now because we are dealing with a unique life form, the very fact that we were able to find that I'd say points to Gringbald as a DNA contributor. This pattern is not found in any other life form we've encountered.

"I believe that the pregnancy had to be scientifically engineered, because I don't believe with the limited knowledge available to us, that these combinations of genetic types; would have occurred naturally. My guess is we may find records of it somewhere within the medical buildings." The doctor had noted al of their expressions as she talked. She was concerned with the counselor because she had begun to visibly show signs of stress and anxiety, something that was abnormal for her.

Deanna looked across the desk to the captain, "Sir, when do we leave for the planet?"

"Will you need to make preparations?"

"Yes sir, it shouldn't take long."

Captain Picard nodded granting the needed time. He directed the others, "Doctor Crusher, I believe we may need your company and copies of your report for the Queen. Number One, check the bridge schedule, I'd like you to free yourself from bridge duty for the next twenty-four hours. If that is everything we'll meet in transporter room three in one hour."

Will walked Deanna back to her quarters, her steps began to slow as they neared her cabin. "Deanna, do you want me to go in and talk with Lwaxana?"

"No, Will, I need to talk with Mother. I'm okay, really. Go a head and take care of the bridge schedule; I'll be fine. Will." He stopped and turned toward her. She laced her fingers around his neck, and stood on her toes to soundly kiss him. "Thank you." He presented his famous Riker smile before turning and heading for the bridge.

Deanna entered her quarters to find Lwaxana Troi sitting at the table with a large beverage before her. Deanna quickly scanned the quarters before asking, "Where is Solace, Mother?"

"Guinan has her, we thought it might be easier if she weren't here, once Jean Luc told us that you may be returning to the planet. That is why you're here isn't it Deanna, to prepare to leave?"

The counselor couldn't ignore the tone or Lwaxana's worried look. "Yes, it is." She sat at the table with Mrs. Troi. "We're going to see Abeathdor, we have the medical documentation identifying the child's parents. Hopefully we will settle everything early, then perhaps if all goes well, we can make plans to see Doctor Dinal. That should happen for the child's sake, regardless of the results of this meeting."

Lwaxana reached across the table to tightly grasp her daughter's hand. "Is it necessary for you to go? Captain Picard and Will can take care of this. Your place right now is here with the child."

"Is Solace giving you a hard time? If you are not up to staying with her, of course I'll stay."

"No, she's a good child, when she's not screaming for you. Maybe all the child's insecurities about the planet have begun to grow on me. I just wish would settle down, give up this star chasing business and raise a family. You are good with children."

Deanna smiled, there for a minute she was beginning to worry, but Lwaxana reverted back to her old self just in time. Totally ignoring the last comments, Deanna asked where Guinan had taken Solace. She would like to see her before going down, but was debating the outcome. If Solace would sense her intent on returning to the planet or even just the trepidation Deanna felt about the return it could possibly set off another emotional crisis.

Lwaxana watched her daughter as she sensed her thoughts, "Guinan has her in her quarters. She thought you would like to see her." Then in a voice reigned to a defeated role, she added, "Do what you need here, then stop by on your way. Guinan and I will be with her until your return. Solace should get used to saying goodbye, I know I have."

"Mother, we are only going down to talk. I have no intention of staying there a moment longer than I need to." Deanna moved back through the room. Then returning she handed her mother the little wooden lightfoot. "This is her favorite toy, although she doesn't play with it as much as she seems to draw comfort from it. And there is a piece of music that she enjoys. Have the computer play "Waltz of Hearts" instrumental version." She hugged her Lwaxana "I'm pleased you are here. Your presence has helped a lot Mother. I'm happy you have gotten to meet Solace."

Mrs. Troi held her daughter by the shoulders looking intently at her. "I'm glad I was here too. I should have come when I first sensed you were in trouble. Solace and I get along famously, except she calls me Aunt Troi. I guess Lwaxana is too difficult yet." In a more serious tone she added, "She's an intelligent and beautiful child and if she is all..." she heaved a huge sigh, "I get as grandchildren, I'll still be happy."

Deanna stood outside the doors to her quarters again shaking her head as a reaction of spending time with her formidable mother. When the turbo-lift doors opened, Will Riker, nearly bowled Deanna off her feet, he caught her as she staggered backwards. "I was just coming for you. The captain is in the transporter room now, are you ready to go?"

"I was hoping to see Solace before we left. She's in Guinan's quarters. Do we have time to stop?"

He looked at her, "Yes, if we make it quick. Do you think that's a good idea? I mean after yesterday?"

"I know, but I feel I need to see her. I think it would be better to let her know we are going down and returning- and I want to see her. I can't explain it, I just need to see her."

Will informed the captain they would be there soon. In the corridor he asked, "Have you ever been inside of Guinan's quarters? I've often wondered what they would be like."

Deanna smiled, it seemed a part of the mystique that clung to the hostess was that you knew only what she wanted you to know- no allowed you to know. Captain Picard seemed to be the only one permitted a familiarity and that was limited by Guinan. Will touched the chime, the doors opened, it appeared Solace had also become Guinan's official greeter.

The doors had no sooner opened then the child was in Deanna's arms. Guinan motioned them in. Will couldn't help acting like a tourist, it was everything he imagined her cabin to be. Ensconced within those quarters was the universe vibrating with life. The very walls were done as murals, in warm colors were scenes depicting life. One entire wall was a forest with animal life peeking curiously out from behind flora, bushes and almost hidden among the trees. Any child would have been bedazzled by the visual effects alone.

Will saw that Deanna too was amazed by their surroundings. Guinan on the other hand was quite amused by their reactions. "Not your Starfleet regulation style décor, but Captain Picard graciously made allowances for a civilian. I have to admit, that he hasn't seen it yet, or he may change his mind."

"Guinan it's wonderful! Did you do this artwork yourself?" Deanna had gone to the mural where she held Solace to point out to her the different animals.

"That's one way to keep my sanity, Counselor. I do understand though, I've missed an animal that is absolutely necessary to any nature setting."

Solace nodded her head and whispered, "Lightfoot", confidentially to Deanna.

Deanna smiled, "Did you tell Guinan what they look like so she can paint one?"

Guinan answered, "Solace is doing an excellent job of painting her own addition to this. "Come see for yourself, Counselor, Commander."

"Guinan, I think we have long passed that address, please, Deanna and Will."

The hostess nodded, smiling she took them around to the other side of the same mural, where at the bottom were several roughly sketched lightfoot. On the floor were some drawings done of several colorful lightfoot.

Deanna put Solace down, she stooped close to the wall, looking at the animals, then picking up the drawings off the floor she could see the transference from paper to the mural. "These are very good. That is exactly what the animals on the planet looked like."

Will came over to look for himself. "Solace, these must be pretty good, Deanna knows some lightfoot personally." He stooped low to get closer; Deanna handed the drawings to him quickly, to prevent him from saying more. Both adults were sitting on the floor looking at the child's artwork; she stood beside Deanna, her arm around the counselor's neck.

She pulled Solace around to sit on her lap. "You did this?" Solace nodded smiling. "Sweetie, there are wonderful. You know what? I'd be very happy to have you draw some for me on special paper. I could frame and hang them in our quarters then." Deanna suddenly remembered why they were there; she caught her breath at the unbidden feelings that she quickly submerged again. She found Guinan watching her, somehow she knew she had to get through these next hours, no matter what the outcome. Solace too, had turned to look up at her, she squeezed the child, whispering into the small ear, "Solace, these are very good. You are quite a good artist!"

Solace giggled and patted her arm. Deanna continued, "Sweetie, Will and I have to go down to the planet with the captain and Doctor Beverly. We would not be gone long. We have a meeting with the queen."

Solace sagged against her. Will moved to sit beside them. "Haven't I brought her back to you every time? Well, I'm not going to let you down now! Besides I want a picture too. I promise I'll take good care of her for you, okay? Now can I have a hug?"

She left Deanna's lap to stand and hug him. The returned to the counselor, she held Deanna's face in her hands to look intently into her eyes. Deanna could see tears in the child's eyes. "It will be all right." She held her and whispered in the small ear, "Everything will be okay. You will be here with Guinan and Aunt Troi." She saw Will get to his feet, Deanna kissed each cheek, then after another hug Will reached down to give her hand in getting to her feet.

Solace looked very small standing there looking up at them. Will picked her up swinging her high into the air, then he whispered in her ear. "Only draw where you have permission or Deanna may have to scrub the whole ship down, okay?" She nodded. Will set her down.

Guinan walked them to the door, Will asked, "I take it you know what this is about? Any clues as far as what to expect?"

"Commander, all I know is that the truth is a respectable commodity. I think you should let the counselor do most of the talking." Guinan shifted her gaze, "Are you up to that Deanna?"

"Yes, I think that may be exactly what I need too. Thanks Guinan." Then turning to Solace, "See you later, sweetie." Another hug and they were on their way to join the others for the beam down to the planet.

Chapt 33

When they arrived in the transporter room everyone was there and waiting. "Abeathdor is expecting us in the palace. Shall we go?" Picard moved to the platform where he was joined by the others. As they materialized within the palace, the changes that Abeathdor's government had been steadily implementing were immediately apparent. There were no troops surrounding them, nor any sign of a military presence. They now stood in the midst of a large hall, where people in many different garbs were bustling past them. There were curious looks, but little other attention was directed at them. It would appear the population had more important things to do then take the time to be impressed by foreigners.

A man stood off to the side, Deanna immediately recognized him as Nairma the Almoner. She moved out of the group to go to him. He recognized her and smiled warmly at her approach. "Deanna, it is good to see things have worked out well for us both."

"Nairma, it is good to see that you have survived through the transitions, and now serve your true queen."

He smiled, "Life has many surprises in store for its survivors doesn't it?"

The others now joined them. Deanna introduced each of them. "Sir, it is good to meet you. I am very appreciative for the aid you had provided for our counselor."

"Captain, I am appreciative for all your people have done for my queen. Come, she awaits your presence." The almoner guided them through the palace to a large comfortable room sitting room.

They found Abeathdor there, her back to them as she stood at one of the ceiling to floor windows overlooking an extensive decaying garden. Without turning, she said, "It's a pity that the garden was left to ruin. Come spring, it will once again regain its former grandeur, I'll see to it personally." She turned to greet her guests, "Captain Picard, Deanna, Doctor, gentlemen, it is good to see all of you. Welcome to Prakal. It is past time that you are given a proper welcome. If you will honor us with your presence in two nights you will be properly welcomed and thanked. You have my oath on that. Please be seated. I know we have much to discuss."

There were many wingbacked chairs; one chair stood out from the others by its significant size and comfortable padding. Abeathdor took that chair, placing Deanna to her left and the captain on her right, the others filled in the remaining chairs; Will beside Deanna and Beverly next to the captain, Worf stood along the windows and Nairma took the seat opposite the queen, flanked by Will and Beverly.

"Captain, you said Gringbald was dead. I sincerely hope there were no casualties to any of your people. Can you tell me what happened?"

"No madam, we suffered no casualties. Gringbald informed us, after we had detained him, that he could not survive in captivity. He asked that we allow him to die. That's not entirely correct, we were asked to kill him."

The room was silent. Abeathdor looked from Picard to Deanna, "You granted this request?"

Deanna spoke, "No, not outright. Gringbald told me he had information that we needed. He would bargain that for his death." She paused deciding what direction to take first.

Captain Picard helped provide that direction with his narrative. "You see, your highness, Gringbald would only talk with the counselor. He was attempting to manipulate her into doing what he wanted. She would not allow his maneuvering her into such a position, so during the preparation to have him transported to another ship, he tried to meld with her. Thanks to the commander's quick thinking he was unable to accomplish that, however he was stunned with a phaser. In Gringbald's weakened condition he divulged the information to the counselor before his death."

Abeathdor turned to the counselor, directing her next question to her, "It is this information that now brings you to me. The thoughts I can touch do not make believe that this is information that I will find pleasing. Deanna, tell me what is it that you have been told." She physically steeled herself for a negative onslaught.

Deanna sensing all this touched her arm, "Your Highness, with all you have endured, this will not test you as you have been tested in the past. It is not pleasant, but I believe before we leave here, this day, we can leave with some peace in our hearts." She paused; sensing that everyone was keyed and waiting. "When Yarmie was on the throne, was there anytime she was ill or away from the public view?"

"I was not allowed communication, much less personal audiences with my sister." Abeathdor's posture became stiff, taunt with anticipation.

Deanna asked the same of Nairma. He too, was banished from court. She could sense the truthfulness in both accounts. She continued, "Abeathdor, you have met Solace. Gringbald told me that he had fathered the child by Yarmie." She felt the Queens horror at the thought of such an act, she went on to explain, "We have done DNA testing to check the validity of that claim. These test results are with Doctor Crusher. She will explain them." Deanna sat back into her chair, realizing her hands were clenched together, she rested her elbows on the chair's arm rests and tried to relax her hands by allowing them to lie opened, palms up. She felt Will's hand on her arm, she closed her hand over his.

Beverly explained the differences in individual DNA, then she went on to explain that different species would have much different DNA and exactly what Gringbald was -is-unknown. The sample of Abeathdor's DNA was shown to her, then the sample from the child's was shown with the matching strands highlighted for comparison. The doctor then showed her Gringbald's, and the comparison to the child's again marked. Nairma stood between the queen and the doctor looking at the information.

Abeathdor pushed the PADDS away; Deanna could feel her confusion and growing anxiety. She leaned forward to look closer into the queens face, touching her arm, "Abeathdor, we are not asking anything of you or your people. We felt an obligation to you to tell you of this information. The request made of you earlier concerning the child still stands. I would still like to keep her with me. Solace has shown some empathic skills, Doctor Crusher and I feel she needs to be seen by a specialist on my home planet. That way we can be supportive while she learns of her own capabilities."

"After all Gringbald has done to you, you would nurture his offspring?"

"I have come to love the child. I have no fear of her becoming Gringbald, nor do I think of him when I see her. I could not, and will not turn my back on her. If you would like we could arrange communication and frequent visits. You are her only fleshly living relative."

"I feel no kinship to the child, I felt only that of a very young child toward a much older sibling with my sister, this child's mother. I wish her no harm." Abeathdor sat quietly for a while trying to come to a decision. Then after several moments she began. "I will not revoke my reply to your former request. I would, though, like to request something of you in return." She now turned to Picard, "I can see no healthy future for the child on this planet. Gringbald and his henchmen have caused much grief and pain. If it were known that an offspring of his existed in the ruling house, she would be sought after and the cause of much unrest. So, I ask that this information go no further than those in this room."

She looked at Deanna, "I would like to know of her well being through you, You would keep in contact with me? Do you think me ruthless?"

"No, these very issues we foresaw. I would enjoy communicating with you, and I look forward to it. You are asking that Solace not be told of her parentage?"

"Yes, for now, I am. She is welcomed to come to the festivities in two nights and to the coronation with you. I set no regulations upon her."

"Thank you, Your Highness." Deanna smiled and could feel the relief chasing the tension from her limbs.

Doctor Crusher still had some information she had hoped to obtain, "Before we close the book on this subject, as her doctor, I'm looking for any medical knowledge that may have great significance in treating the child in the future. We believe that the conception may have been scientifically engineered, where would that information be found?"

Nairma answered, "It was probably kept in the research building. Most of those files had been burned before the control could be gained over the building. The men responsible for those experiments have either been incarcerated or have disappeared. If I come across any of that information I will see to it personally that it comes into the possession of the Queen." He looked across to Abeathdor with nothing but adoration in his eyes.

"Very good. Your Highness, if there is nothing more, we have taken up enough of your time, I ask our leave to return with my officers to the Enterprise." Picard waited for her to stand first, as she did the rest then also stood.

They walked back through the palace talking of the innovations Abeathdor planned. Picard spoke of the aid the Federation could offer. They had stopped in front of several windows overlooking a busy road in front of the palace. Something caught Will's eye, "Nairma, what is happening there, what are those transport vehicles carrying?" Below them a small convoy of open bedded trucks was passing, filled with what appeared to be carcasses.

"It is our shame. When we took over the research facilities we found hundreds of animals that were the subjects of experiments. We found many more that had already died. It would seem that many innocent people and animals were the victims of cruelty. It is why they travel as they do - to remind us of what a lack of compassion will lead to. You see before you the shame of our people. These animals were the lightfoot, the most docile of all the beasts on the planet."

Doctor Crusher cleared her throat, Nairma smiled slightly, then answered her unspoken question, "Yes Doctor the skins have been treated before they were removed, they carry no disease now. Just the remains of the planet's dignity."

Deanna stepped back from the windows. "Counselor, are you alright?" Worf noted her movement and pale countenance.

Will moved to stand beside her, gently taking her arm. "The counselor and our doctor had an interesting adventure with the lightfoot. They came across a holding pen full of the animals that were to be sent to the research laboratory. They set the animals free, only to be found by Zylon's men themselves." Will thoroughly enjoyed telling this story, because he loved watching Deanna's reactions. He did it more for that reason than any other; after all it was that adventure that led, in part, to their commitment.

Deanna looked at Beverly to see she too, was entirely happy having this story repeated now in front of the planet's royalty and Captain Picard. Deanna decided to change the direction a little, "Solace also carries a little wooden lightfoot with her. She loved those animals she used to hand feed them back in Fallscity."

The counselor missed the look exchanged between Abeathdor and her Almoner. Nairma touched her arm, "Allow me to do one small thing for the child. We have many newborn lightfoot in the nursery. Most of them were orphaned; we are doing what we can to save them. Allow me, if you would, to find one that is well enough to live with a little extra care, to give to the child."

Deanna looked at the captain for an answer. She did not relish the thought of a lightfoot bouncing around through her quarters. She heard Will muffle a chuckle.

"We do have a small animal collection on board the Enterprise. How large an animal is this?" Captain Picard too, was a little cautious.

Nairma smiled, "Come, it's not far from here." They were taken to a large sterile room, where many helpers were bottle feeding small animals, some furry, some as yet hairless. The crew walked around some petting and holding the orphaned animals.

Nairma, after talking to the man who appeared to be in charge took Deanna to what resembled a furry apron. He reached inside to pull out a small animal. He bundled it up in a blanket, then placed it into the counselor's arms. The rest of her shipmates moved closer to have a look at the creature. "She is old enough to be taken out, although she eats vegetation, she must still have the nutrients in the formula. This one also has a twin. Would you accept both animals on behalf of the child? There is the mature animal." He pointed to a larger area where a mother lightfoot stood watching them; her young still in her pouch. Nairma signaled one of the assistants over, removing the bundle from Troi to hand it to the assistant.

The captain looked at Beverly, "Well Doctor, you will be responsible for their upkeep in the nursery."

Beverly did not look amused. "I think our zoologist and biologist would be delighted to have some new animals to fuss over."

Captain Picard smiled, "Indeed, then I relieve you of the responsibility." Then to Nairma, "Yes, I believe our people would be happy to care for them."

The Almoner left to get the twin to the first animal. Captain Picard said in an undertone to Riker, "Number One, I see what you mean about the pungent odor these animals seem to produce."

Will grinned, "This is nothing..." That was all he was able to say when he found himself somewhat short of breath possibly the result from being on the receiving end of the counselor's elbow.

Nairma and two of the animal handlers rejoined them. The two handlers were carrying the animals and their needed supplies. He placed one in Beverly's arms, then turned to give the other to the captain, who declined. "No, I believe Counselor Troi already has quite a history with these animals. I would not deprive her of the pleasure."

Nairma gently laid the bundled animal back into Deanna's arms. She rubbed the small exposed head, watching the animal's reactions. Worf and Will carried the supplies back to the beam up site.

Once back on board the Enterprise the crew separated, Deanna and Will took one of the small animals back to show Solace. The others went to the zoological labs to find a home for the new additions.

Solace met them before they could fully enter the quarters. Will swept her off her feet not allowing her the chance to see what it was Deanna was holding. He teasingly held her away, she had to stretch to catch a glimpse of the blanketed bundle. Lwaxana and Guinan remained sitting and watching they were allowing the others the game.

When Deanna sat on the sofa, Will put Solace down. She scampered to Deanna looking into the blanket. "Abeathdor and Nairma thought we could help raise a couple of these for them. They'll live in the bio labs were we take care of some animals. Once they are big enough to have families of their own, we will bring them back to live on Prakal. What do you think, can we take care of them?"

Solace nodded, she was on her knees looking into the blanket, petting the baby. Her eyes were huge with delight. "Would you like to hold her?" Deanna asked knowing the answer.

"Yess." Solace pranced about not knowing what to do first.

"Come on over here, sit back up here beside me. That's it, hold your arms out. There." Deanna put the bundle into the child's arms. Solace cooed with delight.

She looked at Deanna, "Mine?"

"No, though you can visit and help take care of them- whenever someone can go with you. Guess what? You can name her." Solace sat rocking the animal with her eyes closed, deep in concentration.

"You don't have to name her tonight, think about it. Tomorrow we'll visit her and her brother. You can name her then." Deanna put an arm around the child to help brace her smaller one enabling the child to hold the animal more securely. She could see the creature trying to escape the confines of the blanket.

Will was sitting on the other side of Solace watching the child enjoying small animal. "I think it's time that junior was introduced to her new home. Would you like to come along to see where she'll be living?"

"Yess." She looked at Deanna, "You too?"

"No, I'll stay here and talk with Aunt Troi and Guinan. You two go, I'll be here when you get back." Deanna smiled at the child's concerned face. "Go a head, Doctor Beverly is there, you can say hello to her while you visit."

Will took the bundle from her, Solace held on to his pant leg as they moved toward the door. Deanna saw her turn to look back before following him out the door into the corridor; she could see Solace grab on to Will's leg before the doors closed.

"How did things go? By the look of you two, I'd say in your favor." Lwaxana spoke for the first time since their return.

"Actually, they did. Abeathdor asked that the information be kept confidential for the child's sake as well as the governments. What a relief! Now, I'll make plans to get to Betazed to have her seen by Dinal. I have to say things are looking up. How did things go here while we were gone."

"Very well, she seemed a little distracted when you left, but I think things went well, wouldn't you say Guinan?"

Guinan agreed, then added, "You forget how much energy a child has when you haven't been around them for a while."

"Mother you look tired, you're not used to a small child running around either. Let me walk you to your quarters."

"No, I'm fine, although I am ready to call it a night." She and Deanna walked to the door where Lwaxana kissed her daughter's cheek. "I am really happy that things worked out so well. The child is precious to me, almost as much as you are." Another hug and Mrs. Troi was on her way to her own quarters.

Guinan remained, waiting. Deanna sensed she had something she wanted to say in private. When each sat with a cup of tea, Guinan surprised Deanna by the topic of her conversation.

"Deanna, when were you planning to take Solace back to Betazed?'

"As soon as it can be arranged. The coronation is set to take place in several days. That should end our immediate involvement. I think we could be on our way in about four days."

"Is the Commander joining you?"

Deanna looked intrigued by the question. "Not then, perhaps in another three days, Why?"

Guinan was silent for a few moments. "Deanna, we've come to know each other fairly well over the years, and I've come to like and respect you. Now with that in mind I hope you will take this suggestion as just that -a suggestion from a friend."

The counselor smiled cautiously, "Go on."

They sat studying each other for several minutes before Guinan continued, "We both think of ourselves as students of human nature. You have perhaps a different view than mine, you are half-human. My viewpoint comes from the angle of having seen generations of human interactions. While not all alike, there are some primary similarities..." She paused.

Deanna never knew Guinan to be at a loss for words, she also had a feeling she knew where this might be leading. "Guinan, is this about my relationship with Will?"

"Counselor- Deanna, would you consider allowing me to go in your place with Lwaxana and Solace. Your mother explained that this Doctor Dinal makes several casual visits over a period of days to give the patient time to become comfortable with him, If this is the case, Solace wouldn't be undergoing any sort of testing or examination until after you would arrive with the commander. I believe Solace would tolerate me. I wouldn't be a replacement as much as I would be a distraction for those three days."

"You've talked about this with my mother?" That would explain some of Lwaxana's inconsistent behavior.

"Yes we've discussed it. Your mother agrees that you and Will need sometime alone together, soon. While I believe she is disappointed that she wouldn't have you to herself, I think she knows how important the commander is to you."

"Guinan, this has been occupying my thoughts for sometime. I've been trying to work out a solution that would satisfy everyone. It's not easy." Deanna leaned back to rest her head on the back of the sofa. "Will is very important to me. We seem to get lost on our way to each other. I can't allow that to happen this time. But, I have this responsibility to Solace. Here is a child with no one else to speak for her...to love her. I have to give some priority to her too. Everything just seemed to come together at once. I will not allow this to become a distraction or a test of my love for either of them."

The hostess, quietly asked, "Is this a possible solution? Could you stay here those three days with Commander Riker, and the two of you join us on Betazed together?"

The counselor had a strange smile on her face, "You know, this may be just the solution I've been looking for. Have you mentioned this possibility to anyone else?"

"Your mother and I asked Solace if she would mind if you stayed behind with Will for a couple of days. She didn't become upset by the suggestion. She clearly was not overjoyed by the premise, but I think she could be comfortable with it by the time we were to leave, if that is you agree to it."

Deanna continued to smile in that strange mischievous way. "Guinan, say nothing of this to anyone else. Let me think about it."

They had little time to talk more before Will and Solace returned form delivering the baby lightfoot to it's new home. Solace was still very excited; she skipped through the door, then broke into a run to leap on to the sofa and stand beside Deanna. Her arms wrapped around the counselor's neck.

"You've been gone for quite a while, did you put the babies to bed?" Solace nodded, "Well what do you think of their new home, do you think they'll be happy here?"

"Yes, two of them. Brother and sister. Can we go back tomorrow?"

"I think we can find the time." The counselor was thrilled to see how much pleasure this child was getting from the presence of the two baby animals. Solace had climbed on to her lap, talking as faster than the small lips could co-ordinate the words. She was explaining the feeding bottle Beverly had designed for the lightfoot. She told them she was allowed to feed the brother a bottle. She then went on to do a floor demonstration of how well those babies could jump.

Deanna looked at Will as he sat beside her. "Was she this excited at the lab?"

He chuckled, "Probably more so, you should have seen her feed - Solace tell them what you named the brother. Will was laughing heartily.

Solace crawled back up on Deanna's lap to look into her face as she talked. "Call him Aunt Troi."

Deanna smiled, "Sweetie, you have an Aunt Troi, I think we should find a name that someone else doesn't have. It gets too confusing if we have too many Aunt Troi's. Besides that is a girls name, lets think of something else okay."

Solace smiled, "Okay. Call him 'Happy'"

The counselor smiled, "If you want to call him Happy, I guess that's alright. Is it because he's happy or you are?" The child smiled and pointed to herself. Deanna glanced at Will, he was wiping the moisture from his eyes, finally gaining control from earlier. Solace was bubbling about, unable to sit still, "How are you going to sleep tonight? You are very wound up." Deanna hugged the child just to keep her still for a few minutes."

"Will, tell you the story 'bout the princess and the lightfoot."

Will gently corrected the child, "No, Deanna doesn't need to calm down, she wants you to calm down so you can sleep tonight." He looked up to see all three were looking at him, he knew he was going to have to explain the story.

"Yes Commander, that does sound like an interesting story, I know I would enjoy hearing it. I can't tell you how long it's been since someone told me a good story. How about you, Deanna, you up to a good story?' Guinan looked at the counselor, her eyes smiling.

"I don't know why not? Solace, maybe you could help Will if he gets stuck."

Will looked from the counselor to the child, Solace was smiling sitting on Deanna's lap with the counselor's arms around her. Deanna had eyebrows raised waiting. "Okay, lets see does this sound like the beginning: Two princesses were in the forest on the search to find the missing queen.."

Solace added, "The princesses found lightfoot locked up by the bad king. They worked and worked to get the lightfoot out... You tell now."

Will picked it up, "They worked all night to set the animals free. When all the animals were free the princesses were so tired they fell asleep, and were found by the bad kings men. Then..do you remember what happens next?"

Solace smiled, "Yess. The prince comes and saves them, he marries the princess." She looked puzzled, "Which princess?" Her question brought the amused attention of Guinan and Deanna back to Will.

He answered, "The prince married the beautiful princess, the one who had stolen his heart when he was a young man." He met Deanna's eyes over the child's head he could see she was touched by his reply.

"Solace, why not show Deanna the new books, maybe we can talk someone into beginning to read one to you." Guinan changed the direction the conversation was taking after observing the long smoldering looks between the commander and counselor. There was little doubt in Guinan's mind that the counselor would be taking her up on the earlier suggestion.

Solace looked up at Deanna first, as though she didn't want to leave her lap. She pulled the counselor's neck down to deliver a loud smacking kiss on the side of her face. "Thank you sweetie," she whispered.

Deanna smiled, "What for?" Solace shrugged her shoulders and went presumably to fetch the new books.

"I found these books on Earth. I was passing through this small village, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, quite rustic and scenic, it was there that I came across this old-fashioned bookstore. In it I found the most remarkable samples of earth's literature. I was told these books are classics. They are fantasies written several hundred years ago, using mythical creatures in a classic battle of good and evil. What I enjoyed most is the thought and imagination given to the characters."

Solace came back from her room carrying two books. The one was twice the size of the other; Solace struggled to get them to the sofa. Will went to help her taking the larger book and handing it to Deanna. Guinan explained that the larger one was the first one in the series and was probably more suited to younger readers. The child returned carrying two more books, sighing she put them on Wills lap.

"Well, I've had a delightfully entertaining day, but I'm on duty tomorrow, so I'll say goodnight." Deanna and Solace walked Guinan to the door, Solace after giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek for the books and staying with her, returned to sit with Will on the sofa. Deanna quietly told her that she would let her know the next day as to the suggestion she offered.

Deanna sat on the other side of Solace as they took turns reading the new books to her. The child would frequently stop them to ask a question or turn the page to look back at a picture. It took some time before she began to regain her usual demeanor, and then very little time until she began to doze.

"Come on sweetie, its time to get ready for bed." Deanna had closed the book and was tickling the side of her face by lightly skimming a finger along the side of her face and neck. Solace would giggle then pinch her eyes closed pretending to be asleep.

Will gently carried Solace into her new room, he laid the drowsy child on the bed. She reached around his neck to hold him and look into his eyes; she kissed his cheek and delivered her biggest hug. Will feigned injury, as Solace sat cross-legged on the bed giggling.

Deanna smiling herself gently reminded her, "Alright, don't get too wound up, or you won't be able to sleep. Shall we wear the same nightgown tonight?" She held up the blue one.

"Yess, you too?"

"Okay, but tonight try to sleep in your bed alone. If you need me all you have to do is call. Do you think you can try it?" She knew that was not what Solace wanted. "Sweetie, just try tonight. If it doesn't work, that's okay, I'll come over. But I would like you to try. Can you do that for me?"

She watched Deanna as she talked, then nodded her head that she would try. Will had left for Solace to change. Deanna dropped the nightgown over her head, combed her hair then sent her to the bathroom to complete the nightly routine. Once in bed, Will came in to say goodnight. She reminded him that they were to go back to see the lightfoot in the morning. Solace looked at Deanna to include her in the project, an answer was expected before they could continue with the bedtime ritual. Having been assured that they would all go to see the animals, the child was content to reward Will with another hug and kiss.

Deanna sat on the bed beside her talking about the past events of the day she had spent with Guinan and Aunt Troi, and the animals. She talked to her about things they could do together, she talked until the small eyes could barely stay open, then Deanna leaned over to kiss the child and straighten the covers over her before leaving.

Will was waiting for her when she returned, he was sitting on the sofa reading one of the books Guinan had left. Deanna sat next to him, he automatically put his arm around her, drawing her close. "You know, these are interesting books. It might be fun to read with her at night, like tonight."

"You have been smiling all evening, what are you thinking?"

"I have just been enjoying everything. This has been a day that has certainly changed direction. You've got to admit things have begun to look a lot brighter now then before we went down to the planet."

She nodded laying her head against his shoulder, "I thought we were going to lose her." She paused before continuing, "Maybe it's good to take inventory and realize just what we have. I have come to realize just how much I rely on you. Your very presence makes the intolerable tolerable."

He kissed he forehead, "I rely on you too. Your insight and reactions make things seem more real to me." They sat in silence for sometime before Will moved to stand, "Its been a long day. How about breakfast at 0700 hours?"

Deanna stood looking up at him, "Do you have to go, Mr. Riker?" She put an arm around his waist, the other around his neck.

He lowered his head to hers, "No." This time there seemed no reason to pull away. Their emotions had escalated to the point that Will gathered Deanna in his arms. Her arms were around him as she nuzzled his neck. He had managed to get them into her bedroom, where they were startled by a voice from the bed, "Sleep in your bed tonight, please?"

It was like the turbo lift again, that feeling of deja vu. Will put Deanna down, then stepped out of the room. "You wait here, okay. I'll be back. We'll talk about it then." She waited until the muffled okay came back.

Deanna followed Will back into the living room, "I'm sorry. I really wanted you to stay."

He was still smiling, "I think we should say goodnight, I'll see you for breakfast." Then with raised eyebrows he asked, "Does she ever sleep in?"

"No, not yet anyway." She went to him for a long promising good night kiss.

"Another reason, we need to get on with our lives- family quarters with bedroom doors that can be secured." Will turned to smile at her once more before the doors swished shut behind him.

When she returned to her room Solace was sound asleep. Deanna changed and slipped into bed, it wasn't long before Solace curled up beside her mumbling in her sleep. Apparently it was good things she mumbled, she smiled. Deanna could sense none of the fear that had so recently consumed the child. All she could sense was a solid feeling of contentment. She lightly laid her fingers on the small face touching the corners of the smile. Solace snuggled closer, still smiling.

Chapter 34

Deanna was up early the next morning, she was taking the time to look over her appointments and reschedule the less pressing ones. While looking over all that had been postponed due to the circumstances of this past mission, she wondered if she would ever catch up. It was part of being part of the Enterprise, the learning to be flexible; knowing that in the process of encountering the unknown there would be unexpected delays in one's personal as well as professional life.

Will didn't use the chime, he punched in the access code to enter he quarters. She was so lost in her thoughts that she never heard or sensed him enter until he stood behind her, startling her when he touched her cheek with his hand.

"Good morning, you're early." She stood, moving away from the console and into his arms.

"I was hoping we would have a little time alone, and I need an escort for tomorrow night's festivities on the planet. I was wondering if you knew of any available beautiful women on board who might want the opportunity to be seen with the first officer of the Enterprise?"

"Hmmm no...none that might want to be seen with the first officer. The rumor is .." She lowered her tone to a whisper, "the rumor is he's married."

"Oh, that's just a rumor." He watched her, seeing her expression change feeling the intake of breath, he was prepared.

"A rumor!..." He silenced her, effectively keeping her lips occupied, and definitely throwing her thoughts into a spin as he brought back memories with gentle caresses.

They heard a shuffling come from behind them, turning they found Solace shuffling sleepily from Deanna's bedroom. "Good morning, how did you sleep?" Will kept an arm around Deanna as he scooped the child up.

She smiled and hugged him, the she looked at Deanna, "How did you sleep?"

"Pretty good, but we need to talk about someone who was going to try to sleep in her own bed by herself last night."

"Not me!" Solace looked innocent, except for the twinkle in her eye.

"That's right it must have been Aunt Troi." Will sided with her, Solace knew a good accomplice when she saw one, nodded in agreement.

Deanna rolled her eyes, looking at Will she said with amusement in her voice, "You'll be sorry."

Solace looked at him and mimicked Deanna, "You'll be sor-ry."

"I think I am already." He laughed, "Are you still excited about having the lightfoot on board?"

She smiled, "Yess, can we see them now?"

"Not right now. We'll go after breakfast. I think we are in for a busy day. Are you up to it?" Deanna asked, knowing she would answer yes.

Solace nodded her head, "Will too?" She looked from one to the other.

"As a matter of fact, I thought I would spend sometime with my favorite ladies today. I have some business to attend to after breakfast, but the rest of the day is all yours. Let me take care of ship's business and meet you for lunch. How would that be?"

Solace nodded.

Deanna smiled into his eyes as she replied, "We will try to make time for you." The arm around her tightened.

Will added, "Oh, by the way, tomorrow night's affair is a civilian event - formal attire, uniforms not required."

"Good, I have something in mind."

He raised his eyebrows, "I can't wait." Then turning to Solace, "Well, little one, shall we have eggs or French toast?"

"Toast." She squirmed to be put down, Will obliged before going to the replicator to join Deanna in getting breakfast set out.

During the meal Solace chattered about the lightfoot and the names they could have. She was considering several names and tried to get the adults to decide for her. Deanna explained that this was as special privilege that was given to her because the animals came from her home. They agreed to help her if she needed it, but she still had plenty of time to think about it.

Lwaxana Troi joined them as they were finishing the meal. Solace left her chair to sit on Aunt Troi's lap to tell her about the lightfoot and the need for names. Her enthusiasm was heartwarming and comical. Deanna was relieved that the name that had been her first choice was not discussed. She watched as Solace draped an arm around Lwaxana's neck, the small face just inches away from the other as the child's eyes reflected her happiness. Lwaxana smiled while the child chronicled her encounter with the newest passengers.

"Aunt Troi come with us to see the lightfoot," then after a quick glance at Deanna she added, "later." Lwaxana hugged her and told her anything that excited her that much would have to be seen. Solace smiled and nodded, then went back to her seat to finish munching on a piece of toast.

"Well, I've got to go, as usual little one, it's been a pleasure," Will leaned over to kiss a gooey cheek, "Umm maple syrup.. I'll see you in a little while Solace. Mrs. Troi, . Deanna, walk me to the turbolift."

The counselor spoke to the child. "I'll be right back, stay at the table until we get you cleaned up, okay?" She waited for the Solace to nod, she smiled at the child and winked, then followed Will through the doors.

Once the doors shut behind them, Will slid his arm around her as they walked to through the corridor. "We're taking Solace with us to the planet? And your mother?"

"I want to talk with Solace first. I've been sensing a fear of returning to the planet. I'm not sure why, but I'm not going to force her. I'll let you know more at lunch." When they arrived at the lift she turned to look in to his face, "If things go well and the Captain permits it, I think we may arrange to leave as early as the day after tomorrow for Betazed. How do you feel about joining us there when you get a chance to get away? May be we could get away from everyone for a few days." She held her breath as she first sensed disappointment and reluctance, then she could feel his emotions changing before he carefully blocked her.

He reached to pull her closer still, holding her for several minutes, "Imzadi, we'll talk before the day is over, I promise." He smiled slightly, leaning down to touch her lips with his as the doors to the turbolift opened behind him. Will stepped backwards into the lift, never taking his eyes from hers as the doors closed finally breaking their visual connection.

A pensive Deanna returned to her quarters to find Solace feeding Lwaxana her French toast. The sight completely caught the counselor by surprise, "Solace what are you doing?" She couldn't keep the amusement from her face or voice.

"Aunt Troi wanted a taste and my fork was too sticky."

Deanna smiled at her mother and shook her head. "Finish up then we'll get dressed. We have a lot to do today."

"Maybe a bubble bath?" Solace looked hopeful.

"Later, right now - are you done? Then right now we're going to get you unsticky and dressed. Then we need to check out some friends of yours."

"Go see the babies?" Solace was out of her chair and hanging on to Deanna.

"Ooww you are sticky!" Deanna picked her up and headed for the bathroom. "Maybe a bubble bath is in order after all."


Lwaxana followed them into the bathroom, sitting on the side of the tub as Deanna sat on the floor next to it washing the syrupy substance off the bubble bearded child, who was singing the song she just recently learned from Guinan, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

"Guess what sweetie?"

Solace looked expectantly at Deanna. "You are invited to go to the planet with us tomorrow night. We'll get all dressed up, have you ever been to a party before. Everyone gets together, sometimes they play music and eat fun food. You'll get to see Rankeer and Lagi. We'll pick out one of the new dresses you have. What do you think?"

Solace looked down at the bubbles as though thinking the whole thing over. Deanna touched her chin so the child would look at her; she leaned over the tub presenting the child the opportunity to look closely at her to see there was no more to the occasion than what was presented.

Deanna added, "We'll come back here, where you will sleep in your own bed tomorrow night. Then we have to pack if you are going to Aunt Troi's home for a little while."

Solace seemed surprised, shooting a quick glance back to Lwaxana whom smiled and nodded, she spoke to Deanna, "You come too?"

"I will be there in a few days, but this has to be a secret, okay. It's a surprise for Will, so we can't tell him." Again the nod, Solace continued studying the counselor's face as Deanna went on to explain, "Will thinks I'm leaving with you, I want to surprise him and stay here with him for a couple of days. Then we will come together, with Doctor Beverly. We'll all be staying at Aunt Troi's house. Guinan is going to go with you and Aunt Troi, then in a couple of days Doctor Beverly, Will and I will be there." Deanna waited; she could sense a mixture of fear, concern and anticipation from the child.

"You come with me?" Solace reached out a soapy hand to hold on to Deanna's arm.

"In a few days, it not very long and you'll be so busy with Aunt Troi and Guinan the time will go fast. Solace, sweetie, I will be there in a few days."

She nodded but still held on to Deanna's arm. "It will be okay, you'll see. Now, let's get you finished up here." Deanna stole a glance at her mother who had been sitting quietly observing. Lwaxana nodded slightly giving her approval to her daughter's handling of the situation.

When Deanna had wrapped a towel around the child to pick her up, Solace clung to her. Deanna carried her back to her room where she sat on the bed and held her. The counselor tilted her head back to look at the little face. Tears were overflowing to run down the small reddened cheeks. "What is it, sweetie, you can tell me." Deanna knew what was happening, she wanted Solace to know she could come to her to communicate her feelings no matter what they were.

"I want to stay with you." The tears came faster. Deanna gently wiped the cheeks dry, her own eyes tearing. Never before has someone been so dependent upon her, never before had she felt the need for that dependence. Solace touched the tear that had escaped her eye, then encircled the empath's neck to hug her. One small hand patting her back as if to comfort her. Deanna returned the gesture, patting Solace gently on her back.

Mrs. Troi stood by watching them comfort each other for a few moments before she broke the silence, "Well, are you going to take me to see these animals today or not?" she knew she would get the child's attention.

Solace turned to Lwaxana, then held Deanna's face in her hands to look intently at her, "Okay now? Can we see the babies now?"

"If you think you're up to it." There wasn't any way Solace would miss the chance to see them,

"Better. You too?"

"Yes, I'm better now too. Let's get you dressed."

At the bio station Solace was impatient to get to the lightfoot. She had Mrs. Troi and Deanna each by the hand moving quickly back through the facility when a young technician asked if she was there to see the lightfoot. Solace told him that she was. "And aren't you the young lady who is going to name these cute little animals?"

"Yess, I think name her Twinkle." She looked up at Deanna seeing the surprised look on the counselor's face she asked, "Okay?"

Deanna bent down to whisper, "I think that is a good name. Did you name her after the song you were singing?"


The technician laughed, "Okay we have Twinkle and what about the little fellow, have you thought up a name for him yet?"

"Mmm, I think Handsome." Her eyes again sought approval from those around her.

"Handsome, that sound like a good name. Is that because he's a good looking little guy."

Solace nodded. The tech grinned, "So we have Handsome and Twinkle. Two very unique names for our friends. Would you like to help feed them?"

Deanna tapped her shoulder, "Go ahead."

Solace was delighted, as she took the technicians hand she glanced once more back over her shoulder to make sure the two women were following them. She was given a large bottle to begin the feedings, with bottle in hand she scooted into the pen to sit down a little distance from one of the young animals. Solace clicked her tongue; the Troi women watched as the female went to her. Solace moved it around until it was on her lap, then she slowly had the baby drinking out of the bottle.

The biologist walked over to join Deanna and Lwaxana., she remarked, "She certainly has a way with these animals. I think they already know her."

"Solace lived in an area the animals inhabited. We saw her go into the woods, hold out her hand while making that clicking sound. They would come out of the woods to eat plants out of her hand." The counselor watched everything in the pen closely trying to learn more from the way the child interacted with the animals.

"Counselor, would you like to feed 'Handsome'?" The biologist said it loud enough for Solace to hear.

"You too! Come I can help you!" The little girl was thrilled that she could help. When her bottle was empty she took the other full bottle over to Deanna. Solace sat on the floor, tapped the area beside her for the counselor to sit down. After having carefully followed all of the child's instructions, Deanna found herself bottle feeding the lightfoot now in her lap, his front paws touching the bottle as though he were making sure no one would suddenly take it away from him.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words, now I know what they mean by that." Said a familiar male voice.

Deanna was lost in her preoccupation with Solace and the animals that she never felt or noticed that several of her crewmates now stood beside her mother watching. She looked up to see Geordi, Data and Beverly. Solace was leaning over Deanna's arm making sure the animal was being fed properly. She left Deanna's side to go to where the group stood. "Aunt Troi, want to feed Handsome."

"No that's okay, I see Handsome is doing very well."

Data stooped down to the child's level, "Hello Solace, may Geordi and I see the lightfoot." At her nod he asked, "Would you take us over?"

Deanna was pleased with the care Data had taken in his communication with her, she watched Solace respond by going over to the gate and taking each of their hands to lead them to where Deanna sat holding the lightfoot, the counselor handed the bottle to Geordi. Twinkle now wandered over to get her share of the attention. Data was handed a bottle by the technician. Solace backed to sit in Deanna's lap to supervise both feedings from a more exalted position.

"She reminds me a lot of Deanna when she was a child, she couldn't stand to see an animal hurt or penned up. She would cry at the educational vids on early animal handling." Lwaxana enjoyed telling the child hood stories to anyone that would listen, and on her visits to the Enterprise, there were always a willing listening ear to be found. Beverly was now donating hers to the cause.

The doctor put a hand on Mrs. Troi's, "I don't think that has changed much. She still feels that way about life in general. I've seen her with animals, but then you've heard that story by now. She's like that with people too; she can't stand to see someone hurting. That is why we are good friends and that's how Solace has entered into our lives."

Beverly went to the table nearest the pen to pick up a piece of clothing that was laid neatly folded on it. She entered the pen with the other to approach Deanna and Solace. "I think you are going to be our resident specialist on lightfoot, so I had this replicated just for you." Beverly held out a much smaller version of the lab coat she wore, with the name Solace over the pocket. The doctor pointed it out explaining that it would keep everyone from being confused and taking the wrong coat. She held the lab coat down for Solace to put on.

The child stood up with an arm out, then stopped to turn to Deanna, < Go ahead little one, don't forget to thank Doctor Beverly.> Deanna thought/sent to her. The child grinned, allowing Beverly to help her put it on, then she turned to thank and hug her.

Beverly smiled, "I'm counting on you to help us with these babies. That will be your job on board the ship, can you do it?"

Solace solemnly answered, "Yes."

Deanna had an arm around her as she turned to speak with Beverly, "I'll stop by later. You are going to the planet tomorrow night aren't you?"

"We're dressing up." Solace help Deanna's hand. "Aunt Troi is coming too. Right?" She looked back at Lwaxana.

"Yes, Deanna, I must go if I am to dazzle your new friends. There is much to do, so I'll begin now." Mrs. Troi hugged the child and whispered that she would see her later.

Beverly exchanged glances with Deanna who pulled her off to the side, "I really would like to talk with you later. Will you be in our office in about two hours?"

"Yes, what is it?" Beverly looked concerned."

"Nothing serious, I just need to go over something with you. I'll see you later in your office."

They had rejoined the others with the animals; Solace was sitting talking to the small animal Data was holding. Deanna and Beverly overheard her say, "Well, sweetie I have to go. I'll be back soon as I can." Then she leaned over to kiss the baby lightfoot between it's two pointy little ears.

Solace said her good-byes to everyone and took Deanna's hand as they left the bio lab and headed to their quarters to clean up before meeting Will for lunch.


They arrived in ten-forward before Will. Guinan showed them to a table next to the stars knowing it was a favorite seat of the child's. Solace immediately went to stand before the windows looking out at the myriad of stars.

Guinan sat at the table with the counselor. "Have you given more thought to staying behind for a few days. I only ask so I can make some schedule changes here."

"If it is no problem, I would appreciate it, if you would go in my place. We've talked about it and I think Solace will be fine with it. If there is a problem, I can work out transport on another shuttle, but for a few days, I think things will be fine. We've agreed it would be a surprise. Will is not to know about any changes." Deanna looked at the child then at Guinan, trying to decide whether or not to confide more in her when Will walked into ten forward.

"I'm not late am I?"

"No, we are early, we made a stop to see how the lightfoot were doing. I'm sure Solace would love to tell you all about our visit."

Solace heard Will's voice and bounded over to join them, Will pulled a chair out then swung one long leg over the top to sit down. "Guinan, will you be joining us for the festivities on the planet tomorrow?"

"I may make a brief appearance. Are you all going down together?"

The commander looked at the faces around the table, then answered, "Yes, I believe we are, aren't we Solace?"

"We are dressing up. Like a party." Solace was trying to climb onto Will's lap; he easily lifted her up so she could talk to him. "Guess where we were?"

Will acted dumbfounded. "Let me see...were you at Guinan's?"

She shook her head no.

"Were you at Aunt Troi's?"

Again she shook her head, now she couldn't wait any longer for the game to continue she hurriedly told him, "We went to see my babies!"

Will looked at Deanna, eyebrows raised, "Your babies?"

"Doctor Beverly gave me a shirt like her's to wear. I work with the babies." She was looking very pleased with herself, her eyes dancing with excitement.

"How are the babies, have they adjusted to their new home?"

That was all the incentive the child needed, before she was off on her favorite subject. She talked about their new home, the home that was going to be built and the feedings that she had helped Data and Geordi with.

The hostess politely stayed to hear the last of the story, then excused herself to take care of business. Will put Solace down in the empty chair when their lunch arrived. They talked about light subjects to keep Solace involved in the conversation. Will told them he had about an hour's worth of work to finish then he'd catch up with them for the afternoon.

Guinan stopped at the table after Will left. "I'm on my way to my quarters, would Solace be permitted to join me? She could finish her art work, and it would give you a chance to take care of some items."

Deanna looked at the child, "Would you like that, sweetie?"


"Okay, I'll stop by later."

"You come too?" the small face was covered in concern.

"Not right now. I have a couple of appointments to keep, so I'll see you later." She remained seated as Guinan and Solace headed for the door. She saw the child turn to look for her once more before leaving, Deanna smiled and waved to her. Solace smiled and fluttered her hand, then turned to go through the doors holding Guinan's hand."

Counselor Troi stood at the entrance to Beverly's office waiting for the doctor to finish with a patient before entering. "Is this a bad time?" Deanna asked when they were finally alone.

"Actually now is perfect. Do you realize how much time and work go into seeing that everyone aboard has received an antiviral dose? The record keeping alone is keeping three of my people busy. I think we have now finished, except for the follow throughs. She paused as the counselor sat across from her. "How about you, have you been able to get caught up yet?"

"I'm hoping to use today and tomorrow to do what is necessary, the rest will probably wait until we return from Betazed. That is partially why I'm here now. Are you still interested in joining us on Betazed?"

"Absolutely. I've talked with the captain- three days after you leave, the majority of the work on the planet should be accomplished, and I should be able to join you then. That is if you agree to it?"

The counselor smiled, "I'm counting on it. I'm hoping Will is going to accompany you on that trip, although there maybe a few last minute changes if all things go as I hope they do."

"Counselor, if I didn't know you better I'd say you are scheming something. It has to do with Will doesn't it...no don't answer me now. Let's talk later, we haven't had one of those talks for a while." Beverly asked Deanna about Solace; their conversation then turned to the advancements Solace had made in the short time she had been with them on the Enterprise.

Deanna left sickbay and was headed toward the turbolift when Will caught up with her, "Hi there, aren't you missing a cute little shadow? I just finished, so I thought I'd spend some time with you two."

"Hi yourself. The cute little shadow is at Guinan's, could you do me a favor and pick her up there. I have some appointments I need to keep. Would you mind spending some time with Solace until I met with a couple patients and finished some reports before we go? Do you think you two can manage without me for a while?" she saw his mouth tighten, then relax as he forced a smile.

"Counselor, I am a Commander of a starship, of course I can manage a four year old for a few hours." They traveled together to Guinan's deck, where the commander parted company to pick up the child. The counselor continued on to the bridge.

Counselor Troi touched the chime to the Captains ready room. At her approach he smiled, "Ah Counselor, come in. What can I do for you?"

Deanna explained the events of the next couple of days, and asked how things looked in regards to her participation in them. He had anticipated the request and was prepared to do without her. It was her next request that surprised him. When his face mirrored the surprise, more at the fact that she had approached him then the request itself. She felt the need to explain more fully after his silence.

"Captain, I know you are aware of the situation between Will and I. I have decided to stay behind those three days between when Mother and Solace leave and the time when Beverly would leaving for Betazed.. Will knows nothing of the change in plans. He expects that I will be Mother and Solace on Betazed. Guinan will now be going in my place, and I will be leaving with Beverly and hopefully Will in three days. Has Will mentioned any of this to you, or asked for leave time to go to Betazed?"

"Counselor, are you asking me to confide a personal request to you?" He watched her reaction.

"Yes, Captain, I guess I am." She looked sheepishly at him, those large dark eyes betraying vulnerability not common to many who knew the counselor, but a look the captain had seen too often in the past several days.

"I see. Commander Riker has obtained permission for shore leave to begin in five days and last for fourteen days. I'm sure you would have known this information shortly. May I ask what you have in mind?"

"Captain, if it would be possible I would like to spend those three days here with Will, hopefully resolving any differences and beginning a future together."

"When would the commander learn of his additional time off?"

"I thought you might mention it about an hour or two after the shuttle left for Betazed." She was uncomfortable with the request yet firm enough in her resolve that the captain agreed without hesitation.

She made her next stop at her mother's quarters where she confessed her plans and tried to discuss any objections that Lwaxana Troi may have had. "Deanna, well, I saw it coming, so I can hardly say I'm surprised. I see your plans are made, perhaps in another eight years you'll have time for me, if I'm still around."

Deanna sat beside Lwaxana, an arm around the older shoulders. "Mother, I'm sorry if I have neglected you. I should have made more time available to be with you. Let me get back on to a schedule, then I promise I will be with you more. After all, Solace only has one Aunt Troi, and I want her to get to know you- and you to get to know her."

"Dear, I hope things go as you hope, but remember in the past several years nothing has happened along this line. I just don't want you to see you hurt. There is a limit to how much pain one heart can take."

"I know Mother, but things are different this time. Thank you for taking Solace. I will be there in three days. In the mean time if you should need me, you know how to reach me. My appointment with Doctor Dinal isn't until the after I arrive, but if anything comes up with Solace please contact me right away."

"Now you are worrying about nothing. I will handle things. You take care of your time with William."

"I better be going, I have a couple of things to attend to before the big dinner tomorrow night. Will I see you later for dinner?"

"Not tonight, little one, Guinan and I are dining together. She is a delightful woman." Lwaxana briskly walked her daughter to the door. Once out in the corridor, the counselor was left to wonder about inherited traits and inconsistencies.

The next couple of hours the counselor spent in her office trying to make up for lost time in scheduling, and working in a couple of appointments she didn't want to postpone until her return from Betazed. When she became conscious of the time, it was much later than she had intended on being gone. She began to finish up, "Computer, location of Commander Riker."

"Commander Riker is at bio station two."

That is where she found Will and Solace, both of them were sitting within the enclosure with the two young lightfoot. She refrained from announcing her presence, but watched the two with the animals. Solace had Will feeding one, while she talked to it scratching the chin. Deanna couldn't hear all that was being said she put together that Solace was telling the animals the story of "the princess and the lightfoot".

She was considering whether or not to interrupt when she heard Solace ask Will, "Do I know the princess?"

Will had caught a glimpse of Deanna behind him, "Yes, turn around, look behind you. Who do you see?"

Solace turned to see Deanna leaning over the gate watching them. "Dee!" She ran through the gate that Deanna had opened for her, she stood with her arms wrapped around the counselor's knees, before being lifted up for a hug.

Deanna carried her into the enclosure to sit on a stool beside Will's, "I'm sorry, I let the time get away from me. I never guessed it was this late."

Will watched her as she apologized, "It's alright. We had dinner and decided to give the babies their bedtime snack before going back. Have you eaten yet?" He held up the nearly empty bottle of formula.

The counselor made a face, as she answered, "No thank you I'm not really hungry." She squeezed the child on her lap, "Did you have a good day sweetie?"

"Yes, we told Twinkle the story of the princess and the lightfoot."

"Well, she's finished." Will set the now empty bottle down and let the young animal go. "These animals should grow fast, they seem to be constantly eating. Are you ready to go home?" he asked Solace.

"Yes. You read to me then?"

"Only if Deanna is up to it tonight."

Solace turned to look at the counselor, "Yes we can read. Do you know where the feeding bottles go when they are empty?"

"Yes." She scooted off Deanna's lap to take the bottle over to one of the technicians.

Will stood brushing the hair from the animals off his pants. "Did you get everything accomplished you wanted?"

"I guess I underestimated all that I needed to do. I should be able to finish everything up tomorrow, before we leave for the planet. I am sorry, I never intended to be gone that long."

"Deanna, it is alright, we had an enjoyable afternoon. I've learned a lot. Did you know that lightfoot young like you to kiss them between the ears? It's a fact, although, I don't quite buy into the part about whispering in their ears." He smiled at her expression. "Come to think of it, the only person I know that can eat the way they do and never put on weight is your mother." She had to laugh despite the remark, she knew he was jesting, and Lwaxana Troi was well known for her appetite for exotic food. He took her arm to escort her from the pen. For an instant she felt remorse at the child's upcoming departure for Betazed. A very real part of her wanted things to go on as they were now. The change may prove to be just that, a deviation from the course they now appeared to be taking- the direction she wanted them to continue to take.

Will had been studying her, taking a step closer to her he asked, "What is it, what's wrong?"

"A month ago, could you have even imagined these changes in your life?"

He had an answer, but the return of the child kept him from voicing it. She stood looking up at them, then taking Deanna by the hand and wrapping a small arm around Will's leg she waited. He picked her up and smiled fondly at her. Deanna heard his thoughts, < I didn't imagine it would happen like this, but I have imagined it in our future, Imzadi.>

The three of them entered Deanna's quarters to spend the rest of the evening reading and talking. Solace was in bed trying to convince the adults she had met several hobbits in the woods by Fallscity. Will kept it lively by telling her of the many dwarves he had met while on board this very starship. Deanna tried to explain to the child that they were Ferengi and not dwarves, while Will chuckled the entire time. Will's comm badge stopped the fun.

"Commander Riker the Captain requests that you report to sickbay immediately." It was Worf relaying the request.

Riker looked quickly at Deanna before answering. "I'm my way."

He leaned over to Solace, "Well, I guess I'll see you in the morning, little one." He kissed her forehead, before leaving her room. Deanna told her she'd be right back to say her goodnights.

After they left the child's room, she asked, "What do you think it is?"

Probably a problem has developed on the planet. I'll see you later." They said goodnight; both knowing it would have to be a significant problem to have received the indirect summons from the captain. Deanna went back to check on Solace. The child was sitting in her usual cross-legged fashion waiting on her. "You should be under the covers and almost asleep by now. Come on." She held up the covers for the child to slide underneath them."

Solace looked hurt. "I was waiting on you."

Deanna sat on the bed beside her, "Thank you for waiting. Did you have a good day with Will?"

She nodded, then asked, "Sleep with me in my bed?" Her tone and expression suggested she didn't expect it to happen.

"How about this; I will stay with you until you fall asleep?"

Solace picked up the covers for her to slide under. The counselor was slightly amused at the speed and detail that a child could learn to mimic another's traits. She had no sooner crawled under the covers than Solace snuggled up against her.


Chapter 35

Deanna came awake suddenly, fully alert and tense. She made herself lie still, waiting until she could calm her racing heart. Solace was still sleeping close to her, apparently they had both fallen into a sound sleep. Deanna carefully extricated herself from the child to slip out of bed and into the living room, where she could concentrate on the rush of emotions that brought her from the sound sleep.

She sought out Will, it was easy to find him, like going home, she had become that familiar with his thoughts and emotions. Home at this moment was in turmoil; it was his emotions that had brought her from her sleep. He was greatly disturbed about something; she tried to get a sense of what was happening without contacting him if we were involved in something that intense he certainly didn't a distraction.

"Computer location of Commander Riker."

"Commander Riker is in sickbay."

Now she was becoming more concerned. What could be happening in sickbay? She hadn't been contacted so her professional skills were not needed. Her communicator then interrupted her thoughts. "Riker to Counselor Troi."

"Yes Will."

"Deanna, Beverly and I need to talk with you. Stay in your quarters and enforce the security precautions we had implemented before. I'll explain when we arrive."


She went to the door and secured it, to wait for the commander and doctor. Solace came to stand beside her. "What's wrong, are you having trouble sleeping?"

"Yes, sit with you?" She rubbed her eyes, blinking from the unaccustomed light.

"Okay, come on let's go get comfortable. How about we listen to some music together?" She picked the small girl up to hold her as she requested the song she hoped would help the child fall back into sleep before the others arrived. The song had played twice before Solace relaxed enough to close her eyes. Deanna continued to hold her as she slept, somehow it made the waiting easier.

The chime sounded, she had no wish to awaken the child so she carefully laid her on the sofa to go to the door. Reaching out with her senses to confirm what she already knew she began the security clearance procedure.

Will Riker's voice acknowledged the computer's query allowing the doors to open. The counselor had backed from the doors for the visitors to access the room. Will's eyes quickly moved around the quarters noting the sleeping child, then continuing on through the living area before coming back to look closely at Deanna. "Come in, give me a moment to resettle Solace in her bed." The counselor wen to the sleeping child, lifting her to carry her back into her room. Solace stirred, then eased back into her slumber. Deanna had stopped, waiting -making sure that she had gone back to sleep. Once inside the child's room she had the computer softly replay the waltz instrumental version twice more, just in case Solace hadn't fallen completely asleep. She didn't know exactly what Will and Beverly needed to speak to her about but she was sure she wanted to hear it with out the worry of the child overhearing it. After tucking her in once more, she rejoined the other tow in the living room area.

Will stood when she approached them, "Can I get you ladies something, tea?" He continued over to the replicator without waiting for their answer, returning with a cup for each of them and for himself.

"Would one of you explain, please. What is it? She could sense their reluctance and concern, but without prying deeper the source of those emotions remained hidden. In her own mind she felt it had to do with Solace or Gringbald, the last she tried to eliminate, after all he had died.

Beverly took any hope of that away with her next words, "Deanna, Gringbald's remains are missing?"

"What do you mean missing? They were transferred to the transport ship to be ferried to a research station weren't they? Oh no, not again, this isn't going to happen again." She looked at both of them; unable to believe her worst fears could be realized now, when everything seemed to be finally going in the right direction.

Will leaned forward to look get a better look into her face from his position beside her on the sofa. "The transport never arrived at its destination. We are trying to go over all the details surrounding the death and transport of Gringbald's remains. We are going to meet with the Captain, as soon as Guinan and your mother arrive. Beverly and I wanted to prepare you a little for the meeting; it was a shock to us too. It does not appear that Gringbald is still aboard the ship, however, we needed to take precautions to ensure your safety." He looked at Beverly and nodded his head, at his signal she reached into her pocket; her hand emerged with a tricorder with a strange appendage attached to it.

"Deanna, I need to check you over, it's harmless but necessary right now."

Will stood to move away from her, it was then that Deanna noticed the phaser that he had been wearing. She looked at him, surprised and wary. Beverly stood before her, running the tricorder over her, once than a second time more slowly. The empath waited, sensing the relief from the doctor at the result of the scan.

"Please explain now." Her patience was running out she watched as they exchanged a look and Beverly shook her head to answer Will's unasked question. "Was this part of the precautions you are taking. You wanted to make sure Gringbald had physically melded with me?"

Will answered softly, "Yes, everyone must be checked, each of us had been scanned before leaving sickbay. He already attempted to meld with you once, you had to be checked Data is working with the computer to find a way to run a ship wide search through the sensors, but tonight we needed to use the only method we thought would work." He hesitated before continuing, "Deanna, we need to check Solace too. I spent the entire afternoon with her, I could sense nothing. I'm sure there is nothing to worry about, but we can't take any chances, everyone must be checked, especially those close to you."

She nodded her head, allowing them the lead as they entered the sleeping child's room. Solace lay, as she had when the counselor had tucked her in, on her side with a hand under her head, the other holding the covers to her. Beverly quickly ran the tricorder over her form, then more slowly a second time, just as she had done earlier to Deanna. The doctor checked her results then watched the two of them standing together, Will's arm around Deanna, but he other hand resting on the phaser. "Everything is normal with Solace." She left the room, leaving them to stand looking down at the bed and it's small occupant. The doctor waited for them while making herself comfortable on the chair facing the sofa, finally able to drink the now room temperature tea.

The other two emerged from the bedroom, "I thought having to do that with your mother was tough, this was tougher."

Deanna looked from Will to Beverly in utter astonishment. "You had to do this with my mother? I'd love to hear about that, before she gets here."

Will grimaced painfully, "I'm not sure I'm ready to relive the experience so son. If they were to be here with Solace, both of them would have to be tested before being alone with the child."

"Actually the captain and Beverly came up with the approach: they were being tested because of the antiviral serum, everyone on board needed to be checked on the progress of the serum. It almost worked." Will smiled..

Deanna knew she was going to hear the story from her mother, but wanted the other version, the one she knew she would be defending. "What happened?"

Beverly picked up the story, "Your mother accepted the initial explanation, I think because Guinan did. Unfortunately, she noticed Will's phaser and asked why he was wearing it.

Deanna turned her attention back to Will and surmised the rest of the story, "She caught you lying? You made up a story?"

Will nodded, "I told her, I had just come from the planet, we had had some problems with a few renegade soldiers in the Palace, who didn't know that Gringbald was no longer in power and I hadn't turned it in yet... she telepathically learned the truth. Deanna, I have to say your mother is an indomitable woman under the best of circumstances, let me tell you, we escaped with our heads only because the captain was there. He appears to be the only she respects enough to listen to." He looked like he was still in pain over the whole incident.

The empath smiled slightly, "She was upset because she thought he was still aboard and endangering the ship?"

"Something like that, she was concerned that we put you life in danger again." At Deanna's expression, Beverly added, "It's alright, the captain explained the circumstances and that the procedures being implicated were primarily precautionary. From the information we had been able to obtain, the evidence points to Gringbald as having been aboard the transport vessel and then perhaps being the cause for it's disappearance. She seemed to accept that- and the captains offer to take her for tea to apologize for any inconvenience and worry."

"Did all this take place in sickbay about two hours ago?" Deanna

"Yes that would be about right. Why?"

"I woke up suddenly sensing Will to be greatly distressed and asked the computer for his location." She looked Will and smiled, "I had no idea at the time it had to do with Mother. I thought it was a problem with Gringbald, but kept reminding myself that he was dead."

The door chimed, "It's Mother." Deanna looked at her companions before going to the door.

As soon as the doors opened, Mrs. Troi flew through them to embrace her daughter. "Deanna, thank the gods!" She stopped, held her breath as she held her daughter away from her scrutinizing her. "It is you?" Then as if to make sure, she thought/sent < Tell me Little One, that it is you. >

"Of course it's me, Mother. Please, let's not wake Solace, I don't want her to know of any of this."

"Darling, I'm not an ogre, regardless of what you may have been told." She glanced over in Will's direction.

"Mother, nobody said any such thing, we'll talk of this later. It sounds as though it is going to be a long night. You can sleep in my bed Guinan. Mother, Solace would love it if you slept with her. If she gets up again and can't sleep try the song I told you about. Thank you both, I really appreciate this."

"Hurry on, Jean-Luc is waiting for you. The poor dear has so much on his mind, don't be causing him any more worry than he has now. Guinan and I will be fine, we've been having a delightful discussion, haven't we dear?"

Guinan just raised the area on her face that would have been eyebrows, if she had them, and smiled. "We'll be fine until you have finished and get back."

Beverly touched Lwaxana on the arm and smiled, "Good-night." The other two said their good-nights and followed the doctor out into the corridor.

Deanna turned toward the turbolift, Will took her arm and directed her further along the corridor. "We're going to my quarters for the meeting. The captain didn't want to start a panic, after seeing your mother's reaction he thought a private meeting might be better."

When they arrived at Will's quarters they found the captain, Worf and Geordi all there. "Data will be joining us shortly. He is reviewing some information we just received from Starfleet. What I need from each of you is a complete detailed account of what you witnessed at the time, of what we thought as, Gringbald's death. We'll start with the counselor, because I believe you had the most exposure to him and I'd like to hear once more of your empathic impressions at the time of his dying and death. Counselor, leave nothing out, perhaps a clue is buried amongst the confusion. Let's begin then...."

The night phase of the Enterprise had since passed, Doctor Crusher had just finished giving her experience with the shape-shifter's remains when the captain looked around the room at his bleary eyed officers. "People, I have seen no proof to indicate that Gringbald is now on this ship, however, we will continue with the tests for peace of mind. Data will institute the new format Starfleet has approved aboard the Enterprise. Starfleet has notified all members of the Federation of Gringbald's disappearance and the danger this being presents. The new scanning format will take place on all vessels embarking and disembarking Federation planets. Betazed has been notified and given details of the episode as far as Gringbald's desire for the emotional education. They will in particular be watchful for his presence." The captain ended by assigning Data and Geordi to the broader project of finding a detection device using the information Doctor Crusher was able to accumulate about the physical properties belonging to the shape-shifter. The others were left to finish previous assignments while reminded that the queen's dinner was to be that evening and their attendance was mandatory.

Everyone had left to go about fulfilling their assigned roles before the formal dinner, leaving Beverly, Will and Deanna to gather up the cups and glasses. "Can I get anyone another cup of coffee, or how about hot chocolate?" Will asked as he unloaded a tray of cups and glasses.

"Nothing for me, thanks. I need to stop at sickbay and check on some test I'm running for the captain. I guess I'll see you both later." Beverly turned to go when Deanna stopped her.

"Beverly could you wait for a minute. I'll walk with you." Deanna turned to Will, "Can we meet for lunch?"

"If I didn't know better, I'd say there is a conspiracy to keep us from having any time together." He looked as though he were considering the possibility.

Deanna smiled as she walked up to him. "You couldn't be more wrong." She let her fingers caress his cheeks before lowering his face to deliver a friendly kiss, as she turned to leave he reached for her to bring her back to him.

"That does not disprove my point Counselor, you will have to try harder to persuade me otherwise."

Beverly stepped outside to wait in the corridor for Deanna. When the empath did emerge for Will's quarters, the doctor noticed the flush on her friends face, "You two are going to have to work out an arrangement before long." When she didn't get a response to her comment she asked, "What is it you wanted to talk to me about."

Deanna looked surprised by the question, "I'm suppose to be the empath her." Is the weekly poker game still set for the tomorrow at Will's?"

"Yes, we decided Will is probably going to need cheering up after you leave tomorrow."

"That's very thoughtful, however, how difficult would it be to find a replacement- if it should become necessary?" She turned to Beverly, the doctor noted a definite twinkle in her eyes (and it had nothing to do with a lightfoot.).

"I don't suppose it would be difficult to either cancel or find a replacement. Why hasn't Will mentioned it?"

Deanna smiled, "Maybe Will doesn't know he'll have other plans yet. You are still coming to Betazed in a few days?"

"Yes, I'm counting on it. I'm looking forward to meeting this Doctor Dinal and to really see your home planet. Has something happened to change these plans, because you continue to ask if I'm still coming.?" Beverly suspiciously watched the smile on Deanna's face.

"You may have company, and I keep asking because I'm really looking forward to being able to show you around. Are you meeting us to go down to the planet later?"

"Yes, shall we meet at your quarters?"

"Yes, I need to make a couple of stops before I check in on Solace and Mother."

"You might want to consider getting some rest too. I'm heading back to my quarters for awhile, as soon as I catch up on a few things. You're not going to tell me what it is you are up to, are you?"

Deanna just smiled as the turbolift doors closed and she continued on her way to her office to finish her appointments. She had been working for some time when she decided to head back to her quarters to allow her mother time to get some rest and prepare for the night's events.

As she entered her quarters she was immediately struck by the silence. She sensed she was alone, a quick look through the quarters confirmed that, other than a few toys on the sofa everything was very tidy. She used a few minutes to look through her wardrobe and that of Solace, checking the sizes for the child. It just amazed her how Lwaxana was able to accurately guess the sizes on the clothing she had chosen for Solace, or was it by guessing? She was going to stop by her mothers quarters next, perhaps she could find out.

She entered after her mother's greeting to see Lwaxana Troi stretched out on her sofa. "Mother, are you alright?" Deanna went to sit beside her.

"Yes, yes, I'm not used to sleeping with a child that is determined to sleep as close as possible. She gives you absolutely no space. How do you do it?" Lwaxana sat up to better look at her daughter.

Deanna smiled and moved to the chair beside the sofa, "Think of it as a great compliment, Mother. Where is she now?"

"Guinan took her to finish a project, a surprise for you. The child is a delight to be around, I 'm just not used to sharing a bed with one. Speaking of which, I thought you and William would be spending this time together, at least if he had his way you would still be...."

"Mother," Deanna's tone was a bit sharper than she had intended. "Let's not spend the time we do have together like this. I'm going to the replicating center to pick up a few items for Solace and myself for tonight, is there anything I can get for you?"

"Oh my dear, your little ship hardly has the type of accessories I'm looking for. No, I've brought a few little pieces you haven't seen before. I'll be fine. Run along then, take care of your little errands. I'll see you tonight. I'll stop at your quarters as we planned." She reached for her daughter's hand to pull her into a motherly embrace. "Don't be upset with me about William, it's an old habit. I don't dislike the commander. I just want someone who will take care of you as you should be taken care of, that's all."

Deanna kissed her cheek, "I know you want what you think is best, but Will is what is best. I'm not upset, just try harder to see Will for the man I know him to be. Get some rest; I'll see you later.

She had dropped off her parcels in her quarters before going to Guinan's for Solace. Guinan met her at the door; Deanna quickly looked around for the child. "She's making a surprise for you. It only needs the final touch to complete it. Come in, please sit down." Once they were seated Guinan asked if she had been able to accomplish all she had set out to do.

"I hope so, I feel like a thief in the night. Maybe this isn't the best way to go about it." She then went into the details with Guinan.

When Solace heard the two adults laughing she peeked around the doorway. Deanna saw her, "Hi there, are you ready to go yet?"

She walked over to Deanna to stand looking up into her face. "Are we getting dressed up now?"

"I think we probably should start back so we have time to do everything. Are you finished?"

Solace turned to Guinan who asked, "Is it finished?"

She nodded her head, and shot a quick look at Deanna to see if she was following their communication. Deanna waited patiently for them to include her in on the project.

Guinan took the child's hand, "Excuses us, we have something to put the finishing touch on. You are going to like this." Solace looked back over her shoulder to smile back at her as they went around the partition into the dining area of Guinan's quarters.

When they returned, Solace with Guinan's aid was carrying a large frame. She handed it to Deanna. The counselor looked at it then back to the child, "Is this what you've been working on? This picture is very nice."

Solace pointed to the picture of three lightfoot, drawn with a heavy dark material, "Like us."

Deanna carefully laid the framed picture down beside her to gather the child to her. "Yes, a family, just like us." She looked to Guinan to mouth a silent thank you, which Guinan acknowledged by a nod of her head.

She turned her attention back to the child. "Let's go back to our place and wrap this, we'll surprise Will with it before we to the party?" Solace liked the suggestion, the child in her loved surprises and the idea of everyone having a good time.

"Guinan, you are coming with us tonight? Would you like to meet us at our quarters, Mother, Beverly and Will are going to be there?"

Guinan simply did one of her deep slow nods. She smiled at Solace, "You are going to introduce me to some of your friends right?" Solace mimicked the same half bow half nod back.

"Okay, sweetie, are you ready we have a lot to do. Thank you Guinan for taking such god care of Solace for me. We'll see you later." The counselor stood with the picture tucked under one arm and Solace holding on to the other with both hands as though she were afraid of a quick escape by the counselor. Walking to the door the child turned to wave good bye and thanked Guinan before going back to holding Deanna's hand with both of hers.

The child danced along side of her on their way through the corridor, "Now we get dressed up?"

"Soon. Let's take this beautiful picture to our quarters and wrap it, then Will is going to meet us for lunch." She looked down into the child's eyes to see how excited she was about the upcoming event, and regretted the approaching short parting between them.

They had no sooner finished wrapping the picture when Will entered. Solace ran to him, "It's almost time to get dressed up, then we have a surprise." She quickly looked to Deanna, checking herself. Will followed the child's eyes and raised his eyebrows waiting for an explanation.

Deanna winked at Solace, "Will has to wait doesn't he?"

Solace took his face between her hands to direct his attention back to her. She held it so she could look into his eyes, their faces a few inches apart as she told him, softly yet sternly, "You have to wait. Soon." She held him like that until he promised to wait.

When he had set her down, he looked at Deanna as the child left to wash up for lunch. "How long have we had her with us? Because she certainly has you down, she does a good imitation of you." He had moved to stand in front of the empath, "I'll come early tonight maybe we can have a moment or two before we meet with the others. This thing with Gringbald bothers me, promise me you won't go anywhere alone while we are on the planet? I'm having second thoughts about the trip to Betazed too."

"I know, I've thought of it too, but we can't live in his shadow. Besides I won't be alone on the planet or Betazed. He may be light years away; we can't look behind every shadow expecting to see him. I'll be careful." She looked into his eyes sensing his concern for her, she projected her feelings to him to allow him to share them, and to realize how deeply they ran for him. He lowered his head to hers, several minutes passed when they became aware of a crunching sound. They both looked toward the sound. Sitting at the table munching on a piece of celery, Solace sat watching them, at their look she smiled.

"Aren't you going to wait and eat with us?" Will teasingly asked. She held out her celery for him in reply to his question. He leaned down to take a sizable bite out of it to her delight. They finished their lunch, to sit and talk for a while before Will was paged to return to the bridge.

After Will left, Solace asked, "Now we get dressed up?"

"Maybe we should take a nap first. What do you think? It may be very late until we get back." Solace looked at her like she had to have been joking. "We have a little time before we start to get ready, you and I will rest for a little while."

"I'm not sleepy."

"Then we'll just rest." Deanna waited to see if there would be another objection

Solace asked about the evening's activities, "Rankeer and Lagi will come too?"

"Yes they want to see you. It's been a long time since you've seen them. They'll be very happy to see you."

"Then I come back with you?"

"Yes, then we will come back here. Remember tomorrow you go to Aunt Troi's with Guinan. You are going to be so busy. Then in three days, I'll come."

"With Doctor Beverly and Will."

"Yes, you know what, I think we should have a party there too. What do you think?"

She smiled and nodded. Deanna was relieved, she seemed to be getting used to the idea of going without for a few days. They had been sitting at the table while Solace slowly finished her glass of juice. She was still in high spirits as they talked about Deanna's home. When the juice was finally finished, she asked if Solace would like to nap alone in her bed.

"I'm not sleepy, just rest with you."

"Okay, come on then, whose bed, mine or yours?"

"Rest in my bed."

Deanna stood at the foot of the bed allowing her to get in first. She then sat on the side and took off the child's shoes rubbing the small feet for a few minutes, before kicking off her own, to curl up on the bed. Solace laid close with her eyes closed. "I thought you said you were not sleepy? Deanna whispered.

"I'm just resting." Solace whispered back without opening her eyes.

Deanna smiled and closed her eyes.

Chapt 36

When Deanna opened her eyes she saw that Solace now shared her pillow, the empath studied the child as she slept. Looking at the small face she could see no likeness to Gringbald or to Queen Yarmi, at least no likeness to the portraits of her that hung in the palace. She watched the sleeping face smile, from somewhere in her child's mind came good pleasant thoughts, Deanna leaned over to kiss the smiling face, "Come on sleeping beauty, we have a lot to do." She spoke softly to the child.

Solace stretched, slowly opening her eyes, she smiled at the counselor, and "I was resting."

Deanna laughed, "You rest very soundly."

The child nodded her head still smiling, "Time to get dressed up?"

"Yes, let' get started. We don't need to rush, but we want to be ready before everybody comes...and I have a surprise for you!"

The small blue eyes lit up, "What? More lightfoot?"

"No something for tonight." Deanna stretched before getting up, she stood looking down at Solace, who was now sitting cross-legged on the bed. "Why don't you open your closet and pick something to wear?"

Solace looked doubtful, "My surprise?"

"Your surprise is...that you get to choose what you want to wear."

It was very obvious the child didn't know what to do. She stood on the bed to walk over to Deanna holding out her hand, "You help me?"

"Come on, open the door. I'm right here. Nothing is going to ruin tonight for us. Come on." Deanna took her by the hand, as the girl jumped off the bed, then together they went to the closet. Solace opened the door and stepped back as though waiting for something amazing to happen, when nothing did, she looked through the low hanging outfits. Noticing something different she pulled it out. A lavender colored colored dress with a lighter shade of lilac ribbon around the waist. Her eyes were wide as she turned to show it to Deanna.

"I know, I thought you might like that. You said that was your favorite colored." Deanna led her to the mirror and held the dress in front of her.

"Ahh, pretty. Let's dress now." It was not a question as much as a pronouncement.

"Okay, first we go to the bathroom and clean up."

It took very little time until Solace had the new clothes on. The dress matched the colored leggings and shoes. As she stood looking into the mirror, Deanna brought a little box, kneeling behind the little girl; she eased the little necklace around the small throat and closed the clasp. On the chain was a small lavender colored piece of glass in the shape of a small lightfoot.

Solace nearly broke the chain the figure was on by trying to pull it out and upwards to look at it closer. Deanna showed her how to hold it up to the mirror to see it. "Tonight when we come back, you can take it off and hold it. Okay?"

Again the slight nod of the head, she was clearly beside herself not having experienced so many things like this at one time before. She turned to Deanna hugging her until the counselor lost her balance to end sitting soundly on her bottom. Solace sat on her lap gripping her arm. The entire episode brought tears to Deanna's eyes, it seemed any time anything good happened to this child she had learned to hold on to it, so that it wouldn't vanish.

"Come on sweetie, Will is going to be here and I'm not ready. Let's comb your hair, I found a pretty little flower to put in it." She sat her up on the counter, to comb the short dark curly hair, then attached a small porcelain flower to a clip, pulling some of the hair back with the clip. She turned the child around to face the mirror. "There, what do you think?"

"Ooh very pretty." She held the counselor's face close to her own. "Thank you." She planted a big kiss on Deanna's cheek.

"You are welcome sweetie."

Then the door chimed. Deanna lifted Solace off of the counter and to the floor. Once the little feet touched the ground, she was off to show off the new outfit to anyone who came to visit.

It was the commander, dressed in a deep sapphire blue silk shirt, and darker blue slacks. "Wow! You look beautiful!" He lifted her up, she then showed him how her necklace, legs and shoes all matched. He again complimented her, telling her how no one else will look that nice with a lightfoot necklace. She face radiated with happiness at his attention. "Is anyone else all dressed up?" He looked around for Deanna.

The counselor answered from within the bathroom, "Not just yet. How late am I?"

"I'm a little early. You still have some time." Then to Solace, "Is there any more surprises?"

With a conspirator's mile she nodded yes, "We have a whole lot of surprises for you?"

Deanna stood in the doorway, wearing a robe, "And if you keep asking you will get none of them. Will, don't pry, that's not fair."

"Is one of the surprises the outfit you're wearing?" he asked Deanna.

She looked at him that same smile Solace had just flashed at him, "It could be", with that she turned retreating back into the inner sanctum of the bathroom.

Will put Solace down, "It looks like it's just you and me for a while. So, now what should we do?"

Solace ran back to her room and brought out the book they had been reading, "Read to me please." They read and talked about the pictures in the book for quite a while before they heard Deanna coming.

"Alright you two, this is it. I hope it worth the wait." She walked into the room. Will's mouth dropped open for a second before he caught himself, his mouth sliding into a grin.

Solace was off the sofa and standing in front of Deanna, then walking around her looking her over carefully, she said in her most serious voice, "You look very pretty!"

"Thank you sweetie, so do you." She looked at Will with raised eyebrows waiting.

He stood watching her, rubbing his bearded chin, then walking to her, "You would be the belle of the ball if we went. I'd rather stay here and keep you all to myself." He reached to pull her closer.

Solace interrupted them, "The other surprise for Will now?"

Will looked from one to the other, "Another surprise?" He kept an arm around Deanna, not allowing her to move away from him.

She answered the child, "Yes, can you carry it in?"

"Yes." She was skipping out of the room as she answered.

"You look very handsome in blue." Deanna stood admiring the man before her.

"Deanna I don't know when I've seen you look more beautiful than you are now." He couldn't believe his eyes, she had a deep red strapless gown. The bodice wrapped around her low enough to allow just a thought of the flesh hidden beneath the satiny material, the dress fit perfectly to the form wearing it, a slit running up the left side to three inches above the knee. Beneath the hem he could glimpse the matching heels. Her hair hung in loose curls pulled away from the beautiful face, that his eyes kept coming back to after each admiring expedition of her. He took in the long simple gold earrings that hung almost to her shoulders He grinned that was something about the way it all came together that gave a dazzling look to it.

Solace returned dragging a large flat object. Will went to help her carry it to the sofa. She helped him get it on to his lap. "This is your surprise." She waited for him to open it.

He slowly opened it. Solace was impatient and began fidgeting, Deanna took her hand to bring her to stand in beside her, and there she hugged her to reassure her. Once opened Will looked at the picture, studying it, then he picked Solace up to sit on his knee. "This is a very nice picture. You did a very good job drawing the lightfoot." He kissed her cheek, "Thank you."

"A family, like us." Solace had a hand on his cheek, patting his beard.

He looked over at Deanna, "Yes like us."

The door chimed again, Solace hopped off his lap and ran to let Beverly enter. "My you look very nice."

Solace nodded, then returned the compliment, "You look pretty too."

Beverly came in to sit with them, Will showed her the picture the child has drawn. Solace shyly went to stand close to Deanna, holding on to her hand while awaiting the doctor's verdict on the drawing. To Deanna is seemed the child was starved for affection and acceptance, perhaps basing her future with them on their opinion of her performance. She leaned down to put her arm around the small shoulders, and kiss the forehead in an attempt to enforce that Solace didn't need to impress her to gain her affection.

The doctor smiled and told the child how much she liked the picture and invited her to come visit the other animals at the labs and draw their likeness also. Lwaxana and Guinan arrived. At their appearance the child literally couldn't' keep her eyes off of Mrs. Troi's gown. It has certainly captured the attention of everyone in the room. It was low cut and laced up the front, with a slit up each to mid thigh on both sides. But it was the colors that drew the eye: on a bronze background were large flowers of the greenest of greens, burgundy, bright yellows, and turquoise, it was almost hypnotizing. She had on very large bronze colored earrings in the shape of oriental gong, had there been a wind Mrs. Troi would surely be the equivalence of a large loud wind chime. Solace went over to touch the flowers expecting them to jump off the material.

Guinan's outfits had always been eye catching, the headdress she chose to wear with them most times the out bedazzling anything she could have put on her body. Tonight the dress was a floor length tapestry of colors; bright red strand was woven through the pattern like a ribbon holding the ensemble together. That was also the color of large flat-topped headgear - blood red.

Deanna watched the effect all this had on Solace; the child stood in awe of the sight presented by the two women. Her head tilted far back to fully take in the affect of Guinan's apparel. The counselor suddenly found herself wondering about the three days Solace would be spending with these women and the after effects such exposure would incur. Things could prove to be very interesting when they returned to the Enterprise from Betazed.

All that were going down to the planet met in the transporter room. Captain Picard announced, " You will be interested to know we are not beaming down to the palace, rather the co-ordinates we were provided with will put us in Fallscity."

Data asked, "Captain, should we resume the former relationships we held when we previously had been in Fallscity.

Captain Picard, looked amused, "Only if you want to Data", the captain stole a glance at the doctor in time to see her icy expression. "I believe those on the planet may be understanding now as to the earlier need for the pretense. Any fictional relationships need not be maintained." He saw Will smile as he placed a hand on Deanna's back as they took their places on the transporter platform. Solace hesitate going up, Will scooped her up to hold her. That wasn't enough, she also reached to hold Deanna's hand so they stood close as the beam down began.

Solace relaxed her grip as she recognized the surroundings, and the people that awaited them. Rankeer came forward first, a warm smile on his face as he approached the crew. Only a slight limp could be detected in his walk. He went first to Solace. "It's so good to see you. I almost didn't recognize you, you look so grown up." He reached for her; she eagerly went to him from Will's arms. He had talked slowly keeping eye contact with her.

"Rankeer!" She hugged him, then held her dress for him to admire. "My new dress!" She was smiling, but Deanna could tell she was holding back.

"Solace, why don't you visit with Rankeer?" Thinking that her presence may be to reason for the child's holding back, she wanted her to feel free to be happy with the people that had been a family to her. Rankeer was very surprised at the rapid change in Solace, her speech as well as her ability to hear and comprehend.

The counselor thought/sent < I'll be right here, if you'd like to spend a little time with Rankeer that's fine. I know you missed him and he missed you. >

Solace watched her as she communicated to her, then Solace asked, "Please come too." As it turned out, most of the crew went along. Those who had known Rankeer, came to catch up on events, the others came out of kind curiosity to meet these people who sheltered and cared for their own crew mates.

The restoration that had taken place in the glen during the past few days was remarkable, the demolished and ransacked had been removed. The air no longer held the acrid scent of burnt damp wood, but again was fresh with the aroma of pine. New buildings had begun to replace the old.

Rankeer holding the child's hand led the others to the large pavilion in the center of the glen. The temperature was very pleasant, not the cold brisk air that they had last left in Gendla. They entered into the pavilion and as they were introduced to each of the crewmates the Prakalians handed the women each a small bouquet of flowers consisting of the local colorful wildflowers.

Lagi entered, her appearance also greatly altered from their last meeting, here before them now stood a rejuvenated woman. Her trodden down appearance now replaced by a very happy smile, even the haunted look that betrayed eyes that had seen too much sorrow had transformed into eyes that reflected a much lighter heart when they rested on the familiar faces of the away crew.

The counselor went first to her, embracing and greeting her enthusiastically. Deanna then introduced her to those who had yet to meet her. Lagi seemed quite entranced by Mrs. Troi, and somewhat amazed to learn her to be Deanna's mother. After the introductions Lagi asked about Solace, Deanna pointed to the table where Solace sat on Will's lap as he talked with Rankeer.

"She looks grand. You've taken good care of her, she is happy with you." Lagi looked at Deanna, "and you have made a decision?"

"I believe it was made when we were both held by Gringbald. I just had to consciously admit it to myself." Deanna smiled, "She is a very bright and affectionate child. Come over, she was hoping to see you." The counselor put her arm through the other woman's as they walked over to join Will and the others at the table.

"Lagi, it's good to see you!" Holding the child within one arm, Will stood to greet Lagi.

Solace left Will's lap to go hug Lagi. "Well you look very nice. How is life on a starship?" Solace was very willing to go into detail to answer Lagi. The older woman gave a surprised glance at the counselor, as the child talked about living with Deanna, her new bed, and her new job with the lightfoot. Rankeer and Lagi asked question and Solace showed great relish in answering them.

The small girl found her way back on to Deanna's lap, where she sat with an arm around the counselor's neck as she talked. Abeathdor and Nairma entered. The room suddenly had become very quiet began standing. Lagi explained, "They stand to applaud her survival and to offer hope that her reign will be one of justice and wisdom." That said the rest of the table also stood. Then the applause began, it lasted for five uninterrupted minutes, by then the Enterprise people had all gathered in at the same table, except for Guinan and Lwaxana Troi who now stood at the front of the pavilion talking with the queens escort Nairma.

Lwaxana's daughter watched uneasily as her mother was introduced to Abeathdor. She caught Beverly watching her, smiled and turned her attention to Solace, who was informing Will about her place where the lightfoot come to be pet and fed.

Finally Lwaxana and Guinan joined the rest of the crew at their table. "I must admit, I was very impressed with the queen, and she seems quite taken with you people. I think if we could find her a good advisor with insight, she would be all set to get this planet straightened out. Unfortunately for her, my schedule is quite full for the next couple of weeks." Lwaxana announced as she seated herself beside the captain.

Will grinning and with eyebrow raised turned to look at Deanna. She closed her eyes and lowered her head; even Solace chuckled as though she got a charge out of it. Deanna was beginning to worry the child was picking up Will's humor in regards to her mother.

The food was being brought to the tables by some of the young people they had met here previously. Rankeer and Lagi took it upon themselves to see that all seated at that table were sufficiently looked after.

When the meal was over, the music began. It was performed by the same two young men that had so brilliantly entertained Beverly and Deanna on their first visit to the glen. Later several other musicians playing a wide variety of instruments joined them. Solace tapped Deanna's arm in time to the music; she had once again claimed her lap after the meal. Many new pieces were played that had different couples dancing and at one point Data had escorted Lagi out to dance. A break was called for to allow the musicians to refresh themselves. During the break Abeathdor and Nairma made their way to the Enterprise table. Rankeer quickly gave his seat to Abeathdor, she talked a little to everyone, but it seemed the child held her interest. She asked the child about her new home and if she was happy there. Solace smiled and answered yes. Abeathdor asked her what one might do aboard a starship, Solace answered detailing all that she had done since she arrived, everything from painting Guinan's room to taking care of the lightfoot. The table slid into a respectful chatter with the queen.

When the musicians returned to once again play, Abeathdor stood to announce that the tradition to dancing to the music was to be resumed. The next piece played was an upbeat, fast paced, loud and presumably favorite by the reaction o f the crowd. The dancing that accompanied it was more of a stomping than dancing, although there were a set of steps that were accomplished by tall the participants.

Rankeer asked Solace to come dance with him. She looked a little shy at first, then looked to Will and Deanna for their approval. Will asked her, "Can you dance to this music?"

She smiled, "Yes."

Will grinned and looked at Deanna, she answered, "I'd like to see it please." Rankeer took the child's hand to walk her out to join the other dancers. Solace may have missed a step or two, but her exuberance out shone her dancing technique. She would steal a glance over to the table every so often, just to make sure they were all there. She managed to out dance most of the dancers and her partner. Rankeer was no doubt, still recuperating for his injury and was held up a bit by his still healing leg.

Data had been studying the dance and mastered the repetitive steps. He asked for permission to join the dancers, the captain waived him off to have a try at it. He ventured over to Solace to partner with him for a dance, the two set off at a fast pace, Solace was adding a few steps of her own enjoying Data's attempt to copy them. The music was light hearted and the atmosphere so relaxed that they all thoroughly enjoying the dancers enthusiasm, clapping and stomping in time to the beat. When the music stopped Solace ran back to her table and Deanna and Will. Will scooped her up into his arms to tell her what an excellent dancer she was. Then confidentially he asked if she had more surprises for him. She nodded and told them they did.

He caught Deanna's look as she thought/sent, "You're not playing fair! You will miss the best surprise yet, if you get her to tell!" He gave her his best Will Riker- who me look.

The following piece of music was a slow piece; Abeathdor and Nairma danced a slow waltz. Others quietly followed their lead. Will put Solace down to offer his arm to Deanna. Lwaxana called Solace over to sit with her as the two went out on to the dance area. The little girl made herself comfortable on Lwaxana's lap, then leaned back to tell her, "They look pretty."

Mrs. Troi looked out on to the floor to see her daughter and Commander Riker did indeed look to be a very dashing couple. Their steps were in time, they moved well together, even more than that; they looked like they belonged together. It was belayed in the ways they engaged in conversation as they danced, the way they held each other, and continually gazed into each other's eyes when they were far enough apart to gaze into each others eyes. All of it attested to the fact that this was more than a growing attraction, this was a far more serious relationship. Lwaxana had to admit, her beautiful daughter and her very handsome escort were well matched, and as far as she was concerned it well past time for it too. She looked at the others at the table to see that they too were watching the couple on the floor.

Abeathdor and Nairma returned to their seats after a couple of words to the musicians. The music began again, Troi and Riker continued dancing. Lagi leaned over to talk to Beverly, "How long have they been together?"

"They met on Betazed, Deanna's home planet several years before they were posted on the same ship." Beverly answered the question honestly, but well short of the pure truth.

"Have they children of their own>"

"No..a ..no.." The doctor stammered a bit.

"Then they are planning children? A couple such as they must surely have children of their own." Lagi scrutinized the doctor's face, while the doctor tried to find a way out.

"To my knowledge they have not yet tried to have children."

The captain leaned into Beverly to whisper in her ear, "See what becomes of match making and meddling." She turned to glare at him.

The music ended and the couple returned to the table. Solace quickly left Lwaxana's lap to again sit with Deanna. Will and Rankeer had gone to retrieve refreshments. The child was beginning to grow weary. "Lets go for a walk, you can take Guinan and Aunt Troi to see where the lightfoot visit."

"It's dark, we don't see them then."

"Okay, then let's just walk around the glen. They haven't seen the waterfalls." Deanna had gotten to her feet, when the two men returned with the beverages. She looked at the drink, then over to Beverly, a smile tugging at her mouth.

Beverly stood, "I'm for a walk, anybody else?" Guinan and Lwaxana stood to go.

Solace had sat back down in Deanna's seat, "Are you too sleepy?" Deanna asked her.

"No, I'll go too." It was said like a penalty she had to accept.

Lagi also decided to go. When they had left, the captain turned to look at Will, "I'm not sure Number One, but it appears we've been deserted."

"It's the drink, this is what got the good doctor and our counselor into trouble before." Will was practically laughing as he looked at the expressions on Rankeer and Picard's face. "Personally, I haven't had a problem with it." He explained the lightfoot story to Rankeer, omitting the part of the marriage papers.

The women walked to the falls and back, talking about the temperature differences and the heated springs. They were making their way back to the others when Beverly spotted Nairma waiting for them.

Chapt 37 epilogue

Nairma approached the counselor, "Abeathdor wishes to speak to you I private, if you would so honor her."

Deanna felt Solace squeeze her fingers, she bent down to talk to her, "Would you do something for me? Would you go back with Aunt Troi, Guinan and Doctor Beverly, I need you to tell Will where I am and that I'll be back there as soon as I can?" She waited a few moments for a response, Solace was holding tightly to her hand.

Nairma cleared his throat, "Perhaps the doctor would like to join us too?"

Beverly quickly looked at the counselor, "Yes, of course."

Deanna again spoke to Solace, "Would you tell Will, I'm not alone, that Doctor Beverly is with me?" The child looked at the doctor then back to Deanna, nodded her head, and then took Lwaxana and Guinan's hands to go back to the others. The counselor saw the child looking over her shoulder as the women began walking back to the festivities.

Deanna felt the doctor's scrutiny, turning to see Beverly with a meaningful look on her face. Deanna smiled reassuringly, as she thought/sent, < I sense no danger or deviousness, but they have some information they feel a need to discuss." Beverly's eyes widened but she subtly shook her head, letting the empath know she understood.

Nairma conducted the two women to one of the refurbished buildings. The building had been redone with many of the comforts borrowed from the palace, most likely for the queen's comfort during the festivities. Abeathdor stood facing a glowing fireplace, her back to them, "Thank you for coming. Please sit, make yourselves comfortable. Allow me a moment to collect my thoughts."

The women sat in two of the four chairs set before the fire, waiting apprehensively for the monarch to join them. Deanna picked up enough to know it was about Solace, and that it was difficult for Abeathdor to relate. The queen finally turned to look at them, "This is not easy for me. You would think that having been held by Gringbald and Zylon all that time, having been chained and treated worse than an animal should be treated, that pride would not be an encumbrance I would have to overcome. I find, however, that I retain enough of that trait that even now I struggle to relinquish it's hold on me, so that I may set matters straight between us. I owe you that much."

She now sat facing them, her back to the light, silent once more. "Madam, may I..." Nairma tried to take the burden from her.

She shook her head, "Let me begin, you may need to finish." Her attention turned to Deanna, "You asked about medical records on the child. We have found the records involving her conception and birth." Looking at Beverly she continued, "You were correct the DNA from the shape shifter and ourselves would not normally have produced such an offspring. We have found that the conception was a laboratory accomplishment." She stopped, again there was the silence to speak for her of her discomfort and her own empathy.

Nairma continued on for her, "Yarmi, was not a willing partner. She was kept drugged, the child fed through other devices, so as not to partake of the drugs in the mother's system. There were so many changes made to make the DNA cohesive to allow the conception. I have notes here." He handed a notebook of different sizes and colors of papers stuck in it to Doctor Crusher. She quickly began going through them. Nairma added, "We had the information translated into a print you could read-word for word, so the reading may at times prove difficult when a direct translation was impossible. If you need explanations or aid, please contact me."

Deanna nodded, she was watching Abeathdor and sensing the very strong emotions from her. "Abeathdor, there is more, tell me what it is that continues to upset you." Deanna spoke softly. "I hold none of this against you, you were not in a position to do anything. You talked with the child; she shows none of the traits of the monster Gringbald. I didn't know your sister, if nay of her traits are visible, I would not know." She waited to see if any of this affected the other's emotions.

"Deanna, it is because I saw her happiness and the care you have for her that I am upset. We do not know how this DNA manipulation will alter her health or her future. This is a science we are only beginning to study." She laughed a sound filled with bitterness. "We, who do not know or cannot care enough to have compassion and concern for our own, are cohorts to this. We seem capable of so little that speaks well of us.. you see, there is more to tell. Somehow news or conjecture of this has already leaked out. We know of one small group that is pledging riches for information on a child. The description of the child would not readily point to Solace."

"We will be leaving the planet shortly, that will relieve you of that problem. She leaves for a federation planet tomorrow to been seen by specialists that may greatly aid us in what to expect and how to deal with any future problems." Deanna now stood beside Abeathdor's chair, then stooping, sitting on her heels as best she could in her outfit, she was better able to see into the queens eyes. "What is it that truly upsets you? There is something more."

Again silence, Abeathdor sat looking at the counselor, noting the control she strived to keep. Just as the counselor was sensing Abeathdor, trying to find the reason for the turmoil. "The medical experiments on Solace did not finish at her birth. When she was brought to you as you were being held captive, she had been infected with the goal in mind of infecting all in the waste people's hide away. It would not have killed her, weakened yes, you were intended to die, the child would have been sent back to Fallscity. You were nearly killed by that virus, you and all aboard your ship."

Deanna sucked in her breath at the revelation. "Gringbald was not responsible for that. It had to have been Zylon." Deanna looked to Nairma.

He addressed that point. "I believe that is true, Counselor. However, Gringbald did want the child dead. That is why she had been taken from Fallscity. Zylon, we believe, later took matters into his own hands. It was a way that both would have gotten their wish; Gringbald would have the child dead, and Zylon -you."

"You see Deanna, that puts us all in a quandary, now that you have this information and may no longer care for the undertaking of the responsibility of the child, she cannot be left here. It would only be a matter of time until she would be found, to be killed by one faction or used to usurp my rulership by another." Abeathdor looked at the doctor, her Almoner, then lastly she let her gaze stop at the counselor.

Deanna waited for her attention to settle on her. "Abeathdor, none of this changes my decision to care for Solace. I would not condemn her for being used as a pawn; she too was a victim. Beverly, have you found any reason for leaving her behind? Does she prove to be the source of any danger to us?"

The doctor shook her head, "Absolutely not, the only problems may come from our inadequacies in dealing with future problems. We've already made provisions to learn of these. I see no reason to leave her behind."

Abeathdor and Nairma exchanged a long look before Abeathdor continued, "We have learned of Gringbald's disappearance through your captain. He may use the child to find you, if he is still intent on that purpose. Here is another danger you may have been put into, because of me this time. If you were uncaring and continued your trek across the stars none of this would have happened."

"Abeathdor, you called out for help, you didn't force us to stay or me to come. Much good has come out of the experiences of this planet. We'll deal with Gringbald when and if we come across him again. There is so much yet to be learned of the universe, he may have already found things of greater interest."

When they rejoined their crewmates, Beverly noticed all the empty mugs sitting on the table. Lwaxana Troi had just set her empty mug down and was reaching for the tray with the large pitcher on it. Deanna whispered to Beverly, "I hope you have enough alcohol decontaminate aboard, it looks like we may be the only ones who don't need it." They both chuckled a little. The only one who noticed their return was Solace, as soon as Deanna was seated; the child was on her lap. While they talked the musicians began to play, "Waltz of Hearts".

Will turned to pull his chair over beside hers, and lay an arm across the back of her chair. It was as beautifully preformed now, as it was when she had first heard it. The last refrain was song by a young woman. Deanna looked down at now stilled child; Solace had gone into a sound sleep. When the piece had ended Deanna edged toward Will, "I think it's time Solace and I went back. She has a full day tomorrow."

"As so I, and I'm just beginning to feel like dancing!" Lwaxana had apparently drank more of the beverage than the amount Deanna had witnessed.

Will chuckled, "Just when things were going to get interesting. Come, let me take Solace, can you manage your mother?" They said goodnight to Lagi and Rankeer. Guinan and Beverly decided that they too were ready to call it a night. The rest of the crew decided to they were not ready to leave yet, and would thank their hosts and the queen for them.

Lwaxana and Deanna went to the guest quarters where Mrs. Troi had been assigned. Will carried the sleeping child ahead to Deanna's quarters. The doctor stopped to get a hypospray of the alcohol decontaminate for Mrs. Troi. When she reached the quest quarters Deanna had managed to get Lwaxana into bed and was trying to coax her to stay and sleep. "Here this will put her out for the night. What times does the shuttle craft leave tomorrow?"

"Before lunch. That should give her time to recuperate. Thanks Beverly, let's go while we can." The two left the sleeping older Troi; each headed in a different direction.

Deanna arrived to find that Will had put Solace in her own bed, removed her shoes, then sat to read to her, except she had already fallen back to sleep. Deanna watched him take the flower out of her hair and remove the necklace. He leaned over her to kiss the child's forehead, she heard him say, "Goodnight little one, I'm going to miss you." Solace reached a hand out to pat his bearded chin, then tuck it back under her own face.

Will turned to see Deanna watching, "Is Lwaxana all tucked in?"

"As tucked in as Lwaxana will allow." He slid his arm around her waist as they went back into the living room area.

"Computer play, 'Waltz of Hearts' instrumental version only." Will moved her within his arms as they danced across the floor. "It seemed such a waste to look that good for only a couple of dances." He held her close as she had the computer slow the tempo. They swayed to the music.

She could sense that he was feeling very mellow, and knew his thoughts about her leaving the next day. A part of her wanted to tell him about the change in plans, but the part that couldn't wait to see his face when the plan worked held out.

"Beverly and I met with Abeathdor and Nairma tonight." She didn't want to break the mood, but wanted to talk with him about the meeting before they said goodnight.

"Yes, I heard he stopped you and asked you to go to speak with Abeathdor. What was all that about." He stopped dancing, but continued to hold her close, as he kissed he collarbone and shoulders. "Hmm." He continued as though he expected an answer.

"Will! You know I can't concentrate like this and you..."

He chuckled, "I wanted to make sure some things hadn't changed." He took her hand to lead her to the sofa, where they sat while she told him about the meeting. He listened, not interrupting; an occasional nodding of the head was his only contribution until she had finished.

"Beverly has the information with her? Do you think we should sit down and go over it with her before meeting with this Doctor Dinal?"

"Yes, but she'll need time to go over it and digest it herself. We have time, even after you get to Betazed." They continued talking and making plans until it was only hours before Will had bridge duty. They decided to meet in ten forward before the shuttlecraft left.

After he had gone, she stood looking out at the stars wondering when she had become so capable of pulling off something like this. There was a time when she would never have considered doing something like this, least of all to Will.

She went to her room to change, when she had heard no sound form Solace she looked in on her, the child was still asleep. Deanna went back to her own bed and slept soundly for two hours before she heard Solace crying and calling her name.

When she got to the child's room, Solace was sitting up in bed, her face red and wet from crying. "Shh, tell me sweetie, what's wrong? Did you have a bad dream?" Deanna was holding her trying to sooth her. She climbed into the bed still holding Solace in her arms. "Can I sleep with you in your bed tonight, please?" Deanna got the reaction she was hoping for. The child's crying stopped immediately; she looked at Deanna like she must not have heard her right. Then nodded and answered, "Yes."

"Would you like some music, I'll have the computer play the song you like?'

"No you."

"You want me to hum it to you?"


Deanna had to smile, no one else would prefer her humming to the beautiful reproductions the computer could master, nobody, but this child. "Okay," she began to hum the tune as the child still hung on to her, her head against Deanna's chest. Finally she could sense that Solace had gone to sleep. She laid her down in the bed, noticing that Will had gotten the dress and shoes off, she still had the leggings on. That would wait until morning. She lay on her side facing the child, wondering where she was with things. Her mind ran through the countless items that needed to be done to make a permanent home for Solace. It would all wait until they returned from Betazed with some answers. She closed her eyes, she could feel the small body snuggling beside her, she leaned over to kiss a small cheek, feeling a little hand wrap drape over her neck.

She came awake to the sense that she was being watched and something was touching her face. Deanna opened her eyes to find Solace sitting close tracing a finger around her face. "Good morning sweetie." Deanna smiled at her. "Are you ready to get up?"

"Yes, today I go with Aunt Troi?"

"Yes, after breakfast. We have a lot to do, we need to get you packed, then we need to make a couple of visits, and meet Will. Remember this is a surprise, so we can't tell him."

"Yes, we stop to see Twinkle and Handsome?"

"Yes, I thought you'd like to seem them."

Solace put her head against Deanna, 'You come in three days?"

"Yes, we will be there before you know it. We'll visit a waterfall and have a party with all of us. Aunt Troi has this huge house with all kinds of stuff. You will be amazed. You could stay in my old room, the room I had when I was a little girl. There's probably some of my things there too."

That got her attention, she looked up at her, "You'll see."

They were up and dressed in a very short period of time. Deanna allowed Solace to pack the clothes they agreed upon. Solace asked to be allowed to wear her new necklace, Deanna could only put it on her after she had been able to hold it in her hands and study it. The door chime sounded as they were preparing to go visit the lightfoot. Solace answered the door, bringing Aunt Troi into the bedroom with her.

"Mother, are you okay?" Deanna hid her amusement at the sight of Lwaxana's pale appearance.

"I'm just tired. Tell me little one, was that the drink you had when William had to rescue you out of that display business?"

"The very same."

"I understand now, if you looked like I feel...I have a whole new respect for William."

"Thank you Mother, I'll be sure to relay that to Will. We probably looked worse, Beverly gave you an alcohol decontaminate last night, something we didn't have in the little house we were held in." She caught Solace listening with a strange look on her face. "What is it sweetie?'

"You were the princess." The child smiled, "and Will is prince."

Deanna didn't catch the meaning right away, then she remembered the story and Will telling her she could see the princess. "Yes in Will's story that's right." For some reason, that made the little girl very happy, as she skipped out the door to go visit the young animals.

Lwaxana flopped on a chair, "Go do whatever...I'll be here, I'm ready to go. I mean I'm packed."

When they arrived at the bio labs Beverly was already there checking the animals' weight and adding nutrients to their formula. Solace had her lab coat on and was in the pen before Beverly had time to get her the feeding bottle. After delivering the bottle to Solace, the doctor went to stand with Deanna. "I thought you told the captain that the biologist would be taking care of the animals?"

"They do most of the time, I just check in once a day to see how everything is. You know you're going to miss tonight's rehearsal for the play."

Deanna looked surprised, "I thought the play wasn't for another month."

"It isn't but I'm not going to be her for a few weeks, and I just wanted to make sure everything got off on the right foot. It will be a good one, even the captain is taking part. I thought A Mid Summers Night Dream would be fun. And we get to see the men in tights. Are you sure you don't want to wait one day to go back, I have a part designed for you? You'd play opposite Will?"

"Let me just say, I hope to be very occupied." Deanna smiled.

Beverly caught the devilish look in the counselor's eyes, "You have been up to something for days."

Deanna smiled, "Yes, I have."

They cleaned up before leaving for ten forward and meeting Will. As they entered ten-forward, Deanna caught sight of Will almost immediately; he was talking to Guinan. Solace ran ahead hoping Will would swing her high into the air. He did, as she wanted, swinging her high then hugging her before seating her in a chair at the table next to the windows. He stood waiting to seat Deanna before going to his own chair.

They talked about small things, like the animals in the bio labs, until after Solace had eaten her strawberries. Guinan arrived as the last strawberry went down, to ask if Solace would like to go with her to see the animals. Deanna thanked her knowing the real purpose was to give them a little time to play out this scene, since the hostess knew all along what was going to happen.

The two sat in silence for a few seconds. "I might as well log some extra bridge time while you're gone. It would help pass the time. Things will seem awfully quiet."

She reached out to put her hand on his. "It's going to go fast - the three days, you'll see. Will, I don't want you to come to see us leave. So I guess we should say good-bye before I go to pick up Solace."

He looked at her with an eyebrow cocked, "If you think that's best. I know you're trying to make as little of this trip as possible for Solace, to keep her comfortable with it. If you think that would help, fine. Let's go for a walk now."

They walked out of ten forward Deanna suggested the holodeck. That is where they ended up, standing on the beach facing the sunsets. He stood behind her with his arms around her, "I've talked to the captain, there is no problem with an extended shore leave to begin in three days. I've asked for two weeks. We will have family quarters when we return. Beverly, I understand will be on Betazed with us for a while."

"Yes, as our physician with the medical information form Prakal. Beverly has never been to Betazed, I thought we could show her some of the more interesting spots. It would be great fun."

"I was hoping we could get away, just you and me. Do you think we could work that out?" he turned her to face him.

She answered softly, "I think anything is possible."

When Deanna and Solace returned to their quarters they found Lwaxana stretched out on the sofa sound asleep. "Ssh, Aunt Troi is sleeping."

"Yes, I see. Why don't you wash up a bit since you were playing with the animals. I'll wake Aunt Troi."

Solace would have rather done the waking, she ran to wash up, hoping to still get into the other event too. She returned skipping back into the room just as Deanna touched Lwaxana's hand.

"No, like this." Solace moved in beside the sleeping Troi, lightly tracing a finger around Lwaxana's face. Mrs. Troi twitched her nose, and moved her hand as though trying to swat an annoying bug away. Solace giggled, then she leaned up to whisper, "It's time to get up, sleepy head."

Lwaxana opened one eye, making a great show of looking all around with the one eye still closed. She stopped when Solace leaned into her face. "Are you done resting now? It's time to go!"

"My dear, I must have fallen asleep. I'll get my bags, Can you help me up?" She held out a hand for Solace to pull her up, the child enjoying the game, grunted and groaned as she pulled on the hand.

Deanna sat back and watched smiling. "We'll stop and get it on our way Mother. We should be moving along, Guinan is probably waiting at the shuttle." She took her mother's arm. "Are you sure you're okay? Maybe we should stop and have Beverly give you a quick look."

"I'm fine, come let's not keep everyone waiting. Little One, come take my hand." Solace happily scooted over to take the offered hand and reached for Deanna's too.

They reached the shuttle as Guinan emerged from inside talking with Captain Picard. "Ladies, have a safe and productive trip. Mrs. Troi I spoke with Abeathdor, she wished to thank you. The young man you pointed out to her, proved indeed to be the spy."

Deanna looked shocked. Lwaxana consoled her, "It isn't your fault dear, you had other matters on your mind."

Picard turned to Solace, "Remember, you have a job here, don't stay away too long."

She smiled at him and motioned for him to come down to her level, as he stooped down she kissed him on the cheek. Deanna couldn't remember seeing the captain so taken back by something so innocent. He smiled at her and thanked her. He smiled for Deanna too, "I believe everything is going as planned Counselor. I don't expect to be seeing you until your return from Betazed. I truly hope things work out as you wish."

"Thank you sir." He nodded said good-bye and exited the shuttle bay.

Everything was ready to go Deanna took Solace to her seat beside Lwaxana. "Sweetie, I'll see you in three days. Aunt Troi knows how to reach me." She gave her a hug and a kiss, "I'll miss you, I want you to have a good time with Aunt Troi and Guinan." Solace continued to hold on to her. Deanna gently loosened the hold.

"I'll miss you too!" Solace latched on with a fierce hug, tears already beginning to slide down her face. Deanna hugged her again, kissed her mother, then stepped back to the next seat where Guinan sat.

"Thanks Guinan. I appreciate this more than you know."

"Don't be so sure, Counselor, I've lived a long life. Besides, this is proving to be very interesting, I've needed a vacation and I've never been to Betazed. I'm looking forward to an educational visit."

"If I know my mother, it will certainly be that. Thank you." She stood looking forward to where Solace and her mother sat.

"Deanna, I promise I'll take good care of both of them." Guinan smiled knowing some of the counselor's thoughts on the matter.

The shuttlecraft left, Counselor Deanna Troi stood watching as it moved out of sight, feeling a little depressed and anxious.

Before going back to her own quarters she stopped at Will's to pick up some items for him. She went to her own quarters and tried to calm her nerves with a hot bubble bath.

The comm system in her quarters sounded, "Picard to Counselor Troi."

"Yes Captain."

"When would you like me to talk with Will."

"Captain could you give me one hour?"

"One hour it is, Counselor."

"Captain...thank you sir."

"Picard out." He smiled to himself, thinking of all the preparations she was going through. Will Riker had better take advantage of things and react as hoped for, or he'll be looking for either a new ship's counselor or a new commanding first officer, or worse -both.

She quickly told the computer not to allow entry into Commander Riker's quarters without a special code, that she as ships counselor would okay. She took a minute to center herself. How silly this must seem to the few she confided in. She thought about how nice it would be to let everyone know they were together.

She changed into the lingerie she had selected when she picked out their outfits for the evening in Prakal. The cool silk felt refreshing against her skin, she stood brushing her hair, leaving it loose around her shoulders, the way he liked it. She stood back to look at her appearance.

Data stopped Will on the bridge "Commander, the counselor asked that I relay a message to you."

"When was that Data?"

"Two hours and twenty minutes ago, in the shuttle bay before their departure. She requested that I tell you she left your surprise for you in her quarters. I believe they are her exact words, 'tell Will for me his surprise is in my quarters, tell him not to forget to go by as soon as he gets off duty. It will not last' Do you know to what she was referring sir?"

Will was grinning, "No, she had been hinting at something for the past couple of days. That would be like her to leave something intriguing behind."

The captain entered the bridge from his ready-room, to take his seat of control beside Riker. "Will I take it the counselor is going to be joining you and Beverly on your trip back to Betazed in three days?"

Will looked a little confused, "Deanna left with Lwaxana and Solace about two hours ago."

The captain played his part well, looking with concern at his first officer, "No I believe there was a change in plans, Guinan went with Lwaxana and Solace in the counselor's place." Picard watched the effect the news had on his first officer, surprise, then a jaw splitting smile.

"Commander would you like some time off, I believe we can do without you for about three days."

"Thank you, Captain," Will moved as quickly as Captain Picard had seen him move in sometime as he made a dash for the turbolift, trying to move quickly without looking conspicuous. He decided he wanted to stop at his quarters to clean up before checking her quarters out.

He stopped at his door when it seemed slow in opening at his approach. He hit the enter key twice, still no response. He punched in his code, and nothing. Doctor Crusher, Geordi and Data were heading down the corridor to talk with him about changing the rehearsal time when they witnessed the problem with the door. Beverly began to greet him, then hesitated, she looked at the two with her, "What...?" Geordi and Data both started forward to assist him, when he appeared to give up and went next door to Deanna's door, he hit the chime.

Deanna knew who stood on the other side of her door. She took a deep breath, then positioned herself in front of the doors before releasing them. As the doors swished open, Will Riker stood staring as though he could not believe his eyes. He had only made a half of a step into her quarters before he froze at her sight. The smile that appeared on his face literally went from ear to ear as his eyes took in her appearance. His eyes shone, dancing with a light in them she hadn't seen for too long. It was exactly the look she had hoped for. She took his hand then began to pull him in from the door, she got as far as the full extension of his arm, when he pulled her back into his arms, forgetting or not caring that he still stood in the open doorway.

Watching the scene before them, Data innocently asked, "Doctor, does that the commander will not want to have the rehearsal earlier, it will stay at the original time 0800 hours?"

The scene before them had heated up considerably as they saw the counselor's lingerie land on the floor on the commanders' feet. Fortunately his body shielded the counselor from their view. The doctor went to the door way firmly nudging the commander in so the doors would close. Then using her security code as CMO she secured the door. "I believe it means Data, that the counselor got her wish, I think we'll have to look for another actor for the play."

The End