chapter 32b

The Captain summarized the events after the rest of the senior staff had arrived and taken their seats. Doctor Crusher returned from sickbay, having set in motion the detailed test that would answer the question of the child’s parentage and perhaps her future.

After the doctor had taken her seat the captain, posed a question, “Let us suppose the DNA results show Solace to be as Gringbald claimed, what then? Do we send her to Prakal as a legitimate heir apparent? Remember Yarmi was queen when Solace was born. The next choice is: Do we do nothing, keep the child here with us, never notifying the leadership on the planet?” He waited for the discussion to begin, fully expecting the counselor to begin with an objection to the proposed first choice holding only with the last choice of leaving with the child. As it turned out, he was only half-correct; the counselor did open the discussion.

“Sir, maybe we area jumping to conclusions here. They may not want Solace on the planet at all. I f she were the offspring of Gringbald it may not matter whom else is involved, she may be the object of many assassination attempts. Gringbald was far from the beloved ruler, and from what I’ve been able to learn, Yarmi was a heavily flawed queen. We could be writing a death certificate for her-and quite frankly I will not be a participate of such a thing.” Deanna spoke slowly and softly, all at the table knew of the relationship she had with the child, but only a few understood how deeply that relationship ran.

No other comments were made after the counselor’s. There was little to be said until the results were known. The captain began wrapping up the meeting, “Doctor Crusher, I want those DNA results as quickly as possible, they are to be shared with the counselor, Commander Riker and myself only. Counselor, Commander, I believe we may be visiting the planet, make plans to be available. Worf, you had met with the queens people, how does security stand now?”

Picard spent several minutes discussing with each member their assignment, before dismissing all until further notice. As the participants began leaving, the captain softly requested that Will stay behind. He caught Deanna’s glance back at him as she left with the doctor. He could feel the apprehension rolling off of her and see the sadness in her eyes, but the commander of the Enterprise felt helplessly unable to eradicate her pain.

“Will, you know the situation and have a little more perspective than most of us, what do your instincts tell you?”

“That it is probably the truth, that Gringbald is somehow the father. If you want to know if the child has any of his characteristics-I haven’t seen any. She is bright and very affectionate. I believe she is probably empathic at least to some extent. The fact that she is affectionate alone makes me feel better. She is very sensitive to people, especially to Deanna, she watches and imitates her as though she were her own mother.”

“Will, if we are requested by Abeathdor to return the child to them, how will it affect Deanna? I’m asking because I don’t think she’ll be easily persuaded, if in fact she can be persuaded at all to comply with such a request.” He watched his number one, the way he looked steadily at the chair in front of him absently scratching at his bearded chin, pondering the question put before him.

“Deanna has always faced difficulties head on. I’ve never seen her side step a problem. I think she would deal with it. It may take time, but I know she would ultimately do what she knew she had to.”  Will looked the captain in the eye before adding, “I know she would not allow the child to go down to the planet knowing it was unsafe, or that her life would be danger- but then neither would I.”

“Number One, that is not a decision I would expect either of you to make. I would not accept that as a solution.  Once we have the results from Doctor Crusher, if they are as you suspect they may be, we’ll be going back down to cover the information with Abeathdor. I don’t want to delay this. You and the counselor will be joining the doctor and myself. However this is resolved it will be with the best interests of the child in mind.”

Deanna had paced Beverly’s office to the extent that she was beginning to get on Beverly’s already overloaded nervous system. She put the PADD down that she was working on to watch the counselor pace past the desk, then turn and stop in front of it. “Deanna, I know how important this is to you, but it may be a while until I have the results. Gringbald’s genetic make up is unlike anything the computer has been exposed to before; I’ll have to tap into the universal data bank for information. Why don’t you go spend time with Solace, I’ll personally come to you with the results as soon as I have them..”

Will walked into the office in time to hear the tone of Beverly’s voice. She looked at him and sighed loudly, “Please find something to occupy yourselves with until I get the results. I can’t concentrate with a parade of pacers traveling past my desk. Pacing and worrying here is not the healthiest way to spend the time.”

He looked at Deanna, a mask frozen on her face, hiding her emotions, that in it self was not a good sign. He heard her voice, an octave higher and louder than normal, “I’m sorry Beverly, I wasn’t aware I have become that annoying.” The counselor turned and fled, walking as fast as her legs could carry her, arms pumping, hands balled into fists she nearly ran through the corridor. She passed the turbo-lifts, and continued on until she slowed her pace trying to work through in her mind what just happened. A hand firmly gripped her shoulder; she was stopped mid stride and spun around to face the commander. He didn’t say a word, but gently took her arm leading her back toward the turbolift. Neither of them spoke as he directed the computer to their destination. He watched her; she stared at the floor, standing woodenly beside him. They exited the lift, Will continued to lead her to that unspoken destination.

When they came to the holodeck, Deanna looked at him questioningly, he smiled punched in a program, then taking her arm, together they entered into a beautiful beach setting with the sunsets. “This is nice, Beverly suggested it. She also apologized, she knows the strain your under. I know you didn’t sleep last night. You’ve been up trying to think how to tell me. Were you afraid I would change my mind about us once I knew? ” He turned her chin to face him. She didn’t answer, but moved into his arms. He held her close, “Do you think because you’re the ship’s counselor you can’t show when things begin to affect you? That somehow when you show impatience or anxiety you are less? You do very well at stuffing your own feelings inside your pocket, except once in a while that pocket is going to get full and you are going to show your imperfections.”

He could feel her crying as he held her. She regained her composure, pulling out of his embrace to look at him, “I’m sorry, you’re right, I’m feeling stressed. You’ve been so helpful and supportive these past few days, I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

He swallowed, to him the words sounded as though she was justifying a decision he hadn’t made. “Lady, if you think you can scare me off, you are wrong. You are stuck with me now. The only difference I plan to make in the future, is more time for us. You and me. I don’t know how or when, but as soon as we get this matter taken care of, that gets priority.”  She moved again into his embrace, he kissed her forehead. Then looked around him at the setting. “What made you think of this scene?” he asked looking at the colors pained on the sky and feeling the salt breeze on his face.

She was taking off her shoes as she repeated the old earth poem, he followed her example enjoying the feel of the sand on his bare feet. They walked into the water until it was knee high soaking the legs of their uniform with the cool water. She finished the first several lines of the poem and looked at him.  “That was the first stanza, I didn’t realize until now how significant those words are to this situation. The dreams of the waste people, their music. The poem continues - a man with a dream can conquer a crown, and three with a new song’s measure can trample an empire down. “

“I’m missing the part that music plays in this.”

She addressed the computer, “Computer, have we down loaded the cultural information from Prakal yet?”

“98% if the cultural history and modern arts have been added tot he Enterprise’s data base.”

“Is a music program from Prakal included in that data?”

“Music and fine arts are included in that data base.”

“Can this piece of music be matched with that data?” Deanna began to hum the melody from the glen. Will stood listening to her voice, watching her and thinking he could never leave her out of his sight again.

“The music requested is found in the data base.  The title of the piece is “Waltz of Hearts”.

“Computer play Waltz of Hearts with flute and violin as the sole instruments. It there a vocal accompaniment?”

“Vocal accompaniment is available.”

“Include it.”

There was a long instrumental introduction to the piece. Deanna took Will’s hand to walk out onto the sea breaker to sit facing the sunsets. They listened to the music; it was as Deanna had first heard it in the glen. “When Solace had been so upset these last couple of days, I hum this tune. It has a soothing affect on her almost immediately.”

“I can see why, it’s beautiful.”

The singing began the singers voice was as haunting and compelling as the melody. They listened trying to understand the words.

Free from the chains that restrain
From the toil that only serves to drain
And leaves men alive though really slain
Attempts were made to kiss away the pain
From the grief of the many mercilessly slain
Now to be finally given a permanent name
And know the log sought day not in vain
First we must escape this cynics paradise
Where lies still threaten to hypnotize
Now we brace each other to be bound together
To continue to endure this forsaken weather
Only pure hope is tied fast to our dreams
We have learned on these we must lean
Have we tasted realism and chosen to flee
From reason to drift upon the idealistic sea

Then let us bind together our very hearts
And move united and from each never part
We dream to see a grander day together
The day that brings forth fairer warmer weather
Holding on to hand-hands that touch our hearts
Have we tasted realism and chosen to flee
From reason to drift into insanity

So circle now hand in hand
The time has come to lay your heart on the line
And speak carefully using your whole mind
With heart in hand
Dance hand in hand

Have we trampled all that’s dependent upon us
If such life cannot flourish continuously through us
How can we expect to gain a grain of true justice
Our own offspring’s survivals precariously balanced
On tomorrows grace and the whim on which we dance
Have we swam through the sea of insanity
And now choose to sail upon the idealistic sea

So circle now hand in hand
The time has come to lay hearts on the line
And sing carefully using the whole mind
With your heart in hand
Dance hand in hand

They sat in the quiet that proceeded the song’s finish.  Will broke the silence, “Computer when was Waltz of Hearts written and by whom?”

“*Waltz of Hearts* is a modern day folk song. The time of its writing is unknown. The writer is unknown.”

Will moved to get up, “Let’s walk a bit.” The walked back to the beach, walking in the water, each lost in their own thoughts.

“Crusher to Riker”

“Go ahead Doctor”

“I have the results you are waiting for, is Deanna with you?”

“Yes she is.”

“Can you both come to sickbay?”

“We are on our way, Doctor.”

They looked at each other, Will again saw the sadness in her eyes, “If you want, I’ll go to sickbay, get the results and return here, where you can hear it in private.”

“No! I need to go. I want to know, I couldn’t wait here.” She softened her voice, “Thanks Will, I have to go too.” They sat in the sand putting on their shoes; she finished first sitting watching him. Before he could stand she put a hand on his arm, stopping him.

“Will, I ..”

He anticipated her comment, gathering her to him he kissed any doubt away. “We are together, now and always. We will face whatever is awaiting us together, I am not going to let anything change that now.” She watched him as he spoke, reading his resolve in his eyes she nodded.

They entered Beverly’s office, the captain was already there, he stood for Deanna to take his seat. The counselor could sense the feeling of anticipation from the captain and Will. She was more interested in what she sensed from the doctor, Beverly was exuding concern and anxiety. Deanna quickly sought Will’s attention, he tried to smile reassuringly, but he too was concentrating on the doctor.

Beverly moved a chair to sit close beside Deanna, Will perched on the desk facing them, Captain Picard had moved around the desk to sit in the doctor’s chair. Beverly sat watching Deanna as she began, she talked softly giving everyone time to digest and comment as she went. “The results I have are not one-hundred percent absolute, however, I’d say they are as close as we will be able to get. The easy part is that Solace shows a lot of the same genetic code as Abeathdor. It is ninety-five percent accurate to say that Solace and Abeathdor are genetically related. The rest is more difficult. Gringbald’s DNA structure is unlike any we have seen. The computer analysis finds one distinctive similarity in the code material that links Gringbald and Solace. Only one, now because we are dealing with a unique life form, the very fact that we were able to find that I’d say points to Gringbald as a DNA contributor. This pattern is not found in any other life form we’ve encountered.

“I believe that the pregnancy had to be scientifically engineered, because I don’t believe with the limited knowledge available to us, that these combinations of genetic types; would have occurred naturally. My guess is we may find records of it somewhere within the medical buildings.” The doctor had noted al of their expressions as she talked. She was concerned with the counselor because she had begun to visibly show signs of stress and anxiety, something that was abnormal for her.

Deanna looked across the desk to the captain, “Sir, when do we leave for the planet?”

“Will you need to make preparations?”

“Yes sir, it shouldn’t take long.”

Captain Picard nodded granting the needed time. He directed the others, “Doctor Crusher, I believe we may need your company and copies of your report for the Queen. Number One, check the bridge schedule, I’d like you to free yourself from bridge duty for the next twenty-four hours. If that is everything we’ll meet in transporter room three in one hour.”

Will walked Deanna back to her quarters, her steps began to slow as they neared her cabin. “Deanna, do you want me to go in and talk with Lwaxana?”

“No, Will, I need to talk with Mother. I’m okay, really. Go a head and take care of the bridge schedule; I’ll be fine. Will.” He stopped and turned toward her. She laced her fingers around his neck, and stood on her toes to soundly kiss him. “Thank you.” He presented his famous Riker smile before turning and heading for the bridge.

Deanna entered her quarters to find Lwaxana Troi sitting at the table with a large beverage before her. Deanna quickly scanned the quarters before asking, “Where is Solace, Mother?”

“Guinan has her, we thought it might be easier if she weren’t here, once Jean Luc told us that you may be returning to the planet. That is why you’re here isn’t it Deanna, to prepare to leave?”

The counselor couldn’t ignore the tone or Lwaxana’s worried look. “Yes, it is.” She sat at the table with Mrs. Troi. “We’re going to see Abeathdor, we have the medical documentation identifying the child’s parents. Hopefully we will settle everything early, then perhaps if all goes well, we can make plans to see Doctor Dinal. That should happen for the child’s sake, regardless of the results of this meeting.”

Lwaxana reached across the table to tightly grasp her daughter’s hand. “Is it necessary for you to go? Captain Picard and Will can take care of this. Your place right now is here with the child.”

“Is Solace giving you a hard time? If you are not up to staying with her, of course I’ll stay.”

“No, she’s a good child, when she’s not screaming for you. Maybe all the child’s insecurities about the planet have begun to grow on me. I just wish would settle down, give up this star chasing business and raise a family. You are good with children.”

Deanna smiled, there for a minute she was beginning to worry, but Lwaxana reverted back to her old self just in time. Totally ignoring the last comments, Deanna asked where Guinan had taken Solace. She would like to see her before going down, but was debating the outcome. If Solace would sense her intent on returning to the planet or even just the trepidation Deanna felt about the return it could possibly set off another emotional crisis.

Lwaxana watched her daughter as she sensed her thoughts, “Guinan has her in her quarters. She thought you would like to see her.” Then in a voice reigned to a defeated role, she added, “Do what you need here, then stop by on your way. Guinan and I will be with her until your return. Solace should get used to saying goodbye, I know I have.”

“Mother, we are only going down to talk. I have no intention of staying there a moment longer than I need to.” Deanna moved back through the room. Then returning she handed her mother the little wooden lightfoot. “This is her favorite toy, although she doesn’t play with it as much as she seems to draw comfort from it. And there is a piece of music that she enjoys. Have the computer play “Waltz of Hearts” instrumental version.” She hugged her Lwaxana “I’m pleased you are here. Your presence has helped a lot Mother. I’m happy you have gotten to meet Solace.”

Mrs. Troi held her daughter by the shoulders looking intently at her. “I’m glad I was here too. I should have come when I first sensed you were in trouble. Solace and I get along famously, except she calls me Aunt Troi.  I guess Lwaxana is too difficult yet.” In a more serious tone she added, “She’s an intelligent and beautiful child and if she is all…” she heaved a huge sigh, “I get as grandchildren, I’ll still be happy.”

Deanna stood outside the doors to her quarters again shaking her head as a reaction of spending time with her formidable mother. When the turbo-lift doors opened, Will Riker, nearly bowled Deanna off her feet, he caught her as she staggered backwards. “I was just coming for you. The captain is in the transporter room now, are you ready to go?”

“I was hoping to see Solace before we left. She’s in Guinan’s quarters. Do we have time to stop?”

He looked at her, “Yes, if we make it quick. Do you think that’s a good idea? I mean after yesterday?”

“I know, but I feel I need to see her. I think it would be better to let her know we are going down and returning- and I want to see her. I can’t explain it, I just need to see her.”

Will informed the captain they would be there soon. In the corridor he asked, “Have you ever been inside of Guinan’s quarters? I’ve often wondered what they would be like.”

Deanna smiled, it seemed a part of the mystique that clung to the hostess was that you knew only what she wanted you to know- no allowed you to know. Captain Picard seemed to be the only one permitted a familiarity and that was limited by Guinan. Will touched the chime, the doors opened, it appeared Solace had also become Guinan’s official greeter.

The doors had no sooner opened then the child was in Deanna’s arms. Guinan motioned them in. Will couldn’t help acting like a tourist, it was everything he imagined her cabin to be. Ensconced within those quarters was the universe vibrating with life. The very walls were done as murals, in warm colors were scenes depicting life. One entire wall was a forest with animal life peeking curiously out from behind flora, bushes and almost hidden among the trees. Any child would have been bedazzled by the visual effects alone.

Will saw that Deanna too was amazed by their surroundings. Guinan on the other hand was quite amused by their reactions. “Not your Starfleet regulation style décor, but Captain Picard graciously made allowances for a civilian. I have to admit, that he hasn’t seen it yet, or he may change his mind.”

“Guinan it’s wonderful! Did you do this artwork yourself?” Deanna had gone to the mural where she held Solace to point out to her the different animals.

“That’s one way to keep my sanity, Counselor. I do understand though, I’ve missed an animal that is absolutely necessary to any nature setting.”

Solace nodded her head and whispered, “Lightfoot”, confidentially to Deanna.

Deanna smiled, “Did you tell Guinan what they look like so she can paint one?”

Guinan answered, “Solace is doing an excellent job of painting her own addition to this. “Come see for yourself, Counselor, Commander.”

“Guinan, I think we have long passed that address, please, Deanna and Will.”

The hostess nodded, smiling she took them around to the other side of the same mural, where at the bottom were several roughly sketched lightfoot. On the floor were some drawings done of several colorful lightfoot.

Deanna put Solace down, she stooped close to the wall, looking at the animals, then picking up the drawings off the floor she could see the transference from paper to the mural. “These are very good. That is exactly what the animals on the planet looked like.”

Will came over to look for himself. “Solace, these must be pretty good, Deanna knows some lightfoot personally.” He stooped low to get closer; Deanna handed the drawings to him quickly, to prevent him from saying more. Both adults were sitting on the floor looking at the child’s artwork; she stood beside Deanna, her arm around the counselor’s neck.

She pulled Solace around to sit on her lap. “You did this?” Solace nodded smiling. “Sweetie, there are wonderful. You know what? I’d be very happy to have you draw some for me on special paper. I could frame and hang them in our quarters then.” Deanna suddenly remembered why they were there; she caught her breath at the unbidden feelings that she quickly submerged again. She found Guinan watching her, somehow she knew she had to get through these next hours, no matter what the outcome. Solace too, had turned to look up at her, she squeezed the child, whispering into the small ear, “Solace, these are very good. You are quite a good artist!”

Solace giggled and patted her arm. Deanna continued, “Sweetie, Will and I have to go down to the planet with the captain and Doctor Beverly. We would not be gone long. We have a meeting with the queen.”

Solace sagged against her. Will moved to sit beside them. “Haven’t I brought her back to you every time? Well, I’m not going to let you down now! Besides I want a picture too. I promise I’ll take good care of her for you, okay? Now can I have a hug?”

She left Deanna’s lap to stand and hug him. The returned to the counselor, she held Deanna’s face in her hands to look intently into her eyes. Deanna could see tears in the child’s eyes. “It will be all right.” She held her and whispered in the small ear, “Everything will be okay. You will be here with Guinan and Aunt Troi.” She saw Will get to his feet, Deanna kissed each cheek, then after another hug Will reached down to give her hand in getting to her feet.

Solace looked very small standing there looking up at them. Will picked her up swinging her high into the air, then he whispered in her ear. “Only draw where you have permission or Deanna may have to scrub the whole ship down, okay?” She nodded. Will set her down.

Guinan walked them to the door, Will asked, “I take it you know what this is about? Any clues as far as what to expect?”

“Commander, all I know is that the truth is a respectable commodity. I think you should let the counselor do most of the talking.” Guinan shifted her gaze, “Are you up to that Deanna?”

“Yes, I think that may be exactly what I need too. Thanks Guinan.” Then turning to Solace, “See you later, sweetie.” Another hug and they were on their way to join the others for the beam down to the planet.

Chapt 33

When they arrived in the transporter room everyone was there and waiting. “Abeathdor is expecting us in the palace. Shall we go?” Picard moved to the platform where he was joined by the others. As they materialized within the palace, the changes that Abeathdor’s government had been steadily implementing were immediately apparent. There were no troops surrounding them, nor any sign of a military presence. They now stood in the midst of a large hall, where people in many different garbs were bustling past them. There were curious looks, but little other attention was directed at them. It would appear the population had more important things to do then take the time to be impressed by foreigners.

A man stood off to the side, Deanna immediately recognized him as Nairma the Almoner. She moved out of the group to go to him. He recognized her and smiled warmly at her approach. “Deanna, it is good to see things have worked out well for us both.”

“Nairma, it is good to see that you have survived through the transitions, and now serve your true queen.”

He smiled, “Life has many surprises in store for its survivors doesn’t it?”

The others now joined them. Deanna introduced each of them. “Sir, it is good to meet you. I am very appreciative for the aid you had provided for our counselor.”

“Captain, I am appreciative for all your people have done for my queen. Come, she awaits your presence.” The almoner guided them through the palace to a large comfortable room sitting room.

They found Abeathdor there, her back to them as she stood at one of the ceiling to floor windows overlooking an extensive decaying garden. Without turning, she said, “It’s a pity that the garden was left to ruin. Come spring, it will once again regain its former grandeur, I’ll see to it personally.” She turned to greet her guests, “Captain Picard, Deanna, Doctor, gentlemen, it is good to see all of you. Welcome to Prakal. It is past time that you are given a proper welcome. If you will honor us with your presence in two nights you will be properly welcomed and thanked. You have my oath on that. Please be seated. I know we have much to discuss.”

There were many wingbacked chairs; one chair stood out from the others by its significant size and comfortable padding. Abeathdor took that chair, placing Deanna to her left and the captain on her right, the others filled in the remaining chairs; Will beside Deanna and Beverly next to the captain, Worf stood along the windows and Nairma took the seat opposite the queen, flanked by Will and Beverly.

“Captain, you said Gringbald was dead. I sincerely hope there were no casualties to any of your people. Can you tell me what happened?”

“No madam, we suffered no casualties. Gringbald informed us, after we had detained him, that he could not survive in captivity. He asked that we allow him to die. That’s not entirely correct, we were asked to kill him.”

The room was silent. Abeathdor looked from Picard to Deanna, “You granted this request?”

Deanna spoke, “No, not outright. Gringbald told me he had information that we needed. He would bargain that for his death.” She paused deciding what direction to take first.

Captain Picard helped provide that direction with his narrative. “You see, your highness, Gringbald would only talk with the counselor. He was attempting to manipulate her into doing what he wanted. She would not allow his maneuvering her into such a position, so during the preparation to have him transported to another ship, he tried to meld with her. Thanks to the commander’s quick thinking he was unable to accomplish that, however he was stunned with a phaser. In Gringbald’s weakened condition he divulged the information to the counselor before his death.”

Abeathdor turned to the counselor, directing her next question to her, “It is this information that now brings you to me. The thoughts I can touch do not make believe that this is information that I will find pleasing. Deanna, tell me what is it that you have been told.” She physically steeled herself for a negative onslaught.

Deanna sensing all this touched her arm, “Your Highness, with all you have endured, this will not test you as you have been tested in the past. It is not pleasant, but I believe before we leave here, this day, we can leave with some peace in our hearts.” She paused; sensing that everyone was keyed and waiting. “When Yarmie was on the throne, was there anytime she was ill or away from the public view?”

“I was not allowed communication, much less personal audiences with my sister.” Abeathdor’s posture became stiff, taunt with anticipation.

Deanna asked the same of Nairma. He too, was banished from court. She could sense the truthfulness in both accounts. She continued, “Abeathdor, you have met Solace. Gringbald told me that he had fathered the child by Yarmie.” She felt the Queens horror at the thought of such an act, she went on to explain, “We have done DNA testing to check the validity of that claim. These test results are with Doctor Crusher. She will explain them.” Deanna sat back into her chair, realizing her hands were clenched together, she rested her elbows on the chair’s arm rests and tried to relax her hands by allowing them to lie opened, palms up. She felt Will’s hand on her arm, she closed her hand over his.

Beverly explained the differences in individual DNA, then she went on to explain that different species would have much different DNA and exactly what Gringbald was -is-unknown. The sample of Abeathdor’s DNA was shown to her, then the sample from the child’s was shown with the matching strands highlighted for comparison. The doctor then showed her Gringbald’s, and the comparison to the child’s again marked. Nairma stood between the queen and the doctor looking at the information.

Abeathdor pushed the PADDS away; Deanna could feel her confusion and growing anxiety. She leaned forward to look closer into the queens face, touching her arm, “Abeathdor, we are not asking anything of you or your people. We felt an obligation to you to tell you of this information. The request made of you earlier concerning the child still stands. I would still like to keep her with me. Solace has shown some empathic skills, Doctor Crusher and I feel she needs to be seen by a specialist on my home planet. That way we can be supportive while she learns of her own capabilities.”

“After all Gringbald has done to you, you would nurture his offspring?”

“I have come to love the child. I have no fear of her becoming Gringbald, nor do I think of him when I see her. I could not, and will not turn my back on her. If you would like we could arrange communication and frequent visits. You are her only fleshly living relative.”

“I feel no kinship to the child, I felt only that of a very young child toward a much older sibling with my sister, this child’s mother. I wish her no harm.” Abeathdor sat quietly for a while trying to come to a decision. Then after several moments she began. “I will not revoke my reply to your former request. I would, though, like to request something of you in return.” She now turned to Picard, “I can see no healthy future for the child on this planet. Gringbald and his henchmen have caused much grief and pain. If it were known that an offspring of his existed in the ruling house, she would be sought after and the cause of much unrest. So, I ask that this information go no further than those in this room.”

She looked at Deanna, “I would like to know of her well being through you, You would keep in contact with me? Do you think me ruthless?”

“No, these very issues we foresaw. I would enjoy communicating with you, and I look forward to it. You are asking that Solace not be told of her parentage?”

“Yes, for now, I am. She is welcomed to come to the festivities in two nights and to the coronation with you. I set no regulations upon her.”

“Thank you, Your Highness.” Deanna smiled and could feel the relief chasing the tension from her limbs.

Doctor Crusher still had some information she had hoped to obtain, “Before we close the book on this subject, as her doctor, I’m looking for any medical knowledge that may have great significance in treating the child in the future. We believe that the conception may have been scientifically engineered, where would that information be found?”

Nairma answered, “It was probably kept in the research building. Most of those files had been burned before the control could be gained over the building. The men responsible for those experiments have either been incarcerated or have disappeared. If I come across any of that information I will see to it personally that it comes into the possession of the Queen.” He looked across to Abeathdor with nothing but adoration in his eyes.

“Very good. Your Highness, if there is nothing more, we have taken up enough of your time, I ask our leave to return with my officers to the Enterprise.” Picard waited for her to stand first, as she did the rest then also stood.

They walked back through the palace talking of the innovations Abeathdor planned. Picard spoke of the aid the Federation could offer. They had stopped in front of several windows overlooking a busy road in front of the palace. Something caught Will’s eye, “Nairma, what is happening there, what are those transport vehicles carrying?” Below them a small convoy of open bedded trucks was passing, filled with what appeared to be carcasses.

“It is our shame. When we took over the research facilities we found hundreds of animals that were the subjects of experiments. We found many more that had already died. It would seem that many innocent people and animals were the victims of cruelty. It is why they travel as they do - to remind us of what a lack of compassion will lead to. You see before you the shame of our people. These animals were the lightfoot, the most docile of all the beasts on the planet.”

Doctor Crusher cleared her throat, Nairma smiled slightly, then answered her unspoken question, “Yes Doctor the skins have been treated before they were removed, they carry no disease now. Just the remains of the planet’s dignity.”

Deanna stepped back from the windows. “Counselor, are you alright?” Worf noted her movement and pale countenance.

Will moved to stand beside her, gently taking her arm. “The counselor and our doctor had an interesting adventure with the lightfoot. They came across a holding pen full of the animals that were to be sent to the research laboratory. They set the animals free, only to be found by Zylon’s men themselves.” Will thoroughly enjoyed telling this story, because he loved watching Deanna’s reactions. He did it more for that reason than any other; after all it was that adventure that led, in part, to their commitment.

Deanna looked at Beverly to see she too, was entirely happy having this story repeated now in front of the planet’s royalty and Captain Picard. Deanna decided to change the direction a little, “Solace also carries a little wooden lightfoot with her. She loved those animals she used to hand feed them back in Fallscity.”

The counselor missed the look exchanged between Abeathdor and her Almoner. Nairma touched her arm, “Allow me to do one small thing for the child. We have many newborn lightfoot in the nursery. Most of them were orphaned; we are doing what we can to save them. Allow me, if you would, to find one that is well enough to live with a little extra care, to give to the child.”

Deanna looked at the captain for an answer. She did not relish the thought of a lightfoot bouncing around through her quarters. She heard Will muffle a chuckle.

“We do have a small animal collection on board the Enterprise. How large an animal is this?” Captain Picard too, was a little cautious.

Nairma smiled, “Come, it’s not far from here.” They were taken to a large sterile room, where many helpers were bottle feeding small animals, some furry, some as yet hairless. The crew walked around some petting and holding the orphaned animals.

Nairma, after talking to the man who appeared to be in charge took Deanna to what resembled a furry apron. He reached inside to pull out a small animal. He bundled it up in a blanket, then placed it into the counselor’s arms. The rest of her shipmates moved closer to have a look at the creature. “She is old enough to be taken out, although she eats vegetation, she must still have the nutrients in the formula. This one also has a twin. Would you accept both animals on behalf of the child? There is the mature animal.” He pointed to a larger area where a mother lightfoot stood watching them; her young still in her pouch. Nairma signaled one of the assistants over, removing the bundle from Troi to hand it to the assistant.

The captain looked at Beverly, “Well Doctor, you will be responsible for their upkeep in the nursery.”

Beverly did not look amused. “I think our zoologist and biologist would be delighted to have some new animals to fuss over.”

Captain Picard smiled, “Indeed, then I relieve you of the responsibility.” Then to Nairma, “Yes, I believe our people would be happy to care for them.”

The Almoner left to get the twin to the first animal. Captain Picard said in an undertone to Riker, “Number One, I see what you mean about the pungent odor these animals seem to produce.”

Will grinned, “This is nothing…” That was all he was able to say when he found himself somewhat short of breath possibly the result from being on the receiving end of the counselor’s elbow.

Nairma and two of the animal handlers rejoined them. The two handlers were carrying the animals and their needed supplies. He placed one in Beverly’s arms, then turned to give the other to the captain, who declined. “No, I believe Counselor Troi already has quite a history with these animals. I would not deprive her of the pleasure.”

Nairma gently laid the bundled animal back into Deanna’s arms. She rubbed the small exposed head, watching the animal’s reactions. Worf and Will carried the supplies back to the beam up site.

Once back on board the Enterprise the crew separated, Deanna and Will took one of the small animals back to show Solace. The others went to the zoological labs to find a home for the new additions.

Solace met them before they could fully enter the quarters. Will swept her off her feet not allowing her the chance to see what it was Deanna was holding. He teasingly held her away, she had to stretch to catch a glimpse of the blanketed bundle. Lwaxana and Guinan remained sitting and watching they were allowing the others the game.

When Deanna sat on the sofa, Will put Solace down. She scampered to Deanna looking into the blanket. “Abeathdor and Nairma thought we could help raise a couple of these for them. They’ll live in the bio labs were we take care of some animals. Once they are big enough to have families of their own, we will bring them back to live on Prakal. What do you think, can we take care of them?”

Solace nodded, she was on her knees looking into the blanket, petting the baby. Her eyes were huge with delight. “Would you like to hold her?” Deanna asked knowing the answer.

“Yess.”  Solace pranced about not knowing what to do first.

“Come on over here, sit back up here beside me. That’s it, hold your arms out. There.” Deanna put the bundle into the child’s arms. Solace cooed with delight.

She looked at Deanna, “Mine?”

“No, though you can visit and help take care of them- whenever someone can go with you. Guess what? You can name her.” Solace sat rocking the animal with her eyes closed, deep in concentration.

“You don’t have to name her tonight, think about it. Tomorrow we’ll visit her and her brother. You can name her then.” Deanna put an arm around the child to help brace her smaller one enabling the child to hold the animal more securely. She could see the creature trying to escape the confines of the blanket.

Will was sitting on the other side of Solace watching the child enjoying small animal. “I think it’s time that junior was introduced to her new home. Would you like to come along to see where she’ll be living?”

“Yess.” She looked at Deanna, “You too?”

“No, I’ll stay here and talk with Aunt Troi and Guinan. You two go, I’ll be here when you get back.” Deanna smiled at the child’s concerned face. “Go a head, Doctor Beverly is there, you can say hello to her while you visit.”

Will took the bundle from her, Solace held on to his pant leg as they moved toward the door. Deanna saw her turn to look back before following him out the door into the corridor; she could see Solace grab on to Will’s leg before the doors closed.

“How did things go? By the look of you two, I’d say in your favor.” Lwaxana spoke for the first time since their return.

“Actually, they did. Abeathdor asked that the information be kept confidential for the child’s sake as well as the governments. What a relief! Now, I’ll make plans to get to Betazed to have her seen by Dinal. I have to say things are looking up. How did things go here while we were gone.”

“Very well, she seemed a little distracted when you left, but I think things went well, wouldn’t you say Guinan?”

Guinan agreed, then added, “You forget how much energy a child has when you haven’t been around them for a while.”

“Mother you look tired, you’re not used to a small child running around either. Let me walk you to your quarters.”

“No, I’m fine, although I am ready to call it a night.” She and Deanna walked to the door where Lwaxana kissed her daughter’s cheek. “I am really happy that things worked out so well. The child is precious to me, almost as much as you are.” Another hug and Mrs. Troi was on her way to her own quarters.

Guinan remained, waiting. Deanna sensed she had something she wanted to say in private. When each sat with a cup of tea, Guinan surprised Deanna by the topic of her conversation.

“Deanna, when were you planning to take Solace back to Betazed?’

“As soon as it can be arranged. The coronation is set to take place in several days. That should end our immediate involvement. I think we could be on our way in about four days.”

“Is the Commander joining you?”

Deanna looked intrigued by the question. “Not then, perhaps in another three days, Why?”

Guinan was silent for a few moments. “Deanna, we’ve come to know each other fairly well over the years, and I’ve come to like and respect you. Now with that in mind I hope you will take this suggestion as just that -a suggestion from a friend.”

The counselor smiled cautiously, “Go on.”

They sat studying each other for several minutes before Guinan continued, “We both think of ourselves as students of human nature. You have perhaps a different view than mine, you are half-human. My viewpoint comes from the angle of having seen generations of human interactions. While not all alike, there are some primary similarities…” She paused.

Deanna never knew Guinan to be at a loss for words, she also had a feeling she knew where this might be leading. “Guinan, is this about my relationship with Will?”

“Counselor- Deanna, would you consider allowing me to go in your place with Lwaxana and Solace. Your mother explained that this Doctor Dinal makes several casual visits over a period of days to give the patient time to become comfortable with him, If this is the case, Solace wouldn’t be undergoing any sort of testing or examination until after you would arrive with the commander. I believe Solace would tolerate me. I wouldn’t be a replacement as much as I would be a distraction for those three days.”

“You’ve talked about this with my mother?” That would explain some of Lwaxana’s inconsistent behavior.

“Yes we’ve discussed it. Your mother agrees that you and Will need sometime alone together, soon. While I believe she is disappointed that she wouldn’t have you to herself, I think she knows how important the commander is to you.”

“Guinan, this has been occupying my thoughts for sometime. I’ve been trying to work out a solution that would satisfy everyone. It’s not easy.” Deanna leaned back to rest her head on the back of the sofa. “Will is very important to me. We seem to get lost on our way to each other. I can’t allow that to happen this time. But, I have this responsibility to Solace. Here is a child with no one else to speak for her…to love her. I have to give some priority to her too. Everything just seemed to come together at once. I will not allow this to become a distraction or a test of my love for either of them.”

The hostess, quietly asked, “Is this a possible solution? Could you stay here those three days with Commander Riker, and the two of you join us on Betazed together?”

The counselor had a strange smile on her face, “You know, this may be just the solution I’ve been looking for. Have you mentioned this possibility to anyone else?”

“Your mother and I asked Solace if she would mind if you stayed behind with Will for a couple of days. She didn’t become upset by the suggestion. She clearly was not overjoyed by the premise, but I think she could be comfortable with it by the time we were to leave, if that is you agree to it.”

Deanna continued to smile in that strange mischievous way. “Guinan, say nothing of this to anyone else. Let me think about it.”

They had little time to talk more before Will and Solace returned form delivering the baby lightfoot to it’s new home. Solace was still very excited; she skipped through the door, then broke into a run to leap on to the sofa and stand beside Deanna. Her arms wrapped around the counselor’s neck.

“You’ve been gone for quite a while, did you put the babies to bed?” Solace nodded, “Well what do you think of their new home, do you think they’ll be happy here?”

“Yes, two of them. Brother and sister. Can we go back tomorrow?”

“I think we can find the time.” The counselor was thrilled to see how much pleasure this child was getting from the presence of the two baby animals. Solace had climbed on to her lap, talking as faster than the small lips could co-ordinate the words. She was explaining the feeding bottle Beverly had designed for the lightfoot. She told them she was allowed to feed the brother a bottle. She then went on to do a floor demonstration of how well those babies could jump.

Deanna looked at Will as he sat beside her. “Was she this excited at the lab?”

He chuckled, “Probably more so, you should have seen her feed - Solace tell them what you named the brother. Will was laughing heartily.

Solace crawled back up on Deanna’s lap to look into her face as she talked. “Call him Aunt Troi.”

Deanna smiled, “Sweetie, you have an Aunt Troi, I think we should find a name that someone else doesn’t have. It gets too confusing if we have too many Aunt Troi’s. Besides that is a girls name, lets think of something else okay.”

Solace smiled, “Okay. Call him ‘Happy’”

The counselor smiled, “If you want to call him Happy, I guess that’s alright. Is it because he’s happy or you are?” The child smiled and pointed to herself.  Deanna glanced at Will, he was wiping the moisture from his eyes, finally gaining control from earlier. Solace was bubbling about, unable to sit still, “How are you going to sleep tonight? You are very wound up.” Deanna hugged the child just to keep her still for a few minutes.”

“Will, tell you the story ‘bout the princess and the lightfoot.”

Will gently corrected the child, “No, Deanna doesn’t need to calm down, she wants you to calm down so you can sleep tonight.”  He looked up to see all three were looking at him, he knew he was going to have to explain the story.

“Yes Commander, that does sound like an interesting story, I know I would enjoy hearing it. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since someone told me a good story. How about you, Deanna, you up to a good story?’ Guinan looked at the counselor, her eyes smiling.

“I don’t know why not? Solace, maybe you could help Will if he gets stuck.”

Will looked from the counselor to the child, Solace was smiling sitting on Deanna’s lap with the counselor’s arms around her. Deanna had eyebrows raised waiting. “Okay, lets see does this sound like the beginning: Two princesses were in the forest on the search to find the missing queen..”

Solace added, “The princesses found lightfoot locked up by the bad king. They worked and worked to get the lightfoot out… You tell now.”

Will picked it up, “They worked all night to set the animals free. When all the animals were free the princesses were so tired they fell asleep, and were found by the bad kings men. Then..do you remember what happens next?”

Solace smiled, “Yess. The prince comes and saves them, he marries the princess.” She looked puzzled, “Which princess?” Her question brought the amused attention of Guinan and Deanna back to Will.

He answered, “The prince married the beautiful princess, the one who had stolen his heart when he was a young man.” He met Deanna’s eyes over the child’s head he could see she was touched by his reply.

“Solace, why not show Deanna the new books, maybe we can talk someone into beginning to read one to you.” Guinan changed the direction the conversation was taking after observing the long smoldering looks between the commander and counselor. There was little doubt in Guinan’s mind that the counselor would be taking her up on the earlier suggestion.

Solace looked up at Deanna first, as though she didn’t want to leave her lap. She pulled the counselor’s neck down to deliver a loud smacking kiss on the side of her face. “Thank you sweetie,” she whispered.

Deanna smiled, “What for?” Solace shrugged her shoulders and went presumably to fetch the new books.

“I found these books on Earth. I was passing through this small village, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains, quite rustic and scenic, it was there that I came across this old-fashioned bookstore. In it I found the most remarkable samples of earth’s literature. I was told these books are classics. They are fantasies written several hundred years ago, using mythical creatures in a classic battle of good and evil. What I enjoyed most is the thought and imagination given to the characters.”

Solace came back from her room carrying two books. The one was twice the size of the other; Solace struggled to get them to the sofa. Will went to help her taking the larger book and handing it to Deanna.
Guinan explained that the larger one was the first one in the series and was probably more suited to younger readers. The child returned carrying two more books, sighing she put them on Wills lap.

“Well, I’ve had a delightfully entertaining day, but I’m on duty tomorrow, so I’ll say goodnight.”  Deanna and Solace walked Guinan to the door, Solace after giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek for the books and staying with her, returned to sit with Will on the sofa. Deanna quietly told her that she would let her know the next day as to the suggestion she offered.

Deanna sat on the other side of Solace as they took turns reading the new books to her. The child would frequently stop them to ask a question or turn the page to look back at a picture. It took some time before she began to regain her usual demeanor, and then very little time until she began to doze.

“Come on sweetie, its time to get ready for bed.” Deanna had closed the book and was tickling the side of her face by lightly skimming a finger along the side of her face and neck. Solace would giggle then pinch her eyes closed pretending to be asleep.

Will gently carried Solace into her new room, he laid the drowsy child on the bed. She reached around his neck to hold him and look into his eyes; she kissed his cheek and delivered her biggest hug. Will feigned injury, as Solace sat cross-legged on the bed giggling.

Deanna smiling herself gently reminded her, “Alright, don’t get too wound up, or you won’t be able to sleep. Shall we wear the same nightgown tonight?” She held up the blue one.

“Yess, you too?”

“Okay, but tonight try to sleep in your bed alone. If you need me all you have to do is call. Do you think you can try it?” She knew that was not what Solace wanted. “Sweetie, just try tonight. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay, I’ll come over. But I would like you to try. Can you do that for me?”

She watched Deanna as she talked, then nodded her head that she would try. Will had left for Solace to change. Deanna dropped the nightgown over her head, combed her hair then sent her to the bathroom to complete the nightly routine. Once in bed, Will came in to say goodnight. She reminded him that they were to go back to see the lightfoot in the morning. Solace looked at Deanna to include her in the project, an answer was expected before they could continue with the bedtime ritual. Having been assured that they would all go to see the animals, the child was content to reward Will with another hug and kiss.

Deanna sat on the bed beside her talking about the past events of the day she had spent with Guinan and Aunt Troi, and the animals. She talked to her about things they could do together, she talked until the small eyes could barely stay open, then Deanna leaned over to kiss the child and straighten the covers over her before leaving.

Will was waiting for her when she returned, he was sitting on the sofa reading one of the books Guinan had left. Deanna sat next to him, he automatically put his arm around her, drawing her close. “You know, these are interesting books. It might be fun to read with her at night, like tonight.”

“You have been smiling all evening, what are you thinking?”

“I have just been enjoying everything. This has been a day that has certainly changed direction. You’ve got to admit things have begun to look a lot brighter now then before we went down to the planet.”

She nodded laying her head against his shoulder, “I thought we were going to lose her.” She paused before continuing, “Maybe it’s good to take inventory and realize just what we have. I have come to realize just how much I rely on you. Your very presence makes the intolerable tolerable.”

He kissed he forehead, “I rely on you too. Your insight and reactions make things seem more real to me.” They sat in silence for sometime before Will moved to stand, “Its been a long day.  How about breakfast at 0700 hours?”

Deanna stood looking up at him, “Do you have to go, Mr. Riker?” She put an arm around his waist, the other around his neck.

He lowered his head to hers,  “No.” This time there seemed no reason to pull away. Their emotions had escalated to the point that Will gathered Deanna in his arms. Her arms were around him as she nuzzled his neck. He had managed to get them into her bedroom, where they were startled by a voice from the bed, “Sleep in your bed tonight, please?”

It was like the turbo lift again, that feeling of deja vu. Will put Deanna down, then stepped out of the room. “You wait here, okay. I’ll be back. We’ll talk about it then.” She waited until the muffled okay came back.

Deanna followed Will back into the living room, “I’m sorry. I really wanted you to stay.”

He was still smiling, “I think we should say goodnight, I’ll see you for breakfast.” Then with raised eyebrows he asked, “Does she ever sleep in?”

“No, not yet anyway.” She went to him for a long promising good night kiss.

“Another reason, we need to get on with our lives- family quarters with bedroom doors that can be secured.” Will turned to smile at her once more before the doors swished shut behind him.

When she returned to her room Solace was sound asleep. Deanna changed and slipped into bed, it wasn’t long before Solace curled up beside her mumbling in her sleep. Apparently it was good things she mumbled, she smiled. Deanna could sense none of the fear that had so recently consumed the child. All she could sense was a solid feeling of contentment. She lightly laid her fingers on the small face touching the corners of the smile. Solace snuggled closer, still smiling.

to be continued

click here for the final part - number 17