All preparation aside, this would be a night of little rest for the crew. After Will left, Deanna Troi found she was unable to rid herself of the restlessness that quickly escalated until she was soon fighting hysteria. It was Abeathdor on the planet, fighting for sanity, searching her soul for control. Deanna, after getting a feel for the situation, tried to calm the princess with reassuring words letting her know that she and her crew members would be on the planet shortly. The counselor was urging Abeathdor to hang on, all along constantly reminding her she was no longer alone.
It was surprising how easy this communication had been. Deanna Troi only one-half Betazoid and one-half human had not inherited the formidable skills of her blue blooded Betazoid mother. Only with a few had the empath been able to communicate telepathically and they had either been close family, friends or Will. Now that the communication had become two ways, the frustration and tension Deanna had been dealing with melted away and the flow of words and thoughts ran smoothly. Many times throughout her youth and perhaps less frequently as an adult Deanna found herself wishing she could live up to the inheritance of her mother’s people. Nevertheless, here, with this woman, she felt none of those inadequacies. The only hurdle she needed to face was the pain of the other woman. Pain she hoped they as a team would be able to eliminate once they found Abeathdor.
Beverly returned to a very mellow Counselor Troi, she could only conclude that the commander’s presence had strengthened Deanna’s peace of mind. The doctor watched as the empath communicated again and again with the inhabitant of the planet. The doctor requested Deanna to voice her end of the communication, to enable her to better monitor the empath’s well being by understanding the context to which she was reacting. When after sometime had passed Deanna noticed Beverly has fallen asleep curled up in the chair she had been sitting in, she stopped vocalizing her conversation. By this time the ship’s counselor’s mind had become so imbued with the tribulations and dreams of the woman from the planet, she couldn’t pull away from her, remaining in communication with her the rest of the night.
The doctor suddenly became aware of the movement around her. She opened her eyes to see Deanna covering her with a blanket. She was dressed to leave. “Deanna, it can’t be time to go already! Did I sleep that long?”
“No, it wasn’t all that long Beverly, as you would say- ‘it was sleep you needed’. Stay and rest a little longer. This may well be over in a few hours. You need your rest, you have been babysitting me and neglecting your own needs. Please go back to sleep. I may well need you later, we know it was a terrifying night in the tower. Beverly…” As her friend pushed back the blanket and got to her feet.
“I’ll just walk you to the transporter room. I need to go over the use of they hyposprays and a few other items with the captain and Data.” The doctor took a moment to scrutinize her friend, noticing the lack of sleep taking it’s toll she commented, “What a bunch we are, making an official visit looking like the walking dead. No insult intended.”
Deanna put a hand to her face, then brushed back her hair. “None taken, but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take another second to try to remedy that.” She made a dash back into her bathroom. Beverly grinned at her friend’s slight touch of vanity.
When the doors before them opened into the transporter room, the two women saw Data and Worf talking with Geordi, near the console. They had no sooner entered than the doors opened again behind them. This time Captain Picard and Commander Riker entered to join the crew. Commander Riker nodded his acknowledgment to Worf and Data, but it was the women he walked up to. He stood before Deanna, at first saying nothing, the two just stood looking into each other’s eyes as though reading all of the other’s secrets in just those few seconds.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you shortly.” He paused but it was evident he had more on his mind. Beverly started to back away giving them a moment when he continued. “Deanna, would you please do something for me? Stay with the Captain, go no where alone. Remember what Guinan said?” She nodded. He held her eyes a minute longer before turning back to the Captain and the others to make sure of the co-ordinates were received for the beam down.
Beverly looked from Riker to Troi, under her breath she said, “He could have been a hair more romantic, don’t you think?”
Deanna scolded mildly, “Bev-er-ly!”
“I know. I know, he’s in command mode.” They exchanged smiles. She turned back to Deanna, “Seriously, be careful. If the empathic waves become too difficult to manage beam up immediately, don’t wait too long. I may not be able to reverse any severe damage.”
“I understand. Thank you Beverly.” She smiled trying to let the doctor believe that she would follow her advice regardless of the situation. Deanna was hit by a wave of concern and uncertainty as the doctor looked her in the eye once more. She knew she had not fooled Beverly into any false sense of security. The doctor firmly believed that the empath would stubbornly go about her role as she felt she needed to, even if that meant pushing beyond reasonable limits. Deanna smiled at her friends concern. “I promise not to push beyond what I can endure. How’s that?”
Beverly forced a smile, “I promise to believe that when I see it Counselor!” She squeezed her friends arm, “Come with me. I want you to make sure the Captain or Data know when you are feeling overwhelmed.” The doctor quickly reinforced all the procedures to the rest of the away team. Will Riker stood watching, trying not to let his own thoughts bleed out to Deanna. He couldn’t take his eyes off her as the doctor outlined what she expected might occur once they arrived on the surface. Right then, he wanted to be the one leading the away team. Better yet, he wanted Deanna here sitting on the bridge with him as the away team beamed to the surface. He memorized everything about her, as she stood uncomfortably aware of his attention, and his thoughts.
Worf cleared his throat, “Commander, I know how much she means to you, I will not allow anything to happen to her sir. You need not be concerned.”
Will masked his expression. “I appreciate that Worf, but your first duty is to the Captain. I only wish I was coming along on this one.”
“Still, I will keep my eye on her.” Worf grunted something Will Riker
could not clearly make out, but it sounded a lot like- time to get his
ass out of the neutral zone. He frowned at the thought that Worf knew of
his feelings and lack of action in regards to Deanna Troi.
All too soon, Commander Riker watched as everyone took his or her places
on the transporter to be beamed down to Prakal II. Doctor Crusher joined
him at Geordi’s side as the four figures shimmered and disappeared. He
looked over at Beverly, “I’ll be damned glad when this is over and everyone
is back.” She nodded her agreement.
The away team found themselves in a great hall of polished marble. The walls were lined with portraits of the former royal inhabitants all wearing ceremonial garb. Between the portraits were suits of armor, each marking the age in which the owner of the portrait’s face lived and ruled. The hall was very long, and the rulers many.
Worf quickly took command of security, moving with determination he circled the team sensing danger, but finding no obvious source, he had to be satisfied guarding the captain. Data’s scanning revealed no hidden dangers.
Worf’s uneasiness intensified, he looked at his captain, “We were
expected. These are the correct co-ordinates.”
“I’m sure they are Mr. Worf. It would appear this is a little psychological maneuvering. Wouldn’t you agree counselor?” He noticed the counselor had a disturbed look on her face.
“Captain, I am sensing great hostility from..” her sentence was never finished. The great hall was suddenly filled with sound. The sound of many boots in a running cadence announced the presence of their host. It took only moments for the hall to fill with men, all armed. Troi took a closer look at the newly arrived group. As an army they were not equally uniformed, each carried his own unique version of a weapon. The weaponry ranged from swords to the more technically and mechanically advanced and lethal arrays.
The away team stood still only moving enough to keep the captain between them. Each turning to cover the other’s back. They had two phasers between them, Worf’s and Data’s. “Do not provoke anything. Remain watchful but calm.” Picard was not totally surprised by this turn of events.
“Captain, do not be alarmed. We’ve been experiencing a little problem
with some of the locals.” A voice from above called down to them. There
on a long narrow balcony, high above them stood two well-dressed men and
what appeared to be a personal guard. The man that assumed leadership was
waving his arm over the large mass of men surrounding the away team. “All
this is for your protection. We were afraid some of the local rebels would
try to intercept you.” Then, with several sentences spoken harshly in another
tongue he gave commands. The men gave way to from two columns to the front
and back of the Enterprise crew.
“Please, Captain.” The leader motioned in the direction he expected them to take.
Captain Picard walked up to take his place beside Troi. Data walked in front and Worf took the rear. Once they began moving Picard whispered to the empath, “What are you sensing from him?”
“He is telling the truth. He fears we still could be intercepted, it concerns him. However, that is only a small part of his worry. There is a lot happening here I can not make sense of yet.”
“Yes, I feel it too, Counselor.” He stole quick glance at her.
“I’m fine, Captain.”
Picard nodded, and reminded himself of her increased abilities. He would have to be careful to shield his concerns for her and allow her to do what she did best.
The group turned to go up a narrow stairway. The next floor appeared to be quite extensive with many closed doors. At the end of the hall were two massive doors that stood partially opened. The two men at the front of each column approached the entranceway, pulling the heavy wooden doors completely open for the rest to enter. The group moved into a huge banqueting room with a great old wooden table in its center. There were many seats from the middle of the table to the far end, leaving the near portion entirely empty. The Enterprise crew was ushered to these seats, leaving many vacant.
“I am very sorry Captain, we were unsure as to the size of your delegation. Please forgive me, I have not introduced myself.” The deep voice came from a seated figure at the opposite end of the table. “ I am Regent Gringbald. This is my secretary, Zylon.” The away team focused on the other end of the table where an overly jeweled and well-dressed man addressed them, nodding in turn to the leader of the troops that brought them into the room, Zylon sat at his right.
Captain Picard and the rest of the away team had remained standing for the introductions, although the entire host delegation had nosily taken their seats. The captain began, “Regent Gringbald, I did not want to take advantage of your hospitality with a large group. Please allow me to introduce my team.” The captain quickly introduced the others stressing the rank of each officer, then added, “These officers have extensive experience in representing the Federation and are fully qualified to serve on the flagship of the Federation.”
Gringbald scrutinized each crewmember as they were introduced. Troi
sensed surprise, and a malicious interest oozing from the regent’s secretary
at the attention Gringbald had focused on her. The captain used her rank
as commander in introducing her, rather than ship’s counselor. She felt
Gringbald’s attention on her through out the introductions but could sense
nothing more than his interest. His secretary on the other hand, seemed
unable to keep his lewd thoughts to himself. Those thoughts were heavily
tainted with evil. Deanna Troi had to try to remove herself forcefully
from the dark presence he left in her own mind. She knew she would need
to remain alert through out the mission. It would be easy to block his
emotions and perhaps miss any warning or danger signal. If she was certain
of any thing, it was that they were dealing with a treacherous man.
After everyone was seated, Troi noticed movement directly opposite from where she was seated. There were two large screens placed in front of another door. It appeared to be the staging area where from where the food would be dispersed. She saw Worf lower his hand to his phaser as his attention focused on the movements. She could sense the anticipation radiating from his posture. Deanna turned to Picard; he too had seen the Klingon’s attention and precautionary move. She could sense the alertness and the control her captain used in managing himself and those he held under his authority. She could also read other moods in the room, feelings that she couldn’t quite name or fully understand.
The screened area was producing much activity now; the sound of wooden carts being pushed from behind the screen slowly became louder as they were brought to the banquet table. The air was polluted with the heavy perfume of hot spiced foods. The first cart went to Gringbald’s section, where huge steaming plates were placed directly in from of the ruler. Then a sizable goblet was filled with an amber liquid at his side. He nodded to the serving woman, she in turn signaled for the second cart to be wheeled to Picard’s end of the table. Here the same ritual was repeated, first for the captain and then for the rest of his officers.
Troi paid little attention to the food, she maintained her focus soled on the food bearers. They were all women. At first appearance -older women, then upon closer examination -worn women. Their eyes had the look of ancient ones whose lives held more than an adaptable amount of pain and suffering. The clothing they wore were made in such a way as to show a woman’s attributes and still convey their lowly station in the social world. When Troi’s plate was placed in front of her, she shuddered at the sight of the server’s hands. The hands were scared and discolored with a form of markings on the wrist - a type of brand formed by the scar tissue itself. Her observation and subsequent reactions did not go unnoticed. The captain reached under the table to touch her arm, she knew he was conveying the need to be watchful but appear to be unconcerned. Deanna recovered quickly, nodding slightly to the captain and keeping her eyes on the plate before her. Slowly keeping all sense open, she began to allow her mind to touch the woman, seeking answers to unvoiced questions. The woman at her side continued setting the hot plates down in front of the guests. It seemed strange to the empath, very little could be sensed from her - except the need for urgency to finish and be away from here. The server kept her mind directed in on the task set before her. Deanna studied her closely, sensing that the woman was trying to convey something to her. As the server was turning to go she looked directly into the counselor’s eyes. It was almost as though the woman was thanking her, the sense of gratitude was abundantly clear. Deanna fought the urge to call to her, to find out what she meant. Instead she quickly changed pace by allowing the feelings of the other at the table to take form in her mind.
Those other’s thoughts warned her that this was not a purely sociable event. The hostility and fear were so tangible to the empath that they became visible in every move the host and his supporting cast made. The most striking thing was that the fear was of Gringbald. His secretary, Zylon was reeking of belligerence and arrogance, all the while constantly observing the away team. Gringbald too, kept his eye on the foreigners; Troi could feel his attention on her, his intent was unclear but unending.
The meal seemed to take forever. There was little conversation between
the two ends of the table, none of which was meaningful. The Enterprise
crew ate little and drank less of the unusual and heavy foods and drink.
While the host delegation seemed to devour everything that wasn’t on their
guests plate. Their talk and attitudes growing more outlandish with every
bite and swallow they gulped. Finally their host, Gringbald, hoisted himself
out of his chair signaling the beginning of the next phase his hospitality.
Picard almost howled with relief. That feeling proved to be fleeting and
“Captain Picard, if you and your people have finished with the meal, please allow me to entertain you with a bit of our local talent.” Gringbald turned toward the screen and in a demanding authoritative tone shouted, “Lagi, clear our guests places and bring new tankards of drink."
The woman with the badly marked hands came scuttling across the room to do as ordered. Behind her moving with the same speed were two other women. This time all the women wore gloves to deliver and refill all the tankards. Troi guessed the glove were once white, but due to the many uses and wearings they were now the color of the golden marble they had walked upon in the great hall. The women quickly moved from one person to another, clearing plates and dishes, then refilling the tankards with drink. When the last drink was topped off, the servers hastily disappeared behind the screen.
At the farthest end of the room where the Enterprise crew sat, loud voices were heard. Four men were dragged in to the center of that floor space. All were shackled and dressed in an uniformed jumpsuit.
Deanna was bombarded by emotions, many different emotions. “Captain.” One word she struggled and finally managed to utter. Picard was already on his feet as were the rest of the away team. Worf’s right hand resting on his phaser as kept a constant vigil over the proceedings.
“Captain Picard, you are in no danger.” The voice was too syrupy, too
sweet, and oh so condescending; leaving no doubt as to Gringbald’s purpose,
whatever was to come next -it would be sadistic. He was going to gauge
their moral outrage, just what would it take to go over the brim and send
the Federation packing?
“These men are criminals, we give them a chance to decide their own future. We will allow two of them to serve our people- the price of their restitution. Two of them will die. It will be in their own hands as to which two die and which two live to serve on behalf of others. Watch now, they will pick the weapons of their own choosing. Straws are then drawn to decide which two will pair as contestants. It is very interesting the choices one makes under certain circumstances, wouldn’t you agree Captain?” Picard remained standing but never shifted his gaze from the four men on the floor. Gringbald continued, “You see they have been incarcerated together for one fortnight, they have come to perceive each other’s weakness.”
Zylon move to stand closer to the away team, his eyes gleaming as he watched with a bloodlust rushing through in his veins. Gringbald, however, had lost interest in the staged event, and now found new game in watching the reactions of the visitors. His attention kept returning to the woman. There was something unique about her. Something in the eyes the way they registered what her mind was thinking in her reactions to what she saw. He thought he was merely taken with the fact that she was a woman important enough to be brought here. This one called Troi should be taken as seriously as Picard - he who seemed in such control, so aloof. Well let’s see how aloof. Gringbald decided not to limit the events after all. He quickly began to plot his next steps. The regent called Zylon over to his side.
Troi edged closer to the captain, “Sir, he’s testing us. He’s quite capable of extreme sadism.”
Picard nodded, but kept his eye on the combatants. The weapons had now been chosen: broad swords, large club like weapons with metal chains hanging from the end, shields and daggers. Weapons of combat for the up close and personal way to kill. Picard had to wonder at the mindset of such primitive brutality.
Worf nodded in satisfaction. Men of honor, willing to die as warriors, warriors of Klingon fable. Yes, this would be interesting. As interesting as Worf found it to be, he felt something to be wrong. There was something about Gringbald he found distasteful, a sinister cloud seemed to loom above him, just waiting to rain down evil upon them at anytime. Worf tried to keep the man in view. He felt as though he was wasting time watching these men die while waiting for that cloudburst.
The combat began; the first of the five senses to be assaulted was the hearing. The terrible clang of metal on metal, the brut force of the blows echoed throughout the large room. For Troi who purposely stood behind Worf so as not to witness the sport, it was the buffeting of emotions that nearly overran her senses; fear, anger, and pain from the two contestants. The emotion of the crowd around them was a murderous excitement, a lust for someone’s death.
One man went down, Gringbald’s men jeered when the victor didn’t strike to finish the job. “Kill him or die!” was chanted from the mob now circling the combatants.
Picard noticed the room had gotten warmer, he looked around noticing it had now filled with more onlookers. The circus like atmosphere was prevalent and ugly. The small group huddled closer to each other, expecting things to escalate into a problem. Their view of the gladiators now completely obscured by the crowd, but death must have come to one. The cheering was deafening. The captain looked for Troi, she had found a chair close to them, her face was pale and she appeared shaken. He knew she had felt the death and was attempting to stay focused. At that moment a hush fell over the crowd, then a dragging sound, then again cheering rung throughout the room.
Zylon was making his way over to them, elbowing his way through that gathered around the away team. “Is there a problem Captain, the female is unwell perhaps?”
“No, all is well. The room has become a bit overcrowded. Commander Troi merely needs a little air. If you will permit us, a bit of fresh air would help.” Troi upon hearing the exchange quickly got to her feet to stand beside the captain and nodded in agreement with his prescribed cure.
Zylon led the group outside the room, not down the stairs as Picard expected, but up another flight, then through a door. They found themselves on a long broad terrace, with chairs and potted trees in wild abandoned disarray.
They all took a deep breath. Troi walked over to the rail trying to get once more under control. Zylon started after her, Picard intercepted the secretary, “Sir, what now becomes of the victors of the demonstrations we witnessed?"
Zylon stopped and turned back to Picard. “They will now have the opportunity to serve their countrymen, a patriotic service. I’m sure you would understand that. We need our heroes and those who would pave the way for others.”
“Yes of course. We all have need of those setting fine examples.” Picard now walked over to Troi, Data and Worf joined him. Zylon and two of the house guards followed. Looking at the area surrounding the palace, Picard could see the truth of Guinan’s picture of the planet. The odor that arose from the water beneath them was foul, and yet looking at the distant landscape, the mountains appeared quite beautiful. There were many smaller buildings surrounding the palace, all in different degrees of disrepair. A little further to the west of them stood other buildings of greater worth.
“Are you feeling better now, Commander?” Zylon approached Troi, looking at her with great interest.
“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you, Secretary.” Troi tried to sense what this man was about, because he seemed to strike a fear in her. She tried to concentrate on getting something deeper than the many layers of arrogance and deceit, but quickly gave up; his foulness leaving a bitter taste in her thoughts. She tried instead the more human approach. “Sir, there are many things we need to know of your culture to report to the Federation, for instance your form of education for the young, medical facilities, communications and information on how your government system operates. Can we start with something simple, Sir, what is the name of your city?” She forced a smile of such sweetness that left the secretary staring at her for several seconds before answering the question.
“This is the capital city of Gendla. You see the large telecommunications building over there, the one with the large communifan on the roof. We are very proud of that technology, for the first time ever we are able to see the person we are speaking with. We now may speak to others, such as yourselves, through out space. It is a great achievement.”
Data stepped up to ask more detailed questions regarding the scientific advancement of the Prakalian society. The captain used this moment to check with Troi. “Counselor, how are you holding up? Have you had any further link with the woman.”
“No sir, it has me a bit troubled. There should be no difficulty, in fact if anything it should be more intense. I’m not sure what could have happened. She may be unconscious.”
“Keep trying, but be discreet, very discreet. I’ll try to finagle a tour of the city, maybe we can learn something that way.” Picard walked over to where Data was continuing to grill the secretary. Zylon looked almost grateful for Picard’s presence. That is until Picard asked, “Secretary Zylon, would it be possible to have a first hand tour of some of these facilities? I’m sure Commander Data’s curiosity will be satisfied and we will be fulfilling the requirements for the Federation’s application.”
Zylon declared that such a tour would not be a problem within certain limitations of course, for the safety of the visitors. “We have had some problems with a small number of rebels. Allow me to consult with Regent Gringbald. My own men will stay with you. Would you like to wait in the rooms that have been prepared for your visit? This will allow you time to rest, before the tour begins. Let’s say in two hours?” Zylon raised his thick eyebrow, awaiting an affirmative reply.
As they followed him to the rooms, Troi watched him closely for anything
that may disclose any information about him. She noticed, not for the first
time, what an odd little man he was: his height was that of a Ferengi,
with long dark oily hair and one massive eyebrow across the forehead. Under
the brow lurked two beady eyes that never appeared to be completely open.
Zylon had a way of not looking directly into her eyes, but she had caught
him watching her slyly from the corner of his eyes. He reminded her of
a reptile exhibit she had once seen. Compiling all that with her own feelings
of repulsion kept her from delving too deeply into the man’s emotions.
Picard had asked that the Enterprise be allowed to download in specific information from the government archives. This information would be needed to complete the application for membership to the Federation. Zylon replied he would have to convey that request to Regent Gringbald. The crew was left with two of Zylon’s men standing guard outside their assigned rooms.
Picard signaled for Data and Worf to check the room for any abnormalities. The two walked the room with tricorders scanning for anything that would fall into that category. They found and disabled two mechanical devices used for monitoring movement and sound.
The captain then contacted the Enterprise. Will Riker’s voice replied, “Go ahead Captain.”
“Have you been able to establish a computer link with the archives, Number One?”
“No Captain, they are hesitating on the last step to achieve link up. Has the counselor been able to reestablish her contact?”
“No, not yet. Listen Number One; we have a little double dealing going on here. I’ll keep you appraised of the situation as it becomes clearer. We are due for the grand tour in a little while. Keep a fix on our co-ordinates in case we need to make a hasty exit. It seems our hosts want to examine our rectitude. I expect we should be back on board within the next four to five hours. Picard out.”
Worf stood at the captains side, “I believe Gringbald is setting a trap for us. I am certain of it.”
Picard answered easily, “Well, then Mr. Worf, I am delighted that you have honored us with your presence. We will keep our heads together and our eyes open.” He turned his attention to Troi, watching her pace restlessly around the room. “Counselor, what did you make of the serving woman?” when she didn’t answer he went to stand before her, “Deanna, what is it?”
“I’m sorry, Captain, I’m concerned about my contact- I have no sense of her. The serving woman…she seemed to be trying to communicate something to us…I’m unclear as to what. There was a surprise there though… I sensed no fear of Gringbald or Zylon from her, although I did sense a very deep feeling of loathing. Those marks on her hands - I believe that somehow Gringbald is responsible for them, I’m not sure how or why. I agree with Worf - Gringbald is setting us up for something, he’s gauging us. Throughout the entire demonstration he watched us. I tried to read him - he blocked me so thoroughly it was though he was completely blank to me. Her agitation was growing; she shook her head and began to pace again. “Zylon is suspicious of us, it’s more than that he wants us gone.”
Picard listened, nodding his head in understanding. “ Counselor, maybe the timing of our arrival has caused him to alter his plans. Perhaps, that is what this is all about. He may want this application to the Federation denied.”
Worf produced a low growl from the back of his throat. “If this woman has been murdered, then we have two choices; destroy this Gringbald and his influence on these peoples---or leave, it is not our affair.”
“I don’t believe she is dead. I think I would have known. I fear she
has been drugged and possibly kept unconscious somewhere that we would
not easily detect.” Deanna looked at the captain hoping that after coming
this far they would not leave without helping her.
Later it was Gringbald himself that came for them. “I apologize for not accompanying you earlier. I had some pressing matters of state to take care of. I trust Secretary Zylon was attentive to your needs?” Gringbald had stepped into their rooms, looked for and found the destroyed surveillance equipment.
Picard quickly addressed the situation. “Oh, I am sorry about any damage. Mr. Worf was doing some Klingon exercises. The Federation will, of course, compensate for any loss.”
Gringbald looked at Worf, who stood looking as intimidating as a Klingon could look on a bad battle day. “I’m sure it is nothing. Captain, are you and your people ready for a tour of our city? We will begin with the capital city’s office and data bank. They are housed in the building next to this one. We will go through the connecting tunnel, it is much quicker with less exposure to any outside influences.” Gringbald raised his eyebrows with the condescending smile they were beginning to know so well, he added, “This is for your protection of course. Follow me, the house guard will accompany us. Have you any objections, Captain?”
“No objections, Regent.”
They toured the office buildings, the information base, as school and hospital. The medical research building was to be next -when Troi was hit with a sudden revulsion, it was as physical a blow as being hit in the stomach. She found herself unable to catch her breath. However, it went mostly unobserved, Data and Captain Picard were in front of her talking with Gringbald. Worf caught her elbow as she staggered.
“Deanna, are you unwell?” He whispered pretending to have a casual conversation with her.
“Worf, something is happening in here, something horrible.” She looked up at him as he squeezed her arm as reassuringly as possible. Deanna hid the wince, thankful for the distraction of the more physical pain. She tried to find the source of the emotional pain that was bombarding her. She accepted Worf’s arm to make the support seem a casual gesture of comradeship.
They entered into a large concrete building. The air was thick with a chemical aroma. What a contrast this building was to their previous stops. This was a new building with bright lights and new equipment, far more modernized than the school or hospital. Worf wrinkled his nose; his advanced sense of smell had made the place almost unbearable for him. Deanna could feel him become physically tense as they continued further into the facility. At the end of the corridor was a security desk. Gringbald left the Captain to speak to the men behind the desk. The away team used that opportunity to exchange information.
They discussed the lack neither of any sound, neither from the rooms they had passed, nor from any where in the building. The only noise came from their presence. Obviously the rooms were sound proof, but the need for such was another horrifying thought.
“Captain, I feel there is probably a need for such precautions. What I am sensing from inside this building are immense waves of pain and fear. This is a research building, isn’t it? Could it be an experimental facility where people are treated as guinea pigs?”
The question went unanswered, Gringbald had returned to them. “The commissioner of research is very protective of his domain. Come, there is one area in particular I want you to see.” Gringbald was practically rubbing his hands together in sinister delight. They looked at each other in anticipation; this may be the moment they had been watching for. As they neared their destination, Deanna was being flooded with the pain of the buildings occupants. More and more the weight of doom seemed to rest in her chest dragging her down so that each step became heavier and harder to make.
When they finally came to a stop and turned to enter a door, Gringbald smiled, “Remember when I said earlier that two of the prisoners would serve the people? What better way to serve the population then to die so that other would live!” Gringbald opened the door, reached past Picard to grab Troi by the arm. He pulled her roughly through the door, and with an alarming strength had thrown her across the room and on to the bed that was occupied by one of the men from the earlier events of the day. Looking down at his near dying face, Deanna was seized by his terror and her then own. Worf quickly and gently eased her away from the bed.
When Gringbald and his men entered, Troi was in Worf’s arms fighting to control the emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her. Data had quickly and unnoticed prepared a hypospray for her. She shook her head refusing the medicine instead, chose to center herself, she closed her eyes and deliberately slowed her breathing. The captain and Worf blocked her from the view of Gringbald.
“I hope the commander is well, I thought since she had obtained the rank of commander she would know and understand that such sacrifices are necessary.”
While the away team struggled with their anger, the only sound to be heard was that from the man strapped to his bed gasping for air. The sound brought Picard’s righteous indignation to the surface. “We do not judge rank by suffering. We do not inflict torture for the sake of making a point. You deliberately threw Troi into this room hoping to get a reaction. As you see, she is under control. Yes, she was shaken to see what this man had been reduced to in a matter of hours, as were we all. Exactly what is your point, Regent?”
“Oh Captain Picard, I certainly didn’t intend to demean or offend you or your people. I do apologize to Commander Troi. You see why we do not promote our women to such roles. I see that Troi is not like our women, perhaps this too is something the Federation will allow us - our irregularities.”
“What you see here is a criminal, who has been given a chance to redeem his crime. We are working here on cures to diseases that plague our planet. To find a cure, we must infect one with the strain we are hoping to cure. Then we test for those cures.” He paused, “This my dear Captain is not torture.” Gringbald laughed, “This is not torture>”
Troi had now regained her composure completely; she walked over to the bed to look closer at the man struggling for each breath of air. He had red blotches over his face and was bathed in sweat. “What are you doing to help him, Regent? He is clearly in distress, have you come closer to a remedy or have you learned enough about this illness to prevent it?”
“My dear Commander, we are working now to come to a greater accuracy in answering all those questions. You can’t tell me that your own cultures have not progressed through this level of understanding and education to get the next higher level achievement.”
“Regent Gringbald, I question more your treatment of my people, then I do of your prisoners. Perhaps, given the circumstances it would be prudent to visit your detention centers?”
“We have no one in this city’s prisons that you would benefit from seeing, Captain. Those we are holding are only murderers and prisoners of state who will die shortly.”
Data jumped into the fray -by asking about the justice system and the premise of innocence and guilt. Gringbald informed them that he personally handled those whose crimes were against the state, and others he appointed would deal with the rest. Picard only half listened to the conversation, he looked to the counselor and raised his eyebrows in question, and she sadly shook her head. If there would be no more to gain from this visit he would get his people out and prepare for the next phase.
“Regent, is there anything else you would like us to see before we return to the Enterprise?” Picard quickly took advantage of one of the few silences between the android and regent to prepare for their departure.
“Captain, I believe we have covered everything on my agenda, is there
anything else you need to see.” Again, Gringbald was sweeter than anyone
had a reason to be.
“No sir, I think we have what we came for, if you would be so kind as to show us the way back to the palace, we will contact our ship and return. We shall be orbiting for a few days while we process the computer banks and transmit the information back to Star Fleet.” Picard looked at the away team before adding, “Thank you for your hospitality Regent. We will be communicating further.”
“My men will see you back. I am needed here for a moment. Thank You
Gringbald spun on his heel and goose-stepped to the security desk.
Commander Riker was waiting for them as they were arrived back at the Enterprise. “You finished ahead of schedule, any problems Captain?”
“Number One, call a senior staff meeting in one hour. Let’s just say we were surprised that we weren’t surprised.” Picard quickly left the transporter room. Will turned to look questioningly at Deanna.
Worf growled, “No honor, no scruples - maggot bait.” Then he too exited.
“This must have been quite a tour. I can’t wait to hear more.” As Will Riker took Deanna’s arm to walk with her, she reacted unexpectedly as though in pain pulling her arm away.
“Counselor, were you injured earlier?” Data took the arm and examined it. “I believe your arm may have suffered several deep contusions, perhaps a stop at sickbay may be helpful.”
“How did this happen?” Riker’s earlier relief at seeing them back was beginning to fade.
“It’s nothing Will. We’ll have Beverly look at it. Gringbald was a little too persistent in helping me into a room.”
“Technically Counselor, he roughly propelled you into the room with enough force to launch you on the bed a distance of not less than fifteen feet.” Data’s assistance was starting to unnerve Will.
“Come on, we’re all going to sickbay. There we will get to the bottom of this.” Riker now escorted Troi and Data to sickbay. Doctor Crusher diagnosed the injury as a Data had; the arm had several deep bruises. In moments the doctor had the situation quickly remedied, as Data narrated the incident.
Will walked Deanna back to her quarters to get freshened up a bit before the staff meeting. He paced the living her cabin while she showered and changed into a clean uniform. He was hoping to talk with her about the many things that were swirling through his mind as she was on the planet. The one item that kept chasing all other thoughts was the one topic he didn’t know how to approach, how could he tell her exactly how he felt about her.
She stood watching him pace, looking as though he had something on his mind. Deanna Troi knew what was on his mind, but didn’t understand the emotions he was having regarding those thoughts. She moved to stand directly in his path. He stopped and looked at her with such intensity for a few moments she forgot to breathe. “Will? What is it? You are wearing out the carpet.”
“Deanna, there is something I’d like to talk to you about.” He stopped and stared into her face, getting lost in those eyes all over again. He moved closer to touch the arm that had been injured but never taking his eyes from hers. Looking into their darkness and seeing himself reflected in that darkness only made him surer of what he had to do. He couldn’t bear the thought that at some point there could be a different face reflected there. Yet he felt nearly crippled. He really didn’t want to talk right now.
“Yes, Will, what is it.” She was feeling as overwhelmed at that moment as he was. She could feel his emotions and knew the direction they were taking. She automatically moved closer to him, until they were a breath away from each other. They both leaned into each other at the same time. He brushed her lips gently then more intently. He could feel her sigh into his lips; he smiled as he continued to hold her close.
“ I’ve wanted to do that for so long.” He pulled back to look into her face. “That is what we need to talk about, what we are both feeling.” His comm signaled, it was Data reminding them that the staff meeting was to begin in five minutes.
“Well, I guess that’s a conversation we’ll have later.” He smiled down into her eyes before kissing her one more time.
<I’ll look forward to it> Her voice sounded in his thoughts bringing an even larger smile to his face. He pulled her hand through his arm as they left for the meeting.
Captain Picard outlined the visit, the accomplishments and the newly learned aspects of the planet. The staff learned of the brutality that the sadistic ruler was capable of toward his own people and the away team. Then the captain continued, “In light of this information, I would like to hear what you think the next step should be - Should another team go down there, perhaps putting their lives in danger to rescue a leader of an unconscionable people. I’d like to hear from each of you.” He smiled at the expressions on the faces, knowing before the discussion began what the result would be.
Each gave their choice with clear reasoning. When the meeting adjourned
Picard again felt confidence and pride in those serving with him.
The second away team was scheduled to meet in transporter room three six hours after the meeting, and subsequent decision to continue with the mission. Commander Riker was the first to arrive carrying a large lightweight backpack. His uniform had been exchanged for an electric blue open tunic with an open neck and ballooned sleeves, complimented by a black vest and black trousers with a wide belt and black boots.
Beverly Crusher was second to enter the transporter room. She arrived with a huge over the shoulder cloth travel bag, and dressed in a jade green blouse that had a neckline that began at the shoulders with long full sleeves. Her flowered full skirt flowed from the gathers held at the waist by a wide belt to the ankles.
Deanna Troi arrived next, carrying the bag, and dressed in much the same fashion as Beverly. Her blouse an electric blue and skirt black. Both women had their hair pulled back in a braid for convenience more than for style. Will, quickly walked to stand near to Deanna giving her a long appraising look “I really like that look on you.” He smiled waiting for the response he knew he would get. Beverly stood beside him facing Deanna, wondering about the easy playfulness the two seemed to be indulging in since the counselor’s return from the planet.
Data and Captain Picard entered the transporter room, cutting off any reply the counselor would have made. Data’s appearance had been altered the most. The android now had a full beard and mustache. His skin was now cosmetically darkened as the color of his eyes was tinted now to a striking blue-green.
“Data, are we to be brothers?” Will teased, but there did appear to be a resemblance.
“The beard and cosmetic changes were my idea, Number One. It would in fact, appear that you are related. Two brothers traveling with their wives would be a safe scenario. Actually, the idea was Guinan’s. She thought it may be an easy explanation as to why the four of you would keep company without drawing undue attention.” Picard looked at their outfits and nodded approvingly, before continuing. “That’s why you dress in corresponding colors; Data pointed out, from the information retrieved from the planet each family seemed to have one piece of clothing on that was part of the family crest. To reinforce the idea of family Data was purposely made to resemble Will, his brother on this mission..Oh and boys,” Picard could barely contain the smile, “for this mission Data will be considered the eldest. Many times the elder son is the only one with any education. Data will do the reading and writing when and if it becomes necessary, since Data is the only one able to decipher the writing.”
“Well Data, I think you look quite handsome. Is it too late to change partners?” Deanna smiled warmly at him and caught the shocked look on Riker’s face.
“May I say Counselor, that you too look…visually stimulating.” Data looked genuinely pleased with her compliment, but continued, “However, Counselor, I do not think that it would be wise to make any last minute adjustments, we do not have the time to readjust later.” He cast a look at the Commander, knowing Riker would not be pleased by the suggestion. “Besides Counselor, I do not think you are serious.”
“I think you are quite right Data, the Counselor will just have to stay married to the tyrant now!” Will reached over to pull her gently to his side, knowing it was her comeback to him from his earlier comment. Will added, “Besides, I think we make the perfect family, just as we are.”
Picard stopped the banter when he saw the light in the doctor’s eyes, knowing she would have a stinging comment, “All right people, you have everything you need?” He began to check off items, “Currency? Medkits? Phasers? Warm Cloaks?” When they had answered positive to all he continued, “Be careful, keep your wits about you. Communicate within the next four hours, then every six hours. Return as quickly and as safely as possible.”
The Captain stood back at the console. When everyone was on the transporter
pads he watched as within moments they shimmered and disappeared in a silvery
light. “I’ve locked on to the communicators, we’ll try to keep track of
them in case of emergency beam up, sir.” Picard turned to acknowledge
the engineer with a “very good”, before leaving for the bridge.
The four found themselves in a wooded area outside of Glendla. The sun was slowly losing its battle with the moon, as the shadows now presented a chilling air to the newcomers.
Data and Riker walked around the area with their tricorders checking reading for a safe place to spend the night. “Let’s make camp over there, where the ground flattens out a bit. It will be dark soon and we’ll need a fire to keep warm. We can start by collecting dry wood, and several nice sized rocks.” Then after seeing the women’s face, Riker smiled, “Come on, it will be fun. I loved it as a kid.”
Everyone laid their travel bags and backpacks down in one pile to search for the needed items. The two women walked together and commiserated with each other’s reasons for not enjoying the night’s accommodations. Beverly groaned, “I suppose this means we might as well look for someplace to visit for bathroom necessities. What about behind that big rock, it looks pretty secluded, and yet not too far away?”
Deanna frowned, “Well, it’s not something I always dreamed of doing. Guys love this stuff -it’s so primal.” They both laughed. “You know what I really hate about this, other than the ‘earth closet’? It’s the bugs, don’t tell Will, but I really hate bugs. I guess it’s the idea of things crawling on me…” She paused and looked at Beverly with a spark in her eye as she added, “that come uninvited!”
When they returned to the camp area with their armful of wood, Data had already set rocks in a large circle with a few piled in a small mound in the center. He continued stacking the wood in a pyre fashion. They watched as he set his phaser, pointed it at the bottom of the stack and fired. It started with a small blaze but quickly climbed up the stack. Within minutes the entire area was lit as though it was high noon instead of declining twilight.
Will Riker came running out of the woods, then slowed when he saw everything was fine. “Data, we aren’t signaling the Enterprise! It’s a beautiful fire but a little much.”
“Commander, you wanted warmth, this will provide maximum warmth using a relatively small amount of the given combustible.”
“Yes, your right. It will burn down, then we’ll keep it burning low.” He stood with his hands outstretched toward the fire. Feeling it’s warmth, Will smiled at his childhood memories of times when he and friends camped. Its always seemed to cement a friendship, perhaps just the getting down to basics putting everyone was on the same level and learning to relax at that level. It was though standing there, feeling the physical warmth on his hands; he felt that childhood warmth in his chest.
He looked over the fire to see Deanna with a gentle smile on her face, watching him, sensing his feelings and thoughts. She thought/sent <Good memories should be shared, Imzadi.>
He smiled over the fire at her, thinking he would have to learn to get used to her newly enhanced skills. “All we need now are some marshmallows then the experience would be complete.”
“What are they? I really don’t cherish the thought of swamp creatures around to make your camping trip a dream come true, Will Riker!” Beverly was still thinking of the inconvenience of the earth closet now added to that the thought of some slithering thing fighting for her sleeping bag, this was getting worse and worse.
“Beverly it’s a confection. We used to put them on the end of a stick, let them catch fire, then while they’re still hot, black and sticky you eat them.”
Beverly wrinkled her nose, “Yea, I can see why it’s too bad we don’t have any.” They listened as Will continued to reminisce as he walked around the campfire looking for something. He began dragging out a large portion of a fallen tree. Data assisted in placing it in front of the fire, just far enough away that it could be used as a backrest to lean against. Will then motioned for the others to join him in sitting in front of the fire.
There was something comforting about sitting around the fire. After a while everyone started to get comfortable, pulling the sleeping bags out and preparing for a night’s rest. Will dozed off first, snoring softly, a contented smile on his face.
Deanna sat up to watch him sleep in the light of the fire. She could sense his peace in his sleep, and when his dreams began she could get a sense of their content also. She was unable to sleep; she had felt the faintest brush of Abeathdor in her mind. It was the first such contact in the last twenty-four hours. She concentrated hoping for more, but there was nothing else. How ironic, they had prepared for this away team with Doctor Crusher, the entire team practiced the drill with the hyposprays- each time she had been on the planet there was no contact. She knew they had much to accomplish on this trip, but how could she help if she had no sense of the woman they came to rescue. She started as she saw movement from behind the trees to her right, then let a sigh of relief escape as she saw that it was Data with more wood for the fire. After several minutes passed she snuggled back down into her sleeping bag and watched Will sleep until her own eyes finally grew too heavy to keep open.
Morning came slowly; they awoke to the smell of hot food. Will had made a quick breakfast from the rations they brought with them. Beverly had a hard time getting to her feet. Her back ached and her muscles didn’t want to respond. As nice as the lightweight sleeping bags were to carry they offered very little against the hard ground.
“Once you begin moving around, you’ll be good as new.” Will was very perky, a trait that Beverly found to very irritating.
“Not everyone slept so soundly, Commander. In fact, some of us hardly slept at all. Deanna, are you ready to get moving? Let’s stop at the rock first. Will is there fresh water around to clean up with?”
“Yes, there ‘s a river down over the hill. What rock are you visiting, or shouldn’t I ask?” He looked innocently from one to the other.
Beverly glared at him, then turned and walked toward the appointed rock. Deanna raised her eyebrows at Will. He smiled, “It’s hard to believe she’s not a morning person. The things you learn about a person camping.”
Deanna grinned, “You left a few secrets out yourself during the night.”
She had time to enjoy a surprised look on his face before she heard Beverly
call for her.
On the way down to the river they heard voices. Immediately, they stooped low, looking in the direction of the water. They couldn’t clearly see the identity of the two men sitting on the opposite bank. They continued to move lower down the riverbank, dodging low hanging tree limbs and other obstacles until the voices were audible.
“Where is her ladyship?”
“We stopped at a cottage downstream. I think we are safe there. It’s a deserted piece of ground. The woods are thick no one is going to find it.”
“Yes, but will his “lordship” be satisfied that it is far enough away from Gendla? There can be no problems in the next several days. What’s he going to do with her anyway?”
“I figure, he’ll try to force her into marriage or just have her found to be insane…or who knows it would be more his style to just kill her. Either way she’s dead!” The last was followed by vulgar laughter.
Deanna shuddered. If she hadn’t heard a word of their conversation she knew by their disposition toward cruelty these were Gringbald’s men. “They have Abeathdor- we’re close Beverly.” She whispered to her companion.
Beverly nodded, “We need to get back to Will.” She turned to go back Deanna held her in place.
“Wait, we may be able to tell him more. Let’s see if they say more about the location of the cottage or who is with her there.”
The two women sat among the wild flora, hidden behind trees and brush, listening and trying to remember everything. Finally the two men moved off, away from the river. Deanna and Beverly stood slowly, looking around them, making sure that there was no one else near by, before moving quickly back to the camp site.
Will met them before they had gotten far. “There you re! I was becoming concerned that something had happened.” After looking at the flushed women trying to catch their breath, he asked, “What happened?”
They quickly filled him in on the men and the conversation they had
overheard. They packed up and left in the direction of the cottage. The
four made their way down to the river, following it for a short distance
before hearing someone approaching from behind them. Simultaneously everyone
crouched low, waiting for whatever or whoever was following.
to be continued
please click here to go to part three