Lieutenant Tom Riker sheltered in the corner of his cell and watched all hell break loose around him. After sixteen months on Lazon II, a Cardassian labour camp, he looked gaunt, but wiry, his large frame still hinting at the physique he once had. His beard was thick and his dark hair long, but his blue eyes still burned with the determination and fire of the dedicated Starfleet Officer he once was.
After being rescued from Nervala IV by his duplicate, Commander Will Riker, Tom abandoned the Ghandi, his first commission in eight years, and its terraforming mission, to fight alongside the Maquis. His awareness of a major flaw in Starfleet policy brought about by the uneasy alliance with the Cardassians, blossomed into an affinity with the plight of the Bajorans and their outlawed supporters. That sympathy had prompted him to lead an abortive mission against the Cardassians, the result being his incarceration in the camp now under attack.
He ducked as an explosion ripped through the cell block where he was, but he was coiled ready to move at the first opportunity for escape. It came. Two of the walls around him collapsed like a sandcastle at high tide and he scrambled over the debris oblivious to the flying mortar around him.
"This way!" A voice came from the swirling dust and a figure grabbed his arm, dragging him along, blinded but ready to follow anyone helping him escape from a world tearing apart.
"Did you have to blow up the inmates in order to rescue them?" he shouted over the noise created by the explosions.
His rescuer ignored him, continuing to drag him along until they reached and entered the outer edges of the forest surrounding the camp. There the figure turned abruptly and pinned him with the full force of her piercing gaze. A Bajoran woman, tall and slim, dark hair and darker eyes burning with fanaticism and the excitement of danger.
"Some gratitude ..." she started to say, but stopped suddenly, her narrowed eyes raking him from head to foot. "Commander ... Riker?" she continued hesitantly, unsure whether this unkempt rangy prisoner was the First Officer under whom she had once served. But some feminine part of her was telling her that her guess was correct.
When Ro Laren had been an Ensign on board the Enterprise, she and Commander William Riker had been antagonists, her prickly personality and casual disrespect of orders had clashed with Rikerís no-nonsense down-the-line command style. Emotionally, however, Ro had been just as affected by the First Officerís sex appeal as the next woman, and when the entire crew of the Enterprise had lost their short-term memories under an alien influence, the young ensign had pursued him without reservation, uninhibited by the knowledge of her true mixed feelings. Their affair had been as torrid as it was short, terminated by the return of their memories.
Even now she felt unsure of herself, losing a little of the arrogant confidence that was her trademark. She had always been a loner -- all the Maquis males she associated with somehow came up short, and looking at Riker now, she realised why. Despite continually rubbing her up the wrong way, the man had possessed the strength of character tempered by genuine caring that she needed.
Tom Riker, on the other hand, did not know this woman, but until he knew which way the land lay, decided to play the role of his duplicate, as he had done on previous occasions. He waited for her lead.
"What are you doing in a Cardassian labour camp?" she asked. "The last time I saw you was the day I defected to the Maquis and their cause!" She paused, reflectively. "I wasnít a Lieutenant for very long, was I?" she added, self-deprecatingly. "And I belatedly apologise for holding you hostage, but I couldnít see any other way of disarming the Enterpriseís onslaught on the Maquis."
"I know," Riker said, playing it by ear, "but thereís no time for that now. Do you think we can move on? Are there rendezvous co-ordinates we can head for?"
"Yes, I have a homing device. She reached into a top pocket, to pull out a small instrument. Her thin but pretty features creased into a scowl, as she tapped it with her fingers. "Blast! Itís broken! Must have happened in the explosion."
"Some rescue party."
"Now look here, I got you out, didnít I? Now all I have to do is get you back to the transport!"
"What about the rest of the prisoners? What happened to them?"
"Theyíre already on their way. You were the last. I drew the short straw, and I had to rescue the only Starfleet Officer in the camp ... I had no idea it was you, Commander!" Ro kept walking, searching for familiar landmarks, but she couldnít recognise anything in the gathering dusk. Twilight had come quickly to the planet, and the density of the forest made visibility even more difficult.
Riker grabbed her arm to halt her. "If you donít know where youíre going, you are only going to take us deeper into the forest and further into trouble."
"No, being lost with Ro Laren is going to be a lot better than being found by the Cardassians. But I will make camp soon, when we get a bit deeper in and hopefully, safer from Cardassian search parties."
She trudged on, unaware she had unwittingly revealed her name and not realising he hadnít answered her question as to how he had become a prisoner of the Cardassians. Riker intended to keep her ignorant of his true identity, until he discovered more from her.
Finally, she called a halt in a small clearing formed by a running creek. It wasnít much, but the cover was still good, and there was fresh water and dry branches for a fire, which Ro promptly set about building.
"No shelter, Iím afraid, but at least we will be warm." She balanced on her haunches, arranging twigs and started a fire with a device she pulled from one of her numerous pockets.
Sheís come prepared, in a fashion, thought Riker as he watched her manipulate the fire into a good-sized blaze. "Wonít a fire attract the sort of attention we donít want?" he asked.
Ro shook her head. "The cover is so dense, that by the time they see the fire, they would have heard and seen us anyway."
"Is our transport off this planet going to wait till morning?" Riker was sceptical of his rescuer's unconcern of their vulnerability.
"Oh, they'll wait. The instigator of this little hit on the Cardassians was most insistent I bring in the Starfleet officer safely."
"And that person is ...?" he asked, wondering who his benefactor might be.
She smiled knowingly. "I'll leave that surprise for later."
He didn't pursue the issue, realising if she intended him to find out later, there would be little he could do to change that.
"Why don't they just beam us aboard from these co-ordinates?"
"And give away their location to the Cardassians? Our transport is on land, not in orbit. You ask a lot of questions, Commander, and you'll get your answers when we reach our rendezvous. Now I suggest you make yourself comfortable. We're not going anywhere until dawn."
She felt his frustration at the inactivity, and admired his restraint. He was going to acknowledge her lead and allow her to call the shots, and she thought she knew him well enough to know what it cost him to do it.
She turned her attention back to the fire until she heard Riker move off and then watched him as he walked over to the creek, took off his shirt, and attempted to wash some of the explosion dust and grime out of his hair and from his skin.
He turned back to the fire, hunkering down beside her and smiled ruefully. "The Cardassians believed in daily hygiene, but their barber facilities left a lot to be desired," he explained, running his hands back through his damp long hair.
"It suits you," she smiled. "Gives you a less staid appearance."
"Staid? Was I staid?" He pretended to be hurt, aware she was still assuming he was Commander Riker.
She eyed his broad chest appreciatively. It was criss-crossed with fine scars, some old, some new, but Ro wasn't surprised to see them. She knew what Cardassians did to their prisoners. "Sometimes. But there were other times when you made my toes curl." Her look was openly seductive now, reflecting her body's awareness of his.
This was the first time she had hinted at what her relationship with Will Riker had been. Tom took her chin in his hand, attempting to gauge her mood. He stroked her bottom lip with his thumb and her eyes closed momentarily, while her mouth parted. He replaced his thumb with his mouth, tentative and questioning, but was unprepared for the fire of her response.
Ro ran her hands over his bare back and pulled him to the ground with her, her mouth moving over his hungrily and impatiently. There were no preliminaries, no fumbling, just a hurried removal of clothes ... both of them had been without lovers for too long. Only when their naked bodies melded together did the urgency turn into languor and satisfying experimentation. Their movements became unhurried, drinking each other in, deeply and slowly. Even after their energies had been spent, they continued to taste and explore. Tom didnít know what Will had done to deserve such a response from the feisty Bajoran, but he appreciated being on the receiving end of it.
When Ro came up for air, she smiled confidently at him, twirling his chest hair between her fingers. "Now, arenít you glad the homing device shattered?"
"Hmmm. Iíll let you know when we get off this planet alive." Now was the time to learn more information from her. Who was running her particular branch of the Maquis, how they knew an ex-Starfleet Officer was held prisoner there, and what her further orders were. But she would have none of it. Tomorrow, she said, she would find the transport, and tell him all. In all fairness, he hadnít answered any of her questions either, so he let it pass, and gave himself up to her skilful ministrations. She was uninhibited, inventive and insatiable, and Tom was more than willing.
Not surprisingly though, his last thoughts before he fell asleep under the stars that he yearned to reach again, were not of Ro Laren, but of Deanna Troi. They were not thoughts of guilt or betrayal -- the last time he had seen her, Deanna had made it clear that she was committed to her life on the Enterprise, rather than an uncertain future with him -- but, despite everything that had happened and hadnít happened between them, they were still imzadi, bonded forever, an integral part of each other, and she was rarely far from his thoughts.
Tom awoke the next morning to the awareness of coaxing lips at his ear. "Time to get going," they whispered. He stretched his length wearily, and turned to find Ro fully awake and dressed again, kneeling beside him. Riker rose stiffly to his feet and looked about for his scattered clothes.
"I feel like Iíve run a marathon," he yawned. "Even a year in a Cardassian labour camp didnít prepare me for one night with a Bajoran!"
She laughed as she scattered the fireís ashes, then dusted her hands on the seat of her pants. "I realise itís been a few years since I was on the Enterprise, but I didnít think youíd forget me that quickly," she quipped.
Riker paused in the middle of fastening his shirt. Heíd made a slip, something he wasnít in the habit of doing. Obviously, Will Riker and Ro had an affair on board the Enterprise and thus his duplicate would have known what it was like to spend an energetic evening with her. He could tell her now, that he wasnít Will, before they reached the rendezvous point, but she was already forging ahead, moving surely through the undergrowth.
After almost an hour of heavy going, Ro called over her shoulder. "Iím starting to recognise landmarks. Itís not far now." He hurried to catch up, just as she was stowing a small disc in one of her pockets.
"What was that?" he queried.
"Nothing," she replied hastily, moving on, but was halted as his hand snaked out and grabbed her shoulder, spinning her around.
"Show me ... nothing." His voice was firm. Ro almost refused, but changed her mind, and slowly withdrew an archaic compass from her pocket. "You could have found the way last night, with the help of that compass," he accused, "and yet you endangered our chances of escape by waiting until morning!"
Her eyes held his gamely. "It was worth it, and Iíve taken greater risks in my life for the things I want." Her honesty and forthrightness left him with nothing to say. After a long moment, he simply motioned for her to lead on.
A few minutes more, and they suddenly came upon a cargo transport in a man-made clearing. They were greeted by a few members of a Maquis branch he didnít recognise and made their way to the Ops area of the ship. It was cramped and crowded with people and instrumentation, but Tom had been in worse.
"Welcome back, Tom." The centre seat swivelled around to reveal the petite but tough Major Kira Nerys, the Bajoran Military Attaché assigned to Deep Space Nine. "I told you weíd get you out!" She rose from the Captain's chair and turned to Laren. "Thank you, Ro, for bringing him back safely for ..." She stopped at the look of confusion on the other Bajoranís face. "What is it?"
"You called him ... Tom," Ro faltered.
"Why yes, Thomas Riker, formerly a Starfleet Lieutenant, heís one of the Maquisí best operatives in the Nerida sector," Kira began by way of introduction.
Ro turned on Riker, ignoring the other woman. "You allowed me to believe you were Commander William Riker, First Officer on the Enterprise!" she accused.
"Itís a defence mechanism I adopt whenever Iím mistaken for Will," he explained. "At least, until Iíve determined whether the person is with the Maquis or against them."
"A woman gives herself willingly to you several times during the night, and you still canít work out whether sheís friend or foe?" Ro's voice rose incredulously.
"Loyalty is earned, not bestowed," Tom countered. "Iíve learned a lot of lessons the hard way!"
"Keep your voices down," Kira interjected quietly but authoritatively. She was by no means pleased with the connotations the interchange evoked. The last time she had seen Tom Riker was just before he was beamed aboard a Cardassian warship as their prisoner. At the last minute, he had taken her in his arms and kissed her passionately, lingeringly ... a last contact with a woman he respected before being sentenced to a life-time of incarceration. She understood what had prompted the kiss, but she was also deeply moved by it, and after successfully bringing off his rescue, she had hoped for something more to come of the attraction that had blossomed while he had held her hostage on board the Defiant. Now, she wasn't so sure.
Riker looked from one woman to the other, and realised heíd handled the situation badly. Instead of having two feisty Bajoran women fighting with him for a common cause, he had them fighting against him or over him.
"What are you?" cried Ro. "The last time I saw Will Riker, he made no mention of a brother, much less a twin. Youíre identical! I wouldnít be able to tell you apart!"
Kira spoke again. "Laren, leave us." Ro appeared set to argue, then thought better of it, and left with a look at Tom that said: This isnít over.
Kira turned to Riker, her face a mask. "You didnít waste any time, did you?" her head jerking towards Ro's exit.
"It would appear Will Riker and Laren were quite ... close," was all Tom would offer by way of explanation. He quickly changed the subject. "I didn't know you were involved with the Maquis."
"I'm not! But I have a few good friends with contacts. I had a few favours to pull, and here you are."
"I havenít thanked you yet for organising the rescue."
"Donít bother." She started to turn away, but he grasped her arm with one hand and her face gently with the other, bringing her closer. Kira was typically Bajoran, like Ro. Petite sharp features characterised by the ridged nose, dark eyes, short practically-styled hair -- beautiful in a proud, confident way, physically small but wiry, with the inherent strength bred into the women of Bajor. They were a proud race, and that pride was mirrored in her gaze now.
"Nevertheless, ... thank you, Nerys. I can imagine the risk you took to be here and the jeopardy to your career. Why did you do it?"
She deliberately extricated herself from his hold, saying, "I told you, I made a promise to get you out and I did. Now we have to make you disappear from this sector."
"How long have you been freeing Maquis prisoners?" he asked incredulously.
"This is my first and last. I made a promise, I kept it. There wonít be any more. Thereís too much at stake for me now to revert back to my old ways.
"Deben!" she called, still watching Riker. Another Bajoran seated at a console quickly turned.
"Show Mr Riker his quarters and introduce him to Mantor." Kira's gaze wandered over Rikerís long hair and thick beard. "Mantor is the crewís make-do barber. Iíd like to see if you still clean up as good as you did a year ago." She smiled at last. "It's time we were underway. We managed to take the Cardassians by surprise this time, but it won't be long before their reinforcements arrive. Iíll see you later, no doubt."
An hour later, washed and groomed, Tom went in search of Ro. She wasnít hard to find as the transport was small but compact, and a crew member directed him to the Mess. He found her sitting on a bench nursing a drink on her own.
She saw him approach and her gaze raked his tall form. Now that she was aware of the situation, she could see the little differences. Unlike the Will Riker that Ro remembered, Tom had a lean and hungry look that suited his rangy body, a legacy from his incarceration. Despite his blatant deception of her, she still wanted him, his attraction stronger than ever. His hair had been cut short again, and his cheeks were now clean shaven. His chin, however, was attractively framed by a neat goatee, but it was his eyes that made Ro's breath catch in her throat. He had the damnedest blue eyes.
They watched her now as he lowered his frame onto the bench beside her. "Iím sorry for deceiving you," he began immediately, "but I am Will Riker, just not the one you knew ..."
"I know," she interrupted, "I asked around. Itís quite a story! It must be very strange for you. I should have guessed really, that you were not who I thought." She continued at his look of query. "Will Riker would never have made love to me back there. The last time I saw him, I had let him and Starfleet down terribly. I doubt if he will ever forgive me."
"The incident where you defected to the Maquis?"
"Yes, I took him hostage, but he gave me the chance to turn back from my course of action without any repercussions. I wouldnít listen -- my mind was made up. Whilst aboard the Enterprise, we were always rubbing each other up the wrong way. He tried to turn me into the perfect Starfleet officer, but I fought him every chance I got."
"But I assumed you had been lovers," he interjected, quietly.
"We were, very briefly, but the fact that both of us, along with the rest of the crew, had lost our memories, had something to do with it," she explained, ruefully. "The moment I lost all memory of my grievances with the galaxy was the time I was able to be myself and enjoy myself. Once both of us had let our individual guards down, the attraction was immediate." She smiled in remembrance. "Until last night, they were the best two days of my life. By the gods, he was good. You and he are very alike."
He smiled, but let the compliment pass. "And when your memories returned?"
"Things went back to the way they were. Counselor Troiís prior claim to Will always took precedence and there was a bit of embarrassment to overcome as well. I did take less of a stand against him though, and then I went back to the Academy for further training."
"He and Deanna are only close friends. She loves him but is not in love with Will." Tom felt he had to explain that.
"I know. That was the general understanding on board at the time. But he wonít ever get serious with a woman while sheís still available and vice versa, believe me!"
He frowned at the conviction in her voice, thinking, where does that leave me? Nowhere, not now that he was a known member of the Maquis and a renegade as well. He decided it was time to change the subject.
"According to my estimation, we are two days away from our rendezvous point. What do you suggest we do to fill in the time?" The words were accompanied by the trademark Riker grin, and Ro didnít shy away from the innuendo.
A slow smile spread across her face and she stood slowly, indicating the Mess exit with her hand. "This way, Lieutenant. I think I can provide a few diversions. But before I do, you can tell me whatís between you and Major Kira."
Several years later, William T Riker stood outside the majestic building that was Starfleet's Earth headquarters in San Francisco. He was oblivious to the hum of the low-range shuttles that passed him and the commuters that milled around him, each intent on their own agendas. Riker was savouring the moment outside the building where he was to meet his friends and crewmembers again and embark upon yet another mission. It was another turning point in his life and he wanted to capture it and imprint it on his memory.
Most of the men that passed him were impressed by his uniform and rank, the natives having a great respect for Starfleet and its status in Earth's community. The women were more appreciative of his good looks and confident bearing. At thirty-nine years of age, Will Riker was a handsome man, his neatly cropped beard lightly peppered with grey, but his hair was still dark and thick and worn somewhat longer now then when he served on the Enterprise-D.
A young boy, running along the pavement, ploughed into Riker and shattered the moment. The boy began to apologise for his daydreaming, but was overawed by the man with whom he had collided. Looking up, he was confronted by six foot four inches of Starfleet officer, wide shoulders and broad chest and his awe could have turned into intimidation if not for the laughing blue eyes and wide grin that accepted the boy's apology. The boy would have been even more impressed if he knew that this was the man who had challenged and destroyed the Borg after the tragic battle at Wolf 359 and who had travelled back in time to participate in the first warp space flight with Zephram Cochrane.
"It's okay, son, I was dreaming too," Riker responded. Son ... maybe, one day.
The boy smiled and ran off and Riker stepped off the pavement into the building and into another chapter of his very extraordinary life.
Stepping out of the turbolift at the designated level, Riker was immediately greeted by a young female lieutenant.
"Welcome, Captain Riker. It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. Please, come this way. The Admiral is expecting you." Salutes were not obligatory in Starfleet, but the junior officer managed to convey her deference to her superior in her softly spoken manner and lowered eyes.
"Thank you, Lieutenant ...?" he prompted her name.
"Marchion, sir. Louise Marchion." The admission was accompanied by a warm smile and brightening of her features. Not many Captains bothered to fraternise with junior grade officers, but then William Riker was not like most Captains.
"Then, Lieutenant Marchion, we'd better not keep the Admiral waiting," Riker said with a smile of his own. She turned and led the way to Riker's left.
It's a pity Starfleet changed uniform designs again, thought Riker, as he followed the Lieutenant down a long corridor. The dark grey overalls with their coloured strips of service designation at the throat and wrists were not as flattering as the black and gold, blue or cranberry jump-suits previously worn by the women. Never mind, Riker could at least appreciate the jaunty sway of the Lieutenant's hips as she walked ahead of him.
She stopped suddenly and opened a door, turning to him and surprising the small smile on his face and appreciative glint in his eyes. Lieutenant Marchion gave Riker a speculative look before announcing him.
"Admiral, Captain William T Riker to see you, sir."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," replied a voice from within. "You may leave us and close the door."
A diminutive blonde was seated at a conference table where she was presiding over a meeting with two other officers. To those officers' amazement, a smile broke out on Admiral Alynna Nechayev's face that transformed her austere expression to one of genuine warmth. She held out a small hand and Riker gallantly took it, bowing slightly from the waist.
"Hello William, you're looking well," she greeted him warmly. Since Riker had saved the Admiral's life during the rogue saucer incident instigated by the Maquis, Alynna Nechayev had done a complete turnaround from her usual brusque cavalier treatment of the Enterprise-E's former exec. and developed a soft spot for the dashing officer.
"Admiral, it's a pleasure to see you again and none the worst for your ordeal."
"If you don't mind, William, I'd rather not be reminded of that episode in my life," she admonished, scowling slightly as she remembered her gullibility in trusting her aide.
Riker then turned to acknowledge the other two officers. "Good to see you again Data, ... Deanna." The android nodded and Deanna smiled, but said nothing in deference to the Admiral's presence. Riker would have liked to have said more to his friends, but this was Admiral Nechayev's meeting.
"And congratulations on your promotion, Captain Riker. It's about time you accepted your own command."
"I was just waiting for the right one," he replied, but his satisfaction at finally receiving the Captaincy of an Enterprise, was tempered by the fact that his posting meant that Jean Luc Picard, his mentor for so many years, was finally stepping down from that command. "But I'm sorry to be no longer serving under Captain Picard," he added for the record.
"I'm aware of that, William, but the Enterprise-E is ready for its next mission and Starfleet hasn't completed its debriefing of Captain Picard after the latest Borg incident," the Admiral explained, alluding to Picard's defeat of the collective and its Queen.
"Admiral, if Starfleet fears that Captain Picard is still somehow influenced by the Borg, I can assure you ..." Riker began.
"There is no point in your assuring me of anything, Captain," she interrupted. "Picard admitted to being aware of, and somehow attuned to, the Borg before and during that incident, and so Starfleet is reluctant to send him out into space again at this time. It need not ... will probably not ... be permanent. But whatever happens to Picard does not change the fact that the Enterprise-E is ready to embark and that you are now her Captain." Nechayev was now showing the steel which was her trademark and had earned her the nickname of the 'Iron Maiden'. "And now let us turn our attention to your new mission."
Will learned that he was to take his ship to the Bajoran system where Starfleet was fighting a no-win situation with the Maquis. That sector was plagued with the threat of the powerful Dominion, and persistent incursions by the Maquis into Cardassian worlds and trade routes. The political climate in that sector was fragile with the Cardassians now aligning themselves to the Dominion. The Federation had to walk on eggshells, so to speak, and Starfleet had decided to send its flagship there as a sign of solidarity and presence.
His first port of call would be Deep Space Nine where he was to embark Major Kira Nerys. With her aid and limited knowledge of the Maquis, he was to ferret out as many of their strongholds as he could, thus limiting their effectiveness and providing a show of faith to the Cardassian Alliance that the Federation was genuine in its bid to curb the rebels and uphold the Treaty.
"And now for your personnel. Commanders Troi and Crusher and Lieutenant Commanders Data and LaForge will remain on the Enterprise-E in their current positions and Starfleet has assigned a new First Officer and Security Chief to your Command."
"But, Admiral," Will interrupted. "I assumed Data would become First Officer in a natural progression of the chain of command."
"Never assume anything, Captain," she warned, and then tapped at a console on the table. "Lieutenant, send in the Commander please."
"Admiral, with all due respect," Riker protested, "it is usual for the Captain of a ship to be notified of, and approve, his First Officer before an appointment."
"Usual, William, but not mandatory. In this case, an experienced First Officer has been assigned to you, and is not a reflection on Commander Data's performance and abilities ..." she continued, speaking directly to Data now.
The door opened. "Ah, Commander, come in."
All heads turned toward the new arrival and each officer reacted in a different way. The Admiral was welcoming, Data's visage remained one of polite interest, while Troi turned back to watch Will's reaction. Riker, for his part, didn't move, his expression changing from mild annoyance at being denied input into the choice of his First Officer, to disbelief, and to quiet foreboding, as he recognised the unusually tall woman who had just entered the room.
"Hello Captain. We meet again," smiled Commander Tricia Cadwallader.
"Cadwallader," he acknowledged, and then turned to Nechayev. "Admiral, if I may speak to you ... alone," he grated hoarsely, rising slowly from his chair.
The Admiral looked at Riker in annoyance, but acquiesced. "Very well, Captain, my office is through this door."
As Riker stepped through the connecting door, it automatically closed after him and the Admiral seated herself at her desk and raised an eyebrow enquiringly.
"What is this all about?"
"Admiral, with all due respect, I can't have Commander Cadwallader as my First Officer," Riker stated without preamble.
"Why, William? Is it because she is a woman? I would have thought a man who appreciates women as you do, would not be adverse to working with them."
"I'm not, Admiral, but there's a difference with having women on my crew and having Commander Cadwallader as my First Officer."
"In what way?" the Admiral asked testily, beginning to lose patience.
"The Commander and I knew each other aboard the Enterprise-D. She was our guest during a diplomatic mission conveying Captain Morgen back to his home planet at the time of his coronation as the new ruler of Daa'V."
"That's no reason to object to her as your First Officer."
"Admiral," he appealed to her, "Tricia and I were ... intimate ... during the time she was aboard. I don't think it appropriate that she be my exec. now."
"Captain, if we knocked back personnel on the grounds that you had been 'intimate' with them, you would have an all-male crew aboard your ship."
"Admiral, that was uncalled for," Riker protested.
"Maybe so, William. But I'm afraid Cadwallader has been assigned as your new exec., and it is up to you and her to come to terms with that fact and your previous relationship. Is there anything else?" She fixed him with a cool stare that brooked no arguments.
Knowing that his objections had been overruled, Riker tried a different tack. "Captain Picard, Admiral, ... where is he?"
"The Captain is experiencing some ... emotional ... disturbance from his last encounter with the Borg. Our doctors are examining him and helping him through this difficult period."
Riker raised his eyebrows at the lame explanation. "There is nothing wrong with the Captain," he protested. "It was no small thanks to him that the warp test flight went ahead as it should, and the Enterprise-E was returned in one piece! Why is Starfleet now punishing him?"
"Don't be ridiculous, William, Starfleet is not punishing him. We just want to be sure he is fit for command again and psychologically stable," the Admiral returned.
"Psychologically stable?" Riker was incredulous. "You think he's mad in some way? I've never heard such ... garbage!"
"Commander, remember where you are!" Nechayev rose to her feet, coming around her desk, to stand toe to toe with him lifting her chin to subject him to the full force of her cool stare.
Her indignation was only superficial though, mindful that inside she was tingling with the challenge of being a woman and this man's superior, conscious of her power over him and ability to use that power to provide the excitement that was causing her breathing to shallow and the blood to pound in her head. This was how Alynna Nechayev got her kicks -- by using her rank to supplement her lack of human warmth and stature, and the fact that William Riker was so tall and disturbingly male only made the challenge more intoxicating.
Riker swallowed his rising anger with some difficulty. "If there's anything I can do," he offered, "... talk to your Doctors, a Counselor, explain what happened up there ..."
"How can you do that, Captain, when you weren't there! You were rubbing shoulders with Zephram Cochrane, participating in Earth's first warp flight, while your crewmates were being assimilated into the Borg and your Captain was leading ... no, ordering, your fellow officers to certain annihilation!" The Admiral's eyes had lost their icy cast now, and were blazing with the rush of adrenalin this confrontation was giving her. She was enjoying goading him into ... what? It didn't matter. Nothing mattered except this feeling of strength and power and subjugation.
"It wasn't like that! He eventually realised the futility of it and ordered the evacuation ..."
"It took a civilian to convince him of that ..."
"Yes, well maybe that says something about the chain of command in Starfleet. Maybe subordinates shouldn't have to follow like sheep if the situation demands otherwise. Maybe I shouldn't be standing here swallowing Starfleet's misguided decisions, and instead should be turning Headquarters upside down to find and release Captain Picard ...!"
"That ... is ... enough!" The Admiral warned, panting now with a heady mixture of fury and excitement.
Riker returned her glare and brought his own anger under control with effort. "With all due respect, Admiral," he ground out, "Starfleet is making a big mistake."
"Be that as it may, Captain," she returned forcefully, "Jean Luc Picard will remain at Starfleet Headquarters until we deem it otherwise. And now it's time you rejoined your crew to make the necessary preparations before you beam up to the Enterprise-E."
He had been summarily dismissed. Riker held her gaze for a moment more, then turned on his heel with a curt, "Yessir."
His back to the Admiral, he missed the small smile on her face and the deep sigh of satisfaction she took as she watched him leave the inner office.
As soon as he re-entered the conference room, Deanna glided up to him, her face beaming. "At last," she said, "I can congratulate you on your promotion properly." With that she pulled his head down to her level and gave him a resounding kiss, fully aware of, but not understanding, his emotive state and choosing not to allow it to dampen the moment. Data added his well-wishes by offering his hand. Cadwallader, however, remained seated at the table watching the reunion of the friends with silent interest and speculation.
As they talked, catching up on what each other had been doing, she learned that after the debriefing of the crew that had survived the Borg attack of the Enterprise-E, Data had spent his time at the Daystrom Institute, assisting in cybernetic construction and experimentation; Troi had visited Alexander now living again with Worf's adoptive parents; and Riker had returned to his home-town of Valdez, Alaska, for the first time in twenty-four years. She was not surprised to hear that he had been slightly disillusioned with the experience and strangely disappointed.
He appeared to be more than a little unsettled since emerging from the Admiral's office, and she speculated on what had transpired. Obviously, he had tried to get her appointment as his exec. canned, and it was just as obvious he had been unsuccessful. Well, she could understand a little of how he felt to have her appointed to him without warning, and it was up to her to make sure he didn't regret it and that his attitude didn't cause her enthusiam with the posting to diminish. Will Riker might not like it, but he was going to have to lump it, she thought with a secret smile.
Eventually, when each other's news had been exchanged, Riker ended the meeting. "Data ... Deanna. I'd like to talk to my exec. How about we meet here again tomorrow at oh-nine-hundred and beam aboard the Enterprise-E together."
"Of course sir," acquiesced Data.
Deanna, however, gave Will a mischievous look and surprised him by saying: "No way, Captain. I will see you in my designated quarters here at nineteen hundred hours tonight for a celebratory dinner." With a quick glance at Cadwallader, she added, "Don't be late!"
I never could say no to her, he thought. With a tight smile, he nodded and watched her follow Data out of the room, then with a deep sigh he turned wordlessly to look at Cadwallader.
She hadn't changed much in the six years since he'd last seen her. Although now in her early forties, she still had the perpetually youthful appearance of a free spirit -- the wayward strawberry blonde hair casually caught back in a tie, her light green, almost translucent eyes twinkling with a hint of devilment, her spattering of freckles less noticeable now, but her smile was still wide and disarming.
She was the first to break the silence, her words tinged with a noticeably Australian accent. "You don't want me as your First Officer, do you?" she asked, immediately addressing the obvious.
She wasn't going to pull any punches, he thought, so the least he could do was return the favour. After the grilling with the Admiral, the last thing he wanted was another confrontation with a woman, but this had to be said.
"No, I don't think it would be appropriate."
"Why? Because we were once lovers?" He'd forgotten how direct she could be, never one for playing a woman's usual coquettish games.
"It's a combination of things, Tricia. That, certainly, and the fact that my exec. would be older than me, which may encourage her to think she knows better than me," he added with a self-deprecating smile. "Also, my second officer was pre-empted, and I was given no input in the decision. Can you understand my position?"
"I hear what you're saying, but the situation is a fait accompli and my recommendation is that you make the best of it. After all, think of the plusses! All that sexual tension that could occur between a man and woman in each other's pockets all day is behind us; I've been Captain Ben Zoma's First Officer on the Lexington for four years now, so I'm not without experience; I know how to follow orders, so the difference in ages shouldn't be an issue unless you make it one -- it didn't seem to bother you six years ago; and as for Data -- being an android, he shouldn't be plagued by ambition or hurt feelings."
"Data has an emotion chip now. He 'feels' like the rest of us, and he has considerably less experience in handling those feelings."
"Nevertheless, Captain, he is a Starfleet Officer and he will obey orders, just as you and I will. We've had some memorable times together, you and I, and I'm not going to pretend I wouldn't still like to ... well, anyway ... I'm a professional and a very good First Officer. There's no reason why we can't do this, ... sir."
Riker rubbed a hand over his beard and around the back of his head, evidence of the turmoil within him.
"Tricia, you should have turned the post down."
"You're kidding! Turn down the most prestigious position a Commander could hold just because I've slept with the Captain? Not bloody likely ..."
Riker rolled his eyes at her words and then resigning himself to the inevitable, he returned to the chair he had vacated earlier and became all business.
"All right, Commander, it appears I'm outnumbered as well as out-manoeuvred. Have you seen the Enterprise-E yet?"
"Only holograms and the blue-prints. She's a beauty, sir."
"There's a lot to learn about her. I'm still doing it. I guess we'll be learning together. Are you familiar with the rest of our crew manifest?" At her nod of assent, he enquired further. "Any more surprises?"
"I shouldn't think so, Captain. LaForge is still your Chief Engineer, Dr Crusher, your Chief Medical Officer. Lt Commander Worf will be deployed back to DS9 when the Defiant is space-worthy again and so your new Security Chief is a veteran by the name of Michael Hennessy, Lieutenant Commander. Excellent record, of course -- else he wouldn't be posted to the Enterprise-E -- which also applies in my case." She flashed him a grin and then continued. "Data is your second officer as you know, and Lieutenant Commander Sam Lavelle will be your Helm officer ..."
"Lavelle, did you say?" Riker interrupted. "Sam Lavelle? ... I remember him."
"Yep, he was on the Enterprise-D for a twelve month stint, then back to the Academy for command training and now posted to the Enterprise-E, so he was obviously born under a lucky star. Rumour has it he is every bit as ambitious as his role model -- one Captain William T Riker."
That again, thought Riker. We're not a bit alike!
"No mere Ensign at the Helm this time around. This is no exploratory mission, but a defensive and maybe even, an offensive, one. And then of course, there's Commander Troi, with whom, it is common knowledge, you were also previously involved before being posted to the same command, and yet managed to serve with her all those years without serious repercussions." Cadwallader waited for a response, but when he didn't bite, she continued, "Which reminds me, you have a further briefing before you leave this evening with a couple of the engineers who designed and refitted your ship, and so if you are to make your date with the lovely Counselor, you had better get a wriggle on, ... sir."
Cadwallader held out her hand. "Congratulations, Captain Riker, on your promotion and new Command. I look forward to serving you and with you. If you don't require me any further, I'll see you at oh-nine-hundred tomorrow. Have a pleasant evening, sir."
"I doubt that very much, Tricia. I have the distinct feeling that I'm in for a lecture." He smiled ruefully, but shook her proffered hand.
Tricia paused outside the door as it shut behind her and let out the breath she had been unconsciously holding.
She'd made it through Round One intact, and only had the rest of her career to go. She must have been crazy to think she could do this and still maintain her professionalism and peace of mind.
It had been so easy six years ago on board the Enterprise-D. She had come aboard as part of an honour guard for Captain Morgen's coronation, and the happy reunion of the crew of the ill-fated Stargazer under the command of Jean Luc Picard had been sweetened by the immediate attraction between Picard's current First Officer and his ex-Communications Officer. But then the excursion had turned into a nightmare as an unknown assailant went on a killing spree ...
Tricia walked slowly back to her assigned quarters as she recalled how close she had come to dying when she had inadvertently placed herself in the murderer's way. She allowed a small smile though as she remembered how one Commander Will Riker had made a complete ass of himself trying to break their date after putting her on his list of prospective suspects. She made a small sound of derision as she recalled how it took her near-death to convince him to take her name off that list.
Little did she know then that the day would come when she would become his First Officer. If she had known, maybe she wouldn't have allowed herself to get involved with him like that, but then again ...
It had been a lot of fun once the killer had been discovered and apprehended. The coronation had gone ahead as planned and Will had managed to make it up to her and convince her to forgive him for his suspicions. It hadn't been difficult. Will Riker in full-on charm mode was hard to resist.
She was smiling widely now as she entered her quarters, and wrapping her arms around herself, she threw herself on the couch and wondered again for the hundredth time since hearing about her new commission, what it would be like to serve under him this time.
"Will, you'll be able to handle it!"
Riker had kept his date with Deanna, although, despite her warning, he was, in fact, late. He and the engineers hadn't seen eye to eye on several aspects of the Enterprise-E. Although the new ship's mission under Captain Picard didn't exactly test the integrity of the vessel, but rather the tenacity of her crew, Riker was closely cognisant of the stresses the Enterprise-D had undergone and prevailed against, and insisted the 'E' be equally ready. By the time they were finished, Riker was testy and irritable and in no mood for the mental proddings he was sure were on Troi's agenda.
Of course, Deanna sensed this before he had even reached her door and adapted accordingly, keeping the conversation light and companionable while they ate the dinner she had prepared, so that the evening progressed pleasantly while he unwound and mellowed.
With the easy assurance of close friendship, Will was able to enquire of Troi's aborted relationship with Worf, a relationship nipped in the bud due to the Klingon's transfer to DS9. "Do you miss him, Deanna?"
"Of course I do, Will, but I've loved and lost before," she glanced meaningfully at him. "I bounce back and move on, just as you have. We keep in touch, but that's all. I must say, though, he is a lot better at corresponding than you were," she accused playfully. "And now I want to know why you are so adverse to having Commander Cadwallader as your First Officer," she said, coming to the real issue of the evening.
"You know why, Deanna. I don't have to spell it out, surely."
"Will, we served for over nine years together without undue awkwardness or reverting back to form, after having a love affair that was far from ordinary."
"Deanna, it's not the same!" Riker stood up from the couch where they had been sitting and paced her quarters restlessly. "The relationship between Captain and First Officer is very different to that of First Officer and Ship's Counselor."
"How so?" she enquired innocently.
"Cadwallader and I will have to work closely together all the time. She will have to know what I want, what I'm thinking, almost before I know it myself. She will have to be tenacious enough to prevent me from beaming down to every planet we come to, without making me feel useless. She's going to have to grin and bear it every time I'm in a foul mood and bite her tongue when she knows better than me. It's ... it's ... impossible!" He blew out the air between his teeth in exasperation and threw himself back onto the couch beside Troi, rubbing his hands down his face in agitation.
"Will, you have, in fact, very nearly described all the qualities a woman must exhibit when she takes a man as a lover and wants to keep him. I'd say that Commander Cadwallader has already had some practice with you in this regard and should slide into the role very nicely again, if you'll let her."
He turned to look at her incredulously. "You're not suggesting ...!?"
"No, of course not! I'm not telling you to resume your affair ... just let her find her mark with you as her commanding officer this time and then go with it.
"What have you learned of Captain Picard?" she continued, changing the subject.
"Very little. I had the strangest argument with the Admiral Nechayev over him. It seemed to come out of nowhere and deflate just as quickly, but Picard seemed to be the catalyst. I learned very little, other than they were still interested in his state of mind. As a Counselor, I was hoping you would have had more success in gaining access to him or information about him."
"I'm sorry, Will, I tried, but I must have hit the same brick wall you did. Starfleet is keeping very close about him. Meanwhile, you just concentrate on breaking in your new First Officer, but remember, give her room and leave the adjustments up to her and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised."
"I hope you're right!"
"Whenever have I been wrong?" she smiled knowingly.
The noise was deafening in his ears. The sound of hundreds of thousands of wings beating against thick furred bodies, the drone of it incessant and constant. Bees, he thought. But they looked insanely human. Human bees. They were coming for him, attacking him, their stingers spitting sizzling light that speared his flesh -- his right hand, his arm, and now the right side of his face, his scalp and his eye. A red flash of angry energy sliced the air and impaled his eye. Or did he have that wrong? Could it be? Was the arc of blood-red lightning really come from his eye, not into it? How could that be?
The bees were everywhere now, around him, upon him, urging him on to commit atrocious things. No, not bees. A hive, yes, it was a hive, but not bees. They were marching now. The cacophony of beating wings was replaced by the insistent tramping of feet. Tramp, tramp, tramp, uniform and monotonous. Ants, they were ants, with white vacant faces and staring black eyes. Mindless, soulless ants guided towards an unknown purpose by an unseen hive leader. No, that wasnít right either. Ants donít live in hives. They live in colonies. Huge, grey, square hybrid colonies that move through space in search of ... In search of what? Him? They wanted him. But he didnít know why. They were talking to him now, a multitude of voices calling to him. When he didnít come, they moved closer, and closer, until they were crawling single file up his right side, sinuously following an upward path from his foot to his head. The first one reached his right eye and looked in, looked into his ravaged mind, his tortured soul, while he stood there helpless, unable to move, mesmerised by the twisting rope of marching ants up his side. The first one spoke to him. He was confused again. Ants canít speak. They canít be ants. Not bees, not ants, then what?
And then he heard her. A velvet voice beckoning him, tempting him, seducing him. He put his hands over his ears trying to deaden the sound, and then beat his ears with his fists, trying to drown out her voice, but she was insidious, relentless. And then he saw her. Grotesque in her beauty or was she beautiful in her grotesqueness? Her skin paler than the rest, white and wet and glistening with saliva, her call more irresistible than that of the others, and he stopped beating his head and tried to hide his face instead. Hide from her silver eyes and shining red lips pulled back in a heinous smile. "No! No! NO!"
Picard came back to consciousness and discovered he was saturated with his own sweat. His body was shaking as if in a fever, and his muscles were tense, poised for flight. If the woman opposite him had touched him, then he would have fled, run from the room, allowing the scream that was lodged in his throat to erupt. But she remained unmoving, watching him with sympathetic eyes. He grew emboldened by her stillness, and even stretched out a hand in entreaty to her, but the effort was too great for him and his arm fell back into his lap and he slumped into the couch, asleep.
When next he woke, he heard voices in the room and looked around to see two women conversing near the window. He recognised both of them. One he knew, Admiral Nechayev. The other was the woman with the sympathetic eyes. The latter noticed he was awake and smiled reassuringly at him. She murmured something to the Admiral and quietly left the room. He looked around at his surroundings and then remembered where he was -- the living area of the quarters he had been assigned at Starfleet Headquarters since bringing back the Enterprise-E. Whilst here, he had been debriefed by Admirals, grilled by Commodores, his mind prodded by psychiatrists and hypnotherapists, his memories recalled by Ullians and the latest, the woman who had just departed, had said her name was Dr Marsden and she was skilled in exploring the psyche. Well, he hoped she had more luck than the others, because the nightmares were driving him crazy ... if he wasnít already crazy.
Admiral Nechayev moved towards Picard and he made to rise, but she gestured him to remain where he was, her small pinched face softening slightly in compassion.
"Donít try to stand yet, Captain. Dr Marsden informs me that the psychotic drugs she gave you will make you a little disorientated still, until theyíre out of your system ... another hour or two.
"Is all this necessary, Admiral?" Picard asked.
"The doctors seem to think so. The nightmares are affecting your health, Jean Luc. We need to purge them before sending you out again and Iím sure you want that to happen as soon as we do."
Nechayev sat down on the sofa beside him, her eyes softening further with apology.
"Sheís gone, Jean Luc. We had to send her out." Well, not strictly true. She was still berthed, but scheduled to leave tomorrow morning, but Picard need not know that.
"Her Captain?" He steeled his face in order not to show his disappointment.
"William Riker is in command of her now."
Picardís relief that his new ship would be in good and deserving hands assuaged some of that disappointment, but he was human enough to feel betrayal at the hands of Starfleet officialdom and a confusing mixture of envy and resentment of his friend and former First Officer.
"I'm surprised you never even gave me the opportunity of wishing them well," he protested quietly.
"We felt that it would be too distressing for you."
"Don't you think, Admiral, that I would be the better judge of what's best for me?"
"At the moment, Jean Luc, no ...."
"I see, and what of me, now?"
"We wait for the results of Dr Marsdenís treatment and we decide. You have to be patient, Jean Luc."
"íPatientí, the verb, and Ďthe patientí, the noun," he remarked dryly. "Be a patient patient." He smiled at his own poor joke, but the Admiral didnít join in, her sympathy replaced by worry.
"Admiral, I did not walk into his building insane, and I hope for the sake of the Starfleet hierarchy and their doctors, that I do not leave this building insane," he warned, with conviction and a hint of threat.
Ro Laren was awakened by a gentle shake on her shoulder. She turned her head toward the man in the bed with her and smiled sleepily. "What, again?" she purred, throatily.
He chuckled, shaking his head. "According to Tahren, we're nearly at the rendezvous point. Get dressed, and collect your gear."
They both dressed quickly, but before leaving their quarters, she grabbed his arm. "Tom, what guarantee have we that this new contact can be trusted?"
"No guarantee at all, Laren, but it's been my experience there's no such thing as guarantees in this line of work, but we still do it. Tahren wants to move on, so we've no option but to change vessels. Boland needs a pilot on the Duwain and we need a ship and he comes recommended, so until we know differently, we have to take him at face value."
Ro nodded wordlessly and grabbed her kit and they made their way to the transport room where Tahren was waiting.
"We can transport you over to the Duwain whenever you're ready, Tom."
"No time like the present."
Tahren clasped each of them warmly on the shoulder and then stood back, activating the transporter himself.
He was sorry to see them go, but he wanted a change of scene, work a different sector, expand his trade and see new sights. Just the same, you couldn't find a nicer guy than Tom Riker, anywhere. In fact it was a pity that the man had to resort to the uncertain life of the Maquis. But he was, after all, a wanted man. Wanted by the Federation for his theft of the Defiant from Deep Space Nine and impersonation of a superior officer, and wanted by the Cardassians, who didn't take kindly to losing a strategic political prisoner.
As for Ro ... well, she was an enigma. Raised in a Cardassian labour camp on Bajor, she grew up the hard way. She had managed to make good though and joined Starfleet, only to leave after never quite being able to find her niche there. Soon after defecting to the Maquis, she earned the nickname of "Architect" and the reputation of being a loner, until she met Tom Riker. Strong-willed and spirited, no one had ever been able to get close enough to her to really know what made her tick. No one except Riker, that is. Somehow Tom had managed to tame her enough to curb her bull-headedness and direct her into the more useful exercise of striking Cardassian strategic installations, where previously she had been content to just blow every enemy ship she encountered into atoms.
As a team, they were invincible, always well-prepared and organised, slipping under Cardassian defences, striking fast, and then sliding out again, with the minimum of fuss and bloodshed. They had done more damage to the enemy's defences in the few years they had been together than the rest of the Maquis movement combined. The bounty on their heads was considerable, but they had always managed to stay one step ahead of both the Cardassians and the Federation.
As a couple, they were inseparable. In public, he treated her with a lazy tolerance and indulgent affection, while she considered him her property, and heaven help any woman that came too close. As for behind closed doors -- well, it was rumoured that Ro was insatiable, and rumour also had it that there was nothing wrong with Riker's libido either, so Tahren figured things got kind of interesting.
Yes, he was sorry to lose them and hoped that things would eventually work out for them somehow. He activated the transporter with a farewell of good luck, and they were gone.
Captain Boland, a large rotund Bajoran with small lascivious eyes, a huge nose and a false smile, was a trader, and not a particular one, dealing with whomever had, or wanted, a commodity, no matter what their race or affiliation, and he was proud of his ship. Granted, it was smaller than most cargo carriers, and the armament was only adequate, but it was fast, managing to run from trouble unscathed, even fully-loaded, rather than take trouble on head-first fool-hardily.
Boland was most effusive in his welcome of Tom and Ro as they stepped onto his Bridge.
"I am deeply honoured to be of service to two of the Maquis' finest. Tom Riker and the Architect. What a team! Your reputation precedes you, which is why I offered my ship to the Maquis, when I heard they were looking for a new transport for you both."
Tom and Ro exchanged amused looks at the trite effusiveness of the Bajoran, but said nothing.
"I want to hear all about your exploits," Boland continued, "but before I do, I'm sure you'll want to settle into your quarters." He turned to another Bajoran seated at one of the bulkhead consoles. "Chanir, show our guests their quarters. Shall we meet here again in say an hour to discuss how we can be mutually helpful to each other?"
Riker and Ro left the Bridge and the annoying Bajoran gladly. With only a few changes of levels, their guide was able to indicate an austere but spacious cabin as being that assigned to Tom.
"Your cabin is this way, Architect," Chanir said deferentially, indicating a point further down the corridor. He was clearly in awe of one of the Maquis' most famous figures.
"Don't bother," Ro said brusquely. "This will do us fine." She stepped into the cabin after Riker and pressed the closing mechanism on the inside. "Thanks." The door shut in Chanir's face.
"That was rather rude," observed Riker, dryly.
"Was it?" Ro murmured, disinterested. She had an attitude problem that she rarely bothered to hide. One of the few people she had any time for was in the cabin with her now, shaking his head indulgently.
"He'll get over it," she shrugged indifferently, and then gave voice to what was still disturbing her. "I don't trust Boland, Tom. He's the first Bajoran I've met who has reminded me of a Ferengi, and I ... hate ... Ferengi!" she spat.
"I know," Tom sympathised. "But the ship is supposed to be fast, and the cabins are a lot bigger than those on our old transport," he observed, looking around.
Ro dropped her kit on the floor and threw herself onto the bed. "Who needs a large cabin? All we need is a good, sturdy bed," she accompanied her last words with a thump on the mattress, then reached for Riker as he passed by on his tour of the amenities. She was a lot stronger than she looked, and was able to pull him off balance just enough so that he fell onto the bed beside her. Pinning him to the mattress, she ran her fingers through his hair and fastened her mouth onto his.
"What did ... Boland say ... about meeting him ... in an hour?" she asked, punctuating her words with hard kisses.
"I guess he'll just have to wait," Tom conceded, and began dispensing with her clothes.
Shortly after 0900 hours, five officers materialised in the largest Cargo Bay of the Enterprise NCC 1701-E. Already assembled was the entire contingent of the starship awaiting the official handing over of the vessel to her new Captain. Admiral Nechayev conducted the piping-aboard ceremony and then called upon Captain Riker to say a few words. The other three officers, Cadwallader, Troi and Data, stood behind him, waiting expectantly for Will's first words to his crew as their Captain.
Riker looked at the large assembly before him. They were all Starfleet personnel -- there were no families aboard this Enterprise -- and he cleared his throat. Even knowing it was futile, he eagerly scanned the faces for Picard, hoping his former Captain had somehow managed to be there to witness and be a part of this important occasion. The sense of disappointment that followed his acceptance that Picard was absent, was tangible. Riker took a deep breath.
"There have been exceptional Captains of ships bearing the name 'Enterprise' and they have performed great and heroic deeds. I can only follow in their footsteps by attempting to guide you as well and as long. At your stations people ... full ahead."
Riker and the rest of the Bridge officers filed out of the turbolift and while the latter took their stations, Riker remained at the turbolift entrance and surveyed the Bridge. His Bridge. He'd served here for nearly a year now, but today was different. Today heralded the moment he had been waiting for, had worked for, since the moment he was accepted into Starfleet Academy. And he had even passed by other opportunities waiting to be Captain of a ship called Enterprise.
This Bridge was darker than that of the Enterprise-D -- less roomy, almost cluttered with instrumental panelling and identical workstations. The Captain's chair was slightly raised on this Bridge, but still blended in with the other workstations with one exception -- it had no front console, only two large arms either side, each fitted with instrumentation.
The First Officer's station was situated at a forty-five degree angle to the Captain's chair, its position mirrored by the Counselor's station on the opposite side. When seated, each officer would see their Captain's slightest movement as well as being able to study the viewscreen without moving their heads -- a tactic which could prove useful in a stand-off with an adversary or unknown entity.
The Helm and Ops. areas were still situated in front of the viewscreen and slightly ahead of the Captain's chair and Tactical was now stationed against the bulkhead ahead of the Captain and on his right.
Riker moved towards his Security Chief now and held out his hand. "Good to have you aboard, Commander Hennessy."
"'Tis a privilege to be here, sir," the sturdy Irishman replied, his brogue undiluted by his years in service. "Both to be on this here ship an' to serve under the man whose unorthodox tactics saved many a day. I appreciate the unorthodox, Captain, so you can always count on my support."
Riker acknowledged his Chief's declaration of loyalty, taking note of the knotty muscles beneath his uniform. Short and compact, with thick red hair framing a square face heavy with jowls, Riker guessed that the man was extremely strong. He'd checked over his record and knew that Hennessy was a few years older than himself with numerous commendations. He felt confident in the Lieutenant Commander's abilities and moved on to the Conn. He had a momentís pause as he remembered the Enterprise-Eís first Conn. officer, Lieutenant Hawk, one of the many recent victims of the Borg. He let out a regretful sigh and approached the young officer seated at the helm.
"Lieutenant Commander Lavelle. Congratulations on your promotion. That was quick."
Sam Lavelle, young and good-looking, with smooth dark hair and a finely chiselled face had a ready smile and dark honest eyes which made him popular with his peers, particularly the fairer sex. He was also an extremely promising and ambitious officer and when he wasn't studying Starfleet annals, he was honing his poker skills. In fact, it had been mentioned by many sources that Sam Lavelle was a younger version of his new Captain.
"Almost as rapid as your rise in ranks, sir, but I intend to make Captain by thirty-five."
"That's what I said, Lavelle, but it's a good thing I didn't take bets on it, because I was out by four years," replied Riker, good-naturedly.
"That's why I intend to make it, sir. I have taken bets!"
Riker chuckled and moved to his chair, settling into it comfortably. He looked over his Bridge crew, each seated expectantly at their stations. Deanna on his left, Cadwallader on his right, and Data at Ops. There were several other crewmembers whom he didn't recognise at the Science and Engineering panels behind him, and he was again reminded that they had lost a good few crewmen to the Borg, people he had worked with, lived with, for nearly a year, and who were now mere statistics, lives lost in service to Starfleet.
"Riker to LaForge! How are you doing down there, Geordi?"
"All systems ready, Captain!" came the cheerful reply.
"Very well. Conn, set course for Deep Space Nine, warp two."
"Aye sir, course laid in, warp two," Lavelle answered crisply.
Riker looked at his First Officer seated at his former workstation and then looked at his imzadi. Both women smiled back at him and his eyes gleamed with excitement and anticipation.
"Full ahead!" he ordered and the mighty Enterprise-E responded, warping into a new era.
Jean Luc Picard perused the computer padd in front of him. They had informed him that he wasn't under restrictions at Starfleet HQ and he had the run of the grounds, but they preferred he didn't leave the complex. A Doctor may have wished to contact him for further tests, an aide might have wanted more information on what had occurred on board the Enterprise-E that fateful day, and they wanted him to make himself available at all times.
But there wasn't much he could do or be involved in, and he felt a prisoner just the same. They had even refused to allow him communication with Will and the Enterprise, explaining that the mission they were on was classified. Starfleet communiqué's produced no information and Jean Luc realised the communication blanket and inactivity he was being subjected to was worse than the tests and constant debriefings and he wanted it to end ... soon.
The door chimed and his boredom was slightly alleviated by the diversion of guessing who his caller would be this time. He even managed a small interested smile, when he bid the person enter, as he saw that he had guessed correctly. Dr Marsden was a frequent visitor, dropping by every day this week, never at the same time, but always at least once a day. He never remembered his "sessions" with her as she attempted to tap that part of his brain that had responded to the Borg and their call, but he always remembered their conversations afterwards.
Theresa Marsden was intelligent, warm and witty, and more jocular than he would have supposed in an intellectual. Certainly more down-to-earth and vivacious than Dr Crusher or Counselor Troi, and not at all what he looked for in a woman. He would have described her as more Will Riker's type, an extrovert and always looking for the humour in a situation, but he found himself responding to her almost reluctantly and began to look forward to her sessions and the companionship that followed.
She beamed at him as she entered the room and spied him at the room's desk. Folding her arms, she shook her head in mock reproof.
"Shame on you, Jean Luc. Haven't you noticed what a beautiful day it is out there? What are you doing poring over computer data when you could be outside enjoying the sunshine?"
"Waiting for you," he replied promptly, and then his eyes widened slightly in surprise. Where had that come from? he wondered, and smiled again as he registered her own surprise at his words.
"Jean Luc!?! You wouldn't be flirting with me, would you?" she laughed. "Well, luckily for both of us, I've come to tell you that I consider our sessions are no longer necessary. Our REM monitors have reported normal sleep patterns and near-normal dream patterns for the last three nights. No nightmares last night?"
He shook his head. "None that I'm aware of nor remember this morning."
"Good, and you remember nothing from the last few evenings either. So, what shall we do today?"
"You could discharge me." His voice was firm and authoritive. He didn't hold out much hope of her doing so, but he considered the possibility of bluffing her into it.
"Hmmm, well I have recommended it, but it remains to be seen what the administrative staff decide. Meanwhile, I have a little free time and I thought you might accompany me on a tour through the streets of San Francisco. Check out some of your old haunts when you were a young dashing cadet."
He chuckled. "Those days were so long ago that I'm sure they've pulled down all my old watering holes and built new ones. You know, the old story ... out with the old to make way for the new." He didn't mean to sound bitter, but as soon as he'd said the words, he realised he was thinking of the Enterprise-E, now under the command of a new Captain.
The Doctor intuitively knew. "It won't be long, Jean Luc, before they give you another ship. It may not be the Enterprise, but it will be yours, a new challenge, a new opportunity to stamp it with your style and become the best in the fleet. Do you resent Captain Riker?"
"No, I want to, but I can't. He deserves the Enterprise and would have got it eventually. It just seems sooner rather than later, and I wasn't quite ready for it."
"Well, then, let's go for that walk and talk about it a little more." She held out her hand, and after a moment's hesitation he took it, and placed it on his arm, enjoying the warmth, and even the security, of it there.
They walked and talked for hours, stopped at a restaurant she liked to frequent, and looked in vain for his old haunts. They were indeed gone, levelled and replaced with establishments filled with a new breed of raw cadets. Picard was amused at the way the tenor of the rooms would decrease when they walked in, conversations lulled in respect for his rank, but it soon began to irk him.
"Is there somewhere we can go where they don't all cringe at the sight of a Captain's uniform?" he asked her.
"I have just the place in mind," she winked, and at the devilment in her eyes, he almost regretted suggesting it.
But the place she chose was circumspect enough. A discreet club occupying the basement of a building some forty years old, it was exclusive and quiet and intimate. He remembered when he would have felt slightly threatened being in these surroundings with a beautiful woman, but Theresa Marsden had a knack of putting him at his ease.
And she was certainly beautiful, not so much in repose, but when she laughed, her hazel eyes came alive and her smile was so wide, she warmed the room with its infectiousness. Her short cropped hair tended to curl and made a golden halo of her face, and her petite figure was always dressed with style.
She was smiling at him now, probably guessing at some of his thoughts as she was wont to do.
"You can tell me, Jean Luc. You should know by now you can tell me anything you like."
"Yes, I do know, but the words seem unnecessary somehow."
"Very well, then, let's dance," she coaxed.
"I don't ... why not?" he capitulated, and stood, holding out his hand this time.
"We've made excellent progress in only one week, wouldn't you say?"
"I would say you have made inordinate progress in only one week, Theresa, and I am at a loss to know how or why." He guided her in a slow dance, and she followed his lead effortlessly, as if it were something she did every day.
"You are a very reticent man, Jean Luc, but under the right circumstances you can be drawn out, and it is worth the effort." She allowed a heart-beat of silence and then floored him with her next statement.
"I want you to come home with me."
"Theresa, I really don't think ..."
"Why not, Jean Luc? There is no earthly reason why you can't. If you were adverse to me, you wouldn't be here with me now."
"Nevertheless ..." he blustered.
"Coward ..." she whispered.
Captain Picard opened his mouth to deny the accusation, but closed it again. Was that what he was now? A coward? Cowed by the Borg, seeing their demonic visages in his sleep, hearing the grotesque whisper of their collective call in his mind. He still had ghosts to exorcise and this woman was offering to help him. Had helped since the first day he met her, and was still willing. There was no earthly reason why he should not accept what she was willing to offer. She had already informed him that their doctor/patient relationship was at an end, that his discharge was merely a formality of red tape, and he would soon be able to resume a command. He was attracted to her and she had left him in no doubt that she felt the same way, but he knew that he was going to decline. It only remained how best to tell her in the kindest possible way.
He pulled back from her slightly, to look into her eyes, honestly and openly, but the words didn't get past his lips. His brow furrowed as he caught a glimpse of something in her eyes that he couldn't define, something that was at odds with her personality as he knew it, something fleetingly malevolent, and then it was gone, replaced by an accepting look of disappointment.
"I don't mind if you refuse, Jean Luc, really. It hasn't been easy for you, and I can understand your reluctance. Some other time, perhaps." She leaned into him again, continuing their dance, and the moment was lost before Picard could analyse it.
The Enterprise's journey to Deep Space Nine was routine and without incident, affording each department the opportunity to check and recheck all systems. The Chiefs were able to report to their Captain that the Enterprise was indeed ship-shape and battle-ready. Not that the Maquis could put up much of a fight with their limited resources, thought Riker, as he received the last of the sections' reports -- Engineering at maximum efficiency. He didn't expect anything else form Geordi's department, but it was that area of the Enterprise-E that had been borgified during the collective's attempt at assimilation, and so had been subject to a major overhaul whilst docked at Earth.
The Captain spent a lot of the time touring the ship with his First Officer always at his side, explaining the complexities of her new posting and leaving her in no doubt of his pride in this ship. He spoke of Jean Luc Picard often, his admiration of the man as evident as his joy in his new command. Each time, Riker would explain that Picard was the person who had made the Enterprise-E the great ship that it was, and he, Riker, was merely carrying the reins.
Cadwallader and Riker walked together, exercised together, ate together; they spent hours pouring over schematics and designs in his Ready Room, familiarising her with the ship, the crew and even each other, in a way they had not done six years ago. They spent more time together than husband and wife would have, and Riker was impressed with Cadwallader's professionalism and deference.
Not that she didn't challenge him -- but it was justified and applicable and Riker was appreciative of her keeping him alert. In short, she was going to be a good First Officer -- almost as good an exec. as he was, he thought wryly. And he was pleasantly surprised that there was in fact no awkwardness arising from their prior relationship. On the contrary, it enabled them to dispense with social taboos such as privacy, personal space and unnecessary formalities. He found she had a similar sense of humour, could give as good as she got, with just a hint of attempting to be 'just one of the boys'. It was the only insecurity he could find in his Number One, and he was wise enough not to make an issue of it.
By the time the Enterprise had docked at Deep Space Nine, the Captain and First Officer had a rapport so automatic and so comfortable that they made an indomitable combination.
Beverly was ordering a cup of tea from the replicator when she heard the chime at her door. This should be Deanna now, she thought. It would be the first opportunity they'd had since joining the mission under their new Captain, to get together for some girl-talk. Since leaving Earth, Beverly had been too busy organising her staff, new and old, and Sickbay, to have had time for socialising. She assumed Deanna had been similarly involved in talking to the crew who had survived the Borg attack and monitoring their adjustment to the trauma of losing workmates in combat.
Beverly changed her order to add hot chocolate.
The Counselor smiled warmly as she entered and accepted the steaming cup that her friend held out. Moving over to the room's couch and lowering herself gracefully into the cushions, she curled her legs up underneath her. Beverly remained standing, not yet quite as relaxed, and opted to idly finger the soft petals of a cut flower, whose vase adorned a narrow shelf.
The Counselor took a tentative sip, testing the temperature of her drink, and smiled again, closing her eyes. "This is nice, Beverly. And the first chance I've had to sit down without a computer terminal in front of me!"
"Oh, why is that?"
"Will insisted I double-check each crewmembers statistics with the ship's records whilst interviewing each personally and then file a detailed report on my opinion of their readiness for active service. I haven't had eye-strain like this since studying for my Bridge Officer's exams!"
"Has he been pushing you too hard, Deanna?" Beverly turned away from the abused flower to watch Deanna closely, the doctor in her now concerned for her friend's welfare. "I heard he was pretty rough on you that time."
"No, I'm fine, honestly. What Will's had me doing is nothing compared to the rigors he's putting himself and Commander Cadwallader through. They're spending just about every minute of the day working, doing everything together, and I mean, everything! The only reason why they're not sleeping together is because I believe they're not sleeping!" She laughed at her own joke, but Beverly didn't join in.
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"Bother me? Why?"
"Well, you and Will used to be such close friends. I thought perhaps you might feel he was neglecting you in some way."
"No, I don't feel neglected. After all, before the Enterprise-D went down, I was spending a lot more of my spare time with Worf. Will didn't get upset then."
Not much, thought Beverly, but decided to let those sleeping dogs lie. She could tell Deanna had lost a little of her spontaneity as she stared into her cup.
"I'm sorry things couldn't work out for you and Worf," she prompted, letting Deanna know that if she wanted to talk about it, she would be there for her.
"Thank you, Beverly, but I have the feeling that Worf and I ... well, as a relationship, it was a bit doomed from the start. In the end, the differences between us were too extensive to bridge. We still correspond, but I think he is developing another interest on Deep Space Nine."
"How do you know?"
"He's quite good at keeping in touch and he talks about Lieutenant Jadzir Dax all the time ... how she's been joining in his martial arts program and allowing him to use her holoprograms."
"That doesn't necessarily mean anything, Deanna."
"I know, but I still have that feeling. Anyway, I'm happy for him. As I said, it wasn't meant to be."
"What makes you so sure?"
Deanna finally looked up from her cup and met Bev's eyes squarely. "Deep down, I really don't believe there could be anyone else for me. The bond of imzadi is a powerful one, Beverly, more powerful than even I realised." She allowed a little of her sadness to show through.
"I'm so sorry, Deanna. Perhaps if you went to Will and told him how you felt ... He's a Captain, now. He has achieved what he wanted in his career. There may be room for a wife now."
"Not Will, Bev," Deanna corrected.
"Not Will ...? Then who?"
"Thomas," she admitted quietly.
"Thomas?" Beverly almost gasped.
"Yes, why are you so surprised?" Deanna was smiling again, amused at the look of incredulity on her friend's face. "Tom is still very much like the Will Riker I met on Betazed, only more mature, and I know he still loves me. I feel responsible somehow for what heís done since we rescued him from Nervala IV. And Iíve never quite overcome the feelings we rekindled whilst he was aboard that time ... If I had left with him as he asked, maybe he wouldnít have become a renegade ..."
"Deanna, you can't blame yourself for the decisions either of the Rikers have made. You're being very unfair on yourself."
"I know, but I can't help but think it could have worked out differently for him, had I been there for him. Will shall always be my good friend, but he doesn't need me like Tom did. But ... " she sighed deeply, "it's too late for that now. And he's as unattainable to me as if he were still imprisoned by the Cardassians." Deanna took a deep breath and seemed to shake the melancholy from her.
"Does Starfleet know where he is?"
"No, he moves around too much ... I just hear reports of where he has been, and that's all over the sector. I keep hoping for a miracle, like an Amnesty granted or something, but I don't really hold out much hope ... " She rearranged herself on the seat and changed the subject. "Enough of me. How are you faring under our new Captain?"
Beverly wasnít sure she should allow the subject change. Deanna needed to talk about her feelings as much as the crewmembers she counselled. However, Troi was also the expert in these matters and Beverly had to respect her judgement. She came over to join Deanna, relaxing into the cushions beside her.
"Well, Will's left me pretty much to my own devices. I don't know if that's because he trusts me or is a little unsure of my reaction to his being my Captain now. You should be able to tell better than I whether he's uncomfortable with the new status quo or not. If I could reassure him somehow I would, but I've seen very little of him. But then, Jean Luc always avoided Sickbay whenever he could. These men ... such babies in some ways." She fell silent then, looking into her cup rather than at Deanna.
"What are you thinking?" prompted the Counselor.
"I realise how little I really knew Jean Luc, despite serving with him all those years. Deanna, you didn't see him on the Bridge after we discovered the Borg had taken over the Enterprise-E. For the first time since I've known him, he lost sight of the fact that the ship is not a duranium hull, but rather the people that rely on his protection and leadership. He was going to have us fight the Borg to the last person, when good sense indicated evacuate and self-destruct the ship. He was a man possessed ... possessed by the darker emotions of revenge, pain and retaliation. But we were ready to follow him just the same. It took Lily to stand up to him and reason with him. Right or wrong, we were ready to die with him and for him, and he would have let us. That's not the Jean Luc I remembered.
"But what must he be feeling now?" she continued. "Starfleet is treating him like he's the enemy, questioning him, probing him, looking for ulterior motives. He doesn't deserve that, not after finally stopping the Borg and saving the Enterprise as well. Listen to me," she laughed without humour. "I sound like a councillor for the defence." She took a sip of her tea and sighed pensively.
"You're missing him, aren't you, Beverly?"
"Of course I am. I miss the easy cameraderie, his compassion, the breakfasts we shared. It was the only time he ever allowed me to see the part of the Captain that was the man."
"Well, I'm sure if you invited Will to breakfast ..." Deanna joked, "but you'd have to tempt him with heavier fare than coffee and croissants. Will has a healthy appetite in more ways than one!"
"Deanna! I don't think of Will in that light at all!"
"Not even after he hosted Odan? You took my advice, didn't you? You accepted Odan's love while he was a part of Will?"
Despite how close the women had become, Beverly wasn't sure how much to admit to her friend. "Deanna, it was ... I never ..." She broke off in confusion at the Counselor's knowing smile. "All right, he was magnificent! What can I say? You know better than I do what our Will Riker is capable of, but all the time I felt Odan's presence and love and caring and it was somehow ... right ... and I was comfortable with it, even afterwards. Will doesn't remember any of it, does he? No, well thank the gods for that, although I think he would have been decent about it even if he did."
Her eyes went unerringly to the red rose encased by a stasis field holding pride of place on the small table in the centre of her quarters. Thanks to that stasis field, the rose was one of her few personal items that had survived the crash of the Enterprise-D. She thought of Odan often, and that short disturbing period of her life when she thought she had found love again only to lose it once more.
She turned back to Deanna and caught an intense look on the Counselor's face. "I'm okay, really. Just got caught up a little in my memories. Well, this sort of talk is getting us nowhere. We have to look ahead now. We have a new Captain and adjustments have to be made. I'm sure we are both equal to the task. So ... what do you think you'll do on Deep Space Nine when we arrive?"
"Well, the way Will's been pulling drills, I'm not counting on any shore leave, but if I do, I intend to look up Keiko and Miles. And, imagine Molly now... I doubt if I'll recognise her ...."
The rec. room of the Enterprise-E was not as opulent as the ĎDís version, but comfortable nevertheless. It was smaller and ĎUí shaped, but the view of the galaxy was just as impressive. The bartenders and waiters were not civilians, but non-commissioned personnel, who rotated frequently as a part of their duty roster. It was fast becoming a sought-after side-line, as there was a no quicker way to pick up the latest scuttlebutt than browsing around and serving the tables whilst crewmembers were deep in conversation.
Sam Lavelle was currently off-duty and holding court there. In attendance at his table was Lieutenant Mandok, a Benzite, and his best friend. The Benzite race was proving a valuable addition to the Starfleet ranks. They were a highly intelligent, diligent and disciplined race and, although slightly egotistical, their supreme confidence in their ability was counterbalanced by an almost disarming naiveté. It was a standing joke between the two friends that Lavelle only tolerated Mandok as his friend because the latter had such an ugly mug, it ensured the former always ended up with the girls.
It wasnít far from the truth. Of the other three guests at Lavelleís table, all were women, hanging on Samís every word. He was currently regaling them with his exploits on the Enterprise-D during his tour of duty under the command of Jean Luc Picard. They were as equally appreciative of his good looks as they were impressed with his having served on two of Starfleetís flagships.
"Why is a Lieutenant Commander in charge of the Conn on this ship? Isnít that a position Ensigns usually fill?" pouted Ensign Talbot, envious of his position on the Bridge.
"Youíre right, Janeene," he smiled. "But Captain Riker has orders that no personnel below the rank of Lt Commander be on the Bridge, the reason being that this mission is not an exploratory one, but one of combat encounter. He wants his top officers by his side," Lavelle couldnít prevent the smugness creeping into his voice.
"What do you think about his First Officer being a woman?" Ensign Heinrichter, the more discerning of the women, asked suggestively.
"Moya, are you suggesting that a woman shouldn't hold the position of First Officer?" Talbot asked, surprised by her friend's question.
"Not at all. It's just that when the Captain looks like Will Riker, and with the reputation he's got, it kind of makes things more interesting."
Mandok joined the conversation by insisting, "I'm sure that the relationship is purely professional. The Captain would be very mindful of his position and responsibilites."
"Bahh!" retorted Talbot. "There's nothing wrong with mixing a little pleasure with business. Why, if he asked me ....."
"You'd faint on the spot, " Heinrichter scoffed.
"Well, I don't know," said Lavelle. "Commander Cadwallader's not his usual type, but I did hear rumours that they had been involved previously, on the Enterprise-D. But she was only a transient passenger then."
"Ohhh, how romantic," breathed Ensign Taaklah. "Former lovers torn apart by circumstances to be united again aboard his own command. Just like he and Counselor Troi all those years ago." She sighed dreamily.
Heinrichter gave her friend a pitying look. "And look where that relationship went. Nowhere." She turned back to Lavelle. "Tell us about the time you mistook the Captain for a Canadian," she prompted.
Lavelle didnít care to be reminded of that ignominious incident and ignored her, instead answering Ensign Taaklah, who wanted to know if Sam had been on any away missions with Riker.
Actually he hadnít. His chief duties had centred around navigation and propulsion and had not provided the opportunity to be a part of away missions. "But I did have shore leave at the same time as he did once. On a very hospitable planet which was reminiscent of Risa," he supplied. "Will Riker sure knows how to have a good time!"
"Actually, I wouldnít mind sitting in on one of his poker games," smiled Talbot. "Provided it was strip poker."
"Youíd faint from sensory overload," supplied Heinrichter, "and that would leave the way clear for me!"
"Hah! Captain Riker is unbeatable at poker! You wouldnít have a hope!" reminded Talbot.
"I heard he used to play his trombone in impromptu jazz sessions with some of the other crew," said Taaklah, looking to Lavelle again. "Is that true? Did you hear him play?" Her lovely alien eyes lit up expectantly.
Lavelle was starting to feel uncomfortable at the way the spotlight had shifted from himself to the Captain of the Enterprise. Damn it, this was his moment, he thought, impressing these women with his good fortune at being a member of the Bridge crew. It didnít matter that he was just as thrilled to be serving under Will Riker again.
Although he also held the older man in awe, and was quickly becoming convinced that he would have to be one of the toughest Captains to work under, Lavelle was nevertheless impressed with the man himself. He even felt they had a lot in common. A healthy appreciation of women and the natural ability to attract that fairer sex; a love of games of chance, in which Lavelle was rapidly increasing his skill, although he was having difficulty mastering the poker face needed for ultimate success; and his love of adventure and outgoing nature ensured that he was popular with his peers, both male and female. He just had a little trouble with authority, but he was working on that too.
Although he didn't realise it yet, Lavelle was unconsciously emulating his new Captain and looking to him as his role model. And he hadn't been exaggerating when he said that Will Riker knew how to have a good time. During his tour of duty on the Enterprise-D, Sam had pulled shore-leave at the same time as the First Officer and had even lucked a ride on Riker's shuttle, along with four other officers. During the almost two-hour journey to Nedas II, Riker surprised Lavelle by being companionable and approachable, his anecdotes and observations helping to pass the time quickly.
Once they reached the planet's receiving station, Sam had screwed up enough courage to invite Riker to join him in the recreation centre after they settled into their respective quarters. To his amazement, Riker accepted, and Sam never looked back. It was one of the most exciting and frenetic shore-leaves he had ever had. The two men had drank, gamed, caroused and traded tall tales well into the early hours, departing the rec. centre only at the pouting insistence of their female companions.
When Lavelle finally emerged from his rooms the next day, he found Riker hard at it on the ball courts already. The man's stamina had been impressive. It became obvious that when the Commander wasn't working hard, he was playing hard. Lavelle did his best to keep up with the older man on the courts, in the pool, and in the mock-fighting arena, and then the cycle started again that evening. By the end of the three-day leave, Sam was exhausted and in need of a vacation after his vacation. The Commander, meanwhile, returned to his usual rigorous routine of ensuring the Enterprise was operating at full efficiency at all times, and the aloofness became apparent once more.
Well, Sam guessed, he still had a long way to go before he attained the stature of his Captain, and meanwhile, these lovely Ensigns were waiting for his answer. He looked to his Benzite friend for inspiration, but only received a shrug.
"Yes, do tell us, Sam," Lieutenant Mandok deadpanned, turning the screw.
Data entered Engineering and walked smoothly to the small dark man watching a gigantic warp engine pulse with leashed power. Geordi La Forge turned to his android friend, his smile as bright as his artificial blue eyes.
"Isnít it a beauty, Data? The output on this baby is phenomenal!"
Data looked at his friendís obvious awe and almost paternal pride with interest.
"Geordi, I am confused by your emotional bonding to this piece of machinery."
Geordi laughed, not surprised by the statement. He did feel bonded in a way. After all, he had had considerable input in its design and specifications, and when he learned of the Borgís mutation of his Department, he was as outraged at their tampering with his 'children' as a parent would be with its living offspring.
"Well, Data, I am very proud of these engines. Their design and capabilities ... and because I helped build them, I feel kind of ... responsible for their well-being. Besides all that, if these babies arenít performing at maximum efficiency, neither will the Enterprise and every one and thing that depend on them. And ultimately their performance is a reflection on me and my Engineering crew. So I guess you could call it an Ďemotional bondingí."
"Is that how you and I are able to be such good friends, even though I, too, am not human?"
"No, Data, itís different with you. You look like a regular guy ... well, almost ... and you certainly look more human-like than some of the Ensigns Iíve got working under me. But our friendship is more than the sum of your capabilities and performance. You and I can share things ... thoughts, goals, good times and bad."
Data cocked his head to the side and considered Geordiís words. "I would consider my cat, Spot, and I have an emotional bonding, but we do not share thoughts and goals."
"True, Data, but bonding can exist between many forms for a variety of reasons. I guess it all comes down to needs met between the two participants. You look to Spot for companionship and she looks to you to supply her survival and diversional needs. Her dependency also fulfills a need within you, and she accepts the necessity of your presence.
"You may discover that those crewmembers on this ship who survived the crash of the Enterprise-D have bonded also, by sharing in the passing of a ship in which they had put their faith and entrusted their lives. They have memories of times shared, people they had met, which brought them all closer together and helped them grow as individuals."
Data processed this information and broached something else that concerned him. "Geordi, I am aware that crewmembers break off their conversations when I walk into a room, and then make a point of not looking at me. It is very confusing."
"Yeah, well, I'm afraid that usually means they were talking about you, Data. And they can't continue the conversation while you're around. They don't mean to be rude, but it would be more rude to talk about you as if you weren't there."
"But, why would they be talking about me? These are crewmembers from the Enterprise-D who know me and have served with me before. They could not know what transpired between the Borg Queen and I ... On this ship, only Captain Riker, Counselor Troi, and you are aware of how she seduced me."
"No, I don't think it's that, Data. If I had to guess, they're probably discussing the fact that you were passed over for the position of First Officer, wondering how that affects you, if at all. Commander Cadwallader probably gets the same treatment when she walks in a room, for usurping your position and for being a woman. In fact, if she walked into Engineering right now, you and I would probably do the same thing ... stop talking and pretend to be concentrating on something else ... well, I would anyway." Geordi had to smile at his clarification.
"So, how does her appointment as First Officer affect you, Data?"
Data considered the question. "I am aware of the prestige of being the Enterprise's First Officer, and my emotion chip enables me to be desirous of fulfilling that position. I appeared to be disappointed at not being selected, but I also realise that Commander Cadwallader is far more qualified for the position and more experienced. Also, due to my desire to persevere with the learning experience of having emotions, I may not be ready for the responsibility attached to the position, and there was always the possibility that an outsider would be engaged. I recognise that it is a logical choice to maintain my position as second officer at this point in time."
"Well done, Data. I wish we could all be that dispassionate about our goals being put on hold."
Something else had occurred to Data during their conversation. "Geordi, you mentioned crewmembers would be also be discussing Commander Cadwallader because she was a woman. Many women in Starfleet fulfil superior rank, even to the Admiralty."
"The rank is not the problem, Data," Geordi lowered his voice, unconsciously emulating the crewmembers who had confused Data in the first place. "It's the necessity that she and Captain Riker have to be so close -- are, in fact, living in each other's pockets, while they are readying themselves and the ship for the mission ahead. That's the tricky part!"
"'Living in each other's pockets'?" Data processed the colloquialism. "You feel that because they are together so much and of the opposite sex, other variables will be introduced into the working relationship. Emotional differences, physical attraction ..."
"Precisely, Data, and coupled with the fact that it was no secret they knew each other ... er, very well ... previously ..."
Captain Riker and Commander Cadwallader chose that moment to include Engineering in their tour of inspection. The Captain wanted to personally reassure himself of the Department's readiness. He sought out Geordi and was surprised to see him concentrating hard on Data's communicator pin. His second officer was also subjecting the pin to a studied examination.
Riker looked at Cadwallader in confusion, but she only smiled secretly, guessing accurately at some of what had transpired in order to make the two officers appear to be so engrossed in something so minor.
Lieutenant Commander Hennessy walked into the rec. room with a rolling gait characteristic of his short compact stature. He nodded to several crewmembers as he passed their tables on his way to the bar. He looked the fellow in attendance up and down, and winked.
"Show me what youíve got stashed under that bar, son. Don't give me any oí that soft stuff neither. Iím wantiní the real thing, that I am!"
The bartender grinned and brought out a nondescript square-shaped bottle he thought might interest the Security Chief.
"Try this, Commander, and let me know what you think."
Hennessy watched the young man pour a shot of the dark liquid into a glass and then held it up to the light, testing its colour before his nose sampled its aroma. The fumes were pleasantly pungent and he tossed back the whole glass, taking its full contents to best savour its bite.
Hennessy closed his eyes and nodded his head in approval. It had a good bite and burned pleasurably all the way down his throat.
"Now thatís a good drop o' rum! Whoíd be having such a discerning taste to requisition that find?" he asked the bartender.
"Commander Cadwallader, sir, and she gave specific orders that if we found anyone else on board who would appreciate it, we were to send them onto her quarters with the bottle."
"Well, 'tis lookin' like itís my lucky day, it is!" Hennessy grinned, and grabbed the bottle and his empty glass and walked jauntily out.
Tricia was surprised to discover Lieutenant Commander Hennessy seeking entrance to her quarters. She had been off-duty for several hours now, and recalled that this was her first free time since coming aboard four days ago. Will had certainly kept her busy. She knew she had slept some of that time, but it always felt as if, as soon as her head hit the pillow, he was paging her again to meet him in some department or other. This time she had managed to take a nap and wake naturally with time to spare.
She recalled an earlier conversation with him, after he had dragged her out of bed at 0500 hours this morning. She had felt as if she could have had a few more hours sleep, and knew she had rings under her eyes, but had dressed hurriedly in order to meet his summons. He took one look at her dishevelled appearance and did a double-take.
"Hell, Cad., you look like shit!"
"Sorry, Captain, I was asleep when you called me."
"You never used to look this bad first thing in the morning!"
She had given him a killing look, and it didnít help that he had looked good enough to eat, but he just smiled and then was all business again ...
She could smile about it now, but she vowed she would not be caught out next time.
She was still smiling when the door opened to admit the Security Chief and she saw the bottle in his hand. "You took my bait, Commander! Come in. I was hoping there would be at least one drinking buddy aboard this tub."
She moved the computer padds scattered over her table to make room for the bottle and his glass and replicated a glass for herself, holding it out to Hennessy for a shot.
"Now thatís no name to be calliní this here pride oí Starfleet, Commander!" Hennessy chuckled, glancing interestedly at the boxes scattered throughout the room, still filled with her personal belongings.
"Donít worry, Hennessy, itís meant affectionately and with great respect."
"Aní weíd be off-duty now, so you can be calliní me Michael then."
"Very well, Michael, and you can call me ..." She let the sentence hang in the air to see what he would say.
"Iíd be calliní you, darliní, I reckon," he offered, his broad grin and large wink assuring her he was joking.
"Darliní, it is." Tricia went along with the joke.
"So howís it the Captain is lettiní you alone at last? I swear aní I haven't seen him once without you beiní attached to his string, no offence meant, to be sure."
"None taken, Michael." She tossed back the second glass of rum he poured for her and shook her head. "Iím not sure myself. This is the first time he hasnít dragged me out of bed, so Iím beginning to think heís been kidnapped or Troiís taken pity on me and confined him to quarters."
"Not much chance oí that, Iíll warrant. I reckon our Captain is just giviní us a breather before he springs the next round o' drills on us. Donít you be lettiní him push you too hard, mídear. An exhausted First Officer is oí no use to him neither. Youíll be gettiní your beauty sleep or Iíll be haviní a word to him meself."
"Thanks Michael, Iím fine, but Iíll remember your offer." She picked up her third glass of rum, sipping it this time.
"Thatís no way to treat an excellent drop like this one," he clucked disapprovingly.
"I know, but Iím still expecting the Captain to call me any time now, so I canít afford to enjoy myself too much."
"All work aní no play can't be good for a lovely lady like yourself neither. You need a little recreation and excitement too, just to keep you sharp."
"Oh, I get enough excitement from the Captain, donít worry." She paused to sip her drink again and her mind seemed to drift away with other thoughts.
Hennessyís eyes narrowed as he watched her face closely. "Donít you be falliní for the Captain, mídear. I can understand how it tíwould be easy enough to do for you, but Iíd advise against it strongly. Away and afar too risky."
"I'm well aware of the talk going around the ship about the Captain and me, Michael, but what if I said your warning was too late?"
"Well, then, Iím feeliní sad for you, darliní. That I am. You take care now. Our Captain's a good man, but heís not one for to be settliní down any time soon."
"Well, thatís okay, Hennessy, Ďcos Iím not one for to be settliní down any time soon neither," she mocked him kindly.
"Riker to all Senior Officers! All hands to the Bridge."
"Thatís us, Hennessy." Cadwallader glanced out the viewport. "WeĎre coming out of warp, which, if all is well, means we should be approaching Deep Space Nine."
"Aye, youíd probably be right. Thanks for the drop aní in the future, Iíll be keepiní me advice to meself. You probably wonít need it anyway. Iíve a feeliní you know how to look after yourself."
"Aye, you'd probably be right," she smiled.
The Enterprise-E slowly and majestically slid into position on an outer arm of the station known as Deep Space Nine.
When the final docking clamp was in place, Riker addressed his Bridge crew. "Okay people, we're at DS9 for twenty-four hours, but unfortunately, there will be no shore leave. Data, I need you to stay on board and co-ordinate with all the Department Heads for final cross-checking. All crew are to be instructed to rest and rejuvenate during that time. They've worked hard, but I don't want anyone partying hard -- there isn't enough time before pulling out again. Counselor, Cad., you're with me." He rose from his Command chair and strode to the turbolift, closely followed by the two women.
Kira Nerys was waiting at the large doors to the air-lock separating the station from the docked ship. Although she was prepared, she still felt an involuntary shock at the sight of the man striding toward her. He was flanked by two women, both in uniform -- one almost as tall as he, the other, diminutive but just as poised and authoritative. But it wasn't the united front they projected that took her breath away, it was the man's uncanny resemblance to Tom Riker that startled her, even knowing that one was the duplicate of the other. Except for the shape of the beard and hair-style, they were identical.
Since handing Tom Riker and Ro Laren over to Maquis sympathisers, Nerys had heard rumours that they were an item now, a formidable Maquis team that struck quickly and successfully. Nerys had never missed her days as part of the Bajoran militia fighting Cardassians, and was extremely grateful to Starfleet and Bajor for the opportunity to serve on Deep Space Nine, but she had to confess to a good deal of envy of Ro Laren, leading such an exciting, if dangerous, life with a man such as Tom.
Dismissing her thoughts, Nerys went to greet the new arrivals. "Captain Riker, welcome to Deep Space Nine! Good to see you again, sir."
"And you, Major. May I present my First Officer, Commander Tricia Cadwallader, and Ship's Counselor, Commander Deanna Troi. Ladies, Major Kira Nerys."
The women exchanged greetings and then all moved on, Riker and Kira in the lead.
"Captain Sisko is waiting for you, Captain, so I'll take you to him straight away. Quarters have been arranged if you would prefer to stay on the station while you're here, otherwise ...?"
"Thank you, Major, we'll accept your hospitality. Commander Cadwallader has never been to Deep Space Nine. It would be a good opportunity for her to see more of it."
"Certainly, Captain, I'll show her around myself."
They soon reached the Ops area where Riker was greeted by two more familiar faces: Lieutenant Dax and Miles O'Brien and fifteen minutes later, Ben Sisko stepped out of his office to find Will Riker the centre of attention as he amused a captive audience with his anecdote of breaking the bank at Quark's during his last visit. More introductions were made and then the two men retired to Sisko's offices. Commander Cadwallader made to follow her Captain, but Riker dismissed her.
Ben indicated a seat for Riker and settled into his own chair. The Commanding Officer of Deep Space Nine was a far cry from the reluctant Starfleet Commander who had been sent here half a decade ago. Benjamin Sisko was now a Captain, very assured and very much in control, at peace with himself and his life after finally coming to terms with the death of his wife at Wolf 359. He also had more hair on his face than on his head, sporting a small goatee on his chin and a clean-shaven head, an affectation which suited him. He was a lot less serious than he used to be, as well. At the moment he wore a huge grin, his teeth incredibly white against the dark beard, and he had a speculative gleam in his eye.
"A female First Officer!" he beamed. "And an attractive one at that. How did you organise that, Will?"
"I didn't," chuckled Riker. "In fact, I had no input into my exec. at all, which, I may say, I was not pleased about. But Cad. is working out just fine. She's going to make one helluva officer. I probably couldn't have chosen better, but I would have chosen differently."
"Because she's a woman?" Sisko asked curiously.
"No, not because she's a woman." Riker adeptly dodged the subject of Cadwallader. "Anyway, who are you to talk? Your right hand man is a woman!"
"Ah yes, the formidable Major Kira. Now there is a woman you don't want to get on the wrong side of. She has been indispensable to me, so let me tell you, I'm not happy about having her requisitioned by the Enterprise."
"Sorry, Ben, Starfleet orders, and it's only temporary. Just until I start collecting a few contacts of my own."
"Will, I have to warn you. The Major is not too happy about this assignment. She's going through with it out of loyalty to Starfleet, but a lot of the people you're going after are Bajorans ..."
"I understand Ben, but some of them are Terrans too. It's not a job I'm relishing either, but these people chose to do what they're doing knowing the consequences. They are jeopardising the Treaty with Cardassia and as a result are threatening the very fragile peace existing in this sector. We won't be able to stop them, Ben, but we can slow them down."
"You're right of course," agreed Sisko. "I just hope you can convince Major Kira."
Riker's smile was confident as he replied, "Leave the Major to me, Ben. We'll work it out."
Cadwallader joined her Captain as soon as he re-entered the Ops area.
"At ease, Cad.," Riker insisted. "You're off duty for twenty-four hours, remember. Enjoy what the station has to offer. In fact, Major Kira has offered to give you a guided tour."
"I know, sir," the First Officer replied. "But I knocked her back. I figure if anyone can show me the really interesting areas of this cartwheel in space, it's you."
"You know, Cad., you're absolutely right! Deanna, how about you?" Riker raised an eyebrow in the direction of the Counselor, who was chatting companionably with O'Brien.
"Thanks, but no thanks, Captain. I'd like to catch up on news with Keiko and see Molly again. I'll meet you both later."
"Fine. I'll leave you to it then, Ben," he said turning once more to Sisko. "See you when you come off-duty. Cad.! Walk this way."
Quark was enjoying himself immensely. Tonight was going particularly well. His patrons were very thirsty, so the bar was doing well, and they were losing heavily at the dabo tables, so the bank was fattening up nicely. In fact, it had been a good month all round, he reflected. He beamed at his brother and punched the air with his fist in a gesture of 'things couldn't be better!'.
They could be worse, though, and that moment was just about to happen. The huge smile on the Ferengi bar-keeper's face froze and then slowly started to melt into his slack jaw, as he spied the striking-looking couple just walking into his bar. They were the tallest two people in the room, but it wasn't just the height that made them noticeable. It was the aura of command, of self-assurance and confidence in their abilities that they exuded, which made them stand out in the crowd. Quark didn't recognise the woman, but he remembered the man, and he knew, with a certainty, that his bank's run of luck had just run out.
Riker steered Cadwallader to an empty table and asked for her drink preference.
"Actually, Captain, I'd like to buy the first round. I want to talk to the bar-keep and see if he stocks a certain something I'm rather partial to."
"Alcoholic or syntheholic?" Riker queried.
"Don't worry, sir. You did say I was off-duty now, and I reckon I could drink even you under the table. Are you game enough?"
"Oh no, I might have taken up the challenge once, but not any more. I'll stick with synthehol, thanks, and I suggest you do the same."
"Is that an order, Captain?" his First Officer teased.
"No, Cad., it's not. I've no doubt you know when to stop."
"Well, then, to compromise, just two, and I insist on your joining me for two, sir. Well ...?" she prompted, when she saw he was tempted.
"All right, you win. But only two, and then we're on the soft stuff. Agreed?"
"Agreed." The Commander walked off towards the bar, and Riker watched her go, shaking his head. Ben was right. Tricia was a damned attractive woman, particularly when she shed her Commander image. It sure would be nice to ... He put a brake on those thoughts, reminding himself that they couldn't go back to that pleasant relationship while she was his exec. Pity, she had been one helluva good time.
He turned his attention instead to the card tables to see if he recognised any of the regulars. The patrons there looked unhappy, but determined. Obviously, the tables were going the bank's way. He'd have to see what he could do about that later. And then he saw Leeta, efficiently dealing cards and manipulating chips. Her table was the most popular, and it wasn't difficult to see why. Leeta was Quark's biggest asset, but the Bajoran beauty was blissfully unaware of it. She was as unaffected, honest and genuine, as Quark was insensitive and crooked. Riker wondered if she would remember him.
"Checking out the local talent?" Cadwallader had sat down and placed two drinks in front of him, then turned to follow his gaze.
"Something like that," he grinned.
"I'm as horny as hell too," she admitted, glancing around the room. "See anything for me?"
"What do you like?" Riker asked, entering into the spirit of things.
Cadwallader turned back to him, her face serious. "Big, with the damnedest blue 'come hither' eyes, and shoulders and a chest to die for," she replied without hesitation, her light eyes devouring him, then glanced lower. "As for the area below table level ..."
"Tricia ..." he warned.
"I know, I know, but I can dream, can't I? Now, let me see, who is there?" She resumed her search of the room. "How about that cute Ensign over there?"
Riker looked to where she indicated. "Too inexperienced," he stated.
"You think so? How can you tell?"
"He's watching a dabo girl and he's looking nervous, which means he's decided to rent a holosuite and is wondering how the hell he's going to ask her to share it with him."
Cadwallader looked at him in wonder. "I say, that's clever! But wouldn't that make it easier for me?"
"No, you can do better than that."
"Okay, how about ... that civilian in the corner. He has a certain ... look ... about him."
"Nope, no good. He's obviously a transient trader. You never know what you might pick up from types like that."
"Hmm. That officer leaning on the dabo table ... just watching, not playing? He's kind of cute."
"Unh, unh. That's Doctor Julian Bashir. I would hate to be responsible for letting you loose on him. I wouldn't sleep at night for guilt at what I'd done to him."
"Very well, Captain. You pick one for me, but make it snappy. I've only got nineteen hours left of shore leave, and I intend to use them to the max."
He looked at her, taking in the laughing eyes, well-proportioned features, and ready smile, and was again tempted to throw caution to the winds. He reached behind her head and tugged gently at the tie holding her hair back. The sandy-coloured tresses fell forward, curling lightly around her shoulders and face. He fingered a thick lock, testing its texture, and then moved his hand up to her face, lightly tracing her jawbone to her mouth. A very kissable mouth, he knew from experience. Her mouth parted allowing his thumb access, and then the spell was broken as he realised what he was doing. He drew back.
"How about you forget men for the evening and instead help me break Quark's bank a second time?" he asked gently.
Cadwallader sat back in her chair, and downed her second drink.
"Whatever you say, sir," she replied, accepting the wisdom of his suggestion. "Where do we start?"
Will stood and led the way to Leeta's table. The Bajoran looked up at the new arrivals, affording Tricia a quick glance while Riker was subjected to a lengthy appraisal from the top of his head to the tips of his regulation boots and then back to his face. A small smile broke through the professional mask she wore and then she turned back to the cards.
She remembered, thought Riker.
"Old flame?" whispered Cadwallader.
"We've met before," was all he ventured.
It took Will Riker twenty minutes to turn the luck of the table around, to the delight and appreciation of the patrons sharing it with him. And it took another three minutes before Quark sidled over to interrupt the winning streak.
"Captain Riker, how wonderful to have you here in my humble establishment again," he lied. He moved closer to the officer lounging comfortably at the table and whispered conspiratorially. "I have just incorporated the most erot... er, interesting sequence into one of your favourite holosuite programs. I would be most honoured if you would test it for me."
"No thanks, Quark, I'm doing fine right here." Riker swept more chips onto his pile and nodded again to Leeta.
Quark glanced at Cadwallader leaning over the Captain's shoulder watching the fall of cards. "The program is guaranteed to release even the most imbedded inhibitions in your companion," the barkeeper persisted, turning back to Riker. "And because it's never been run before, I can give you the session at no charge," he offered upon seeing the officer collect from another winning hand.
Riker turned to the Commander. "Have you got any inhibitions you want released, Cad.?"
"I could do," said his exec. "Who's offering?"
"Quark here," Riker replied, ignoring the spluttering protestations coming from the Ferengi.
Cadwallader pretended to size up the barkeeper and consider the proposition. "I don't know, Captain. I've never done a Ferengi before. Are they any good?"
"I've no idea, Cad., and no intention of finding out."
"Please, Captain Riker, Commander ... I was offering the holosuite to the two of you, to pass away your hours of shore leave with experiences you'll never forget!" he ingratiated, becoming desperate now, watching the pile of chips in front of Riker grow steadily larger.
Cadwallader whispered into Riker's ear. "Go on, Captain, put him out of his misery. I could use it even if you won't."
Riker appeared to think about it and then turned to the Ferengi. "Okay, Quark, leave it available, and I might be tempted from the tables soon, if you're lucky. Now leave us alone, or I'll change my mind."
Quark sidled away grumbling. There was nothing more he could do. He couldn't evict Riker from the premises as the man had done nothing wrong. Anyway, one didn't tangle with Will Riker without being prepared for the consequences. And Quark could do without that kind of trouble. Instead he went in search of his brother, Rom, in order to make his night hell -- a pastime guaranteed to assuage some of Quark's anxiety.
Leeta looked at Riker from under her lashes as she dealt his next hand. "I finish my shift in an hour's time, Will," she said softly. "Perhaps you and I ..."
Riker looked up from his cards. "Is this a conspiracy, Leeta? Are you on the payroll to divert winners from the tables?"
"No!" she protested vehemently. "I would never do that. It's true. I'm off-duty soon and I thought we could catch up on a few things." Leeta looked speculatively at Tricia. "Although, if you're with someone ..."
"He is," inserted Cadwallader quickly, pressing herself against Riker's shoulder and running a hand across his back.
"I'm sorry ... excuse me," Leeta murmured, and turned to deal to another patron.
Riker shot a look at Cadwallader, still draped over his shoulder. "What did you do that for? You just spoiled my evening." His eyes glittered with annoyance.
"If I can't have any, you can't ... sir," she added belatedly.
"I got you a holosuite. What more do you want?"
"Someone to put in it. Anyway, I got the distinct impression that dabo girl had just offered to share it with you!" She returned his glare unflinchingly.
Riker turned back to his cards and mumbled something under his breath.
"I'm sorry, sir, I didn't quite catch that!" Tricia challenged.
He turned to look at her again, his eyes softening as his gaze roamed her face and came to rest on her mouth.
"I merely said, if the truth be known, that I'd much rather take you into the holosuite anyway."
"That's all I wanted to hear," she said, beaming at him. Her light eyes watched him warmly and her smile was wide and satisfied. As Riker returned her gaze, he felt floored by a revelation. It was different with Cad.! He had shied away from resuming his relationship with Deanna all those years, because he instinctively knew that it would be the whole ball-game with Troi -- vows of undying love, marriage, family. But Tricia was an adventurer like he was, taking what intimacy she could get, where she could get it, and then moving on if need be.
She must have read his look of enlightenment, because she put a hand to his face, tracing a sculptured brow and feathering her fingers over the beard on his jaw. "You need never feel threatened by me, Will -- our freedom is too important to both of us for that."
Aboard the Duwain, Chanir turned to Boland with a startled shout. "Captain, a Cardassian warship is approaching our port side. Shall we take evasive manoeuvres?"
"No, Chanir, I've been expecting this ship. Open a visual and audio channel to the vessel." The fat Bajoran plastered his most ingratiating smile on his face and turned to the viewscreen. "Gul Jukel. We meet at last. Is everything in order?"
The Cardassian on the viewscreen was typical of most of his race. Mean, uncompromising, suspicious and looking as if he had eaten something particularly sour for lunch. He did not return Boland's smile.
"Do you have the cargo?"
"Yes, Gul Jukel. They are currently in their quarters. When you are within range, I will transport them over in return for our agreed payment."
"Very good. We will contact you again, shortly." The Cardassian cut communications and Boland allowed himself a satisfied smile.
"Captain!" Chanir was horrified. "You're not going to hand over Riker and the Architect to the Cardassians?"
"Chanir! Don't fret, it's just business, like everything else. Only this time the cargo is a humanoid one. And believe me, the rewards will see us set for life. No more hopping the trade circuit anymore. We will live like kings."
"Captain, you can't! Ro is one of us! You can't turn in a Bajoran! And Riker, ... what has he done to deserve this treachery? They are Maquis heroes!"
"With a very rewarding price tag!"
"But Captain ..."
"That's enough! I'm in command here. Monitor the Cardassian and let me know when the ship is in transporter range!"
Chanir held his tongue, but his thoughts went into high gear. He had to warn Riker and Ro somehow. He couldn't let this happen to them, no matter how loyal he was to his Captain. Boland had obviously taken temporary leave of his senses. As for living like kings, they would be lucky to live at all! Cardassians making deals with Bajoran traders? It just didn't happen! The Gul would take his prisoners and then blow their ship to atoms. His only hope was to get a message to another crewmember to warn them. His fingers surreptitiously moved over the controls.
Ro was draped over the top of Tom's body when the knock came at the door. She wasn't asleep but was pleasantly lulled into semi-consciousness. At the first knock however, she was instantly alert.
"Who is it?" she called, rolling to her feet, and prodding Riker at the same time. She then dived into her kit and brought out a disruptor aiming it at the door. She had no concern for her nudity, just their safety. It had all been pure reflex, honed into her conciousness since she was a young child.
"I'm Veron," came the muffled reply through the door. "I have a message for you from Chanir!"
Tom had his trousers on and motioned for Ro to cover herself. When she was ready, he opened the door, and admitted a crewmember he hadn't met.
"Why didn't Chanir bring the message himself?" asked Riker, cautiously. "He was here about an hour ago."
"He's on the bridge," explained Veron, looking extremely nervous. "He couldn't come himself without alerting the Captain." At Riker's and Ro's looks of confusion, the crewman went on to explain. "Boland is handing you two over to the Cardassians. There are some Bajorans who would do anything for profit and some who would do anything for the Maquis. Boland is avaricious enough to sell you out but Chanir and I are loyal to the cause. We have to overpower the Captain and get this ship out of here. There is a Cardassian warship approaching us already, so we don't have much time! Hurry!"
"How can we trust you?" Ro wanted to know.
"How can you not?" returned Veron.
"Come on," said Riker and rushed out the door. Leading the way to the bridge, he realised he was still shirtless. "Ro! Get me a shirt," he yelled over his shoulder.
"Stuff your shirt!" she yelled back. "This is no time to get fashion-conscious!"
Instead of being annoyed by the response, Riker saw the funny side, and burst onto the bridge with a smile on his face and murder in his eyes. He didn't believe in killing people, whatever their race, but he didn't take kindly to being double-crossed. What he saw on the bridge verified Veron's story and confirmed Riker's fears. The viewscreen showed the image of a Cardassian warship and Captain Boland was requesting an audience.
"What the ...!?" spluttered Boland, turning around.
"Sorry Captain, but we'd best sever communication for the moment," stated Riker, firing at the viewscreen and comm. console, exploding them into an impressive shower of sparks and shards. "There is a mutiny going on here, of which you are the centre attraction. Now, would you like to peacefully leave your chair or shall I evict you with a shot from a disruptor on a ... let me see ... yes, it's now on a rather higher setting. Nasty bit of goods, these disruptors ..."
Boland didn't have a chance to make a decision either way. The Cardassian warship had come within weapons range and Gul Jukel had obviously been under orders to retrieve his quarry dead or alive. Deciding to go straight for the 'dead', the Gul ordered his crew to open fire on the transport. All occupants of the Duwain's bridge were hurled from their seats or off their feet as the first hit shook the craft.
Riker rolled as soon as he hit the deck and then scrambled for the pilot's seat. He yelled out for Ro, hoping she was unhurt. "Laren, take weapons! Target that warship, while I get us out of here!" A transport ship couldn't outgun a Cardassian warship, but hopefully, Ro could divert their interest while he attempted to outmanouevre them.
A second shot connected with the transport, but Riker managed to hang on this time, punching the controls as soon as the aftershock subsided and the ship veered just in time to avoid a third volley. By this stage, Ro had managed to lock onto the Cardassian and opened fire, but just as Riker had suspected, it was like shooting peas at a duck. He veered again, anticipating the fourth strike from the warship, but wasn't quite quick enough. Another hit, if not a direct one. The craft shook again and threatened to disobey Tom's instructions at the controls, but then responded gallantly and dipped to avert the next blast. The Cardassians obviously weren't shooting to kill ... yet, and Tom felt if he didn't pull a rabbit out of a hat soon, they were done for.
It never occurred to him that the rabbit might be none other than his duplicate, Will Riker.
In Quark's bar on Deep Space Nine, Captain Will Riker's winning streak was abruptly terminated. His communicator chirped and sent him and his First Officer and the Counselor beaming back aboard the Enterprise-E. Both the Enterprise and the Ops room of DS9 had received a distress call from a Bajoran transport vessel in need of assistance.
In fact, Chanir had sent the SOS after he sent Veron to Tom's cabin. Although not under Cardassian attack at that time, Chanir had anticipated the repercussions of Boland's actions. Obviously his Captain's greed had blinded him to the fact that, historically, Cardassians didn't trust Bajorans and Bajorans should never trust Cardassians. As a result of this predictive thinking on the part of the Duwain's communications officer, the Enterprise-E was dispatched to render aid, that ship being the fastest, if not the closest, vessel.
As the Enterprise warped towards the SOS co-ordinates, Captain Riker addressed his second officer. "What have you got on the Duwain, Data?"
After a miniscule pause, Data reported, "A small Bajoran cargo transport under the captaincy of a trader known as Boland, Captain. There is little information other than the dealings of Captain Boland have come under the scrutiny of the Bajoran Government several times, but no charges have been made nor action taken against him."
"Well, the Cardassians are interested in it for some reason and we're about to find out what it is."
"We are within visual range of the SOS signal co-ordinates, Captain," Data supplied.
"On screen!" Riker ordered.
The viewscreen in front of them burst into life and the crew of the Enterprise were witness to an uncommon sight. A small sleek transport was weaving through space, dodging blasts of firepower from a huge warship, and occasionally, ineffectually, spitting back with phaser-fire of its own. To Riker, it looked all the galaxy like a kitten defending itself against a lion.
Now that's a damned good pilot, thought Riker, as he gave an order to his First Officer. "Open communications with that warship, Cad.!"
Within seconds, her efforts were rewarded by the viewscreen image of a Cardassian, looking even more unpleasant and annoyed than was usual for one of their race.
"Keep out of this!" the Gul glared at Riker, and then did a double-take. "What the ...? What are you doing on that ship, Riker?"
Will's eyes narrowed as he sought to place the Cardassian. The latter knew him, but he was sure they had never encountered one another.
"I'm Captain of this Starfleet vessel," he said. "Explain why you are attacking a civilian transport in Federation space."
"I don't have to explain anything to you! I've been sent to recapture you, Riker, and I won't be returning to Cardassia without you, dead or alive!"
Riker made a slit-throat movement with his hand and Cadwallader immediately cut communications.
"What did you make of that?" he asked his exec.
"I could be wrong, but I'd say that Gul thought you were Tom Riker."
"Well, I myself doubt very much that you are wrong."
"Captain ..." Troi spoke for the first time and all heads turned to her. "Tom is on that transport," she stated quietly.
"I can feel him, Will. I can feel both of you, but I can differentiate between you. Tom is nearby and he is fighting for his life."
"Great! This is going to be fun," laughed the Captain without mirth. "Starfleet has issued standing orders to arrest him if he was ever found, and that Gul wants his hide also. Now we have to fight over him like a dog with a bone. I should just let the Cardassians have him and be done with it."
"Will, you can't!" Troi protested.
"Captain," interrupted Hennessy. "The Cardassian warship has abandoned its fight with the transport an' is heading towards our co-ordinates. They'll be within weapons range in nine minutes."
"There's no prizes for guessing what they want with the Enterprise," he commented wryly.
"I have no need to guess, Captain, much less expect a gift ..." began Data.
"Thank you Data," Riker cut him off automatically.
"We've got one thing in our favour, Captain," Cadwallader supplied. "While they think Tom's on the Bridge here, we can at least get him off that transport undetected."
"Good point, Cad., but he's not going to come willingly. He'll have to know that he's going to be avoiding one prison to be put in another."
"We could transport all life forms and return the others, after we've sorted out the Cardassians," she suggested.
"Unorthodox ... but someone said I was unorthodox," he glanced at his grinning Security Chief. "All right, Cad., we'll do it your way. Hennessy, form a Security contingent based on how many life forms are on that ship, and meet our guests in Cargo Bay Two. Riker to Transporter Chief! Lock onto all life forms on the Bajoran transport ahead of us and beam them directly to Cargo Bay Two. Materialise them once Security personnel are in place."
"Will ... may I?" The Counselor appealed to Riker.
"Okay, Deanna, you can meet them too, but remember, for everything he was to you, he is now a renegade, wanted by Starfleet and Cardassia for crimes he alone instigated."
"I understand, Will, but I need to see him, to know he's alright." Deanna stood and hurried off the Bridge.
Riker turned back to the viewscreen, but felt Cadwallader's eyes on him. He slid a look at her, then returned his attention to the stars ahead of him. "Deanna's never quite gotten over Tom," he explalined quietly. "She's still in love with him, but knows nothing can ever come of it."
Cadwallader shook her head slowly, a smile spreading across her face. "You Riker men are really bad news, you know that?! You take a woman's heart then twist it out of her, and use it for target practice."
He turned to look at her again. "I didn't hear you complaining at Quark's!" he reminded her.
"No, but I've no doubt my turn will come." She glanced down at her console. "We're about to have company, sir. Shields up! Red Alert!" She looked over at him again. "I loooove saying that!" she laughed, and he couldn't prevent himself from joining in.
This is crazy! thought Riker. Here they were almost face to face with an angry Cardassian wanting his blood, albeit his duplicate's, and they were laughing! He wondered if Captain Picard had enjoyed having his Number One at his right hand as much as he was.
"They're hailing us, Captain," Cadwallader reported.
The viewscreen burst to life once more highlighting an angry Gul. "Riker, you can either come with me peacefully, or take the whole ship with you! I don't know how you got out of that transport or why you are sitting in that chair, but Starfleet will not protect you. In fact, Starfleet gave you to us the first time."
"To whom am I speaking?" Riker asked.
"You know very well who I am!" The Cardassian shouted in frustration, leaning forward in his chair. "I was your personal captor for over a year, so stop playing these games and give yourself up!"
"I assure you we have never met. I am Captain William T Riker of the USS Enterprise-E. If you're looking for my duplicate, you have been misinformed. He is not on that transport and he is not on this bridge." No lies there, he thought, as no doubt by now Tom Riker was in Cargo Bay Two with the rest of the Duwain crew. His statement was rewarded by an appreciative smile from his First Officer. "Now, who the devil are you?" Riker put as much force and indignation into the words as possible without actually bellowing.
One of the Gul's officers hurriedly whispered into his Captain's ear and the latter turned back to Riker seemingly less sure of himself now, realising that the Enterprise's Captain could be telling the truth. "I am Gul Jukel of the Aguin. I was summoned here by a Bajoran trader who had captured Tom Riker and was willing to return him and some Bajoran woman he's got in tow. I was assured they were on that transport! Riker is a prisoner of the Cardassian Central Command and you have no right to obstruct my apprehending him!"
A woman in tow? Poor Deanna, thought Will, then fixed a steely eye on the Gul. He sensed the Cardassian was now more confused than aggressive. Obviously, he didn't want to start an incident without even being sure he had his quarry.
Riker decided to follow up his advantage. "I'm afraid you have been duped, Gul Jukel." In more ways than one. "You really should be more careful of the people you deal with. Tom Riker is not on that transport and I have every right to obstruct you from harassing trade ships in this sector! And so I suggest you leave Federation space now, and I shall endeavour to overlook this incursion on your part and ensure your safe passage from this sector."
The Gul glared at Riker for another explosive minute before curling his lip and snarling, "You need not ensure anything! I will return to Cardassia space, but I do not need your protection ... nor want it."
The viewscreen returned to displaying the glorious vista of stars as the Cardassian cut the connection at his end. The warship hung in space for a further two seconds and then was gone.
"And a good day to you too," quipped Riker. "Data, keep monitoring that warship, and make sure it doesn't return. Lavelle, set course for the Duwain. No doubt her Captain will want her back ... after I've had a little word with him." Riker stood and looked at his exec. "Cad. you're with me. Let's go meet our guests."
Tom looked around firstly in confusion and then in consternation. One minute he had been in the pilot's seat flying for his life, and the next he was on his butt in a huge cargo bay. A Starfleet vessel obviously, judging by the uniforms on the Security detail lined up in front of the bay's internal doors, but he didn't recognise the ship's design. Must be one of the later ones, he thought. He made sure he was fairly well briefed on all Federation and Cardassian designs, but this one was new to him. The ship had to be big, though, judging by the size of this bay.
He stood up, then felt a hand on his arm and was relieved to see that Laren was alright.
"You know what this means, don't you?" she asked, softly and sadly.
"Yeah, our raiding days are over, and I'm swapping a Cardassian prison for a Starfleet one." I hope Deanna never hears about this one, he thought, and then was floored by the sight of her as she entered the cargo bay behind the security detail.
Deanna felt his shock and knew it for what it was. The anger he felt at being taken aboard a Starfleet vessel was replaced by shame that it was the one she was serving on, and that she was to see him again as a rebel and a prisoner. Her heart went out to him, and then froze as she noticed Ro's protective hand on his arm. Deanna looked at the Bajoran woman in shock and knew that he was hers now. Once more she had lost a Riker and she wondered if she would ever learn. She turned swiftly and retraced her steps, hearing him shout her name but ignoring him.
Tom moved aside as a medic team brushed past him in order to get to the wounded, one of which was Captain Boland. Fortunately, casualties were light, but the phaser blasts the little ship had absorbed had sent the crew careering into bulkheads and fixtures. Security gradually herded the ones that could still walk into one group and then escorted them out of the bay. Not surprisingly, Tom was given a good many strange looks. It was bad enough that Deanna was on board this ship, but judging by the looks of confused recognition he was getting, Tom realised that Will was still serving with her. He had no doubt he would have to endure the brunt of his duplicate's displeasure as well.
He didn't have long to wait. He had no sooner been separated from Ro and shepherded into a segregated cell in the ship's brig, than he was beckoned by a different Security Officer and escorted from the holding area to rejoin Ro and a female Security Officer at a turbolift. Someone was a stickler for protocol, he observed, as they all entered the turbolift together.
"What are your orders, Lieutenant?" he asked his guard.
The man could have ignored him, but was friendly enough to answer. "The Captain wants you and your woman escorted to the Observation Lounge."
My woman!? mouthed Tom at Ro, and her lips twitched with amusement.
Tom tried for a little more information, considering the success of his first question. "What ship is this?"
"The USS Enterprise-E," the Lieutenant answered with pride. Ahh, thought Tom, he'd heard the Enterprise-D went down, but was surprised a replacement was in service already, and that Will and Deanna had managed to get posted to it. He wondered if Picard was still at the helm. Well, he was going to found out soon enough.
The turbolift came to a halt and after a short walk, Tom and Ro were being escorted into a large, long room dominated by two things -- a huge smoothly polished table and an even larger viewport that ran the length of the whole room. Other than the four of them, it was empty. Tom relaxed as he realised he was in for yet another wait.
Suddenly, the door at the other end of the room slid open, and Tom tensed again as two people strode into the room. Will, he groaned inwardly. Somehow he would have preferred Picard to break first ice, but it was going to be Will instead. He transferred his attention to the woman with him, and was struck by how tall she was, almost as tall as his duplicate. Then his interest honed onto her obvious assets. A striking woman, no doubt about it, and she and Will looked good together. She came to a stop when Will did, standing at his right hand, deferential, but not overly so, and Tom just caught the flicker of her eyes as they travelled over him, Tom, making him aware that he was still shirtless. Funny how she managed to do that. There was something here he couldn't put a finger on.
Will, for his part, was just as interested in Tom's companion. Ro Laren. He should have known, but he hadn't made the connection. She hadn't changed much, in appearance anyway, although she was even more wary of him now. That was understandable. She was deep in trouble now. Her chin went higher as she became aware of his scrutiny, but she held her tongue. That wasn't like the Ro he remembered.
"Hello 'brother'." Tom was the first to break the silence. "I'm sorry we had to meet again under such circumstances, but I've been kind of busy since you saw me last. Where's the Captain? I thought we were meeting him."
Will looked at the guards standing behind the prisoners and indicated that they could leave. "Wait just outside," he added, then directed his attention back to Tom. "I am the Captain. Take a seat."
Tom's eyes flew to the four pips on Will's collar. He should have noticed earlier but he hadn't. His powers of observation were slipping. It might have something to do with the attractive amazon standing next to his duplicate.
"Congratulations! You finally said yes, eh? And an Enterprise too, no less! Well done. As for sitting down, I would like a shirt first. My own kind of got left behind. I feel ... vulnerable ... somehow. It would really be appreciated."
Will inclined his head to his right. "Cad. ..." The amazon looked Tom up and down again, assessing him, and once more Tom felt the almost physical brush of her eyes. "A half a size smaller than you, I'd say, Captain," she observed, and quietly left the room.
"Who was that?" Tom asked, a slow smile spreading across his face, as he realised what it was that he couldn't before put his finger on.
"My First Officer."
"Not bad! You could have her if you wanted, Will-boy, or ... have you done the deed already?"
Will Riker mirrored his duplicate's sarcastic smile. "You'll never know. Now, sit down. You too, Ro." They both took the nearest seats to where they stood, which effectively put the entire length of the table between them and Captain Riker. Ro took the chair at the very end, while Tom settled himself into one immediately on her left.
Cadwallader re-entered the room with a nondescript tan shirt slung over her arm. She walked up to Tom and held it out. Tom rose slowly, but didn't immediately take the shirt from her, holding her strangely light eyes with his blue ones. He gave her one of his best smiles in thanks, and was rewarded with a quirk of an eyebrow and a small smile, and then she rolled her eyes in the direction of Will. That clinched it for him. He knew then she was definitely smitten with her Captain. Tricky, tricky, thought Tom. Poor Will, he was going to have his hands full with his exec. in more ways than one. She then walked back to her CO and waited for him to take a seat, once again taking up a position on his right, close and united.
"Did you see Deanna?" Will asked. "She went to meet you."
Tom donned the shirt which, he was amused to discover, fitted him perfectly and then sat down again. "Yes, I saw her, but she didn't hang around long. Obviously, she didn't know Laren was with me."
"Obviously." Will addressed his next comment to the Bajoran. "You've had nothing to say yet, Ro. This isn't an interrogation. I merely want to find out what you and my ... er, twin have been up to. How did you two meet?"
"I busted Tom out of the Cardassian labour camp where he was incarcerated. We've been together ever since," she replied curtly. True, she hadn't said much in the time she had been in the room, but she hadn't taken her eyes off Will. Even though she and Tom were lovers, or perhaps because of, she still felt the pull of the man at the other end of the table. Despite their being duplicates, they were noticably different too. Will was bigger, no doubt due to the fact that Starfleet Officers were fed better than Maquis rebels, but it was something more intangible than that. Authority, contentment with the way his life was progressing, security in his career -- all qualities Tom couldn't have because of the decisions he had made after being discovered on Nervala IV. It wasn't fair that Will had so much, and Tom so little. She wished she could do something about it for Tom, give him so much more than she had to offer, but instead, it was all over for them now, and she fumed at her impotence.
"By the way," Will wanted to know, "who was piloting the Duwain when we arrived? He was one helluva pilot. I wouldn't mind him at my helm." He looked pointedly at Ro, reminding her of the days when she held that position on the Enterprise-D, and making her aware of all that she had given up.
"I was," volunteered Tom. "Care to give me a job?"
"I'm sorry, Tom. You've effectively burned your ships, so to speak, with Starfleet. There's no point my even asking you why you did it. I can't imagine ever taking the steps you have, but then I wasn't the one left behind on Nervala IV for eight years." He sighed deeply, then leaned forward, resting his arms on the table before him. Cadwallader unconsciously moved her position to him, maintaining the presentation of a united front. Tom wondered if either of them were even aware of how attentive she was. Probably not.
"But I do want to know what was happening when we showed up," Will prompted.
"The Captain of the Duwain was selling us out to the Cardassians. By the way, where is Boland? I've got a score to settle with him."
"He's being treated in sickbay, but don't get any ideas. I've yet to have a few words with him myself, and then he'll be returned to his ship. Now, continue."
"We had just changed ship, through necessity, and, well, it's always a risk when you have to leave people you trust, and take up with ones you don't know. This time our luck ran out."
Will nodded understandingly. "Unfortunately, you realise you are my prisoner and that I have to escort you to the Starfleet authorities. Until that time, you'll be returned to the Brig," he added, almost apologetically.
"Will!" Ro spoke up again, desperately. "Please don't separate us. I ... need him." It cost her a lot to admit that to someone else.
Will looked at her curiously. "Ro, you've never needed anybody. Even when we ..." he broke off, realising it probably wasn't wise to go down that road.
"I know how I come across, Will, but this is different. Tom is different."
"Ro, you will eventually be separated for good." He felt brutal even saying it, but she had to be aware of the facts. "You'd only be delaying the inevitable."
"I know that, but you've got to let us have this time together!" she tried again desperately. "Please ..." she appealed once more.
Will felt Cad. stir beside him, but ignored her. He knew it wasn't wise to let them stay together, but hell, he wasn't inhuman. He had never heard Ro Laren beg for anything before, and he couldn't deny a last request.
"Very well, but you will be required further for interrogation -- both of you. That's standard procedure. And I expect your full co-operation in return for my leniency. Is that clear?" Captain Riker cautioned.
"Understood ..." Ro almost added the 'sir', slipping back into the days when he was her Commander and she was the Ensign who continually stuck in his craw.
"Riker to Hennessy!"
"Hennessy 'ere, sir."
"Send your men back in, Commander. We're finished here."
"Very good, sir."
"And Hennessy ... they are to be assigned and escorted to quarters, but kept under twenty-four hour guard. Is that understood?"
"Understood. Anythin' else, sir?"
Will looked speculatively at Ro's still-vulnerable expression. "Yes, Commander, make it 'married' quarters."
"Consider it done. Hennessy out."
Within seconds, the guards re-entered the room and escorted Tom and Ro out. Cadwallader watched her Captain finger his beard and moustache in silent contemplation.
"You and Ro ...?" she questioned.
He didn't pretend to not know what she meant. "Yes, what of it?"
"Nothing, except ... has there been any woman you haven't ...?"
"Leave it, Cad." he warned.
"Consider it left, sir. Just curious, that's all."
Riker looked at her then and shook his head and smiled. "I've heard of 'curiosity killed the cat' but not 'the cad.,'" he joked.
"I'm a damn good First Officer, Captain, but I'm a woman too, in case you hadn't noticed."
"I noticed," he said, his voice a low rumble.
"Could've fooled me."
He laughed easily, still amazed at how comfortable it was being with her, and how smoothly they worked together. He had to admit though, it was due in no small part to her, just as Deanna had predicted.
Deanna .... There was his next headache. He wondered what had happened to her. Wherever she was, he had a good idea that she was hurting.
"You have the Bridge, Cad. I need to go find someone."
They both left the Observation Lounge together, but split to go in different directions.
"Come in, Will," Deanna called, after he had sounded the chime outside her door. No need to ask how she knew it was he.
"Deanna," he began as soon as the door closed behind him. "I'm so sorry."
"I know, Will," she sighed, realising he knew about Tom and Ro already. "I'm all right, really. After all, I'm the one that turned him down the last time we were together. It was just a shock for me, seeing them together like that."
He came to her and put his arms around her, enveloping her in the warm haven of his arms. Resting his chin on the top of her head, he held her without speaking.
She drew strength from his comfort but eventually pulled out of his arms and went to sit down on the couch and patted the space beside her, inviting him to join her. She watched him settle his bulk into the seat and smiled wistfully.
"You're getting along well with Tricia, aren't you?"
"I ... well, .. she's ..."
"It's okay, Will, you don't have to confirm or deny it. I know. You're very comfortable with her. Much more than you were ever with me."
"You're my best friend, Deanna, nothing will ever change that."
"I know, and nothing will ever change the fact that we are imzadi. But I realise now that our 'special bond' threatened you and your freedom, and you were always a little nervous of it. With Tricia, you needn't be, and so you feel able to explore your feelings for her as well as work with her. It's alright that you do, Will, ... rahbeem."
"'I understand' ... it's a Betazoid word, isn't it?" She nodded, and he drew her to him again, nestling her into the crook of his arm while he lay back in the cushions. "You deserve more happiness that you're finding on board the Enterprise, Deanna."
"Nonsense, Will. I'm very happy here with my friends and the people who need me. One day I'll find someone, but if I don't, my life has been very enriched for knowing all of you."
They sat in companionable silence for several minutes, before he stirred, murmuring, "Will you be able to help with the interrogations?"
"Are they necessary, Will?" she asked, concerned.
"Yes, Deanna. We don't have Major Kira on board as planned, but we do have two very influential Maquis members instead. I'd say, as far as the mission goes, we have had a very large piece of good luck fall our way."
"They would never sell out their friends, Will. We would be wasting our time."
"I'm not so sure. You weren't in the Observation Lounge earlier. Ro's different somehow. Being with Tom has changed her. She might strike a deal just to stay with him. She literally pleaded with me to allow them to be together while on board, and I would have guessed that Ro Laren has never pleaded for anything before in her life."
"Hmmm. That certainly is out of character. How would you handle the interrogation?"
"I'll separate them, obviously. And I think you would have some sway with Tom, so you could conduct his with the aid of Cadwallader. I'll tackle Ro."
"Yes, it's not protocol, but I don't think any other angle would work with her. She's very wary, and she owes me one, now."
"You couldn't bring charges against her for anything she said without a witness."
"I know that, but hell, Deanna, I don't want to punish them, either of them. Tom, for obvious reasons, and Ro ... well, she's had a hard life. She's been paying for the fact that she was born a Bajoran, all her life. I don't necessarily want to prolong that. My orders are to find Maquis bases, expose their operations and thus defuse their effectiveness. I don't have to take prisoners, except to obtain information from them."
Deanna nodded in understanding. "Very well. I'll talk to Tom, but why do I need Tricia? Wouldn't the same argument apply for me and Tom, as you and Ro?"
Will gave her an indulgent look. "I'm sorry, but I don't trust him with you alone."
"He wouldn't hurt me, Will! That's crazy to even suggest it!"
"That's not what I meant."
"You mean, he would try to make a pass at me! That's just as ludicrous! He wouldn't use sex as a weapon against me either."
"I'm not so sure, Deanna. He still loves you, possibly is still in love with you. He's probably realised that there could be never a future with you, but that mightn't stop him from trying."
"It wouldn't work anyway."
"No! I would be unaffected by anything he did and he'd give up," she stated confidently.
"Care to put that to the test?" he challenged.
"What do you mean?"
"See if you can remain ... 'unaffected'."
"You mean, now?"
"With you?" She turned to face him.
"Will, I don't really think that would be a good idea."
"Not game enough?" he teased, grinning wickedly.
She eyed him with considerable misgiving. To back out would be to concede to him that she could not be objective in her dealings with Tom as her rank and status demanded, but to indulge Will in this 'test' was also strictly unprofessional. Nevertheless, curiosity was a powerful force ...
"I ... Well, I guess so, but I don't see ..."
Her words died on her lips as she watched his head slowly descend towards her. His mouth touched hers tentatively, then increased pressure, released and pressed again. Will had kissed her many times whilst they were serving together. Kisses in warm friendship and genuine affection. On occasion, those kisses had turned into something more, deeper and more urgent, until he had realised what was happening and had pulled back. He had never, deliberately, tried to ignite a response in her, but, looking into his eyes now and seeing the devilment there, she realised she was definitely going to be 'tried' this time. Very well, let him do his best and see how far he gets!
When she didn't pull back, Will grew more confident and his mouth became more mobile, exploring her face and tasting her skin, leaving a warm moist trail back to her mouth again. His tongue traced her lips twice before asking entry against her teeth. Deanna felt a small measure of satisfaction as she denied him that victory.
It didn't last long. While she was concentrating on his mouth, she hadn't been paying attention to his hands. They were resting lightly on her shoulders at the start of the kiss, but when she denied him access, he ran his hands down her arms, his thumbs extended so that when they were in line with her breasts, they firmly brushed her nipples, lingered and then moved off tracing the fullness as they went.
The unexpectedness of the caress and the sensation it evoked made Deanna gasp involuntarily, giving him the entry he wanted. He went in, deepening the kiss, his tongue mating with hers, tasting her sweetness within, and offering his.
Gods, he was good at this, Deanna thought, and before she knew it, she was holding his head in her hands, running her fingers through his hair, and taking as much from him as she was involuntarily giving.
When he finally lifted his head, she shut her eyes against the undiluted victory of his wide grin. "All right, you win," Deanna panted softly, "I'll take Cadwallader, and I'll give her orders to shoot if Tom so much as touches me."
"Good girl. Now get some rest. I'm scheduling those interrogations bright and early tomorrow morning, and I want you alert. Good night." He stood and headed towards the door, but her voice arrested him before he could leave.
"That was dirty pool just then, you know."
"I know, but it was necessary in that it proved my point."
"Says you. Good night, Will."
Damn, damn, damn, thought Deanna, as she watched him leave. What was wrong with her? Was she so starved for intimacy that she couldn't even keep up the well-constructed barriers she had intentionally built to protect her long-repressed feelings for Will? She had thought she had a handle on the situation before Tom was rescued from Nervala IV. Then one night in Ten-Forward was all it took for him to bring them crashing down, and now a calculated manoeuvre by Will had weakened her defences yet again. She forced her hands to uncurl from the fists she had made, and then began to breathe slowly and deeply, finding her centre of control once more, thinking that two Rikers in the Galaxy was way too much trouble for her peace of mind.
Deanna's door closed behind him and Riker strode down the corridor of the crew's quarters towards the turbolift. "Riker to Cadwallader!"
"Cadwallader here, sir," was the immediate reply.
"Meet me in sickbay, Cad., on the double."
"Aye, sir, I'm on my way."
Aboard the Aguin, Gul Jukel was not a happy Cardassian. He had had too many unfavourable dealings with Terrans and Bajorans and the last encounter had put him in an extremely bad mood. The whole incident reflected badly on him and he felt he needed to redeem himself in some way, rather than return to Cardassia Prime empty-handed. He frowned at his helm officer and barked an order. "Continue this heading until we move out of the Federation ship's sensor range and then come to a stop. What is the Enterprise doing with the Duwain?"
"They have locked their tractor beam on it and have enclosed it in their force-field, Gul Jukel."
The Gul sat in his chair and watched the viewscreen in front of him. No Cardassian had a high opinion of a Terran and had an even lower one of a Bajoran. The position of personal gaoler carried with it a certain status on Cardassia, and the more prisoners granted to a gaoler, the more glory was attached. But there was little status in being assigned a human or a Bajoran. As far as prisoners went, both were at the lower end of the scale of importance and Gul Jukel had been more than a little displeased when he was put in charge of Thomas Riker.
Riker had been spared the death sentence, but no one had been specific on how he was to be treated and so Gul Jukel had had free rein with a prisoner he could only consider a nuisance factor and an impediment in his career.
As a result, Jukel had treated Riker little better than an animal that he had to remember to feed every now and then. Others had seen to the prisoners' hygienic needs which was fortunate as Jukel could not stomach the smell of humans and preferred to keep his distance. But he would walk him around the compound when the mood took him, torture him for amusement or simply starve him when the Gul became annoyed for any reason. All of this had been in direct violation of the Seldonis IV Convention, but no one ever bothered to monitor political prisoners on Lazon and so Jukel had pleased himself. The endurance of the man Riker had been impressive. There were days when the Gul was certain that he kept going by will-power alone and even the torturings had provided little entertainment due to Riker's indifference, and so eventually he had left him alone, giving him the mandatory check-up, but otherwise, taking no interest in him. Gul Jukel would have described his tenure of personal gaoler to the human as being just short of boring.
All that changed when the Maquis came and levelled the labour camp on Lazon. The Gul had lost his captive and his status and was banished to the ceaseless meandering of the sector with orders to retrieve his prisoner. As far as Jukel was concerned, there were far more comforts for a Cardassian on Lazon II than could be found on the Aguin.
And now he had been somehow bested by a fat Bajoran and sneered at by another Riker. Well, it was more than any self-respecting Cardassian should tolerate, and Gul Jukel was less tolerant than most. He couldn't take on the Enterprise -- that would be suicide -- but he would have Boland's head on a spit if nothing else. He only had to wait.
Captain Boland looked nervously at the two Officers standing between him and the door of the Doctor's private office in Sickbay. He had been brought here by a nurse after a doctor had pronounced him fit to return to his crew in the Brig. What he assumed would merely be a formality didn't look very promising. The two Starfleet Officers were a lot taller than he was, and although one was a woman, she looked like she could still beat him to a pulp if she wanted to. The other ... well, the other had murder in his eyes. Of that he was sure. He had seen it before, and he was not surprised to see it again, this time in the eyes of the twin brother of the man he had tried to sell out.
Boland licked his lips nervously, looking in vain for an avenue of escape.
Tom Riker's brother advanced towards him, sensing the Bajoran's desire for flight and grabbed him by his shirt slamming him high against the wall bringing him up to eye-level. It would have been no mean feat, Boland knew, as the Bajoran was carrying far too much weight for his own good health, but this Riker held him up there easily, thrusting his face into Boland's and snarling his next words.
"Have you any idea how many unpleasant things I could do to you and still make it look like an accident?"
Boland gulped, his eyes popping out in fear, but found he couldn't get past the constriction in his throat.
"... How many things I would like to do to you and don't give a damn whether it looked like an accident?" Riker added.
Boland nodded his head rapidly. He couldn't speak -- his vocal chords were being throttled by his twisted shirt front.
"Do you have any idea what I will do to you if I find you anywhere near my face again?" Will continued, only to be responded with more fervent head-nodding.
Boland's eyes darted towards Cadwallader, still standing at the door, realising that there was a witness to these very non-Starfleet-like threats.
"She's not going to save your hide, Boland," supplied Riker, following the trader's line of thought. "She's with me ... all the way. There's not a damn thing I could do in front of her that I couldn't trust her with."
To make a show of proving Riker's point, Cadwallader moved forward and put an arm to the Captain, intimately tracing his jaw with the tips of her fingers, then down his neck to his shoulder.
"In fact," Riker continued, "she'd probably like to finish the job for me."
Boland closed his eyes in acknowledgment of his impotence.
Riker let the Bajoran go once he noticed the latter's skin colour starting to change from red to bluish purple. "I would hazard a guess your trading days are over in this sector, Boland. I suggest you try your luck in another quadrant in the future, but if you decide to rat on anyone else, make sure they don't have a brother." Riker stood aside, Cadwallader following suit, and the Bajoran scampered out of the CMO's office at warp speed to be intercepted by two security personnel.
Beverly glided in immediately, a suspicious frown on her face and eyed the two before her.
"What was all that about, Captain?" she queried.
"Nothing you need know about, Doctor," returned Riker, "... eh, Cad.?"
"No, Captain, nothing at all!" The two conspirators filed out of Dr Crusher's office, smiling widely, leaving Beverly to marvel at the extraordinary rapport between the pair, struck anew by their solidarity and oneness.
She was still caught up in her musings when her Chief Nurse popped her head into her office a few moments later to inform the Doctor she was going off-duty.
"Very well, we've just about cleared the beds now, haven't we?" At her nurse's nod, Beverly continued. "Alyssa? Did you see the Captain and Commander in my office earlier?"
"Yes, Doctor. The Captain requested I send Captain Boland to him as soon as Doctor Tate had cleared him. Is there a problem?"
"No, no problem. But when I came in, they were on their way out, and they looked like two pigs in mud caught with the slop on their faces and extremely unrepentant about it."
Alyssa smiled. "Well, they do enjoy their work, and I've a feeling we won't see Boland around this sector anymore."
"You mean they were threatening the Bajoran?" asked Beverly incredulously. "Jean Luc would never have handled it like that."
"Captain Riker is not Captain Picard, Doctor, but that doesn't mean he won't be as good or that his methods won't be as effective."
"I guess not." Beverly sighed and Alyssa understood how much Beverly was missing her former Captain.
"Would you like me to stay, Doctor?"
"No thanks, Alyssa, I'll be going off-duty myself soon. See you tomorrow."
Beverly lost track of time as she remained in her office seated at the desk, staring unseeingly into its computer terminal. She remembered serving under a different Captain that she held great admiration for, who in his quiet and inimitable way, had led them and protected them through nearly a decade of adventures, both fascinating and dangerous. They had always come through intact, enriched by the confident and unprepossessing command style of one of Stafleet's greatest Captains. And what was his reward? The loss of the Command of a ship bearing the name he had made as famous as the legendary James T Kirk, and subjected to Beverly knew not what, in the confines of Starfleet Headquarters.
Despite Dr Marsden's assurances that all was well and it was only a matter of time, Starfleet Headquarters seemed in no hurry to release Captain Picard to active duty. Jean Luc remained based in the quarters assigned to him in San Francisco with little to occupy himself. He checked communications as often as he could, hoping to glean some information about the current status of the Enterprise and what she was doing, but there was little news, save that she had been called away from DS9 answering a distress signal.
His only contacts with Starfleet personnel were an occasional visit from Admiral Nechayev, polite nods of acknowledgement from officers in the HQ mess, and of course, Theresa Marsden. The Admiral was placating and ambiguous, promising his release but not being specific as regards the when. Her falsely conciliatory attitude was beginning to wear thin, and Jean Luc became increasingly frustrated with the inactivity of his existence. It was left to Theresa to smooth his temper, something at which she was becoming very accomplished.
Two weeks had passed since he had arrived in San Francisco and he felt he was no closer to receiving his new command. He spent every evening with Theresa, staying in his rooms listening to music and talking, or walking the city streets and talking. She had never repeated her proposition, and he realised she was leaving the invitation open, but would not verbalise it again. It was up to him to make the next move.
For some reason he could not define, he would not make it. She appeared to accept his reticence, but in unguarded moments, he sensed her impatience as if she were wasting time or running out of it.
His unease grew.
The chime at the Ready Room door sounded once. Captain Riker was lounging against the room's couch, recapping on the day's activities and discoveries in his log. It was late in the Enterprise-day and officially, he was off-duty, but he was still in uniform.
"Come in." He immediately responded to the chime and Commander Cadwallader entered the room. Riker looked up, surprise showing clearly on his face. They had only left the Bridge some thirty minutes ago, with Data in charge of the Night Shift. Cadwallader should be off-duty and resting in preparation for the interrogations tomorrow. He told her as much.
"I realise that, sir, but I wanted to clarify a few things."
"Take a seat," he replied, making room for her. "How can I be of help?"
"What will your angle be in these interrogations, sir?" she asked without preamble as she settled beside him.
"What makes you think I've got an angle?" he asked suspiciously, leaning forward.
"Well, I realise you couldn't say anything to me officially, Captain, but I figured, unofficially, you would like a little ... leniency. Now would be a good time to clarify this ... off the record."
Riker sat back and gave her a good hard long look. He wondered if she had been taking lessons from Deanna in reading him. Being an open book to two women on board this ship was a little unnerving.
"What makes you think I want to be lenient with them?"
"Setting up two wanted criminals in married crew quarters could hardly be considered 'the hard line', sir."
Riker laughed. "You've got something there, Cad. Okay. I do have an angle and Starfleet isn't going to like it."
"So, what Starfleet doesn't know won't hurt?"
"No, it's not that simple. Starfleet will be apprised of my actions, my somewhat ... unorthodox, as Hennessy put it, ... actions, a little late. I want to cut a deal with them, and if I get my Maquis bases locations and they somehow disappear from the Enterprise and this quadrant, then I'll consider the ends as justifying the means."
"Starfleet won't agree with you."
"No, they won't, but they have to expect the unexpected with two Rikers loose in the Universe. I received the distinct impression you weren't happy about my not separating them earlier."
"Well ..." She sat back also and held up her left hand ticking off the fingers with her right hand as she continued. "One, it is against Starfleet regulations; two, it is very unwise not to keep a successful rebel team apart; three, a Captain should be hard-headed, not romantically inclined enough to be swayed by a woman's pleas; four, considering Tom was you or you were Tom or ..."
"Okay, okay, I get the general picture. But I thank you for not taking me to task about it. As my First Officer, you could have brought all of this to my attention earlier, at least in the hope of making me see the error of my ways."
"Well, I have now, and it probably won't change your mind. ... Am I right?" She nodded at his wide smile. "I thought not. So that's it then, we deal. Is Deanna going to be alright?"
"I think so, but I don't want her alone with Tom. She's too vulnerable where he's concerned."
"And I won't be?"
"You shouldn't be ... come on, Cad., surely you're not suggesting he could influence you?"
"Why not? If I can't have you, I might be tempted to try for him."
Startled, Riker looked at her, and then realised she had dropped out of her Commander-mode and had become the Tricia with whom he had had many pleasant evenings aboard the Enterprise-D. She was looking at him now through her eyelashes, the pink tip of her tongue just showing through her teeth, and the dimples in her cheeks very prominent.
Leaning forward, he reached out with an arm and pulled the tie from her hair, took a handful of it, and gently brought her face to his. "Who says you can't have me?" he murmured softly, threading his fingers through the rest of her hair and spreading it around her face.
"I wish!" She pulled back, slapping his thigh next to hers. "Stop teasing me. Alright, if Deanna and I are playing chaperone with Tom, who's with you and Ro?"
"I can handle Ro."
"That's what I'm afraid of. No, seriously, sir, it's Starfleet regulation to have a witness as well as a verbal record of an interrogation."
"I know, but at this stage, this is the way I'm playing it. Anything else?"
So, she'd been dismissed. "I guess not, ... er, I mean, no, sir. Good night, Captain."
She rose to leave, pulling her hair back and held out her hand for the hair-tie he was still holding as he stood also. He extended his hand, but instead of giving her the tie she sought, he placed his hand lightly on her back drawing her to him. She came willingly and allowed him to press her length against his. Bending his head slightly, he paused, but seeing the invitation there, he completed the motion, his mouth closing over hers and driving deep. She entwined her arms around his neck and clung to him, returning his moist invasion with a hungry, fierce response that surprised even her. When he finally raised his head, she reluctantly released her grip and stepped back, conceding his lead.
Riker handed back the tie, then traced her jawbone and lips with his thumb and forefinger, his eyes serious and glittering. He saw the naked desire on her face, but wasn't yet ready to acknowledge it.
"Good night, Cad."
"Sir." Tricia took a deep breath, and turned, heading for the door, slipping the tie in her hair just before it opened. She suddenly stopped and faced him once more, moving forward so the door could shut again.
"What exactly is your relationship with Counselor Troi?"
He held her gaze for a heartbeat, carefully choosing his words. "Our relationship almost defies explanation, Tricia. I don't think I could explain it to myself, let alone someone else."
"I understand ... well, I don't really, but I hear what you're saying. Good night, sir."
The door closed behind her, and Riker settled back onto the couch, but it was a long time before he activated his log again.
The next day, Tom Riker sat back in a chair in the Observation Lounge and idly traced circles on the glossily smooth table with his finger. Two guards flanked him, at attention, motionless, a standard precaution, unnecessary though it was. He wasn't going anywhere. He'd played his last card and now it was time to pay his dues.
He came alert as the door opened to admit Commanders Cadwallader and Troi. Tom felt the anger rise in him at Will's involving Deanna. The amazon he expected, but Will should have spared their imzadi this. True, her abilities as an empath would prove invaluable in an interrogation, but considering their prior relationship, his duplicate should have realised it would be hurtful for her.
And if Cadwallader were here with him, that meant Will was with Ro. He didn't like that situation either. Tom had no idea how far Will would go to get what he wanted. If it were him ... Tom became even more concerned.
He watched Deanna keenly as she settled herself in a seat at the table opposite him, his eyes slightly narrowed, trying to gauge her reaction to his being here like this. Deanna, sensing some of what Tom was feeling, returned his gaze calmly and not unkindly.
"I wanted to do this, Tom."
"You're not going to like some of the answers, Deanna."
"There were never secrets between us before."
He gave her a hard look and turned his attention to the other woman, who had sat on Troi's left.
"Commander Cadwallader. You're looking fresh this morning. How did you leave my dear 'brother'?"
"Same as always," she replied non-committally.
"How do you do it, Commander?" he asked curiously. "Remain so professional around him, when all you really want ...?"
"I'll be asking the questions around here, Riker," she interrupted. "Computer, record stardate and time as the beginning of interrogation of Thomas Riker. Append Starfleet record and all special files." She looked directly at him and began. "State your name for the record."
"William Thomas Riker ... the second," he quipped.
"Tom ..." appealed Deanna.
He looked at her and smiled. "Okay, Deanna, I'll behave. What do you ladies want to know?"
"How long have you been involved with the Maquis?" asked Cadwallader.
"Since leaving the Ghandi some months after being found on Nervala IV."
"How did you escape Lazon II?"
"The Maquis organised a raid on the camp."
"Who led the raid?"
Tom smiled. "What is the relevance of all of this?"
"Just answer the question."
"Ro Laren busted me out." He hoped she wouldn't notice the ambiguity of his answer. She didn't.
"And you've been with her ever since?"
Tom watched Deanna's face as he answered, almost apologetically. "Yes."
"Who is Gul Jukel?"
"Someone Iíd rather forget."
"That is not an acceptable answer."
Tom sighed heavily. "He was my personal gaoler on Lazon II and an animal. What of him?"
"He is now the Captain of the Aguin, the vessel which was attacking you when we arrived."
"If I had known that ..." Tom gritted.
"It wouldnít have made any difference. You were outgunned when we arrived. A moment longer and you would have been space dust."
"You want me to be grateful?" he asked derisively.
She ignored him, changing the subject. "How many Cardassian bases have you hit since?"
"Too many to count."
Cadwallader paused, but let it pass. "What is your next assignment?"
"Believe it or not, we don't have one ... yet. We were going to settle into the Duwain first, get to know the crew and the ship's capabilities, before our next hit. It wasn't to be."
"What is the location of the base out of which you were working?"
"We never worked out of a base. It was always via ship."
"You must have docked for supplies."
"Nope, they were always loaded off another ship en route."
Cadwallader leaned forward and fixed Tom with a piercing stare. "You must know the locations of some, if not a lot, of the bases. I need you to tell me where they are."
Tom leaned forward and met her half-way. "I'd say what you need, Commander, only the Captain could give you."
"Tom ..." warned Deanna again.
"I know. I promised to behave." He leaned back again. "Very well, tell me why you would suppose I would want to hand over the Maquis to the Federation? To make Will look good? For old times sake, Deanna?" He was intentionally taunting now, allowing his frustrations to show.
"I know you don't mean to be cruel, Tom," Deanna said quietly. "And I'm distressed at how you've changed since I saw you last on the Enterprise-D. What happened to make you like this?"
"What happened?" He gave her a startled look. "What makes you think anything has happened? Maybe I'm just tired of being compared to Will all the time and coming up short in people's eyes."
"But you were going to restart your career on the Ghandi. Why did you leave the ship and turn your back on Starfleet?"
"Have you any idea what it was like, Deanna?" he asked, leaning across the table once more. "I was considered an oddity ... a freak. I was Will Riker, but I wasn't. The Ghandi's Captain kept pushing me to see if I was Commander material, the men in the crew watched me as if I were a threat to their positions, and the women ..." he laughed contemptuously, "... the women were curious to discover if I were the stud Will's supposed to be. How did he get a reputation like that anyway?"
"Exaggerated ..." said Deanna.
"Earned ..." said Cadwallader, simultaneously, and both women glanced at each other, surprised and a little embarassed.
"How did you get involved with the Maquis?" Tricia changed the subject, turning to Tom again, ignoring the huge grin on his face. "Did they contact you somehow?"
Tom leaned back in his chair and rubbed his bearded chin. "There was a lot of talk in the lower decks about the Maquis. Being out of touch for so long, I listened to everything and asked a lot of questions. I studied Starfleet reports on the Romulans, the Klingons, the Cardassians, the result of which, I learned of the plight of Bajor. I felt, along with a few of the other crewmembers, that the Bajoran problem wasn't being addressed fairly. There appeared to be a few blind eyes turned in regards to the Cardassians, especially in their not being taken to task for the atrocities they committed against the Bajorans."
"There were Maquis supporters on the Ghandi?" Cadwallader asked incredulously.
"No, not supporters exactly ... sympathisers, maybe, but nothing you can get your teeth into, Commander. No one knew any names or contacts or anything like that. There were just some that agreed with the Maquis principles, if not their actions. I became one of them, only I was prepared to do something about it. At each port of call, I would talk to as many locals and transients as I could, sending out feelers. It eventually paid off. I was finally contacted on Seronius IV and the Ghandi left without me."
"Who was the agent there?" asked Cadwallader.
"Don't get excited, Commander. Starfleet's already got her. Kalita was with me on the Defiant."
"Go on," prompted Deanna, aware that she was personally interested to know more.
"There was a certain amount of training involved, but I didn't have a lot to do. They were very wary of me and watched me closely, so I spent my time with my ear to the ground and read every communications report they were able to intercept and I started to notice certain things happening between Cardassia Prime and the Orius system -- communiqués, transport movements. It looked like there was something going on there that shouldn't have been. Something the Cardassians wanted to keep very quiet."
"And so you devised the raid on Orius III."
"Yeah, but thanks to Ben Sisko, I never made it there. I ended up in a Cardassian prison instead."
"Thanks to you, the Obsidian Order's illegal rearmament has been disbanded and so has the Order," explained Cadwallader, quietly. "I would say you were highly successful, but why didn't you just report your findings to Starfleet?"
"Are you kidding? I couldn't prove anything without revealing Maquis sources and operations and I went AWOL, remember?! The first thing they would do would imprison and interrogate me, just as you have, Commander. Even if they had believed me and investigated, I'd still be rotting in a Starfleet prison. At least, my way, I had a chance to get away. It just didn't work out, that's all."
"And after you were rescued from Lazon II? What then?"
"My luck changed in the form of Ro Laren. I've gone from strength to strength with her. Everything we've done together has been clean and quick and successful. Cardassia is hurting because of us. They don't know where to turn or who to trust. Their most secret strategic developments get canned almost before they're completed." Tom couldn't quite keep the pride out of his voice.
"Where are you getting this information? Have you a source on Cardassia Prime?"
"No, like I told you earlier, I keep my ear to the ground and I study communiqués. I use my grey matter," he said, tapping the side of his head, "and I deduce what they're up to, just by studying personnel movements, supply shipments and so on. It frequently pays off."
Cadwallader sat back in her chair. "All of this is very enlightening, Riker, but it's nothing I can, as you so aptly put it, 'get my teeth into'. The Enterprise's orders are to discover and neutralise Maquis bases. We were going to use a cold lead, that is, Major Kira Nerys, as a starting point, but with two such hot items as yourself and your 'good luck charm', Ro, I'd say we were half-way there ..." She broke off as Tom directed a sharp glance at Deanna, whose eyes seemed even larger than normal. There was an expression on the lovely officer's face that Cadwallader couldn't read. "What is it? ... Counselor?"
"It's okay, Commander," said Tom. "Deanna doesn't like the idea of Ro and me being a 'hot item', do you Counselor?
Deanna said nothing, but her gaze remained fixed on Tom's face.
Tricia watched the two battle silently until Tom broke contact first, turning to Cadwallader, smiling disarmingly. "I'm sorry, Commander, what were you saying?"
"We want the locations of Maquis bases, Riker, and you can give them to us. Keep your story-telling for bed-time ... I need current information."
Tom's smile widened. "Is that an invitation, Commander?"
"Tom ..." This from Troi again.
He sighed. "Deanna, you're not as much fun as you used to be. I'm only teasing the amazon. I realise she's Will's property."
Cadwallader launched herself out of her chair and leaned menacingly over the table at him. She'd just about had enough of his deliberately belligerent attitude and 'amazon' references, and now he was cutting a little too close to the bone.
"That's your problem, isn't it? It's not the Maquis cause you're fanatical about. You left Starfleet because you knew you couldn't compete with the Captain. That no matter how hard you tried or what you did, he would always be ahead of you."
Tom's blue eyes froze over as he returned her glare. He also was losing patience -- with the grilling, the inactivity of being a prisoner, and the ignominity of being at the mercy of his duplicate. "What do you want, Commander? To make me lose my temper, to get under my guard, to say something I'll regret, so you have me where you want me?"
"No, Riker," she said as she slowly sat down again. "All I want is the locations of the Maquis bases."
Tom's expression slid into one of utter neutrality. "Fuck you, Commander," he said calmly.
Meanwhile, Captain Riker was engaging in a similar war of wills with Ro Laren in one of the Enterprise's Briefing Rooms.
"Why should I help the Federation now?" she asked him, uncomfortable under his close scrutiny. No matter that she had fought, eaten and slept beside this man's duplicate for the last four years or so, Will Riker still had the power to unnerve and infuriate her.
"Because your rebel days are over, Ro. You might as well co-operate and earn Starfleet's leniency."
"Starfleet's or yours?"
"At the moment, they're one and the same."
"You can't expect me to turn my friends and my kind in!"
"You wouldn't be turning them in. I'm not going to arrest them. Starfleet simply wants to know where they are, monitor them, ..."
"You mean, shackle them. They would only regroup and move on somewhere else."
"I know that, but we have to do something to slow them down, at least. Innocent lives are being lost through Maquis incursions and it has to stop!"
"Tell the Cardassians that, while they're destroying Bajoran lives and livelihoods!"
Will sat back and ran his hand down his beard in frustration. She hadn't changed that much after all. He still felt as if he were belting his head against a wall with her.
"Are you like this with Tom? If so, I didn't know I had the patience," he said, shaking his head.
Her head came up. "What am I like with Tom? With him, I feel warm and breathless. He complements and excites me and I can't get enough of him, just like it was with you when we lost our memories that time. If you sloughed that uniform and rank of yours more often, you might be more approachable yourself." She jumped up from the seat and began to pace the room. She couldn't sit still any longer and just wanted this to be over.
"Not everyone's complaining."
"Ah, Cadwallader. No, she doesn't seem to mind. Maybe she's into bondage." She happened to walk past him just then, and his hand snaked out and grabbed her arm. His thumb began to rhythmically rub the inside of her wrist.
"And what are you into, Ro?" he asked, watching the conflict on her face.
She snatched her arm back and sat down again. "Let's get this over with, Riker."
"Very well. For the locations of certain Maquis bases, I can help you and Tom disappear."
"You'd do that?"
"Yes, contrary to popular belief, I'm not after your hides. I'm after Maquis strongholds, and the last thing I want is to have Tom rotting away in some other prison. He's been incarcerated enough, firstly on a god-forsaken planet and then in a Cardassian camp. It's time he made a life for himself -- an honest one. If I can arrange that, I will, and if you want, you can be a part of the package."
"Then why work on me for this information, if the deal is for him?"
"Although I have every confidence in Troi and Cadwallader, I have this feeling that they're not going to get anywhere. Not surprising, really, when you consider who he is."
"You and he are not the same at all."
"I realise that, and I can't understand why he made the decisions he did, but that's not important now. It's up to you to secure his and your ticket out of here.
"Well?" he continued, seeing the war of emotions flit across her face.
"How about a show of faith?" she countered.
"In what way?"
"I give you the location of one base and then sit back and see what you do with it. If my people are handled with ... compassion ... I'll let you have more."
"Meanwhile, Tom and I are allowed to remain where we are."
"If it means that much to you ..."
Captain Riker gazed out of his Ready Room viewport and watched the stars streak past the Enterprise. They were on their way to Taleth IX, where, if Ro were genuine, they would find a small but strategic Maquis installation, monitoring communication traffic. This band was responsible for alerting Maquis raiders of Cardassian and Federation activity, intercepting encoded messages and orders over military channels.
The chime sounded and after his bidding enter, the doors softly opened and closed. Another reflection joined his in the window.
"How did it go?" he asked his First Officer. She stood beside him but a little behind him. He didn't bother to turn around, but held her reflected gaze, anticipating her response.
"We couldn't crack him. My threats, Deanna's pleas ... I even contemplated torture, I was getting so frustrated." Cadwallader gave a lopsided grin and watched the hurtling stars with him. "I assume you had better luck."
"Yes, we're on our way to Taleth IX. Ever heard of it?"
"Nope, but I bet Data has."
"I'll bet he has too. But don't ask, unless you request the abridged version!" he chuckled.
She smiled at that. "And the Duwain?"
"We're towing it with a tractor beam. We may just need it."
"You were very pensive when I walked in. What happened?"
"Nothing much. ... It's just ..."
"Are Tom and I that different?"
"Oh yes, sir, without a doubt."
"Why? How could that be? We are, or were, the same person!"
"Different lives led, decisions made, experiences ... there's a lot of variables which have contributed to the men that you are now."
A pause, and then he asked, "Which one do you prefer?"
She laughed softly. "'O Captain, my Captain'!" she misquoted. "Do I detect a note of insecurity?"
He turned to look at her then, a small smile on his face. "Cad., have you ever known me to be insecure?"
"No, which is what worries me." She put a hand to his face, cupping his jaw and was surprised when he turned his face into her hand and kissed her palm. The feel of mouth and beard on her sensitive skin was delightful.
"You haven't answered my question." His words were muffled as his mouth and tongue continued to tantalise her hand.
"There could never be any doubt as to who the better man is. It's just a question of who is woman enough to take him on."
"You're willing to risk jeopardising our working relationship with a personal one? We've got a good thing going here, it would be a pity to spoil it."
"I'm confident it wouldn't be adversely affected ... only enhanced."
"You're very sure of yourself."
"And you are usually sure of yourself too. What happened?" she asked again.
"I don't know ... I guess, seeing him again, and how Deanna reacts around him, and Ro ... "
"And you think somehow that makes him better than you?"
"Not better, just more ... appealing."
Cadwallader turned him around to face her, her eyes wide with incredulity. "More appealing? Gods, how can you think that? Just looking at you sets my ticker racing. And the feel of you makes me want nothing more than to rip the clothes off your back and have you on the floor or whatever else is handy! Will Riker, stop this now, or you'll really start to frighten me."
He laughed. "Okay, okay, so I was on an insecurity trip. I'm back now, so what do you suggest?"
"I suggest I meet you in your cabin when we come off duty later and talk about compromising our working relationship some more."
"Yeah? I never picked you for the talking type."
"Well, sometimes I throw in a 'faster' or 'more' every now and then."
They were still laughing when they left the Ready Room together and took their seats on the Bridge. Heads turned, and eyebrows raised, but no one ventured anything. Relationships between Captains and First Officers were unique, but between male Captains and female First Officers -- the association was unanimously taboo to the rest of the crew.
"Data," the Captain addressed his second officer. "What is our ETA to Taleth IX at Warp 5?"
"Five hours, forty-four minutes and twelve seconds, sir," the android responded in his precise manner.
Riker glanced at his First Officer apologetically. "Raincheck, Cad.?" he asked.
"Of course, Captain," her disappointment hidden beneath her professionalism.
If the Bridge crew's interest had been piqued before, they were avidly curious now.
"Schedule a meeting of all senior officers in the Observation Lounge at fifteen hundred hours," he continued to Cadwallader. "Where's Deanna?"
"She asked to be excused after the interrogation. I assumed Tom's interrogation was distressing for her."
Riker nodded and addressed Ops again. "Mister Data?"
"Reprogram your verbal responses to omit seconds."
The android cocked his head to the side in confusion. "Sir?"
"Is that possible, Data?"
"Of course, sir, but why would you ..."
"Then do it."
The rest of the bridge crew felt immensely relieved and grateful.
to be continued click here for part two